Dec 13

A Tarot Reading and a Writing Routine

I recently visited a dear poet friend who I hadn’t seen in a long time in Brooklyn. We drank tea, caught up, and then she showed me a new tarot deck. I’d never done a tarot reading before, and didn’t much believe in it, but I decided to give it a try. I shuffled the deck and asked my question: What do I need to move forward with my book project?

I pulled out a card: The Three of Pentacles. IMG_3920

When my friend began to read the card, I saw a smile on her face. She knew the card I had chosen was exactly appropriate for the question I’d asked. I copied down what the card said:

The task ahead is a monumentous one. Usually related to your job or career, the three of pentacles suggests you must focus all of your efforts. Discipline, strategy, and hard work are needed more than ever. If you become weary or overwhelmed, rely on those around you. This is a card of teamwork, so you may need the strength of others to conquer the mountain.



This reading occurred just days after I’d completed a month-long fundraising campaign to support my forthcoming artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center in March 2014. While building support for the campaign I had compared the challenge to climbing a mountain. And now that mountain has been climbed: I raised the money and reached the goal, with the support of so many friends. Teamwork was essential. Even more than the financial support, the fact that people believe in the project gives me so much strength.

But the next mountain, of course, is the higher and more treacherous one: actually writing the book.

As an editor, I couldn’t help but notice the odd word “monumentous” in my tarot reading. Apparently, this is a word that has been in usage since at least 1896, though it doesn’t appear in standard dictionaries. I like the double connotation of the word: evoking both monumental and momentous. A monument is a statue or structure that commemorates an important event, and in a way all books are monuments to some degree, structures that stand for an event that happened––the event of writing the book. The word monument comes “via French from Latin monumentum, from monere ‘remind.’” A monument reminds us of something, as does a book. Momentous means “(of a decision, event, or change) of great importance or significance, esp. in its bearing on the future.”

This hybrid word resonates so deeply with where I am right now in my writing process. I am creating a physical thing, a book of poems, that will represent a moment in the history of our planet and where we are going in the future. It’s a grand and ambitious project, to be sure, but why else write if you’re not willing to take that risk?

The importance of focus mentioned on the card also spoke to where I’m at right now. The ability to focus on the project with uninterrupted time and space is what my artist residencies next year (in March and September) will be for. But my challenge right now is to build in my own mini-residencies within each busy work week to make progress on this in my regular everyday life.

So right now, I’m instituting “Writing Sundays,” my day of the week to devote to this project. Some part of me, for whatever reason, has always rebelled against the disciplines I’d set out for myself, the idea of having a regular writing routine, etc… but discipline is necessary. Discipline is a form of trust. That I can show up to my work and trust that in that set time and space whatever is in me will find its way out. Giving myself a full day means I don’t have to be bound by a particular time of day, but that I still need to produce something that day. And the nice thing about this project is that I’m not waiting for inspiration. I’ve been collecting books and articles along the way that are there to spark my imagination.

It seems there are ways to make the creative process as easy as possible for yourself if you have the right set up. Back in college I bought a pair of black velvet pants and a black velvet cardigan as a “writing outfit.” The luxuriousness of it felt appropriate to the writing process. I’d forgotten about it, but found it in the closet today. I decided it was time to bring that back and make some sort of ritual out of my writing process.

So here’s what I’ve got: my handy tarot card for inspiration, three candles, and my velvet writing pants and cardigan. It seems ridiculous, but as John Gardner says in The Art of Fiction: “whatever works is good.”

So I’m putting it out there to hold myself accountable. Today is Sunday. I’m ensconced in velvet. I’m going to write.

Nov 13

Your Writing Is Your Work––It’s Not You

IMG_2800Yesterday I got an email from a poet friend that began: “I hope all is well with you and your poetry, not that the two are really separable.”

I was struck by this line. Am I separable from my poetry? What does the assumption behind that statement mean? At first glance, the statement made perfect sense. To some extent my very well being depends on the health of my writing practice. This logic can apply to any type of artist, writer, musician, actor.

But on second thought, as artists and writers we are separate from our work. If we become too identified with the artistic process we may develop an unhealthy relationship to it that can hinder it. If my writing a poem is all about “me” it may never reach beyond “me.” And if I’m writing poems for egotistical reasons, they probably won’t turn out any good anyway.

My friend’s statement had further resonance. I recently created a fundraising campaign to help fund my poetry book-in-progress about climate change. I really hesitated before deciding to go ahead and create that campaign, as I’ve outlined here. No one likes to ask for money. No one wants to annoy their friends and family for money––let alone acquaintances and strangers.

It wasn’t just that I’d never done a fundraising campaign before, so had no experience to build on. What was much harder for me was the feeling that I was asking money for myself. You often see fundraising campaigns that support a worthy organization or charity or that help fund a start-up business or product in development. But for some reason the idea that artists and writers need money to support the production of their art and writing is seen differently. Society still tends to view art as a hobby. There is very little money in this country for the arts.

Who was I to presume that anyone would take me seriously enough to support my venturing out into the woods to write poems?

The assumption here was that my writing poems is intimately tied up with “me.” On a deep level, of course this is true. My writing comes from my experience of being in the world, and is inseparable from that. But so is everything. Every business, product, idea arises from a human being interacting with their environment. But poetry? Somehow it’s viewed as more interconnected to the poet’s personality and whims.

But poetry is work. All art is work.

It can be liberating when you’re stuck on a particularly difficult creative project to try to extricate your “self” from it. The poem is not me. It’s on the page. It’s something I’m making.

When I told my husband that I felt uncomfortable with the idea of asking for money for my project, he said something that changed my perspective. He said that people won’t be donating money to me, they’ll be donating money to help me create my book. Therefore, my campaign is really no different from investing in the development of a product––except that my product, like all poetry books, won’t yield tons of money as a reward. But it will yield poetry, which, of course, is priceless.

Oct 13

How to Ask for Money as a Poet: A Drama in Ten Parts

1. Start by actually writing poems. Find that you’re sneaking in writing time wherever you can get it to fit.

2. Realize you have a book inside you.

3. Get really excited you have a book inside you.

This is what excited looks like.

This is what excited looks like.

4. Apply for artist residencies so that you can have the uninterrupted time and space you need to get that book out.

5. Get accepted to said residencies (if you’re lucky).

6. Realize you need money to help fund residencies.

7. Get nervous. Consider not going to residencies if you can’t afford it. 🙁

8. Tell friends why you’re nervous. Listen as they encourage you to ask for money. Furrow brow. Frown. Smirk. Make awkward face.

This is one version of awkward face.

This is one version of awkward face.

9. Fret for a few months about the prospects of asking for money.

10. Realize this project means more to you than any other before. ASK FOR THE DAMN MONEY.

P.S. Thanks in advance. 🙂