Come what May

Tree-sized rhododendron in full bloom, with vibrant, deep-pink blooms, spilling over the top of a fence

May was a quick month, wasn’t it? The return of sunshine. Possibilities. Beginnings and endings. Petals everywhere.

I started two different posts in the last month, but I didn’t finish either of them. They were angry rants that I suspected no one would care much about. I hardly did, even though I care very much about the issues they addressed. (Hence, the anger.) I didn’t care about my rants, though. I found myself wanting to do other things with my time. So I did them.

I signed up for and began a poetry class with Bethany Reid. I first met Bethany nearly 40 years ago, when we were both students in Nelson Bentley‘s poetry workshop at the University of Washington. In our first session, she shared words her sister-in-law gave her when she was a young mother struggling to finish her dissertation and thinking about putting it aside until her children were in school:

“‘Nobody cares if you don’t finish your dissertation. But you will care.'”

Bethany continued: “Nobody will care if you don’t write your poems. But you will care.”

As I sat with those words, they opened up something in me that I didn’t fully realize I’d been keeping closed.

In 2010, after a writing residency that allowed me to work at writing in a way I never had before, I made a conscious decision to step away from writing poetry and writing for publication. I was in the weeds of single-parenting with a hostile co-parent. I was working a full-time job in K-12 education that was kicking my butt. I was in early recovery from…a lot of things.

It was a relief to let my writing aspirations go. It felt freeing. It had been so hard to do something so important to me in the piecemeal ways that were the only ones I could manage, and letting go of that effort felt like putting a burden down.

I want to be clear here, because there is so much bullshit out in the world about what it takes to do creative work that can make anyone who wants to and doesn’t feel as if their failings are entirely personal: Piecemeal was the only way I could manage writing in those days, and it wasn’t getting my work where I wanted it to go. The residency helped me see that. My problems with writing were not about a lack of will or discipline or ability. They were about a lack of resources. They were about how I prioritized the ones I had. The residency helped me see that, too. The other things I was doing with my time, energy, and intellect mattered more to me than any poetry I might create. Because I knew–as Bethany’s sister-in-law, and then Bethany herself knew–that nobody would care if I didn’t write my poems, but I would care if I couldn’t mother and teach in the ways I felt compelled to do.

Also: It just cost me too much to get so little result from what took so much effort. Truly, I needed sleep more than I needed to write in the ways I had been.

I don’t regret the poems/books I haven’t written in the past 13 years or the decisions I made. I made the right choices for my family and me, given my givens. It’s nice to feel no ambivalence about that. But, somehow, Bethany’s words cracked open an opposing truth: I also care that my poems weren’t written. Even if no one else does, even if no one would have published them, even if a lot of things about the literary world repel me.

I wish I had been able to write them. I will probably always be at least a little sad that I couldn’t. Or didn’t.

But: I am in a different place now. It’s a place where I have room to write in ways that I couldn’t before, and Bethany’s words are giving me some kind of permission I have not been able to give myself, even as my situation has changed. Until now.

When I retired and people asked if I were going to do more writing, I was non-committal. I didn’t know if I wanted to. I didn’t know if that would be a good use of my time. I still don’t, but my thinking is shifting, and Bethany’s words are providing some kind of catalyst. “No one cares” is so freeing. If no one really cares about the poems I don’t write, I’m free to create whatever I want, however I want, just because I want to. I don’t have to justify the resources I give to it by thinking that the work will really matter to the larger world. I can write poems simply because I will care if I don’t. That’s reason enough when I have the resources I need to make writing a higher priority.

I’m not sure what making writing a higher priority might look in practice, but I’m pretty sure it will mean writing less here. Or maybe writing differently here. Writing this blog is a thing that allowed me to be OK with not writing in a more serious way, and I’m grateful for how it’s served me. Now, though, I don’t want it to get in the way of other writing I want to do. Maybe it has been, and that’s part of why I haven’t felt able to write here in the ways I once did. Maybe the shifting was already in progress, and Bethany’s words were just a nudge I needed to get to where I was already going.

I have more resources than I used to, but they aren’t unlimited. I still need to make choices, especially with the resource of time. During the past month, as I haven’t been writing here, I’ve been working on revising an essay I began several years ago. I’ve been reading more, both poetry and essays. (Removed social media apps from my phone. Highly recommend.) I drafted a poem (following my first session of Bethany’s class). I’ve taken more photos, looking more closely at the world, which always feeds my words. Those choices felt good, and right. I want to keep making them.

Time is only getting shorter, always, for all of us, something I’m feeling more and more all the time. In what’s left of mine, I want my work–my life–to grow the way our climbing roses do after we cut them back to the quick each winter: quickly, widely, freely, and full of blooms.

15 thoughts on “Come what May

  1. Kari says:

    I’m glad you’re taking that class and prioritizing your writing.
    I was just talking to Mike about the act of “so what do you do?” yesterday. and how much I dislike it. For a long time, I was caught in that trap. I felt like I needed to be busy, like I needed to be doing something with my writing. It had to have a purpose, a goal. I’ve felt a greater sense of freedom since letting go of that mindset.

    I’m always happy when I see one of your posts in my feed. I’m so glad I live in the age of bloggers.

    • Rita says:

      I hear you. When I was getting ready to retire, I was in a conversation with someone who asked me what I was going to do now, and I said I wasn’t sure. She pressed me, and I finally jokingly (because I’ve been socialized to be nice) said, “I’m just going to be. Exist on a higher plane.” She laughed, but then she said, “No, really. What are you going to *do* all day? You have to do something!” The thing that really bugged me was that she had been a SAHM for years, and her children (like mine) are now grown. I thought she, of all people, would understand that there’s plenty to do just to keep a family functioning.

