poetry, Uncategorized

Writing in “Real Life”

Before my cohort and my other fellow MFA candidates left from our last residency in June, we were given a final warning by the inimitable Arthur Flowers (see photo, left): “So, what are you going to do? You’re about to go back out into real life, where there’s bills to pay and mouths to feed. … People are going to tell you that you’re chasing a fantasy. People are going to say to you, ‘Just do like the rest of us.’ Don’t you do it. Follow that dream you’ve begun here. Never let anybody tell you that you’re not a writer.”

The truth is, I’ve had to replay this little lecture to myself on more than one occasion. As my teaching gigs and the mundane suburban duties of yardwork and such pile up, I sometimes tend to forget that I am also a poet. After all, the labels of father, husband, and professor seem to hold so many more responsibilities. What’s more, the immediacy of providing for my family tends to obscure the more long-term goal of poetic success.

It is indeed a dog-eat-dog world out there, and poets, like everyone else, are scrambling in a fight to the top: networking, assuming new titles, taking on the challenges of work-home balance, and ensuring that all the parts of life are functioning smoothly. In the midst of all this, it becomes pretty easy to allow writing and those related goals to take a back seat. I even found myself telling my wife recently, “Writing’s not as important as (insert bigger priority here).” And while that may be true, I must remind myself not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Just because life demands greater attention to things of necessity doesn’t mean that I should completely cast aside any and all writing endeavors. And neither should you, reader.

“We do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do,” the old saying goes. But occasionally there’s a blurry line between those two ideas. Where the needs meet the wants, in that blurry gray space, is poetry. Yes, I could live without writing. But it would definitely be a sad and colorless existence, devoid of any creative sparks or intrinsic cognitive satisfaction. It is unimaginable and unimaginative. I have no plans to cut out my essence, just as I have no plans to desert my family or my career. Join me, readers, in this persistent striving toward the bigger, toward the better, toward tomorrow. Let us be pilgrims on this journey together. May our walk be filled with abundance, and may our pens never run dry.

poetry, Uncategorized

Preparing the MFA Mind

As I spend my last day at home before the big Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing residency, I’m taking a few last minutes to brush up on all the reading I’ve done before this point. Everything from Aristotle to Billy Collins has been thrown at me in preparation for this upcoming session, and I’m proud to say that I’m ready.

Which leads me to a bit of history: Prior to adulthood, I was not always the exemplary student. In junior high, high school, and even as an undergraduate, my performance was, shall we say, lackluster. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work; it was that I lacked motivation. If I didn’t see the need for learning something, then frankly, I didn’t learn it. Daniel Pink talks a great deal about motivation in his book Drive, and in many ways, I am the poster child for his theories: If I like it, if I want it, if I enjoy it, I’ll do it. Likewise, if I am given autonomy to perform tasks (academic or otherwise), then I am largely happy, and I will produce. However, the flip side of this coin also holds true. I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to overcome my own resistance to math, in particular. My mind simply does not operate in mathematical ways, even though I can be very logical and reasonable at times. Also as an adult, I have had to face the truth of maxims that my parents constantly threw at me: “You might not LIKE it, but you still have to do it,” and “We do what we HAVE to do so we can do what we WANT to do.” So, when an unpleasant task comes my way, I have learned to discipline myself, break chores into pieces, and do all those things that my mom and dad (for years) tried to persuade me to do. For me, changing required firsthand experience — all the idioms in the world don’t replace real-world encounters for learning purposes.

In my first graduate program, which was in education, I earned a 4.0 grade point average. Here again, it was subject matter that I enjoyed, and which I decided to pursue. In addition, I was paying for the education myself. Straight A’s were my own personal expectation and goal (not anyone else’s), and therefore, I fulfilled that aim. Now I find myself having to persist in this MFA reading, as well. While many of these reading selections are interesting, I notice that I have to force myself to stay aware and absorbent to the ideas presented on the written page (especially Aristotle). By steeling my mind to assimilate the learning that I personally want, I am preparing to reap the benefits of an education that I have tailored to my own interests and needs. My eventual goal is to teach at the college level, but to get there, I have to pay the piper first. I suppose now would be a good time to stop procrasti-blogging and hit the books. Brain, don’t fail me now!