My work life is a microcosm of the national news cycle. We think we've gotten bad news, and then we recover a bit, and then we get even worse news. It's very exhausting, and it has everyone talking worst case scenarios. But the truth is probably this: we will survive, in spite of shrinking student population and legislation that means we have to do things differently.
We're like those folks who go to horror movies: we like to scare ourselves silly.
Careful readers of this blog will know that I vacillate between being the ultimate Apocalypse Gal and the Wide Eyed Optimist. So, today, I will focus on this summer of my self-improvement and what it means for our writing lives, and I'll give a nod to our new Poet Laureate.
This morning I saw a weight on the scale that I haven't seen since 2006, a weight that is 25 pounds less than I weighed this time last summer. Of course, I saw this weight after I lost about 4 pounds running, pounds that I expect I've already regained through drinking homemade veggie juice, a berry smoothie, and coffee. I've shaved 5-10 minutes off my running time in just two months. I'm drinking that coffee with half the milk I used to pour in, and almost no sugar (I used to use 1-2 Tablespoons of sugar per big mug).
In short, I've made lots of self-improvement this summer. When I look back and wonder why I made so little writing progress during the summer of 2011 (as, say, opposed to the summer of 1999, which was a magical, rainy summer of writing), I need to remember that I was working in a different arena of self-improvement.
How did I lose the weight? The old-fashioned way, by tracking what I ate and by exercising more. I also enrolled in a competition at my wellness center, and I've been trying really hard to win. I've been engaging in fantasies about being the woman who pulls the team to victory. It's very inspiring.
What can this summer of my self-improvement in terms of healthy eating and exercise and weight loss teach me when it comes to our creative lives? Let me see.
--It helps to have a firm foundation.
I've made more progress than some people, and I think it's because I already had a fairly firm foundation. I like fruits and vegetables. I don't eat fast foods. I don't drink soda. I was already exercising 4-6 days a week. I just needed to make some adjustments, and I was on my way.
Similarly, many of us who have been creative probably have some good habits. We may have fallen astray, but we remember what to do. I've written about this before here, but it bears repeating. Every so often, we should take time to recalibrate and to make sure we're on the proper trajectory.
If we're not, we probably know what to do, whether it's limiting our Internet time or forcing ourselves to send out 3 submissions a week or doing one little act every day that honors our creative selves. We just need the fortitude to do it.
--Our muse will be there waiting for us when we return.
Whenever I gain weight, I feel a bit of terror. I wonder if I'll ever lose it. Some years are better for weight loss than others, of course. Some months, weight loss is not my priority. Some months, I'm just trying to hang on.
Similarly with our creative endeavors, we can take a break if we need to. Some months, our priorities must shift. But our creative muscles remember, just like our leg muscles remember. We just need to limber them back up again.
--If we don't have a firm foundation, it's not too late to start.
As part of my program this summer, I had 2 sessions with a nutritionist. I would have thought she could teach me nothing. What a fool I was. Similarly with my work out sessions with trainers, I learned more than I thought I would. If I had no background in nutrition or exercise, I imagine these sessions would have been even more valuable.
You may be thinking that you've waited too long to follow your creative dreams. You have not. You are surrounded by experts who will be happy to share their knowledge of how to get started. But really, it's fairly simple. Think back to what you loved as a child. Start there. Or think about what you love now. What kind of artist do you want to be? Read the blogs of those artists. Read their work (or view/taste/hear their creations). Read their interviews. Emulate them.
--Write things down
I've been keeping an exercise log since I started running way back in 1980. But I haven't kept a food log or written down my daily calorie count. I think one of the reasons why I've been so successful this summer is that I've strictly kept track of calories. I kept a food log because it was part of the program. And it worked.
I've found that writing things down helps me in my creative life too. Careful readers of this blog may have noticed that I write down my creative goals, and then, periodically, I check back in to see how I'm doing. It's amazingly effective.
--Dream the Impossible
When I started this summer of my self-improvement, I had high hopes, but I wondered if I wasn't dreaming a little too big. Nonsense. Dream big.
This idea brings me back to the Poet Laureate. When anyone asks me my dream job, I say, "Poet Laureate."
Actually, my dream job is to be a Supreme Court Justice, since that's a lifetime appointment.
But if I dream of being Poet Laureate, I can do things now to prepare. The most obvious thing to do is to keep writing poetry and keep sending poetry into the world. But I can also think about the other part of being Poet Laureate.
All that is required of the Poet Laureate is to give a reading at the beginning and at the end of one's term. But we all know that most poet laureates have done far, far more. Think of Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project, a nationwide event that alerted many of us that the nation still loves poetry. I wonder what Philip Levine will do.
What would you do as Poet Laureate? What dreams would you have for the poetic future of the nation?