Last week I came across this article: Dispelling the Myth: Why All Writers Should Defend Their Craft by Lisa Marie Basile who is the founding editor of Luna Luna Magazine. You will notice, if you clicked around on my blog, that I have a link to Luna Luna under writing blogs I follow, so I was interested the article right away.
Ms. Basile wrote a eloquent, intelligent article about why writers should embrace and celebrate their craft and work. Why they should not feel ashamed or guilty about being a “writer.” Why they should talk about their writing with other people who are not writers. Why they should hold their heads up high and talk with confidence about why they do what they do and how they do it.
My response to her declarations? Yes! Absolutely. Right on!
And then I found myself remembering all the times I had stood in mixed company at a dinner party or luncheon or volunteer meeting and when the inevitable question arose “so what do you do?” my answer would simply be “I teach creative writing at a community college.” The fact that I actively write poetry. That I’ve recently had poems picked up for publication. That I’m putting together a chapbook. That I received an MFA in poetry (for god sake). None of these things tumble out after the simple response of “I teach.”
I think some of it is what Ms. Basile addresses in her article. I know the stereotypes all to well. I teach an intro level creative writing course. I know what my students think of poetry and the people who write it. I spend most of my time trying to take those neat little stereotypes and tear them apart, but I’m still vulnerable to them.
I think the other issue for me is perhaps a more specific one, but I often find myself defending the profession of teaching and more specifically of teaching at a community college. This is a whole other post in itself, but when I find myself in these conversations, I often think to myself “well, if these people don’t think teaching is valuable occupation, wait till they hear I’m a poet.” In other words, there is only so much punishment I can bear in one conversation. It’s exhausting.
This idea is best illustrated by a conversation I had with my husband’s current boss when I first met him about a year ago. He’s a lovely man and a fellow lover of poetry, so his response was especially disheartening/irritating. After making small talk for a few minutes, he says to me “RJ tells me you teach at (insert my community college). What’s your specific area of focus?” When I responded with creative writing with a concentration in poetry, he replied “So when are you going to law school?”
Are you kidding me?
Now, the point of this post is not to throw a pity party for myself or to get other people to throw it for me, but these were thoughts that coursed through my head while reading Ms. Basile’s article. But after all those thoughts shuffled out of my brain, I thought to myself, you know what? This is BS.
So from now on, when people ask me what I do? I’m a poet and and teach creative writing.