Say Yes, Say No (and an invitation to poetry apprenticeship this fall)

Writers—everyone—procrastinates, even Italo Calvino:

“In theory I would like to work every day. But in the morning I invent every possible excuse not to work: I have to go out, make some purchases, buy the newspaper. As a rule, I manage to waste the morning, so I end up sitting down to write in the afternoon. I’m a daytime writer, but since I waste the morning I’ve become an afternoon writer. I could write at night, but when I do, I don’t sleep. So I try to avoid that.” from “Thoughts Before an Interview”

Of course, we don’t always think of our absence from the writing desk in terms of avoidance or delay. Instead, we complain about the scarcity of time and blame our inability to commit to writing on other things: the length of the work day, the vagaries of capitalism, the demands of child rearing, the clutter in our home.

We say: There’s never enough time . . . . If only I had a patron . . . Next month will be easier . . . Once the kids go back to school . . . When I retire!

These oft-repeated mantras bespeak more than the challenge of fitting art into a full life. They reflect the choices we make. Or don’t make. After all, 24 hours is not nothing: if we sleep for eight, there’s still 16 hours remaining in which to work for a living, deal with house, parent the kids, and so on.

In a recent conversation with my friend, Chelsea Bay Dennis, a brilliant designer, strategist and coach, she said that she’s thinking a lot about what she says YES to these days. I think about this, too.

To what do you declare your Yes? And what do you say No to, in order to live your Yes?

The following poem, by Fernando Pessoa, comes to mind:

“To be great, be whole: don’t exaggerate

Or leave out any part of you.

Be complete in each thing. Put all you are

Into the least of your acts.

So too in each lake, with its lofty life,

The whole moon shines.”

14 February 1933. Translated from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith

Some fraction of the day must surely belong to ourselves.

I believe that. Do you? I believe there’s room in every day to write or study or work on a project that means more to me than even the very legitimate forms of compensation I receive from employment, or the rewards and satisfactions I derive from parenting and having relationships.

I’ve long since decided that having time to write and study means more to me than being a consumer or participating in idle entertainments. Still, we all have different priorities.

Knowing what matters to us, and then choosing how we distribute our time and attention accordingly, is a worthy and necessary process for any writer to undertake.

Photo by Luix Llerena

Photo by Luis Llerena

An Invitation: 2015 Fall Poetry Apprenticeship Program

If you long for a bit of structure and benefit from creative writing prompts, literary inspiration, and the accountability of working with a teacher, consider joining me in this eight-week, correspondence course which you can do from the comfort of your home. We’ll take a boot-camp approach to writing a new poem every week through the end of November. You’ll also receive a private coaching session with me, and feedback on the work in progress.

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poetry matters. join the conversation.

join my community

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