Missing Out & Opting Out

One thing about shattering is the glory of all these pieces that I can put wherever I want. But this is no uncanny valley, no recreation. Think mosaic, think What the hell is this, think What is she thinking.

Last week I was at home, in the small town in Michigan where I grew up. Over dinner at a bar, I bit into a mozzarella stick and it was fucking delicious and all I could think of was the time at grad school when two of my friends [sic] told me they had a rule that they wouldn’t go to a restaurant that served mozzarella sticks. The why was implied: low-class restaurants were not for those who pursued the Life of the Mind. The Life of the Mind was not, therefore, for me. (Blessedly, I am stubborn and oppositional. I finished my MA and PhD well before them in a very spritely 6.5 years, by which time I had already secured a tenure-track job at a community college where the cafeteria offers a variety of breaded and fried delights.)

At another restaurant later last week in Michigan, I happily ate pancakes with whipped butter and imitation maple syrup for lunch, probably violating another Certified Academic Rule. I was there with a very dear friend, Candy, who works at the local bookstore. She asked if I still wanted to try to do a reading there. I knew what the answer should be, but I couldn’t get it out of my mouth. The truth is, I do want to share. I want to meet people who want to talk poetry, or people who have never heard poetry but might just want to talk about something they liked. I want to sit down with people who connect with me through poetry because it’s the best way I can put myself into the world. At many readings, I have been absolutely fulfilled by moments of connection with people. I love community, vibrancy, engagement. Every time I’m asked to do a reading, I am humbled and thrilled.

But do I want to set up a reading for the purpose of marketing my book? Do I want to bother selling, advertising, worrying about how many people (won’t) show up? Nah. If I feel my most free and open while writing, I feel my most paranoid and inferior while trying to market myself. Candy and I started talking about ways to do that, bringing together multiple readers in a coffee-house setting to share—not sell—poetry. We’ll figure something out, maybe even with mozzarella sticks.

So then I have to wrestle with the message I hear over and over again: You have to promote yourself, get your name out there, sell, submit, pay those contest fees, work the room, work your Goodreads. Market yourself. It is absolutely true that if I don’t do these things, no one will do them for me. I’m not with a press that has a marketing machine. I’m not part of a scene, although I’ve tried. (I’m done trying.) I’m not wealthy enough for a public relations person or even one of those paid reviews in Kirkus. Honestly, I’m probably just not exceptionally good.

What’s right for me is to accept that I may miss some chances by focusing on sharing rather than marketing. I am okay with this. I am, in fact, liberated by it.

And that became especially clear a few days ago when I began stressing about registering for the AWP. I kept telling myself that of course I’d go, I’ve gone every one of the last five or six years. I’ve met up with amazing people and gone to some stunning, brilliant readings. If I didn’t go, wouldn’t I suffer the fear of missing out?

Then it occurred to me that I have the fear of missing out even when I’m there. At a panel? I’m missing a signing. At a signing? I’m missing a reading. At a reading? I’m missing six other readings. Doing a reading? I’m missing one of my friends’ readings. I don’t do it right. I need this year off. When I decided I wasn’t going, I felt elated and relieved. This is what’s right for me, at this time. It’s not right for everyone. Next year? Maybe. It’s Kansas City, and that’s pretty much Midwest; I feel the regional pull and will enjoy sneering at people who sneer at the MidBest.

In 2020 I’m going small, where I can share with / listen to other writers. For now, it looks like Festival of Faith* and Writing and maybe The Gathering of Poets. I’m going to work with people whose poems have held and nurtured my heart through difficult times. I’m hoping to talk about why we write, what we learn from others and about ourselves.

Writers out there who have already discovered this path, I’ve sometimes wondered why you don’t push harder when your ridiculously good books come out, why you don’t cross-post and promote more. I get it now.

*yep, don’t @ me

What We Call the Price

I’m writing this because I need to. I’m putting it out there because a few people need to know, and although it’s unlikely those will be the ones who read it, I can’t control that. Everything I have to say has been with me always—but while I believed these thoughts/behaviors to be symbiotic, I realize now they’re parasitic. One of us must go, either the other-directed self or the true self, such as it is, and I finally know who I’m rooting for.

