Negotiating This Whole Balance Thing or Finding Time for a One-Woman Dance Party In Order to Write Poems

I have a theory. The time you were born directly connects to the time of day in which your creative energy is most abundant. It occurs daily at the same time, an overwhelming need to do whatever it is you artistically do. I was born at 11:50am. 10 minutes right before the clock struck lunch. My hours are the hours of 10am-2pm. During this time, I am my most awake self, often overcome by a strong urge to write, or simply become filled with too many ideas to ever be able to get down on paper all at once before they flit away by the time the midday slump hits. I sometimes wish I had a recorder in my head to capture all of the snippets simultaneously appearing and asking to be remembered to finish later.

This is my theory and for me, and few other whom I’ve approached with this theory – remains to be steadfast and true. What scientific evidence do I have to back up this claim of mine? None. Here’s what I do know:

I know that I never know how my writing will feel on any given day, and so cling to this notion that there is a time that sets itself aside for me in the event that I have that time available to write, prime writing time. I’ve asked my other half what time he was born: sometime late in the night. He spends his late late hours, designing, producing, conceiving new ideas, churning out his creative impulses when most of us are asleep. I’ve tried to match this cycle, pushing my bed time later and later, telling myself that the greats sacrifice and so must I! Rarely, do I live up to the night owl standards. When I do, I’m done for the next day, uninterested or uninspired to do/write anything. I’ve done myself in. And so, I hold fast to my theory of birth time = creative productivity. It’s my truth and I’m sticking to it.

However, I am also a working adult and don’t really have the liberty to just drop what I’m doing, tell my colleagues or boss, “Excuse me for a few hours while I go and write poems. Be back to discuss that partnership negotiation later.” I heard Tyehimba Jess once talk about how he knew he was supposed to be poet when he found himself spending more time on the job writing poems than being on the job. After that revelation, he applied to NYU’s MFA Program and for those of you who know his work, you know how that story ended. I aspire.

But I love my 9-5. I spend my day creating amazing programs at the library for youth of Chicago. I do have the chance to spread the poetry gospel to new generations of writers and young artists, helping youth of the city discover their passion, no matter the content area. It’s pretty sweet.

Yet, I still long for the day when my own nicely polished, fresh paper-pressed book of poems arrives at my door step saying, “Hello, Mama!” So I write – find the time in the evening hours, having a conversation with my afternoon muse, asking it to push back our quality time just a little later. The greatest part about having an other half that is also creative, is that unspoken understanding of needing time to make the dream happen, and so giving each other the time and space needed to focus on our art, in between the jobs and our toddler.

When it comes to creating artistic space to produce, adjustments can surely be made when necessary. I attempt to save that Noon energy and put it into an imaginary bottle I can open when I have the quietude to sit down and get down to writing. I read over work I become excited about getting back to later, running lines through my head throughout the day until I can get to my desk, or a piece of paper. But I cherish my nights, wooing my muse through Acoustic Evening playlists on Spotify (or now perhaps Tidal? I digress), tea London style, sometimes even a one-woman dance party to keep up the fluidity, the writing written one day or moment at a time.

Whatever it takes, man. Whatever it takes.

Dirty Thirty Did It List

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30 is here. When it came knocking, I didn’t peep through the slit between the door and the frame to see who it was and what it wanted. I knew. I opened the door and said, “Come on in 30!” Okay, maybe I wasn’t that eager, but I was pretty kind to my new guest.

Me and Thirty got to talking when we sat down comfortably on my couch and thought about how we’d gotten here, what we were doing, and where the hell we were going. We had a good, long conversation. For the most part, everything was going alright. We were both pretty satisfied with ourselves and understood each other’s terms and purposes for the the coming year, but one thing that was clear was that I needed to get out and do more. After all of these years and all of things I’d done, Thirty pointed out that 1) “You don’t have any hobbies, so you should think about what is you like to do besides save babies and write because both of those are work, and 2) Don’t be what you always said you didn’t want to be, like those women on “What Not To Wear. Yes, you’re a mom and have a full-time job, but you still have big things to do and dreams to chase. Try to keep yourself up in the meantime. Make it work.”

And Thirty was right. Since she’s going to be around for a while so I may as well keep just enough adventure and curiosity to keep things interesting. So in the spirit of the this agreement, I came up with the Dirty Thirty Did It List. This “List” consists of all things I have either never done or things I’ve never done enough of. Life doesn’t stop at 30. Most importantly, life can stop at 30 and 1 day. This year will not be about mourning what I wasn’t able to do by the time Thirty and I got together, but to all the fun times Thirty and I will have, celebrating life for as long as I have it.

