I’m a poet. I also work five days a week at a psychiatric hospital. I love my day job but it eats up a lot of time. Then there’s my own mental health stuff (that most of us writers deal with) which takes up time…time to meditate, time to work out, time at my therapist’s office. All of this is stuff I can’t skimp on, but I also can’t skimp on my writing time because it is as important as everything else in keeping me well. So, the reality is, I don’t have enough time in general which makes me treasure what I do have.
I write at home, on my couch with a blue notebook and a black inkgel pen and in the company of at least one cat. Dinner time and early evening is my sweet spot because my partner doesn’t get home from work until after 8 pm. My writing practice is dependent on both reading other poets work and being able to spend time in stillness and silence before I put pen to paper. I live in downtown Toronto which offers its own set of challenges (noise, cost) but also gives me access to great cultural events.
My job as a poet is to try to cultivate a feeling of expansiveness and possibility and to let words come to the page however they want to. It’s not my job to judge. That can come later. Weekends can be about revising and ruminating on small details and big picture concepts. Weekdays, I just need to show up at the page. When this happens, I consider it a successful writing day.
I recently came back from a month long writing residency—an experience of pure luxury and privilege that went by in the blink of an eye (lazy example, sorry). Half of the participants were people who had just finished MFA’s and weren’t currently employed or people whose employment was related to their writing versus the other half of us who were still a little stunned we had managed to talk managers into giving us a month off. Those of us with full time jobs seemed to approach the residency in the same way, happy to chat with people at meals and to attend evening readings but otherwise we kept to our studios. The other half who didn’t come from tight schedules were less guarded about their time. They were more social and in the spirit of keeping it real…some of them consumed copious amounts of boxed wine. I say that without judgment. Whatever works, right? But I was thankful as hell when I heard at one breakfast how there had been impromptu musical chairs and pole dancing in the dining hall until 2 am the night before. I watched the stragglers stumble in for breakfast, I could feel their pain.
The weekly karaoke night in town definitely took out a few authors for a day afterwards but to each their own. I don’t doubt that they had a seriously good time and I think bonding while raising a glass is totally cool…unless you’re an alcoholic in recovery like me…which is a whole other story. Let’s just say I felt it was a healthier choice for me to be greedy with my time.
Basically, like the words that come to the page, it’s a successful writing day if I’m not judging myself or anyone else.
Shannon Quinn’s first collection of poetry, Questions for Wolf, was published by Thistledown Press. Her work has appeared in Grain, Arc, subTerrain, Prairie Fire, room and CV2. Her second collection, Nightlight for Children of Insomniacs, will be published this spring by Mansfield Press. Visit her at shannonquinnpoetry.com.