By Jae Newman
There we were. Married for three years, my wife and I found ourselves expecting a child while still figuring things out professionally.
She had an internship in her field; I had a set of odd jobs: cooking, working the drive-thru at a coffee shop, and even as a kind of tax collector—I was the guy calling you to see if I could get you into a repayment plan on your student loans.
Once I went to a poetry reading—an open mic—and the first reader and organizer cracked a joke about the top ten worst jobs. What was number one? Poet.
It was the kind of joke that poets make around other poets in a sad little moment of recognition of the fact that many of us are stuck with this impulse that we can’t dispel or distance ourselves from. I’ve made the joke lots of times. Understanding that joke is the mark of a poet—Billy Collins withstanding.
That inside joke, however, was not an option to break the serious look a social worker gave me as I explained why my wife and I needed some assistance. She took one look at my occupation and education and made the assessment—I was one of those artsy, flaky kind of guys who wasn’t really invested in his family’s future. Poet.
Are you trying to get a better job?
I didn’t answer her. I just sat there as the humiliation lay heavy like a rock upon everything I felt and thought and fought for but couldn’t communicate as a 24 year old man with few discernible skills and a personality that preferred to draw as little attention to myself as possible. She formed her own answers and jotted them down in black ink.
It was like watching someone consign my future to nothingness.
It’s snowing here in western New York, so that means I am up earlier many mornings to shovel the driveway so we can head off to school and work. It’s the kind of inglorious job that I’ve come to really love because it gets me up and moving and there’s always time to pray, listen, or just let my body do some work. (If you’ve ever graded 100 composition papers back to back to back, you know what I mean!)
It’s affirming to see a job started and completed. Lots of snow prompts me to work harder, faster so that we are still on time for our departures. I find I need this kind of counter-point: what I call the point “B” to my point “A” identity as a writer, to find balance in an identity that isn’t going to be crushed by the objections of someone who will undoubtedly tell me I should take up journalism, send my book to Oprah, or consider going back to graduate school
. To all the well-meaning folks with advice: There’s only one Hemingway, I prefer Ellen, and I don’t want to study nineteenth century British Literature. I want to write.
Joyce Carol Oates, I read once, was an avid runner. It cleared her mind to be moving and in the world. Smart woman. William Carlos Williams wrote poems on prescription pads because he was making house call after house call. Frost thought of himself as a farmer first, and this showed in his poetry even if he was a horrible farmer. We need a point “B” to find the right balance between creating and being
I just published my first collection of poetry entitled COLLAGE OF SEOUL (Cascade Books, January 2015).
After ten years of work on my poetry, it has manifested into a book, which makes it easier to rationalize the countless hours and many rejections from both the literary world and “productive members of society guild.”
My wife also gets to tell people her husband is an author. That feels good, friends. And this conversation has fetched the admission from one of her co-workers that he would love to teach college writing and have an MFA to legitimize his passion of poetry.
To that poet and every other nameless, unpublished writer who aspires to see their work come to fruition: I want to encourage you that it is worth it. I want to tell you what you already likely know but sometimes need to be reminded of—that there’s nothing that can stop your writing but your own reservations.
And possibly death. But that deflates the point.
Today, I’m still working things out professionally. The ebb and flow of my being and creating, though, belongs to an order now that I did not possess in my twenties. I know I’m going to write because that’s simply what I do. I know it’s going to be good because I care enough to see it through.
I know that you and everyone else can do the same, so long as you can find a way to release your self-image as a writer from the center vestibule of who you are. To use a modern example, the day I turn my Facebook page into a shrine of my writing accomplishments is the day that I am about the enter the block, writer’s style.
The best trick to any sustained stamina as a writer is to avoid over-emphasizing that
part of who you are and what you do. Let it be as natural as when you cook dinner, play piano, or complete the crossword puzzle.
Go swimming. Take some pictures. Write a freaking letter. Read a dumb book. Watch a movie. Actually go outside and play in the snow with your kids. Then let your words come forth out of your living and not your intellect, and what is genuine and vital in your spirit will find its way out through your voice.
Then you’ll have the confidence to live within your own abilities and find enough meaning there for two lifetimes.
We’re pleased to be giving away a copy of Jae's new book, COLLAGE OF SEOUL, to one of our readers. Write a comment below and we’ll pick a name and notify the winner on Tuesday, Feb 17. Congratulations to Sara, who will receive a copy of COLLAGE OF SEOUL!
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