So what fun things do I have planned for this year?!!! Here we go:

1) Equestrian Are We?

Not really, but I’ve always wanted a horse, or at least learn how to ride one. Since I am a self-identified hopeless romantic, yes, I am in love with the fantasy of riding through sun-beamed trees of an angelic forest of friendly deers and humming birds to an open field where I will picnic and read the classics. (Man optional, but not required.)

2) Smell the Roses…or Peonies…or Daisies…

In college I had this desire to work in a floral shop. Random, but true. Flowers just seem so peaceful. They smell good and have so many different meanings. How you arrange them can be that nuance of emotional transference from one to another. Now that I think about it, they’re very similar to poems…

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3) I’d Like to Think I Can Dance?

Maybe salsa? Definitely need to learn how to Chicago Step. I mean, I’ve had some pretty good impromptu teachers over my Chicago years, but there are still some moves I need to master. I still bring up to my mother that she never took me back to ballet and tap classes when I was 5. She claims I didn’t like my new teacher and cried every time she dropped me off for rehearsal. What 5 year old really knows what’s best for her?  Anyhoo, definitely salsa or bachata. What girl doesn’t want to be spun around the dance floor to passionate, worldly music?! Would seriously also try Flamenco.

4) More Jet Skis Please

My boyfriend and I took to Lake Michigan a few summers ago on a jet skiing Groupon at Montrose Beach. Best.Time.Ever. Beautiful blue water, waves, and speed. Gotta do it again this summer. Groupon, holla at me!

5) See Jen Run

Many awesome 5K runs came across my screen during my Living Social and Groupon scans for more than just spa treatment and restaurant deals. I’ve always enjoyed jogging and find working out as my place to escape and stay sane. In high school it was all about Track for me. For real. I don’t remember anything from high school more than I remember my Track days. I was more fielder than track, but I did do a couple of 4×4’s and 300 hurdles. Now that I’m all grown up, I’m bumping myself up to a 5K . Many of my friends have done them and I’ve dragged my feet about it for the past couple of years, but this year’s the year. Arm band and Nike+ Running app ready to go! I’m good. Let’s do this.

6) Road Trip West

I love road trips and have never taken one west. There’s no better place to try this one out than a trip to wine country? Please see current refrigerator magnet below. Who’s with me?!

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7) Flying Trapeze

This is something that’s fairly new to my outing peripheral. A few of my friends have taken these classes on the north side near Belmont Harbor and loved it. It would be so cool to swing through the air. I probably need to work on my upper body strength beforehand, though. I mean, I know there’s safety nets and harnesses and all, but still…I’d like to fake myself out.

8) Swim With Dolphins

This one’s a 2-parter. Did you know you can swim with the dolphins (or whales, or maybe sharks?) at the Shedd?! Yes, yes, you can! I know, I know. It’s crazy! I’m all about it. However, I need to take Scuba diving lessons which apparently you can do at a pool at UIC. Thanks Groupon! Boom. Done.

9+10) Suggestions?!

This is the part where I’m willing to take on what you’ve got. I know you people all kinds of interesting things that I most likely have never tried. So send me some ideas. Let’s just keep in mind that I am someone’s momma.

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I bet you thought my list was going to have some CRAZY stuff on it, didn’t you? Or may be you didn’t, but nonetheless I’m up for some challenges. I just want to show myself that adventure doesn’t end when your life on Earth hits a certain benchmark. Life stops when you stop breathing. My lungs and heart rate are just fine. There’s a whole world of newdom out there, Thirty. Come on. Grab your jacket and shoes. We’re going out.

“So, Who Do You Write Like?”

We recently had a very interesting conversation, my writing group and I, about maybe the second hardest ( and really most annoying) question to answer: So, who do you think you write like?

We determined that for purposes of submitting to lit mags, it’s an important answer to know. After all, knowing the style in which you write can whittle down where you send your precious ones, or rather, where the work of who you write like tends to be published and seen. But who wants to sit there and say, “Well, I write like him, him, and her?” We all would like to believe we are somewhat original and maybe can even do what we do better than the poet we “write like.” I mean come on now, after all, we writers love our immediate and singular gratification.

