This woman’s work

May 21st, 2010

In less than a month I leave for Boston where I’ll spend a few days recovering from jetlag and enjoying one of my favorite cities before heading on to Wellfleet for the poetry workshop. R asked me to make up a general schedule for him to help him stay organized and on top of things while I’m away – just keeping track of when I do what I do so that he doesn’t suddenly wake up one morning to find that Small Boy has no underwear and Kindergarten starts in 12 minutes. 

I’d been starting to feel some creeping guilt about this upcoming trip, the kind of guilt that I’m sure some of you moms, especially fellow stay-at-home moms, will understand and perhaps find familiar. I’ll be away for twelve days (two of which are lost to trans-Atlantic travel) and I’ve been starting to think that’s rather a long time. I’ve been starting to think it’s a bit selfish. I’ve been starting to think it’s a lot of time and money for a poetry workshop. (It doesn’t help that the work I have chosen – or the work that has chosen me – holds no financial promise. I mean, even the Pulitzer Prize for poetry only awards ten grand. From a purely financial calculation, every poetry workshop I attend is a net loss – more so if R has to take vacation days so that I can get away.)  I’ve been starting to wonder if I actually deserve this all-about-me trip away from my family. Why do we do that? As women, generally, and mothers, specifically, our wants and needs end up on the low end of the totem pole more often than not.

So I started making this list/schedule for R, and it’s two pages long – and that only covers Monday through Friday! (Though I’ve put some effort into organizing things so that I don’t have to do routine house chores on the weekend.) And I’ve left off the intermittent stuff that he won’t need to deal with(recycling, washing the car, migrating boy toys back into more orderly storage) as well as the blindingly obvious stuff like “feed the children.” We let a lot of things slide around here (ironing, for example, and washing the windows), it’s part of our agreement, but apparently I still do a lot. Laundry alone takes up half the list. Grocery shopping. Picking Small Boy up from Kindi (R does the morning run), shuttling him to play-dates. Keeping the plants watered. Vacuuming. Heavens, do I vacuum. Now that we don’t have a cleaning lady, I’ve picked up the cleaning, too, and I try to stay on what was her schedule but one week out of four that probably gets lost in the shuffle. When I write down everything I do to keep this house more or less running, it runs to two pages – and here’s the scary thing: in spite of all that I do do, we don’t exactly run the tightest ship around here plus R’s chore list would probably go on for quite a bit as well. It’s exhausting, all the stupid stuff I do every day just to keep our heads above water. But seeing it listed out like that, I have to say: I’m feeling a lot less guilty about this trip. Seeing it listed out like that makes me realize that I have a full time job, and this is my two-week vacation.

Do you see yourself in this post? Do you feel a pang of “I don’t really deserve this” when you take time for yourself? It’s the time, I think, more than anything, we feel guilty about. I don’t have a problem buying things that I need (clothes, a new bike) or want (books), but when I carve out time for myself, when I get out of the house for the day (or twelve), there is a twinge of conscience. Is this ringing a bell with any of you? What do you do to push through the nagging voice and take what you need?

Happy dance

January 20th, 2010

Oh my god, I actually got in!

I’ll put together some coherent thoughts on this when I’m feeling more coherent.

I’ll take it

January 1st, 2010

2009 was the year I decided to take myself seriously as a poet. 2009 was the year I gave myself permission to try. 2009 was the year I made some writing goals, made them specific and public the better to hold myself accountable to myself.

By my reckoning I made a good year of it. I did not write fifty-two poems but I wrote forty-six things that I am able to call poems under my bizarre internal standards and I’ll take that. I wrote a lot of things that went nowhere, and I’ll take that too, and in the process I learned something about saving the two lines that seem worth saving and moving on and I’ll take that most of all. I sent out fifteen packages and in the end had eight poems published in five journals (with two submissions still pending): my novice self will very much take that, thank you. I subscribed to or requested sample copies of a few new journals, and though I’d love for it to be journals-a-palooza around here, the logistics of the back-and-forth communication about how much extra the journals cost when shipped overseas (because I know journals run on tight budgets and want to be sensitive to this point), and the growing on-line availability of back issues, made it easy for this one to slip by the wayside. I lost count of the poets I added to my collection and am too lazy to go to my studio shelves to figure it out. Suffice it to say I am better read now than I was one year ago. I did not attend a writers’ workshop.

