Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Taking My Own Advice

Recently, I met someone for drinks who’s looking to change careers — the current colleague of a former colleague of mine. This young woman wants to work in communication (specifically writing and nonprofit marketing), so she asked me about my experience in the field. Beyond telling her the specifics about what I did at my previous jobs, I also give her some bigger-picture advice because I could sense how nervous she was at the thought of making this change.

I don’t like change, I don’t seek it out, but I’ve learned over the years how to roll with it and how to appreciate its role in developing me as a human being. I’m also going through a career change right now, having left my job as an editor to pursue a degree in library and information science. So when I experienced a period of doubt and dread the other day, I thought back to what I told this woman and started writing this post as a way to remind myself take my own advice. I’m sharing it here with the hope that it may be helpful to others, too.

Maple trees budding and turkey vultures soaring one afternoon in May.


Advice to a Young Writer (or Anyone in Transition)


Let yourself pause.
Give yourself time between one thing and the next to regroup. If you’ve just gone through a major life change, don’t expect the next thing (job, partner, etc.) to appear immediately. Both experience and research show that our brains need downtime, time to “do nothing,” to stare out the window — creativity never happens without this, and you’ll never truly figure out what you want if you jump anxiously and too quickly to the next thing. This type of downtime is necessary on a daily or weekly basis, but I think it’s also necessary on a larger time-scale. For example, I recently left a job I had for six and a half years… maybe I will need more than a month or two to regroup from that.

Be curious and open, but also grounded.
Especially important, don’t always believe your first impressions. Opportunities are everywhere, and they often aren’t what you initially think they are. It may be that someone you don’t find interesting when you first meet her turns out to be one of your most beloved, long-term friends and that knowing her also leads to multiple doors opening in your professional life (true story). Do your best to suspend judgement about people and situations you encounter, and try not to shut any metaphorical doors. Likewise, you may be able to help someone else in a significant way through very little effort on your part, simply by keeping an open mind and staying in touch with yourself. Doing both of these things at once is what helps you be a genuine person.

Volunteer your time and skills.
Whether you’ve just moved to a new place and don’t know many people or you find yourself with extra free time due to a job loss or breakup, volunteering is a great way to get out and stay active and engaged. Animal shelters, libraries, food banks, museums… it shouldn’t take long to find an organization that’s doing something related to an interest of yours. Volunteering will give you something to occupy your time and attention, even if it’s just once a week — and who knows what it could lead to? I know more than a couple people who’ve gotten a job or made a good friend through their volunteer work.

Do your best, no matter how humble the task.
In other words, stay present. If you’re volunteering (or doing anything, really), don’t focus too much on the future or on how what you’re doing now could lead to something “better.” An activity like folding a mountain of laundry or stuffing hundreds of envelopes can be its own reward if you know it’s for a good purpose and you do it mindfully. This is a variation on the concept that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” (Side note: I thought that was John Lennon’s creation, but it turns out he wasn’t the first to say it.) Our culture has seen so many people rise to near-instant success or fame in the past few decades that steadily improving your work over time, patiently working your way up to something, may seem old-fashioned. But it’s still the most likely option for most of us — so try to make peace with it.

Create your own learning opportunities.
One of the realities of job-seeking is that organizations want to hire people with experience. So you need to go out there and get some. For someone who wants to eventually get paid to write, the most important thing is to write. Now. Offer to edit someone’s newsletter or help a friend write copy for their website — or pick a topic and start your own blog. If what you want to be paid for isn’t as easy to do solo as blogging, see if you can do something adjacent to what you’re interested in. At the very least, read widely in your field of interest, whether it’s books, blogs, or social media posts. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission to learn how to do the work you want to do — adopt a growth mindset. Take charge and see how far you can get on your own until you find an opportunity to take it further.

Good luck :)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Florilegium: Good Omens

Good Omens is an amusing and entertaining read if you like magical realism, British humor, or anything in between. The style of writing in this novel is quite wordy and was hard for me to hone into poetry, so this found poem is more along the lines of the florilegia that Vanessa and Casper, my inspirations, do on their podcast, which is taking sentences and placing them alongside each other to see what new meaning comes from them. I really enjoy reading these lines from the book juxtaposed with each other.

You think you’re on top of the world, and suddenly 

they spring Armageddon on you.
Everyone has to take sides in something.

The future came and went in the mildly discouraging way that futures do.
Millions of people who ultimately would have suffered minor bruises of the soul did not in fact do so.
You don’t have to test everything to destruction just to see if you made it right.

