The Christmas Eve and Hanukkah Edition 2019

A bit of time with Emily and Sylvia
It is Christmas Eve on San Juan Island and the colored lights are visible clear across the harbor; they stay on all night long for ferry passengers, for me. This is my 10th year in this waterfront cottage. I travel north as soon as grades are handed-in to end my year with a writing retreat.

Some years things work out better than others.

While it's true that this week is the darkest time of the year with barely over eight hours of sunlight on a good day, this year's visit has included no more than a few hours of sunlight total, at the most four. I'm being honest here. A few hours of light in 10 days and most of those days beaten down with rain and high winds. Perfect for writing you might surmise. Well, you would be wrong.

And while this is a do-it-yourself retreat, in past years I've always crossed paths with a fellow poet or gone out to dinner while I'm here. Again, not this time.

As a writer, I crave solitude. It may sound strange to say but I am fond of my own company. Again, not so much these last few days. Maybe it's been the radical lack of light or the fact that I'm coming off an incredibly tough year but this visit has been categorically different than the past nine.

So for this year's topic: writing is really hard. It is not fun nor frivolous.

A poet friend and I often talk about how writing poetry gets harder to write, not easier. The voice in my head that chides, you've spent decades of your life on this and where has it gotten you? seems to grow louder with each passing year. And yes, I've been writing and publishing poems since my late twenties, the voice has a point.

I am not the next Shakespeare.

And yet. Now in the last day of my stay I can see the clipboards lined-up on the countertop with poems I've completed, poems I've begun, poems in that sweet spot in the middle---the space when I know that they will actually be completed but aren't completed yet.

I've generated new work with the help of the Two Sylvias Advent Calendar (it has a gorgeous design and presentation) and scoured my writing notebooks for drafts written over the past 12 months. And although no one would accuse me of being especially woo-woo, I've been faithfully pulling Poet Tarot cards each day and for the last three days, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath have all showed up. I don't know how many cards a tarot deck has (a lot) but statistically speaking, these three favorite poets visiting here everyday is against the odds.

And along with my poets, I've had visits from a family of deer, a gang of bald eagles and many birds I cannot identify but they certainly know how to sing. And I bet they aren't concerned with how good their voices sound or if the chickadee or nuthatch in the next tree sounds better.

If there is one thing I've learned is that writing poems is not a sprint but a marathon; it's a relationship developed over a lifetime with words like samovar and seesaw, atlas and archipelago. The writing of poems has made me live more intensely, persist even when there's a 1001 reasons not to, and brought incredible people into my life. And so yes, I'll be back next year. And hopefully, the next.

Wishing you peace and the gift of being seen in this holiday season


  1. I didn't know about poetry tarot cards, which is funny as both a poet and a tarot reader. Thanks for the new knowledge and for the post.

  2. Thanks for reading, Jason. Happy New Year and may the oncoming decade be the best one yet.


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