Earlier this week, my commute-music shuffle dropped Southeast Engine’s “Try” on me, and so I’m stealing their lyrics for a title and a jumping off point here.
Because I graduated from Ohio University in 2005, it wasn’t possible even for me to miss that Southeast Engine existed, and I saw them play live, I think at Casa Nueva. More importantly, I left Athens with one of their CDs, Coming to Terms with Gravity, and though I haven’t really kept up with them since, I’m always glad to hear them (like on NPR’s Mountain Stage).
While I was driving, it was misty, as so many of this autumn’s mornings have been, and I thought a bit on my time in Athens, where the fog rolled in off the Hocking in similar white waves. As an M.A. student, I definitely did my work and kept my head down. While there, I certainly had some great classes and professors and some marvelous colleagues, some of whom are still among my favorite people, but I stuck to my comfort zone, wrote the short stories my workshops expected. Despite having the opportunity to take workshops in creative non-fiction and poetry, I just couldn’t take the chance at doing so. What if I was terrible? I’d written essays and poems as an undergraduate, had gone through rather rigorous workshops with exacting and inspiring professors, but I definitely didn’t identify as an essayist or as a poet, and so I couldn’t gather up the bravery to make the leap. I was only there for two years; what right did I have to encroach on another genre’s territory?
When I got to my Ph.D. program in Binghamton, I did stretch myself at least so far as to take a poetry workshop, but it was largely generative, rather than with an intense critique component. So I wrote poems, and I shared them aloud, and when the semester was over, I put them away and didn’t think about them again.
Then I got a job in Wyoming, and maybe because I was teaching multiple genres of writing to my students, maybe because I didn’t have to answer to a workshop anymore, maybe because no one was going to grade my attempts, maybe because of the high altitude—whatever the reason, I wrote a few poems. I wrote some essays. I found the guts to pitch a few essays, and then to simply submit, and someone even asked me to write a piece.
And so I’ve gone along, up to my elbows in two novel manuscripts (one finished, one not), and still sometimes writing other things, while the novel percolates, while a draft rests, or when I simply can’t not write the somethings else.
In the past several days, it’s been the somethings else that have brought the most exciting news.
A poem I wrote while at the American Antiquarian Society was selected as the Writer’s Block Poetry Contest winner. The judge was Rebecca Morgan Frank, founder and editor of Memorious, and I’m just so pleased about it. The poem will appear in a future issue of Memorious. In the meantime, you can read an interview about the poem at the Louisville Literary Arts/Writer’s Block blog.
An essay I’d been working on for more than a year, too, was published at The Rumpus. “Leaving Early” was churned out of an experience I had while actually gathering material for my Brandon Nimmo/Sand Gnats piece. The essay is about baseball, sort of, though it’s more about fear and living in the world. “Leaving Early” also makes use of something I read while I was at Ohio University in David Lazar’s History of the Essay course, which seems strangely fitting, given my own cowardice when it came to actually signing up for one of David’s essay workshops.
I’m still pretty peeved with myself for not taking better advantage of those other writing experiences I might have had when I was younger, simply because I didn’t want to fail, didn’t want to risk a B on my transcript. But I don’t have to be myself at twenty-two or twenty-five anymore, and I’m glad I sent this work into the world. I’m glad it’s getting easier to simply write without worrying about what it means that I have written X or Y or Z. I’m glad it’s easier to simply write. I’m glad, too, that these things found homes. I’m starting to feel the same.