Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Why they call it work

Nothing is much weirder than thinking that Being a Poet is your work. Or actually, Work, with a capital W. For one thing, as I have often noted before, you don't get paid for it, unless by a sort of accident you win a grant or contest. But I am pretty sure there is no salaried job whose description of duties is --
1. write poetry.
If there were, I am afraid the job description would go on --
2. get it published.
Aye, there's the rub. That's where the work (with a small w) comes in. To get published you have to write well enough - that's years and years of studying good poetry, writing and revising, learning to throw stuff out, or at least move it to a file titled "unpublishable." And transcending rejections to submit your work time and again.

Yesterday we had an excellent visit with the kidney doctor. He pronounced himself as happy as we are with my latest labs, which actually show some improvement in kidney function, perhaps because my anemia has been fixed. I don't have to go back for two months. Released!

Furthermore, the Fourth of July is the date set by my orthopedic doctor when I can leave off my air cast and ankle support and walk around like a regular person. I am already walking more, trying to get muscles toned up after five months of being almost chairbound. My ankles do not hurt!

All that, and I passed the neurological exam of my aging mind. So you can imagine that I feel frisky. You know what that means - if you feel good, it's time to get back to work.

I have been writing during all this; writing is what I do to find myself and express myself. But I haven't made much effort to finish stuff and send it out. Even the blog seemed to take too much energy during this storm of illness. My time is still eaten up with tedious, frustrating phone calls regarding insurance and prescription delivery, and with the ordinary demands of life, like deadheading and watering the Wave petunias in the hanging basket, which have turned out to be demanding Divas. Everything takes minutes, and then the hours are gone.

But I am back to work today, and have been devoting myself to exploring contests where I can submit a certain long, narrative poem. This is work of the tedious, ordinary sort, not as pleasing as tending my potted plants. And it will be more work when I move on to the task of revision, trying to perfect the poem, line by line, word by word, does that comma need to be there? Writing a poem you are pleased with feels like a miracle in which you got to participate. But revising it takes a sharp, clear mind and a sort of ruthless detachment. It's the hardest mental work I know.

At one retreat I wrote a question for the Teacher, "How do I make myself write the book I need to write." (At the time, I thought I knew what that book was.) He read the question aloud and sort of laughed, and said, "Your work is your work," with a shrug. And went on to say that he, too, found aspects of working on his books tedious. Work is not always inspired or inspiring, and it is not always a pleasure.

My daughter, whose consulting business requires a lot of tedious travel, also shrugged when I talked to her about this. "It's not fun," she said matter-of-factly. "That's why they call it work."

Since I am, after all, a writer, these words led me to months of exploring the words work and play. I haven't got very far with it. It's cool when you love what you're doing, and it feels like play, but we all know that not every morning is like that. Some days you remember the First Noble Truth, which people translate various ways, but it goes like this: Sometimes life is hard. Unsatisfactory. Unpleasant. Or at least boring.
[image: our new cat, Sheba, questioning everything I said.]

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