I’m going the start this, my final blog post of 2016, with what remains the strangest, most surreal, most amazing and wonderful and exciting sentence I have typed to date: I’m humbled, honored, and honestly still just super shocked to say that I was the recipient of a 2017 Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry, which comes with a grant, from the National Endowment for the Arts.
No, seriously. I’m on the list. I know that because I’ve looked at it about seven thousand times, sure that they mean some other Emma or they’ve made a typo or I’ve lost my reading comprehension completely. It’s still there, every time I look at it, so it must be true.
Here’s the thing about 2016: it really has been a dumpster fire of a year, hasn’t it? It feels as if, this year, many of us woke and walked into a new world, one mapped in lines of love lost, hate hungering, and grief grabbing hold of and shaking us to our core, over and over again. It’s been that way for me, at least, and on so many levels, from the personal to the professional to the political. When I look back at the notebooks I’ve kept over the course of the year, I see fear that blossomed into terror, loss that sank fully into inconsolable sadness, confusion that collapsed into chaos, and desperation that deepened to the point of desolation.
That’s not what I’m here to talk about.
That’s not what I’m going to think about, during the last day of this strange, sad, surreal, and somehow joyful whirlwind of a year.
I’m here to talk about dedication, persistence, and faith.
I’m here to talk about hope.
This is the sixth time I’ve applied for the NEA Poetry Fellowship. It’s the eighth time I’ve applied for an NEA Fellowship, if you include two (possibly misguided) applications for the prose cycle. I almost didn’t apply this year. I’d been rejected so many times and besides, I was at a very low point in my life when the deadline came around. I found myself in a state perhaps described best as an identity crisis: everything was unrecognizable, including myself. My confidence in myself and my work and my words and my everything plummeted. I felt as if the time had come for me to make drastic moves, but I felt at the same time paralyzed.
I felt as if I’d lost my luck, but I also felt luckier than I have in years. That’s because I was lucky enough to be surrounded by an indescribably amazing, strong, and beautiful group of co-workers every day — and here’s where the hope comes in. I couldn’t believe in myself, but they did. I gained the confidence to start writing and to start sending work to journals — and applying for grants, like the NEA Fellowship, again. We went through much of the dumpster fire of 2016 together, and, for me at least, it’s the togetherness that saved me. It’s that togetherness that gave me hope, that helped me to see that even if it feels as though you’ve lost everything, you still have your voice and the right to use it. It’s that togetherness that taught me to look for the good in the garbage, to fight for what’s right, to stand tall and speak out in the face of evil, and that when women gather together, it’s pretty clear that girls can rule the world with a sense of grace and compassion that defines strength. Through their love, I learned how to love myself again.
Though these women aren’t physically present in my day-to-day life anymore, I carry what they taught me in each moment of each day. I’ve also learned how important it is to have a community of writers who celebrate each others’ successes and comfort each others’ griefs. I will be totally honest and confess that I’ve never really felt entirely part of a community of writers until recently. I will be even more totally honest and say that that’s probably almost entirely my fault: I have a hard time trusting and having faith in others, probably because I have a hard time having faith in myself. This year, with a lot of help, I’ve managed to push past these roadblocks and find the indescribable beauty that comes when people come together to hold each other up — and to figuratively hold hands, shoring each other up and fighting as a community for what is right. There’s no denying that writing is a terribly lonely profession, but I also can’t deny that circling up in a supportive community has profoundly changed the way I work as well as the way I look at the work of making art and releasing it into the world.
I guess what I want to say is this: keep going. No matter how dark it seems, no matter how far you seem to be from the light, keep going. Keep writing. Keep sending out and sending out, and remember that every rejection is evidence that you are doing the good work your work deserves. Find people who love you and love them back. Find faith. Find persistence. Find confidence. Never let go.
I didn’t think that I’d find myself, at the end of a year I’ve cursed and cried through, full of hope and determination, ready to face whatever comes in 2017. Now I know, more than ever, that it’s time to come together, to hold each other up, and walk together as one body, fighting for the light.