Monthly Archives: October 2014

Yearly Book Acquisition

Last week, I ordered books from the local independent bookstore. It was my yearly book-buying gig. Each Octoberish, I get the latest edition of Best American Short Stories, and Best American Essays. This time, I also ordered Best American Poetry and Best Spiritual Writing. They arrived Monday, (Two days before the DVD order I placed at Amazon, on the same day, arrived. Go Independents!), and I picked them up yesterday. (Actually, Best Spiritual Writing was from last year. Seems there’s not to be one, this year. Grrr…)

I’ve been getting Best American Short Stories every year for two decades. Some years ago, I managed to get copies of previous years’ editions. I now have each year’s edition beginning with 1978. Best American Essays, I’ve only been getting each year for the last five years or so. During my last visit to Telluride, I bought Best American Poetry for 2011 and 2012, at the Independent Bookseller there. I liked them so much, I’ve added it to the yearly list. I planned to include Best Spiritual Writing, but now… I used to get them each year, but fell outta that habit. Bums me that when I’ve gotten “back” into the habit, it’s looking like I’ll not be able to continue it.

I began my writing life wanting to be a short story writer, then I branched out into essays. Most recently, I’ve had more luck with essays than shorts; and poetry is wide-opening itself. I think my writing, and especially my essays, tends toward the spiritual. It’s because these are where I see and want my writing to go/be is why I’m seeing what’s the best of what’s out there, each year.

So, now, I’ve got some reading work ahead of me. There’s far worse work to have.

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Not What I Think

Yesterday evening, I took a walk a little too late in the day. The sun was already setting when I left, and on the way back it was growing pretty dark. As I neared the lights and buildings of downtown, which is actually on the edge of town, I felt I was returning to a place I knew, a place where I’d spent a significant amount of time, a place I new well; but oddly, it didn’t feel like where I was returning was home. There was a distance, a separation between this place and myself.

I’ve lived here for over a fifth of my life, longer than anywhere else. I am known by name, by face, and by both, here. Yet, last night, it wasn’t to home that I was returning.

There’s five and six and a half years separating me from my older sister and brother. My birth was unexpected. I grew up knowing I was at least partially responsible for Dad not finishing college: “I ran out of money. I ran out of smart sauce. And I had him.” Dad was a wildlife biologist, a facts and science guy. This son of his, however, was a dreamer, a taker of long walks, a talker to himself, a keeper of his own company. Mom becoming pregnant with me was just the first of my surprises.

Midway through fourth grade, Dad was transferred to another city, and I lost all of my friends in the move. Subsequently, I also lost the only remaining people with whom I belonged. I’ve felt a full-on outsider, ever since.

At fifty years of age, I still struggle with being liked, with being admired, being worthy, and with having value. I strongly doubt that anyone could ever really become attached to me. That my being alive in this world could have any positive meaning. (Another lesson learned from childhood was to stay out of the way, not to be a bother to other people.) At the foundation of it all, I do not believe people when they tell me that I matter, that what I’ve written and done has meant something to them. I want to believe, but I’m unable to fully do so. I am forever the odd man out.

Earlier this year, I received a Facebook message from a woman whom I’ve known for a few years. She lives four hours away with her family, and we’ve seen each other six or seven times. She is both wise and perceptive, and what she has to say is taken with high regard by lots of many people. Here’s a pivotal sentence from her message: You bring so much to the world, such generosity of spirit, such clean vision (about everything, it seems, except your own brilliance), such kindness.

“…[S]uch clean vision (about everything, it seems, except your own brilliance)…” It stabbed me in the heart when I read it. With such precision, I’d been seen and called by name. My self-deprecating bs was also called by name, called onto the carpet. She is far from alone in seeing me, thus. In fact, I might be pretty much alone in thinking I don’t matter, am a bother to people, not both a joy and blessing—that I don’t belong.

One of the locals, here, is wheelchair-bound. A bumper sticker on his wheelchair says, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

Seems to me that the crux of my difficulties in becoming a writer, in believing that I might have something to offer, is this same inability to believe in the worth of my writing. To believe in the worth of my ownself.

Perhaps I should stop believing what I think about myself.

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Filed under Honoring Your Writing and Your Being a Writer, No [One] Is An Island, Sorting It Out

RE: Change

So, I’ve been home two weeks, now; and I’ve gotta say, seems not much has changed. My writing took an immediate nosedive, back to what it’d been before. Rather than doing things differently, acting on the insights/reminders I’d received during my week away, I’ve jumped right back to business as usual.

