I may be four days late to write about the new year, my poetry action plan, this year’s resolutions, and my poetic state of mind, but that’s part of my plan: this year is the “better late than never” year. I will not be angry at myself for what I am doing late, what I missed doing, what I should be doing, what I didn’t do as well as I should. I will strive for something more perfect than these things, but I will not regret or fill my writing life with that “I can’t” negativity that seems so easy to set as default.
Over the winter break, my family and I rented a cabin in Estes Park, Colorado, with some good friends of ours. This long weekend was a “no screens” weekend, and although both my five-year-old and the teenage girl who came with us were fairly certain of their doom due to this requirement, we all came out on the other end feeling like we had healthier brains. By day three, though, we’d exhausted the amount of games of Risk, Clue, and chess that we could take, and ventured out to a place with some extensive climbing walls, including instructors and equipment. My lungs were filled with krazy glue at the time, and the cost of each kid was enough to enable all three adults to pass on climbing. But I was thrilled to encourage both my kids to try something that seemed a bit scary, that they’d never done before. The instructor, Ashlynn, was probably just over twenty-something years old, and insisted on the kids testing her belay to prove that there was no way they would fall. That did not stop their fear. My son, Sam, climbed the smaller wall, and about three quarters of the way up, started having a mini panic attack. I wanted to reach up, tell him he’d be ok, that he could come down, but I waited. Ashlynn was awesome, and kept telling him that he could do it, that he just needed to look up to the next place for his right hand. After about a minute (a mommy hour), his breathing slowed back down, and while he continued to say that he was scared, he climbed to the top and rang the bell. He even went up one more time, although he decided after that to stop.
But I want to tell you Claire’s story. She started on the big wall. The first time she climbed up, she barely stopped before reaching the bell. Ashlynn had her go up a harder route (same wall) the second time, and Claire had to be coaxed from about two-thirds of the way up to finish. She had done most of the hardest work, and just needed to look up to see how close she was. Her third time, she froze mid-wall, and started saying over and over, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t do it.” Ashlynn reminded her she’d already climbed this route, that she could do this, and after a few minutes of this and Claire not moving, she told Claire, “I’m going to make you do a push up for every time you say ‘I can’t.’” Claire put her forehead on the wall and started to cry. After what seemed like an eternity of my daughter’s cries and words, and no grown up moving to rescue her, she moved one foot up, then the next. She climbed to the top, slapped the bell with anger, and let go to walk back down the wall and shove her harness off, saying “I’m never climbing again.”
I knew that this was a great experience for her, that she needed to go outside of her comfort zone, that she needed to do something physical, that she’d never know what she was capable of if she didn’t try new things. I didn’t realize that I should be translating that message to me.
The thing I also didn’t realize until now: she could have let go of the wall at the instant she didn’t want to finish climbing, but she didn’t. She was saying “I can’t” but really wanted to succeed, to finish what she started.
So, this year, I resolve to step outside my comfort zone, in writing and in extracurricular activities. I will not let go of the wall.
January O’Neil, a poet I respect and admire, writes a Poetry Action Plan (PAP) every year, to keep her on target and sane. Like me, she’s a mom who strives to balance the many lives she’s required to participate 100% in. I appreciate her drive and her candor, and so, my PAP:
· Finish the next book and submit it to “test the waters” before March.
· Revive this blog—for exercise, for sanity, and to keep me honest about what I should be doing to support Little Oblivion
· Arrange at least five readings from Little Oblivion
· Attend at least six other readings outside of the AWP conference
· Read a book of poetry a month
· Do one poem-a-day month
This might not be that much, but with a five-year-old, a seven-year-old, a marriage, a house, a full-time job that has nothing to do with poetry, it’s what I can do without regret.
My friend Tayari is taking the year off to focus on her third novel. I admire her risk-taking, her knowledge of what she has to do for her writing, and her admission that it’s not always easy. So there will be times when I try to get up at ungodly hours to write. There will be times when I ask my husband to be more than he should be so that I can write. But this will be a good year.