First, let me thank Jim McKeown for his kind review of Unexplained Fevers at RabbitReader:
A version of which I think might be on his local radio show!
And thank you to the new site VerseWrights which did a little feature of poems from all three of my books here:
Warning: The Rest of the Post Contains Unedited Feelings about being a Writer
So, as usual, I know I have plenty to be grateful for. But lately I’ve been feeling blue, and more than that, scattered, a bit at a loss for what to do next. I don’t know if it was the let down from turning 40, or publishing a third book, or my mom’s stroke, or the variety of exciting health challenges (including, yes, unexplained fevers of 101 for days at a time) – coming to the end of my year as Redmond’s Poet Laureate – but I’ve been feeling blue. Also, like I’m starting to ask for more from life – if I’m going to put the time and energy into something, I want to feel like it’s worth it – this applies equally to poetry work or doctor visits – and that just smiling and playing nice doesn’t always get results. Maybe this is what happens when “nice girls” like me get older – they notice that being nice all those years didn’t really work out in the way we thought it might. I think I have already said all this in poetic form for the last few books.
Like I said, I have plenty to be thankful for, that is for sure. But having a job that actually could pay off my student loans? I’m missing that. The ability to deal with jerks in a way that doesn’t give me a migraine and autoimmune flareups? That too. And if I’m honest, I’m not quite – after more than a decade of doing what I’ve been told to do – studying (then teaching,) volunteering, publishing, reaching out to the community, self-promoting in hopefully a non-obnoxious way, being diligent as I know how with reading, writing and submitting – where I’d like to be as a writer yet. These three issues (along with the health stuff) have been literally keeping me up at night, anxious thoughts spinning despite soothing Paris memoir reading or putting on soothing comedic television like Futurama or 30 Rock (usually both send me right to sleep, in a good way, with their familiar humor.) I’ve been talking in my last few posts about not whining, about taking positive steps and resisting self-pity. But what happens when we come to the limits of what we, with our limited scopes or abilities, are able to do? Do we keep hoping and crossing our fingers that things will get better for us, somehow? Wish upon a star? Or just change our life entirely? I’m looking for a sign from the universe, and that is usually a sign in itself.
You may have noticed a bit of shambling around in the last couple of posts, trying to align my life (over here) with my values and actual passions (over here.) So, after a few weeks of trying to get my thoughts in order, yesterday I finally took some steps after several long walks in the unusual May sunshine watching duckling and bunnies and hearing the red-winged blackbirds chirping mightily and other such springy-visions.
I started a job application. (By the way, if any of you are looking for an MFA-holding, three-book-published poet to work for great pay part-time let me know! I’m looking at you, well-funded low-res MFA programs!) I wrote to a publisher that had been holding a manuscript since last August, I looked at that same manuscript and rearranged it a bit and took out some poems I can see now don’t fit in it, I printed out my Excel spreadsheet of poems to send out, I looked at the drafts of the poems – eek, often full of angst and not much else – I have written in the past few months to see if any were worth revising. In other words, I actually did some real writing work. Also, I painted my nails cobalt blue, which looks sort of goth and scary but also reminds me that these fingers are getting stuff done. No more polite buffed nude fingernails, which seems like a metaphor for a life lived in more color, with more vigor. I know, it’s just nail polish.
One of the things I realized after this aforementioned set of writing chores was that, after an acceptance from earlier in the week and the publication of the new 2013 Jack Straw Anthology, every single poem from “The Robot Scientist’s Daughter” has been published. I also watched a bit of “The Girls of Atomic City” lecture from PBS I had recorded some days ago, really thinking about how foreign and alien the subject matter of nuclear enrichment and bomb-building in a secret city must seem to the screeners and editors looking at the manuscript, how outer-space-science-fiction so much of my actual real life has been. Most people, I know, don’t grow up with Geiger counters in their basements, knowing how to measure nuclear pollution in their gardens. I was thinking suspicious thoughts about government coverups by the time I was seven and eight, because it wasn’t science fiction, it was happening within a five-mile radius of my house. My whole early childhood, complete with men-in-black and secrets locked is safes, was like an Appalachian X-Files episode. A neighbor stabs their husband one night, my father is teaching me about radionuclides and dosimeters the next.
