On Living with Uncertainty in Writing and in Life, and How To Track Your Writing Goals in 2017
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.