Saturday, December 29, 2007

Skating into 2008

2007 was a really big year. There are four events which have defined this year for me.

1. I learned how to ride a bicycle. Boring right? Not exactly. I'm a 38 year old with cerebral palsy. This happened late in the summer in front of the gasping stares of the neighbors. The bicycle is a miracle event for me in three aspects: it made me closer to and more worshipping of my husband, who is an avid bike rider and, after getting sick of my endless whining convinced me that I could do it. Then, there was just the pure pleasure of riding the bike. Finally, my bicycle has forced me (and others) to think of myself in a new way. Instead of defining myself by what I CAN'T do, something which I've done all me life, and others have been more than happy to go along with, I have had to have sort of a re-adjustment in attitude.

2. My book arrived.

3. Thanks to the poet Robin Art and my wonder boss, Emily, I have had my first semester teaching composition. This has been much different from what I thought it would be, although equally pleasing.

4. I finally (after six years) had the strength to resign from the Department of Education.

There have been smaller things too: hanging out with Jill, Bruce and Reb was great. Meeting Lisa Jarnot changed my life. The death of my poet-friend Mary Higgins. Getting closer to my mother, my grandmother, my son, and my in-laws.

I have some resolutions for 2008. Most of these are centered around poetry.

I have spent this year writing and struggling to find a place to fit in the poetry world -- which is a place that feels very divided to me. The fact that my work doesn't fit into any particular place as made me feel like an outsider of sorts. Some say my work is too experimental, others say it isn't experimental enough. Some people dismiss work because you're a woman, others perhaps because I'm disabled, others because I'm not disabled enough. I've been told that my work is sentimental, or that it's oblique, or that it's perfect and will find a place in the world. My anger has led me to (perhaps unnecessarily) to get in some heated discussions. After a one disaster in particular, I went list-serv free.

What I need to do is find a quietness. I need to separate the ego from the artist. Art is not (or shouldn't be) a way to make friends or find validation in the world. Whether one is in magazine x or magazine y or included in such and such group doesn't make one a better person and it certainly doesn't make one a better artist. There are plenty of 'known' poets who write like shit, and plenty of 'great' poets who never get their due. But, I've bought that mythology. I think most of poets have. If we haven't, why are so many poets (myself included) vying to get in certain journals, certain MFA programs, even certain jobs. Who has come up with the power to convince people that once they are published by x press they've arrived. The truth is the stakes are so little in poetry that there is no arriving. As dad likes to say, poets are not rock stars, you will always be able to go to the grocery store without being recognized.

My perceived (oft real) rejection of my body has seeped into my life as an artist and that's not a good thing. I've been bothered by (poetic) rejection in the past simply perhaps because I see it as an extension of my incapability to fit in as a young woman (in popular circles, in ' normal' circles, even (believe it or not, with disabled the world). My body places me in a strange place. I have all the capabilities of an average person, but I look slightly 'off,' so I can't what we call in the gay world 'pass.'

But, I am finally ready to divide the two. I am not my work and my work is not me. I just happen to be the person who wrote the stuff. Any pleasure or distaste that people get from my work does not have anything to do with Jennifer. I think many, many poets and editors are unable to make this distinction. I know it sounds trite, but it's what I'm dealing with.

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