I confess that I haven’t been around here lately. After the writers’ conference, I felt as if the wind was knocked out of me. No matter where I turned there were things that needed doing…
Now, a week later I’m finally finding breathing space in the day. I’ve mowed the lawn, done many loads of laundry, caught up on tasks at my job, organized my notes from the conference, mailed objects left behind by guests, answered emails, bought groceries, cleaned up, and even gone for a few runs. And sunny weather has meant that garden tasks multiplied and have now been tackled.
Then an Oregon junco on the deck, singing for all he was worth. I confess that I dropped everything to grab the bird book. The long day continues, sun stretching almost nineteen hours. Tomorrow is summer solstice when the days start to slip away again. Even though I get more writing done in the dark part of the year, I confess I revel in the sunshine, working in the dirt.
I’m trying to set boundaries to keep from being too busy. Poetry needs breathing room, white space on the page. Roethke said, “Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It’s what everything else isn’t.” Here’s to more art!
In case you wanted to see what one looks like completely open on my deck.
Most writers that I know tend to be a solitary sort. We’re usually the folks haunting the back of the stacks at the library, hunkered down on a rock in a field someplace, or drifting out onto the unoccupied side porch at the crowded party. When you get us all together, you have the possibility of a symphony of endearing quirkitude.
This past weekend, and spilling out into Monday and Tuesday, I had the good fortune to take part in the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference here in Homer, Alaska. The keynote speaker this year was Barry Lopez. One of his over-arching messages was that each writer has a responsibility to the world. He exhorted the audience to be of use and to consider how our work might help those around us (which he did not limit to humans but invoked the other residents of the earth as well as the land itself).
For the rest of the conference, I watched as this sentiment infused discussion of the craft of writing, the “business” of writing, and the basic interactions between participants. One of the hallmarks of the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference is its collegiality – professional writers attend each other’s seminar sessions, writers of all levels attend the open mic readings, community members attend the open faculty readings, people carry books for each other, save each other seats, mix it up and eat lunch with folks they’ve never met before.
The conference steamed on – three nights of faculty readings, two open mics, a bonfire with amazing music, several fabulous panel discussions, thirty-two seminar sessions, meetings with agents and editors, a boat tour of Kachemak Bay, and lots of writing. That’s another hallmark of this conference: folks actually write at it, and you can go home with the seeds of some fabulous new work.
Alaska State Writer Laureate Peggy Shumaker closed the conference with her amazing paean to the writers, magazines, and support organizations for writers in Alaska. Peggy epitomizes Barry Lopez’s appeal for writers “to try to help.” Honestly, I can not think of one other person I know who has helped so many writers and is so unfailingly supportive and kind. The writer (and faculty member) Valerie Miner noted that Peggy’s warmth embraces the whole conference. I hope that everyone who attended felt as cherished and supported as I did.
By the way, next year’s conference is June 14th-18th and the keynote speaker will be Naomi Shihab Nye. So mark your calendar and make plans to join us!
I have a quote hanging on the bulletin board near my desk: A professional writer is an amateur that didn’t quit. When I’m in a rejection streak, as I am right now, I need to slow myself down and read that quote a few times. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I tend to fall into the same old bad thinking when I get a few rejections under my belt.
Here’s what radio station K-F@cked plays in my head (thanks Anne Lamott for the lovely station name):
“You are wasting your life with this writing thing.”
“You better switch to writing something commercial or you’ll never make any money.”
“What are you thinking? You won’t make any money even if you do write something ‘commercial’”
“Get a real job.”
“You aren’t making a difference in this world, you navel-gazer.”
“Why do you think you have any talent, anyway?”
These are not nice things to hear. I would never be this mean to any of my friends, so why am I this mean to myself?
I forget that I’ve written poetry for over thirty years and I only recently began to think about publishing it. I forget that I write poetry because it’s the art form that allows me to get closest to the world, reminds me to pay attention, evokes the wonder of every day miracles.
And so why send my work out for publication? I want to share what I’ve seen. Maybe touch one person’s heart the way I’ve been touched by so many poets. I want to be part of that conversation.
Ah yes, what’s the end of that old saying? “Start all over again.”