Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sacrificing for Art: A Fine Balance

"This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse." ~Ranier Maria Rilke~ Letters to a Young Poet

My poetry teacher quoted from this passage during our final poetry writing workshop yesterday. It really struck a chord in me. He said that he knows plenty of poets who have miserable personal lives due to focusing solely on their craft, and also those who lead rich multifaceted lives built around writing. Sometimes I wonder which camp I belong to. On some levels I think I need to find more balance. I am willing to sacrifice almost anything to continue my education, largely to learn all I can about the craft of writing.
Would I really live in a cardboard box, as I told my husband earlier in the week, to pursue my art? I would never want to give up my marriage for my art. That is one thing that is too sacred for me to compromise. He is so supportive that it has never hampered our relationship that I'm aware of. He is my ideal reader, and my best editor. It is amazing how much he has learned about poetry and what his feedback has done for my work. He is like a Muse to me. So in that area of my life, I have a solid foundation for my art, not to mention my sanity, in a supportive partner. He goes above and beyond support into helping hone my art. He lets me read draft after draft aloud to him, which is an important part of my process. He tells me when something is unclear, sentimental, or far fetched. He brings me food when I have been in a creative whirlwind and haven't stopped to fix anything. He puts up with dust gathering on the bookshelves because I have been too immersed to stop and do my share of the cleaning. Sometimes he even knocks the dust off of the shelves himself. He is a wonderfully intelligent, caring, and patient man.
However, my social life is another story. My social life has taken a hit. This deficit isn't helped by my social awkwardness, but I rarely pry myself away from my work to go out or socialize. I keep up with people on FaceBook, the occasional meal, or a phone call. But how often do I go out and do things? Not very often. Part of this stems from my drive to create, and to do my schoolwork well so that I can pursue competitive MFA programs. Part of it has its source in my lack of funds. Going to school full time limits my availability to work, so I only work part time.
My financial life has also taken a hit. But I refuse to "take a year off" i.e. drop out of college. I have one year left, and I will finish and go on to graduate school. Come hell or high water. Some people don't recognize my focus or determination, or seem to realize that I have been working towards this goal for almost 5 years. I was the first person in my family (on my mother's side) and the first person in my immediate family to get a college degree when I got my AA (which is only useful if you continue on and get your BA). It is remarkable when you consider that up until that point I had a ninth grade education and a tumultuous past. Some people fail to respect the hard work I have done, and what it means to me to finish what I started and pursue an even higher level of education.
I suppose that therein lies the alienation from some people which daily grows the longer I view myself as an artist, a poet. I am willing to sacrifice. I don't need support, or the support that I do need I receive from my fabulous husband. Even if he had a complete turn around and was no longer supportive I would simply carry on with my work. It is work. So many people act as if education and art are the slack and easy ways to avoid working. Being an artist is not easy, writing poetry is hard. IT is work. It IS work. It is WORK.
I love my work. It isn't much different from building a house, besides its lack of physical exertion.
This leads me to my third area of imbalance. My physical health is not so great. I lead a very sedentary life. I need to go on long walks in nature, or even on a treadmill. Some exercise, fresh air, and eating well could help me lose weight, think better, and have better health all around. In some ways this would serve my craft because I would have less stress and more solitude to rest my brain.
In the dark of night, when I ask myself if I have to write in order to survive, my answer is "Yes, I must." There have been stretches of time when I did not write, and I didn't truly feel alive. Yes, I have built the structure of my life to suit this need. I have a drive to push myself rigorously through the educational system as a part of my process. There are some things I need to work on: going out and doing stuff, working more, taking better care of my health which, sadly, hasn't been enough of a priority, dusting my bookshelves, and taking the time to tend to mundane tasks as well.
I don't want to lead a miserable personal life for the sake of art. In fact, that could lead to some pretty bad poetry. I want to strike a balance, and I think I know what I am willing to sacrifice and what I am not willing to sacrifice; the areas where I need to care for myself and others, and the pieces of solitude necessary for my craft. I am going to pursue a balance of these things over the summer. A mix of everyday work (for $), play, self care, and then the real work that I do; the process which drives the blood through my veins: writing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Publication and Reading

