That Crazy Thang Called "Plans"

It’s the end of another week, and I have a bit of a headache that I’m calling sinus because if I scrunch up my nose and squint my eyes, the pressure seems to be relieved a little bit. It’s kind of hard to type like this and I think all of the undergraduates wandering by my door think I’m crazy, but at least there’s some relief!

I failed to report on Warren-Wilson. I don’t really remember whether I mentioned on here that I applied to this elite low-res MFA program, but I did. It was the only school I applied to, figuring that since I’m not in any major rush to start working on a degree I might as well only apply to the #1 place I’d like to be. So I applied, and the WW website said that I’d hear somewhere between three and six weeks after their application deadline. Once that time period rolled around, I started to experience this serious anxiety about being accepted. With Brandon starting school and the two of us being on this kick to eliminate debt, financing a second graduate degree at this point would be rather cost-prohibitive. And the program doesn’t offer any tuition reduction or scholarships. But I applied anyway, and here I am chewing my lip through trying to decide what to do if I’m accepted.

Imagine my surprise when I was absolutely relieved to be rejected! Ahhh, thank you, door of opportunity slammed shut! There’s nothing quite like receiving a strong NO when you have anxiety about a situation.

I have to pull a quick quote from back in March that I stumbled upon this afternoon. It made me giggle and sigh at my own stupidity.

In many ways I don’t know what to do next, in regards to poetry. I am working on a draft of my first full-length manuscript right now, getting feedback from poet friends on order and arc and what-not, but what I don’t know is whether I should be thinking about going for my graduate degree, either MFA or something else, or whether I am right where I need to be. Another thing my friend said on Thursday that really struck a chord with me is that often, once we’ve found our niche and begin to succeed, we have a tendency to be rewarded or promoted straight out of that place that God put us – the sweet spot where we are most productive. Even though some pursuits may seem like good ideas, they might not be God’s idea, or God’s timing. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about with my career as a poet (if you can call being a poet any sort of “career”). Is going for a higher degree right now or in the near future a good idea, God’s idea, both, or neither?

When I think about it in terms of my family, I think going back to school right now would be putting myself before every other member in my family. It would be a seriously selfish move – especially since Brandon has been planning to go back to school for a few years now. I don’t think it is right or fair to him or my children to take on yet another project, especially when I am already over-committed with work, church, and my poetry as it is. I think in a few years, once the kids are in school and the husband is almost done or finished with his master’s, the timing will be better. And who knows where we will be a few more years down the road? I certainly never predicted we’d be here.

So how about that? Why didn’t I stick to my guns, you ask? Because I am like every other human being on this planet – ambitious, big-headed, and over-eager – and don’t like to pay attention to any still, small voices of reason. That’s why. Have you ever been excited about rejection like this? I was thrilled! I still am thrilled! I don’t have to make any difficult decisions!

In other exciting news, guess who’s going to Key West in January? Oh yeah, baby, that’s me, hangin’ with my poet homies… you know, all those people who won’t know me but I sure know them! At least through their writing… Richard Wilbur, Rita Dove, Maxine Kumin, Billy Collins and a whole host of other poets. It’s going to be so fabulous.

I’ve also had some publication news come streaming in lately. In the last month or so, I’ve had three poems accepted – Christianity & Literature, JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, and just today, Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature. It’s been an exciting month! It just goes to show that even if you’ve received 120 rejections in the last year, acceptance might just be right around the corner. The publications are such an affirmation, but as I mentioned in my last post, this is not why I write. In fact, if that becomes why I’m writing, I think all inspiration and authenticity about my work will go flying away. I can’t write for publication. Then it is not true. Sometimes I feel myself leaning in that direction, thinking, “I bet what they’d like to read is something more like this…” and then I start to put the pen to the paper and panic because there’s nothing there. No inspiration whatsoever.

Be true to your voice. Be true to your subject matter. And never think, “Oh, they won’t like that subject/topic/form/word/theme/punctuation mark.” They shouldn’t be a thought in your mind until far beyond the first draft and multiple revisions of the poem. But it’s easy to lose that focus.

I’m excited about a few poem ideas I have floating around in my brain right now. All I need to do is find the time to write. It sounds so simple…

Happy weekend!

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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