      I’m also always happy to see a post from you. 🙂

  2. Marian says:

    “I wish I had been able to write them. I will probably always be at least a little sad that I couldn’t. Or didn’t.” This part really hits home with me, Rita. I’ve made some of the same choices you have, and am mostly okay with those decisions, but there’s a part of me that will always wonder what might have happened if I had made different decisions—or if I had different resources.

    This post feels a bit like a good-bye, so I want to wish you well, just in case it actually *is*. I know how much effort goes into blogging, just as I know time is finite—and if you care equally about other things (making a comfortable home, cooking real food, being there for the people in your life)—it’s hard to fit it all in.

    Take care and be well, Rita 🙂
    xo Marian

    • Rita says:

      Hi Marian,
      I know you know, and have had similar dilemmas. I suppose we all do, and that resources and resource needs include factors that go beyond time and money to include such things as temperaments, abilities/disabilities, health, etc. I’m sure others in my situation have done more than I was able to, but I’ve done what I could. Like you, I’m mostly okay with it all. It’s so nice to finally be in a place of being mostly okay. At least about those things. 🙂

      I don’t think this is a good-bye post. I have hated when bloggers just drift off and leave us wondering. It’s more of a “I’m going through some changes and maybe won’t be showing up in the same way but it’s all okay” post. Hope I didn’t sound too dramatic. It really is all okay.

  3. TD says:

    Hi Rita, I feel the same as Marian, “This post feels a bit like a good-bye, so I want to wish you well, just in case it actually *is*. I know how much effort goes into blogging, just as I know time is finite…”. I want to join her in wishing you the very best to whatever you pursue. I have enjoyed reading your blog through the years.

    I too wonder if I had made other choices and more resources what would have happened and where would I b now in this so confusing world.

    Take care.

    • Rita says:

      I’ll still be here, and if I ever do decide to leave this space behind, I’ll make sure I’m clear about that. Your last thought makes me think of the movie “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see other versions of how our lives might have gone? I think it would be, anyway. I think it might give us peace of mind. I guess that’s because I tend to think that no matter what choices we make, there are always things lost and things gained. There’s no way through in which we get to have it all.

      • TD says:

        I’m glad that you will be here in this space a little while longer. I have not seen this movie, I just went to watch the trailer. I think it would be interesting to have some clarity of how our lives might have gone. Perhaps peace of mind. I also learned that there are things of loss and things of gain (not equal in balance) from our choices. Even though I have lived in the era of bombardment of advertisements that “We can have it all.” and struggling to achieve that, it was all a misguided cruel myth. My answer to the retirement question what are you going to do is I’m going to watch the grass grow only to get a response of you should get a part time job. Ugh.

        • Rita says:

          Yeah, I got a lot of “you can have it all” messages when I was growing up. It was the second wave of feminism, and I wanted to believe those promises. I was naive in many ways. Ignorant, too. I think I’m fortunate that I’m mostly OK with where I am now. It could have been so much worse. I feel lucky.

          I think watching the grass could be a part-time job. I’m sorry you got such an insensitive response.

  4. Kate says:

    I am looking forward to seeing how this chapter unfolds for you. While you may not be showing up here in the same way moving forward, I hope you still do. Like Marian, I felt this post signaled a good-bye. Not a dramatic or overly vague one, just a plan to be quiet while you focus on other things.

    I’m loving your photographs. Particularly the good truck and planting area ones.

    Wishing you success in whatever way that looks for you in all your endeavors – writing and otherwise!! Xoxo.

    • Rita says:

      A plan to be quiet while focusing on other things sounds exactly right. Thank you for giving me better words. 🙂

      I’d like to take more photos with people in them. I never feel comfortable doing that–afraid they won’t like it, probably. Objects are much less risky, aren’t they?

      Thank you for the good wishes.

  5. Dave Bonta says:

    ‘“No one cares” is so freeing. If no one really cares about the poems I don’t write, I’m free to create whatever I want, however I want, just because I want to.’
    Absofreakinlutely! I look forward to maybe someday reading the results (or not – no pressure of course).
    For me, being able finally to write the way I’ve always wanted to write, and sitting down each morning with faith that the words will come, is a continual source of joy, even with the rest of my life pretty much fallen apart around me. For role models, we have the classical Chinese poets for whom poems were so often first and foremost missives to particular friends. I think about this sometimes when I hit the Publish button and circulate my poems to a small handful of friends, family, and perhaps a few dozen curious strangers. We appear to be going the way of all empires, but there’s always friendship and poetry, and maybe Du Fu was right that at least the rivers and mountains will endure.

    • Rita says:

      I always appreciate the writing you share, and I appreciate these words more than I can say. Thank you for giving them to me. I do believe that friendship and poetry will survive longer than the empire, longer than me or any of those I love, and there is comfort in that, isn’t there?

  6. Ally Bean says:

    Many bloggers I know are slowly sliding away from blogland to pursue writing dreams. On a personal selfish level I feel wistful, but I applaud anyone who has a writing dream and pursues it. Bethany’s advice “But you will care” is spot on. We give so much of ourselves to others who don’t care about our needs, so you gotta care about yourself. Obvious advice, but truthful.

    • Rita says:

      If I have a writing dream, it’s so amorphous right now I don’t know what it is. I feel something tugging at me, though, and I want to give it the time and space and protection it needs to take shape. Which doesn’t mean not writing here, but…time. There’s only so much of it, right?

      As so many have noted, there are seasons in life. I spent decades in one that was all about giving care. It feels weird to be in one that is able to be less about that. But also, full of possibility. At the same time, I’m so grateful for bloggers and readers of my blog. I like mutual care-giving, and that’s what blogging communities feel like to me. I certainly see that in yours.

      Someday, I’m gonna figure it all out. (And then I’ll die. Hah!)

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