upcoming reunion

Later this week, I will travel to Northampton, Massachusetts to attend my fortieth reunion at Smith College. We only found out on March first that our reunion would be on campus rather than virtual, so a lot of direct preparation was done relatively quickly and closer to the event than in prior iterations.

One unexpected task that fell to me was updating our class website. I was lucky that it was built on the WordPress platform, although it was still using the classic rather than the block editor. Fortunately, I have been blogging long enough that I had experience with the older editor, although it did take a fair amount of reaching into my memory banks to resurrect some of the particulars. It was also good that there were templates in place from our reunion five years ago so that I didn’t have to build from scratch.

I am fortunate to live close enough to drive, so I didn’t have to worry about plane reservations. I did decide to come into town a day early to see some friends who live in the area before reunion begins. Due to pandemic protocols, the campus is not open to the public as it usually is, so it made sense to see friends before and then stay on campus exclusively once reunion begins.

All alums and guests had to prove they are vaccinated and boosted to register to attend. Many of the activities and meals will be held outdoors with masks in use for indoor events other than while eating and drinking. Campus will be very busy because our reunion coincides with commencement weekend this year, so the seniors and their guests, along with students who are participating in or working for the festivities and staff members, will be thronging the buildings and grounds. (It could be worse. All reunions used to be held on commencement weekend. Now, only some are with the rest happening the following weekend.)

I’m working on final preparations for packing. I have to remember to bring an all-white outfit for the Ivy Day parade and ceremony, one of the very-long-standing traditions of the College. I’ll need to be prepared for the changeable weather of a New England spring. I also need to be prepared to deal with my new orthodontia, which is causing more than a little anxiety.

The most fraught thing is trying to decide what to bring for one of our class events. We are having an open mic-style reading of things from our student days. I’ve known for months that this was planned but I was in no mood to look back that far. Our class theme is “Writing Our Next Chapter” and I would have much preferred looking forward, but I recently decided that I should look for something to add to the event.

B helped me excavate some of my old memorabilia boxes. To my shock, I found some papers going back to elementary school, including a poetry journal that I had thought was lost long ago. There were some high school papers, too. I read an interview assignment that a friend and I had done in journalism class our senior year. The bulk of the papers were from college, though. Note books from some of my most important classes. Music I had written for theory and composition classes. Yellow books for midterm exams and blue books for finals. Final papers carefully typed on corrasable bond.

I had hoped to find some of my letters but their whereabouts are still a mystery. I did, though, find the one notebook that I thought might have something from my college years worth sharing – a journal that I was assigned to keep as part of an adult psychology course I took the fall semester of my senior year.

The journal was designed to be self-reflective, as well as responding to course readings and discussions, so I thought I might find something personally substantive rather than just academic to share. Something that represented who I was at twenty-one. Something that would be authentic but not totally mortifying in hindsight.

And I did.

Before I go on, I should explain what that semester was like for me. I was taking adult psychology and a course on women and philosophy, an early foray into what eventually evolved into the women and gender studies department. I chose these courses in hopes of learning things that would be helpful to me in my life after graduation. I was also taking a seminar in music composition and preparing for my senior recital, a full-length organ program on stage at John M. Greene Hall. B and I were engaged and our wedding was already planned at Smith a few weeks after my commencement. I was very much in a preparatory mode for my future “adult” life.

And then, things happened.

There were two unexpected deaths in October. The first was a classmate who was killed in a plane accident over October break. The second was B’s grandfather, his last remaining grandparent. Then, at Thanksgiving in late November, B had a bad car accident, as in, his car wound up on its roof in an icy, but thankfully shallow, river. He wasn’t injured but we were both traumatized at how close he came to disaster.

So, here I am, forty-and-a-half years later reading this journal…

I was surprised by how astute I was in my analysis, by how much of what I consider to be my core identity now was already there. The high school interview I found in the memorabilia box described me as “serious”; my college friends would most likely have used that word, too. The advantage I have looking back now is that I can recognize the role of my level of introversion, my need to ponder extensively before I speak, my discomfort at speaking in groups, my penchant for wanting to understand and integrate everything, what I now recognize as the gifts of being an INFJ and an HSP but what I thought of then as traits I could change if I just tried hard and long enough.

I had forgotten how painfully aware I was of these things about myself and how I congratulated myself when I managed to cover them in social situations. Over the ensuing decades, I would get more practiced at this but my core has remained the same. Just in the last few years, when introversion has been more in public view with books like Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, I’ve come to understand that there isn’t any shame in being who I am. As I’ve weathered the final years of my parents’ lives and the pandemic, it’s become more evident to me that I need to take my inherent nature into account as I plan my “next chapters”. While there will always be some situations in which I need to make myself heard in a large group discussion or react quickly to an event, I will try to tailor most of my activities to play to my strengths and not waste energy on pretending to be someone who is outgoing and quick on my feet.

I am comforted by knowing that I had the same core at twenty-one that I have at sixty-one and that I understood more about myself at that age than I expected. I suppose that some people might be perturbed to discover such resonance with their younger selves, as though it meant that they hadn’t learned anything or grown over the decades. For me, though, I recognize that I have grown and changed and learned from my experience, all while staying true to my authentic core as a person.

I look at this journal now with what I hope are wiser eyes than the somewhat bleary ones of a college senior scrawling long-hand in a notebook, getting ready to graduate, marry, move to a new state, and deal with any number of unexpected things.

I hope I’m wise enough now to choose a passage to share at reunion that gives a sense of who I was then and still am today.

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.

Wise words from Ada Limón

Poet Ada Limón gave a great reading last night under the auspices of the Binghamton Center for Writers as part of their Distinguished Writers Series.

