One Year To The Next

I started my thirty-ninth year thinking things would just turn out. I was newly recovered from an injury, running again. My kids were settling better, their second year at our new school. Good friends had just  moved to Korea. I had a writing project to occupy my mind. I decided to return to the English classroom, and applied for an opening. I was just beginning to see a shape for our time in Korea and I was cooking dinner again, sometimes. The year just had to be good. 

I was steady enough that I started going to therapy to work out a few sticking points, address wounds. That check in was essential when I was not hired for a classroom position at our school. I wondered if a midlife crisis was waking up at midnight to run and cry. I did not know what to do. I had just assumed I would have a place in the English department and losing that meant I could not retreat to a familiar, comfortable role. Subbing kills me, at least once a week. Nicking pride, mostly, killing self. So I started retooling my image of the next year or two. I decided I had to figure out how to stand in a roomful of kindergarteners and find a snip of joy to keep my shoulders from tightening. 

I also decided to apply to MFA programs. I was afraid of wasting my time when subbing is an unusual professional gift. Here I have a job that is taxing in the weirdest ways during the workday but leaves my mind largely free to create. I may track my way through the elementary, middle and high schools on a single day, but I am not also consumed by prep or marking work. So I spent the winter researching low residency MFA programs, and the spring revising a fiction portfolio and compiling essays about why I want to be part of this program, where I see myself in the literary landscape, which writers I admire or learn from. 

Also in the spring my body fell apart. It was odd to pursue an MFA, understanding I would finally get the guidance I crave as I put together a narrative collection, and be glad for the way the years ahead might now look, while also feeling like shit. I reinjured my knee, got depressed, and wanted to die. A cave would have been nice. 

I am glad for the patience and kindness of my husband, for the warmth and silliness of my kids, for the good counsel of dear friends. 

At the close of my thirty-ninth year: I am okay. I am accepted to a strong MFA program. I begin in January but am already drafting for workshops and reading for seminars. My body continues to shift its slow way to healing. Most mornings I walk what used to be my warm up run. The miles and miles remain far away, but I will run them again. I cooked a little the other day. My kids are wonders. My husband walks unscathed. I do not hate God but in church last Sunday it was difficult to sing that he is perfect in all of his ways. 

Because I think this past year was a painful stretch of faith. I am more worn than a year ago, but I want it to matter that I remain before God. I messaged a friend that I want my fortieth year to be fucking awesome. Like I deserve reprieve, lightening by way of healing, contentment, joy. Like I deserve blessing. This whole life is blessing, by grace, one year to the next. I would like to know that better. 

I’ll count this as thirty-one of thirty-nine. 616 words. Done enough!

Rejection, Inventory & A Pantoum

I am collecting rejections again. Two in the last week. A third likely to come tomorrow. Wander around the online lit journal world and you read names you’ve never heard before. I want to see what a journal is likely to take. Even then, if I can guess that my writing might fit under their banner, it’s just luck. Maybe an editor is tired or hungover or hungry and they open some confessional essay I’ve written and want to throw up because everyone plays therapy session on the page now.

For the record:

2 essays rejected
2 fiction pieces rejected
1 fiction piece still out there, waving its arms, I hope

If I really want to publish, I need to launch a spam-ish attack on lit magazines of all caliber. I should do simultaneous submissions and quit being picky about the fonts sites choose. Also, not a fan of blue hyperlinks but maybe the magazine that finally publishes me likes blue hyperlinks and I should get over that minor, minor dislike.

So I am taking inventory again, of pieces ready to go and places to send them. I open my files and hope to find the essay I have in mind. Titles are misleading and I trail down documents called March Drafting and Revision Work looking for the short piece about landing in Colombia, the way Cali at night looks like gold glitter flung in the valley and up a mountainside. I don’t find that draft but I do find a poem I wrote during my last year teaching freshman and sophomore English in Wisconsin, when I had students write pantoums. My affection for this poem is in how I remember feeling clever about the sounds.


She wades, waiting to find words
When they come she scoops them into a net
Carries the shallow words to water’s edge,
Empties the catch on dry sand

When they come she scoops them into a net
Standing waist deep, water licking her ribs
Watching for the right word
Feeling their shape with her feet

Standing waist deep, water licking her ribs
Her steps stir the sand, wave water weeds
Until she is up to her neck holding her net
Swirling a pale arm through green waters

Her steps stir the sand, wave water weeds
When she kicks off to where she cannot touch
Swirling a pale arm through green waters
Reaching for words no one likes to find

When she kicks off to where she cannot touch
She dips her head under, cool and close
Reaching for words no one likes to find:
Sharp words strong words long words