My next manuscript, almost finished, might be more user-friendly, but no less dark – it’s all about apocalypses and the end of the world, which it seems is the subject of every single movie that’s come out in the last few years. Kids today don’t know what it’s like to fly without taking off your shoes because of terrorism – it’s created sort of a fear-based society here, one different than the kind I grew up in the seventies, when, yes, we were worried about nuclear bombs and hostage-taking in Iran, but basically, America felt safe and secure – not “fifties” safe and secure, exactly – there were moving tides all around us then, racism and sexism held up in the light, the EPA starting to have a voice – but still, I felt safer and more secure than I bet the kids I teach in workshops today feel. That’s what I’m trying to capture in this (fifth?!?) manuscript, that sense that the world is about to end, all the time, if not by zombie, then by plague or food chain collapse. (I’m reading a delightful YA-style geek-and-tech book called “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” that features a near-future in which the food chain has already collapsed. So much fun to read, it’s like a vacation for the brain…) The idea that disaster, unpredictable and uncontrollable, is always near, right around the corner, and how one can live a life in that kind of mindspace.
Anyway, despite all the foreboding, the bad economy, the fears, young people today have the daunting task as they enter school and then the workplace, trying to decide what to do with their lives, how to make a difference. At forty, I’m considering the same darn questions, it seems. How to (and if I can) make the world a better place. How to do more than complain and be afraid, because those things, besides being useless, are boring. The idea of the superheroine and supervillain today seem more applicable than ever. If anyone is going to save us…it’s going to have to be…us.
I often get asked for advice on “how to be a poet.” And just what does “being a poet” mean, anyway? Does it mean simply that you write (and publish) poetry? That you make a living from poetry in some way (good luck!) or that you have some validation in the form of fellowships, titles, grants, prizes, or what-have-you?
I’ve discovered that being a poet is a lot like those early 1980s “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Sometimes you make a choice and you end up in a totally different place than you expected; sometimes you accidentally do something right (or wrong) and advance in a way you couldn’t have foreseen.
For instance, when you are sending your work out, you can:
–Choose to send to only one or two very exclusive magazines for five years, and land nothing but rejection. Go back three spaces.–Or, start with smaller literary magazines, one poem gets published in ‘Tiny Obscure Review” and makes it onto Verse Daily and into the Pushcart anthology – forward four spaces!
See what I mean? And when you’re sending your book out:
–You send to very expensive contests, end up spending your rent money on book contest fees, lose your lease, end up on the streets. Or…
–Send your book to “open admission” venues, end up with a good small press…but the press folds and your book goes out of print. Or…
–Send your book to a well-known press, they end up taking it, but they do no promotion, never pay you royalties, refuse to answer your e-mails, and the book goes nowhere
–You get lucky, your book gets taken by a contest or a highly reputable press, the book gets great promotion and press, and you end up winning a ton of prizes, the Whiting Award, move to New York City and teach at a prestigious school, and have presses lined up anxiously for your next book! (This last has actually happened to people, trust me. Just not to very many people.)
Or…Get an MFA or not – and then, low-res or residential? Full student loans or try to eke (eek?) it out with a part-time job? Teaching or non-academic poet? Apply for that fellowship, grant, or position? Chapbook, book, or series of books? Is poetry truly only something for the wealthy, a luxury, or can “regular” people afford to do it too?
Most of the time we are making choices that feel random and feel like they are having random results, which can be not only frustrating but bring on a kind of nihilistic depression that I have seen a lot of poets fall into.
Right now the “choose your own adventure” place I am at is…what to do for a living, you know, for money. Do I:
–Adjunct? Work at a non-profit? Get a job writing for money, like ad copywriting or tech writing, again? If I do blank, will I end up too stressed out and sick to write? If I do blank other, will I constantly feel anxious that I don’t have enough money or enough time to write? When is volunteering a good thing and when are you overdoing it?
