Behind, ahead….

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The year spins along, winding down to the last days on the calendar.

In 1999, I spent New Year’s Eve alone because my boyfriend (now husband) was at the South Pole, and I wanted time to consider whether my impending move to Alaska was the right thing for me. I was living in Ithaca, NY, at the time, and I went out at 11:45pm into the darkness of the little neighborhood park by my house. To my surprise, my neighbors were all outside, quietly talking in little groups, one moving about with a bottle of champagne and those little paper bathroom cups. It was exactly the right type of celebration. At midnight, fireworks went off over Cayuga Lake and spooked a small flock of Canadian Geese. We could hear them calling as they went overhead towards the hills. I remember thinking that man creates thresholds that nature does not recognize, and how nature has thresholds that we now have forgotten. The geese didn’t care about the millennium.

Now, close to eighteen years later, I realize that I could never have predicted the number and diversity of thresholds I’ve crossed. I am grateful for what each of them has taught me. If you are like me, this last year has been a series of difficult thresholds, through to the other side of what I thought I understood about the country I live in. But if you are like me, then you have probably also realized that this unkind political climate was always there, some of us were just cushioned from seeing it.

I certainly could never have predicted the profound impact of the internet on the way we gather news, connect with people, and even discuss poetry. When I started this blog seven years ago, I imagined all of the things it could be – a place to discuss poetry, share poems, consider the writing life. And it has been those things. But Facebook and Twitter and Instagram have taken some of the energy away; it’s so much easier to post a tweet than write something longer and more in depth. But easier isn’t always a better. In fact, easier is seldom better. So this year, I’ve pledged to post at least once each week on this blog along with a host of other poetry bloggers. I urge you to check out the list gathered by Kelli Russell Agodon and Donna Vorreyer. Subscribe and join in the conversation.

So many people have asked me to repeat my 2015 year of haiku! For the entire month of December I have been trying to decide if I want to restart that practice. To be honest, I don’t feel the energy there, but I do want to have a small daily writing practice with some accountability. Then I remembered Naomi Shihab Nye telling all of us gathered at the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference that she often has a notebook in which she is writing a poem line-by-line, day-by-day. One line a day. I can do that, right? Just watch on social media for the hashtag #apprenticetolight, and you’ll know that there’s a poem building there. Come here for more in depth conversation.

May the turning of the year be kind to you and yours. May we all listen a little more closely and reach out a little more often. Take care of yourself and others, and especially your corner of this beautiful world. Feed the birds. Go for walks. Read poetry. Set yourself down and pick up your pencil. May 2018 be filled with love and light for us all!

Boundaries: A chapbook and an observation

It was 10:48am when I started writing this and still quite dark outside – overcast, yes, but also the sun rose at 10:03 today and it takes an additional half hour to crest the mountains across the bay. We’ll only lose another sixteen seconds before the pendulum swing holds for a moment on Thursday morning at 7:28am and then the light sputters and begins to return.

My desk is filled with piles that mark tasks that need to get finished before the end of the year (or at least organized so that they can be tackled intelligently in January), but really all I want to do is read poetry and write poetry. Oh, maybe talk about poetry, share poetry, and throw in a little informal teaching of poetry.

I’m entering the last half of my Rasmuson Fellowship year, and I’ve cleared a lot from my calendar until the end of May 2018 so that I can really dive deeply into my own writing. Last time I was on fellowship, I had two residencies, but during one, my mother passed away. I had gone to that residency at Willapa Bay AiR thinking that I would do one last round of revisions on my second manuscript (Every Atom which will be released by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press, in April 2018). Instead, it took another six months as I wrote new poems and reworked the arc of the manuscript.

When Cyndy Hayward, the amazing founder of Willapa Bay AiR, invited me back the next year to complete my month’s fellowship, I had no project to complete. I didn’t even have a project begun. I worried that I might spend a month playing solitaire on my computer. Instead, I read deeply each day and let the that inform my writing. In one month, I wrote an entire chapbook’s worth of poetry now titled Boundaries.

Sparked by the intertidal world of the Long Beach Peninsula; by mourning the death of my father, mother, and a good friend; and by the books that I was reading, Boundaries explores the questions surrounding what separates self from other, what separates life from death.

As I head into another deep dive, though this time at home, I am proud to say that you can purchase the chapbook Boundaries from Dancing Girl Press, a small, independent press based in Chicago. They should be shipping around the beginning of January. I am very grateful that Kristy Bowen was interested in this quirky and deeply personal work.

Soon we cross of the boundary of the year end/ year beginning. What will 2018 bring us? The light. The light. The light. At least we can apprentice ourselves to the light.

Practice makes more practice?

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It’s that most slippery time of the year. Really, my driveway has been transformed from a snowy wonderland into a shining luge run of ice by the recent rain and above-freezing temperatures. But this time of year is also slippery time-wise. Even those of us who try to have iron-clad routines (I meekly raise my hand here) are knocked off-course by the vagaries of holiday parties, snowstorms, family obligations, and, sometimes, the December blues.

Because I live so far from my family, I don’t have many holiday obligations, but I sure am nudged away from writing and other tasks I usually enjoy by what I consider a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. This year it’s exacerbated by my easy-as-she-goes recuperation from my medical issues and by our elected officials’ wanton disregard for the vulnerable. So, I’m casting about for ways to buckle in.

Here I am, 7:30am at my desk facing the dark window, SAD-light blaring. This one practice, writing each morning come hell or high water, keeps me from slipping off the calendar and then washing up on the shores of March blinking and groggy. But I have a sense that I’m going to have to come up with some other ways to wake myself up. WAKE UP, I want to scream as I scroll through Facebook, as I stare into my suddenly cold cup of morning coffee.

Entering 2015, I felt the same way. I had lost both of my parents in 2014, and I was sleep-walking through life. Grief, like a big grey blanket, covered everything. So I set myself a challenge, one haiku every day. I posted them each night on Facebook to keep myself on track, but also because posting them on social media made them disposable. In other words, I wasn’t going to send them out for publication. Off they went each night on the 1s and 0s. It started out as just a way to push myself to create, but it became a way to push myself back into the world. Suddenly I found myself paying closer attention – what image, what moment, what sound, would find its way into that evening’s haiku?

In 2016, I switched to American Sentences. Still seventeen syllables, but not arranged into lines. They kept me on my toes, paying attention, and felt more conversational (though I suspect my friends didn’t enjoy them as much as the haiku for some reason). 365 tiny poems each year flexed my metaphor muscles, my attic of images, my poetic imagination.

In 2017, I took a break. I still found myself occasionally thinking hey that would be a good haiku, but instead I would squirrel it away in my notebook or incorporate the image into something longer. Lately though, I feel like a turtle pulled all the way into my shell. What practice would pull me out into the world again? Photos? Haiku? Erasure poetry? Not sure yet. But I’ll let you know. I have great faith in practice, in ritual, in creating those habits that will support you in a life fully-lived.

 

ps. I am offering the Haiku Path again for this January, if you are thinking that you’d like to write haiku and develop a new practice yourself.