First a Poem.
“Love is a verb.”
“More like 1983.”
I think I’ll just write in song lyrics and clichés to make all of the answers known to the questions I don’t have authentic answers to.
Just ‘okays’, ‘good’,
with the rare, ‘great’.
“Now what?” implies hope and forward movement, but
I’m just going in circles.
that change in size so I look like a Spirograph.
Solomon’s right. We’re all a rerun under the sun.
“No! I’m a reboot”
Breath. Breathing. Space.
Life After the MFA
With kids, there’s very little space and very little realization of breath in the days. There would be only a couple of months. No really just one month between my graduation from University of Nebraska-Omaha and the first day of the ’19-’20 school year for my kids. We are finding breath and space by homeschooling again, this time with co-op supports this year.
So with kids, I don’t really get to answer “what’s next?” for the writer me. We move on in their time, because it’s so short and because “we” have been scared into believing that to give our kids the most out of their child years we must optimize learning, heath and growth, and we are fooled into believing the most meaningful, memorable, good memories come with great planning and unique events. This chapter of life is like that colossal burger you can’t fit in your mouth to take a bite of.
What’s next? Remembering how to slow down, chew, taste. How to relax without numbing the senses. Remembering to experience the emotion of day to day without using entertainment and media to distract.
The End of the MFA: An Update of the Writing Life
What I did: I graduated.
What it means: I have roughly 100-125 8.5-by-11-inch typed pages of publishable material. It’s the beginning and middle of my Cushing’s Disease memoir.
Meeting my goal: I went to, through and graduated from the program as a fiction writer. I didn’t set out to be a creative non-fiction writer. That was a bonus. What I didn’t realize was that with the unique way the program works, I could learn about being a better poet, fiction, non-fiction, and play writer (this was new. I’d never tried it before).
What I got: The training to begin a serious, directed, writing career.
What I needed: To realize I could do other things. That I needed to live to be a writer and that it was possible to be a writer. I had to try before the illness took any more of me.
The advice of a trusted mentor the day before I left my last residency session:
“Listen. Now that you’ve done this. You need to take six months. You like what? Short stories?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Take six months and write what you love. Don’t look at it. Ignore it. Don’t think about it.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
That was rough conversation. But frankly, I was so tired of reading and rereading the stuff I’d been working on for two years, that I felt like it was horrible dribble that a third grader could write. I’d lost perspective.
I had worked on the creative non-fiction memoir pieces for so long. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been writing fiction, too, but I wasn’t working the pieces. It’s a totally different skill set and process than just putting the words or the story on the page. I was scared that without the accountability, I’d not keep going.
School for the kids began and I was invited to teach a creative writing and journalism class for their co-op. That’s what has helped revive and hold me accountable. I have to be writing as much or more than my students, I felt, or I wouldn’t be authentic. I didn’t want to be the adult saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
But did you know that teaching uses the same creative parts of the brain? Frequently I feel burnt out and unable to write after teaching or working on lesson plans and grading.
What I had forgotten in the two years of school and the five+ years of dealing with severe chronic illness in our family was that Chris and I’s dedicated date nights were a way we not only kept our marriage good, but going out to creative events, revived our own creative expression. Watching movies and tv and listening to a CD had become the norm, but live concerts, theater, art shows, etc. invites the muse back into our work.
We used to go to concerts a lot. We’d take the kids. I forgot that this is what had been stolen from us by illness and feeding the “American Dream” monster. I forgot what it was we did together before the pain and doctor’s visits, the routines, house payments and worries about kids getting into college duped us into thinking those were what were important and managing them would make our lives better.
So back in February or something when John Mayer announced his summer tour and the KC concert date would be Memorial Day, only a week before my birthday. I joked with Chris that he needed to use his music connections to get us tickets and a meeting with John Mayer. I was mostly serious.
I have a moderate amount of fear of going out to public events with large crowds of people. Add that it would be at the end of the day and far from home (half hour drive or more), the fear increased because the pain and immobility increases in the late afternoon and evening. How on earth would I be able to navigate a concert in an indoor arena that seats more than 15,000 people? It was such a struggle to commit to going without a lot of accommodations.
Chris made it happen.
Chris and I both needed the concert. We’re both creatives. We both need art in all its expressions: visual, auditory, words, acting, and movement. When we use our own gifts of creating, it makes sense of the world and we live fully. These events are a way of rejuvenation.
Some day take the time and spend the money to attend a John Mayer concert. He’s a real deal musician. He is a storyteller in verse, but his concerts tell a story completely different than you get watching his music videos or listening to an album.
The Lesson: Take time to focus and meet a goal, but don’t be afraid of what’s on the other side when you meet it.
(The following are a reflection on our evening. It was by far one of my best birthdays ever. Thanks Chris!)
Highlights from The John Mayer North American Tour Kansas City, MO
My highlight of the actual performance: the musicianship of ALL on stage and to go to a concert for the musician you came to see (no mediocre opening acts)
Highlight of the event (besides performance): Our VIP experience. I knew we had preferential parking, but if you’ve been to the Sprint Center/Power & Light District, you understand my skeptical feelings that we’d still have to walk or go up/down stairs. We were literally across the street in the first row. We got in 30 minutes early to avoid the crowd. We had our own merch table, got ear plugs, a portable charger
What was unexpected: We got a front row seat on the first row of the tiered seating. It was at the best level for watching the performance. No crook in our necks looking up from the floor or down from the back row where they have the handicapped seating, which is where I thought the best seats for me would be.
What shocked me: The friendliness and even camaraderie of the others in our section
What didn’t shock me: the quality of live performance (Chis was blown away, but he’d never gotten to experience a John Mayer concert live before)
Favorite song: It’s a tie.
Song he didn’t do, but I wish he had: Daughters
The one disappointing part (besides the concert ending): Not getting to meet him. We had no plans to, but there’s always hope, right? 😉
View the setlist at setlist.fm.
We didn’t want the concert to end and if we’d been a couple of young kids with nothing tying us down, we’d have followed him to St. Louis the next day or to Phoenix or San Diego. We would have done it all over again so we could pay more attention to the parts that went by too quickly and because each concert is different with a slightly different playlist.