As Department Head, I’ve been reading colleagues’ Five Year Plans, which oddly enough are due around Halloween or Samhain (or however you think about this spooky midpoint between the fall equinox and winter solstice). I have an official Five Year Plan myself–I’m halfway through that cycle–but maybe it’s time for a weirder one. I’m a planner by temperament, but for various reasons, I’ve been looking ahead even more than usual. Here goes.
- Yes, I could say: in the next few years, I wish to place my next poetry book (I have a good draft now) and my novel (drafted and revised but not yet ready). I have a nonfiction/ criticism book in mind, too, that’s lying around in fragments. Yet I’m skeptical about my familiar feeling of urgency about producing new books. It’s been a pleasure seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds in readers’ hands, but I’ve put too much pressure on myself, I think, plus my current life doesn’t have much writing time in it.
- Instead, inspired by teaching modernist poetry recently, because I AM doing lots of teaching: I aspire to become pretentious enough to write a literary manifesto. I know that sounds like a joke, and it partly is, but I do love high-handed aesthetic programs and I’ve always wished I could find the chutzpah to devise one. Maybe I could just lie on a velvet divan and cultivate chutzpah.
- Or I could abandon all ambitions and just find more time to write whatever I feel like. Or not.
- Figure out my purpose on this earth. (I’m having an existential autumn.)
- Cease worrying about my purpose on this earth. Also reduce anxiety, period. I think the overwork of heading a department this fall has revved me up too much, because my base-level self-doubt and worry are almost unmanageably high. I’m trying to figure it out, but I am struggling.
- Maybe spells would help, or soup. Make more spells and soup. Be witchier.
- Keep teaching my heart out, because that feels like good work to do in the world. But teach my heart out within reasonable time parameters.
- As far as “service,” because that’s a section on our faculty five-year plans: do less service. I’m currently reading for Shenandoah again (the annual contest for Virginia poets), and I’m committed to helping my students and closest colleagues thrive, as many of them are struggling, too. That’s enough.
Clearly my 55th birthday of several weeks back is still on my mind, because I’m thinking about how, jesus, in 5 years I’ll be 60. How many more times will I teach this British and Irish poetry class, which I’ve historically offered only once every 3 or 4 years? How many more times do I want to? I’m also required, this month, to assemble a department-wide teaching plan for 2023-4 and 2024-5, which forces my attention forward. The season brings, in short, all these planning obligations as well as some contemplative darkness. More hours indoors and inward.
It’s never all introversion, though. I’m leading a roundtable at the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference next weekend. Arkansas! This was a rewarding gathering the last time I attended, back in the before-times, although they’ve been less organized this time, so we’ll see. I’m really looking forward to our conversation about genre traveling in any case. It’s titled “Thriving by Writing Among, Across, Between” and includes Ann Fisher-Wirth, Sharon Harrigan, Hyejung Kook, Laura Minor, and Brenna Womer. I’ll let you know how it goes.