Many poets survive on a combination of part-time, usually adjunct, teaching work, tiny reading honorariums, freelance writing, and odd jobs. We don’t mostly make money on publishing our poetry, because there’s not enough of an audience to make that happen. Which is sad. Some poets turn to writing erotica, romance novels, teen or children’s books, etc…just so they can stay afloat, not because it’s their passion. Some poets, but a minority, get those tenure-track teaching jobs (an ever-shrinking pool, I’m afraid, especially if you’re female, because studies have shown women are much lesss likely to get tenure than men…) and end up spending a lot of time teaching and in staff meetings and again, little time writing. I can see all the webs to possible futures stretching out…but none of the webs feels totally right for me. So I’m at a loss for the next step, the next adventure. Being Poet Laureate of Redmond this last year has meant a lot of community work, which can be satisfying, but has left me without a lot of time for writing or sending out work…so it fulfills some of my ideas about what I want to do with my life, but also has drawbacks. It’s hard to decide on choice A or B or C without knowing for certain what the outcome will be…You can see how this post connects with my last post of self-care and self-pity – as poets doing what we love isn’t always practical, but if we want to prioritize it, we usually have to give something else up – so how do we continue pursuing a passion in a way that doesn’t make us sick or discouraged or so poor we can’t afford our expensive medical treatments, etc? I don’t want to just complain or feel unhappy with the life I’ve forged for myself as a writer, I want to embrace something new that will be both fulfilling and practical, if there is such a future out there for me. I hope so!
In unrelated news, thanks to Jessie Carty and Wild Goose Poetry Review for this lovely second official review of Unexplained Fevers! It’s tough to get attention for poetry out there, and most poetry reviewers are volunteering their time to do this kind of work, so thank you to everyone involved!
Stay with me. It will all come together.
I used to get really twitchy on Mother’s Day. In my twenties, it was because I resented the existence of a guilt-based holiday that was supposed to be a feminist, anti-war holiday before it got co-opted by governments and corporations (and look that up! The true origins of Mother’s Day are fascinating.) In my thirties, it was because of the “can’t have kids” thing – it just made me miserable to be celebrating something I could never be. See? Self-pity and anger-based stuff, right?
But I’ve started having revelations since I turned 40, just like everyone told me I would. One of them was – I can celebrate Mother’s Day with no resentment or guilt or feelings of loss these days. My mom wasn’t perfect, but she taught me several important operating principles of my life, including:
- All mythologies and religions come from a collective subconscious. (Not sure who taught her Jung and Campbell, but it sure stuck with her and she taught it to me when she was still reading me nursery rhymes.)
- The most important thing about any religion, and specifically, Christianity, is love. To love other people. Which, you know, if you’ve read the Bible, pretty much checks out.
- Never go into the kitchen, because you might not escape. (And consequently, I’ve never cooked much. And my husband is thinking of putting together a cookbook! So, it all works out.) And in terms of housework, it’s important to be clean (as in germs) but not neat, so embrace the messy. Let the children and animals on the good furniture, throw a party every once in a while and don’t worry if the house isn’t perfect as long as the bathrooms are sparkling, etc.
I had this other revelation: you cannot control other people and they all have free will. Hmmm.
And this third: I was reading a British magazine that had a short article in it about the practice of self-pity, which it seems women encourage each other in the practice of, versus the practice of self-care, which is much more healthy. Instances of this would include – doing something smart about the people you choose to date instead of whining to your girlfriends about your boyfriends all being jerks, and considering why you’ve decided on the guys or girls you’ve decided on in the past in the first place. Quitting a job you hate and actively searching for a new one instead of constantly complaining about it to others, who will only absently pat you on the back for a while before they lose interest anyway. If you have health problems, um, as I have been known to have, do the smart things for your health – take the medications you’re supposed to take, do the type of exercise (or, in my case, the type of rest from exercise) you’re supposed to do, eat the things that make you feel good rather than things that make you feel bad. You know what I’m saying. Get your sleep instead of staying up worrying all the time about stuff you can’t change (see previous revelation.) Read a book for fun once in a while, do something that feeds your brain and soul, go to a museum, walk in a park. If you’re on the computer or your smartphone all the time, get away from them for a bit every day. This all sounds like sensible, rational advice, right? But the article I read pointed out how our culture – via books, television characters, other women’s behavior – kind of encourages women to tell other women “It’s all right, it’s not your fault your job/boyfriend/life/money situation sucks” when really, that’s not helping – there’s usually something that needs to change and until it changes, you, my friend, will remain miserable. Huh. For some reason this article hit me with a real punch.
