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considering success

July 22, 2016

For my friend Michelle Marshall

Paths to well-defined “success”, trod by increasing millions of human beings, become superhighways just as they lose all utility.

Every “successful” person I know feels hopelessly behind, stressed out, worried about the future.

What if “well-defined success” itself is part of the problem?

= = =

{Also, Life is Hard. But you knew that.}

= = =

When I attended AROHO in 2013, I had one published article to my (old) name, and it wasn’t in a lit journal. I’d never heard of AWP.

I did not have an MFA or even BA in a creative field. In fact, over the 15 years I was an undergraduate, I’d never taken even one English Lit or Creative Writing or Poetry class.

I got my BA in geography, from a commuter school almost no one has ever heard of. I’d dropped out of grad school, for a technical field still almost no one has ever heard of.

I have never formally taught anything. And I don’t want to.

As of July 2013, I’d written 23 poems… in my life.

For a week, I was immersed within all these accomplished successful women. Women who not only had jobs, but had had careers. Women who were published, many in prestigious lit journals (albeit ones I hadn’t heard of; I was such a newbie). Women who’d published books. Women who were editors; women who ran small presses.

I didn’t fit in. (I never do.)

I’m not wholly a woman, but my majority not-so-womanly parts were not welcome in a Retreat for Women Writers, so I kept them hidden.

I often doubt that I’m… well, a human being, if I’m being honest. I feel more like a tree or a river that just happens to be human-shaped. Some of that is being autistic (which I didn’t know about in 2013); a great deal of it, isn’t. I’ve spent more time, certainly more “quality time”, with trees and rivers than with human beings. I definitely understand the former better than the latter, whom I often don’t understand at all.

I didn’t make any human friends, although during that week I thought I had.

= . =

After I returned home, I asked 14 of the poets and 1 of the non-poet writers to suggest poets I should read, via self-addressed stamped postcards I sent them. Just this week I received #9, but the other 8 responded within a few months. Through these women, I read poets I likely wouldn’t have stumbled across.

I found a great deal more poets I liked through anthologies I picked up blindly. Inter-Library Loan, and the Pratt (Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore City) have supplied me with 100s more.

= . =

I count my week at AROHO as a thundering success.

I wrote two poems there, including one that’s among the truest things I’ve ever written. I painted two watercolor paintings. A door inside of me I didn’t know about, opened up a bit; I glimpsed a poem cycle I may yet write. I made friends with cottonwoods, with lizards, with mountains. I met a dead scorpion. I heard coyotes. I saw meteors and the Milky Way. In the library at 2 a.m., night after night, I read about shamans and mythology and archetypes; I read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Someone much older than me mentioned her kinship with Inanna; I told her of my own relationship with Ereshkigal. I performed a poem in an arroyo; the video was later shown to the whole assemblage. I had an ecstatic experience in the Rio Chama.

For the first time, that week, I inhabited Meander. I grew into myself.

= . =

There’s no way to fit any of the above into a “well-defined successful” narrative.

The thing about “well-defined success”… no individual person defined it. They accepted the narrative(s) they saw around them. They fit themselves into something defined by someone else.

I don’t want that.

What matters to me in my life is… process. Having new and fruitful experiences. Learning about the world, learning about me. Finding what I can do that no one else can do.
I am successful at all of those things, but what matters more to me is… I’m alive. I’m doing stuff. I’m discovering.I’m a verb. No, I’m verbs: I’m verb-ing. I am process.

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