Can’t feel too down today – woke up to these!
A mention of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter in my big local paper, The Seattle Times! (PS Seattle folks – head to Open Books in Wallingford to get a copy of my book! Or I can send you a signed copy!)
And a very nice review of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter in The San Francisco Book Review. They say that “The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is a treasure trove of insight and personal reflection.”
Thank you, Seattle Times and San Francisco Book Review! Plus, I wrote six poems in the last two days. So, it may be that feeling sick and discouraged (see my previous post) makes me write more poetry? Weird, right?
Speaking of discouraged, if you got a rejection letter from Breadloaf this week, don’t feel bad – read this blog post by Kelly Davio! She will make you feel better and give you a plan to move ahead!
Well, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, I’m not ashamed to admit it. Sick cat, then putting her down, and a two week bout with some mystery virus that’s left me tired and worn out. I haven’t been writing, sending out, or promoting my new book enough. Enough for me to be happy with? Enough to be effective? But what does enough look like?
A little post on Medium this morning by my friend Kelli reminded me of this. This post reminded me that part of success really is, no matter what, tied to how hard you’re willing (and able) to work. You can have a ton of talent, wonderful writing, but if you don’t get it out of your head, out of your hard drive, out your door and into the world, guess what? No one will know. How women sabotage themselves by not thinking their work is good enough to send out, or, if they’re anything like me, they just think sending their work back to an editor who asks for more is “rude, because I should wait at least six months before submitting again.” Because that is what is in my head. A lot of rules that no one ever told me, that I just absorbed at some point from the world around me. I think of myself as a fairly aggressive submitter – I probably average about 20 subs at least per quarter. But maybe not aggressive enough?
A lot of the writing game is about numbers. The more you send out, most of the time, not always, but most of the time, the more you will get published. The more you write, the more you have to send out. So spending your time writing, polishing, and sending out your work will stop you from sabotaging your self. Spending your time feeling sad and listening to sad music and wishing you had things you don’t, well, that’s not so productive.
Sure, there are dream stories: the writers with 200K book deals right out of the MFA gates at 24. Poets & Writers always seems to have a lot of those quicky miracle success stories, though when I meet the poets and writers I admire in real life, they more often tell me stories of years of struggle, pain, impatience, rejection. Writers may seem to win awards and fellowships with ease; sometimes you will not feel good about it. Here’s a post I happened upon today, and I encourage you to read not just the letter and answer, but the comments, which tease out some subtleties that the letter and response, both being a little simplistic, do not: Dear Sugar on Writer Jealousy. Because there are some truths in the letter, the response, and the comments. Seeing people get the things you want and work for sometimes hurts. Sometimes that’s because we’re entitled, maybe, as Sugar suggests. Sometimes it’s because we feel insecure, as some of the commenters suggest. Do those feelings do us any good? Maybe, if it motivates us. Maybe, if it keeps us writing and sending out work.
I was thinking about the difference between my thirties, when I was more optimistic and energetic, maybe more insecure too, and now, in my forties, that I feel less insecure, but I’m getting worried that I’ve spent an awful lot of hours and emotional energy on something I’m never really going to get rewarded for. I genuinely feel happy when good things happen to my friends, even acquaintances, because I think: those people genuinely deserve it. They’ve worked hard, they’re great writers, and I think, yay, the system works! When it doesn’t happen for me, but it happens for them, at least it happened to someone good, someone who deserved it.
These days, and maybe it’s not just physical, I feel tired. Tired of sending things out to rejection or worse, no response at all. (It happens.) Tired of putting out my best efforts, to feel like they fall into a vacuum. I mean, for poets, this is normal, right? Most of the time, poets not only don’t win at life (historically, there’s a lot of consumption, alcoholism, and suicide in this line of work), they don’t get paid, they don’t get recognition, no one notices what they do. I’ve talked before about average book sales for poets. What is the real bar for this thing I think of as “poetry success?” What’s the difference between optimism and false hope? When you work as hard as you can, and the results aren’t what you’ve dreamed of, what then? I was just reading the comments of several women on Facebook, older than me, who have become so discouraged they haven’t stopped writing, but they’ve stopped even being interested in sending out work ever again. I hope that doesn’t happen to me. I am willing to work, but I worry that the discouragement gets to you over time, that the constant doubt, disappointment, and rejection somehow rewire our brains to think “I will never be successful at writing, so I give up.” I sometimes think, if I don’t get a “sign from the universe,” I’m going to do something else with my time and energy. But then I write another poem.
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.)