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Hi, loves. 🌿
On holding onto what's good, & answers to your Summer School queries!
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One of the boons of this sabbatical has been the chance to imagine a different kind of life — or perhaps, a different way to live said life. So often we believe things are the way they are because they simply cannot be any other way — and sometimes that’s true. I can’t change my daughter’s LA school schedule or the distance we travel to get there. I can’t, like I do here, send her off by bike with a kiss and a wave and feel sure that she will arrive before the morning bell in one piece.
Even though there’s a lot I can’t control, I’m still wanting to take note of, and hold onto, some of the ways life has been so much sweeter and easier here and figure out a way to integrate those qualities into my “regular” life back home. This, largely, has to do with the rhythm of my own days: morning novel-writing, lunch, a nap (yes, most days), afternoon work (teaching prep, newsletter, essay writing, meetings, family maintenance, etc.), a 4:20pm pickup, dinner with the family (and often other families), and nighttime teaching. I love crawling into bed in the middle of the day! I love, once in a while, setting aside time in the afternoons to read a book or walk into town to grab a(nother) book, a coffee, a few provisions at M&S. I know these are all privileges that many of us can’t pull off — I won’t be able to pull off half of this when I am back to a 1:45pm pickup — but I want to push a little harder against the why.
I learned the hard way last fall that filling up every square inch of my day with teaching/parenting/texting/schlepping/planning/cooking/cleaning (ie: working myself into the ground) backfires because any of the extra money I earned (and I did earn it!) will, inevitably, be dolled back out to various physical therapists/acupuncturists/bodyworkers just to get myself back into one piece. That’s not a sustainable model.
Part of what I’m getting at is that my existence here in Cambridge has, strangely, not revolved around work or parenting, even while I’m writing more than I have in a decade and parenting a kid through an entirely new experience. The days, somehow, have been mine, for the first time since I became a mother. There’s a spaciousness to the hours that I have desperately needed — that I had forgotten about! — and this is something I want to safeguard even with an entirely different arrangement in LA. I have no idea how to do this, to not immediately become, like every other mother (because, yes, it’s mostly mothers), the person who schleps my kid here and there and makes all the family arrangements and to-do lists and texts all my friends at once and puts my husband’s career first and cooks all the meals and plans them too and sacrifices my own time for the sake of, you know, anyone else’s.
Some of this is about logistics. Since I am a freelancer, I have some control over my schedule and I’ve already done a better job of mapping out my fall to my benefit (a revelation). I’ve decided that I am the person I need to be beholden to (it’s remarkable how hard this was to learn?).
But I think there’s more to it. I wonder what else I could get rid of to allow the days to feel more expansive? To feel less pinched? To feel like I’m living (beyond work and parenting) and not just hurtling from one thing to the next?
Some of it has been modelled here. Yes, academic life can be ridiculously out of touch — no one is going to claim that a bunch of Cambridge professors represent people with “normal” jobs who have normal working schedules. But one thing I’ve been so besotted by in college life is the emphasis on community, on gathering over meals. No matter how hard you’re working, you can stop for a real lunch and a real dinner and a piece of cake in the afternoon. You aren’t meant to scarf down a sad desk salad alone at your desk, you’re meant to stop and engage with other scholars while you eat your cottage pie, or whatever. In other words, even the hardest working among them (and academics are notorious workaholics) have to stop for a time. Those pauses are built into the fabric of life; they aren’t special or extra. They are life.
I don’t imagine myself back home cooking real lunches every day, but the point is more about leaning into what I value, which, it turns out, is space. Space! I had no idea. I’ve been a rusher my whole life, cramming a lot in — friends, plans, schedules, activities, multi-tasking maniacally — and I want that to end.
I guess I’m coming to the realisation that all I have to prove to myself is that I can finish a novel (I didn’t say sell it, I said write it) and relish my teaching, love on my family and friends, especially over delicious meals shared. That’s really all I care about. Obviously more needs to get done (we need clean underwear and people have to be registered for school and to vote, and I will surely be back to political action work too, etc.), but what if I could allow it to be that simple? That straightforward? Do (mostly) the things I care about?
SUMMER SCHOOL STARTS IN A MONTH!
Here are some FAQs, whose answers will hopefully calm your nerves and encourage you to join us:
I’m busy and am worried I will fall behind. Should I sign up anyway?
There is no “falling behind.” There is no “doing it right.” This is a judgement-free, no-pressure zone. I post poems and prompts twice a week. I do this because it felt like a sustainable model last year (enough to chew on, not enough to get overwhelmed). Some people skipped some! Often people found a window and did three in a row! You don’t need to do it all. You retain access to the prompts so you can always come back to them later in the summer/year.
But for real: What’s the time commitment?
Each exercise takes about 10 minutes. You read the poem for a minute or two, then you write for 7-8 minutes. (Then, if you like, you post it; sometimes, depending on how savvy you are with your phone, this can be the most time-consuming part but I’ll give instructions for this, too!) So the writing part takes about 20 minutes a week. Now: if you do post, I ask that you also comment on other people’s work because if we are going to receive feedback, we need to give it, too. (It’s a community of writers, after all.) But this, too, is not a big time suck, a few extra minutes every few days. The feedback can be as short as, “This really made me laugh!” I’ll do some Lives, but those you can also watch at your own pace.
Do I need to write poetry? That scares me.
No! No poetry required. Some people do write it! Others don’t. Most people write short pieces of memoir. Some people use it as a springboard for fiction. Some people write lists. What you write is entirely up to you. The reason I (mostly) use poems as the primary text is because they are short and fit into an Instagram box.
But I’m not a writer.
Over the many years I’ve been teaching writing, I’ve come to see that the title means basically nothing. People who were adamantly “not writers” have brought me to tears or have made me howl with laughter. Just forget the titles and write. I guarantee you will surprise yourself.
What if people say mean things about my work/don’t get me?
They won’t because I will not allow it. (And if they do, they are immediately booted — this was not a problem last year, even though we were 125 strong!) I am very clear about how people are meant to respond to each other and it is NOT a place for critiques or even questions. It is a place for encouragement and support only.
Do I have to share my work with a bunch of strangers?
You do absolutely do not! You are welcome to come onto Instagram to get the poems and prompts and then write them in your journal and share them with no one. But! I will say, part of the joy is the way other people end up cheering you on, supporting you, leaving such loving comments. The community part is a big, big part of this.
It is the most fun! And the more people the better it is. Please consider joining us! And if you already have, bring a friend. You can read all about it here and please email me back with any and all questions. xx
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