This is the Life of a Poet

I was not alone on my solo journey across America. While I enjoyed air conditioning and iPod tunes inside my car, my bike, Cooper, got the unmitigated madness of the top-car journey along the interstate.

Just one week ago today, I was sitting in my suburban Minnesota home after a lovely afternoon spent teaching a How-to-Write-a-Limerick lesson to a most wonderful 4th grade class via exploding marshmallows in microwaves.

I have come far in one week! Tuesday found me driving from St. Paul, MN to Evanston IL; Wednesday was Evanston to Chicago to Dayton, OH; Thursday saw Ann Arbor, MI, then back down to Ohio for Bowling Green; Friday was a long haul from Bowling Green to Ithaca, NY; and Saturday was the finale, finishing strong with a drive from Ithaca to Boston; Boston, which is now my home. A total of 1,770 miles driven, spread over a gorgeous, weeklong solo all-American roadtrip.

Besides catching up with Gramma (who is still, in her own words, “the busiest little bitch on the block” in south Chicago), I got to see a smattering of other friends and family members that I see far less often than I would like, and they kindly let me stay on their couches, and I gladly got to learn how life goes for them these days. Thank you to Tracy, Tyson, Gramma, Uncle Butch, Uncle P, Aunt E, Elizabeth, MK, Jimmy, Megan (and Charlie), Todd, Mary, Erin, and everyone else (including my parents and also the nice man in White County, IN who helped me fix my car) who made that cross-country trip successful as well as pleasurable.

Wisconsin Sun
Wisconsin Sun

It’s no great secret that I love driving long distances. Listening to Tina Fey’s Bossypants on audiobook mingled with some NPR “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” Alec Baldwin’s “Here’s the Thing” podcast and the occasional Billy Joel song while a  beautiful midwestern countryside sunset appears in my rearview mirror is nothing short of the best moving experience a girl could ask for. I love the expedition lifestyle. Every day was a challenge – new roads to navigate, new territory to be discovered, a new life waiting for me on the other side of the Appalachians.

That was the good stuff – the traveling. Traveling to me is life itself. It’s movement, mistakes, recovery, quick thinking, double backing, and ultimate discovery – of place, of self, of sound mind, of simple living. Now that I’m here, it’s the hard part – the waiting. I could not have asked for a better welcome to my new-old home. One hour after arriving in Boston on Saturday, I attended a belated Seder with my faux-Jew (and some legit-Jew) Tufts alum friends in Fenway then schlepped over to Tufts itself to revel in the glory that is the Tufts Dance Collective spring show. It was a rather phenomenal night and a healthy reminder of everything that is to be loved about my old Boston lifestyle.

A mysterious tower I found in the woods in upstate New York.

But it’s been two days and I’m restless already. The sounds of the city aren’t sweet like the Costa Rican rainforest to which I had become accustomed. The rev of the garbage truck engine outside my window doesn’t have the same heartening roar as the mighty Río Pacuare. Hauling ass on my mountain bike through the cobblestone sidewalks of Cambridge is thrilling, but not filling. Squinting at the Charles River through the T window as it crosses over Longfellow Bridge symbolizes everything I want to leave behind in my old life: sitting passively in machines built by men and letting the world spin me to sleep while my guts rot from understimulation.

This is the life of a poet? I thought this afternoon as I sat, dejected, on the couch, admiring the gracelessness of everything around me. No, this is me stutter-stepping through my life like I’ve never done it before, because I haven’t, and laughing when I can and crying when I can’t and writing in between.

After reading that fabulous sentence back to myself, I realized that, in fact, that is EXACTLY the life of a poet. Internally twisting external grossness and slag into beauty and courage, recording it, and projecting it in the hopes that the internal change may someday inspire an external one. The life of the poet is disheartening, disgraceful, thankless, awkward and as confusing as trying to find a parking spot in Cambridge (the street signs ALL say one-way the way I’m NOT going. ALWAYS).

But to fully appreciate the view from the top of the mountain, you have to start at the bottom. And that is what I am doing. Certainties in life are few, but this one I guarantee: I am a poet, and if it takes making a few sideways moves to uncover startling truths, I’ll go there and I’ll do it and I’ll have the time of my life – until I become overwhelmed by the weight of things and sink into a horrible depression, at which point I will watch an episode of Friends, which will lead me to watch an episode of 30 Rock, which will lead me to watch this clip of Brian Williams pretending to be a lizard-person on 30 Rock:

which will remind me of the day I saw Brian Williams speak at Tufts (which was TODAY and he was AMAZING and is my HERO and is AMAZING and DREAMY and also SMART and WITTY and BEAUTIFUL), which will remind me of how I once moved to Boston and wasn’t quite sure of my path but made it in the end because 1) I have wonderful, supportive friends and family that don’t understand what I’m doing but do their best to encourage me anyway and 2) that this twisted If-You-Give-a-Moose-a-Muffin logic sequence is not quite the planetary norm, but it is MY norm, and I make it work, and I create great thoughts and books and other things, because I am a poet, and one week ago I was in Minnesota teaching limericks, and one week from now – well, no one quite knows!

A great mentor of mine (Brian Williams) once said (today) to me (and the 300 other people in the auditorium): “I chose the only career where if you can travel for 36 hours straight, arrive in a hostile environment, and sit down and write – you’re in.” He was speaking of journalism and broadcast news, but it struck a chord with me, a traveler/writer of a different sort. I can’t explain it to you (or, most times, to myself either), but something in me knows what’s up – where I’m headed, what it means, and why. It just takes some time for the story to unravel. Two weeks ago I decided that the next Vogelian Adventure story would unfold in Boston.

I’m here. I’m ready. I’ll keep you posted.

4 thoughts on “This is the Life of a Poet

  1. Awesome! I really enjoyed reading this. I felt like I was catching up with you even though we weren’t talking.

  2. That is a high compliment, jgus! I hope our paths do cross soon though – it’s been too long since I’ve reenacted a Seinfeld episode or analytically discussed a 17th-century fortress map.

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