So, for me, this means – instead of whining about not having enough money, I’m going to seek out better-paying work. Instead of feeling like poetry is killing me – (I possibly took too much on in the last year, which leads to this kind of burnout) – I want to enjoy poetry again. I want to spend time with people I enjoy spending time with, and I want to make good friends a priority again. Spending time doing things I actually want to do instead of what I feel I have to do. Resting when my body tells me to rest (like, if you dislocate a rib or sprain an ankle, genius, you probably aren’t resting enough.) Prioritizing health stuff even when it’s a pain in the ass to do it (yes, make that dentist appointment.) Spend more time with animals and in nature. You know, self-care versus self-pity. It seems like Mother’s Day is a good day to kick off this kind of thinking, doesn’t it? Because in the end, we all have to learn to “mother/nurture” ourselves.
Looking for something to do with mom tomorrow? Come to VALA 3:30 PM Saturday for a Once Upon a Time Poetry and Art Show!
Where? VALA Art Center at Redmond Town Center (next to the Starbucks on the lower level)
When? Saturday, May 11th at 3:30
Who? Readers include:
Jeannine Hall Gailey, reading from her new fairy tale poetry book, Unexplained Fevers
Plus Fairy Tale poems read by local poets:
Laura Lee Bennett
Rebecca Woods Meredith
and fairy tale art from Tacoma artist Michaela Eaves! Plus VALA’s new ceramics show!
Serving champagne, sparkling juice, sparkling water, an assortment of appetizers from Matt’s (a lovely little Redmond Town Center dining spot) and Glenn-made gluten-free chocolate cupcakes with pink pomegranate frosting.
Who should come? Everyone, especially girls who just want to have fun and celebrating mothers of every sort! And anyone who likes art and poetry in Redmond! And anyone who has ever said, there’s an arts center in Redmond? Yes there is!
First official review of Unexplained Fevers, two new blog reviews, and this Saturday’s magical poetry event!
The first official review is out! Thank you to Savvy Verse & Wit, for their review of Unexplained Fevers, found here:
I was also really thankful and happy with two other reviews, this time blog reviews, by Karen Weyant and Donna Miscolta:
Karen says Unexplained Fevers is her May poetry pick, and that: “This is Gailey’s third collection, and in many ways, she is returning to the stories she started in her first book, Becoming the Villainess. Indeed, her poetic heroines have grown stronger through the years. Where there once was hesitancy with her narrators, there is now more self-assurance. Her female characters don’t pretend to be perfect — they only want to be human.” Read the rest of the review here.
Donna Miscolta, a talented fiction writer, reviews my book as well as Kelly Davio’s Burn This House here: http://donnamiscolta.com/2013/05/06/unexplained-fevers-and-burn-this-houseblisteringly-good-poetry/
We’ve had a string of sunny days and high temperatures, a combo in Seattle that’s typically not great for poetry activities, during which I’ve been feverishly planning for this Saturday’s big (and possibly one of the last) Redmond Poet Laureate events for me.
It’s called “Once Upon a Time,” at VALA art center in the Redmond Town Center, and starts at 3:30 on May 11th. (Readings will start at 4 PM.) Besides a bit of reading from my new book, there will also be featured local poets including the former and first Poet Laureate of Redmond, Rebecca Meredith, and Laura Lee Bennett, Elizabeth Hayden, Kelly Davio, Pamela Denchfield, and Dawn-Marie Oliver, as well as a small fairy-tale related art show by Tacoma artist Michaela Eaves. I’ve ordered catering, champagne and sparkling juice, and am thinking about things like chairs, easels, and hoping that I can get some East side folks to ditch the outdoors for a couple of hours and enjoy some art and poetry.
