The work + worry equations of winter 2022


The great thing about the first week of this year: I dedicated a substantial chunk to poetry. I discovered that although I’d revised older work, I hadn’t drafted a new poem AT ALL since summer 2021. That’s really rare for me. I tend to throw down drafts during spare hours and come back to them during academic breaks, but honestly, October through December were remarkably short on spare hours. In retrospect, it was right to commit to what felt like countless conferences and conventions to get word out about my 2020 books, and I have no desire to put aside my Shenandoah editorship, even though it can be an overwhelming amount of labor. I received edits on my forthcoming essay collection later than I expected, so mid-fall involved a full-court press on enacting them. I also put scads of creative energy into teaching, and I don’t regret it. But I said yes to too much other service/ committee work. My brain was always revving at top speed, which made sleep difficult, and that created a circular kind of tiredness. Pandemic anxiety and grief for my mother were also operating like background programs, slowing my machine. My PT person told me to walk less to let my tendonitis heal, but that’s bad for body and mind in other ways.

I know what to do with myself to recover from months like that, and as best I can, I’m doing it: more downtime and fun reading, non-homework evenings, plus physical pleasures like sleep, good food, hot baths. I took my respirator mask to a couple of art museums during those few days in Savannah–looking at art restores me, maybe because it’s slow and silent or because it always fills me with a sense of shared effort. The flow experience of writing lifts me, too, but it wasn’t happening. Re-approaching my poetry ms-in-progress felt like hard work I was reluctant to begin.

By dint of ruthless will, though, I made myself shift poems around, add, cut, and revise individual pieces to bring the book into cohesion–the usual arithmetic of solving for the book–and I called in a friend for advice. I can’t say I achieved flow very often last week, and the book still needs more time and thinking, but I do feel better after making real hours for the efforts most important to me. And I wrote two new pieces, one at the crack of dawn this morning!

Since classes start Monday, tomorrow, I’ve also been working on syllabi and first day plans, as well as polishing up the academic reports due this time of year. I’m still overcommitted–Shenandoah had to close early to submissions after receiving 810 packets of poems in four days, yikes–but aside from prior commitments, I’m saying no to every review, committee, or presentation request that doesn’t feel genuinely attractive or serve my writing (there have been a lot of them!). And since I’m not teaching during our May term, April will bring a REAL slow-down. Oh, ahem, except for publicity for Poetry’s Possible Worlds. We’re still firming up a launch date and discussing the cover, but it will be out this spring!

Now if I can just avoid a breakthough infection, even though students are pouring back from everywhere on the planet. Unlike many large public universities, my private college requires vaccination, masks, testing, and, as of the end of January, boosters, but we’re meeting in person and omicron feels like doom. A lot of friends and family have had mild illness; among my unboosted relatives, it’s been a harsher illness, although no loved ones have needed to be hospitalized so far. Additional stress on the anxiety meter: my (boosted, healthy) 21-year-old is flying to Budapest soon to study abroad for a term. He’s really excited to immerse himself in the great math program St. Olaf’s runs there, and I’m excited for him, as well as hoping to visit him at the end of May. What, though, is the math on negotiating the next few weeks?


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