I am certain that I have written on this topic before. Certain because I have had the same exact prompt for exploration of the subject again and again.

And again someone offers advice that to make myself more visible as a poet I should teach workshops on this or that (sometimes the suggestion doesn’t even involve teaching poetry). It is interesting. And it is unintentionally demoralizing. I already have a job that isn’t writing.

There seems to be this idea that if people like you personally, they will like your poetry. “They just need to get to know you.” That seems odd to me. I don’t know writers whose work I admire. And in some instances, I dislike writers whose work I admire. And I wonder if the genre writing “community” is as similar to a cult-of-personality?

I asked my Canadian publisher which of her titles sold best. She didn’t take a beat: those who are very visible on social media.

It is interesting. And perplexing. I have a full-time job. I write daily, hand-bind books and make broadsides from handmade paper. I’m writing the newest manuscript, keep two Instagram accounts, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page (I spent weeks setting up a shop there, which has yielded 1 view). I have even begun to delve into Etsy and Pinterest. I have a dog, a husband and – despite Covid – friends. The last two things I mention require me to shower, too.

Where do people find the time to do more? I am impressed!

“Serve the Community”. It’s common advice to writers – and to visual artists. The marketing advice is almost identical to the advice offered to people selling workshops about marketing. To people selling pilfered quotes on t-shirts and coffee mugs.

The word “ingratiate” keeps coming to mind. I am not saying people who are popular ingratiate themselves, but any conscious attempt to become popular on my part would be.

I have never been someone who (successfully) vies for attention. Four people in a room, and I will press myself against the wall to watch. I think it’s why I am a writer. And a writer who has on occasion had much more to drink than was wise at conferences, just to be able to make small talk.

I am naturally more of an (amateur) social scientist, watching discreetly from the corner of the room noting observations about the fascinating gaps between spoken language and body language, than I am someone who dances on the table. I can control a classroom, but when all the teachers are in the room at the same time, the only thing that tells me apart from the students is my gray hair and drooping skin.

Literally, I have been an alien for nearly 30 years. Figuratively for much longer. I tried very hard to fit in in high school. And gave up entirely my junior year. All that contorting was very painful. And I never could figure out what I would win from it. Is it possible for life to still be like a bad teen rom-com when you are over 50?

I’m not going to win any popularity contests. And I am going to be okay with that.

In 7th grade, I did win a dance contest. The hustle was on the way out, but disco was still in. All the boys were named Steve or Greg. All the girls were Rebeccas and Pams. I do remember some things. A Halloween party and I tripped and got an ironic nickname for my performance. The nickname meant I belonged – for about four months. Then moved again. To start over in another town. You can’t bring nicknames with you. Especially when they’re ironic.

It’s weird I remember that nickname. Those people.

I’ve been thinking about how I have carried on a pattern of starting over throughout my life – even when it wasn’t necessary. Sometimes I circle back. And even though I get distracted, “Ooo – wouldn’t that be fun to do!”, I do think I am moving in an ever-tightening circle. Sort of zeroing in on a kind of contentment that isn’t dependent on other people’s responses. Not there yet. But closer.

I have a tattoo on the base of my neck. It is one of those Eastern-inspired Western designs that are about life’s path. I asked my (then) teen son to design it for me. It has a strange hard turn in one of the concentric circles. I’ve never asked him what it was. I assumed it was the divorce in his mind, though it was something else to me. Or maybe: AND it was something else for me. So when the tattoo artist assumed it was a mistake and asked me if I wanted him to “fix” the design. I said no.

My older son keeps reminding me to stay true to my joy. He doesn’t use those words – I have no idea whose words those are, actually. He says, only do the marketing as long as it is fun.

I haven’t submitted work to journals in over 5 years. I want to have my head together before I do. I want to have my personal guidelines clear before I even look at the calls.

Writing is my practice. It is not my livelihood. I’m going to try to dance, not hustle.

what feels like a hard
turn – decisive and brutal
will turn back again
in time imperceptibly
softening in the distance

E. says often lately that “beginning again” is everything now that we are getting older. We are guaranteed to have trip-ups that will keep us off the trail and make it difficult to lace up the shoes and get out there. The key now isn’t to aim for improvement, it is to aim for continuation, to get up again. To keep getting up again.