I’m doing a bit of soul searching to figure out what I want to try and do in the next year, something maybe a lot of people are doing right now. Do I want to take some time off and write, or, do the opposite – try to jump back into better paying work, maybe more serious amounts of freelance writing and editing? Do I want to do more non-profit art community work in a wider setting? What should my goals be at this point? Applying for grants, focusing on my next two book manuscripts, taking time to promote the current book, reviewing more or less?
I’ve also, what with all the health crises in my family, been thinking about – what’s really important to me? What kind of activities improve the quality of my life? Should I be daring more, or being more careful with my health? Should I be seeking out opportunities to make new friends and get to know more of the terrific but splintered poetry community in the Northwest, or seek to spend more time with old friends? Well, if you have any life advice for me, leave it in the comments. It’s strange to look at being forty, at having three (!!) poetry books published and two more (!!!) in process, to have spent a year trying to serve my community as a poet instead of just “being a poet” and thinking about the lessons it has taught me, thinking about mortality and family issues and all that mid-life stuff. I went to sleep last night listening to Joseph Campbell talk about “The Hero’s Journey” – a terrific DVD if you can find it at your local library, particularly if you’re a Star Wars fan as it has some clips with George Lucas.
Friday’s reading at Jack Straw, just a day or so from the May Day violence downtown and on the same night as readings by legends like Rae Armantrout and Kwame Dawes (both of whom I was genuinely sorry to miss!)…well, let’s just say my expectations for audience were modest, especially considering the mild sunny weather, nearly perfect. But no – it was packed! I even saw some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while who decided to come out, which was great. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed listening to the other Jack Straw readers, in particular poet Emily Perez who read fairy tale poems and a really touching tribute to her father.
Unfortunately, I had new bad news about my family that night – this time, the wife and stepson of one of my older brothers were in a car accident while I was at the reading and strangely, they also diagnosed my sister-in-law, because of the x-rays, with pretty advanced pneumonia. My parents – including my mom, who has just gone through her own health crisis – went to the hospital to help out. Yikes! Any good thoughts directed towards my family would be appreciated.
And thank goodness for Saturday clinic hours – I ended up at the doctor’s yesterday, on a beautiful blooming May Saturday at 75 degrees, diagnosed with yet another respiratory infection. I do end up sick after readings quite a bit, it seems. But it didn’t stop me from going out on some wonderful strolls looking at goslings under willow trees, little new baby rabbits (or “minibuns” – which makes them sound delicious, doesn’t it?) and the now-fading blossoms of lilac and cherry and apple in Woodinville and Redmond. I figure, my by-now shredded nerves worrying about my family needed a little distraction. I haven’t been able to write much the last week and have thought about things like, should I have my parents move in with me, or close to me, as they get older? Can I help take care of them? Is it irresponsible of me to try to be a poet in a time when money is so tight? Yet, this kind of angst seems wrong in such beautiful weather…
Hope you all had a wonderful Star Wars day and free comic book day yesterday, and today, a lovely Cinco de Mayo!
The winner of the Big Poetry Giveaway of Unexplained Fevers and a copy of Rattle is Renee Emerson of Hyacinths & Biscuits. Congrats Renee! Hope you enjoy them! I’m also sending off a copy of my book to British Columbia for the Goodreads Giveaway.
I’ve just about recovered from Sunday’s reading and party, had a day after of being really sick, just got my voice back today, and started thinking about planning the next reading. This one will be for the Jack Straw Writers Program, this Friday, May 3rd, in downtown Seattle at 7 PM. I’m reading with three other Jack Straw writers, which should be fun.