About six months ago I started to feel pain in my left hip. My ass, really, since I’m being honest here. After rounds of doctor visits and physical therapy and an MRI I was diagnosed with a form of tendon damage where my hamstring joins my sit bone. It’s an overuse injury from running. Because I ran. I ran starting when I was almost 30, late to the game, but for 14 years with a brief interruption during pregnancy, I ran and I loved it. On occasion I cried when I ran, mostly from the overwhelming joy of being in my body as I ran, but sometimes because the miles had prepared me to feel something I hadn’t been ready for. When my husband was sick with cancer, I cried on every run, usually about mile 2, and then I would pause and sob and feel everything and start running home where I could then not cry in front of him and our daughter. I ran alone but also in half-marathons with crowds of other people who were also running alone. I saw them cry and smile and wince. I offered them help, directions, first aid, just as they did to me. I waved and gave them high fives and thumbs up as we passed. I was a runner.

I am not a runner now. I don’t run. My body and my doctor have told me to stop. But because of the impact of the injury and its location, I am also unable to sit comfortably for longer than half an hour. I can’t walk long distances while I recover and indeed I’ve been demoted off of traditional physical therapy while the inflammation calms. I have only discussed this as necessary because I worried about seeming like I’m feeling sorry for myself. It’s not that bad compared to what could be going on, I tell myself. Nevertheless, my injury has changed my life in ways I would not have had it change. I’m grieving the loss of something I loved. Once it starts, the pain is intense and unyielding, unalleviated by anything but standing. I’ve sat in pain at meetings and readings because it makes other people feel uncomfortable when only one person is standing.

I’ve put myself in pain to make other people comfortable.

Around the time that my injury flared up, I was kicking into high gear to publish a book I believed in, one that seemed to knot together all the threads of me: feminism, rural culture, fear, unbelonging, nature, solitude, anger. My editor believed in it, my family believed in it, and I was foolish enough to believe I had garnered just a bit of good will or even, dare I say, respect as a writer. I held a reading at my college. Out of my two dozen department colleagues, one came—the one who was obligated to as chair of the committee that sponsored it. I planned a book launch at an independent book store, bought a cute dress that worked out perfectly for the beautiful sunny day. And almost no one came. Not a single co-worker I’d invited, nor any of the writers I’d been to see over the past years, many of whom had assured me they’d be there. A few weeks earlier, I’d driven that same road in winter storm warning, my pain level screaming, to go to a reading of many area writers who had published in a major journal. Not one of those people came to mine. It’s the weather, the bookstore manager nicely said, and I could see his pity. One or two people bothered to write a note saying they were sorry they couldn’t come. But most people just didn’t bother, and there’s no better way to say it. The day was lovely and they didn’t bother. If people reading this feel bad because they are among those who let me down, I’m going to let them have that feeling. It’s not nearly as bad as I felt, I guarantee.

I do not expect a quid pro quo at all. Support is not something you give only to receive it in equal measure. But at the same time it’s not something you can only give and never receive. The complete nothingness of my book’s arrival is a smoldering burn inside me, another injury that I can’t figure out how to heal.

Last week I was away. I had moments of wi-fi and I posted a picture or two, but for the most part I was well and truly gone. I saw no news, read few updates, closed up my email. When I returned and logged onto social media, a familiar nauseous insecurity swept back through me. Look at the endless accomplishments, publications, beauty; look at the humblebrags; look at poetry’s micro-dramas sweeping people into frenzies of denunciation. I wondered why I felt the need to return. Is this what I’ve called the price? And if so, what is it I think I have to pay for? Why was I simply taking time away from myself to present a version of myself that I thought people would like, cheer for, support? It didn’t work. Once again, I’m not asking for reciprocity, not even a fair exchange for the price I’m paying. But I can’t only give to a community of people who pull the rope up behind them as they climb.

I haven’t fully articulated this before because I didn’t want people to feel uncomfortable.

I’ve put myself in pain so others can be comfortable.

I’m in the process of learning how to end that behavior.

I have people. When I was getting ready for my trip and brainstorming with my husband about how I would deal with my pain, he bought me all-weather notebooks and a weatherproof pen so I could write in the downpours. It was possibly the most amazing gift he’s given me, seeing me as a writer in all conditions. My daughter sometimes looked over during the trip and asked if I was hurting, told me I was doing great. My parents are behind me always. I have probably a dozen writer friends scattered around the country who I know would show up for me if they could. And I have my poetry voice—she’s a girl who’s ready to give up on her hypocritical village and head for the woods with anyone who wants to go. Already waiting there in the woods are the writers I most need—Emily Dickinson, Charlotte Mew, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Amy Levy—women who are lost and found and lost again, misconstrued, who wrote because they needed to.

