Tag Archives: belonging

LitFest

Three years ago, Telluride presented its first Literary Arts Festival (“LitFest”), and I wanted to go, but I had very recently spent time there, and couldn’t afford another visit, so soon. Last year, I decided, instead, to visit my mom on Mothers Day, which I likely might have done this year, had Mom not passed away, earlier this year. So this go-around, I booked my hotel early, and began dreaming and waiting.

Of course, reality wasn’t much like any of my dreams; but its quality was at least as high as my dreams’. I met one author and one poet, each of whom I only knew by name and photos. And, I got to see nearly all the Telluridians I already knew.

One of the most popular events of LitFest, is its Literary Burlesque, which is both a metaphoric and literal disrobing of its featured poetesses. I wish I could show pictures from it, due to the costuming and such, but alas and go figure, pictures were not allowed. This was also the only event that you had to pay for. It also had sold-out, the previous two years. Thanks to my knowing one of the co-owners of the bookstore where tickets were being sold, I was able to call and get one, while they were still available.

As these thing often happen with writing type festivals and such, I didn’t get much writing done. Well, it’s not the festival that’s to blame—it’s my addiction to YouTube videos. (I’m seriously wondering whether getting wi-fi for my apartment is a good idea.) However, I’m leaving feeling more solid and grounded in being a writer; more thoroughly a member of the tribe.

Meanwhile, back in Salida, Wednesday is to be the last day for our current kitchen manager and dietician. I’ve struggled mightily giving my writing precedence over my paying job. With the upcoming change of management, it seems a good time to make such a change. However, that’s entirely another sack of worms for perhaps another time.

In a few hours, give or take, I’ll get in the van and head back home. My next scheduled visit, here, won’t be until late October, an entire summer and two-thirds of an autumn away. Maybe I’ll squeeze in at least one visit before then. We’ll see. It’s hard to stay away too long from views like these.

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What am I Doing Here?

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i’m currently at a weekend-long poetry workshop and retreat, in Breckenridge, about an hour and a half from where I live. Mucho months ago, Wendy Videlock invited me. I’ve known Wendy for about two years, and although we’ve actually met just once before, we’ve kinda kept up via Facebook and the poets’ grapevine.

I arrived here, yesterday early-evening. Just a handful of folks had arrived already. Many (most?) of us are staying at a lodge that’s a VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner). Wendy and Laurie James (who lives roughly just a mile from me) greeted and hugged me when I stepped outta the van. As more folks started arriving, I began wondering what I’d gotten myself into, agreeing to this workshop with who knows how many other people, and being jammed-in with twentysome strangers in a suddenly-not-really-all-that-huge lodge. I feared I was about to enter introvert overload.

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This first morning has been quiet and calm. Seems the majority of folks are night owls, whereas I’m an early riser. Fortunately, there was enough dawning light coming through the window that I was to be quietly active without (I hope) waking anybody. It’s being an overcast day, and we’ve had a bit of drizzle. On paper, the day’s schedule is packed. However, in practice, it’s being relaxed and open. My introversion is being nurtured, rather than assailed.

But, there’s this, and it isn’t something new: I’m looking around wondering, in a different sense, what I’m doing here. Because I’ve placed so much crap onto the notion, I’ve pretty much forbidden myself from using “belonging” in reference to myself and my place in things. But nonetheless, I’m at it again. With the likes of (what seems to me, correctly or not) the majority of folks here being published poets, and many with award-winning, or at least nearly-so, books, what am I, unpublished poet, and scarcely-so writer, doing here, hobnobbing with the likes of say, Valerie Szarek, whose most recent work is a Finalist for this year’s Colorado Authors’ League, Book of the Year; Rachel Kellum, whose, ah, is highly-regarded; and also Wendy Videlock, who’ll be in this year’s Best American Poetry, and Laurie James who is considered an Elder in the tribe?

One of the many reasons I’ve placed myself on hiatus in using, “belonging,” is because I’ve placed something of an unattainable extremism upon it—likely coming from my dad only being happy with me if, “you’ve done your best.” (What is, “best,” anyway? Couldn’t you have always done a little more, a little better?) What was my best was, itself, an unattainable extreme. But it’s still somewhat the ruler I measure myself by. So, amid such successful poets, such _actual_ ones, what the hell am I doing, thinking I’m worthy of hanging out with ’em, thinking I’m anywhere in the same league?

