life, poetry, Uncategorized, writing

Creeks and Hammocks: Reflecting on Year 41

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Poets tend to view age a little differently from most people: We measure our years in publications, gatherings (literary and not), and in Eliot’s case, even coffee spoons. I had some real reservations about being 41 over the past year. After all, could there be a less consequential age? Friends and family make such a big deal out of 40 that its successor seems like an anticlimax.

For me, 41 was fairly quiet, but I did get to inch a little closer to bigger goals and dreams. I wrote a creative writing course for my college which was adopted institution-wide (even in China and Latin America), I wrote some pretty decent poetry that got published in places I liked, and I moved to a new home in a friendly neighborhood just miles away from scenic woods with a creek.

Maybe the creek has been the most monumental of all “41” discoveries. It has given me the chance to spend time with my boys making memories that are genuine. There are vines hanging over the creek that are strong enough for both sons to swing on, a tree bridge, and of course, all the other nature-based sights and sounds that go with a small flowing body of water: fish, snakes, raccoons, and even an occasional bobcat. It’s a place that is magical for many reasons.

I suppose, however, that what I appreciate most about the creek is its authenticity. Unlike theme parks, movie theaters, or tourist traps, the creek is a place where my boys can allow their imaginations to determine their adventures. There are no lines, no prescribed rides or experiences, no Hollywood artifice. At the creek, we are kept company by red-tailed hawks rather than costumed characters, and we are guided not by slick brochures or fake technology, but by the soft currents that flow through Florida forests and boyish ambitions.

At different times, I’ve watched my sons become pirates, jungle explorers, and even characters from various novels. Recently, I helped both boys create flutter-mills like the one mentioned in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling. Rawlings used the flutter-mill as a symbol of passing time and a foreshadowing of coming maturity,  and never have those ideas held such weight in my own mind. Middle age reminds one that things are halfway over, and you better get busy making your difference.

Maybe my difference won’t be measured in ink. Maybe it will be measured in creek water and sons’ laughter. Either way, I’m satisfied. If 42 is anything like 41, I’m looking forward to it. There are still plenty of things I’d like to accomplish both professionally and personally, but the 40s are also much like a hammock stretched in the middle of one’s chronology — yes, there are visible fixed points at both ends, but as long as I’m here in the middle of leaving a legacy, I might as well enjoy the sway of the breeze, the sky above, and the soft rhythms that make life enjoyable. Happy birthday to me.

poetry, Uncategorized

The Poet as Father

OK, I admit it. I’d like to have a writing room. Ever since I heard novelist Michael Connelly talk about his during the last residency of my MFA in Creative Writing program at University of Tampa, I’ve been somewhat envious. It seems that Connelly has blackout blinds, soundproof walls, acoustic “dead zones” and other cool features in the room where he does all his writing. His family understands that when he goes into the special room, he is “at work,” and is not to be disturbed.

Even as I write this, my wife is asking me, “Honey, where did you put the boys’ gummies (those fruit-flavored gummy treat things)?” Granted, I wish I could focus on blogging in peace, but excluding myself from family life seems selfish, even irresponsible to a degree. “They’re in that narrow cabinet beside the stove,” I respond, and keep tappity-tap-tapping away at this keyboard.

In my house, we have a place called “The Quiet Room.” It serves as a library/study/creative workspace, and its view is fantastic. I’ll have to post a photo sometime. Through our large front window, I look out over our neighboring lake and beyond to the dotted houses, palm trees, and other charming features along the opposite shore’s landscape. The view changes based on wind, weather, season, and other factors, but its constancy is reassuring simultaneously. I guess you could say it has sort of a dynamic stability about it. Back in the seventies when this place was built, this room was considered the “formal living room,” that stuffy, pretentious room where you took guests that you considered high-class so you could impress them with your earth-tone hardwood furniture and extensive, gilt-edged encyclopedia sets. Today, that idea is outmoded (to say the least), and thus, the creation of a re-purposed space for reading, writing, and creative endeavors.

I know that The Quiet Room is the closest I’m going to come to a writing room anytime soon, and I’m good with that. It has no real doors to speak of, so my sons come and visit once in a while, usually just to see what I’m up to, and that’s okay with me. In the grand scheme of things, if I have to trade a Pulitzer Prize for attention given to my boys, I’ll gladly do so. My family, after all, is the greater priority. Flights of fancy and creative sparks come and go, but the value of these bonds forged in our home far surpasses any fleeting glory I may attain as a poet. The last thing I want is to be one of those authors who, when PBS makes their documentary, is described as a literary genius but a lousy dad. There are plenty of others out there who have made that mistake, and I’d prefer so stay out of their league. I’d love to write some more about this, but it’s playtime, readers. I have a plastic swordfight to go lose against two keen opponents. En garde!