The Nature of Antique Stores

My husband and I love to antique, particularly at GIANT antique malls.

On our most recent vacation, I discovered amazingness.

In Leeds, AL is Bama Flea Mall and Antique Center.



And there, I found THIS.


Now it may not look like the most amazing thing ever, but it IS. I held it in my hand and wanted it more than anything in the world. The bonneted chic with a scythe? The little tree outlines? The price ($19.95) seemed way too high for a dish that was the size of my hand, so I put it back, but then found myself two aisles over turning around to go look at it again. It could hold my rings! Nuts! Slips of paper with wishes on it!

I came back to it a final time, and my husband suggested, “look it up on eBay.” If an item seems a little pricey, check out the price on eBay to see if it’s reasonable. I did and immediately found the exact same dish for $6 cheaper and free shipping. Bought, and that dish will soon be MINE MINE MINE!

The next place we stopped at was Big Peach Antiques Mall in Georgia.



I quickly fell in love with this head and purchased it immediately. It’s a phrenology head! Did you know that language is located beneath the left eye and destructiveness behind the left ear?? I needed to know both of those things.


You might be wondering, “What is she going to do with that dish and that head?” The answer to that is I have absolutely no idea, BUT remember the best rule of designing (pick things you like and they’ll eventually all go together)? It’ll come together. Someday.

Other gems:

cat(The tiny print says, “Your furry friends don’t want you to smoke. Your lung association doesn’t want you to smoke. That’s why this poster was created. We placed it here because we don’t want you to smoke either, especially here.”)



(So, when you’re stressed, CUDDLE A UNICORN!)



Some notes: 

1. Avoid the antique stores that look all fashionable and put-together (unless you’re looking to drop a good amount of money). If you walk in and it seems to go on for a miles and everything is covered in a sheet of fingerprinted-dust, you’re in the right place.

2. Make sure “Antique” is in the title. Flea markets on their own can be real hit or miss.

3. If you find something you really, really, really like, check to see if the price is reasonable by looking up the item on eBay.

4. Many of these stores have bans against large purses or tote bags, so be prepared to stow them in your trunks!



The Nature of Decorating When You Have Little Money and Little Experience

As a creative person, I’ve always been interested in visual design, though I’ve felt like my creative talents might only be relegated to the written word. Interior design, particularly, interested me because it meant creating a space that felt like my own and that seemed important, especially because I hadn’t done much to create spaces in my childhood bedrooms that felt like my “own.” Now that I’m married, I’d imagined my husband’s Irishness and my poetness would really shine in every little detail of our home.

Sometimes, I’d get wistful and flip through design magazines. Design magazines sometimes inspire me to try unusual combinations, but more often than not, they remind me that I don’t have a lot of money (For much of our dating and marriage life, I was a full-time teacher and graduate student and my husband worked at a hotel) and make me feel like I need to have a “complete” vision before I even start.

I don’t believe “complete” design visions really exist to people other than interior decorators (and maybe not even to them). For me, the best advice I heard when decorating/designing our home was, “Pick things you like and they’ll eventually all go together.”

The other good advice we heard was “You’re never going to get it right the first time. I have changed the layout/arrangement, etc. of multiple design points in our home, and it gets easier to decide what I think goes together the more I practice. Yes, practice. Just like I might try an outfit on to see if it works, I often need to try things out and re-arrange, select different accessories to see what goes together.

Let’s start with a look at the TV area of our living room.

The important thing for me about setting up our home was that it would look like my husband lives here. I have gone to a friend’s absolutely amazingly decorated home only to look around and not see one piece that looked like it represented her husband. The TV area of our living room is a perfect example of our combined tastes.

For one, we both love antiques. The clock on the wall is a General Electric clock from the 1950s. The Coca-Cola wagon on the left side is from the same time period. The little cabinet on the left I also assume is an antique, though I couldn’t say (I picked this up from some friends who were moving across the country. I love having items I can connect to people I love. :))

The rest is all modern, though you’ll notice they still all have an antique-y look. For example, the Drive poster to the right of the television is a retro style print for the Ryan Gosling movie we purchased off of Etsy, and I talked about how I painted and distressed our TV stand here. None of these things were picked with a “design” in mind. They were all just things we liked together or individually.

So, let’s start with the right side:


You’ll notice as I show you more and more pictures of our home that my biggest decorating obsessions involve owls and books. This spot highlights that perfectly. For one, there’s the distressed-looking metal owl on top of a stack of literary journals (which my work appears in) in front of a book vase that was used as the centerpieces at our wedding (how to make a book vase here). Then there’s the candle and the top of a tin box. The tin box top is a hint of my husband who loves the classics, and it’s a nod to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; the rest is me.

