Friday, February 25, 2022

Not quite a poem

10 Things War Can Cure

1. Longevity.

2. Peace.

3. Education.

4. Abundance.

5. Home.

6. Family.

7. Lagging gun sales.

8. Quiet.

9. Sovereignty.

10. Writer's block.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

A Question

Am I even a poet anymore?

One thing people don't talk much about with a breakthrough case of COVID, especially if during your illness, you're trying to isolate from the rest of your household, is the depression. Fortunately, after the end of the prescribed quarantine, most of those dark thoughts dissipated for me. But one lingered: am I even a poet anymore?

I've heard many poets over the years say they NEED to write, that they write because it is as necessary as breathing to keeping them alive, that they will write regardless of whether or not anyone is reading or listening. 

I believe there are some people who sincerely feel that. I'm not one of them.

I write because it is fun, or because I need a vehicle to share my words and ideas and thoughts. I write poetry to communicate in a way I normally wouldn't, with people who normally wouldn't  hear what I have to communicate.

But it's been a while since I've felt that I had much to communicate, that was not already being said elsewhere, more eloquently, and with more urgency. Over the past year, or two...or ...three? I've written a few poems, but most of them were an assignment of one kind or another. I've done very little recent writing that wasn't to submit on a specific topic, or to any other call to which I felt obligated--even if that obligation was only to myself. I haven't written just because I had something to write. And so this pervasive, "Am I even a poet anymore?" has been bothering me. Can I be a poet who doesn't poem?

I know a lot of people have strange reservations and feelings about self-labeling as a poet. I once encountered someone at an open mic reading who told me he couldn't call himself a "poet" unless he was doing it to make a living. Some people worry that the word "poet" is too precious, that calling yourself a poet is hubris, that calling yourself a poet is an act of holier-than-thou.

None of that baggage around the "poet" label ever bothered me. A poet is someone who writes poems. But can I still be a poet if I haven't been writing poems?

Then about a week ago, I found myself giving two readings within a few days of each other. The first was part of the Poetic Inventory of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is a beautiful project seeking to collect poems for every plant, animal, and insect species native to the CVNP. I felt relieved to be reading with other poets again, hearing this inspiring collection of voices. I encourage everyone to check out this project. 

Then I had the joy of reading virtually for Jonie McIntire's Uncloistered Poetry out of Toledo. It felt so good to be putting my words into the world again. 

And after all of that, I'm starting to feel, that, yes, I am a poet. Again. Maybe.

I still haven't felt pushed to return to the page, just yet. But I did feel an impetus to return here to this space. That is a start. And I will accept it as a little gift from the muse.

Thank you, friends. Life, love, and light. - TGB

Friday, April 16, 2021

One more aspect of pandemic fatigue: the curse-blessing of too much

Yep, this is a post about too many virtual things and this is a picture of too many physical things, representing too many virtual things
When the pandemic started, and everyone believed that it would be a short few weeks of unexpected vacation time, the sudden proliferation of online events felt almost magical. Someone is taking me on a tour of a museum I've never visited! The zoo is hosting lunch breaks with a different animal every day! One of my favorite bands is broadcasting live from their living room this weekend! It was a fun random way to spend the weird hours of void.

But in the year since, the cornucopia of virtual events has exploded. There are poetry open mics everywhere, everyday. I can read at an open mic across the country through the magic of the internet. But there's also a lecture at the same time with world renowned scientists about climate change. And my cell phone plan is offering me a free online class that I feel obligated to take advantage of. And meanwhile there are four other lectures, table readings hosted by a local theatre, online film festivals, don't forget to watch the solstice at Stonehenge, an organizing meeting about every important cause I have ever cared about, a friend is performing an online concert with new songs, my inbox is filling up with announcements about virtual concerts and classes and talks and readings, there's a poetry gala with all kinds of amazing people attending, there's a free writing conference, and finally that union meeting I've been meaning to attend, and...

