Where did you come from, Poet?
What is your origin story?
I’ve been asking different versions of this question recently, because I think that when we understand where we come from—what formed us and made us who we are—it affirms a foundation, and even inoculates us against some of those feelings of insufficiency, maybe especially in terms of education or credentials, that so many writers and artists suffer from. And this awareness can also serve to remind us, that we don’t have to wait to become better, or more knowledgable, or more laureled. We can begin now, begin here, with what we have. Art emerges from the process itself, rather than through the accumulation of expertise, or accolades, or external validations.
Recently, I jotted down some of the events and influences that are part of my origin story. Feel free to use this format to reflect on your own:
- Birth-Present.: Not having a tv TV in the home. Especially as a child, and especially as an adult. (Too much mass media can really dull the imagination.)
- All along.: Libraries! The pleasure of collecting a big stack of books, and taking them home for a few weeks is one I learned young. (Free, open to anyone. True sanctuaries for all.)
- Preteens. Realizing the pleasures of an inner life as a result of spending regular time alone, often outdoors. (This is a lot about falling in love with one’s own company, which strikes me now, as especially important for writers and artists.)
- Ninth grade. Meeting a poet-in-the-schools who became a mentor. (It changed everything for me. Like finding water in the desert.)
- Late high school and beyond. Independent-study. Finding my teachers through my reading and the pursuit of my interests. (If I’m honest, I consider this more significant than my graduate school experience.)
- Mid-twenties. Living in a country that poetry and those who write it. (Ireland showed me what a truly literate and literary society looks like.)
- Post-grad. Making a few friends who are also committed, working writers, and having regular conversations about our work and process. (A strong writing group can be priceless if you are writing a lot, and crave feedback.)
- Always. The pleasure of unscheduled time, and really trusting that I can’t fill my calendar and expect to also write poems. I need white space. I need a sense of spaciousness.
- Early-thirties. My first artist residency. Receiving the gift of time and space in which to focus on a project, surrounded by other artists, really showed me what a life in art can look like. And I fell in love with the northern California coast. (Check out the Alliance of Artists Communities if you are looking for this kind of opportunity.)
- Gradually, over many years, and many experiments, creating a steady writing practice that is attuned to natural rhythms—my own and nature’s cycles. (I now think and plan in terms of the wheel of the year, and the moon, and I never ignore the fact that mornings are the best time for me to think and write.)
I share this list with you as a way of inviting you to think about what has formed you as a poet or writer or artist. What events and experiences would you put on your timeline? If you want to share them with me, feel free to reach out. I’m always curious to know how others relate to their formative influences.)