Then there’s the left side:

Not super different from the right. Vintage Coca-Cola wagon my husband purchased off of eBay a while back for a steal, a larger book vase, and a white candle. The main thing I like to play around with is height. I specifically clump pieces together that vary in heights or put some things on top of books and others not.

The sides that flank our TV stand have gone through several incarnations. That clock above the television used to be a simple blue plastic one we had bought from Target. That Drive print used to be on another wall.

What I surmise is that our home will have very few pieces in our “permanent” collection. It will be grow and change as much as we do.

The Nature of Buying Stuff Cheap and Making It Look Cool: Coffee Table Edition

What I will warn you is that sometimes buying stuff on the cheap and making it look cool requires a lot of work and pain that has sometimes made me wish we could just win the lottery already, and I could pay someone to find the things I want for me. This is one of those stories.

My husband and I had been talking about getting a new coffee table for a while. Our old coffee table had always been too short for the length of our couch, but we had compensated for that by having two side tables. In our new house, we don’t have enough room on either side of our couch to do that, so we have had to rely on the coffee table instead.

Let me also note that we have a dog that sometimes chews on furniture when we’re absent, so our old coffee table had a whole edge gnawed off in a really non-classy fashion, but, mind you, we don’t make a lot of money and are pretty focused on not having any debt (the only debt we have currently is our mortgage. We don’t even use credit cards!), so we kept that old coffee for two years. Yes, that long.

It was time for a change. Our living room is not all that large, so there isn’t a lot of space between the couch and my husband’s armchair which must be in the living room (house rule #1), so we had to find a coffee table of very particular dimensions. It needed to be less than 24 inches wide, ideally closer to the 20-22 inch range to accommodate our limited space, and at least 50 inches wide to make it easy to use from either end of the couch. I also wanted one that was about 19+ inches tall because often we like to eat tacos while watching the Bachelor/ette (don’t judge me.), and I figured the taller the better when we have an obnoxious untrained dog that likes to look longingly at our food from close range.

We had some other needs too. Here they all are (in no certain order):

1. Had to be 19 H x 50 W x 24 D

2. Had to have a drawer or at least a shelf

3. Had to be wood

What I learned quickly while stalking Craigslist this time around is that these needs would be incredibly hard things to find all in one coffee table. I eventually found this a-maze-ing coffee table with three drawers and a LIFT-UP top for $30(!!!), which I quickly went and picked up, only to discover wayyy too late that it was much too wide (7 inches too wide!). After moping about it for a day, I re-listed it on Craigslist for $50 hoping to, at least, get back a little profit, and a lady came and picked it up the next day.

Anyway, back to our current coffee table. The more I looked (and this went on for about a month), the more I realized something had to give. There was this one coffee table for super cheap that I kept going back to. It had a glass top (which I didn’t like), a wicker shelf (which I hated), and its height was only 15 inches (not the 19+ I was hoping for), but the price was soooo good ($20!), so I went and bought it.

Here is what it looked like.

Once I got it home, I immediately wondered whether I had made a terrible mistake. I hated the look of it. And the wicker shelf on the bottom??? Ewww.

I calmed myself down and just reminded myself that it was only $20, and I had made that as pure profit from the other coffee table, so it was like I was at sum zero. No harm, no foul.

I then started to get to work.

After playing with several ideas, I finally decided to paint the bottom only. The wood around the glass looked really clean, and I liked the idea of painting the bottom so the top really popped.

Things I needed to paint:

-drop cloths (I recommend fabric ones since you can reuse them)

-paint (the previous owners of our house had left a bunch of paint in our studio, so I ended up using a creamy white they had used for the trim of our house)


-Kilz (only if you discover any mold on your piece or if you buy a piece that someone has smoked around a lot. Kilz will kill the smoke odor, which for us non-smokers can be a lifesaver)

-paint brush

Let me tell you my mistakes first:

The wood on this coffee table looked really shiny. I didn’t take note of that and went ahead and tried to paint (no primer) like I had with the credenza (which wasn’t shiny). The paint would not stick, so I quickly realized that it had some sort of finish on it and that I’d need to use primer. People sometimes say that you should sand before painting. I only do that if a surface looks uneven. Generally primer will stick to anything, and then the paint will stick to the primer.

