Finally today, the clouds over my psyche, my perception of what is now my life, lift for a host of reasons—hormones shifting, new allergy drugs working, sun returning even if only for fifteen minutes to light up this morning in my life. The weekend is an artist’s date of sorts—heading to Medford/Ashland with a friend and the matinee of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Saturday. A break most welcome, a cultural outing sorely needed.
The truth is that this is all life, and all that life is, really: this ebb/flow, this up/down, and maybe one of these years I’ll have a better handle on how to manage it. The truth is also that I do better when I can connect with a few other people who get what I’m talking about, who get what this journey, what this struggle is. And, of course, I improve considerably when I let go of any thought I’m going to make it in the literary world as it is now fashioned—you know the one where people publish their friends and colleagues, where spouses are paid editors of the same magazine, where teachers pick their students for prizes, where students invite their teachers to the next big summer writerly thing where spouses are often together on the faculty, starting literary journals where they publish their students. I could go on and on.
After finishing my chapbook back in December—and submitting it and/or individual poems to a dozen or more journals and contests—I let myself get swayed into thinking I am somehow able to participate in this great big often flash-in-the-pan, trendy and/or nepotistic love-fest that passes for most of American writing and publishing these days. Forgetting so much I’ve already figured out about the inherent, often arbitrary subjectivity of the folks who are in charge in that world. Ignoring the fact that I said I was doing this work for other, more personal reasons, that I was writing mostly to express myself, to get at what’s at my core. I think, in large part, that is what threw me off. Of course, it is possible in all of this I am simply being envious and fearful of putting my words out there to be judged alongside others. But how can that be after all the classes and workshops and critiques I’ve willingly subjected myself to these past eight or nine years? More likely (as often seems to be the case of late) I am seeing the forest and the trees, seeing the situation without the rose-colored glasses that those in the profession. And, unlike so many in this field, I am not afraid to say what I see.
There is much that is being written that is wonderful and true and wise and fun. There is much being written that is overwrought and overhyped and overpraised. The problem for me as I now frame it is that, for too long—all my life?—I deified the world of letters, the world of words, thought it was somehow above the rest of the venal world of contemporary work with its bureaucracies, its web of who-knows-who, its elevation of those who play the game over those who are trying to do some honest, heartfelt work. I was wrong—in many ways, it’s the same old, same old as any profession. Sad but true. A poem can still move; a short story or a play (at least one by Anton Chekhov!)can teach all that matters about life. Our thoughts and ideas and emotions are, indeed, worth expressing, worth getting down. But every writer and every poet doesn’t hit the highest notes, the ones that speak to me, teach or remind me of something I once knew or needed to know, each and every time they put pen to paper or fingers to the laptop keys. Increasingly, I find my wisdom in other places. While words may be all we have, for me, more and more, words are not enough.
The public domain post card photograph above of the Philip Ritz Cherry Orchard, Walla Walla, Washington was taken in 1906.