Lessons of Summer

Lordy, the weekend is upon us. The End of Summer. My balcony's planter-box--once a bright birthday gift from my sister, back in May--has now gone weedy and brown. I'm ready to make chicken chili and pumpkin soup. I'm ready to wear shawls again. 

It's been a good season, driven by a promise that I would stay in and around DC and take care of myself. (The secret: allotting one hour of bad reality television if, and only if, it corresponds to one hour of working out.) I wish I had another two weeks. I have specific ideas for two essays I want to draft, and 4-6 poems. But still, I feel good rounding up the writing and editing I did get done, and a dozen lessons learned. Namely:

1) I need to have faith and be more patient with editors, especially in the case of building ongoing relationships. Twice this summer I turned in nonfiction, and when a week went by with no response I thought "Agh, it's horrible"--to the point of wanting to withdraw for a brute revision/rewrite. To pretend it never happened. Both times it turned out the editors liked what they saw, but it is just one of 1,000 things on their desks. You can burn bridges with insecurity; you gotta be careful. 

2) Even after four years of amazing workshops at the University of Virginia, two years of amazing workshops at The American University, and the Jenny McKean Moore workshop at George Washington University post-MFA...I still benefit from having a writing group. There is something to having an outside set of eyes on your work, no matter how disciplined and discerning one may be. I am particularly grateful to have Kyle Dargan as a reader, more than a decade after we first met at UVA. He rocks.  

3) I am not going to write reviews anymore. There are people who excel at the craft. I am not one of them or, if I am, I take no pleasure in it. It's also the lowest-paying rank of prose that I see out there in the freelance market right now. I'd rather use the work of contemporary poets to illustrate craft essays...and I suspect that'll actually keep their work alive more effectively, three years from now, than a review. 

4) My Colorado uncle is right. Celery salt makes a Bloody Mary. It feels a little weird to season a glass, but that smokiness is all it takes (plus vodka, V8, a bit of Trader Joe's jalapeno sauce, maybe a celery stick garnish). I only ever use one little low-sodium can of V8 at a time, though, so don't worry: it's a mini-Mary. I'm not lushing it too much. 

5) I get more done on days when not all my reading is off a computer screen. Recurring go-tos are New York (not just for that culture matrix--their cover stories are stellar), Rolling Stone, Poetry, and Real Simple. We'll see about The Oxford American.  

6) If you're a creative type who I know to cheat on your significant other in real life, I give myself permission to never fully invest in your work. Life is too short. 

7) I am not going to spend time on Op-Eds anymore. If they don't get taken on the first try, they start feeling stale too quickly. There is also a stridency there, a heightening of stance versus reason that is neither natural nor conversational; it reminds me of the email tomes I used to read & write for my college debating society's list-serv. 

8) 5,000-8,000 steps is the perfect length walk for my neighborhood. Depending on level of ambition I can make it a post office run, or a tour of the National Zoo. 

9) Nationals Stadium has a superb array of beers available, but a pitiful shortage of great french fry purveyors ever since Five Guys left. Boardwalk Fries, you've been letting me down with your lukewarm, undersalted spuds. On the upside, a ketchup-detesting dad and a mustard-allergic daughter have discovered the perfect dip compromise: Cholula hot sauce. 

10) Junot Diaz and I share a love, and that love is Encyclopedia Brown. The world is a strange and serendipitous place. 

11) None of my poetry collections are going to resemble each other. While I hope to have a signature intensity of voice, maybe a specificity of phrasing, and probably always more sestinas than most poets, these books are going to jump all over the place in terms of mood, theme, and rhetorical focus. I'm a restless poet. This is both exciting and terrifying.

12) My love for the essay is beginning to rival my love for poetry. Given druthers, right now I might pick being a regular columnist over writing a second nonfiction book. 

I think that's a PhD's worth of summer research, don't you?


Some links for those whiling away final hours before their holiday begins...

-For DC friends planning calendars: please come to the Arts Club of Washington on Tuesday, September 18, when I host a poetry reading by Meghan O'Rourke. 

-For NYC friends planning calendars: join me at Le Poisson Rouge on Sunday, September 23, for a show with pianist Inna Faliks & baritone David Adam Moore. 

-For friends adrift at what to do with a post-MFA fall, apply for fellowships and prizes using this invaluable list compiled by Erika Dreifus. (My goal: to head back to the Millay Colony next year. Their deadline for 2013 residency applications is October 1.)

-...And for friends returning to teaching, Matt Bell made me laugh with this McSweeney's Internet Tendency contribution: "MY GRADING SCALE FOR THE FALL SEMESTER, COMPOSED ENTIRELY OF SAMUEL BECKETT QUOTES."

Enjoy, and see you in September~