And maybe this is somewhat to be expected. Sometimes change is moreso the verb than the noun. And just perhaps part of my own post-vacation change is seeing how things haven’t changed. My first week back seemed mostly about getting my feet back under me at work. This second week has been seeing and confirming that how I’d been doing things wasn’t working, and reminding myself that one big reason for my week away was because things weren’t working and I needed at least some of them to change.

So here I am, in something of a sweet spot, perhaps: Just a couple weeks away from having seen other and better ways of living my life, and having just this very week seen how the old ways aren’t working. I’m currently bothered with how I’m doing things; yet the memory is still fresh in my mind of how things can be done better. See? It’s not a thing, yet; it’s still forming, still an action, a state of being.

During my week in Telluride, I took no fewer than four walks or hikes. In the two weeks I’ve been home? Not a single excursion, outside. I wrote everyday in Telluride. Today is the fourth day I’ve written in the two weeks since. To be sure, having a job can make it more difficult to make time for penning the pages and walking in the parks. And it’s also true that I’d forgotten how frustrating and draining my job is, after just a week away. Still, I’m not asking for big, drastic changes—just the wee, small ones. It’s okay that I fell back into my old routine. It would have been kinda hard not to. But now that I’ve seen this, I can begin easing back toward better routines. And, perhaps, one of those better routines is becoming both patient with, and compassionate toward, myself, huh?

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Post-Telluride: Back Home

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So, I finally left Telluride, and made it all the way home. This morning, at five o’clock, I was back at work. Even before I’d turned in my room key at the hotel I was wondering when I’d come back. This morning, I began pondering what’d it take for me to move, there.

Then, I’ve been here before. After my first two-night visit to Telluride, I began pining to move there. In so many ways, Telluride is so precisely the small town I want to settle down in. Its size, its culture of arts (even stronger than Salida’s), its proximity to mountains and wilderness, its close-knittedness, its beauty, its climate, its activities, it library, and more. However, I’m absolutely not all the only person who’s drooling and dreaming of moving there. Housing is tight, and jobs are tricky to come by. Also, the cost of living is a bit higher there than what I’m used to. To put it into perspective, Salida’s “living room,” was a café-coffeehouse; Telluride’s is a wine bar.

And the other thing is I’ve kinda stopped being engaged with life, here in Salida. My social life is still little more than the time I spend with my coworkers while we’re working at the hospital. I don’t go meet friends, don’t even go out and cross paths with friends/acquaintances. My life is essentially work and home. Therefore, I’m missing much of what Salida does have to offer. To put this in perspective, I live three blocks from the Arkansas River, yet only once this year did I go and spend time in the river—and that one time is actually a little better than average for me. (Keep in mind that I am a river person.) This is my life, here in Salida.

So, it’s not fair to compare this life with what I envision life would be like, in Telluride; or compare it to how engaged I was, this past week, while on vacation, there. Yes, Telluride is a phenomenal place. However, Salida is pretty awesome, ‘cept I hardly do anything awesome, now that I’ve lived here eleven and a half years. I highly suspect that much of problem is not so much where I’m living, but how I’m living.

But, just maybe, some of what’ll result from my past week in Telluride will be getting better engaged with life here in Salida.

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Telluride: Seventh and Last Day

It’s drizzling, now, as I’m inside my favorite breakfast place, here in Telluride. The van’s packed, I’ll make one more sweep through the hotel room before turning in my room key (Yes. An actual key; not one of those plastic card critters!), and then it’s hop into the van and head home. I think the town’s causing this rain in hopes I’ll wait for the weather to clear, thereby staying longer, giving Telluride still more time to grab a firmer hold on me. I appreciate the compliment and the love. (Just now, a woman apologized to me for being, “from out of town.” “We’re all from out of town,” I replied. Then, even a few of the locals have thought I was local, too.)

Yesterday was intentionally for letting things settle. Still more of that will happen, en route back to Salida. After all, I won’t truly know what I “got” here until I’m back in my “real” world.

I’ve frequently called and thought of myself as invisible, as hidden in the shadows. I think it’s more that I blend in, as opposed to vanish. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not only the other out-of-towners who’ve thought I lived here; and this hasn’t only happened in Telluride. It’s from this place, this included among the natives, that I’m the watcher of people that I am. I’m witnessing what’s going on around me, not what’s happening in front of me. Perhaps this blending in is also the reason people seem quick to include me among their ranks.

