We live in uncertain times. I can’t stop writing about the end of the world. Or maybe I choose not to. In some ways, biologically speaking, I’m forced to live with uncertainty. Will I die from the 14 tumors in my liver, or not? I could die from something completely different, but I have to go get blood drawn to check for tumor markers and get a scan done every six months to find out. It seems, at almost a whole year since I was told last February I had six months to live due to metastasized cancer, they still don’t really know what’s going to happen. But I guess I’m okay, because certainty in this case is worse than uncertainty.
In uncertain times, is it okay to go ahead and keep thinking about poetry, about goals at all? While sneaky politicians repeal the ACA in the middle of the night, while Russia’s interference with our election, blackmailing our next President, I mean, all the things that could literally mess up our real everyday lives? Some of my friends are reading today at a Writers Resist protest. (I’m still staying mostly indoors, with this nasty long-lasting flu.) In the face of depressing daily news, in the face of health setbacks or personal setbacks, it’s tough to continue. But perhaps these days our need to write and publish is greater than ever.
So, let’s talk about our writing goals for 2017.
I got a pretty little Fitbit-type thing for Christmas that counts my steps, tracks my sleep, and allows you to program in the goals of your choice. I made it a goal to write something 3 times a week, and it’s so satisfying when I get my little “goal achieved” celebration on my phone app! It doesn’t have to be a great something, it just has to be something. And you know what? I’ve been writing more, despite being so sick I couldn’t get out of bed or read a magazine for a week! So, I recommend a version to this to anyone – give yourself a weekly writing goal. If you don’t hit it one week, don’t beat yourself up, but try to do a little more the next. I’ve been trying to submit a little more too. This type of goal is tricky, because not everyone has the same drive to publish, and publishing is really out of our hands. But maybe encouraging yourself to put your work out in the work a little more than you have been – if you’ve been submitting once a month, try two; if you’ve been submitting once a week, try submitting to more challenging markets. (And I just received my copy of Poet’s Market 2017: The Most Trusted Guide for Publishing Poetry, which I always think is a great way to inspire and start the new year – I love reading the hard copy about markets, about how to submit, etc! And I have three articles in the book this year! 🙂
Speaking of writing and uncertainty, I’m so excited to be part of this upcoming conference in March, “Bodies of Work: The Human Body in Various Forms,” from University of Southern Mississippi, where Beth Ann Fennelly will be the keynote speaker (she’s fantastic!) and I’ll be Skyping in as a featured speaker. http://egousm.wixsite.com/conference/speakers They’re still taking papers (http://egousm.wixsite.com/conference/call-for-papers) and applications, so check it out! This is a subject close to my heart – and I hope some of you with “different” bodies – that don’t always feel heard in a world that values perfection and health over all – will send something in!
But, does it make a difference? Does it make any sense to read and write poetry right now? What does poetry really do for anyone, anyway? Well, did it make sense for Martin Luther King Jr to get arrested for standing up for civil rights, or for Jesus to go around telling Pharisees they were wrong? I mean, logic can only get you so far. I guess a lot of us artist-types are idealistic. I’m probably more cynical than most of my artist friends, but still, I believe there is some good to be achieved in lifting your voice in protest, in making space for art in a world increasingly hostile to learning, books, art, etc. In gathering with friends, in volunteering, in celebrating good things in the world. If the last year has taught me anything, it’s that life is short and the time you devote to – whatever – better be worth it. So, I continue to write poetry, review poetry, and try to publish, without really knowing if it makes the world a better place, if it makes anyone think about things in a different way, if it builds empathy. I hope it does.
First, I’m a bit behind on things, but thanks to Unnerving Magazine and Stephanie M. Wytovich for including Field Guide to the End of the World on their “Read This!” List at the beginning of the year: http://www.unnervingmagazine.com/single-post/2017/01/03/Read-This-With-Author-of-The-Eighth-Stephanie-M-Wytovich
How’s your 2017 been so far? I’ve been mostly in bed with a really nasty flu since January 1, which means I haven’t gotten much done except 1. discovered the clever comedy “People of Earth,” like The X-Files (the main character is both skeptic and experiencer of alien abduction) but funny, and 2. experimented with many, many soups of various kinds (since that was all I could swallow for about four days!) I think our favorite soup discovery was how easy it was to make a delicious from-scratch mushroom soup (just saute a little bit of cubed fennel, carrot, and potato, because they take a while to soften, then brown a mess of mushrooms in a skillet, then toss all together with a bunch of broth or even water, cook a little bit, delicious! Glenn added a little Greek yogurt to make his creamy – I took mine brothy and straight.) I also haven’t slept the night since the new year started – not something I recommend. Like, an hour of sleep a night for six nights is not enough. Plus I haven’t had a voice AND I haven’t even been with it enough to read, write, etc. Drag! Not how I was hoping the year would start.
