Writing space, not a group, is what I need

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“I believe in empty spaces; they’re the most wonderful thing.” –Anselm Kiefer

This week I said goodbye to my writing group. I have trouble adjusting to groups. This group was a good group, however. It was hard to say goodbye. While I feel like sometimes I need accountability, I realize I just need to write and I need to write on my own terms. The truth is, since leaving my MFA program nine years ago, it’s been hard to find solid ground. It’s been difficult to grasp who I am as a writer and to find the routine and find solid footing. I thought I needed to force myself into a literary community or something. I guess I created a picture in my mind of how the post-MFA me should be and I was not finding my post-MFA life living up to that.

Leaving the group is not about the group members. It’s about casting off the expectations. It’s about finding myself as a writer again. Admittedly, I felt lost. My novel manuscript I left the program with seemed on its way and then it floundered. It had gotten beaten up by some of the communities I thought I needed, and I stowed it away for another day. I made fits and starts on other projects. I cut those off at the knees with other communities I thought I needed.

To be fair, my kids were growing up while I was trying to find myself as a post-MFA writer and they needed me. I worked a full-time job as a writer and then as a teacher of writing. It left little time and energy to find myself. I had a nurturing community in MFA program and then I didn’t. I was doing the nurturing and trying to find a rhythm again. It has been difficult, but the other day I realized that I just needed time to write. I needed to create a routine. I needed space. I needed to breathe life back into this thing that I love to do so much. That routine meant I didn’t want to fit into any kind of shape that the group formed for me. I wanted to be free to work on the projects that I wanted to work on. You see, I write literary stuff, but sometimes there is magic in it or ghosts or whatever supernatural thing that pops up, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, it’s just literary. I just want to write what I want to write.

It turns out, I don’t really need a group right now. I could use a good reader or two, but not a group. I do have a group of sorts, the kind of group that I figure works best for me to stay on task, a goal setting group, a kind of support group for writers. I meet once a month with them, talk about what’s frustrating me about writing and what’s going well, and that’s good enough, but the critique group always seems to stop the writing its tracks rather than feed it.

Today, I embrace the space, the space I finally realize I have needed more than the community. This space has helped me look back at that manuscript I shelved with fresh eyes and with a fresh approach. I can see those characters again. I see them in a new way, and I am excited. I need to sit with this excitement for a while, be happy that it’s back. I’ve missed this.

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Will Ferrell is Will Ferrell: Making a Case for Shelving the Fallback Plan

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Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life. There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure. –Paulo Coelho

This thing, this calling, chose me. That’s how it feels, anyway. I have tried other things, other somewhat more lucrative things, other somewhat less risky things, but none have really given me more stability, per se. None have been lucrative enough or stable enough (or even stimulating enough) for me to say, “Hey, it’s been so worth it to spend my entire life working on a fallback plan,” but that’s what I have done.

I went to college on a fallback plan. I went to college again on a fallback plan. I finally went to college to focus on that thing, but have used the degree more to build the fallback plan than the actual thing. I even went to college one more time, trying yet again at a fallback plan. The point is, I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find a good fallback plan. In fact, I have spent the better part of the last 26 years trying to find a fallback plan instead of giving that thing the time it deserved, the time it wanted, because in that 26 years, when fallback plan after fallback plan fell apart, that thing was always there. That thing was building and growing and building and growing, because it chose me. It nags and won’t let go, and yet I am happy that it does so. While fallback plan after fallback plan has fallen apart, I have found minutes, scraped together minutes to give to that thing because I had to, because I wanted to so much that I had to. In those scraps of minutes, seeds were planted and gardens have grown. That’s not to say there aren’t moments when no matter how much I think that thing chose me, I doubt it and feel like an imposter. Still, that thing nags at me and won’t let me go.

Sometimes, I wish when it first began to nag me that someone would have said, this may be your thing. Listen to it, but I was told it’s best to have a fallback plan. I am a mom now. My kids have their things, and their things, like my thing, are not things that people readily tell them they should bet their futures on. In fact, I remember sitting in one my daughter’s IEP meetings where her teachers and counselors encouraged her thing, but also told her she should have a fallback plan and she should spend more time thinking about that fallback plan. I get what they meant, but I still should have said no. I didn’t say no. Back then, I was in the midst of trying yet another fallback plan that I didn’t know was destined to fail. That’s not to say I don’t say no now. I know better, I guess. I hear my daughter daily through the vent, in her room playing ukulele, singing, and composing original songs. I have seen my son spend hours reading waves, getting back on his surfboard after a fall, trying again and again because it is his thing. Maybe they will find something else. Maybe the thing will be the thing in some way. I don’t know. It’s really not my business to tell them they need to do it any other way. That I do know for sure.

