Work, identity, and what you know

The other day, my sister-in-law observed that often the work we do is a big part of our identity–how we see and feel about ourselves. I thought about that, and I realized that a big part of my work identity has been showing up and working hard. More than the specific job title or project, I’ve been the person who gets up every day, Monday through Friday, and goes to work. That’s been a part of who I am.

That reminded me of Donald Hall’s book Life Work, in which he writes that work is necessary for all of us. He talks about his mother sewing and canning even though she didn’t need to–in her generation, she could go to the store. She “worked out of habit’s necessity not out of necessity’s habit.” I thought about my distant cousin who, while an invalid, made intricate, gossamer-thin doilies. Exquisite handwork. Not essential to the household, but necessary for her, giving her a way to contribute.

I also thought about Hall’s grandfather–his trick of luring the cows back to the barn with millet or a sweet grass. He had a lifetime of knowledge and he used it. Good work means using what we know to do things, to get things done, a kind of creativity.

Thinking about knowledge led me to Sarah Kay’s TED talk, the part where she talks about finding 10 things that you know to be true or should have learned by now.

I pare it down and change it to 3 things about me that I know are true.

1. Words are my medium. I love to read–to enter different worlds, or to learn new things, or both at the same time. I love to write–and I need to write poetry. I learned that during September’s novel experiment. Four weeks in, I had to take a break and work on poems. I haven’t tried to take a month off from reading poetry, and I don’t intend to.

2. I like to solve problems and puzzles. That was the satisfying part about writing help. I didn’t think I was saving the world, but I hoped I was making someone’s day go a little easier.

3. I like to learn new things. As much as I love a routine, it’s true that every good job I’ve had began as something new to me (my only previous experience being my work with words).

4. (Bonus) Little dogs make me smile.

These days, my work is to look for a job, to write poems, to finish those last 3,000 words of my novel’s first draft. I show up.

And today I was called “the official poet laureate” of the vegetable stand. Not bad.

What’s your best work, and what are you working on now?

Letting go, moving on

I have a rocking chair in the back of my car.

It’s been there for nearly a month. I don’t know why this last part of the transition out of my old job has been so hard. Partly, because I don’t have a good place in my house for it (I also have artwork stacked on the floor). Partly because it’s a little unwieldy to lug up and down stairs, through doorways.

Partly I think it’s a symbol of my old life, and the life before that–my previous house, my first husband. When we bought it together, the man at the store asked us something about expecting. I guess you buy rockers when you’re having a baby. At the time, we weren’t. I’d just always wanted a rocking chair.

At some point, I took the chair into my office. I rarely sat in it, but I invited other people to–relax for a minute… rock.

Now it has become a symbol of an ending. The other day, I looked back on my job experiences and realized that it’s been about 25 years since I had to look for a job–since I didn’t have a job, or a job in the works, and didn’t know what the next job would be. A long time–about as long as I’ve had the chair. Taking the chair out of my car means that run is truly over.

As one era ends, another begins. I believe in making room for things to happen, so I need to let go, get that chair out of my car, and make a space for my next work. But if you want it and you’re in the Seattle area, let me know.

Poetry launches and what’s next

This week brings the newest issue of The Smoking Poet, with poems by James Valvis, Christopher Barnes, Marguerite Keil Flanders, Dana Guthrie Martin, and Gail C. Flanders. Plus interviews, reviews, A Good Cause, and more. Check it out, and if you want to submit for the next issue, see the guidelines.

Also new this week, Floating Bridge Review. Last night, I attended a packed launch reading at Jack Straw. So much poetry! (I have two poems in this year’s issue.)

What’s next?

During the past couple of months, Jeannine Hall Gailey has written some thoughtful posts about considering what’s next. Now I find myself in that same situation. The rhythm of my days during the workweek has changed almost completely. I still get up and go to the gym, but I don’t set my alarm for 5:00 or 5:30. I ride a different bus home, work on my resume, submit job applications, free write, revise, add to my novel (I’m up to 45,000 words, finally). I still have stacks of artwork that I brought home (where to hang it?) and boxes to unpack. I still have a rocking chair in the back of my car (do you want a rocking chair?). I’ve been looking for cover art (close now!) and planning an author photo shoot for my forthcoming book, reading a friend’s novel manuscript, trying to catch up some on editing. Always wondering: What’s next?

I’m not great at transitions. Usually way to manage change is to charge through it as quickly as possible. Temporary isn’t my style (which doesn’t explain the aforementioned stacks of stuff). I’ve lived in the same house for 15 years, married for 16 years, and worked at the same company for 17 years (including two years of contract work). I show up. But I’ve received this time, and in the middle of uncertainty, I’m working to use this gift, to show up for it, if that makes any sense. And keeping my eyes and ears open for opportunities–or even ideas of opportunities. Those glimmers.

What’s next for you? How do you move through change?