Now, if you read my poetry much, you know I don’t often write explicitly political poetry, but I’m very proud to have yes, a political poem coming out in the “Inauguration Day” issue of Nice Cage. Look for it on, yep, inauguration day, when the issue goes live, a day a lot of us will probably need to read some poetry. The poem is called “Failure, 2016,” and I’m pretty proud of it.
But the good news is I was actually well enough to go out on New Year’s Eve, so Glenn and I glammed up and took advantage of living in the middle of many swanky wine places by going out to a party with live music. It was romantic and fun – and it was nice to remember that I have legs (it’s been super cold, so it’s been a steady diet of pants and boots for me) and how handsome Glenn looks when he dresses up! Hey, after 22 years of marriage, you have to take advantage of romantic occasions when you can! (Especially since he was going to be seeing me all disheveled and sniffling in pjs for the next six days!)
Here’s hoping the rest of the year gets better from here, for you and for me! Next time I’ll talk about 2017 writing and publishing goals!
Happy New Year’s Eve-Eve to you! A nice pre-New-Year’s Gift: thanks to Serena and Savvy Verse and Wit for putting Field Guide to the End of the World on their “Best of 2016” list! And I’m sharing the “best of” poetry slot with my friend Jessica Piazza. Go check it out!
In the last few days, I’ve been sick with some evil things that involves chills and fever among other exciting elements, but this has given me time to play catch-up.
In that time I:
–judged a poetry contest
–read over two manuscripts and wrote two blurbs
–wrote a poem or two
–sent out a handful of submissions, including two for solicitations
–read a book of essays that had been on my “to-read” pile for six months or more. (Megan Stielstra’s Once I Was Cool. It was good!)
–Contemplated the evils of all that 2016 has offered/considered how to prepare for 2017, or, as I call it, the apocalypse year. Making a playlist was of course part of this preparation. Inside the playlist: Avalanche City, Florence and the Machine’s “Wish That You Were Here,” some other stuff. After two years straight of listening to “apocalypse” playlists, I tried to make it a bit more upbeat.
I wish I could say I was feeling upbeat. But honestly, I’m so knocked out by the deaths of so many of my childhood icons – and George Michael and Carrie Fisher were among my top-rated in my teen years – and by the political climate and everything else I’ve been dealing with (health stuff) I’m barely keeping my head above water. Then, the New York Times declared today that “feminism had failed.” Hey, fellas, it’s not like my right to vote and own property were taken away! It’s just, feminism is a long and arduous fight. I mean, 200 years ago our great-grandmothers were being taken to jail to get the right to vote. So, now we don’t have to drag our husbands with us to open a bank account. It’s progress. I mean, I wish the man becoming president wasn’t a proud sexual assaulter, and I wish there was equal pay for equal work, and a woman running for president wasn’t continually assaulted for her clothes and hair and voice and husband’s actions etc, but hey! It’s not like “feminism has failed.” It’s just that we have to keep fighting the good fight.
Instead of New Year’s resolutions, destined to fail, I like to make New Year’s wishes. I like to eat grapes and black-eyed peas and greens (I’m probably culturally confusing my traditions, but all are supposed to lead to good luck in the new year…and maybe noodles are part of this too?) and celebrate and if I’m able, go out to see sparkly fireworks wearing a sparkly dress. This upcoming year will hopefully be less traumatic than 2016. I try to think positive (even if I’m not necessarily feeling upbeat!) So here are my non-resolution wishes/goals/celebrations:
–I’m going to devote more time and energy to my health (um, being given six months to live will shift your perspectives on this stuff – see all my posts since Feb 2016 for more on this)
–Spend more time writing
–Prioritize having more fun.
Those are my goals – not punitive, but celebratory! I give you all permission to decide to celebrate the good things in your life in 2017 rather than trying to “fix” all the things are broken. It turns out, feeling happy about those good things – your health, your friends and family, your art, your pets and garden, whatever gives you joy – might turn out to be a lot more important than ten pounds or an organized closet!
Happy Boxing Day! A blog post on Light and Dark up at North American Review’s blog, Aimee and The Millions, and celebrating holiday brightness
Happy Boxing Day! I hope you all had a good holiday! We had Christmas dinner last night (Glenn’s Christmas tamales, duck, endive salad, cranberry meringue pie, you know, the usual 😉 with my little brother and his wife, went out to see the Woodinville Wonderland house (an insane but fun amount of lights with things like Santa on motorcycles and polar bears next to mangers…) I have been battling one virus or another since Thanksgiving it seems, but was happy to have a little respite to celebrate. Ended the night by watching an MST3K episode in which giant grasshoppers destroyed Chicago. Sometimes a little silliness and apocalypse is exactly what you need to sleep.
Below are some pictures that celebrate the light – Christmas boats, Winter Wonderlands, Santa-cap kittens and typewriter ornaments, these are a few of my favorite things.
Happy to have a blog post up at North American Review on the importance of balancing darkness and light, in our lives as well as our writing – that I wrote before getting the news in my previous blog post. 2016 has been pretty difficult about a lot of things, but it has given me the gift of perspective. Go check it out! 🙂
I was also very thankful that Field Guide to the End of the World was included in Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s A Year in Reading list on The Millions! Thanks Aimee!
