life, poetry, publishing, Uncategorized, writers, writing

A Fast of a Different Kind

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Lots of talk has recently surrounded the subject of fasting. There’s intermittent fasting, carb fasting, even social media fasting (which I’ve done and enjoyed, frankly). For the past month, I’ve been engaged in another sort of fast — one intended to decrease my stress levels and simultaneously give me more time to create: The Submissions Fast.

You heard that right: For the last 22 days, I have not submitted any of my poetic work to any publisher or contest, large or small. “Why would a working poet do this?” you might ask. Here’s my answer…

I noticed about a month ago that my Submittable queue had grown to more than 30 submissions that were either “received” or “in progress.” This meant that publishers had my latest works in hand at a variety of venues. Some places looking at my poems were competitions, some were magazines I respected, and still others were small operations seeking poems for other purposes.

Whatever their mission, these diverse outlets were all considering some incarnation of my best 10 or 12 recently written poems (some in series of five, some in series of three, and others looking at just one, depending on guidelines and needs). These potential publishers were giving their editorial eye to essentially the same material. I knew it was time to lay off. I’m a fan of simultaneous submissions, but there comes a time when the business of writing must give way to the art of it.

And so, for the last several weeks, I’ve reined in my usual desire to submit, submit, submit. I’m letting these poems “rest” while I write, teach, and focus on other endeavors. When I see one of the ubiquitous calls for submissions, I ignore it and keep moving to other unrelated items. Doing so is hard; for decades now, I’ve lived under the expectation that “being a poet means putting your work out into the world” by submitting it. But at some point, enough is enough.

Despite my earnest desire to send off a packet of my poetry to a new journal or contest I see advertised, I’ve endured and persevered, and the results have been unexpected. I find myself gravitating more toward creative nonfiction as opposed to crafting new poems. Maybe it started as a way of coping with submission-loss: “If I’m writing and submitting stuff in a different genre, it doesn’t count.” Like the addict who insists a different brand of the same substance is exempt from restriction, I convinced myself that putting prose in front of editors was not (is not) like submitting poetry.

Writing reflectively about this decision demonstrates its fallacy, of course. Turning work in to potential publishers and getting that hope-driven dopamine rush is the same, no matter what kind of writing is involved. So, I’m just going to call those nonfiction submissions “cheat days” like certain diets would allow. That’s a reasonable justification, right?

The other effect that not submitting has had on me is a certain calm. No longer do I feel the need to frantically check the progress indicators on my present submissions, and no longer do I obsess over which editor might be viewing which work at what time. Leaving my work to do its thing is much like planting seeds. I know I have to wait for these little efforts to produce or fail. Stressing over them is a futile decision that induces unnecessary anxiety.

There’s plenty in my life to fret about without adding more to the menu. Submitting can be a rewarding learning experience. But when it gets out of hand, like anything else, it’s time to exercise some control. Doing so has allowed my mind to explore other avenues and relieve itself of a fetter that shouldn’t exist.

Maybe some of those 30 places will say yes. Many, I’m certain, will say no (my acceptance rate tells me so). But in the meantime, I’m not going to worry about it. Putting my work out there is supposed to be the enjoyable part of this literary life. When it becomes the opposite, stopping is the solution.

 

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poetry, Uncategorized

Upon Returning to Caffeine

This morning, for the first time in a year, I had my first cup of real, honest-to-God coffee. You see, last summer I had an encounter with caffeine that totally reformed my whole perception of it: While on a writing binge, I consumed three large cups of coffee one after the other after the other. Something then happened that had never happened before — my heart rate shot through the roof (like say, 130 bpm), my blood pressure spiked to a dangerously high number, and I thought I was going to die. Yes, really. I even wound up going to the hospital to get checked out, having never encountered anything like that before. Once the effects of the caffeine subsided about an hour or so later, I was fine. In the twenty-some-odd years I’d been drinking coffee, it had never turned against me with such hostility. After this bright red warning sign, when I consumed even a little caffeine, I noticed that some of my previous symptoms began to return. Maybe it was psychosomatic, maybe not. Either way, I didn’t like the feeling.

So, I was turned off of caffeine for a good long while. For the past year, I’ve been a devotee of caffeine-free everything, from sodas to foods (bummer: chocolate has caffeine), and it has been a purification by fire. Admittedly, my mind has been clearer, my body has been more responsive, and my teeth have been noticeably whiter. This fast of sorts has had its advantages. Still, though, something was missing.

At family events, I declined the southern house wine (Sweet Tea) in favor of water. At writing events, I opted for beverages clear and flat while others around me were delighting in the carefree enjoyment of lattes and mochas. Yes, I missed it. But I didn’t miss the near-death sensation from my prior encounter. Better safe than sorry, I told myself.

So this morning, when I found I was totally out of decaf (which, by the way, still has trace amounts of caffeine), I took a risk and made a cup of the hard stuff. I prepared it as I would have pre-fast, two sugars no cream, and partook slowly and cautiously. Thus far, as I’m writing this, I’m feeling no ill effects. A little physiological charge, perhaps, but nothing devastating.

World religions of all sorts preach moderation, and perhaps this account is one that reinforces that idea. “Sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone,” teacher John Keating advises his charges in the classic movie Dead Poets Society. Sometimes we have to nearly choke on the bone to appreciate the marrow, however. I don’t plan to caffeinate myself like I used to, but I am hopeful that I can have an occasional indulgence without frightening repercussions. I’ve missed being a coffeehouse regular, I’ve missed the ritual of preparing a single cup before writing, and I’ve missed being a part of the rich history that “real” coffee embodies.

Today, as ten ounces of Nantucket Blend wind their way through my system, I’m reminded of a Simon and Garfunkel tune: Hello darkness my old friend/ I’ve come to talk to you again. The trick is not to be consumed by the darkness. As sunrise peeps over the lake beyond my writing window, I’m grateful that a new day has begun.

My dealer of choice -- a fine little coffeehouse here in Winter Haven.
My dealer of choice — a fine little coffeehouse here in Winter Haven.