The legs have all of these insets (or whatever they’re called) which means you have to shove the paint bristles in there to paint them. What I didn’t know is that the less the paint, the better. I kept globbing paint on the brush and then shoving the bristles into the little pockets, but then the paint started beading up and dripping. While I’d be too embarrassed to show you, there are plenty of spots where there’s just a glob of paint hanging out, looking hideous. I could have gone back after those places dried, sanded them down, and repainted them, but the coffee table is low to the ground (so they aren’t all that noticeable, except when I’m staring at them wishing they weren’t there), and by the time I was done painting it, I never wanted to do another thing to it ever again.

Wicker is extremely hard to paint. It is, in fact, thin pieces of wood that have been woven together, so there are thin pieces of wood sitting slightly under other pieces of wood, making the same inset effect as the legs. In the case of the wicker, mere shoving the brush in doesn’t work. You must in fact stab your brush into every single little nook and cranny or otherwise you’ll have an ugly spotty mess. This was so time-consuming that I’d never recommend hand-painting something wicker. Spraypainting would be a much wiser choice.

Other than these mistakes, the normal process reigned: prime, let it dry, wash paint brush, paint the first coat, let it dry, wash the brush, paint the second coat, wash the brush, let it dry a couple of days, and voilà!

Here is it now:

Once I was done, I came to sincerely love it. Its size is perfect (I’ve even grown to be fond of the lower height because I can put my feet on it easily), the glass has been nice for keeping drink rings off the wood and gives me the opportunity to display things underneath, the color makes it really pop against our hardwood floor, and the paint and the baskets cover the wicker underneath perfectly.

All in all, a lot of pain and stupidity and time-sucking energy came together to somehow make a coffee table I still enjoy seeing when I walk through the front door and was super cheap (though when I’m feeling particularly grumpy, I might mention that my time probably equaled to hundreds of dollars of hard labor).

Just don’t do my mistakes, and do stay committed.


The Nature of Buying Stuff Cheap and Making It Look Cool


Our TV stand (shown above in all its glory) was a $35 credenza I bought off Craigslist. I loved TV stands with sliding front doors, but many with them were much too expensive. Even typing in “TV stand” into the search bar on Craigslist usually led me to a list of items I couldn’t afford or were so beat up I didn’t want them. Finally, I started expanding my search item terms to try to find pieces I could use as TV stands instead. I looked up desks, sofa tables, tables, night stands, end tables, side tables.

When I searched “desk,” I found an ad selling a desk and credenza for $75. I e-mailed the guy immediately asking if he’d sell the credenza separately, and he offered it for $45. I counter-offered with $35, and he said he’d take it if I’d come pick it up that day.

Once I got the location of where to pick it up, I was nervous because it was in a particularly bad part of town, and considering the fact that I live in Memphis, we can have some really bad parts of town. Since it was last minute and I couldn’t find anyone to go with me in the middle of a workday, I e-mailed the address and phone number of the guy to my husband, arranged to pick up my father’s SUV, and during a 2 hour break from work, went. As I pulled down the street, I realized the address I was given was for Orbit Tomato Co. and was immediately comforted.

I pulled into the loading dock, and an old gentleman wearing a back brace wheeled out my credenza, a hulking solid wood piece of furniture, and helped me load it into the back of my SUV. It miraculously fit with not an inch to spare.

After getting it home and waiting until my husband got off work so he could help me move it into the house, it had arrived. Then began what felt like the longest painting and distressing process EVER.

Things I needed to paint:

-drop cloths (BIG drop cloths because the piece was huge. I used a plastic ones, but I’d recommend fabric ones since you can reuse them)

-paint (my husband had recently painted our writing room Repose Gray from Sherwin-Williams, so I just used that leftover paint)

-primer (which I didn’t use, but I’d recommend)

-Kilz (only if you discover any mold on your piece or if you buy a piece that someone has smoked around a lot. Kilz will kill the smoke odor, which for us non-smokers can be a lifesaver)

6 1/2 inch paint roller

Once we got the piece into our second bedroom, we discovered it had mold on the bottom of it. So first I had to use Kilz to seal that off and make sure that no more would grow. This meant tipping it onto its side and painting the bottom and then letting it dry.

Once that was done, I started painting. I would recommend priming before painting. I did not prime, so the paint isn’t holding well to the wood, which means moving something across it can pick off some of the paint. It has been recommended that I use a furniture sealer on it, but I’ve been lazy and haven’t gotten around to it. The next time we make a huge move, I plan on doing it to make sure the paint doesn’t get too distressed during the move.

*If the piece has shelves or drawers, pull it all out. You want to paint the drawers and shelves separately. You also want to unscrew the hardware (drawer handles, etc.) when you’re painting the drawer faces. Don’t also forget to paint the sides and top of each drawer. I forgot to and it was super noticeable, so I had to go back and paint them.