The last two days have begun with beautiful sunrises, while the weather is clear and cold. The fire-bright bleed before the sun actually rises. The still water that mirrors the sky. All this makes it easier. I lift my chest and drop my spine into the center of my back, shoulders relaxed. I let go of thoughts about work, or about books, and I notice the birds. The mourning dove this morning flying unusually low to the ground, perching on a low branch in the same tree where the small squirrel lives now. Three grackles were tussling mid-flight.

The strangest thing was that we passed a group of people, 7 maybe, walking in a tight cluster. It’s unusual for people to be out so early, but it has been a year since so many people have walked to closely together. It’s a sign that the county has finally stepped up the vaccinations. It’s odd that I feel almost an apprehension about things returning to the way they were. I am ready, and I’m not. I think it’s because I feel that I’ve failed at this Covid society so far. I need to figure it out before I have to move on. I feel like I’ve missed something important. I have no idea what it is, but there’s something. A lesson? An accomplishment? An epiphany?

Maybe I am thinking that if I haven’t found the time to calm down and do things like read for fun, go for long walks more often – when will I when things speed up again? I am not ready for things to speed up. Am I alone with this feeling? Stop, stop, stop until I get my head wrapped around all of this.

Of course I’m not alone. Again, I think we can hear something over and over and think we understand it, until we experience it. “Get off this rollercoaster” is so general it can be applied over and over in our lives, and mean entirely different things: Oh! NOW I get it for real. Oh, no, I didn’t really get it! But NOW!

But what is the name of that ride where you stand, back to the wall, while everything spins and plasters you to the edges while it tips sideways? The Graviton Theatre. How could I forget?

That. Who knew the designers of carnival rides were poets working with physical metaphors for our lives to come?

When I was about 6 my mother was trying to sweeten the pot when leaving me with new babysitters: They’re making tacos for dinner. But the couple was from Mexico and their “tacos” were something I’d never seen before. Creamy, greenish, bland chicken, soft tortilla shells. No cheddar. No jalapenos. What?! I remember thinking it tasted very “grown-up”. There is little worse (to this day) than anticipating a dish then being presented with some twisted version of what you know and have been salivating at the thought of.

I have no idea why that popped into my head. I suppose we learn that words aren’t always a reliable indicator of a shared reality. I suppose it has something to do with the five aggregates, staying in the moment, and not clinging to expectations.

And I think the five aggregates have everything to do with poetry.

A good poem (in my opinion) works through all of them: form, sensations, perceptions, ideas, and discernment. Maybe poetry is nothing more than the attempt to overcome the limitations of words through metaphors.

My love is like an overripe peach
too soft to touch without
bruising in spots – sweet
maybe, but too round
on the tongue, too
indistinct

I look down at my fingers on the keyboard and have to remind myself that there is nothing here to be ashamed of. These twisting bones should be honored.

But it’s not easy.

For months I’ve been working on the manuscript for Impermanence, which is all about embracing change because there is nothing else real.

It’s as though most of us were immortal creatures swapped at birth, faeries misplaced among humans. Puzzled by our strange bodies. The cellulite that comes with menarche, the skin-tag-chaos of cells gone feral. The relaxing, the what’s-all-the-fuss attitude that these creatures, our bodies take on.

“What’d you win for all that work?”

I make a lot of things harder than they are. Putting my attention on ornamentation and packaging instead of the essence of this thing that is living. Even in the middle of a delicious bit of creation, I can step back and judge it. Shift the point of view. Objective, not subjective. Passive, not active. Contemplative, not experiential.

Clearly, I believe in the value of contemplation. But in service to the experience, and not vice versa.

Oxpeckers prevent parasites from sucking the blood of an animal by plucking them from the skin. But an over-eager oxpecker can open new wounds. Can prevent healing.

All medication is poison.

And the metaphors go on. And on. Because this neutrality is the truth of the world.

The neutrality of time. It is interesting that we say, “passing”. Because the metaphor fixes “time” as a thing that moves past us. Personified as a series of creatures that wander through our lives. Or through the world. This time, that time that was.

I am having a difficult time (!) conceiving of time as a continuous present and nothing more. (And believe me, I’ve been toying with this idea for months now). Time does not pass. Time is the only constant and the only reality and everything else is a story in the present.

