Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Different Path

When I was younger, I spent hours on my bed writing poetry. I have memories of aching elbows from lying propped up, the side of my left hand completely smeared with ink. I look back fondly on these memories because they have little complexity - I wanted to write poems, and so I did. There was no mental coaxing, no competing desires. To be excited enough about words to spend countless hours thinking and creating: this was enough for me that by age 12, I had the life goal of "being a writer." No concept of what that meant, of course, or if I would actually enjoy those realities as an adult.

Over time poetry provided me: a college major, a work study job, a post-college fellowship, a job after college, amazing and talented friends, a dedication to working in the arts (which sticks with me now). I am so thankful for this path - completely and outrageously thankful.

And yet here I am, several years later, and I haven't written a poem in years. I've written other things: press releases, papers, reviews, marketing and sales copy, journal entries, letters, funding proposals, website copy. I read constantly. A well-written poem can still bring tears to my eyes.

And yet, and yet.

Just tonight actually, I admitted to myself that I've spent the past several years feeling guilty for letting my poetry career slide. I am consistently telling people that I'll get back into it, that soon I will begin writing again. Part of me really does want that to be true, since it was a clearly defining characteristic when people thought about me. I was always the writer of the group, the creative thinker. Without those labels, what did I become? How could I still pursue a creative, authentic life when I no longer knew the way? 

Tonight as I sit here and give my guilt a voice, I also recognize that I can forgive myself, and that there is much to value in what I've done instead over the past few years. Instead of devaluing the fact that I branched out and tried new things, I'm ready to honor my creativity in its current forms, even if my life has taken a different path than I originally imagined. The highlights:

1. Co-curating an art exhibit about a scientific topic. Not only am I discovering and working with new artists, but I get to connect the art to relevant and important issues in Philadelphia and the region. This process is both exciting and really scary, but I've found that the best lessons can be learned when you're scared.
2. Taking my body seriously. I've been doing a yoga-infused physical therapy routine every day for about 7 months now. My body is fixing itself and the pain is leaving, and I'm amazed at how much power we have to creatively shape our own experiences with our bodies.
3. Knitting. I was never confident with crafts, and felt insecure about my ability to work with my hands. Over this past year I've been experimenting, taking my comfort to a new level when co-workers and I made a baby blanket. I'm excited to push myself beyond the blanket / scarf stage and try something harder.
4. Orchestrating the 3-Day. For 4 years, nothing meant more to me than raising money and training to participate in the 3-Day walk. I wasn't able to participate this year and probably won't next year (hence the physical therapy), but motivating teammates and friends, thinking up new fundraisers, and connecting to people's stories was immensely satisfying.

I'm choosing now to give value to these experiences and passions instead of viewing my poetic side as a failure. I have no longer failed.  Rather, I have shifted paths. Maybe I will return to poetry one day and maybe I won't, but the experiences I chose to pursue in the past few years have been amazing and life-changing. Sometimes it helps to write that down, so I can't forget it. :)

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