Greetings, fellow traveler…
Congratulations on making it this far! It’s been a full day of adventures, and as the sun finishes its descent, purpling the hills over lovely Phoenix, AZ, and Josh hums along to Arcade Fire behind the wheel while Special the Dog snores loudly in the backseat, I’m happy to take this time to reflect on what we’ve learned today.
So what did we learn, exactly? Well, let’s rewind to this morning—after we spent a good half hour at the Tetris-style game of trunk packing and were finally situated—to the moment we turned on the car radio. Or, tried to turn on the radio, to be exact…only to face an LCD radio screen as scarily blank as the first page of a new writing notebook. “Dead, dead, deadsky,” as Beetlejuice would say, which is clearly not acceptable for a several day drive. (Even if you’re Josh and Jess, yappers extraordinaire.)
So there we were, cruising toward Volksgolf Repair Shop in Culver City, where we eventually learned that it was just a weird radio code thing, easily fixed in a half hour by Luis, my car guy who must moonlight as a rock star, he’s that awesome. But, still. Being detoured before we even got started wasn’t the best of all signs, some might say.
As annoying as that was, though, it sort of fit in to the conversation Josh and I had been carrying on since he arrived last night. We’ve been discussing the uses and benefits of doubt, especially in terms of our writing careers.
See, as thrilled as I am to be sharing this journey with you, my new BFFs at Best American Poetry, lingering in the back of my mind is the knowledge that most of the bloggers here have at least one, if not many, books. I don’t, and neither does Josh, and we’re both writing up a storm and reading everything we can, talking about poetry all the time and sending manuscripts to publishers and contests.
Somewhere in the middle of the country, desert and rock formation and green hill and wind farm—so much to see, but not yet where we’re going—both of us are feeling the metaphor. We’re in that limbo between publishing a lot and having a book, the moment of truth where the industry declares, yes, you’re welcome here, you’re, dare I say it, potentially employable (that dirty, dirty word.)
The sun is setting, and this is where doubt sets in. We started out this morning, screaming “road trip!” like idiots, laughing hysterically at nothing, assuring each other that the hours would fly by; when I began writing “seriously” (as only a 17-year-old can think of it), it was the most fun thing I could think of, and I was too naïve and under-read to know I was bad.
It’s hours later now. It’s years later now. Will we be able to keep going once it’s dark, or will we get too tired to drive? In the world of poetry, where so many people write but are not necessarily employed in the field, did we make the right decision banking on our passion for a career?
Doubt. And this is where the question about doubt’s benefits comes in. We doubt individual poems, we doubt our projects, we doubt our books. And that’s a good thing, sometimes. Just as we hit those gas stations a little earlier than necessary, concerned we might not be able to make it through a too-long stretch of fuel-less highway, sometimes our doubt is simply an incentive to pay attention, be more prepared, work harder.
Sometimes it’s there because the poem, or project, does actually suck. But it’s the moment when we stop being able to distinguish healthy self-criticism of the work from crippling existential crises—that’s when patience has to come in. Neither Josh nor I is particularly good at patience. (Josh snarked: “it’s a virtue and a virtue never hurt you.”) But we’re working on it, because after serious soul-searching, we simply don’t want to do anything but write, teach, write some more, teach some more, and, occasionally, drive. So, we wait. Which, let’s face it, isn’t fun.
But even as I type out laments about the waiting, one thing kind of stops me. While we were at the car garage, raring to get on the road, waiting for Luis to magically make the music come back on, Josh mentioned how antsy he usually gets about quickly accomplishing what he’s set out to do; whether driving or publishing or any manner of what-have-you. However, he was happy to note he was having fun, even stymied by circumstance. And I replied along the lines of: it doesn’t matter what point in the trip you’re at if you’re with someone you want to hang out with.
Cheesy, yes…but the truth, at least a little bit. If you’re hanging with people you care about; if you’re doing what you love, all points are better than the alternative. For us, waiting for poetry will always be better than forward motion toward anything else.
Except, maybe, a shower and a stretch.
And now we end with the question of the day. No, actually. Make that a few. Feel free to answer one or all.
1 - What's one of your biggest doubts? How have you tried to be patient when dealing with them....or have you?
2 - Josh wants to use couchsurfing.org to find a place to stay in Marfa and Hill Country, TX, respectively. Would you ever sleep on a stranger's couch while traveling?