Well, one reason just might be because they’ve accepted me as, “one of us.” And one them, Wendy, did make a point of inviting, after all. If I hold these people as being higher than myself, then doesn’t it also hold that their perceptions might hold more weight than mine? Maybe. But, rather, I think it’s moreso the case that what they think and perceive simply, intrinsically, matters—period, never mind whether they’re “higher” poets/people than I. What they say matters too. I don’t have the sole and final word regarding who and what I am.

So, what am I doing here? I’m honoring an endeared one, Wendy, who asked me to come. I’m following through with what I wish my life to become: more writing-centered. I’m rubbing elbows with others of my tribe, some of whom, like Rachel Kellum and Valerie Szarek, make my jaw drop in humbleness when they act as though I’m their equal. And perhaps the biggest thing I’m doing here is stretching my comfort zone of my own perception(s) of who I am, and whom I can become.

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Quiet

This morning, I walked to the post office to check my mail. Sometimes on “off days,” there’s still something in my post office box. Even though it’s a small town where I live, I was surprised by how quiet things were. Then, one of the reasons I moved here is because of the quiet.

And as these things happen, I’m currently reading, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, by Susan Cain. When my younger niece posted a link to Cain’s TED talk on her Facebook page, I clicked it and watched, and then requested her book from our local library.

Now, I’ve known that I’m an introvert for almost thirty years; and have read I-don’t-know-how-many books about temperaments. And ever since my contemplation of suicide incident, I’ve been consistently reading some sorta self-help book. Of the books I’ve read lately, and of what I remember of all the books I’ve read about introversion and the like, Quiet, has been explaining myself to me, best. Beyond mere therapeutic assurances that my low tolerance of stimuli, my need for quiet and space, and my difficulties in speaking out and speaking extemporaneously are “normal” and “okay,” Cain is showing me why these traits exist, how they’re literally hardwired into me. Further, moreso than I’m remembering from other books, she’s showing why and how these same “troublesome” traits have positive and essential values, i.e. their real, necessary and crucial roles in this extroverted world I’m often struggling to find my place in.

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Persisting

So, last Tuesday evening, I received an email from my best friend, saying he was in town for a few days, wanted to stay at my place. Even though Wednesday and Thursday are my days off, and I had plans for writing on other things, what other choice did I have, but to say, Yes? So, Jack stayed and I had to figure how to have both him and my writing. As you’d likely figure, Jack won and my writing paid the most for it. Even so, I still was able to make my monthly meeting with another writer who mostly does plays, now. And I was also able to do last week’s blogpost, Thursday, as originally scheduled. All wasn’t lost.

This past Saturday, Peter Anderson came to town to conduct a prose poetry workshop. I’m still fuzzy with regards to what constitutes prose poetry, what separates it from, say, essays and vignettes. And while I’m not all that sure that I did much prose poetry during the workshop’s writing sessions, it was good, fruitful writing, nonetheless.

After the workshop, five of us, including Peter, went out for lunch. Peter has more than two fistfuls of published books, and teaches writing on the college level. Lynda LaRocca has been recognized as one the premier local poets since before I ever moved to Colorado, over twenty years ago. She, too, has been published several times, has won bunches of awards, and regularly conducts her own workshops. Laurie James and Barbara Ford are other longtime poets, with histories and connections that stretch far and long.

I was the odd man out, except, I was neither odd nor out. Because it was only the second time I’d seen Peter, I didn’t have the familiarity and connection with him that the other three did. (Lynda and Laurie are in a performance poetry group with Peter, and two others poets.) And I am somewhat a newcomer to poetry, and especially to the local poetry scene. But, I was never made to feel an outsider, as though I didn’t have an earned seat at the table. I held my own without having to scramble or really try. (If it’s only I who thinks I’m the outsider, who sees me as such, then …?)

Some seven years ago, Susan Tweit told me, “You’re farther along than you think.” I’m still strugglng to catch up.

