Off the Deep End by Michelle Holland
I’ve been an English teacher most of my professional life, teaching grades 6-college level. I’ve spent the past six years teaching at Los Alamos High School. I’ve always enjoyed the classroom, and I’ve had great success developing student creativity and skills in composition and literature. At times, the experience was simply a blast. However, over the years at LAHS, my creativity has dwindled, and my writing life was compromised. I didn’t focus as much on my poet identity, lost that thread of conviction in the glare of hostile and unsupportive colleagues, and felt bereft. My connections with writers and poets through New Mexico CultureNet, NMLA, Sin Fronteras/Writers without Borders, and the rare times that I could write with the Monday writers in Santa Fe kept me in touch, at least. The short story, I quit teaching high school English at LAHS in December. My life has changed. I am writing again. We are broke. I leapt off the deep end. No insurance. No steady income. No retirement. But, we don’t owe anybody anything. My husband and I carry zero debt. And, financial security of some sort is part of every writer’s writing life. It has to be.
The poems I receive intermittently, emailed from my husband, and my poetry responses, are also part of my writing life. Our exchanges began four years ago when I spent most of every work week living with our daughter in a place we invested in up in Los Alamos. Sylvia, our daughter, was active in soccer, track, and cross-country, so we decided it best to keep her as close to her school as possible. Tom would come up on weekends, or I would drive down to our real home in Chimayó when I could. In between, we would email poems to one another. The practice has continued, and sometimes, those poems were all the writing I did in a given week, or even month. When our daughter graduated, we sold the condo, and we moved everything back down to our house, then moved most of the furniture into Sylvia’s rental home in Albuquerque. Now, with my husband reading the paper across the living room from me, I check my email, and surprise! there’s a poem he wrote about baking bread the other day.
I’ve already responded with a poem about sprinting “diagonals” with my new (and first) coach, Abraham, gesturing me to keep my knees up, and run in a straight line, not waste precious yards on my wayward sense of direction. I am invested as much in my running and training as I am in my writing, so the two have become merged as I think like a poet and an athlete. I’m not sure where that puts my audience, but I’m always searching for the words to make the balance and thrill of my body in motion manifest in the height of my knees, the rhythm of footfalls, the feel of the earth from the rocky inclines, and sandy arroyos, to the give of the oval track where I run as fast as I can, looking at my Garmin, then glancing up to see the snow trails on the Santa Fe Ski Basin.
My writing life. Not Hemmingway’s, or John Updike’s, or Sylvia Plath’s, or well, anyone else’s. Right? And, even this life, right now, is not what it was last year at this time. For the first time in many years, I am writing more daily than not, and I have goals. First, I’ll check my email to see if there’s another poem!
This first appeared in the New Mexico Literary Arts blog.