(Aye… Seems I’m still sorting stuff out. Perhaps this is yet another incident when there’s no figuring—just rolling with it and moving on.)

This Telluride. This time here. I am so hugely grateful for each, both. I’ll persist with my visits.

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Telluride: Day Six

Even though there’s still one more full day here to go, in no small way it’s been coming to this: Talking Gourds, the monthly Telluride poetry gathering. As I said, yesterday, I specifically planned this stay to include Talking Gourds. Since I am a writer, and one who is still getting used to the fact that he’s a poet, reading aloud a poem I’ve crafted to a group of others who have done the same, is a good and necessary thing on several levels.

But, I’m too close to the end of the day’s tale. Let me start again, closer to the beginning.

Anyone who knows me even a little, or has read pretty much any of these blogposts, knows I struggle with my writing. I create a fair bit of drama over whether or not to continue pursuing it. The big, real reason for my seven days here, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is to finally, with regards to my writing, either shit or get off the pot.

So I came here looking for clarity, certainty. However, after Monday’s conversation with Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, I head-butted a truth I’ve been fighting against in ignorance since, I guess, Day One: An absolute, unshakeable certainty is impossible. As Frederick Buechner has said, “If there’s room for me, then there’s room for doubt.” So, here I was. I’d come to Rosemerry for insight, and I’d gotten it—only it seemed to be exactly the opposite of the insight I was looking for. I was rattled. Yeah, you could say that.

Actually, though, and perhaps oddly, I was comforted and settled by this whack upside my expectations. Whether I was to be a writer wasn’t up to things being certain and clearly so; instead, it was up to my deciding so. In no small intangible way, I’d placed the responsibility onto someone/something else’s shoulders. Removed it from my control. I was waiting for the decision to be made for me. (No wonder I was so frustrated and twisted in knots.) Nothing would ever be certain; but I could certainly make a decision and act on it.

Now each month’s Talking Gourds has a theme. This month’s was, fear. I had a poem nearly finished by the time Rosemerry and I met, Monday. Of course, it came up in our conversation; and out of that conversation, the poem was set on a different trajectory. I worked on it some, that Monday, and even got it completed enough, I felt. However, when I’d gotten into bed and the lights were out, inspiration arrived for another poem. Fortunately, I had enough wits and wisdom to turn the light back on long enough to pen this inspiration to the page before heading back to sleep. Come morning, I began working on this new poem, spending most of the day bringing it into the light, onto the page.

When I’d finished reading it, last evening, there was that hush that confirmed what I knew: I’d been gifted with a poem that struck paydirt. Further, just so the Universe could drive its point home a little firmer, at the end of the meeting, a woman came up to me, asking me to mail her a copy of my poem, because it’d struck her so.

Ah, oh, one more thing: This was the moon as we walked our way back to our cars, our homes, our hotel room(s).

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There’s more to this story than I’m telling. Both in regards to this day, and this whole time here so far. A great number of things are clicking into interesting places. Toggling together in unexpected ways. And there’s still all of today ahead of me yet.

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Telluride: Day Five

Well, after Sunday’s “day of rest,” yesterday was a more productive one.

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer had agreed to meet with me at 2:30, before she picked up her kiddo from school. I was able to get a hike in along one of the trails she’d suggested, before our meeting.

I seem to have come to Telluride at the right time. The leaves are still turning, making the stunning box canyon valley even moreso stunning. Amy Levek mentioned several times during our own hike together, that it was hard to not be happy amid such scenery. It’s also hard not to be inspired.

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My time with Rosemerry was brief, but wonderful. As it turned out, it was the first time I’ve been with her when there hasn’t been some poetry-related thing going on. Even so, it didn’t take us long to get into deeper conversation. I mentioned my persistence in questioning the value and worth of my writing, and myself as a writer; and she said she still occasionally struggles herself with those same questions. To hear that a poet and writer of her caliber doesn’t have it settled and squared away, still has those existentially pestering moments, is something of a relief. If Rosemerry is still dealing with these issues, then my own dealings are certainly not proof against my own writing.

This evening, I’ll get to see Rosemerry again. The first Tuesday of every month is Talking Gourds, the monthly gathering of poets, here, hosted by Rosemerry and Art Goodtimes. There’s a visiting poet who does a reading and maybe a discussion, followed by the rest of the poets reading poems written to a theme selected at the previous month’s meeting. I intentionally scheduled my time here to include attending Talking Gourds. And I’ll still have one more full day here before returning home to Salida.

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