JC’s Confessions #23

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, then a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

National Poetry Month Edition:

I’ve been struggling to regain my sense of myself as a poet.

This is ironic because, when I first turned to poetry as a means of self-expression ten or so years ago, I didn’t have any problem calling myself a poet. I was writing poems, so I was a poet. I remember early on reading a short essay from a person who had an MFA in poetry, had published at least one book, and was editing a poetry journal, but couldn’t bring himself to say that he was a poet because he wasn’t suffering for his art. I was perplexed.

I managed to still think of myself as a poet through the labyrinth of dealing with years of family health and caretaking issues. I was still writing and workshopping and doing residencies with the Boiler House Poets Collective and doing sessions with the Binghamton Poetry Project and Broome County Arts Council. I wasn’t submitting to journals as much as I should have, but I did put together two manuscripts, one chapbook and one full-length collection, which I started submitting to contests and publishers. In recent months, I have also been submitting individual poems to journals more often.

Perhaps I had forgotten the level of rejection that is inherent in the submission process. Some of the recent rejections I have received with manuscripts have chosen one for publication from a field of 800-900. I mean, do the math. Somehow, though, even knowing that the odds are not remotely in my favor has not shielded me from questioning whether I am a publishable poet, or even a poet at all.

Meanwhile, several of my poet-friends have published or are in the process of publishing their first books. I’m very happy for them and buy and help promote their work but it makes me wonder what is wrong with me that I’m only garnering a long list of rejections. What does it say about me that, when I see publication credits for other poets, I can often mentally tick off which of their presses have rejected me?

Things are better these past few weeks. The publications of my work for an Ekphrastic Review challenge and in Wilderness House Literary Review buoyed me through the latest round of journal and manuscript rejections that the spring has brought. I’ve participated in National Poetry Month projects with the Broome County and Tioga Arts Councils. Binghamton Poetry Project has been having their spring workshops, so I’ve been working on craft and writing from their prompts, once or twice a week. I’ve even gotten several unsolicited comments from my blog posts, saying that I am a good writer, which is somehow still encouraging of my sense as a poet. Writing is writing, whatever the form.

The question is whether I can keep my re-discovered sense of my identity as a poet from being buried by the avalanche of rejections that are sure to come. When I first set a goal of publishing a book by the time I was sixty, a goal that I failed to meet, I told myself that it didn’t matter if I ever published a book. After all, it’s not that I write for a living.

It would be best if I can get back to concentrating on reaching people with my work within my community sphere. I do consider myself to be an accessible, community poet. If I can do that, then I could look at publishing in a broader context as a bonus if it happens, not as a measure of my worth as a poet.

Please remind me when I am in doubt again.

One-Liner Wednesday: hope in community

Until we find the communal meaning and significance of the suffering of all life, we will continue to retreat into our individual, small worlds in our misguided quest for personal safety and sanity.

Richard Rohr

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/04/13/one-liner-wednesday-creepy-enough/

SoCS: Linda

Way to go, Linda! Today marks the eighth anniversary of Stream of Consciousness Saturday on Linda’s blog, Life in Progress. I and so many others have connected with each other as bloggers through SoCS, One-Liner Wednesdays, and Just Jot it January, all thanks to Linda G. Hill.

Check out Linda’s blog and her books! Join us for SoCS and/or One-Liner Wednesdays! Whether you contribute posts or just read along, it’s all good.

And again, thanks so much, Linda!

Way to go!
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “way to go.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/03/04/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-5-2022/

Review: Encanto

When we went to the UK to visit our family for the holidays, four-year-old granddaughter ABC watched the Disney film Encanto frequently. I was impressed with it but hadn’t realized how popular it had become until after we returned to the US and it seems that I run into commentary on it several times a week, including news that the soundtrack and individual songs from Encanto have been appearing in high positions in the Billboard charts.

For the few of you who may not know, Encanto tells the story of the Madrigal family from Columbia who use their magical gifts to help their community. Granddaughter Mirabel appears not to have been given a magical gift but her strong love for her family and their home powers the story.

