It's the end of the year as we know it


I've written a lot of end-of-year lists in my day: a lot of reviews and recaps. I'm not at all against celebrating accomplishments and labeling things "good," "better," even "best." But this year especially, it feels like we've gotten a little lost in the line between art and commerce: the distinction between necessary creativity--creativity for survival--and product. Artists (maybe especially writers?) have long been asked about process, and that's fine. Humans are wildly curious about humans. When do they wake? What do they drink? What do they write with? What do they listen to as they revise? Are they a dog person or a cat person? But, aside from curiosity, that stuff doesn't matter. It seems like a lot of us have gotten too hung up on the people behind the thing. 


So, instead of a best-of, this year I'm focused more on looking ahead. Last year around this time I was pushing to become stronger: digging in to what could better the world. The news of Trump was still new and stinging, and that hasn't really changed except that we're in the middle of its embarrassing reality now. This next year will be even more of that finding strength, I hope. Do even more: physically, mentally, creatively. But beyond that, my goal is to let go of more. To stop comparing: to stop wasting time. To keep ears and eyes open. I want to try new things, constantly. I want to push myself outside of comfort in order to learn as much as possible. 


I've got a written list of goals for 2018 that I'll put up somewhere where I can see it each day. It's well known that Shalane Flanagan wrote in her planner "win NYC marathon" months before the race, and looked at it every day. That's not to say putting the words in ink won the race, but there's something about seeing the thing. Every day. 


Create for the sake of creating: write in order to read, read in order to write. Climb the mountain for the sake of the experience. Learn for the sake of knowing. And generally try to have the attitude of a puppy. 



The thing about poets (and writers) is that, usually you read their stuff and love it, and then you meet them, and it's like, "Ugh: I liked you better when I only knew your writing." That's not true for Sharon Olds. Sharon Olds is so kick-ass. And, I imagine, that was also true for Galway Kinnell. I had the honor of meeting Sharon Olds at a university where I was teaching several years ago. I facilitated a Q&A after she read, in front of a lot of people. I was nervous. I had read and taught Sharon Olds for years, and loved her. But then, when I was on stage with her in front of so many, it was as if we were alone. I actually said to her (still in front of the people), "Oh man: we're the same person, just different ages." She's written a poem for the New Yorker: an ode to her friend Galway Kinnell, who died last fall in Sheffield, VT. This is a beautiful poem. It is a perfect circle, which may be the last perfect thing left. 



Speaking of Pulitzer Prizes...Gregory Pardlo read at Book Culture last night, with several other authors from Four Way Books. Pardlo is instantly likable and honest. He read from his prize winning collection, Digest. Of his poem, "For Which It Stands," he told the audience that when he and his wife decided to have a baby, they had to admit to themselves that they didn't know their own roots very well: that they needed to take some trips to where they had come from, so that they could adequately teach it. Pardlo is funny, too: he doesn't take himself too seriously; or, he encourages us all to just be a little more real with ourselves. These poems are full of growing up: what it means to learn a few things the hard way. They're full of pop-culture and familiar places: superheroes, and literary heroes, and ordinary men.