Saturday, November 06, 2010

Oh and what do you write? ~ A Poet's Guide to Protection.

(for new inspiration, visit artist Keri Smith)


I've been having a long extended moment where my creative life has been intersecting with my real life and to be honest, it can make me a little uncomfortable.

I'll be very honest here, my life is very compartmentalized.  With parents at my daughter's school and well, most people I don't know well, I do not introduce myself as "The Poet" (capital P) and in fact do not mention what I do for a life (not a living).  If it comes up, I'll talk about it, but I do not carry a copy of my book in my purse to share or where a pin that says, "Author."

I am very protective of my writing life.  I do not share it with everyone and it's something I really don't bring up until I know you well enough to feel that I can trust you with this info.  That sounds so strange to write, but it's true.  I need to see if you too hold the artist's  heart and if you do we can talk, deeply.  Or I need to find out if you're someone who just doesn't get it because if you don't, we can talk about color of sky, the bear roaming our neighborhood, the ferry traffic.

So lately, with this new book, my regular life and my creative life have been holding hands and skipping out of my yard into the world at large.  People see my name in the newspaper for reading.  People hear other people ask about my book.  My so-called secret life expands and explanations are asked-- what kind of book is it?

A book of poems.

For people who don't write poetry, sometimes saying this makes my stomach ache. It's the stereotypical image of a poet with bongo drums, the emotional artist in his apartment drawing angry charcoal pictures and writing poems about his pain, or the sensitive type roaming a field of flowers, flaky and/or high.

I am none of these.  I balance my checkbook.  I subscribe to Real Simple magazine, O, Victoria (seriously, I do) and Art News.  I am a mountain biker and a hiker.  I love to kayak.  I have an IRA.  I shop at consignment shops.  I read a lot, especially non-fiction.  I watch Desperate Housewives and discuss it with my mother.  I vote.  My church is an art museum.  I wear cowboy boots.  I plant a vegetable garden every year with a huge patch of lettuce for our guinea pigs.  I thought Tip O'Neil was one of the coolest people.  I also like Maya Lin, Frida Kahlo, and Elvis Costello.  I run up to the stage during concerts.  And I birdwatch.

I think because so many people aren't connected to what poetry is or isn't, when I tell them, I don't know where to begin.  I say, "It's a book of poems," but want to add, "But I'm not flaky."

Bob Hicok once said that telling someone you're a poet is like telling someone you have eczema, it just makes everyone uncomfortable.

A well-known poet who was also a genius grant winner told me that she tells people she's "a writer," skipping over the term "poet" unless pressed directly.

But as my regular life continues to hang out with my creative life, I'm getting more and more comfortable with being the poet-mom, poet-coffee drinker, poet-mt. biker.  And it's good for me to experience that. I'm learning more about others.  I learned recently that a friend's grandmother used to read him poetry as a boy.  And that another person studied art in college and still paints, though he doesn't share his work.

All of us creative people hiding what we love because we feel the pressure of the culture to be like everyone else.  I always think back to that Gap commercial-- "Everyone in khakis."  Can we exist together with our differences?  Can one of us wear khakis and another wear jeans with rips and studs?  A skirt?  Gauchos?  Must we all be in khakis all the time?

I'm realizing more and more there are a lot of us creative types moving through the world with our own creative desire safe in the back room of lives.  I've been getting better of sharing my writing life with others, but I'm still careful.  My poet's heart breaks easily sometimes, so I guard it, keep it safe, wait until I think the coast is clear before I let it run down a beach, all of us barefoot and without our khakis.

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