But we do have to acknowledge that our style may fall within a certain aesthetic, even if that aesthetic is a blend of various aesthetics. The tendency, when asked who I write like, is to say “Uh, Jennifer Steele” because I do, but my work carries many influences as does everyone’s work.

Maybe the bottom line is we just can’t (or do not desire to) point our finger to whom our work resembles. One of my fellow workshoppers made this great point: the writers we like to read and put in our top 10 list of greatest poets I’d like to be buried with are most likely not the poets we write anything like; even more strangely, we may fall into a section of writers whose work we don’t enjoy.

So what to do with that?

I don’t believe that saying your writing has particular influences or lies within the same “genre” as another writer(s) is necessarily a bad thing. I, myself, can see hints of writers I admire come through in my work in different ways, maybe not lyrically, but perhaps with use of white space or line breaks. Naomi Shihab Nye is one of favorite poets for reasons that have to do with pacing, lyricism, and narrative structure. My witting gleans her quietude and what I call “pow” contemplative lines that fall neatly within the narrative.

As you can tell, this conversation really got me thinking. Who do I write like? The only poet who I am ever able to identify with stylistically would be Tracy K. Smith. Now, Tracy is a baaaaad mammajamma. Her work is edgy and unexpected. My poems can relate to her placement of short statements, causing a reader to think and realize along with the speaker, pause the moment and consider for a while how we got here. Needless to say, me and Tracy could kick it.

But, Joan Houlihan is a newfound friend and what’s interesting is that I wouldn’t have immediately identified with her work, but taking a more critical look at poems I wrote a long time ago and still love, these poems seem to exist in this narrative/abstract/language realm her poems belong to. I can’t necessarily relate my content to her content, but do find myself strangely attracted to her writing.

So I guess I am somewhere mixed in with Tracy K. Smith and Joan Houlihan, plus all of the poets Amazon has recommended based on books purchased by people who also bought “Life On Mars” and “The Mending Worm.” Not a bad little crew.

The Non-Resolution Resolution

Within the first 10 days of this new year, I’ve come across a few blogs, statuses and tweets of those “resolving” themselves for 2013. I, myself, have often been one of those people, demanding newfound and cast-aside undertakings where I will be a better lover, better friend, better bodied, and most importantly, a better writer.  I do admit that I often completely and utterly fail at holding up my end of the bargain. Sorry self.

That is why this year I am not going to talk about it, but be about it.  For those of you who know me well I have the tendency to talk myself and your ears through my thought process until I have finally discovered my point.  However, times are a-changing. I always thought that if I talked to myself and anyone else about what I was going to do I would be bound to follow through. After all, I told the world and now the world had expectations of me and I didn’t want to disappoint the world. This theory rarely worked in my favor. Not in 2012, and honestly not since finishing grad school in 2008. This year will be different, though. The act of doing will not manifest itself through the act of talking. If I’m going to call myself a writer then i’m going to have to just shut up and put out.

But first, here’s what I confess before the court of writer-dom:

1. I haven’t finished a single poetry manuscript.

2. I probably wrote a total number of 10 new poems in the past year, give or take a few.

3. I can tell you what happened on the last seasons of Atlanta Housewives, New York Housewives, Flipping Out, Basketball Wives, Chef Roble, T.I. and Tiny, and so many more I am nearly ashamed to admit, than I can about the latest books or music.

4. I often doubt my writing.

5. I compare myself to much to those I know who have been and are being published.

6. My biggest fear with regard to writing is discovering that I will always be a mediocre writer and even worse, realize writing was never meant to be my true talent.


So here it is, all laid out. From this point forward I will resolve to push through the fear and doubt. I may not always make it through the other side, but I will push through. At the end of 2013 I won’t dwell on all of the things I didn’t complete or compare my successes to my losses, but cut myself some slack and CELEBRATE all of the things I did accomplish and things I accomplished that I didn’t the year before, beginning with this blog.

For the first time I’m not going yap about all the things I want to do, but just fucking do them and not punish myself the way I have for so long for not being where I thought I should be by now.

So hello 2013. That’s all. Hello…


“Cruelty” by Lucille Clifton

“Cruelty” by Lucille Clifton

I just mentioned on Twitter that I was thinking of a simple idea: it is interesting how things you thought were no longer have a way of coming back in such nearly invisible ways. I then thought of this poem, “Cruelty” by Lucille Clifton. Not only is this an amazing poem, but hearing her voice and the haunting way she says the last line (which makes me shudder ever time I listen) gives the poem so much body. Needless to say, Lucille’s the ish.