Now it is 2010 and my writing goals are much the same:

  • Write (at least) fifty-two poems this year
  • Send out (at least) twelve packages
  • Attend a writers’ workshop (I’m already registered for this one am applying to one very ambitious one and one slightly less ambitious one Stateside). 
  • Continue to read, read, read. Read more, read more widely, read more critically, read more openly. Read more stuff I never thought I’d read. Read more stuff I’ve already read. Read more stuff I don’t like. Read.

My writing life had a good year. My writing life passed the test I had set up for myself: give it a year and if at the end of the year something from the year is still glimmering, then give it another year. And things are glimmering. I’ve published some pieces that I’m proud of, pieces I think I’ll still be proud to have my name attached to a year from now and a year from then. I’m reading more poetry, and that’s just good for a person’s heart. I’ve found a thing outside of me, outside of my small boys, that is hard and shiny and good. That is mine. This is me, now, this fresh-baked stumbling poet. Maybe not, as Bethany so perfectly put it, for a living, but for a life, yes. For a life, this stumbling poet is me, and I’ll take that.

I can check that off the 2009 goals list

November 12th, 2009

Remember when I commented on the utter gorgeousness of this journal? Guess who’s got a poem in it?

End of the year sprint

October 30th, 2009

Looking over my poetic output for the year-to-date, I see that I am far short of my goal of a poem-a-week. I have probably written something each week, but I have an invisible line in my head that the work needs to cross before I can call it a poem. It does not have to be a polished ready to go out the door final draft; I’m happy with rough and messy first drafts but they need to have something in them that shows promise, some clue that the poem is, in fact, going somewhere before I count it as one of my fifty-two. I figure I have about thirty or thirty-five of those for the year. If I’m going to make it to 52, I’m going to need to finish the year with a sprint. How perfect, then, that this challenge  starts on Sunday.

Who wants to join in?

Digging, planting, growing

September 25th, 2009

I am digging a flower bed. Reclaiming it from the stretch along the house that has been neglected since R’s parents moved out of this house and into the new house they built on the property in 2000. Weeding, of course, but also digging large rocks out of the ground, using them as a border, and building up the soil. I pried over a dozen rocks, ranging in size from potatoes to large loaves of bread, out of the dirt yesterday and there are as many again still to go. Then on to the other side, newly exposed last weekend after R hacked down a decade’s worth of overgrown shrubbery that the boys dragged off to the wood pile one branch at a time. It is all rocks over there, and I will do this again, the digging up of the rocks, the making of a boarder, the building up of the soil. Then I will put in my bulbs – I’ve got allium and narcissus, crocus and muscari, three colors of tulips – and wait to see what spring brings me.

This too is why we moved here. It wasn’t just the boys who needed more space. It wasn’t just the boys who needed to be outside. It wasn’t just the boys who needed a place they could call their own, a yard and garden to get muddy in, to dig up and cultivate and experiment and make mistakes. It wasn’t just the boys who needed projects and jobs: hauling the wood to the wood pile, wheeling the weeds off to the compost in their wheel-barrows, weeding, digging rocks, planting bulbs. This too is why we moved here.

