A poem of mine, “Beneath the Highway, Between Two Nights,” is up at the museum of americana. It’s a beautiful issue and I’m proud to be part of it and hope you’ll read all of it. In the meantime, I’m keeping the promise I made in my last post by talking a little about how this poem came to be.
Last year, I left an academic job. There were a lot of reasons (it feels important to say that my students, who I adore, were absolutely definitely not one of those reasons), but it all came down to three things: 1.) I wasn’t happy, 2.) I wanted/needed to be closer to my family, and 3.) I finally realized that it was totally okay for me to do what I needed to do to be happy and be closer to my family. I knew and absolutely that it was the right thing for me to do, and I was absolutely terrified. I worried that I’d never write again. I worried that I’d never get published again. Over a decade of publish-or-perish, I’d conflated those two things. I’d also conflated my calling — writing — and my career in academia.
It took a while for the dust to settle, and when it did, I looked down and realized that I was still standing. But I wasn’t just standing — I was more firmly rooted, standing straighter than I had in years. I had just done The Very Hardest Thing, but it was also The Very Best Thing I could’ve done for myself. And after I realized that I was still standing, I knew it was time for me to see if my writing had made the leap — as many who’ve moved out of academic jobs before me call it — with me.
In February, I signed up for a writing-a-poem-a-day project. I figured it was best to just dive right in and keep swimming (these metaphors are mixing wildly, I know, but how better to describe the strangeness and beauty of a life transformed?). I also started looking at calls for submissions (a shout-out to CRWOPPS here) and using them as prompts.
It went horribly, of course — at first. It took a while for me to get used to my own voice, my own words. After a while, though, I realized that the difficulty lay largely in distance: I didn’t realize that the voice was my voice, one I’d been afraid to use. Over the years, I’d walked back from what I wanted to say, what I needed to say, and how I needed to say it. I was too afraid of being exposed. I was too afraid of not being published. I was too afraid of not being the perfect academic that no one besides myself ever really expected me to be.
I decided to just let everything go, to stop stopping myself and to write whatever came to me. I saw a call for poems about transportation from the museum of americana and used it as a safe-room of sorts, a set of parameters in which I could test out my voice. The poem that resulted wasn’t the turning point poem, the poem in which I abandoned fear and found strength. It is the poem in which I stopped trying to be the person I thought I was supposed to be, which may be even more important.