I am talking with a friend when I find myself saying to her, “Yes, I’m a feminist.”
A few days each week, Zach watches Ramona for a chunk of hours so I can bike off to the library or Panera or Starbucks to have some solid writing and reading time. I spend much of this time reading poetry, writing and revising poetry, and occasionally blogging.
And one quick, stabbing duty I perform every single time I do work: check in on Submittable. Quite a few journals use Submittable to manage writers’ submissions to their publication. My goal is to submit my poetry at least once every three weeks, so my Submittable account is filled with many of my attempts at publishing. I keep an Excel spreadsheet of all my publishing attempts (Submittable, paper submission, direct email, etc.), but there’s something special about signing in to Submittable and scrolling through all those stark red “Declined” statuses. Here’s a screenshot for you:
Lovely, no? In the last twelve months, I’ve written somewhere around 50 poems, I’ve sent groupings of these poems to 14 journals, and I’ve had a total of four poems accepted for publication.
My first thought here is that I should be submitting to more places. I’m also tempted to consider my poetry’s worth on the scale of how many “Accepted” submissions I have versus how many “Declined.” But I know such thinking is foolish. Even well-known poets have to send their work out relentlessly, over and over and over, if they hope to see it published. And so I loop back around to the thought, Send out more! Send them out more frequently! Hop to it, woman!
Honestly, I don’t usually mind the rejection (though it does irk me that Wisconsin Review never updated the status of my submission from “In-Progress” to “Accepted”). What feels more important to me is the work, and I believe the work itself has value to myself, my poetry group, my family and friends, even if it’s never seen by strangers or accepted by publishers.
I have this wish that every neighborhood would have a resident poet, someone who includes a poem in a neighborhood newsletter and holds readings and poetry gatherings. Because in me, there is a need for poetry, for the way it can capture a moment or a mood, the way it can express despair and beauty, the way it carefully arranges language so that in very few words, a reader can find a deep affinity with the poet. Poetry can bring us together, and it can bring us into awareness of the lives of people unlike us. And I think the writing of poetry can be powerful in the life of the poet, too, even if their work is not critically successful.
I love to buy new stuff. I love wandering thrift store racks, searching for skirts with eclectic patterns, for vintage dresses, for name-brand purses. And I love to buy shoes on Zappos. I love waiting for packages from Amazon. It’s really the best, pulling from cardboard something bright and shiny, something that still smells of warehouse and factory.
But I don’t believe in buying new stuff. Buying another thing I don’t need–duplicative purses, more skirts than days of the month, shoes in every color–it’s not healthy for me. Because no matter how many purchases I make, the hunger for unboxing never abets. I am never sated.
When I spend my time and money on new stuff, I’m encouraging and living out of my discontent. I’m also exploiting underpaid workers and feeding a system that undervalues the humanity of the targeted consumer. I’m accepting the religion of upward mobility, of upper middle class-ism, of a hierarchy that values the rich and the privileged and, at best, ignores the needy and the oppressed. What about living out of contentedness, Christianity, love, and justice?
I have been pointed to the blog Un-Fancy by several people in my life, and most recently by this mom’s post. As I read, I thought to myself, You know, you need to start acting on what you believe. You need to simplify and you need to stop buying. So I was inspired to start by raiding my closet.
I didn’t do the capsule wardrobe. Instead, I decided I’d get rid of 3/4 of my clothes. And then I wouldn’t buy anything new until something I had wore out. (My old friends will remember I did something like this sophomore year of college! I made it most of the school year before buying some pants at Gap.)
Bagging up all those clothes, many of which I still liked a lot, didn’t feel good. And now sometimes I miss some of the things I got rid of, but I still think it was the right move for me. I want to feel good about the person that I am and the things I put my time into. Putting so much emphasis on presenting myself just so through an ever-growing wardrobe was not something I wanted to spend my time doing.
Really, emptying my closet was the easy part. The hard part is not filling it again–and not just shifting my focus from clothes to other purchases. After dropping off about six packed garbage bags of clothes at St. Vinny’s, I bought a new water bottle. And a week later, I ordered a new backpack online. No good.