This pandemic was first a curse, then a blessing in disguise with the expanded access we all have to virtually, feeling like a curse of too much. I want to attend EVERYTHING, and most nights, I end up on the couch binge watching West Wing anyway. Because I forget. Followed by the next day when I realize that the thing I really, REALLY wanted to watch was last night and I couldn't remember because time doesn't exist anymore, and I get angry at myself for feeling like I abandoned a friend's performance, or am a bad citizen of the world because I didn't watch the Very Important Lecture. After all, there are no more excuses for not going somewhere, because I literally don't need to go anywhere.

I think that's part of my problem. Going somewhere requires a tiny bit of planning. I'm going to a reading on Tuesday night, so I look up directions for the venue ahead of time, plan to eat dinner early, and pick out something cute to wear. I'm going to the baseball game this weekend, so I need to decide if I need to bring a hoodie or a rain poncho, which shoes will be best, figure out where the good parking lots are, and decide if I'm eating before the game or at the game. 

Real, in person events require a little forethought, a little planning, and with it, a little anticipation.

I know that complaining about access to too much is a stupidly-privileged, first-world problem. But it reflects what I think most of us miss: the connection of being physically present somewhere.

I don't believe we are a people meant to only interact with the rest of the world inside the equivalent of a video game. I don't think virtual events will every leave us again, but I sincerely hope they don't need to become a permanent substitute for the real the thing. They're great as something extra, but they shouldn't be our only. We're physical beings in a physical world. I hope we can all safely return to that world soon.

Stay safe, wear your masks, keep your distance, get your vaccines. We're so close, friends. We're so very close.

Friday, April 2, 2021

On the power of words, and the wasting of time

The pandemic, the loss of my last grandparent, totaling my car, looking ahead to one of those round number birthdays--all of these recent events have started making me feel my mortality, and with it, the very real understanding that I have no desire to waste another second of the limited time afforded to me on this earth doing something that only gains me frustration.

That is why, a few months ago, I decided I would no longer waste my words on a conversation, written or otherwise, with someone who refuses to give me the same careful consideration I try to give my own interactions with others. My time is too precious. My energy is too precious. My life is too precious.

I know for a fact that a well-written and supported opinion matters. My parents would never consider themselves activists, but they are the kinds of people who would write a strongly-worded letter to the newspaper or a politician about issues important to them. Before we had a computer, my mom would set up the electric typewriter and copy out a handwritten missive. I internalized that power of the written word, and started writing letters to City Council and the school board by the time I was in high school. I have always believed in the power of the written word as a way to express myself, confide in others, impart my experiences, and sway opinions.

But the truth is that if engaging with someone is consuming so much of my time and mental bandwidth that I can't find the space for myself, and then that person won't give my words the same respect I'm giving theirs, it's not worth it. 

People have often told me this, but I couldn't internalize it until my thoughts of impending mortality made me realize that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life that way: frustrated, consumed, and trying to find just the right way to make one more point.

It's not worth it.

My time is worth more. My life is worth more. My joy is worth more.

My words are worth more.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

This is not writing poems*

Thinking about writing poems is not writing poems.

Talking about writing poems is not writing poems.

Writing about writing poems is not writing poems.

Scrolling through Insta is not writing poems.

Posting an article and composing the perfect witty caption is not writing poems.

Commenting about politics on Facebook, arguing about anything on Facebook, looking at pictures of bunnies on Facebook is not writing poems.

Outlining ideas for a themed chapbook you want to write is not writing poems.

Research is not writing poems.

Reading news online is not writing poems.

Reading a magazine, journal, or newsletter is not writing poems.

Reading a novel is not writing poems.

Reading poems is not writing poems.

Cleaning the dust from between the keys on the keyboard  with a cotton swab is not writing poems.

Cleaning the computer screen is not writing poems.

Looking for the microfiber cloth to clean the computer screen is not writing poems.

Cleaning the phone screen, while you're at it, is not writing poems.

Decluttering the desk is not writing poems.

Checking on that one thing you've been meaning to look up is not writing poems.

Searching for the blank journal you were given 4 years ago because it would be perfect to use for writing poems is not writing poems.

Thinking about ordering dinner is not writing poems.

Doing that yard work that's been put off is not writing poems.

