“Kathie, you are such an inspiration to all of us who write!”
And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Those words up there appeared on my Facebook page this week. And I can’t even begin to tell you what they mean to me. I hold writers in the highest regard of anyone on the planet, and to think that I am succeeding in lifting them up just makes me happy.
Happy. A word we don’t hear much these days.
But honestly, I consider advocating for writers to be a huge part of my job, both as a writer and a teacher. So hearing something like this does me a world of good.
So does finding a box nestled against my door after the sound of my doorbell rang throughout the condo. Was I expecting someone? Oh, yes, I was.
Book #11. A full-length poetry collection called No Matter Which Way You Look, There Is More To See, released by Finishing Line Press this week. It’s my eleventh book, but my third book of poetry, and my first full-length collection. And there’s so much that’s special about it.
First, it’s book #11. That alone stuns me. My first book, a novel called The Home For Wayward Clocks, came out in 2011, the year I turned 51. I’d begun to wonder – and doubt – if I’d ever have a book published. After Clocks, I’ve had the incredible good fortune to have 10 other books come tumbling out. Enlarged Hearts, a short story collection, 2012. Learning To Tell (A Life)Time, a novel and the sequel to Clocks, 2013. Rise From The River, a novel, 2015. Oddities & Endings, a short story collection, 2016, along with True Light Falls In Many Forms, a poetry chapbook that same year. In Grace’s Time, a novel, 2017. Today’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News, the first year of this blog, 2018. If You Tame Me, a novel, 2019, along with When You Finally Said No, a poetry chapbook, in that same year. And now, 2020, the full-length collection of poetry, No Matter Which Way You Look, There Is More To See, which is how I truly feel. Book #12 is sitting at my publisher’s, awaiting its fate. Which is making me nervous.
Second, the cover. It was created from my photograph of 7-year old Olivia, from the first time she traveled to Oregon with me. She was meeting the Pacific Ocean, and she was exhilarated and entranced. “I’m dancing with the ocean, Mama! I’m dancing with the ocean!” And she was. It remains one of my favorite memories and one of my favorite photographs. Olivia’s never-to-be-repressed joy is on full display. That’s my girl.
And third, well, the story behind the poetry. Anyone who has known me for a fairly long time knows that if I was asked if I wrote poetry, I would say, “No!” Emphatically. Firmly.
I lied. I’ve always written poetry. I have a notebook from the fifth grade class where my amazing teacher, Mrs. Faticci, called me, publicly, in front of the entire class, a writer. In that notebook, along with the stories, are poems.
When I was a junior in high school, I met Duane Stein, my creative writing teacher. I’ve written about him often; he is still in my life. At a time when I most needed a confidence boost, when I most needed to know that my life was worth something, that I was worth something, there he was. He praised my writing over and over. And he told me that writing wasn’t only my gift, but my responsibility. He caused me to look at writing in a whole different way – it was something that I had to give.
Until we got to the poetry unit. I handed in poetry. He read it. And he said, “Well, you should stick with your fiction.”
I was crushed. These were the words coming from the man who believed in me. Who raved about my work, but gave me sold feedback and criticism and who I listened to so intensely, I swear I heard his thoughts before he spoke them.
Never ever underestimate the influence of a teacher.
So I shoved my poetry underground. I continued to write it, to read it, to love it, but I never showed it to anyone. I never admitted to writing it. As far as I was concerned, it didn’t exist.
And then the books started coming out. As they did, I saw a call for manuscripts wanting poetry on a certain theme. I knew I had a poem on that theme. So I cautiously got it out, dusted it off, and submitted it. It was accepted. Slowly, slowly, I submitted others. They were accepted.
Then the first chapbook.
And the second.
And now the full-length collection. No Matter Which Way You Look, There Is More To See. Indeed.
Now please know, I absolutely love my creative writing teacher from high school. It is because of him, because of his instilling this sense of responsibility in me, that it’s not enough to have a gift, you have to be committed to using the gift, that I’m out there with 11 books (hopefully 12 soon) and I’m the head of an international creative writing studio. Getting my words out. Lifting writers up.
It’s because of him that I never ever gave up. Not even when he said, “Well, you should stick with your fiction.” I hid for a while. But I didn’t give up. I kept writing. Even poetry.
He was, and is, my inspiration.
And now, I’m told I’m an inspiration too.
That’s all I’ve ever wanted.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.