During the Q&A, she said something that I want to remember – I’m paraphrasing here – that what makes you a writer is not writing every day because some days we are called to read or be with family or take walks, that even if we need to take a break from writing for six months or six years, we are still writers.

Given the massive holes I have experienced with my writing, and especially with my poetry, I found this very comforting. While I have been working on writing more and have gotten five submissions in so far this week, I do have days where I can’t face writing at all. I appreciated the reminder that that is okay.

I recommend listening to the reading and Q&A at the link above. There were some technical difficulties midway through which I’m not sure are on the recording. If you hit a patch where nothing is happening, just go forward about ten minutes and enjoy the second half.

JC’s Confessions #10

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert does a recurring skit, now 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

I don’t feel like a musician anymore.

I started playing piano at seven. I began studying organ as a preteen and was the organist of my rural Catholic church at fourteen. I majored in music at Smith College, where organ was my main instrument, I played often at chapel, I sang in choirs, learned that I could compose, and was named the Presser Scholar in my senior year.

After I graduated, married B, and moved to the Binghamton NY area, I continued with church music until I took a few years away when my children were young.  Realizing that it wouldn’t work for our family for B and I to never have a common day off, I volunteered with the music ministry at my church, accompanying the youth and junior choirs and subbing when our music director needed to be away. When tendon problems in my elbow eventually made it impossible for me to play for very long at a time, our music director would play and I would conduct.

When our parish disintegrated in 2005 and my church music volunteering evaporated, except for occasional special celebrations, I still had my long-time affiliation with University Chorus to keep me musically active. After the retirement of our long-time director, though, University Chorus, which used to sing a major concert every semester, has cut back to only singing at one concert a year, at most. This academic year, we have not met at all and I am not sure we will ever re-convene. Due to uncertainty and personal scheduling complications, I haven’t been able to join another group.

With my last steady musical commitment gone, I don’t feel that I am still a musician, which leaves an empty space in my identity. In a period of my life when there has been so much loss, losing that piece of myself is especially difficult because music has long served as a vehicle to express emotion and to find community and comfort.

I don’t know if I will ever recover the musician part of my identity. Theoretically, I could be singing on my own every day and working on sight reading so that I would be ready to audition if there is an opportunity, but it feels too futile, not helped by the fact that I am a very anxious and not particularly good auditioner.

It is likely that I will sing again with the Smith Alumnae Chorus, either on campus or on tour, but those choral experiences would only be a few days a year. Not an identity-affirming amount of time.

Maybe what I should say is that, for many years, I was a musician.

JC’s Confessions #7

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert does a recurring skit, now 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

Poets are supposed to submit work to journals or publishers on a consistent basis. I confess that I have not been doing this. Not even close. Other than a few stabs at Rattle’s Poets Respond series, which only takes submissions written within the last week on news items and is a very, very, very long-shot, I have only done one submission this year, which I did because a poet-friend asked me to do. (I am not counting poems published in Binghamton Poetry Project anthologies because they are not a competitive venue.)

Given how complicated these last months have been, I suppose it is understandable that I haven’t been submitting for publication. I confess that I find the process of figuring out to whom to submit which poem daunting and incredibly time-consuming. I get nervous about the formatting requirements, which never seem to be the same among different publications. I also need to be in a mindset that can take a lot of rejection, because the vast majority of submissions will be rejected.

The result of all this is that it is even more difficult than before to get motivated to work on submissions. Not publishing also erodes my already fragile sense that I am a poet – or, at least, a poet good enough to be published.

Which makes it harder to get motivated to submit and adds to my lack of confidence, and so on and so on…

Later in the fall, I may/will have more time to devote to writing and poetry. Will I be able to get my act together to do submissions?

I don’t know.

Stay tuned.

One-Liner Wednesday: Jung quote

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
 – Carl G. Jung

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This is also part of Linda’s Just Jot It January. Join us for that fun feature, too! Find out more at the link above. It’s a double dip!

One-Liner Wednesday: love

“Love is not something you do; love is Someone you are.”
~~~Richard Rohr
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One-Liner Wednesday: identity

“Exactly what it is that makes us all the same and yet all different both drives us and escapes us at the same time.”
— Joan Chittister, “The Need for the Feminine in Masculinity”chapter in Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life (p. 99)

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SoCS: Poet

I am a poet. I claim the title, even though it isn’t the way I make a living or something for which I have academic credentials.  (Realistically, very few poets make a living at poetry.)

I read an essay a couple of years ago by a young, credentialed poet, who was published and had been an editor, but who still felt he shouldn’t be called a poet because he wasn’t suffering for his art in a garret somewhere.

I, however, don’t make it that complicated for myself.

I considered myself a poet before I was even published because it was what I felt I am, in the same way that I am a daughter, a spouse, a mother, a woman, a musician.

It’s what I am, not what I do.

Maybe it is easier for me because I don’t do paid work, so I don’t have a ready-made answer when someone asks what I do, by which they nearly always mean “what is your job?”

I can claim to be a poet, because it is a mode of expression that is important to me and that I have been working on developing.

I am also a late-developing poet, given that I have only started writing seriously in my fifties. In the last two years, I have been working on improving my poems through participating with the Binghamton Poetry Project (a community workshop run by grad students at Binghamton University), a group of local poets who meet regularly to critique each other’s work, and a new women’s group called Sappho’s Circle.

I am about to take another big step as a poet – attending a residency/workshop. I have been angsting/mulling this over the last couple of days, which you can read about here and here.

So, I think this weekend I am going to register.

It’s one of those things that we poets do.

Because of who we are.
*****
This post of part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. The prompt this week is “four-letter word.”  Join us! Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/08/28/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-august-2915/

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