A Few Odds and Ends, & Self-Protection

Still processing all the amazing recommendations for my 21st-Century Poetry class, and I'll be sharing what I decided on later this month. If anything, I'm amazed by all the rich work being done outside my tiny sphere.

Also been processing the Parkland shooting by way of contacting state legislators: one about gun control, adamantly against the foolish, foolish proposal to create a "teacher marshal" program, and the other is to plea, pointlessly, for supporting funding for the arts. Once again, the Florida House and Senate are in a competition to see which body can offer the least. Both proposals will cut entirely the program that has supported two projects by Ghostbird Theatre Company, and the Senate is cutting the entire grant budget to just over $200,000 (while bankrolling a handful of their own pet projects for home-town museums mostly). 

In my conversations with legislative staff, it appears these cuts in the arts (and a few other social programs) are about supporting the $67 million needed to provide the training of teachers to qualify as "deputies": this training involves 132 hours of target practice, "high intensity" simulations, and lectures. The teacher will receive a one-time bonus of $500. It appears the cost of arming the teacher will be up to individual school districts. Essentially, it's a self-selecting process (just a standard background check and some kind of psychological analysis) with no benefit to the teacher so that it'll attract those who are just itching to be packing heat.

So I'm hating on Florida theses days.

On the other hand, I've been contracted to write a book review on Annemarie Ní Churreáin's Bloodroot (and I have so much to consider way beyond what I touched on in my blog entry), and I am looking forward to some slow, deep reading.

There's also the forthcoming AWP Conference in Tampa, a short two-hour drive away, with the promise of a kajillion poets I love coming to my neck of the woods. I'm not sure I'll be there, though.

There's also this play I'm writing, and it's quicksand, a lovely, consuming thing.

And all the usual life stuff, including a letter I'm writing for my brother's parole hearing. A wife's lingering illness/condition, a low-grade suffering I cannot allay. Good things for my son. Busy-ness with the theatre company. The clog of tourists. Oh, and the insanity of national politics. All occurring in what is an easy, cushy, privileged life.

I think of how necessary self-protection is for any artist, any writer. We allow ourselves to be permeable, to absorb the toxins of ordinary life as we witness the cruelties, the injustices, and the farce, as we avail ourselves to love and madness and indifference, and then we isolate ourselves, take time away, to selfishly create a pointless little thing, something pretty and disturbing. Self-doubt chaffs us. The gods mock us. Family members who really, really love us, worry. And if that's not enough, we cannibalize our own lot. Or worse, we engage in branding and self-promotion and career building, one part ambition, one part imposter-syndrome, and one part delusion, all to say that what we do is really, really important. I am changing the world with my art!

By self-protection, I guess I mean the usual things that so many writers do advocate: accepting the selfishness, sanctifying the time and space we need to contemplate and create, taking care of the temple by hydrating, sleeping, and eating well, giving one the right to just tune out and decompress and disengage from social media. Yoga. Meditation. Drugs. 

But I also think self-protection is sometimes about dropping out entirely. I realize sometimes the dropping out is purely economic, where you can't afford to take the time to write, or that you've gone so out of fashion that it's pointless to hassle that gallery or to bother that agent. Dropping out can be about the hegemonic structure that keeps you out, where you recognize that trying to gain recognition and acclaim will require a capitulation too dear to pay. Those are necessary acts of self-protection.

And then here's my garden-variety of self-protection: to strike against the tyranny of "community." Is there anything worse than a community of poets, a big, empowering, mutually-supporting, wholesome association, with manifestos, associations, union dues, pledges, petitions, magazines, conferences, festivals, reading series, presses, by-laws, constitutions, mission statements, objectives? (Of course, there is. Of course.)

Yes, I want to be a part of the community--here, the blog revival tour is an example of that. Yes, I want my credentials and awards to be certified and recognized. Yes, I want to be a part of something larger than myself. And yet, the cost of this affiliation? I think the best artists are those who do genuinely and selflessly engage with their communities, but are in continual struggle against that community, sometimes dropping out entirely, occasionally dropping in. For me, it's about celebrating what is truly errant, digressive, resilient, unhappy, and disruptive, that part of us which is a lousy team-player, an unproductive company-man.  

Everyone on the team is rushing together to put out that fire, to be a part of the decoration committee for the prom, to raise that barn--and yet, usually, there is someone who wanders off, who walks away from the commotion, a person who had always been there with us, and who has now disappeared. The committee's work goes on. The drop out, well, she's found another road, a pretty distraction, a quiet and uncomplicated space, where she can find something else about her gifted life.