Our little blonde cat (variously named Sugar Cookie, Bastett, and, much more frequently, just called “blonde cat”) has finally passed away, after 20 years – she’s been around nearly the whole length of our almost-21-year marriage, surviving three other cats and fifteen moves,, making her a more constant companion than most. She was down from her regular 9 pound weight to just five pounds (for comparison, our other cat is seventeen pounds of fluff.) She had been unable to keep down food, had stopped meowing, stopped being interested in treats or getting combed or petted, and had started falling a lot over the last few months, also getting progressively more blind and deaf. I wondered if I had done the right thing in trying to keep her around as long as I did. This morning at the vet she didn’t squirm or meow in protest, she didn’t cry in the carrier on the way to the vet. She was very peaceful at the end. But it was still sad. (This vet had recommended we have her put down two years ago, when she had perfect blood work but couldn’t seem to keep down food and drank water all the time, and it was conjectured that she had a blockage somewhere. Glenn squished all her food up (and we switched her food to easy-to-swallow food, rotating canned turkey and tuna for humans, even) for her every day for two years so she could swallow it.)
Pet deaths are a reminder that the things we love don’t last forever. I was thinking yesterday, I grew up on a farm and saw death all the time, but it didn’t insure that I don’t feel sad every time I lose a little animal friend. My husband and I both shed a few tears this morning, played sad songs, and cuddled our seven-year old remaining kitty, Shakespeare, extra. We will sprinkle her ashes on our little garden plot.
I usually give people a hard time about cat and dog poems, which tend towards the sentimental, but today, here’s a link to three cat poems by one of my favorite (and mostly unsentimental, except, it seems, for cats) poets, Margaret Atwood:
You know, the last week I’ve been pretty sick, the weather has been cold and rainy, and I received no particular good news. But I suddenly became aware of things that I should be happy about.
Nine little ducklings hatched in the pond across from my townhouse. Three months into the launch of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, I think I’ve been driving so hard – setting up readings, sending out review copies and PR letters, that I wasn’t thinking about the good things – that I’m lucky to have a fourth book out, that I’m lucky to have Amazon reviews and regular reviews out this soon after a poetry book coming out (it can take up to six months, sometimes, to get even one review – and it’s happened to me just like that with previous books, so I know.)
Instead of looking at the news – which has been sort of dismal for the entirety of 2015 – I started looking at other things – little kindnesses, people with goodwill, the flowers and tiny baby bunnies. I was trapped inside being too sick to go outside, and sort of brain-mushy from fevers and cold medicine, so I watched Mystery Science 3000 episodes from the library. I watched movies, listened to books on CD and read books just for fun.
I thought about my earliest ambitions as a poet – and haven’t I already fulfilled some of those hopes? I mean, no Pulitzer, no tenure-track teaching job, no NYC apartment cocktail parties, but the rest of it? I mean, if I think about, my writing life actually pretty good. I have great writing friends, a town to live in with frequent poetry readings and a bunch of book lovers, and lots of time to write and a spouse who loves my work and supports what I do. I’ve met and corresponded with poets I didn’t ever think I would even see in person. I’ve published four books. I think it’s so easy to get caught up with what we don’t have – the twenty-somethings with multiple prizes on their first books, the dudes with the tenure-track jobs ten years younger than me with no books – and the idea that by this or that age, we should have achieved something more than we have – I guess this whole midlife crisis thing, I’m 42 and where am I, what have I accomplished – but if I were talking to my younger self, she’d be thrilled to be where I am now. She would feel grateful. She wouldn’t be grousing about the stuff she didn’t have. She might not be excited about some of the physical limitations I’ve come up against, but then again, compared to where I’ve been in the last few years, I’m doing great – no wheelchair or cane, very few hospital visits in the last six months, etc. And how many people have been married 21 years (this July)? That’s something, too.
So I can’t find a house in my area in my budget – we did spend more than fifteen years as renters! Poets, unless they inherit or marry money, typically aren’t buying big mansions in expensive cities anyway, right? What did I expect?
So what am I saying? I had a sudden change in perspective that shifted my mood from fairly depressed to maybe slightly hopeful. I thought about some of my former poetry professors from my Master’s Degree days, maybe they were never media darlings, but they liked and were proud of the work they did, and that was enough for them. That may be the best attitude a poet can have. We don’t have to be media darlings, we don’t have to win the coolest prizes, we don’t have to live in beautifully decorated, perfect houses with water views. We can just enjoy the work we do every day, and that can be enough.
Beacon Bards Reading Report, New Review of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, Repercussions of Real Estate
It was raining, traffic was terrible, but the tiny venue was packed! And my friend Natasha M. brought a birthday gluten-free cupcake, which perked me up after the 1.5 hour drive from Redmond to Beacon Hill. (Ugh, Seattle traffic!) Not that I should complain – Nance came all the way from Spokane!
