Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Short Drive to a Mid Mid Life Crisis

I just printed and mailed the most recent version of my memoir to an agent who, last spring, said she'd look at it again if I reworked it substantially. I have done so. It's better, it's closer. I lost enthusiasm when the box slid down the mail slot at the post office. I'm tired of trying. I don't even want to send things out anymore, to tell you the truth. It just isn't worth the time of finding places, preparing envelopes, and mailing. Not for 1-2 acceptances per year.

Today a rejection came for my poetry manuscript. I'm used to these, but I felt good about this press. Two chapbooks have been printed from the contents of this book, and yet no one takes the book. There's a lot of crap out there, and I know I'm at least as good as all of it.

Which makes me think about poetry book contests. So many are, if you look from year to year, clearly slated toward a few people and their particular mode or style. Those 6 people might as well be the only ones entering each year. What a club.

I'm unhappy with my job to boot. Not the teaching, not the time with students, not that, but the pay, the stuck in Low Pay Ville, the use-you-and-lose-you beast that has become higher ed. I feel chewed up. Roto-tilled. I'm wasting my life.

In two months the garden will be nearly done blooming, leaves turning, weather cooling, the school year in full swing. And the only thing that can fulfill me and keep my head above water is to chip away, bit by bit this fall, at the research for the next memoir. I think. I hope.

As I was driving to the post office and back, I passed people on the downtown Lincoln sidewalks. A man walking, leaning back to counterbalance his belly, swinging a lunch pale. A woman in high heels and pressed black pants with those large "can you see me" sunglasses women wear these days. A city worker watering a young tree. Another young woman in very high shorts wearing white tennis shoes and black socks. Two GQ men walking side by side and into a coffee shop. Two plum middle-aged women who seemed to have lived a hard life, judging from their scowls and leathered skin, leaning back in folding chairs behind tables of colorful clothes, plastic, and what not arranged on a short driveway.

We are all so similar and so different. We have no idea how each person lives inside their house, in that row of houses there in the middle of what was once a corn field. But we know they want similar things, to be healthy, happy, loved, and full. And yet it is so hard to live. I know I don't even have a clue, privileged as I am.

I suppose I feel like an emo kid today, and I wonder if they don't live richer lives in their solipsistic turmoil, because at least they feel deeply, even if those emotions are completely inward, dark, and draining. The older I get the less I feel deeply, the harder I have to try to do so. All I have left are these words, and they pale in comparison to what's out there, right now, living, failing, falling, celebrating, changing. All I know is I feel quite stagnate. Like some bronze statue of a bison in the middle of a park celebrating a dead culture, more for its nostalgiac value than the intrinsic longing and realization to be something better than we are right now.

After | Life

I stayed in the shower as long as I could,
then posed before the steam-shot mirror,
trying to remember what Frost said
about ghosts: if the dead are souls,
surely they don't have them? I've read
arguments about whether ghosts exist,
but none that tell if you are one.
I know a dozen times I could have died--
the fever that spiked in my sleep, a crash
two lanes away, the alley I avoided.
The people I see in the grocery store and the park
don't seem dead. I might be haunting them,
though they look frightened only by their lives'
ordinary burdens. I feel different than I did
last night--lonelier and less afraid.
If that was life, this morning must be after.

-- Carrie Shipers, from Ordinary Mourning


mr_subjunctive said...



Ginny said...

Have you heard the story, told some years ago by journalist Bob Greene, about the writer who, frustrated and discouraged by all of his rejection slips, copied word for word the National Book Award winner's novel from a previous year and submitted it as his own? The reply he received was that it was "reminiscent of (the award winner)" but wasn't up to their standards. The point being that all those rejections aren't really a reflection on the quality of one's work.
I know that doesn't lift your spirits, though. . .
I have often said that those who contribute most to society (teachers, ministers, rescue workers, non-profit employees) are at the low end of the income scale. My husband was a newspaper editor for many years before being laid off two years ago. Now he works for a non-profit. He's a writer, too, with many, many rejection slips to his credit. My son got his MFA in Poetry, taught for one year at the University, and then realized his future was uncertain so he went to law school.
And me - I come to work every day, not minding my work, but knowing that doing what gives me the most joy wouldn't pay me a single cent. And because I have to come to work in order to pay the bills, I don't have much time to do those things that give me joy.
What's the answer for me? Making the most of that time I do have doing the things I love and just accepting that this is the way it has to be.
But you know, sometimes a crisis of the spirit encourages a needed change. Maybe you should start that landscaping business you mentioned in a previous post.