I have been on tenter hooks waiting for news from the national publication Slipstream. Every day when I walked down the hill to check the mail I wondered if that would be the day I'd get a rejection slip or a notice that they'd accepted something. This is the first time I had ever submitted anything to a national publication. I have been accepted by Headwaters, a UNCA literary magazine, and also accepted by The Blue Elephant and The Dirty Fox (twice) when I was attending A-B Tech. I have also been rejected by another UNCA literary magazine Metabolism.
My writing teacher K from A-B Tech showed us how to submit our work to national publications around 3 years ago in Creative Writing II. There was a project where I had to prepare submissions. After some research I chose Slipstream as the place I'd submit to. I thought my work would fit there. However, the poetry was such that it sat in my file cabinet for three years. One of them is a deeply personal piece I will probably never publish, the other two lacked sophistication.
I felt I'd written some worthwhile stuff over this past semester so I dug out the old information, checked the website to make sure it was still accurate, rewrote my letter, submitted five poems, and got a poem accepted! The feeling I got when I saw that they were accepting my poem was surreal. They have been around for 30 years and they are out of Niagara Falls, New York, not far from where I was born in Buffalo. I have to wait an entire year to see my work in print, but it will be so gratifying, especially because I am graduating around that same time. I can't wait to see the issue and read the other poetry and art they select.
I am thrilled, and if it weren't for the end-of-semester mayhem I would be choosing the next place to submit to right now! I am so thankful to my awesome husband John for his unflagging support of my work, and of my education. I am also thankful to my wonderful poetry writing teacher R at UNCA for all of his help and encouragement over the course of the semester. His passion for poetry, honesty, and expertise have helped me blossom as a writer.
I am also excited to be doing a reading at Accent on Books in Asheville today. I am looking forward to hearing some other poets and sharing some of my new work. I haven't done a reading in a year, so it is going to be fun. If you can make it the reading starts at 3 and here is their info:
Accent on Books
854 Merrimon Avenue
Asheville, North Carolina 28804-2405
Phone: (828) 252-6255

Friday, April 16, 2010

End Of The Semester & Summer 2010: A To Do List In Three Parts

There are piles of dusty library books everywhere, stacks of poems that are marked in 10 different people's handwriting, dog-earred books, empty pizza boxes, and coffee cups...Yes it is the end of the semester, and my life has become a little messy. Among other things, I am hovering on the edge of more research and trying to compose my final manuscript for Advanced Poetry Writing. A total of 30 poems.
I workshopped a long piece done in syllabics and it was ripped apart pretty thoroughly. I spent 8 hours yesterday trying to salvage it in its original format.I had to put it down and try to gain some perspective, I'll pick it up again in a couple of days. I think I need seven more poems/revisions to complete my portfolio. I have 2 weeks. I wish I could spend all of my time completing this one project, but I have other classes!
There are many things I have to do over the and make some $, read what is on my senior reading list and do an annotated bibliography, study for the GRE, begin the process of writing essays and letters for graduate school applications, and prepare for my my senior competency exams. I am hoping to hear one way or another about an editorial internship I applied for as well.
There are sooo many more things that I need to do: Sleep, exercise, be outdoors, hang out with my friends, drink coffee, read what I want for a change, actually clean my house, watch movies, do art, write what I want for a change, which reminds me...crap...I am also supposed to spend 6 weeks of the summer writing. Three weeks of poetry and three of fiction. I want to work on the novel I started last semester, but I am not sure that would be something I could workshop in Advanced Fiction Writing in the Fall? So. Much. Work.
I want to go to grad school why?
I also need to: play in the dirt, sit around a fire, visit my family, go on a road trip to the beach, visit UNCW and other schools I want to apply to, listen to music from when I was 15 and dance around feeling young again, cause I am not so young anymore...apparently I need to save to go to a salon to get my hair fixed because I messed it up with a home dye job, I need to cook elaborate gourmet meals, spend quality time with my husband, get my parrotlet to eat more vegetables and fruit, eat more vegetables and fruit myself, go to farmer's markets, antique shops, and festivals, and sleep...did I mention sleep?
Regardless of all I must, should, could, and want to do I am relieved that the semester will be over in a couple of weeks. I am hoping one day it will all be worth it. I wanted to compile a list of things to do over the summer so I wouldn't just sleep the entire time, it has been known to happen. It will serve as a reminder of what I want to accomplish. Which is obviously to drive myself insane, not a far drive at all!