This morning, of course, I woke up with a sore throat, 102 fever, and a bad cough. The home inspection a few days (which did not go well, by the way) may be the cause – one of the inspectors told us he’d been sick. But am I the only person who gets sick right after readings, or right before? Such a strange phenomenon. Is the universe telling me to become a poetry hermit??
I also woke up to a new review by Portland Book Review of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. So that was nice. I have to say every review makes me feel happy. I know poetry doesn’t get that much media attention, so I really appreciate every little bit.
My house hunt is not going so well, sadly. Even half-a-million dollar houses getting multiple offers can have a ton of stuff wrong with them, which was the result of our pre-inspection – no foundation at all, and water underneath the house. Well, don’t pay for a pre-inspection if you don’t want to hear the results, I guess. I read the Seattle Bubble real estate blog, and the emotions (though not the spelling errors or the apparent buying capacity) of the letter-writer here ring true to me. It does feel like our town is only for the super-wealthy these days, which is a shame. Seattle has a long history as a working-class town, but I think the working class (and artists) are being pushed further and further out as cash buyers gobble up multiple houses at a time in an increasingly crazed market. Oh well. I guess this bodes well for selling our townhouse, anyway. Maybe we’ll take the money from this place and then find a single-level home somewhere out in the country that no one else wants (yet.)
So, tomorrow is my last scheduled reading in Seattle for The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, so if you want to see me read from the new book, come out to The Station in Beacon Hill tomorrow night at 7 PM. Nance Van Winckel, my co-reader, is pretty awesome, and I’ve heard the series is a lot of fun. More info here.
I also am very happy to post a link to Alice Osborn’s new review of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter here. It’s a really gracious and intelligent review.
“The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is a love letter to the author’s father and profession (a relationship common in sci-fi movies), a complicated love letter to Gailey’s childhood home which no longer exists, and a protest against environmental and social indifference when it comes to the effects of nuclear power.”
In personal news, we had bad news at our pre-inspection, so we’re still looking for our next house, and getting financing is just as difficult, especially since we haven’t put our current house up for sale yet. It’s hard to remain hopeful in a crazy market like ours where there are multiple offers on even houses with the worst foundations (like the one we just wanted to offer on.) Everything is expensive, small, and kind of crappy. If my current townhouse didn’t have two stories, believe me, I would happily stay put. This putting houses up for sale/trying to find a new house thing is more stressful than I remembered. It makes me want to go back to renting!
This summer, Kelly Davio and I are running an online manuscript summer camp. I’ve run it once before and it was a really fun experience, for me and for the participants. You bring yourself and your manuscript, the other participants and Kelli and I bring the fun! It runs well with about six people, so sign up early if you want in!
Sorry I haven’t been around on the blog – in the last week, I took on a grant application, a manuscript editing project, construction – getting a large bathroom project done on the house, and, oh, yes, house hunting. Did I mention we’re also getting the house ready for sale? So it’s been a bit bonkers. My asthma’s been acting up – a sign of allergies, or a sign of stress? I threw out my shoulder doing something that should have been easy. These are physical signs of lack of balance – literal and metaphorical.
In the last ten days, we had several large unexpected expenses – over $1500 on the car, over $400 on the house project, plus trying to update the outside with freshly planted flowers for extra “curb appeal” when we go to list our place. Plus one of my student loan payments unexpectedly went up by $200. It all felt very humbling compared to what I make as a writer, editor, poet, etc. Right now I’m behind on unpaid work, like writing reviews and sending out my own poetry and, oh yes, writing poetry. This is all compounded by trying to bid on houses in the hot hot hot real estate market of the Seattle area, where houses are getting ten offers and going 100K over listing. You can see how this is good for selling, not so good for buying. Talk about money worries!
Applying for the $1500 grant – a time-consuming prospect – made me think, gosh, writers really do not get paid very much. I wish I was passionate about writing romance novels or crime thrillers or anything besides poetry, sometimes. (I’m a Taurus, very hard-headed when it comes to finances.)
My friend Kelli – who is a poet who remains at all times grounded and practical, wonderfully qualities – reminded me that we all have different goals when it comes to writing. I mentioned that my favorite thing about being a writer was when young people – high school and college students, especially – get to read my work. And that has happened, which makes me feel lucky, and I hope this new book gets taught as well. Poetry is more about goals besides money-making – making a difference, being remembered after you die, you know, that kind of thing.
What are your best prescriptions for poetry money worries? Let me know in the comments! Since it is a lovely May afternoon, I am going to go smell my little lilac which is in bloom, walk around on the waterfront in the sunshine, and do some other free but relaxing things. I’ve got a reading this week on Wednesday at The Station in Beacon Hill, which will be extra nice because I’m reading with a poet I admire but haven’t gotten to see read all that often, Nance Van Winckel. A local artist I like, Yumiko Kayukawa is having a show at Grace Gallery downtown this week as well, that I hope to get out to see. Seeing art and hanging out with poets seem like good counterpoints to unexpected bills, real estate and mortgage worries, and the like.