Saturday, May 04, 2019

20 year itch

With my birthday last week, I find myself thinking often of that spring 20 years ago. The momentum I had accrued the when it came to writing around the time I turned 25.  How I felt so immersed in what I was doing--that first book mss I was assembling, my first real success of publication. I was also studying for my MA comp exams and freaking out over finding a job, which I wouldn't successfully do until that September, but more importantly, I remember the poems I was writing in that last stretch.  They were informed by other things I was reading for the exams--Rita Dove's Thomas & Beulah, Jean Rhy's Wide Sargasso Sea. I had, that fall before, had my TS Eliot inspired moment of epiphany.  I had also started checking out books of contemporary women poets from the DePaul library--Louise Gluck, Jorie Graham, Carolyn Forche.

When you look back over your choices at various points, I always think of that spring, and wonder if maybe I should have stayed in the city.  It would have been nearly impossible financially, and the job I would get later in Rockford would lead me back here and into the job I still have now, but ultimately I wonder if things would be different had I stayed in that tiny studio in Lincoln Park another year and tried to make do.   In that first year after finishing grad school, I can't say I wrote that much, certainly not at the pace I had been writing.  I moved into an apartment in Rockford, then a few months later, back into my parent's house.  I started a few jobs--telemarketing ad space in a movie publication, production assistant at a small local paper--all of which were horrible and that  I quit rather swiftly and unceremoniously.  I do remember writing some fiction that year, mostly in the hope that, unlike poetry, I might earn some money from it.  Somewhere, in my apartment are about a half dozen spiral notebooks full of stories I keep thinking I should pull out for laughs.  My time working in the elementary school library was stressful and hectic and tiring in a way day jobs should never be, but I did have some summer-time freedom for writing and reading after that first year.

When I moved back to Chicago in late 2000--it took me a few months to get my bearings and get back to the work of writing and submitting on the regular, and maybe the break of the previous year or so fed what came after.  The quiet before the building of a storm.  I discovered online journals and started my very own.  Began to assemble the chapbook that became The Archaeologist's Daughter.    Those first couple years, I was starting to write regularly again--much of the work I consider the first things I don't cringe at were written then  In 2003,  fall I would enroll in the MFA program at Columbia  and finish the very first draft of what would become the fever almanac.  Within a year, I would start the press and begin working in collage & installation. I would win a decently lucrative local poetry award from the Poetry Center and start doing readings on the regular.  Publishing in places I'd only dreamed of.  Would write more projects and keep going.

It all has it roots though in that spring 20 years ago, though, so I'm especially pensive about that period these days, particularly as I round out an unusually  productive year of writing and look forward to my next book (those both forthcoming in publication and those ready to be sent out into the world to begin their voyages.)  As I imagine my 25 year old self and how clueless and hopeful she was and how tenuously she sought to balance the need for making a living and also being able to make art.  And how, even as difficult as it sometimes seems even today, it actually all turned out phenomenally well for her.  Even when it never seemed like this whole writing thing would all amount to very much at all.

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