I've just finished up a two-day process of going through all my back issues of The Sun--16 years' worth--and cataloging the poems and stories I've published there. The score so far: 52 poems, and 15 prose pieces--and that tally might be a little low, there were a few issues missing from my collection.
My. God. It was both amazing and appalling to sit at the dining room table with towering stacks of magazines all around me. I rediscovered some little poems that I didn't even remember writing. After two laptop thefts, I never recreated my database of poems entirely. I'm glad those were published so that there's a record of them somewhere.
The appalled part came from the reckoning of how much of my life has been spent in this pursuit: writing poems, revising poems, sending out poems. I can remember addressing so many envelopes, putting so many stamps on, so many trips to the mailbox.
I've done this rather than any of the million zillion things humans do to pass their time one earth. I did not plant a forest-worth of trees, like the custodian I read about in People Magazine, who slowly, patiently planted seedling after seedling, week after week, until after thirty years, he had restored a whole barren clear-cut mountain side, miles and miles of it, to its former forest glory.
I did not adopt a dozen children from the four corners of the earth, I didn't go to graduate school and enter a helping profession like social worker or therapist, as my college advisor urged me to do. I didn't even become a full-time teacher, although I spent a lot of time telling myself I should.
I didn't have my own children. I didn't wander the world with a backpack, I didn't become an actor, painter, bread baker. For better or for worse, I've been sitting at a typewriter (and in the last twenty five years a computer,) typing, year in, year out, and this three or four page list of publications, which I'm compiling for grant applications, a book submission, letters to prospective agents, is what I have to show for it. Scary to see it reduced to that--sobering, and medicinbal too, in its own bracing way. So. This is what you've got. Is it what you wanted? What else now?
Writing being what it is, it seems I have dropped a trail of personal breadcrumbs over the house of memory that is my past--reading those back issues of The Sun, I can trace the period when I was working with people with AIDS, when I got divorced, this love affair, that love affair, teaching, counseling, food, neighborhoods...up to the present day, where my hair is grayer than I ever imagined it would be, and the pictures G took of me for my new web site (yes! After four years on now-obsolete software, we are doing a complete update!) look... old.
"See, those ones came out kind of bad, but these ones are great," he said, showing me. From his perspective as photographer, the photos that were bad were the ones that were slightly out of focus. Privately, I thought that could be an improvement. The ones he thought were "great" were high-resolution, sharp as meedles. They showed every wrinkle with merciless clarity. I resisted the impulse to ask him if he couldn't photo-shop my neck. And my forehead, while he's at it. And my upper arms.
After all, this is reckoning time, this forty-ninth year. This is the time for the counting of the first harvest. If my life were a Jewish calendar, this would be my time of Shevuous, or perhaps, Sukkot. End of summer with its illusion of endless days. Time for the facing of the face in the mirror.
It's like my first Weight Watcher's meeting when I actually stepped on the scale. Thanks to the wonders of spandex and other stretch materials, it's possible to be blithely in denial (due to a typo, I wrote "lithely," which works as well,) as long as you don't look at the numbers. But I'm e3ven more curious than I am vain--which is saying something, since I am very vain. In the end, this curiosity may be the quality that saves me. I want to know what I really look like now, I want to see how I've spent--or misspent my time, I want to ask the hard questions and endure the answers. And then I want G to photo-shop my neck.