poetry, Uncategorized

Pick Five: A Burnout Prevention Strategy

handfiveIt’s that magical time of the academic year when teachers and professors are thoroughly sick and tired of everything school-related, and unfortunately, that also sometimes includes students. I know, I know. Those in the pedagogical arts are supposed to be compassionate souls who never tire of their charges — that doesn’t stop us from being human, however. Every year about this same time, when I feel the negative vibes besetting me daily, I have a little routine that I choose to follow that also serves me well as a writer. I pick five.

Here’s what I mean: I teach juniors and seniors in high school. Among my juniors, I pick out five or so that I know I can and will make a meaningful difference to in the school year yet to come, when they are seniors. My seniors, of course, are graduating, so it becomes my priority to begin thinking ahead for the next go-round. Who among those 11th graders will I impact in a way that makes me their most unforgettable teacher? How will I reach them profoundly, leaving my impression on their future? By “picking five,” I find a reason to stick around for yet another year. Even if I’m only there for those selected few, I know I will have achieved a purpose that is greater than succumbing to my stress and shucking the whole thing in favor of real estate sales or marketing (not that there’s anything wrong with those professions; they’re just the first couple that sprang to mind).

For writers (and poets especially), this strategy requires a little tweaking: Pick five writing goals that you haven’t achieved (realistic ones), or choose five poetic forms that you haven’t yet mastered. I’m still trying to write a reasonably decent villanelle, for example. Don’t try to force words into those forms of course — that never works — but allow those forms to become subconscious targets. When inspiration next strikes, see if one or more of those forms might be fitting for the topic. For writers of other genres, maybe your “five” can be some new narrative devices or dialogue tricks that you haven’t tried out. In any event, identifying five goals can be beneficial for just about anybody.

So, as summer vacations await and beautiful weather beckons beyond your window, don’t quit your day job. Think of five reasons to do what you do best. Maybe those five things, whatever they happen to be, will keep you in the game a little longer and preserve your sanity.

poetry, Uncategorized

A New Meaning for “Writing Rut”

Fall in Florida is difficult for visitors to detect. We don’t have glorious leaf color changes, the temperature doesn’t dip drastically, and more often than not, our autumn feels like extended summer to those from beyond the state line. But natives and those who have lived here for decades can feel the subtle changes: Lower humidity makes the air a bit less sticky. Breezes begin to border on full-blown wind. And then there’s the change in sounds — the trees themselves, as the weather grows drier and slightly cooler, take on a different pitch as their boughs are swayed by a new incoming season. Birds’ songs grow a bit more excited and resonant as they prepare for a colder period yet to come. No, Florida’s version of fall might not be as visually grand as the displays in other parts of the country, but it’s a poet’s best friend. It requires heightened sensitivity, and is perfect outdoor weather for time in nature’s splendor.

All this reflection takes me back to my boyhood and adolescence, when fall also meant deer hunting season. This post is no rant for or against the act of hunting, but is instead intended to give a new definition for a very old term: For hunters, the word “rut” means that animals are seeking mates and are active in the woods. They forage, they frolic, they are generally more lively during mating season or “rut” than they are during more docile times of the year. Much like some big game animal, I’ve noticed that I also am enlivened by this time of year. Its different sensations and its invigorating climate make my “poetic brain” shift into overdrive. My wife has noticed this over our 10 years together; fall means that my writing takes a front seat.

So, rather than being a victim to a “writing rut” under its old definition — a time of hindered or stilted writing production due to “writer’s block” or other problems — perhaps we as poets and writers need to reclassify this term. Take a lesson from the hunters: Rut is a time for greatest activity, and so, let’s proceed into this autumn’s mating season of ideas with utmost optimism and highest ambitions for our work. Good luck, and here’s hoping you “bag” a few “trophies” along the way.