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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 Prelude: First night, before any full days

Last night, I attended a Carbon Leaf concert. It was one of the three touristy things I’ve scheduled during my stay. This evening will be Art Walk—nineteen(?) galleries stay open late to allow folks to browse, check out their art, and maybe even get to yack with the artists. Next Tuesday is Talking Gourds, the monthly poetry night at a local wine bar. (Okay, TG isn’t “touristy,” per se, but it is the very event I scheduled this visit (as well as two of my other three visits) specifically around.)

Where last night’s concert was held is a teenier venue than I expected. A good third or fourth the size. My sitting at a “middle distance” from the stage, therefore, had me in the next-to-the-last row. Even in the cozy intimate setting, I managed to seat myself in isolation, at a distance from the rest of the concert-goers. Well, this is how I’ve tended to roll: separating myself from the rest, keeping good distance between me and them.

The main character, and narrator, of the movie, Never Cry Wolf, remarks of his being, “a watcher of people.” Me, too—albeit a watcher from a distance. I was one of the two handfuls of folks not up and dancing in front of the stage. It was more than not having a partner to dance with, not feeling comfortable getting up front anyway and boogeying. Nope. Seems there’s something of a darkness, too, in my watching from a distance. A volitional intention to keep myself separated and away.

Maybe some of today’s, this week’s, work will be the watching of myself, will be discerning a wee bit of what this darkness is about.

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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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The Age Thing

I turn fifty at the end of the week; and still I have no collection of my published work. Nor am I in any anthology, any other collection of writings. Other than where they were originally published, I have no works anywhere in the world.

Michelle Kodis once said, “Comparison is the root of all unhappiness.” So perhaps I ought not unfurl the litany of fellow writers who, back in their whippersnapper thirties and twenties, were miles ahead of where I currently am. Perhaps I should take heart, instead, with folks like John Irving,  Mary Oliver, and others who continue producing phenomenal work while significantly settled in “retirement age.” Writing is something I’ll be able to do for a long way on down the road. Something that will still be paying me, not requiring my living off of savings and Social Security.

But it’s not so much the financials that have me in a twist, due to my late start. It’s that feeling of insecurity due to being behind my fellows. The sense of impossibility in catching up. Of forever being too far behind.

But, also, it’s not as though I haven’t been writing for the last twenty years. That I’ve been away from my craft, playing tiddlywinks, instead. Being able to write well is a separate issue from being published. (And, likewise, to be sure, being published doesn’t mean you write well!)

Some things bear repeating; so let me say it again: “Comparison is the root of all unhappiness.” Perhaps comparing myself with others is a way of negating myself. So what if I’ll be in my fifties—or maybe even older—when I am finally published? That can also mean, among other things, that I’ll bring more to the table when published. More experience, more insight, more wisdom, more compassion, more empathy, more assuredness, more confidence. It is with these attributes that I’ll catch up with my fellows. Perhaps maybe not ever in quantity, but in quality, where it truly matters.

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Risk Taking, Putting It Out There

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There’s a discussion taking place within a FB group I belong to, regarding the sensation of feeling like an intruder within a gathering. One of the members had gone to an other-side-of-the-state poetry club’s monthly meeting, and had felt like an outsider. Even though they’d been greeted and treated warmly, because of the town’s close-knit nature, this person had felt no small bit of having not belonged there. Another of the FB group members commented that even when asked to host such an event, it could feel like they’re intruding—that having a sense of not belonging can plague any of us, and at any time.

Hemingway has said writers are to write clear and hard about what hurts, because that’s where the power is. In other words, we are to risk going out on a limb in telling the bared truth because that’s when the “what matters” gets written. Time and again, I’ve seen when someone has opened their heart a little bit in expressing themselves, their vulnerability has been gratefully received.

I think intimacy happens when we cross lines, when we risk the stepping out of our shells. The huge majority of us aren’t as all-together as we appear. We’re often not alone in feeling out of place and maybe even intrusive. So somebody confessing their awkwardness might find they’re actually of the majority in the room, rather than the odd one out. This kind of connectioning is why risk taking and being clear about what hurts is so important: Our isolations are what bind us to one another.

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