My parents’ friends emailed and so did a few of mine when they read an article about me in the local paper. And my husband went out and bought two copies of the paper that morning. It’s about the keynote I’ll be giving at the Rundel Public Library in May for the Sokol High School Literary Awards– an award I won when I was a junior in high school. It was an odd experience to be interviewed about both my high school life and also my current literary life in Rochester—which includes the Facebook group and IRL meet ups I started for local writers (in 2014 and 2013, respectively). Still, I very much appreciated the chance to talk about what it means to me to be a writer and to have contributed to building the local literary community. And it was nice to be able to have something that my parents and in-laws could see– a lot of being a writer (for example, reading and writing) is not visible.
As of this February, I’ll be blogging twice a month for the Kenyon Review. My first post developed out of a question and conversation excerpt I posed on Facebook:
Does it matter to you if your life and work are legible to others?
Family Friend to me: “My husband told me you are not teaching at _______ School. So you are not working?”
What ensued was the most vital comment thread on my wall in months. My post explores this question about work and writing, and also meditates on my favorite poem by Marge Piercy, “For the young who want to.” Click here to read the post. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments.
A few years ago, I returned from three months in India feeling completely lost. I was between jobs and had just moved back in with my parents. My friend Marijana suggested devoting a weekend to next year’s goals. We spent the weekend drinking tea, writing, eating, and making lists. Lists work. Before thinking about goals for the coming year, we took stock of the previous year.
Resolutions are vague—be kinder, eat healthier, get more sleep, spend more time with family, put writing first—and there is something about resolutions that make them seem predetermined to fail. Partly it’s the lack of metrics—how do you measure if you are being kinder? (Ask your mom or your spouse, I guess.)
When I was a full-time professor, I dreaded writing annual reviews. However, I’ve come to realize the value in reviewing how you spent your time. Looking over your year helps you to collect what you have done, and therefore see what you still want to do.
I’m aware of what I didn’t finish (thank you notes from our wedding, revising my first book, etc.), but I lost track of what I did. Here’s my list. I hope it might inspire you to make one, too. Revel in what you did accomplish!
2015 Year-in-Review (Accomplishments)
- Persistence / Book Review. I wrote my first book review last year; the publication I had in mind turned it down, but (this time) I didn’t let my writing sit in my hard drive. I sent out it out again, right away, and the review was published last summer.
- Writing & Yoga. I solo taught my first Writing & Yoga workshop. Though I completed yoga teacher training in 2009, prior to this workshop, I taught only the writing component. In 2015, I brought what I had been doing in my own yoga practice and drew from mindfulness exercises I had adapted to the classroom when I was teaching high school (sitting meditation, gratitude lists—see, I love lists—, freewriting, a choral reading of a poem, some stretching and gentle movement.
- Teaching Writing. I co-taught my first writing workshop with Creative Nonfiction Writer Gregory Gerard. I began teaching writing 20 years ago, but this was (incredibly) my first time collaborating with another writer on teaching a writing workshop together. I love how much you can learn from observing how others teach.
- Community Building & Literary Citizenship. I organized a December Literary Meet Up that drew fifteen or so writers, professors, teachers, & readers. Forging connections and community locally is important to me. Last fall I also learned how to create a calendar document in the ROC City Lit Meet Up Facebook group that I started two years ago (over 200 members now). It’s been rewarding to host a community calendar & virtual space that members can add to and edit — a central place to house the many readings and literary events in Rochester.
- Conference Presentation. I presented a paper on the lyric essay that was challenging to write at NonfictioNOW, a Creative Nonfiction conference held in Flagstaff, Arizona last fall. As I am no longer an academic, I wondered if it was worth the investment of time and money, but I met other writers, went on a much-needed hike in the Southwest, saw old friends, and learned from the panels. The conference energized me, for sure.
- Shout-Out! Hyphen Magazine asked 10 Asian American writers to recommend other writers / writing to read. Poet Matthew Olzmann picked out my essay, “Thank You.” Thank you, Matthew!
What my 2015 Review clarified: I had not worked on my book in a consistent way—and that is concrete a goal for 2016—to finish it and move on to my second project. Sure, I was busy: I got married, moved, changed jobs, had caregiving responsibilities for my grandmother. Still, I had not made progress on a writing goal that is a priority to me.
What are your goals for the year? Have you written them down? Do you have them in a place where you see them? Workshops can be an effective way to take time out to write down and to mindfully reflect on your goals and how you are spending your time.
I am co-leading a day-long writing & mindfulness retreat on Sunday, April 17th at Midtown Athletic Club in Rochester with yoga teacher Erin Garvin. This retreat will be an opportunity to do some mental spring cleaning and reflect on your intentions for the spring and summer. (Link forthcoming; please email me for more information.)
To have some extra structure and support around doing this work earlier, if you are local, I recommend signing up for Marijana’s terrific workshop, “Your Wild and Precious Life,” which leads you through personal writing, clarifying your goals, and creating action steps to reach them. Our goals are reachable if we keep them in mind and keep inching toward them on most days. (Baby steps. They work!) I wish us all forward movement and momentum on our goals & intentions in 2016.
The title of this post comes from a poem I love by Naomi Shihab Nye called “The Art of Disappearing.” I was talking about this poem with my friend Holly last week, and was reminded of it again when I read her wonderful blog post this week about Nye’s poem, attention, and creative work. Holly and I are spending this week on a writing retreat at The Millay Colony for the Arts.
Most of the time, I’m someone who walks around (without even thinking about it) with E.M. Forster’s adage in my head: “Only connect!” Talking, deepening friendships, enriching conversations, creating community- these are never far from my mind. However, it takes time, attention, and solitude to work on a longer writing project, and too much connection (online, phone, coffee dates) and that sustained attention, so hard to come by, withers.
Here’s Nye, from “The Art of Disappearing”:
“When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.”
I think she has point. Another Rochester writer, Sonja Livingston, and I were also recently talking about Nye’s poem. Rochester is a small town. I spend my life running into people I know just about everywhere (especially Wegmans) and I like it. But maybe it’s important to save your singing for your work, for your writing. It’s worth reading the whole poem here as well as Holly’s blog post on attention, Nye’s poem, writing, and Millay.