rails

If I had long, uninterrupted days, I wouldn’t know what to do. I would get nothing done.
—J, mother of 2 littles, over enchiladas Christmas-style

In one conversational gambit at the Glen Workshop, a colleague quipped, “You’re from Austin, TX? What’s the name of your band?” I laughed; the third person looked confused until I explained it’s one of the most Austin-tatious of tropes: everyone here is in a band. Or, as I riposted, has a side hustle/startup/creative gig.

Later in the week, I joked that my side hustle is my seminary education—a little something I do in addition to my Real Work.

***

One of the large gifts I received at the Glen this year was to work with a full group of pros—people writing work full of energy and well-placed images, work all meat and sinew with no fat. Who (and here’s the gift) tucked into the work I brought with just as much seriousness and craft as they offered to each (credentialed) other.

I felt—and feel—like the Velveteen Rabbit upon hearing he’s Real… and real. (S. would be pursing her lips at me right about now. “What are you TALKING about? Why wouldn’t you think you were a real poet?!”)
I got some of the most helpful suggestions for my work I’ve ever received—critique I can incorporate, and usable insight into portions I could see didn’t work but couldn’t put my finger on how to shift.

When I first attended Glen Workshop, I knew I’d found a happy place: one that combined work and community in a God-centered whole. This year I found deep acknowledgement of my calling.

And with it, challenge.
What poets am I reading, to feed my compost heap not just with ideas but with other ways of working our art? When am I writing? Writing poems? And revising them? Because the work I’ve done is worth doing more of.

Heck, my work-submission streak—to at least one journal each month since October 2013—turns out to provide as robust a discipline as the professional poets (who are also friends!) I admire.

Flying home, I combined earnest New Year’s resolutions with a desire to sleep for a week.
When I got home, I did the latter.

***

Wednesday I got formal word that I’m beginning a Master’s of Divinity program in less than three weeks.

Today my one appointment outside the home was cancelled. I felt virtuous when I got clean underwear on before 9am. I’m writing this post at 9pm; no poems, no revisions, just 130 skimmed pages of the Student Manual & Handbook because it had a deadline written on it.

Today, like many of my days in the past couple of years, had almost no rails.

I have the life my friend J says she cannot —her littles and her spouse and her day job and her freelance work lay down rails, or blocks, that channel her time so that she says: this is for making poems; this is for revising; this is for scrubbing two small bodies free of mud and sugar.

It strikes me that I have a certain amount of comfort in my commodious days, but that comfort seems to stand aside from anything else. I can’t see that I necessarily do more work, or less work, with my days as fluid as they are.

At one point I totted up my various volunteer activities, and even added another, thinking that these would offer blocks, if not rails, to channel my energy. They may have, at first, but now as I contemplate heading out to shelve books tomorrow my energy spreads out like water in a rice paddy.

Still, I worry. I worry that, despite my recent encouragement, the sweet immediacy of school deadlines will swamp my renewed poem-making intentions. I don’t have a solid practice, God. I should have done better. I should have pushed myself more persistently… wet-noodle-work notwithstanding? Well, no.

Me, repeat after me.

In Jeremiah, it is clear that excellence comes from a life of faith, from being more interested in God than in self, and has nothing to do with comfort or esteem or achievement.

Faith keeps stepping over worry. The kind of comfort I’ve been having is likely winding down; who can describe the comfort I may discover? Perhaps the large set of shiny rails that are about to be installed may provide channels I’ve been needing.

Still, it can’t hurt to apply for a carrel on campus. And put up a large poster over the desk that says: SIDE HUSTLE.

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