Today I had a good talk with an old friend. I think the heart of our talk was about getting stuck in boxes, in narrow definitions, sometimes of our own making, sometimes not. She’s a wonderful teacher, but hasn’t had much luck finding a full-time teaching job lately. She also has a talent for hosting wonderful retreats, which have been attended by poets, by pastors, by women in need of a place—and a push—toward guided reflection. I suggested that she start leading more of these, that her gift for teaching didn’t just mean the classroom. We talked about the fact that she has a calling for teaching, which I agree she does, but there are many more ways to be a teacher than in an academic setting. I think that sometimes we don’t dream nearly big enough about our callings. We don’t dare to reach beyond the fruit that we can map out a way to get to. I say this not as a chastisement of my friend, but as a strong reminder to myself that I’m constantly guilty of the same thing. Why are we so afraid to push past what we know we can do to that place where we might fail, but we might soar?
We also talked about the fact that maybe the reason she wasn’t getting full-time gigs was because God was trying to get her to focus on her own writing, which—as many teachers who are also writers will tell you—gets shunted to the side in favor of your students. And if you’re not full-time faculty, you can’t usually afford to give yourself a sabbatical. I think that sometimes God closes doors not because he doesn’t want us to move forward, but because he wants us to pay attention to a part of our lives, a part of our calling that we’ve been neglecting.
Our conversation has me thinking about my own calling. I’ve defined myself as a poet for nearly half my life, but I truthfully don’t know if that definition fits anymore. I still love reading poetry and writing poetry, and I still want to get published and give readings, but advancing my poetry career is no longer the driver it once was. I’m realizing now, as I type this, that that’s maybe why I’ve felt so unsettled the past few years. The thing that propelled all of my forward momentum—applying to the Fine Arts Work Center, going to graduate school, getting to AWP no matter what—is no longer the most important thing in my life, but I’ve been clinging on as if it were.
Seems that I have my own box to climb out of, to redefine if I too want to take next steps…