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When I first start­ed blog­ging about 15 years ago, I had not kept a journal—something I’d done with great con­sis­ten­cy when I was younger—for a very long time. An inte­gral part of my prac­tice as a young poet, jour­nal writ­ing pro­vid­ed a place to prac­tice. I remem­ber sit­ting with a bagel and a cup of tea in The Rainy Night House Café in the base­ment of Stony Brook Uni­ver­si­ty’s Stu­dent Union and writ­ing, some­times in verse, some­times not, descrip­tions of the oth­er stu­dents who were there, or tak­ing my note­book to Wash­ing­ton Square Park on a sum­mer after­noon and try­ing to cap­ture the ebb and flow of energy—musicians, pot deal­ers, peo­ple on bikes, play­ing fris­bee, walk­ing their dogs—that moved in and out of that square block. My jour­nal was a place to copy out poems that I want­ed to learn from, poems that moved me; a place to cap­ture and write about quo­ta­tions and pas­sages from books that seemed to me impor­tant. Most of all, though, my jour­nal was a place where I could fig­ure myself out, where find­ing words to give order to what was going on in my head, or just get­ting out of my head the words that were already there, helped me make sense of who I was and who I was becom­ing.

I still remem­ber two moments from those years, though the jour­nals in which I record­ed those moments have been lost. The first hap­pened when I was a junior in Ter­ry Net­ter’s phi­los­o­phy of art class. After an intense dis­cus­sion in his office about the chap­ter we’d just fin­ished in Suzanne Langer’s Feel­ing and Form—I don’t remem­ber which one—I went to the library, found a seclud­ed cor­ner some­where in the stacks, and wrote for a long time about the place poet­ry, writ­ing poet­ry, had come to occu­py in my life. I was twen­ty years old—so this was almost 40 years ago—and I can still feel the weight of com­mit­ment that fell on me when I wrote the words I am a poet. Not I want to be a poet, but I am a poet. I sat there a lit­tle bit afraid of my own audacity—afraid, and also excit­ed that I knew some­thing about myself, had cho­sen some­thing for myself, that no one else in my life had touched. More than choos­ing a major (Eng­lish and Lin­guis­tics), more than fig­ur­ing out that I prob­a­bly want­ed to be a teacher (which I have now been for thir­ty some odd years), the moment I wrote those words, I am a poet, was the first time I knew that I had con­scious­ly, will­ful­ly, decid­ed what course of my life would be.

The sec­ond moment came some years lat­er. I was in love. Pat and I had been togeth­er for a cou­ple of years and we were becom­ing more and more seri­ous. Nei­ther of us had talked about whether we want­ed a future with each oth­er, but it was, for me, get­ting hard­er and hard­er not to think about the dif­fer­ent forms the future might take. Pat was not Jew­ish, and I, for at least the pre­vi­ous eight years of my very young life, had been con­vinced that I want­ed to be an Ortho­dox Jew—and maybe, even, become a rab­bi. If I want­ed to remain true to that vision of myself, there was no way my future could include a Catholic woman as my lover, much less my wife.

I don’t remem­ber what happened—whether it was a con­ver­sa­tion, or a fight, between us; some­thing a friend had said or that I’d heard on TV or read—but I found myself late one night at a din­er in my neigh­bor­hood, a piece of half-eat­en cheese­cake and a cup of tea des­per­ate­ly in need of more hot water in front of me, while I wrote in my jour­nal try­ing to decide which was more impor­tant: my rela­tion­ship with Pat or the reli­gious Jew­ish life and iden­ti­ty to which I thought I had com­mit­ted myself. As I wrote, part of me already knew which choice I was going to make—my drift away from Ortho­dox Judaism, and from insti­tu­tion­al reli­gion of all sorts (which is anoth­er top­ic for anoth­er essay), had already begun—but I need­ed the blank pages of my jour­nal to help me make sense to myself of what I meant when I wrote It’s more impor­tant for me to be able to love whom I want to love and to allow some­one who wants to love me to do so.

While these two were cer­tain­ly not the only moments when writ­ing in my jour­nal proved cen­tral to my life, they are the ones that I remem­ber most clear­ly. Why did I stop? I’m not sure exact­ly, though it was a grad­ual taper­ing off, not a con­scious deci­sion that I made. The process began, I think, when I decid­ed to drop out of Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty’s MA in Cre­ative Writ­ing. (They did not have an MFA back then.) Two things pre­cip­i­tat­ed that deci­sion. The poet who led my first semes­ter work­shop told me that if I did­n’t stop writ­ing “bub­ble gum poetry”—by which she meant poet­ry with the lin­guis­tic and emo­tion­al depth of greet­ing card verse—she was going to ask me to leave the pro­gram. Then, the poet who led the sec­ond semes­ter work­shop told me that, while I def­i­nite­ly had the tal­ent to be a poet—“You know your way as well as any­one else around both the line and the sentence”—he did not see any set of cen­tral con­cerns in my work out of which could emerge the book I would have to write as my the­sis. “You’re still very young,” he said—I was all of 23 years old—“and you don’t need a degree in cre­ative writ­ing to be a poet.”

That remains some of the best advice any­one has ever giv­en me as a writer. Indeed, I actu­al­ly left his office feel­ing more hope­ful than any­thing else, but I think that the whiplash I expe­ri­enced between what he told me and what I’d heard the pre­vi­ous semes­ter shook my con­fi­dence to the point where I stopped tak­ing my com­mit­ment to writ­ing seri­ous­ly. As a result, writ­ing in my jour­nal began to feel more like self-indul­gence, time that I might bet­ter spend doing some­thing else, than it did the nec­es­sary exer­cise in self-care and self-aware­ness it had always been. In any event, I stopped; even after I start­ed writ­ing poems seri­ous­ly again in my thir­ties, the poems that would even­tu­al­ly become my first book, The Silence of Men, I stopped writ­ing in my jour­nal.

I don’t recall exact­ly how or pre­cise­ly when I dis­cov­ered Alas, a blog I have been con­nect­ed with—as a read­er, com­menter, con­trib­u­tor, and, even­tu­al­ly, moderator—for longer than I’ve been blog­ging on my own, but it is to Alas that I owe my own start as a blog­ger. Aside from its explic­it­ly fem­i­nist pol­i­tics, what drew me to Alas was the qual­i­ty of the writ­ing and dis­cus­sion that I found there. It was the first exam­ple of blog­ger-as-pub­lic-intel­lec­tu­al that I encoun­tered, and I was hooked. Not that I want­ed to be that kind of blog­ger, but I liked the idea of being able to put what I did want to write—more per­son­al, more con­nect­ed to the cre­ative writ­ing I was doing—out into the world for peo­ple to find or not. I start­ed a Word­Press blog called It’s All Con­nect­ed, with the tagline “Because it all is…”, and I start­ed to write about what­ev­er hap­pened to be on my mind.

Sad­ly, due large­ly to my own incom­pe­tence, when I switched host­ing com­pa­nies a year or so ago, I lost posts going all the way back to the very begin­ning of “It’s All Con­nect­ed.“1 In any event, the blog did get me writ­ing in a jour­nal-like way again, and that made me hap­py, but then along came Facebook…which is where I will start the next post.

  1. I wrote a lit­tle bit about that in the first post I made to the blog I cur­rent­ly have, and that post actu­al­ly pro­vides some small con­text for this one and the one the will fol­low. []

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