Unknown said...


Thanks for your comment on my blog entry about the Jewel Basin. Perhaps you will get a chance to design massive Oudolf drifts when Monarch Gardens is up and running? At times like this, I like to remember Woddy Allen's quote "Eighty percent of success is showing up." Hang in there. Ordered your book today.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Mr. S.--Had I not followed the link I'd think you were flirting with me. I AM hot, darn it. And smart. And gosh darn it some people like me, occasionally, if I pay them.
Ginny--That is a great story about the novel! I have more than once though about writing something in the style I know is hot right now, just to see if I can get it published and have a nice journal on my byline. I still refuse to beleive that doing what you want / enjoy / feel called to do must mean you also can't have globs of money. And I want globs of money not just for myself, but to set up philanthropic foundation, by eco lobbysists in Washington, et cetera. Crises of the spirit have always seemed like gut checks to me, and you have to leap out into faith if you want to live a purposeful life, even if it means falling hard. Easier said than done.
Michael--Well, if I had some cash I'd head to Chicago and at least see some Oudolf drifts before the school year starts. Thank you for ordering my book, that makes me feel good--but even more, your getting something out of it would be really good. We shall see!

mr_subjunctive said...

And gosh darn it some people like me, occasionally, if I pay them.

Then I think we need to have a conversation about some money you owe me.

mr_subjunctive said...

Alternate plan: perhaps planting a bush of some kind would make you feel better? Something in a non-tree, woody perennial bush, perhaps?

debsgarden said...

Hi Benjamin, this does sound like a midlife crisis to me, and it sounds like you are emotionally exhausted. Here's the thing:The importance of what you do isn't necessarily measured in how much money or happiness it brings you. Your family, your writing, your teaching all contribute to the world, and who knows what the ripple effect takes from there out into the world. Feelings are wishy-washy, unreliable judges. We rarely feel excited about the daily grind, although that grind is what makes the world go round.

Still, it would be nice to be rewarded for our efforts! Perhaps you do need a change, or at least reward yourself with a nice vacation or something else you long for. Be assured that your life is important. Enjoy small, sweet moments of today, but don't let your dreams die!

Folding Tables said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Benjamin Vogt said...

Mr. S. -- Would like that dime mailed or sent in a wireless transaction?
DG--I know happiness is a made up word or contruct in our society, but being balanced and content is the way to go, and it seem simpossible. I've been fed up for some time, so something more than a vacation--which I can't begin to afford--is what's needed, I think. I don't know how to prepare for it, look out for it, be ready....

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

Alright Benjamin?

For a moment there you almost sounded human.

Cheer up fella, mr_subjunctive needs to get off the fence.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Rob--Almost human? Hmmm? More human than human.

tom ehrhardt said...

the last generation c.bukowski

it was much easier to be a genius in the 20's
there were only 3 or 4 literary magazines and if you got into them you could end up in Gerties parlor
you could possibly meet Picasso for a glass of wine
or maybe only Miro
and yes if you sent your stuff post marked Paris chances of publication became much better
most writers bottomed their manuscripts with the word "Paris" and the date
and with the patron there was time to eat, write, drink and take drives to Italy and sometimes Greece. It was good to be photo'd with others of your kind it was good to look tidy, enigmatic and thin. photos taken on the beach were great. and yes you could write letters to the 15 or 20 other bitching about this and that. you might get a letter from Ezra or Hem
It was a romantic grand gamee then full of fury and discovery
now there are so many of us, hundreds of literary magazines, hundreds of presses, thousands of titles. who is to survive out of all this mulch.
its almost improper to ask...
If they were the Lost Generation what would you call us? Sitting here among the warheads with our electric typewriters...

tom ehrhardt, minnesota

Benjamin Vogt said...

Tom--Now, was that supposes to make me feel better, or worse? Misery loves company, I suppose. Always the same generation to generation, we're just too solipsistic to notice.