Today's blog post is by poet Kathi Morrison-Taylor, author of By the Nest...
The Oven Timer
On the first day of the MFA program, a professor asked our class, “Why do you write?” We wrote in our notebooks and then discussed our responses in class. A surprising number of students, myself included, answered “Because I have to.” At 22, I was bewildered by the sort of gentle scolding that ensued. What was wrong with this debonair, senior poet that he didn’t understand the inescapable power of the muse? But now I get it– I don’t have to write. The choice to write can become inconvenient and difficult. The choice to write is something I have to fight for, fighting harder, perhaps, as my life grows richer.
My husband is more practical than I am and knowing how much I cherish free time to write, he asks me questions: Why are you baking those cookies for your students? Why are you reading The Lord of the Rings to our children? Why are you planting tomatoes again this year? (I don’t have to.)
It’s August; this last August. (Remember August?) The oven timer is on, and I’m at my computer. The oven timer is serious business in our house. When it goes off you better be ready to move on – out the door to the bus stop, or off the computer game to the homework task, or back inside and into the tub.
While my family is loading the car for our annual long weekend at the ocean – the last hurrah before school begins—I am trying to pry my weekly poem from a pop culture prompt, and I’ve put myself on the clock. I’m in one of the final weeks of a poetry contest modeled on Project Runway – Dustin Brookshire’s Project Verse. I find myself tangled in emotions and details: a scene from Star Wars, my father’s autopsy report, a rubberband ball of grief, longing, anger, regret...
“Where’s the crabbing net?!” someone yells from upstairs.
Little feet coming down...”Mommy, when are we getting new sandals?” Then, “Oh, I forgot...your poem, the contest.”
The timer is on – something my kids understand. I have one hour and forty-eight minutes left. While none of us imagines I’d really be left behind, the threat seems more real with that digital countdown.
Now, watching my middle school students and my own children grow and learn, I feel the years accelerating, becoming both more fleeting and more pressing. In a good way—in a garden tomato way, sweet and labor-intensive. Milestones matter. Bilbo is eleventy-one at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, a milestone of a birthday that never fully registered in my childhood reading of Tolkien. At 111 Bilbo makes his own new beginning, as he leaves the Shire to write his book. In fact, it was the magic age of 40, combined with missing my final opportunity to enter the Yale Younger Poet’s Prize (that was the year the deadline changed) that convinced me to put away my old manuscript. I began something new, By the Nest, which became my first book of poems, dedicated to my family. And, off the page, dedicated to the oven timer that helps me manage the childish part of myself and focus on writing, something I have chosen to do.