31 December 2020

Starting this new year with some established habits.

For the first time in a long time, I feel like I'm starting the new year with the tools I need to succeed already broken in. 

Post AWP in early March, I started trying to make room for writing--I was journaling, taking notes, planning new work, and tinkering with revisions to older poems. By July, when summer term had just begun, I was crafting new poems. I started to find time for this work once I started teaching from home--crazy thing, even though my commute is less than 15 minutes to campus. When I started taking that commute and any need for public appearance out of the equation, I found I had more time for my courses and my students, but I also was able to carve out more time for my own writing and my own life. 

When I first started realizing this, it seemed insane that 30 minutes in the car was leaching this much productivity from my day. But, the longer I thought about it, it made so much sense--it wasn't just the half hour in the car, but it was taking a shower, finding something to wear, lint-rolling and ironing my clothes, applying makeup. It was packing up my bags at home and unpacking at work. It was preparing a breakfast or planning a lunch for later. It was booting up the computer. Making copies, and a cup of coffee. It was the errands I ran on my way to or from work. 

It was the tremendous anxiety surrounding the fact that I spend four days per week on a campus where I witnessed a mass shooting. Where I lost a colleague and friend. Where I ran for my life and sheltered with my students. Where I still feel as if some people in our current administration and on our current board just do not get it--there's been so much turnover, and no one ever acknowledges the PTSD that many of us work through on a daily basis. In general, faculty is overworked and underappreciated. Members of senior leadership have been heard saying faculty are lazy on multiple occasions, despite the enormous amount of labor--unpaid--that faculty put into preparing to teach fully online, due to the pandemic. A pandemic, five years after a shooting. For some people, faculty still isn't doing enough. It's disheartening and toxic.

So there's all of that. And working from home has given me a space from which to teach that circumnavigates all of those feelings and some of those time-wasters and those unnecessary activities. I certainly don't lint-roll and iron my clothing any more, that's for sure. My anxiety and stress levels are much reduced.

And since mid-June, I've been free from the responsibilities of being department chair. That in itself has been an incredible thing. I served for nine years straight, and at the end, I felt I was actively choosing to invite that anxiety into my life. I had to stop doing that. The workload had multiplied several times over, department assistants were cut, the pay was slashed, the number of chairs was cut . . . from the outside, it's insane that I put up with it for as long as I did. I was a little worried about the dip in pay, but I find that I am doing fine without it.

I am tremendously privileged right now--I own my home, I am still working full time, I have a reliable vehicle, and I'm able to pay all of my bills. I have enough left to feed myself and my cats. I have a great deal of security, so earning a little less money at this point seems like good timing. I can't really go out and shop, and I can't travel for pleasure, so I'm afforded a transitional period to get used to the somewhat-smaller paychecks. 

I also dealt with the death of my ex-husband in late February 2020. Our divorce was final in October of 2019, so there was very little time between that divorce decree and his passing. He had contacted me in early December, wanting to talk, but it was too soon for me, and I did not reply to his email. His death left me with a lot of emotions to process, and I had to confront that I wasn't done working through all of the feelings that led to the divorce. When he died, all possibilities of reconciliation or friendship dried up permanently. All answers that I might have eventually had were lost . . . I have so many questions. When I was in the thick of it, dealing with anger and grief and lots of other muddy emotions, I was scared that it would take me years to get past it all. What I find, now that he's been gone for 10 months, is that I'm free to close that chapter of my life. I may not have all the answers, and his friends and family may never understand my side of things . . . but that doesn't matter. In reality, that whole chapter is done. I find that freeing in a lot of ways, though I often think about him. I do miss him, especially the exciting, joy-filled, early years of our relationship, when we were making the long-distance situation work. Sometimes I am reminded of good memories, but more often, I'm reminded of the rough patches--I journaled during those times, so going back to my journals always results in my remembering something nasty that I'd forgotten. 

Overall, I love my single, "lonely" life. I didn't really like living three miles from my ex-husband, hoping to avoid him in traffic or in the grocery store. It was stressful. He was stressful. I was worried that his death would define my year. In fact, it did not.

This is very disorganized. So coming full circle . . . I'm starting the new year with a real advantage. I am thriving in my current teaching-from-the-sofa situation, and I've made writing part of my daily schedule. I've reclaimed a huge chunk of my own peace and my own time, and I'm grateful for that. I am comfortable with myself, and with living on my own.

Sidenote: the cats will not know how to handle my going back to campus. Maud, the most recent addition to the family, was brought inside in late July. I've never not been home all day. The longest I've been gone is three hours or so. It's been a comfort--Maud, Tony, and Polly spend the day on the sofa with me, and Evelyn and Winnie do their own thing. Maud likes to sit right next to me as frequently as possible.