Then, on May 11th, the final Poet Laureate event of the season at VALA art center, called “Once Upon a Time” – it’ll be a reading with a bunch of talented local poets and an art show by the lovely and talented Michaela Eaves. Plus a champagne reception! Read more about it here:
In more personal news, my biggest worry the last week hasn’t been about poetry at all – it’s been about my mom, who seems to have had a transient ischemic mini-stroke last week. Her stress test and other tests have come back clean in the last few days, which is great, but I just wish I lived a little closer to her so I could check in on her in person. She’s otherwise pretty healthy, so I’m hoping this was just a strange aberration, but it was an unwelcome surprise – I guess that’s what happens when you turn 40, you don’t just realize your own mortality but also the mortality of your loved ones.
Meanwhile, outside spring is blooming with extra frills – cherry and apple blossoms all over town, a layer of planted-last-fall double-pink tulips in front of our little townhouse, sun and red-winged blackbirds chirpings. It’s supposed to get up to 80 this weekend, a little glimpse of early summer in our usually gloomy Northwest corner. It seems contrary to focus on worries in these surroundings, but I’m finding it hard to concentrate on anything else. I’m feeling grateful for phone calls from friends and family far and near the last few days, the distractions of writing and reading, and a husband who has been working hard to cheer me up this last week. Even my cats have been extra friendly. So I will resolutely keep my mind on good things, on hope and peace and lean against anxiety, discouragement, fatigue, fear.
I’m happy to report that yesterday’s reading – my first for the new book – with Kelly Davio at Open Books went really well. And Glenn, my wonder-husband, set up a surprise 40th birthday for me afterwards at a nearby restaurant with 20 of my nearest and dearest. It was really wonderful but now I have completely lost my voice! Ha! The crowd for the reading was not only healthy in size but included some old friends I rarely get to see and some new faces, and was really warm and supportive, and Kelly was a great reader – full of energy and combustion. The interesting thing about this first reading from the new book was how the characters in the poems sort of possessed me – I was angry when I read one character’s poems, sad when I read another’s, etc. It occurred to me that some of my persona poems might be taking on their own life, which I am just channeling when I read. I don’t remember that happening with my other books, but maybe it did!
My friends – based on their Facebook posts – may have better pictures from the reading than I do, but here are a few with my reading partner Kelly Davio, poets Kelli Russell Agodon, Kathleen Flenniken, and Raul Sanchez, who were among the warm and wonderful aforementioned crowd members.
Thanks to Pirene’s Fountain, where I have a few new poems up (including two from Unexplained Fevers:)
It’s a wonderful issue so if you have time read the whole thing.
And, I have another reading on Friday May 3rd at 7 PM with the Jack Straw Writers – which you can read more about here.
It’s a great group to read with and if you haven’t been out to the Jack Straw building downtown, it’s fascinating – a recording/studio space and a reading space and rooms where they teach artists, writers, and other creative types how to record and perform on the radio. Pretty cool!
Hope you are all planning to come out to Open Books tomorrow to me and Kelly Davio read at 3 PM. It should be some fun! Kelly is a terrific reader and I promise to be extra fun.
A new interview with me by Joanne Merriam is up at her web site here:
She asks about some of the inspirations for Unexplained Fevers, and I included this tidbit about how some of the poems came about:
“It’s not hard to imagine Sleeping Beauty as a drug addict, or Snow White as someone with chronic fatigue syndrome, when you’re spending a lot of time in hospitals.”
Here’s a poem from Unexplained Fevers called “Advice From the Pages of Grimms’:”
Advice Left Between the Pages of Grimms’ Fairy Tales
Life is not a fairy tale, and this isn’t your pumpkin coach.
You’re not lost in some magic wood,
and that blood on your hands isn’t from an innocent stag
at all. Princess, remember to fill your pockets
with more than bread crumbs, and
if you can’t sleep don’t blame the legumes
beneath the sheets. One look at that glass coffin
they’ve set up for you should tell you
everything you need to know about their intentions.
Remember a lot of girls end up dismembered, and
every briar rose has its thorn.
Forget the sword and magic stone,
forget enchantments and focus on the profit margin,
the hard line. Read the subtext.