I recently watched Will Ferrell’s 2017 USC commencement ceremony speech. Say what you will about Will Ferrell (I personally find him funny as hell), through his humor he delivered a profound message, at least that’s the way I heard it. He spoke of darts and in the face of his risky, frightening, “I may never make it” calling he kept throwing darts at the target hoping that one or two might stick. I get that. Only, unlike Will Ferrell, I threw them secretly or stole moments to throw them and really only gave myself the chance to throw relatively few darts. Still, some have stuck, like the one I threw at Finishing Line Press in May 2016, and now I am weeks away from the publication of my first book of poems. I am not going to imagine where I would be now if I just spent the time throwing darts instead of trying and failing to find a good fallback plan. I am just going to start throwing fists full of darts now.

Ultimately, though, we spend a lot of time telling dreamers they need a fallback plan, and they need to spend more time figuring that out that plan than doing that thing. We usually give reasons like “It’s hard to make it doing that” or “Not everyone can be Will Ferrell.” Yes, it’s hard to make it doing a lot of things. I know. Yes, not everyone can be Will Ferrell, but then Will Ferrell was once just an unknown guy who kept throwing dart after dart.

The Quest for Re-Inspiration or the Importance of Stopping the Quest and filling the Well

img_5769I suppose I have been on a quest of sorts. It has been a while since I have felt the connection I used to feel to the world of words. It has been a while since I have had the time, space, etc., to fill the well. I take the blame for that. I have spent a better part of the past many years wanting, wanting to be a writer, wanting not to have screwed up my undergrad experience, wanting to have a career that offers some kind of stability, wanting, wanting, wanting. I used to feel like I was treading water, biking up a steep, steep hill, whatever the overused metaphor, perhaps you get the idea. I internalized the stress of thinking I needed to be something other than what I was or what I am, and I ended up in some kind of endless cycle of doing all these things I felt I should do to meet an end that was abstract at best. Of course my creative suffered. I shoved it aside with the thinking that I could create the perfect scenario to be able to create.

Not so long ago my husband and I did something nothing short of crazy. He being the Trekkie that he is would call it blowing up the Enterprise, and I would agree that it was a blowing up the Enterprise of sorts. We quit our jobs. We sold, donated, or tossed out nearly three quarters of our stuff, sold our home in Michigan, and crammed what remained of our belongings into two U-Haul trailers that we hauled across three states to Colorado.

Here I am. I finally have space. I have some job prospects, but I am learning (not so naturally) to embrace the space and time. I am using it to write again. I started this blog as one step, and I have been engaging in some writing-related activities in my new home. Bit-by-bit I am connecting with writers in my new home state. I even took time to take a real vacation, one where I could explore and be inspired. I visited San Francisco to hand out with family and to explore the city that has such a storied literary tradition.

I came away with the understanding that what I really want is to embrace the process now rather than to push it away. Part of that is due to the trip, but part of that is also because of the time I am taking to read more than I was able to before, at least read the things I want to read. The trip, though, is where I found The Poetry Deal by Diane di Prima, a book I read cover-to-cover while on the plane ride home. Some books appear at the very time I need them and this book is one those and it did appear. Out of all the books I could have come away from City Lights Bookstore with it was the one I needed most. Her inaugural address for her term as San Francisco Poet Laureate, her subsequent poems, should be read out loud everywhere right now. Something in all the poems touched me. Maybe because she dared to do so much of what I was afraid to do. She dared to be her strong, amazing self. She dared to commit to the poems and not much else except for her children.  “Memorial Day, 2003” is one poem that comes to mind with lines like “Remember it’s not a safe time & all the more reason/To do whole-heartedly what you have to do” and “remember/that all you need to remember is what you love/Remember to Marry the World.”

So, I’ve learned from di Prima and from blowing up the Enterprise that the quest is not important, the journey is. Now, I just need to keep remembering that.