Much of the commentary that I’ve seen concentrates on how important it is to have this portrayal of a Latinx family and story, along with inclusion of Spanish in the dialogue and songs. I agree with this point but want to note some other ways that this film feels inclusive to me. As someone whose family is racially diverse, I appreciate that the Madrigals have Indigenous and Black roots, as well as (presumably) European. As someone who wore glasses from a young age, I love that Mirabel wears glasses. I could get all metaphorical about clarity of vision, but I won’t. It’s just nice to see a positive portrayal of a girl who wears glasses in an animated movie.

The biggest point of inclusivity for me is the complexities of the family relationship. The most popular song in the soundtrack, the ensemble piece “We Don’t Talk about Bruno”, reminds me that my own family had an uncle that was seldom mentioned for mysterious reasons. We see Mirabel and her non-magical father struggle with finding their place within the family, which is a familiar issue in many families, for example, when a very sports-oriented family has a member who would rather be singing in the chorus than out on the field with a ball.

We also see the double-edged sword of trying to live up to family expectations. While it’s admirable that members of the family want to use their gifts to serve the family and the community, it’s all too easy to see each only for that one gift and not for the complex being that they are. This leads to feeling that it is only that gift that makes you valuable or loved. The clearest expression of this is “Surface Pressure”, the song that Mirabel’s sister Luisa sings. Luisa’s gift is that she is very strong, so she is much in demand at home and in the village. The song shows how difficult it is to deal with the pressure of those demands and her own worries and insecurities. She sings, “Under the surface/I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.” Ouch. How often in our families do we pigeonhole someone in a specific role, overlooking other attributes and gifts they bring? How often do we take for granted the work that someone does or make it seem that they are only valuable in what they can do, not in who they are as a person?

To me, among Mirabel’s gifts are love, thoughtfulness, insight, curiosity, caring, and truthfulness. None of them are “magical” but the results of them can be miraculous.

They can be for our own families and communities, too, if we honor those gifts and each other as Mirabel does.
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/21/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-21st-2022/

One-Liner Wednesday: MLK quote

It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January and/or One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/19/one-liner-wednesday-jusjojan-the-19th-2022-voice-to-text/

One-Liner Wednesday: community

It would seem that, quite possibly, the ultimate measure of health in any community might well reside in our ability to stand in awe at what folks have to carry rather than in judgment at how they carry it. 

Gregory Boyle

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/08/one-liner-wednesday-july-8th-that-feeling-when/

Badge by Laura @ riddlefromthemiddle.com

Good-bye, Bob!

Over the weekend, I was serendipitiously at Paco’s senior living community on an errand when a special event happened.

Residents – in masks and safely spaced – were lining the lane and parking lot with signs, flags, and noisemakers, awaiting a drive-by farewell to a long-time resident.

Like my parents, Bob and his wife were early residents, moving into an independent living apartment shortly after the community opened ten years ago. Sadly, both Bob and Paco are now widowers.

Bob’s daughter, who lives locally and who I met years ago through church, and her husband are re-locating to Tennessee and Bob decided to go with them. In preparation for the move, his things were moved out of the apartment and now the new house is finished and it is time to go.

In pre-COVID times, there would have been a going-away party, but instead Bob was chauffeured through the streets in a vehicle decorated with signs and balloons. With the windows rolled down, he could shout out thank yous and receive well wishes from his friends and neighbors. A second decorated vehicle held his family, who, like mine, were frequent visitors over the years.

We’re happy that Bob will be with his family, but sad to see him go. There are getting to be fewer and fewer residents who moved into the community in the first year.

Another reminder that time marches – or drives – on.

One-Liner Wednesday: COVID-19

I’m thinking today of the 3,000,000+ people worldwide, including 1,000,000+ in the United States, who have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, their friends and family, and all those working in the medical field and all the essential workers serving to keep our communities functioning. ❤
*****
Please join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/04/29/one-liner-wednesday-april-29th-2020-ladies

Badge by Laura @ riddlefromthemiddle.com

sheltering in place

Like most of the people in the United States and those in many other countries, my spouse B, adult daughter T, and I are sheltering in place. This is not a great hardship for us. We are among the most fortunate of families. B can work from home indefinitely if necessary. With so much of the economy shut down, T will need to delay applying for  jobs, but she is safe and content here with us. Some of my poetry activities have moved to Zoom, so I still get to workshop poems. I’ve been able to participate in more social justice and environmental webinars because I am nearly always at home.