In the spring I will have rows in the garden. R’s mother has been keeping a farm garden for fifty years (longer; since she was old enough to help, I imagine) – lettuce and onions and beans and cauliflower; tomatoes and squash and zucchini – and in the spring I will have rows in the garden. (Small Boy is ahead of me on this – for the past two years he has had his own row of green beans that he has taken care of from planting through to plucking.) My mother-in-law is in her seventies now and cannot keep up with a large farm garden; she has been turning over more space to flowers, the raspberry canes have gotten out of control, and she cannot keep up with the weeding. She is more than happy to turn some rows over to me. I am new to all this and torn between diving in and planting many rows and moving more slowly. I want tomatoes and zucchini and eggplant and sweet peas. I do not know how to do any of this, but I have a farm wife, a farm wife who was before that a farm daughter, for a mother-in-law and that is better than having an entire shelf of gardening books. In the spring I will have rows in the garden.

We are digging. We are planting. We are growing.


August 26th, 2009

Wednesday morning. The Small Boy goes off to Kindergarten with R. (Have I told you? Can you believe it? My Small Boy goes to Kindergarten four mornings a week.) I walk across the driveway with the Boychen, knock at my mother-in-law’s door. It’s Wednesday, she is taking the Boychen for the morning. I walk back to our house, come down to my studio, pour a cup of coffee into my sunshine yellow mug with the white spots. I put on some internet radio, open half-a-dozen tabs, see that Crab Orchard Review is accepting submissions for a special issue featuring Illinois writers. I’m an Illinois writer; far-flung, it is true, but I lived there for the first 21 years of my life. I think it would make an interesting line in a cover letter: “I am an Illinois native now living on a farm in Switzerland…” I think it would be enough to make somebody keep reading. I have my task for the morning, the boys are away, I have these two quiet hours in my studio, and I have a task. I close the windows, go to work.

Well how about that

April 28th, 2009

I found a little notebook today. Actually Boychen found it, pulling it out of a desk drawer along with a roll of clear tape, a black binder clip, a sheet of labels, some correction tape, and a 2008 agenda. I don’t remember when I used this notebook – I didn’t date it – but it was inspired by this post, so it would have been some time after that. So May or June of last year, maybe. I spent about a month listing each day a small handful of things that I really, really wanted. The very first line in the notebook?

“I want to publish my poetry.”

And here I am, one year later, with two poems in an on-line journal, four more coming out later in the year, and six currently under consideration.

Tonight, when the boys are asleep, I’m going to flip through the book and see what else I asked for. See what else I got.


February 11th, 2009

I’ve got two poems up at Asphalt Sky (in volume 1 issue 2).

I got a rejection letter on Monday.

There are three poems winging via Luftpost towards a little journal I’ve become too attached to. 

I’ve got two poems awaiting judgment.

This writing thing, it’s starting to feel real.

January wrap-up

February 2nd, 2009

My experiment with listing out my writing goals in December went so well that I’m making it a regular part of my writing practice. At the beginning of the month I type out my broad goals for the month, print them out, and tack them to the cork-board hanging above my desk. I can keep track of my progress and make notes on the page as the month rolls along.

January was a strange month; it started with a burst of energy and ended with me falling into a wordless lull. Experience has shown me that something is going on under the surface during these seemingly quiet periods, so I’m trying not to push too hard, but at the same time I don’t want to give myself over the down-turn completely. Experience has also shown me that I can use a lull as an excuse to get lazy. It’s a balance I still have trouble finding.

Nevertheless, I did meet most of January’s goals:

  • Follow up with [magazine still holding a submission]. I sent a follow-up email but haven’t received a reply. Now what do I do?
  • Write short prose and submit to this beautiful journal. Didn’t get to this one.
  • Begin piecing together a post-partum depression essay I’ve been avoiding.  I’ve started the “thinking out-loud” process on this one.
  • Revise a submission package I’ve been sitting on and write a cover letter. I even put it in the mail!
  • Write four new poems. Almost; I made it to three.
  • Continue revision work on three or four poems.

That’s a really good month! Especially for one that includes a lull and a poor poor Boychen cutting three molars and a canine at the same time. Seriously, Mother Nature, you couldn’t have tweaked the timing there?