Congrats to Melanie Teabird who won the tote challenge earlier this month! We mailed it out today so hope you’ll receive it soon!
I hope you all are finding a way to celebrate the light during the darkest time of year. Now let’s celebrate like Icelanders and curl up with a book and some chocolate. Wishing you all a wonderful New Year!
A few years ago I started writing the book that became Field Guide to the End of the World – poems about coming to grips not just with death, but the end of all the things that we’ve become accustomed to – civilization, running water, grocery stores, telephone systems, mail.
Back in February of this year, I was diagnosed (surprise!) after finding 14 tumors in my liver – with metastatic cancer. This is NOT the kind of thing you want as a surprise diagnosis. I was told that I probably had six months to live. I made the decision to put off a dangerous and possibly life-threatening liver biopsy and go to AWP instead. When I got back, I took myself to a bunch of specialists who thought maybe I didn’t have cancer after all, just a bunch of benign tumors that might rupture, or turn into cancer. Then I was found to have a super high tumor marker for a rare slow-moving cancer called carcinoid (or neuroendocrine tumors) which also matched a lot of my symptoms, and I got a diagnosis for that. It was official, on all my charts and medical records and everything. My book came out and I immediately caught pneumonia. This meant I had to postpone the chemo I was supposed to start in September.
While I was too sick to get chemo, I visited some endocrinologists (multiple) encouraged me to be cautious and wait to get more tests and scans before I did. I started getting ‘cancer insurance’ offers in my mailbox. As I tried to trade in a six-month life expectancy for one that looked closer to a couple of years, I made some changes in my life. We bought a home. I adopted a kitten (almost always a good choice.) I said no to lots and lots of things that I was asked to do. I tried to reduce my stress levels, exercise, eat better, take medicines that doctors recommended for my symptom control, and try to enjoy life and avoid things that made life worse for me. I bought a piece of art that brightens my day every time I look at it. I reconnected with old friends, told people I loved them. Tried to make hard choices about how to spend my remaining time. I thought to myself “I probably don’t have time to write another book of poetry.” That last thing made me pretty sad. I spent a lot more time outdoors. I smelled every flower I could. I planted lavender in my new front yard, and when I did that, I didn’t know if I’d live to see it bloom next summer.
So now it’s winter, I’m still here, and besides the unexplained hives/stomach problems and the more banal flu sessions, I mostly feel…fine! And here’s my latest news…I just met with the head of a liver center to go over my latest MRI, a scan of my abdomen that indicated the tumors hadn’t grown, changed, or spread, which in cancer language is pretty positive news, with a “wait and watch” message from the liver specialist for now. It’s questionable now – though I have to wait for some more tumor marker tests to know for sure – if carcinoid syndrome is even my correct diagnosis. So it’s goodish news from my end of the world – I just wanted to let everyone who’s been on this journey with me know this – what I think of “as good as you get with 14 tumors in your liver” – update. Though I manage to walk a balance daily between skeptically pessimistic and cautiously optimistic, as I feel pretty battered in terms of my emotions and my overall perception of my health. Yeah, I mean, sure, in the last twenty years, I’d learned to manage – having been born with one kidney, having a primary immune deficiency, messed up joints, unexplained neural lesions (still under investigation) and a heritable bleeding disorder, among other weirdness – all of which put you on a precarious tightrope of “any little thing COULD kill you at any time” that I had pretty much lived with by ignoring and wearing one of those medical-jewelry bracelets – but the cancer thing this year has probably been the most eye-opening world-spinner I’ve encountered.
If it’s the end of your world, weird things take on more significance, and other things take on less. You feel less inclined to put up with bullshit of any kind, and more inclined to put things that satisfy your inner self – in my case, books, art, animals, nature, and inspiring people – on your priority list. You notice who loves you and who makes the effort, and who doesn’t. I also found to my surprise that I was not super unhappy or anxious in terms of my life – I mean, I didn’t really have much of a bucket list left, which means I’ve either really lost my ambition or I’ve accomplished the things that were important to me to accomplish.
And notice – I still post on Twitter, and Facebook, and on this blog. I still read the news, which FYI, has seemed to be a non-stop crapfest during the whole of 2016 – environmental, personal, political, you name it – and try to participate in the world, even as I might be teetering as if it were ending, at least for me. I still write poems, even if they may not ever make it into a book. What does the end of the world really mean? Who or what would you regret saying goodbye to, and who or what could you lose without any regret? What makes you laugh? What makes you feel like you connect to a larger purpose? For me, I’ve learned to say no, to admit more weakness and be more honest, to really enthusiastically enjoy the things that I can while I can. I’ve learned that even staring at the end, you can still capitalize on each moment of meaning, pleasure, love, poetry, sunshine, hummingbird wings. You can learn that the world’s spinning is so beautiful because at any moment it might stop.