Maybe this is what the faerie knows. And just can’t relate it to human semiotics?

spaces between open:
the highs and lows, the terrain
of years – a topography
of living more visible
before the final closing

This morning feels familiar. A dog on the little rug near my feet. The coffee machine grinding in the other room. The delicious click-click of this cheap keyboard that is beginning to look like a mysterious, archaic tool.

This isolation.

The light is streaming in through the window already, but next week we move the clock backs and I will be writing in the dark again. I rather like that phrase: writing in the dark.

Yesterday I was thinking again about a drawing exercise I did so very long ago, but that has stuck with me. Mr. Shannon told me to draw my hand in detail. Every detail. But I had a kind of table over my paper that prevented me from seeing it. I wish I had that paper still. I remember being fascinated by the quality of the lines. The fragmentary nature of our sight. Of ourselves. I’ve been working on this again these days. Playing with pencils and lines. Simultaneously going at it “blindly” and yet seeing more than one normally does.

There was a time when I kicked myself for not being able to pull it all together – all the pieces – all the sensitive lines – to make a whole that was representational, recognizable. But I’m fine with it now. The sensitive lines convey just as much truth as the representational image. Something is always lost when you zoom out.

Everything is a metaphor.

I gravitated toward what I was told I was good at. Always relying on what I was told I was good at. I think it’s funny that my poetry has always been as fragmented as my drawings. These days I think it is all one. I’m reconsidering what poetry is. Reconsidering what kind of verification I need and don’t need from others.

To be honest: what kind of verification I don’t want to need from others.

My son tells me I have beautiful handwriting. He can’t read it though and calls it a secret language. This is the same kid who has zero interest in poetry. I have no idea if those things are related.

I have students who refuse to write anything by hand. None of them have ever learned cursive writing. I know there are a lot of theories about learning and handwriting, but I am just thinking: what a flat world without it.

Do children still finger paint in kindergarten?

Now I want to finger paint.

Maybe the drive to be more childlike as we age is less about reverting to innocence, than a call to engage again with the physical world while we can?

a rock fits nicely
in your palm – and you scratch
a white scar into
the wall of the bluff shelter
your will will shape the world after

This morning I look in the mirror and see the swollen half-moons under each eye. I’m still dealing with insomnia. I grab a coffee mug and open the sliding door to let Leonard out into the yard. The snow is coming in nearly perpendicular to the earth, and half-melting the moment it touches anything. The table outside is covered with a gray slush and hailstones. Leonard comes in again, wet and miserable, heading straight for the treat cupboard.

I’m on a second cup of coffee before I even sit down to write.

My morning routine has sort of toppled on its head. Yoga and meditation when and if I force myself. But I know all things circle back and am trying to be patient with myself. No whipping. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.

I’ve cleared my calendar again, to settle down with mint tea and a book of poems. This afternoon: Camille T. Dungy’s Trophic Cascade. I am having a difficult time giving in to relaxation. But I would be lying if I tried to convince anyone that the guilt I have means I am actually getting anything done. Housework. Yard work. I honestly don’t know how the hours are leaving my presence so empty.

I lay on the shakti mat and listen to a podcast. I eat. I long to go running. Or rather, I long to want to go running again. Patience.

Leonard nudges my arm so I will lift it out of his way, and he lays his head on my chest and stares at me. I have no idea what is going on in his head when he does this. Sometimes he will lift his head and, very tenderly, bite the tip of my nose. Honestly, it’s as uncomfortably intimate as it is amusing.

The clocks spring forward in a little over a week. Which means that the mornings will be dark again. I am already mentally preparing. After that, Easter, and then headlong towards summer. It’s only this year that I am conscious of the ambivalence I feel when I become aware of myself wanting summer to come soon. In wanting the days to fly by. I have no idea if I am late to this understanding? Late to understanding the value in savoring all of the days? Sometimes I catch myself counting backwards. From 95 on a good day. From 100 on days when my respect for science totters on the edge of faith. Then I remind myself that there is no guarantee and that to put off really paying attention to the days until I am retired may not be the wisest of plans. What are those seven regrets again? And why on earth am I thinking of them now?

You know. I don’t think I’m going to regret not doing the dishes right now.

I’ve got a book of poems and an overgrown puppy.

the cold winds squeezing
between the sash and the sill
intermittent taps
reminding you of the world
beyond the quilt and the tea