So I’ll be out there, but on my terms. I’ll be on social media when I truly want to be, but not because of obligation or fear of invisibility. I’ve spent so many hours putting myself out there just to be invisible anyway. I need to let myself be a writer who writes and reads, who sometimes publishes, who puts a book out and doesn’t need it to be affirmed beyond its existence. I’m going to keep a little of this water for myself and stop going thirsty.

I need to stand up. I need to stand up and stop experiencing pain so others can feel comfortable.

I try to think of the poster for Captain Marvel, where Carol Danvers stands up, her fists ready to light up, her shoulders back and hips square, smiling for no one. What if what I think is a gift people have given me—quiet tolerance, bland scraps of acceptance—is really a way of preventing me from using my power? What if I rip this thing off my neck and light the fuck up? What if my standing at the ready isn’t about what I can’t do but what I can? What if the next move is flight?

Announcing My New Collection

See Books for ordering information on my latest!

I’m so thrilled that my second collection, The List of Last Tries, is approaching its completion. I’ve signed off on final edits and the book is headed to the printer at Sable Books.


May 5, 2:30 pm: Reading from The List of Last Tries, with John McCarthy, author of the new collection Scared Violent Like Horses, at Book Stall in Winnetka

New Year’s Eve Poems, 12/31/17

More details to follow, but I’ll be part of the RHINO reading at Evanston’s New Year’s Eve celebration!

Readings in Fall 2016

Hello out there in radio land–

A few readings coming up! Please come if you’re able. I’d be so happy, for real–

Friday, September 23, 7-9 pm with Tupelo 30/30 Poets: Arts + Literature Laboratory (ALL), 2021 Winnebago St, Madison, WI

Saturday, September 24, 5-8 pm with Tupelo 30/30 Poets: Danny’s Tavern, 1951 W. Dickens, Chicago, IL

Thursday, October 13, 7:30 pm at book launch for Amy Strauss Friedman’s Gathered Bones are Known to Wander: Women and Children First, 5233 N. Clark, Chicago, IL

Saturday, October 15, 2-3 pm: Vachel Lindsay House, 603 S. 5th St., Springfield, IL


And thus ends April with its march of poems

Against Karma



You were dishonest, say—

you did something wrong,

were grumpy or even bad to



Say your wrongs took place millions of years ago

and you are now a teenage girl.


Can it be real

that you are the cause

of a needless fall

millions of years from now?

Can you believe that how you rebel—

you, a teenage girl—

will someday need to be forgiven

by the granddaughter

of another time?


Your family believes

you make your own luck

and it’s wonderful, your family

and what they believe.


But you are apart from them

and their fantastic hopes.


You say Forgive me every day.



(Source: Conscience Letter 322 and unnumbered letter from 13 January 2014)



Day 29, ELJ 30/30 Write Now Challenge

Get Rid of the Moon



We lived


and regretful


Airplanes crashed

not far from us


The moon rocked in turmoil


On our honeymoon

we lived to be killed


(Source: Conscience Letter 466)

Day 28, ELJ 30/30 Write Now


Why I Do This I Do Not Know


It may be perfect.

I have never unwrapped the color I craved,

never taken the crystal from my pocket.

What if I looked and was satisfied?

What if I saw and was afraid?


What I have, I keep.


(Source: Conscience Letter 228)


Day 27, ELJ 30/30 Write Now

Against Saving


My husband,

being a true Christian,

forgives me constantly

for my wrong doing.


I am not the same as my husband.


I am against

doing better

lessons learned the hard way

burdened conscience.


I replace guilt

with a better thing

and keep it hidden

in my bra.


(Source: Conscience Letter 83)


Day 26, ELJ 30/30 Write Now

Since Then, the Ghost



Each week worse,

a piece of wood

for burning hope.


My life frightens me



Years ago I had children

and a car and possessions.


Now I know not much of anything.


It’s overwhelming to look at

what I had.  What I felt destined to have.


I claimed I had children, right?


Don’t I ever change for the better?



(Source: Conscience Letter 352)

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