Poems on the Writing Life Start With Life
When we were in DC, many mornings on my way to teach, I would drop Jesse off at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and because I always dropped him off at the same time, I began to see the same people. Strangely, it wasn’t those that were heading into NOAA I recognized. It was the folk that weren’t in the “DC uniform,” those that walked, not slower necessarily, but walked like they enjoyed the fact that walking was, well, enjoyable.
One man in particular was always going around the same corner I was, though he was walking his dog, and I was driving a 2001 Cherry Red VW stick shift Bug with a sunflower in the vase. I made up a story about him. I told myself he was a writer. He’d just put on the coffee, and while it brewed, he took his dog for a walk. When he returned, his home would be filled with the smell of coffee and books. He would write until lunch time, and then he and his dog would take another walk.
I would consider this fantasy life until I put my car in park, heaved my school bag off the passenger seat, and gave the sunflower a little flick before stepping out of the car. The sunflower was fake. I didn’t have to worry about it dying while I was teaching.
Fifteen years later, it is a Thursday, and Jesse and I are out to lunch. We have left our dog, Corby, at home. That we have a dog is a shock to me as up until I met Corby I was terrified of dogs. Equally surprising is that Jesse and I are out to lunch on a weekday, but I suppose I am a writer now, and so I call the shots on what I do with my day.
We’ve ordered bowls from our favorite food truck. I made the mistake of getting chicken and I’m whining about it, so Jesse swaps ours and says, “Always get the brisket.” He is right, and while we eat, we discuss our kids, their sports and school schedules that we both admit we’ve missed and love. We say a thing or two about being grateful for the cooler temps and a more quiet house. It’s a pleasant moment, and once lunch is over, I will head upstairs to the room he made for me and I will write some more.
This is one side of it, and it’s real and lovely.
The other side of it, the part that I tell him about while I’m eating the lunch he ordered, is the side that calls for – insists on – endurance, perseverance, patience, and if not confidence, than courage to sit with what I don’t have and find a way to write a story with what I do.
I tell him I’m tired, exhausted actually, but I also say that if it weren’t for my ego, that is, if I knew that this was for sure my job and I was good at it, then I think I wouldn’t be as tired. In other words, I’m afraid to fail at writing because I believe that will mean I’ve wasted time and money and also, the thing I want so badly to do, I can’t do.
“So you’re doing exactly what you want to do, and it’s hard and you love it, is what you are saying,” Jesse says.
“I guess, yeah,” I return.
Jesse shakes his head and chuckles and pushes the chicken toward me. “At least try this,” is how we resolve our conversation. For now.
The chicken is good, but I’m full from eating Jesse’s lunch, so we take it home.
Later, I take Corby for a walk. She is a good dog, but she’s territorial, I guess, and if she doesn’t know a dog I think she assumes it’s a threat, and so she jumps and growls and barks. It’s pretty embarrassing – I was not very understanding of people whose dogs did this while they insisted their dog was “super friendly.” But here I am, gripping her leash and steering her as far away from what she’s threatened by as I can. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I say to my neighbors, some who smile, some who tell me to keep training my dog, some who say nothing at all.
Tonight, on the last leg of our walk, Corby finds a stick, picks it up, and carries it all the way home. She looks so proud with her head held high and she trots faster and I wonder what it is about this stick that makes her happy and makes her forget to be threatened, but I pick up my pace so she can get home, and to the backyard where she’ll head to a row of trees that she buries all her treasures in. I will watch her from my kitchen window, so careful and meticulous as she covers the stick up with wood chips and dirt. I wonder if she’ll be surprised when she digs it up in a few months.
I wonder if she’ll remember why she wanted it in the first place.
This week, write a poem about the fantasy and the reality of the writing life. Are the two distinct, or do they intertwine somehow?
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