Death of a sort lurks inside every living creature.
Deep in the armchair of his soul, he knew that God got embarrassed at that sort of thing.

Secondhand book with apple-printed blanket

Friday, April 12, 2019

Florilegium: In the Province of the Gods

The memoir In the Province of the Gods is the third by a writer I really admire, Kenny Fries, who was one of my advisors in the Goddard College MFA program. His prose is very contemplative, honest, and imagistic so it really lends itself to creating found poetry!


I am becoming someone 

I do not want to be.

The coin at the bottom 
could be my soul,
both kitsch and masterpiece. 

I want to help others imagine different lives 
than what is prescribed. 

The bridge completes itself in its watered reflection. 
As if it were possible, I want to turn back. 

Living life in a mortal world
leaves a remnant, a memory 
poised to fly away. 

Those who survive cling to whatever hope we may find 
even on this overcast day.

The irises startle.
I don't know which one is my boat.  
 
Hardcover book and daffodils
 
 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Florilegium: Frankenstein

I've read Frankenstein three times now—once in high school, once in college, and once a couple years ago in a two-person book club my friend & I briefly had. The first two times, my focus was on the topic of how science can be misguided and unethical. But during this recent reading, the concept of xenophobia really stood out to me. In putting this poem together, I really enjoying having the two characters dialog even more directly than they do in the pages of Mary Shelley's novel. 


With how many things are we on the brink of becoming acquainted, 

if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our enquiries.
The human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union.
The fangs of remorse tore my bosom and would not forego their hold.
Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.

The sea, or rather the vast river of ice, wound among its dependent mountains, whose aerial summits hung over its recesses.
These bleak skies I hail, for they are kinder to me than your fellow beings.
I was a wreck — but nought had changed in those savage and enduring scenes… maternal nature bade me weep no more. 

Many things I read surpassed my understanding and experience.
I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth.
Sorrow only increased with knowledge.
By the utmost self-violence I curbed the imperious voice of wretchedness.
If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear.

Alas! why does man boast of sensibilities superior to those apparent in the brute; it only renders them more necessary beings.
Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all humankind sinned against me? 

Seek happiness in tranquility, and avoid ambition.
Come on, my enemy; we have yet to wrestle for our lives. 

Well-worn book with rose and baby's breath

Friday, March 29, 2019

Florilegium: Boy, Snow, Bird

Helen Oyeyemi is the newest addition to my list of favorite writers. Her books are mysterious, magical, disturbing, and beautiful. Boy Snow Bird is the first novel I read by her, and this found poem was really difficult to put together because her prose is already so poetic and spare. I'm not totally satisfied with it, but here it is.


Death isn’t anything to run toward, 

    doesn’t stop me
but it certainly isn’t anything to run from
    wishing you were my bad luck.

I’ve always wanted to know 
    somewhere along the line there’ll be weirdness
what kind of person the name was supposed to 
    stick with it ’til the end and
help me grow up, either.

Novel with calendula

Friday, March 22, 2019

Florilegium: 2001: A Space Odyssey

I had never seen the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, so my dad borrowed it from the library and we watched it together. What a trip that was! I immediately wanted to read the book and see how it compared—and I was fascinated by Clarke's imaginings. This poem is the florilegium I put together after reading it.


He was prepared, he thought, for any wonder

but discontent had come into his soul.
Infinite range and all but infinite power:
the shining silence it could never reach.

We do not know if you will meet with good or evil—or only with ruins
across another half billion miles of comet-haunted emptiness.

He had taken one small step. It was unreasonable to expect more.
Though there was still plenty of talking,
you could be terrified, but you could not be worried.

I never imagined I'd be an amateur brain surgeon—
carrying out a lobotomy beyond the orbit of Jupiter.

Everyone who looked an inch beyond his nose
would find his life, his values, his philosophy, subtly changed
over the restless Jovian cloudscape.

Already he had seen wonders for which many men
would have sacrificed their lives. 
The only thing he had never expected was the utterly commonplace
flooding the land below with its radiance. 
 
Library book with lily of the valley
 

Florilegium: Hag-Seed

Recently, I spent a year reading with the intention to look out for "sparklets" that jumped out at me from the text and to then arrange these gems into found poems, or florilegia. This poem is one I constructed from the novel Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood, which is a re-imagining of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale.


She did not exist

in the usual way

The brain completes the illusion
as much as anyone can

All you need is a few items: 
the right words in the right order

Working out his own destiny
would have been a shock to her

From now on the boy will be 
a magic flying blue alien 
 
 
Library book with calendula and scabiosa