The Real Work
by Holly Wren Spaulding,
Earlier this summer, more than a few of my friends commented on how idyllic my life looks these days, referring, no doubt, to photos of rustic cabins and lakeside retreats in places like Montana and the Berkshires, where I sometimes offer poetry workshops and retreats.
This life is almost confoundingly beautiful and good. The fact that I spend most of my waking hours in service of people and challenges that matter to me, continues to blow my mind, precisely because I know it could be otherwise. To gather with other writers and artists in the company of lakes, rivers, mountains, and forests makes me feel like I am fulfilling my purpose, which is no small accomplishment, given how long I asked the question: How should I live? What should I do, given what I know and who I am? The scenic vistas are the visible part, where I arrive after months or years of invisible effort to plan, negotiate, and market these special events. The invisible part, I hate to admit, is hunching over a laptop, where I attempt to stay on top of the prosaic aspects of this poet’s life, which too often comes down to email, email, email, as well as budget airlines and my twenty year old Honda, lately without heat or air conditioning.
In early June an image came to me — a model for how to relate to my upcoming schedule of summer travel and teaching — of a leaf floating down river over rocks, rapids, eddies, and stretches of cool blue, without becoming caught in the weeds or whirlpools along the edge and without being sunk.
More than any other current ambition, I am trying to find ways to enjoy what I’m doing in this moment, no matter what else may need my attention. I aspire to this quality of presence in both the mundane and marvelous parts of my life, so when I’m discussing a poem by Jenny George or Sarah Gambito, I want so much to do just that, without parallel thoughts drawing me into other concerns. And when I’m sitting with my sweetheart in the yard at night, drinking rum by oil lamp light, I don’t want to feel that I should return to my study. In any case, I am learning to put the phone and computer away after the work day ends.
And, I’ve been experimenting with what I can get away in terms of these ideas and boundaries, which is to say, I am training my brain that it’s OK to stay put, redirect my energy, and have a little faith that — despite a shift in our culture toward non-stop productivity — it’s part of my purpose in life to resist that pressure and find my own pace and logic for doing whatever must be done in a day.