The biggest sacrifice for me is that I can no longer visit my father, who is 95 and living in a senior community. I’ve tried to set everything up so I can help out by phone only, but it is certainly not as effective as being there every day. My sisters and I call him every day at various times. I always call in the morning to check in and help him decide on his dinner order. Because they have had to close the common rooms, including dining, meals are being delivered and orders need to be in by 11 AM. It is stressful not to be able to visit, but I admit that is less stressful than worrying that I might inadvertently infect my dad and a building-full of vulnerable seniors with COVID-19 because I was pre- or asymptomatic.

I have had to change some of my shopping and meal habits. I was used to going to the grocery store several times a week and planning dinner a day or two at a time. Now that shopping is supposed to be just once a week (or two weeks), I’m being much more diligent about planning meals and having ingredients on hand. This is still complicated by supply problems. While I would love to go to one store and get everything on my list, there are still times when shelves are empty for a whole category of items. We are also now wearing cloth masks in public places, so my next shopping trip will be accomplished with a stylish cloth napkin and hair tie number made using this video. We don’t have to wear masks when we go out for walks in the neighborhood, though. There are not many people out at any particular juncture, so it is easy to stay more than six feet apart.

It’s been interesting to me to hear and read how others are dealing with staying inside with their families. I’ve seen a lot of people talking about the stress of being with their children 24/7. Because it was my privilege to be the full-time-at-home parent with our daughters, I was used to that lifestyle. Parents who aren’t used to full-time family togetherness because even days off were usually filled with out-of-home activities are discussing the revelation, sometimes accompanied by nervous laughter.

There is a lot of stress about not knowing how long shelter at home policies will be in place. People are suffering from lack of their usual routines and comings and goings and want to know when things will be “back to normal.” In reflecting on this, I realized that I’ve spent so many years dealing with uncertainty – multi-generational caregiving does not lend itself to predictability – that I am not upset by not knowing what will come next and when. I’m not cavalier about it; I do follow the news, perhaps more than I should, and try to prepare myself for a range of possibilities, but I’m not assuming things will return to the way they were soon or ever.  I’m trying to advocate for positive social change, the pendulum swinging back to a more community approach than a hyper-individualistic one. I think the pandemic has made many people acutely aware of our interdependence and the vast numbers of people in the United States that live economically precarious lives. It has shown us how vulnerable we all are from a medical standpoint, especially those who have underlying illnesses, many of whom are not being treated adequately due to cost barriers. Cities around the world are noticing what it is like to have cleaner air. Perhaps this period of disruption and radical change to our way of life will demonstrate that the changes needed to address the climate crisis are possible and engender the political will to put it in place.

Well, that paragraph certainly covered a lot of ground, but that is the way JC’s mind tends to work…

That does, though, bring me to the last point I want to address.

Many people have talked about feeling scattered in these times. They are finding it hard to concentrate, to finish tasks, or even start them. I admit that this is disconcerting. It is also the way I have felt for years. People who know me personally or who have been reading TJCM for years know that I have been in the midst of dealing with the death of my mother-in-law, the final illness and death of my mother, and the permanent re-location of my daughter E and granddaughter ABC to the UK after having them live with us for over two years. It’s a lot of grief and loss. I often tell people that I feel like I have holes in my brain. The pandemic and the political situation in the United States added to the mix of personal issues make it more difficult.

If you are not used to this feeling of being scattered, it may help you to think about our present situation in the context of grief  or loss. Talking about it can help. Writing can, too, if that feels better or safer for you.

Even acknowledging it to yourself can be helpful.

And knowing you are not alone.

helping out

I decided to postpone my planned post for today to respond to the Just Jot It January prompt of the day – “self.”

As my parents have aged and encountered more health problems, I have taken on more of their household tasks myself. Because they have lived for a number of years in a continuing care senior community, some of the cleaning and cooking is taken care of, but I have been helping with laundry, shopping, banking, etc.

Today, I represented my parents at the funeral of one of the other residents, who had lived there almost as long as my parents. She was also a stalwart of our church. She had been able to be very active until the last few months, when she had a stroke and other complications.

I was able to speak to a couple of the other residents after the service. They were upset, as one would expect. One of them told me that she had told my father he needed to live at least another ten years, which given that he is turning 94 in March, is a bit of a tall order. Still, there is one woman who is in independent living who is 110, so who knows?
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Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/08/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-8th/
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/

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