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