Today is Not Every Day

A little over a week ago I was in Chicago, walking the downtown streets from my hotel to the various STORY Chicago conference events. It was perfection. One night it rained, but I was safely inside already, and by the time I ventured back out again the night air was temperate and the rain had seemed to give the sidewalks a gentle scrub. It was enchanting.

It was so nice, in fact, that my friend Liz who traveled with me had to remind me that we were probably seeing Chicago at it’s very best (in terms of weather). A week earlier we might have been melting. A week later and the lake wind might have chilled our bones. In other words, we reminded ourselves, today isn’t every day in Chicago.

So it helped when I got home to my smaller, slightly less exciting Omaha to take a lunch downtown and remind myself how great it can be here, too. Dan and I had a little lunch date at Block 16 and then dessert at Bliss Bakery. And that was perfection, too.

So I guess the moral of the story is that any place is perfect in September! No? Right. I think the moral of the story is that we just need fresh eyes sometimes, new perspectives. That’s what’s nice about a little trip out of town. Or a conference with speakers I wouldn’t hear from in my every day. All or any of it is a nice reminder that today isn’t every day and that’s why it can be special.

I heard a sports commentator say recently that after a big loss or a big win it’s always a good idea to remind your athletes, “It’s never as bad OR as good as it seems right now.” That’s not meant to squelch excitement or numb pain, but I think it is meant as a way of keeping us off ledges of despair or pride. There’s a super healthy place in between.

In a way, if today isn’t every day than is there really a true everyday? Huh. Probably not.



Why Poetry? (from the Poet Laureate)

This week I’ve been reading A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver (she’s the poet famous for the line, “what is it you  plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”). Here’s one of my favorite sections:

Writing a poem … is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind. They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen. Or, they make appointments with each other but are casual and often fail to keep them: count on it, nothing happens.

[The heart] learns quickly what sort of courtship it is going to be. Say you promise to be at your desk in the evenings, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself–soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all.

Just more evidence that being a great writer is less about talent and more about hard work. Which is actually pretty comforting even if it does at the same time threaten my usual list of excuses. Still, I can’t shake the idea that it’s something I can do. Should do.

Then last night I finally got to hear Natasha Trethewey (the US Poet Laureate) read her work. It was enchanting, to say the least. And toward the end of the evening she was asked the question, “Why write poetry instead of one of the other genres?” She laughed because it’s a question she gets often. Her answer is perfect, in my opinion:

Poetry is the best repository for our most humane and just expressions of feeling.

Next week I’m off to STORY Chicago! I imagine I’ll come back full of new drafts, don’t you think?

The Writer’s Life

This is actually an assignment in my MFA program: imagine the life of a writer and begin to live it. My sister is justifiably jealous. “That’s school?! What am I doing in the real world!?” she commented on my Instagram. Yes, the very best kind of school. I have scheduled writing time everyday. Everyday, you guys! It’s awesome. And hard.

The books above are the first I received from my reading list. I’m learning so much from them. (I’ll get to hear a reading from Thrall next week when the Poet Laureate visits my own Joslyn Museum!) For example, read this from Carolyn See in the chapter where she tells writers that part of the struggle will be against the rest of the world who just wants you to keep quiet and be normal in order to keep alive the structure of civilization as we know it:

But the minute somebody begins to write–or to make any kind of real “art”–all that structure comes into question. It’s no coincidence that repressive governments go after their artists and writers first. Daily life is serious business. It’s hard enough to put a civilization together. And one artist is–theoretically, at least–capable of bringing down the whole damn thing.

So if you’re a writer or an artist or anyone who dares to bring creativity into the earth (I know a lot of people who do this everyday at their “normal” job), then you are at risk for being challenged, even threatened by people who just want to keep the status quo. But you can’t do that anymore. Because you know better. And, as Oprah says, now you’ll do better, too.

This is the challenge: do the work. And it’s the challenge for all of us. We all have visions of who we want to be: a better mom, a stronger athlete, a more prosperous business person. But the only things keeping us from our desires are our own desires. I want to have time to write so I cut down on my work hours and set aside quiet time at home. But now I have to create. I have to write. I have to produce. I can’t just sit around surfing the Internet or even reading the millions of great poems already written by others.

Likewise, being a mom who has cookies and milk ready for her kids after school means you have to bake those stupid cookies, buy some milk, and be there after school.You can’t watch TV all day and try to do everything else after the kids come home. It’s too late then. (And please don’t think this is any kind of example from my own life. Oh, my.) None of it happens just because we want it to. If it did, the world would be full of rich, happy, successful people at Pinterest-perfect parties every day.

Nope, it’s just you and me and the people we love, and if we want to make it happen we have to do the work. And then rest in the grace of each other when we don’t. Because we all know how hard it is. And we all know how wonderful it can be. So we keep at it, we artists and creators and everyday people who believe in more than what we see.

It really is the very best kind of school. For all of us.