So, 2021 will hopefully find me with a first book or chapbook--or more publications, at the very least.

And 2021 will hopefully see me continue to evolve into a more present, invested instructor. I was responsive and approachable in fall term, as instruction became my primary task again, and I revised and improved my courses as the term wore on. I stayed caught up on grading, and I enjoyed teaching again. I know this will extend into 2021.

And 2021 will see me making a habit of taking my weekends for myself, and giving myself regular days off and time away from work.

I was excited to find that when fall term began, I was able to effectively balance teaching and writing and a little time off, too. As flaky as it may sound, I feel like I have begun to live a working writer's life.

So daily writing and a new dedication to teaching are what I'm hoping for, but to be honest, I've been practicing since July, and I think I'm going to own it. 

I might try to add a small daily walk to my schedule, but I've only just been thinking about it. I've never walked through my neighborhood! So, maybe I'll get brave and start walking, too.

30 December 2020

Some new poetry drafts, and a flurry of rejection letters this week.

During this dead space of time between Christmas and New Year's Day, I usually take a break from the computer and from anything to do with my job--it's one of two vacations I get per year, and it's the only one during which I actually feel comfortable turning off the work email for a while. The other vacation is the first two weeks of September, before fall term begins, and it's usually full of my working on syllabus and course updates, so it's not quite the restful break that my winter vacation offers. 

However, I decided to start writing morning pages during this break--I'm reading The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron, and she advocates for three pages of handwriting every morning. I did this for three days in a row, but I've not done so yesterday or today--I'm finding that handwriting is hurting; my arthritis in my right index finger has been acting up. I ordered some pencil grips today, to see if those might help.

Despite that minor setback, I've been busy the last two days. I'm almost at the end of one of my current Moleskine cahiers, so I spent Monday morning going through the whole thing, page by page, typing up every single scrap of poetry verse that's not yet found its way into a viable poem. It took me most of the day, but I ended up with 11 pages worth of stanzas and lines that have potential. I printed them out, cut them down into long strips (my poem verses/lines are only 2" to 4" long), and I'm using them as a set of crib sheets. I can flip through, use what works, then mark it out/indicate which poems it's been used for. It is a weird activity that I've not ever tried before, but I am finding common themes and recurring images throughout that writing that's making it a bit easier to thread together something longer, something of more substance. 

Sidenote: Part of the reason I've decided to try this is due to Robert Hass's book A Little Book on Form. In it, he explains how difficult it is to write a good line--that it's much harder to write a good line than it is to write a good poem. I often overlook a great little verse or line because I don't have anything else to say about it at that time. What I don't do is hold that verse or line with some reverence, and see its eventual value. This activity that I've undertaken is helping me to do that.

So, yesterday and today, I've spent a lot of hours poring over those pages of "loose" lines and stanzas and verses . . . and I have pulled several new poem drafts from them! As of this morning, I have seven new poems in draft form. SEVEN! For a week that's usually a vacation, I feel a real sense of personal, creative accomplishment. I haven't gotten many chores or projects completed during this winter holiday, but I feel a profound sense of satisfaction at having created something new. 

Starting from those eleven pages, I have eight and a half pages left to mine for treasure at a later point. Right now, I'm tickled to spend a bit of time this week tinkering on these new poems to get them to a point where I can send them out for publication. 

Another development in this dead week between holidays . . . editors are definitiely winnowing their slush piles and making difficult decisions. I've received several rejection letters this week. One was encouraging--the editors at SAND Journal would like to see more from me again, and when I looked, the submission I sent to them had some withdrawn work, so they were left considering only two poems, and those two were really the weaker in that set. Two other journals were dealing with the same thing--I'd sent them work as a simultaneous submission, and had to withdraw part of the submission when it was accepted elsewhere. I have been trying since October to send editors the maximum number of poems they'll consider in a single submission, so that if anything is withdrawn, they still have a fair number of poems to consider. Kenyon Review still has my work, at this point, too, which is encouraging.

Regardless, I'm trying to keep things sent out; I'm happy with the momentum that I've been able to build in 2020. I hope that new work will present new opportunities to me, too. 

I should take a shower and wash my hair--it's a rainy, cold day, and I think I might like to curl up and read. Lately, I'm much more likely to turn on the television and watch something unnecessary, so I'd like to get myself pulled together, clean and shiny and cozy, to drink some tea, and cuddle cats, and read a book or two.

24 December 2020

Crab Creek Review takes "Spoke" for publication, and more rejection letters.

