I missed a poetry reading yesterday because I was busy meeting an artist.
I met a woman later on who turned out to be the poet.
And she gave me a gift that I’ve spent the day unwrapping.
I’d gone to a gathering. An open house at a farm owned by the writer, Jon Katz, and his wife, the textile artist Maria Wulf. I suppose labeling them as ‘the writer’ and ‘the artist’ is a bit limiting. These generous souls had opened up their farm to their community – a wonderful group of artists, photographers, writers, neighbors and fans. It was a wonderfully magical day of connection between humans and animals alike. I had seen the creative work of many of the attendees online, as a part of an incredible group I belong to – a ‘Ministry of Encouragement’ conceived of by Jon Katz. It was amazing to meet these folks in person. On a Facebook post this morning, I found myself writing that it was like meeting an entire party’s worth of celebrities – but ones I actually admire – who turned out to be everything I could have hoped for.
Nearing the end of the posted time for the gathering, I happened upon two women sitting side by side in a pair of Adirondack chairs. I introduced myself and met Maria’s mother (who was lovely) and the poet, Mary Kellogg. I had missed her reading while I was meeting Maria and looking at the creative work displayed in her studio. I had heard that Mary had her first book of poetry published as she approached the age of 80. I didn’t know much more about her yesterday, but I’m going to buy her books the next time I’m in Cambridge, New York (there’s an independent bookstore there I want to go to). I know that now, for sure.
I asked Mary about coming to poetry so late in life. She was gracious and direct. She said she’d futzed with writing nearly her entire life. It had just taken a ‘little while’ for her to share her work with anyone. I shared with her that I’d been writing on and off over the course of my own life and had also just recently begun to share my work, when I joined the creative group that Jon Katz had set up online. I told her that I had struggled with sharing my work now, because it was so personal to me, and it seemed so “late”. I told her that she was an inspiration, having first been published so recently. She smiled and laughed a little and called me ‘so young’ (and oh how my heart leapt!).
I spoke to Mary for no more than five minutes. But from the moment of our handshake, I sensed something. I don’t know her, but her being held a message for me: It’s not too late. It’s never too late.
In Mary, I sensed someone with a confidence gained not only from age, but also from the fact that she’d really lived. I sensed that she had a content-rich life, and that she also had content of character. And shortly after meeting her, and bidding goodbye to the amazing folks who attended the gathering, I found myself winding my way east through the mountainous roads of Vermont. And I was thinking of Mary. I couldn’t stop thinking of her. And that she not only writes actively, and has not only published her poetry in several books, but she is also meeting people and doing readings of her poetry. She added a whole new facet to an already interesting life, just a few years ago.
And I didn’t know that last part until I got home, got some rest, and got up early this morning to learn a little bit more about this woman I’d met for just a moment yesterday afternoon.
I learned that she had been writing poetry since she was eleven years old, but had not shared her work with anyone until a few years ago. I read that she lives on a thirty-acre farm that she takes care of, pretty much on her own. And as far as I can tell, she has now had her third book of poetry published.
She is clearly a strong woman. She also seems to have a surety about her.
I began to reflect on myself. Am I strong? Yes. I am. I have evidence.
But am I sure?
There is a difference between strength and surety.
I’d never considered this. Why am I unsure at times? What’s missing?
And I noodled over this question for a long time. And then, late this afternoon, came the answer.
Nothing’s missing. I have all the tools I need.
I have to listen.
In Mary Kellogg’s poem, Octogenarian, she writes of a choice that she has, at her impending age, to stay still and wait this life out, or not. In the “or not” part, she writes (amazingly):
I can jump, make a ripple
in little ways
I can sit motionless
as one I knew did
and say, “oh dear, oh dear.”
I prefer to make a ripple
to sweep another shore
touch another life
within another day*
Okay, Mary. You’ve done it. I am probably not the first to have a sail on a ripple you created, but here I am, about to sweep another shore.
I grew up in a house that did not promote ‘happy’. Feelings in general were taboo, but ‘happy’ seemed to be the worst one. Humor (I remember the Smothers Brothers on vinyl) was appreciated. Certainly we laughed. But, for whatever reason, the big happys such as true love, and having a real passion for your work, and being at peace with who you are – all these things were to be made fun of, rather than embraced. They were impossible goals. Why even try.
Happy was discouraged. It was suspicious. It was ridiculed.
‘Happy’ was inauthentic.
Now how sad, and utterly ridiculous is that?
I’ve spent my entire life feeling like a fraud if I’m happy.
And, God damn it, I’m pretty freakin’ happy!
I once had a family member come up to me at a gathering, at my house, and ask me what I took before the party, because no one is this happy.
I shit you not.
My family does not believe that I’m not on Prozac (or insert another mood elevator/even-outer here). And, before you balk, I have absolutely no issue with folks who do take these types of medications – thank goodness they are there for those who need them. But you get my point, right? Being in love, or happy isn’t a goal or fantastic happening. It’s weird.
And I have carried this with me for, like, ever.
How sad is it that someone can look at something I write – with the intent of sharing a point of view that (hopefully) will make someone smile or (bonus!) laugh out loud – and comment that it is somehow trite or inauthentic or “easy” (I love that one) because I have chosen to look at a situation from a non-tragic perspective, or I choose to end a story on an upbeat or hopeful note? It is not inauthentic. It’s me. I actually look at life this way. Shame on me!
And before someone says life must have been pretty easy for me, or I haven’t had anything tragic happen. Stop there. I can make your hair stand on end.
But I don’t want to write those stories. I would only be sharing them (at least at this point) to garner authentic points (inauthentically) with people who are accusing me of playing it safe or easy with my writing. Oh ya, and of being too happy!
I have been happy poor, I have been happy not poor. I have been happy skinny, I have been happy fat. I have been happy in a boat, I have been happy with a goat, I’m pretty happy here or there, I’m pretty happy anywhere. I probably like green eggs and ham, I probably like them Sam-I-am!
I want to make people laugh, by laughing at myself and at how I think about, well, just about anything. Life can be pretty dang funny and humor shows itself, sometimes, in pretty unexpected ways. If my writing helps fill up someones happy tank, I’m all for it.
Isn’t that the goal?
Can anyone really say that his or her goal is the opposite?
Why yes, Lisa, I have the lifetime goal to remain not happy.
Liar. You are inauthentic.
Maybe sometimes people just get stuck feeling that happy isn’t an achievable destination. Maybe they’ve just been through so much shit that they can’t believe that anyone who has been through any similar level of shit could possibly look at it in a different way (apologies for using “shit”, but it was authentic (I was really feeling it).
So that’s it.
I’m throwin’ off the bowlines, sailing away from the safe harbor (nod to Mark Twain). I’m going to write about the ongoing silly circus that is my life, no longer with a twinge of angst, but with glee. Of course I’ll write sometimes of tough things, I already have (many times). I’ll tell you what I was thinking, and where the experience brought me to. But I’ve gotta warn you – most likely – I’ll have worked my way back to generally happy.
Thank you Mary Kellogg. For touching my life, that day. For making me consider not only my strength, but also my surety.
You so totally rock.
Thanks for readin’.
*I do not own Mary’s books of poetry (yet), so found some of her poems online. I found the prose for ‘Octogenarian’ from the blog, White Feather Farm (whitefeatherfarm.wordpress.com)