It was hard for me to stop spending money. It’s such an enjoyable pastime! I knew I needed to resolve myself to more than just a small wardrobe. I had to commit to a small everything–to the idea that one of something is enough, to the mindset that I am a good seamstress and I can fix what I have to work well enough. To the belief that I don’t need new to be happy–that, in fact, new will not make me happy even if I indulge in every purchase I desire.
After all, the center of my existence is not my investment in capitalist America. It’s my belief in a Jesus who loves and accepts us (everyone!) along with our crazy, my faith in a God who has set in my heart passions for words and for the craft of my hands. The center of my existence should be spreading love and justice, writing poetry, creating beautiful things. (And here I think, Ah, if only money didn’t make the world go round….)
I want to start a new pattern, to recommit to truth and beauty and justice. To meditate on this Bible verse: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” (Philippians 4:8-9, The Message)
For much of my life I thought myself unhappy. I thought that I’d be happy once the “next thing” happened. I tried to fight this feeling, made the tagline of my life, “Endeavoring to live in ‘now,’ not in ‘soon.'” I struggled greatly against pressing ever forward to some future place where I’d finally feel fulfilled.
This has changed in the last two years. Before Ramona was born, I believed having children would be the thing that finally completed my happy scene. It was the “next thing.” After she was born, I was, for the first time I think, legitimately unhappy. Not depressed, just miserable. I found myself finally and unavoidably confronted with my great depravity, with my insatiable desire for ever-greener pastures.
Here I was, living a dream of mine, and I was full of bitterness: giving birth had been a waking nightmare, breastfeeding was painful and stressful, and the always, always-present demands from Ramona became infinitely taxing. I had crossed over the green hill and found myself in a vast desert valley. And it was here, in this desert, that I gave up on looking forward to better days. I realized that the future holds no unbreakable promise of greater happiness—it may in fact hold greater pain. It’s a thing I always knew in my head was possible but never believed in my heart would come to pass.
As day by day I began to fall in love with Ramona (the nature of her birth did not allow for that instant connection some mothers experience after giving birth), I also experienced sorrow upon sorrow. When Ramona was a week old, there was a death in the family. Around that time breastfeeding took an awful dive and we resorted to pumping and dropper feeding. I became very nervous about Ramona’s feedings, and when she had a nursing strike a few months later, I began a hard journey through delayed letdown issues that never really resolved for as long as I was nursing her. I felt lonely and isolated from other mothers; I had a hard time figuring out how to balance mothering with my own personal needs. I wrote a whole series of heart-sore poems like this:
But as all this was unfolding, I was also learning finally how to live in the now, how to be thankful for the beauty still present in my life, for the simple things: a glass of cool water; clean, folded diapers; a ray of light piercing through the living room curtains; blue snow glimpsed out the window during a late-night nursing session. I thought to myself, Perhaps things will get better. But maybe they won’t. I’d be a fool to not search for light and loveliness in my life right now.
And so I found the grace in all that pain. In many ways, my life is easier now. But the lesson has stayed with me: revel in whatever beauty is in this one day, this one moment, even if the big things are all going wrong, even if I’m crying in pain or screaming in frustration. Acknowledge the beauty; it’s there—and it is the only guaranteed good because tomorrow might be greener, or it might be a vaster desert.
If I can let the light in on the dark days, I will be all the more able to bask in the light of the best and brightest days.
I have let go of wistful dreaming for the future. I realize sorrow is probably lurking somewhere in my future, sorrow that may match that of the past. But I don’t dwell on that either. Instead I take the gift of today and do my best to be ever thankful.
Earlier this month, my mom and I took a weekend retreat to Christ in the Wilderness, a nearby hermitage. Below is a journal entry from my final day there:
I stand in the clean June night watching clouds wisp around a small curl of moon. I ache with the beauty of these bright days: classes out for Zach, Ramona scooting and sitting and working her way towards crawling, and I wading into the happiness of our little family through my writing. What a joy.
This weekend is Zach’s birthday and Father’s Day. I am so thankful for my husband, who has stood so firmly and tenderly beside me through this tumultuous year: the wrenching birth of Ramona, the death of a loved one, all our struggles adjusting to parenthood. What a mercy it is to journey with him, one who knows my heart so well.
The moon rises higher in the sky’s cool pitch as we now settle into sleep and dream of the long road, and the grace of this peaceful valley.