Tag Archives: believing in your writing

Valuing What You Do

Once again, I’m in Telluride. En route to here, Monday, I stopped in Ouray, where a writer friend of mine, who lives elsewhere in Colorado, was visiting their Hot Springs Pool, with the family. The pool is just ten miles off my route to Telluride, so we made plans to meet, there.

I’ve known this friend—let’s call him, Roger—for a handful of years. He’s been writing for roughly the same amount of time that I have, but he’s had much better success than I. Frankly, it’s due to his being more dedicated, and a bit more talented. I even knew who he was for nearly a full decade before we ever physically crossed paths. Even though we’ve since become good friends, I still look up to Roger. Still kinda put him on a pedestal.

A short while ago, Roger was part of a gallery show, in the Roaring Fork Valley. He and a Northern Colorado painter had done some collaborative work together, which was now being presented. That evening, each of their pieces were sold, some of them for close to a thousand dollars. Both things surprised Roger, especially how much they were selling for. (These all were “simple” pieces: a handful of written lines from Roger, a similar number of brush-strokes from the painter.)

I’m in the process of taking on editing work, and I’ve been quibbling with myself, lately, about how much to charge. I’ve been doing small bits of editing work, gratis, for friends and colleagues for awhile. It feels odd and a little unsettling, thinking about charging folks, now. Within the last year or so, Roger has also begun charging for the same work he used to do as a favor for people. And it sounds like he struggled much more than I currently am in allowing himself to be paid. In fact, I’m not quite sure he’s gotten comfortable with it, yet.

I’m still sorta shaking my head over this. Roger has had more than a handful of books published, and has gotten to travel to all sorts of nifty places due to his writing. It’s not at all uncommon to hear people utter his name in reverential tones. (I’m not alone in placing him on a pedestal.) All these and more, and yet he still questions the value of what he does. It didn’t/doesn’t make sense that someone of his caliber and renown would have these sorts of issues—at least not on the surface.

And so it goes. I’ve blogged about this, before. Somehow, some of us have difficulty discerning the value of what we do. You can hold thousands spell-bound with your words, have organizers clamoring to have you speak and/or present at their up-coming events, pack a bookstore when you come to sign your latest book—and, still, question the worth of what you do. Success doesn’t necessarily take away feelings of inadequacy, of not mattering. In fact, it can aggravate those same self-perceptions by making you feel even more like a fake.

And, perhaps, just maybe, I might be calling the kettle black, here. After all, I’ve had scads of folks who know about such things compliment my own writing, over and over again. In fact, Roger is one of my biggest cheerleaders. You’d think having my writing being admired by a writer whom I admire would be enough to dispel any niggling perceptions I have about my writing; however…

How about you? Do you feel you own talents are lacking—even though you’ve been told otherwise? If so, what’s up with that?

(I don’t know, either.)

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And, speaking of valuing your talents, this picture was taken during my second night, here. For the close of their author event, that evening, Between the Covers had scheduled a jam session. Only a single musician showed up with his instrument. Nonetheless, even though it was only him, here he is, jamming away.

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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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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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Not Alone

Well, a good bit has happened since my last blogpost. As some of you know, I received a number of hits for this particular post and its link on Facebook. When I posted, I was already turning back toward the light, and that’s been continuing, since. Each of you who reached out, whether through prayers, thoughts, bright blessings sent my way, coming up to me to see how I’m doing and to let me know your door’s always open, and commenting on the blogpost and/or its FB link, or whatever other way, has been a significant element of continued improvement. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

 

To be sure, I still have miles to go. But I’m not traveling alone. And thank you, again, for that.

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I’m a member of a local poetry group that meets once a month. Each meeting, we’re given an assignment for the next month’s meeting. We’ll be meeting tomorrow, and our assignment will be to have written a letter to poet regarding one of their poems that we’ve spent time with, looking it over and seeing what holds it together. The four poem/poets we were to chose from were: “Thanks,” by WS Merwin; “French Horn,” by Jane Hirshfield; “Scars,” by William Stafford; and “I Might Not Have Believed,” by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. Me, being who I am, wrote to each poet. (Well, to Kim Stafford, who is literary executor for his father, who died in 1993, re: “Scars.”)

Friday, August 1st, I received a postcard from Kim, thanking me, saying his father would have enjoyed my letter. I was stunned when I realized the postcard was from him. (I’d also recently written a dear friend whose tendency is to send me postcards from her travels; so when I saw I’d received a postcard, I thought it was from her. When I got around to reading it, I quickly realized otherwise.) Yesterday’s mail brought another postcard; this one from Jane Hirshfield. I’m still shaking my head in bewonderment.

