I am not sure how many years I have maintained this birthday ritual but I believe it is at least 10. I have not saved all the letters, though I wish I had, but for at least a decade, I start my year by sipping a cup of perked coffee and writing to those who make my life worth living, before I step into the world or out of my jammies. I am almost superstitious about it. I must offer my gratitude for another year of experience, laughter, growth, expansion, and success in facing darkness, and the biggest of all, love.
This year has been the usual roller coaster. I have looked back and see that I have a life pattern of the rug being pulled out from under me on an average of every 3 years. Three years ago when I sent out my birthday missive, I had been laid off from Partners from Arts Education and had made the decision to pursue my career as an independent teaching artist, for which I had been building for the previous 8 or 9 years. It was about the Work more than a job. It was just months after the release of my second book, The Doom Weaver. I was eager for the growth of my career and optimistic regarding so many things and then it changed in the course of one sentence. At the time, Jerome Duerr said to me, “That book is very courageous. If you can write that book, you can do anything.” He advised me that many people discouraged him from starting his studio and pursuing his passion and true artist self. He said, “This is America. What’s the worst that could happen…you get another job.” Jerome encouraged me to be authentic and true to myself and indicated that he, who does not know me as well as some of you, believed that I can manifest my highest good.
I made it through these 3 years as I have most of my life, sometimes with sweat and others with the help of those close and understanding, but I pursued the path that I had created and, in the process, did good work in schools and with those I share my knowledge. This year, I complete my solar return with the rug yanked again due to the economy but my commitment to this career, albeit unconventional, is true. This work in education, this work with language and all its power, is what I know I was born to offer. I get so frustrated along the way but I know that I have value to offer and I am nothing if not persistent. I pray that the outcomes I have dreamed continue to unfold and that not only do I “just keep doing the good work” (as Sue Stonecash tells me year after year) but that the potential for stability and security finally unfolds.
This past year has given me many blessings, as is always the case. The most prominent achievement is the publication of Our Difficult Sunlight. This is the effort for which I am most proud in this life thus far. I love the two collections of poetry I have published and am eagerly preparing for more books of the poems I have inside me. But the purpose of ODS, what it offers to others so they can strive for greater success in their own work, this is my true intention and I hope that this book reaches many of those who will benefit. I am particularly grateful to my collaborator, Quraysh Ali Lansana, in this journey. We are both highly invested in this project and its opportunity and now endeavor to bring it to the attention of every teacher, every artist educator, anyone who can use it and gain ways of engaging in our art form as well as helping others to read, to connect, to learn and grow as humans. Lofty ambitions but I am always a bit in the clouds. I believe in both altitude and dreams.
I must also say I am grateful to all of the publishers who have believed in my work to include me as one of their authors: Hale Mary Press, Main Street Rag Publishers, Puddinghouse/Kattywompus, and Teachers & Writers Collaborative. What else can I say but thank you.
This past year has also returned some key people to my life after many many years, particularly my dear friend and lifeline when I was a teen, Barbara Wright, and my long lost cousin Christine Kelly. There have been other reunions as well but these two have given me back a piece of myself that is difficult to explain in mere words. Thank you both…and thanks to the others who I have been able to share time and laughter, including Deb Rahalski, other Nottingham 40th reunion friends, to name just a few.
I know that when I reveal my fears, it freaks some out so I will just say I have been given pause to question a great deal this summer. I have been somber these past few weeks leading up to my birthday. Something about 58 is unsettling. Time is flying at a velocity that is confusing. I see the horizon of my elder years and there is so very much to do. I have three children’s books in stages of development. I have two collections of poetry unwrapping themselves. I have the food memoir collaboration with my dear Linda Moore rejuvenating. And I have been very committed to my blog. ODS taught me that I enjoy the personal essay, writing in prose. I have been guided by my friend and mentor Dale Davis to look at how that is presenting as the foundation for another book. And I journal regularly. I am feeling an urgency to complete these works, to keep moving forward, to proceed and be bold, as Phil Alexander advised a few years ago, a fine mantra that I share often.
My community of friends and family have had hardship as well as delight. There have been weddings to celebrate and losses to mourn. We have welcomed new lives, we have lost dear friends. I have a beautiful fish tank that was Bob Gibbons’ and now I tend the water community in honor of the life he lived. There has been illness and there has been laughter. I have witnessed friends make changes that will keep them closer to their own missions and intentions and I celebrate them. I have seen my close ones and colleagues rise beyond pain, fear, loss, the economy to live with integrity and honesty, to heal themselves and be forces of healing and joy for others. I am grateful for you and the models you present. I hope to be a person in whom you can confide and upon whom you can rely.
This is a deeply troubled time in our nation. No matter what your personal politics, it is undeniable. I harken back to my teens and the climate feels the same. The discord, the fear, the frustration, the marches. I feel we all must pay attention and strive to know the full story of what is happening. We must vote, we must be informed, and we must talk to others, even those who disagree with us. Too much is at stake for complacency. Nuff said here…
I am in the sixth decade in this body consciousness. I pray for continued good health. I pray for the wellness of my brain also. I pray for my community and my beloveds, all of you. I miss those whom I have lost throughout the years and I light candles in their honor. The list is long and it is sobering that I have exceeded the lifespan of two parents and one brother. But it is what it is and I live each day for them as well. I especially beam light on behalf of the next generation of nieces and nephews, both of my immediate family and those whom I have adopted and have adopted me. My Anna and her brother James, the Goodnough girls, my Maxwell and my Joseph, Adelle (my Delly Bell), the Gainer/Bradford crew, Ms. Maddie and her new brother Karson, the Pashley brothers, Team Lansana, Juliette and Brittany, the three beautiful Horwitz sisters on the west coast, Rosatis, Curdts, Missy, the Wentworth sisters, Kristen, Natalie, and Jonathan Crawford, Dylan and Jesse (and now Jesse’s son) and every single child or teen I have ever been blessed with the chance to teach and offer poetry, may your way be golden with light, may you know yourselves well and may the universe support you in your dreams. And mostly, may I be blessed to witness it for many more years, decades…this is a miracle, this opportunity of life. We have no way of truly explaining any of it but by some Grace, we are here to live it. Let us not waste a moment.
It is time to wrap this up and send it out. This is also the first year I will use social media to share my thoughts, so I am sure to reach every person for whom I am grateful and by whom I am supported and blessed. My phone is ringing with texts from loved ones sending birthdaygrams. I have to get to the Zen Center to write a poem about fall trees with the children. Then maybe to dig in my garden and spread some of my birthday mulch from Linda M. So I offer my wish for all of you, may you have a blessed day and may your path be cleared of obstacles, illuminated with wisdom and opportunity.
With love and a heart full of gratitude, I thank each of you for making my life worthwhile and joyous. I may know you just a little bit. I may have walked parallel with you for ages. You all matter to me and create the substance of my existence. As Ms. Lucille Clifton advised me, “I choose Joy because I am capable of it, and there are those who are not.”
Namaste and ASE,