Listening to an audiobook, while doing yard work, is not writing poems.

Getting a cold glass of water is not writing poems.

Getting a cup of tea, because now the room feels too cold after drinking a cold glass of water, is not writing poems.

Turning on the TV "just for background noise" is not writing poems.

Checking email for the 547th time today is not writing poems.

Skimming new calls for submissions is not writing poems.

Calling the parents to catch up is not writing poems.

Taking a walk is not writing poems.

Fetching a snack is not writing poems.

Re-opening the fridge 3 times because of indecisiveness about snacks is not writing poems.

Playing computer mahjong, solitaire, Minesweeper, Tetris is not writing poems.

Fretting about never having time to write poems is not writing poems.

Feeling sad about not writing poems is not writing poems.

Binge watching The Office is not writing poems.

Mopping the kitchen floor is not writing poems.

Sweeping the basement stairs that haven't been swept in six years is not writing poems.

Going on a bike ride is not writing poems.

Washing the laundry is not writing poems.

Washing the dishes is not writing poems.

Writing a blog is not writing poems.

*This is not to disparage any of the aforementioned activities. Some of these activities are genuinely helpful in writing or clearing the mind to help write, but sometimes (often) we I use these things as a crutch/excuse to not write poems because xyz must be complete before writing poems. 

Just write the poems!

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Don't Do This with Poetry

 2021 marks 15 years since I started attending readings, open mics, and submitting poems for
publishing. Round numbers and fives put me in a nostalgic, reflective mood, because I'm human, and we're told that tens and fives have significance over years that end in 3 or 8, for whatever reason.

When I was much greener, I made some faux pas, some breaches of decorum, some hubristic failures of etiquette. It's a little lot embarrassing to admit.

I was in that place where I was still pretty new to the scene, had received some encouraging, positive feedback at readings, but very few publishing acceptances.

I was submitting, but submitting without direction. And one day, a rejection caught me in just the right wrong mood, and I committed what I now know to be one of the cardinal sins of submitting.

I replied to a rejection email.

The other day, I actually dove back through my old emails in an attempt to locate the event in question, but I'm a little relieved that I couldn't find it.

I no longer remember the press or the editor, and I hope whoever they were can say the same about me.

What I do remember about the message I wrote went something like this:

Why don't you like my poem? No one wants to print my poems! Don't you feel bad for me? I'm doing everything right! So why not? WHY?? Why don't you like me? WAAA-HIIIII-YYYYY??!!

I know, I know...

To the credit of the editor, I remember that he or she actually responded with a very polite sort of, "This poem just didn't fit in this issue."

I learned two things from that experience. While I didn't necessarily articulate these lessons to myself in so many words, I definitely intuited them.

Moral #1: Respect the editor (or the judge, the organizer, the emcee). Badgering editors with an argument about your brilliance (or pitifulness) isn't going to change their minds. Complain to your friends, commiserate with other artists, but leave the editors alone. Rejection is part of the territory. If you don't like it, as my husband would say, "Write better poems."

Moral #2: Ask the right questions.

Or rather, ask the questions that place the responsibility on the correct person.

My Lament of the Rejected was a way of blaming the editor (they just don't like me, that's why I got rejected) instead of me (what did I do wrong here and what can I do better?). And sometimes a writer does nothing wrong other than putting a poem in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not every poem will be accepted. No publication is obligated to accept me.

When I say ask the right questions, the questions need to be less like, "Why won't people buy my books?" and more like, "Where do I need to go to find my audience?"

Less like, "Why didn't this publication want my poem?" and more like, "Where do I find publications printing poems like mine?"

And the worst part of Moral #2 is that it's a whole heckuva lot more work than pouting. I'm still learning. I still do my fair share of pouting. Maybe that will come in year 16...

Saturday, February 6, 2021

A Quick Update on Fracking in Akron

 To everyone who supported No Frackin' Akron--Thank you!

The Mayor has withdrawn the proposal to frack under the LaDue Reservoir...for now. But this is no reason to become complacent.

The movement continues in efforts to protect our air, water, and soil, locally, nationally, and globally.

Keep writing, keep fighting.