And it has made all the difference

The heat’s broken a little, and I’ve started a different sort of dare — one that involves ten minutes of daily concerted movement — so I took a podcast for a stroll around the block a few times. Yes, I’m back to taking steps: good stuff.

Over the course of your creative life, what’s one thing you would do over if you could?

If ever there was a prompt!

It’s weird, though. My brain is stuck on first defining my creative life, so I can then pick out the ‘one thing.’

In my bio, I say I’ve been writing since I was three. Which is true. That’s when I began, by hunting down my mother and pestering her to take dictation, and I can’t think of a time when I’ve not-written (h/t Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead + my sister, who has never not-been on a boat).

On the other hand, there are only two periods I can think of when my primary focus was onĀ my writing: high school, and from 2013 to present.

My creative life as subterranean current; my creative life as river pouring out of the cave…

…and what about the creative things I do that aren’t writing, like teaching, or making, or parenting?
Asking a poet to define something is unwise. As a friend of mine made me confess today, poets ask questions constantly. Even the questions they answer they go back and ask again, just in case the answer is different when the light changes.

So, enough, you say: answer the —- question.

I’m leaning toward picking my ‘one thing’ from the river. My river feels stubby to me, however, and I’m not generally inclined to regret things.

For example, I regret I felt too drained to write during That Contract in 2015, but I don’t regret choosing to enter the contract…which committed me to the unfolding. No do-over desired.

I regret that ass in my lone creative writing class in college, but I don’t regret finding out I don’t care for that kind of external validation. Saves money on the MFA, that.

And I don’t regret blowing off the lake party, missing the bus, and getting grounded at Hollinssummer. Walking in the twilight from a place I’d never been to before to a place I hadn’t really been away from makes a great story. Singing (silly) angry songs the whole way was merely the rebel icing on my fifteen-year-old independence cake.

So really, I got nothin’. In fact, the only do-over I’ve ever mulled was in my tech career. Which is now over 10 years in my past, and I’m good with that.

But there was that one window…

And I think I mull it because it’s a unicorn: a time when the fork in the road is clear. If I had reached for one priority over another one, my life might have unfolded quite differently.

And it was precisely nineteen years ago, during that August to December.

In August, while extremely pregnant with my second child, I attended a trial run of a new conference, hosted by a non-profit for computer systems administrators. The focus was on the specific kinds of systems I managed, Microsoft-based ones, which was new because we were all learning how to manage them at the same time. And by manage, I mean “take care of thousands, scattered all over the place.” So everything was ad-hoc — vendors were showing off products they barely understood, peer presenters were showing off techniques they might have mastered two months before.

This meant I was extremely interested in a presentation about a technique we at my firm had been wrestling with for the previous six months. Maybe I’d pick up something new, or at least I could pat us on the back for co-inventing the wheel.

Imagine my surprise when I heard the speaker gloss over a major (and I do mean major) technical glitch in the technique. I leaped out of my seat — you’ve forgotten the 7-month-baby belly next to the skinny conference table? — and shouted, “No! It doesn’t work like that!” in tandem with my co-worker across the room. My co-worker gestured to me, and I took the microphone.

I took the microphone at the next day’s newly-convened informal panel on the topic, too, sketching quick slides and answering questions right and left. I handed out business cards, encouraged people to email their questions to me —

and encouraged them to hurry, because I would be on leave starting in November.

I had thought the proceedings from the conference would make it in the October issue — I was not naive about publication lead times, but I guess I was not well-tuned into their calendar. October came and went without the proceedings. October went and November came as I focused intently on my real work, what I wanted to complete by my delivery date. Which was forecast for a week later than my B actually arrived, so I was hustling hard as my boss pried my unfinished work from my hands.

November 12 ended with our new baby B. The following week the conference proceedings hit everyone’s mailbox.

Before I had my first child, I thought long and hard about what I suspected would best sustain me, My Sweetie, and my changing family. My paid employment was a key element; I’d done all-day childcare, and I wasn’t very good at it. (How many childcare workers do you know that read theology for balance?) At the same time, I had searched my soul before and after baby A was born, and I discovered that my family came first. By a body-length.

So when I went on each maternity leave, I was G-O-N-E. My peers could call me if they truly needed to ask me a question. But I read no email. And therefore answered no email. (Nor did I check my work voicemail, but sysadmins don’t believe in voicemail on general principles.) For two months, my new person was my primary focus.

At the end of my time of focus on B, my moment of tech influence had evaporated.

I could see it. Right there in the tens on tens of messages from November in my inbox. But it was now January. Those people had moved on, and I needed to be moving on with the work I was hired to do as well.

If I had checked my work email even once, I could have shared what I knew even more widely and gained repute. Made my name. It’s not like I was per se permitted to do that outreach on company time. But that is not who I am.

I gather I am a profoundly unusual person. I gather every other techie would have checked her email. But I did not, and now I am not a renowned Microsoft operating systems specialist.

I turned to what is most important to me. And that has made all the difference. No regrets.

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