NaPoWriMo, Week 4: A Retrospective

Well, folks, yesterday I had written an entire NaPoWriMo retrospective, and today I opened the draft to complete the final touches, and it got entirely eaten by the transient Charbidys that lurks within the imperfect coding of WordPress. This is actually a somewhat apt metaphor for my NaPoWriMo retrospective: like many other poets this month, I didn’t fulfill my monthly goal (remember, the one I so self-righteously set off upon in my first post this month?). In essence, it became utterly devoured by the insanity of my life.

My goal was to work writing poetry into my daily routine, to focus on making it more of a compulsory habit, because, in the midst of my pursuit of being a full-time poet, I’ve become regretfully busy with other tasks: I work two demanding jobs, I do tons of arts organizing work, and I’m also attempting to be a functioning human (i.e. remember to eat, sleep, pay bills, and interact with others). Many weeks, I put in 80 hours of work before I get to take a nap or go to the grocery store. However, despite the fact that I fell way, way short of my goal, I do not view this National Poetry Writing Month as a failure. On the contrary — this month has been the most enlightening in years, if not my entire life.

The poet Megan Thoma posted this on her FaceBook the other day, and I took it to heart. This statement is regarding the goal of “30 poems in 30 days” that many poets strive to achieve in April:

Stop thinking “30/30” and start thinking “National Poetry Month”. Stop saying you fell off the horse. Stop pretending that horses are a form of transportation from point A to point B in the 21st century. Start realizing that for most of us, horseback riding is something we do for fun, for pleasure, for therapy, for kinship. Stop hyper-focusing on THIRTY. Pick a new number. Revise your goal. Go read a book. Flex your muscles. This is good for you. We’re only 2/3 of the way through the month. You still have so many more poems in you.

Although this status is supposed to be specific to a certain type of goal, I think it rings true to the idea of artistic goals in general, a sentiment I attempted to state in the beginning of the month, but have only fully realized through my own failure: To attempt is to develop your artistic process. If National Poetry Writing Month is the only time out of the year you’re attempting to achieve an artistic goal, you’re doing it wrong. Your life as an artist should be filled with constant attempts–the risk of failure is the only way we ever become successful.

To be fair, I had a number of other wonderful things happen to me this month that are making my life feel like utter magic.

The most immediate accomplishment is that I’ve found myself in a relationship for the first time in two years. Those of you who have been following my blogs for a while may have noticed that I’m perpetually single. I’ve spent the past couple years essentially alone, save for the occasional peppering of short-lived vaguely monogamous interaction with someone whom I was completely and knowingly incompatible. I’ll spare as much cheese as possible in describing this scenario, but essentially someone walked into my life, swept me off my feet, and put that shit on lock (I’m convinced it has to do with me organizing his bookshelf upon my first visit to his apartment).

Besides this being great for me in terms of my personal happiness, it has been fantastic for my art as well. Love and infatuation has inspired some of the greatest poems of all time, so no duh I’m going to be writing like a fiend (and scoring major points with dude by showering him with lustful homages). While I may not have succeeded in my goal of working writing into my daily routine, I did easily achieve my page count goal, and I’ve written many poems that feel like an artistic break through. Of course I couldn’t write this blog without mentioning that this guy is a super genius, smoking hot, and all in all just seems to be on my level in a way no one I’ve dated before has been, so outside of the poems, it seems like a pretty sweet deal.

So while this sudden and unexpected romantic success was probably enough to have me reeling with joy, I was graced by another type of success that has contributed equally to my sense of bliss: I found out that I’m a finalist in the Write Bloody book competition.

Let me back up so I can properly explain why this has been such a huge source of validation. In late March, I received word from a friend I’d be corresponding with that he’d be unable to publish my book due to internal conflicts within his small press that had nothing to do with me or my merit as a writer. This news was equal parts frustrating and devastating; when I decided I wanted to be a career poet, I resolved to have a book published by the time I graduated college. Naivety aside–as publishing a book, let alone writing a book in the first place, is incredibly difficult–it’s not fun to be nearly two years out from that goal and still nowhere close. Besides the fact, I now have three different manuscripts, including a full length book I’ve been working on for several years, and it seems high time that I have something to show for it.

Yet the publishing game isn’t easy. No matter how much personal sacrifice and effort I put into my career, I still feel lauded with rejection and lack of recognition from all sides. Even a sure thing with an old friend fell through. What gives?

The coincidental aspect of this rejection was that I received it on the day that the deadline for preliminary submissions to the Write Bloody contest closed. I wasn’t planning on submitting, but I decided to put together a last minute submission and send it in. Fast forward to a few weeks later in April: I just finished leading an after school poetry workshop with my high school students when I checked my phone. I had a text message from my friend, Tim: “Hey gurl, I heard you’re a Write Bloody Finalist–” I couldn’t even finish reading the message. I began trembling, and shouting “HOLY SHIT, HOLY SHIT, HOLY SHIT” (with the occasional “NO FUCKING WAY” peppered in). My students still haven’t let me forget the comedic aspect of the scene, but my heart-pounding, out-of-body reaction of total and utter shock and surprise is proportionate to how big of a deal this is to me.

Of course now that I’ve made it this far in the competition, I’d really, really like to win. A lot of me “falling off the horse” on my NaPoWriMo goal has to do with the fact that I’ve dropped a lot in life–including, at times, the new boyfriend–to focus on my final submission, which includes a full-length manuscript, as well as a video submission (which will be live on Tuesday, so keep your eyes peeled and your ear to the ground if you want to help me win). As Write Bloody is the foremost press for poets with a performative edge, it’s my dream to be among their cohort of authors. And as someone who has always felt like a total outsider in both the poetry world, as well as the world of performing arts, being a book contest finalist feels like a major stamp of legitimacy. It’s not necessarily saying that my work “belongs somewhere,” or even that it has true value–that will remain to be seen in whether or not I manage to get this damned book published–however, it does mean that someone liked it and advocated for it. When rejection is constant in a writer’s reality, such acceptance feels like a tremendous victory.

With all that has happened, I definitely don’t feel like a failure at the end of this month’s NaPoWriMo. It has been a unique and life-changing month–I really don’t think there has ever been a month where so much has happened to change me, and in pretty much exclusively positive ways. However, even if it weren’t for these marked victories, even if I had failed due to laziness or ineptitude, NaPoWriMo remains my favorite month out of the year. It’s a period of tremendous inward and outward growth for me each year, and it’s satisfying to watch so many others strive towards a common goal as well.

The one lesson to take away this month should be this: that failure and success are both a symptom of attempt. To attempt is to grow, to change, to learn. While it’s easy to reduce one’s worth to a list of triumphs or defeats, one should remember that the immeasurable is what truly makes the worth of an artist. To feel invigorated by a work of art through its creation is a sought after, invaluable feeling. We do this for the joy of the chase. Much like falling in love, intangibility and uncertainty are often the most exciting places to exist. It’s not our sharp or dull edges that define us, it’s the content held between.

So remember that National Poetry Writing Month is merely an edge, one to ascend or topple from. There are 335 other days out of the year during which you can seek success in all aspects of your life. If you are willing to accept stagnancy, then you must have forgotten why you felt the need to attempt in the first place. Whether or succeeded or failed at achieving your month-long goal, remember that what has happened this month does not have to define you. It is a movement forward.

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