Actually, it's not as bad as all of that. I've been fairly quiet on the blog front, because my Submittable dashboard hasn't been moving a whole lot. I still have several dozen submissions out in the world, but most are sitting at "in progress" or simply "received" at this point. 

I was thrilled to receive an email accepting "Spoke" for publication--it will be in the next issue of Crab Creek Review. This is a newer incarnation of a poem that I wrote while studying at Chatham in 2005 or so. I really love this poem, and I'm glad it has found its place.  

Crab Creek Review is a women-run journal out of the Seattle area; their board is comprised of all women. David J. Daniels is their new poetry editor, as of August 2020.

As for rejection letters, I assumed editors would start clearing their desks at Thanksgiving, but it didn't really happen. I did receive a few rejections, but submission activity was fairly static through November. Now that we've closed in on Christmas, I'm seeing a few more rejections. The Citron Review and Noctua Review both passed on the work I sent to them.

I've regrouped the work in those submissions, and I sent them back out this morning to new journals. I'm hearing in most emails from editors that 2020 has been a record year for submissions, so all I can do is keep those balls in the air, so to speak. 

And Kenyon Review still hasn't rejected my submission. : ) 

Crab Creek Review

"Threshold" is now published online at The Elevation Review

My short poem "Threshold" is now published and available online at The Elevation Review. I am excited to have something recent out there, online, that my name points toward, other than my likely horrendous "rate my professor" reviews and score. 

I had originally submitted in July to this journal, and while my work was declined, the editor asked me to resubmit for their fall issue. Ultimately, "Threshold" resonated with them, and I'm grateful. This poem is really new--it was written this past summer, and it was published without really going through the number of rewrites and revisons I'm used to applying to a poem. I look at it now, and some of the images are lovely, but I think it's also a bit muddy at the end. I will likely continue to tinker with it, so that when it eventually, hopefully, appears in a book, it will be in a slightly different form.

03 December 2020

A few more rejections trickle in . . .

I received a rejection letter from The Windhover yesterday . . . and somehow, that submission was not on my own spreadsheet of "work out in the world." So, as hard as I try to stay organized, I've made at least one blunder with not recording my submissions correctly. Thank goodness, frankly, it was a rejection and not the acceptance of some poem that's been accepted elsewhere. 

The Windhover is the literary journal of The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas.

As much as I appreciate that journals don't usually mind simultaneous submissions, they always cause a bit of anxiety for me. I don't have work accepted often enough to get too nervous about it, but I still do. 

I also received a rejection from Ghost Proposal. It's an independent press in Chicago with a lovely, sparse website and design. It was co-founded by the poet Naomi Washer and Patrick Thornton. 

Hopefully I'll see a few acceptance letter in the next week or two, as editors at university-affiliated presses start to put their offices to bed for a few weeks.

02 December 2020

More of the same . . . still a waiting game, mostly.

It's been two weeks since I've posted here, but not much has changed in the submissions waiting game. I expected to see a large number of rejection letters come in right after Thanksgiving, but only a few have trickled in. My work is hanging in there, "in progress," at several larger journals right now, so I'm hoping that there will be good news for at least a couple of poems before the end of the year. 

I did send some work back out--rejections from Tar River Poetry and Poetry Northwest freed up a few pieces, and I did a little shuffling and surface revision. I sent to OxMag, which is the rechristened Oxford Magazine, out of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and I sent a separate selection of poems to Salmon Creek Journal, out of Washington State University. Both publications have deadlines coming up in mid-December, so I'm hoping for some end-of-fall-term magic there. 

I have been working in my newest journal a great deal, and I think I have a few new bits of poetry to work on over winter holiday. If everything holds, I'll only have three courses in winter term, which gives me a great chance to continue this sustained momentum. 

I'm getting really excited about the prospect of having a chapbook or book accepted for publication in the next year--I'm grateful for the opportunity that working from home has given to me. 

I'm still a little stunned that I've not been dealing with depression during the pandemic/quarantine/shelter at home situation of the last 7 months. My anxiety has been up a little, but I'm not drinking, and I've not had many sad days overall. I feel like I've been gifted a lot of "me time" back to devote to writing, and both the writing and the lack of booze are having a positive impact on my mental health. 

My grading is a little behind right now, in Week 10 . . . but I've been caught up all term long, too. I'm not having to blow off work to devote time to my writing anymore. I'm learning that being chair was sucking all of my energies. My writing wasn't getting what it deserved, and neither were my students. Anyhow. These posts are sometimes repetitive, I know. 

And--Kenyon Review still has my work.