Perhaps I’m not alone as a writer, wondering whether my words have mattered, whether they’ve made their intended mark upon a reader. It was a stretching out my hand, writing to each of these four poets and writers. I hoped to hear something back, but I wasn’t expecting it, wasn’t gonna whimper if it never happened. The simple act of mailing a letter was, itself, already such a strong connecting action. To have heard back from two of them, and with such gracious and thankful words, and so quickly…? Well, seems my word do matter, do make their marks.

Perhaps, just maybe, even poets as successful, as esteemed, as these four aren’t so different from me, newbie that I am. Perhaps wondering whether ones words are doing good things, now that they’ve been set out on their own into the world, isn’t something that success and esteem keeps from happening. Just maybe, there’s a same quickening thrill when they receive a letter expressing thanks for what they’ve written, that shows someone has spent time with their poem, deepening their understanding and appreciation of it. Maybe the best way they can deal with their exploding-with-gratitude heart is to grab a postcard, write their gratitude on it, and put it into the mail, pronto. After all, being “a name” in whatever circle doesn’t make you less vulnerable. Make your desire to make a difference diminish any.

It might amaze you, the hands reaching out, waiting for your own hand to do the same.

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(Since it’s not on-line, anywhere, below is Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer’s poem:)

 

I Might Not Have Believed

(Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer)

 

Because it is our work to love

I give you precedence.

Before the bills, before the making

of the bed, I set my list aside

that I might hold you first.

 

It is intricate, this loving.

I might wish it to be like origami,

a swan, perhaps.

Perfect tucks. Tiny folds.

 

It’s more newspaper hat,

crooked creases, crinkled,

never quite fitting the head.

 

I learn to bow to the clutter,

kiss what is rumpled,

kneel in the muddle and laugh.

 

Whatever this ache, I thank it,

how it keeps your scent

the axis of my dizziness.

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Do You Know How Good You Are?

Recently, I visited a close friend for a couple of days. One of the things we did was watch YouTube videos of winning auditions for Britain’s/America’s Got Talent. Several times, one of the judges would say afterward to the performer, “Do you know how good you are?” Typically, the response was the performer began breaking down into tears.   I think that for many of us artists, we don’t have a clean perspective of our talents and abilities. We get lost in comparing ourselves to others, especially to others whom we look up to. Further, I also think we tend to shine a gilding light on the work of those others while keeping our own works dimly lit. We don’t give ourselves a fair shake. We hold up high the works of esteemed others, gazing at them in the same way as when we’re infatuated, in love. Our own works we nitpick, magnify what flaws we find, and pooh-pooh any elements that might reveal the caliber of our abilities and talent.   “Do you know how good you are?” No. And truthfully, I’m not sure I want to. If I did know, then I might have to act on that knowledge, be accountable to it. I don’t know if I’m ready to do that.

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re: Not Belonging and Brilliance

Last October, I attended my first Talking Gourds, Telluride’s monthly poetry gathering and reading. It was good being in Telluride and seeing some of the locals whom I knew in some fashion or another. However, I was unable to shake off the sense that I didn’t belong, that I was intruding, being the “not from around here” person that I was. Never mind that I was embraced by no fewer than three of the locals, and introduced as something of a special guest, having come from four hours away, at the start of the meeting. Event though I was a poet among other poets, I was not “one of us.”

Thing is, I don’t think I’m all that alone, thinking I’m the oddball, the outsider, the “one of these things isn’t like all the others…” As I spend more time with more people, I’m seeing that it’s the oddball who doesn’t struggle with feeling like the oddball.

In a recent blogpost, Susan J Tweit writes about her feelings of being an outsider. Because she’s a self-taught writer, not trained in any academic writing program, she’s not a “real writer.” Likewise, because she wasn’t able to produce the journal writings of “real science,” she’s not accepted into their ranks, even with her graduate degree in biology. Never mind she’s been a Colorado Book Award Winner x number of times, and has been anthologized close to a countless number of times—she doesn’t belong and is an outsider because she’s “not a real writer.”

Another local writer of my acquaintance, Trish, often gets sucked into the muck of pondering her place in the scheme of things, especially as a writer. During one of these periods, she received a letter from writer she’d crossed paths with a couple of times, and had recently attended a workshop conducted by. It was a brief letter of encouragement, of persisting onward amid the hazy, foggy times. Trish showed me this letter, pointing out the line that stopped her breath midway in her throat: You bring so much to the world, such generosity of spirit, such clean vision (about everything, it seems, except your own brilliance), such kindness.

A lack of being able to see our own brilliance: Isn’t this what we all, each of us, suffers from?

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