*Prime the whole piece, including the drawers and shelves. Don’t worry if you can see through it. It’s primer, which just means it helps the paint adhere to the wood. It’s not supposed to be solid (this I did not know the first time I primed).

*Once you’re done priming, toss your rollers. They absorb so much paint that it’s not worth it to try to clean them off.

*Let it dry. If you touch it and nothing comes off on your fingertips, you’re good to paint. Primer dries super fast.

*Paint. Don’t worry if your first coat isn’t super solid; you’ll do a second one. I let it dry overnight.

*Give it a second coat. Let it dry again overnight or a couple of days. You want to make sure that the paint “cures.”

*Display it OR distress it.

I went the distressing route. I liked the antique-y look, and so I looked up DIY tutorials (like this one) for how to distress.

Things I needed to distress:

-two (or more, depending on how quickly you wear them out) sanding sponges (one in fine and one in medium) (found in the painting section of Home Depot or Lowe’s)

I read (somewhere) that having the pads in two different grains would help the distressing look more “authentic.” I don’t know if I necessarily believe that, but the sponges are wonderfully nice and easy to use.

Once I had the sponges, I got to work, and distressing is a lot like work. When you’re distressing, you’re really just running the sanding sponge over and over the spots where you want it distressed until the paint is removed and looks the way you want it to. It’s fun for a while because you’re just going to town on all of the edges and random spots where a piece of furniture might get normal wear, but then it also starts to get tiring because you’re more than likely (or in the case of me) using arm muscles you didn’t really know you had.

Where to distress:

-The edges. All of them. Randomly. You don’t want the wear to be even; you want it to be spotty.

-Places to “highlight,” as in arbitrary little spots you can scuff up all good and nice (see the spots on the top, the front of the drawers, and the sliding doors? Those are good examples.)

Once you’re done (and it may take a few passes for you to decide you’re *really* done), let it rest for a day. Then you can apply furniture wax (which I didn’t do, but I’d recommend) to help seal it.

Lastly, if you have a piece of furniture that you want to turn into a TV stand (like our credenza), you will need to drill a hole through the back to put in the cords. My husband did this part, but it didn’t look all that hard.

After all that, move it to where you want!

My experience painting and distressing furniture prior to this experience? Nada. My experience painting? Just a wall, once, seven years ago. My experience distressing? Never. I just had a vision and got lucky finding the piece cheap enough on Craigslist. It can really be that easy, but I think it also takes some courage and commitment. It’s not always easy doing this kind of stuff, but as I can attest, it’s worth it!

The Nature of Small Steps/Big Projects

(Note: As a creative being, sometimes I get inspired by things other than writing. While I wouldn’t consider myself a super crafty individual, I do find great joy in organizing and decorating my living space, and I’ll tell you that as long as I’m being creative, it’s always poetry.)

My insanity stems from the fact that I have a lot of amazing ideas all in this brain of mine, but I lack access (I assume) to the other parts of my brain that would allow me to implement them, so they just loll around and fester.

But, I have a solution! SMALL STEPS! You are amazed at my ingenuity.

Here is the wall above the sitting area in my house today: 20130702-162026.jpg

We moved into our first house in October 2012. After we received that giant M as a Christmas gift from my mother, my husband and I had talked about how cool it would be to have a “gallery wall.” Some awesome wall space that would “really represent us and our interests” and be a “good focal point for visitors” (I doubt we said these things to one another.).

Since Christmas, I have agonized and agonized over what to put there. I bought a couple of frames at garage sales, purchased little things that might one day make it up to our gallery wall, but did nothing further. I kept thinking (because I’m insane) that it just wasn’t a good idea to start nailing things up UNTIL I had every piece I wanted to put up.

The reason why that is a total fallacy is that when can I ever know I’m done if I haven’t even started yet? What would be the end point: when I have the 12th picture or framed piece of art, when we’re putting the house up for sale? Either way, my husband said to me three months ago, “Why don’t you just hang up what we’ve got and add the other stuff later?” That made good, proper sense, but I still languished in procrastination.  I got jealous, then I got insecure, then (and only then) I got motivated.

When I get jealous is when it gets bad for me. I define jealousy here as when I find myself hypercritical of that friend of mine’s choice to hang a framed photo of their nude baby in their dining room. I find myself saying things like, “They just hung a picture of a nude baby in their dining room. How does that have anything to do with dining? Don’t they know their guests are not going to want to eat mac & cheese in range of that thing? Yeesh!”

Jealousy is, for me, always about not liking the fact that I’m not doing something in my own life that I see other people doing. I can usually figure out how to completely remove my feelings of jealousy and judgement if I can answer the question: “What do they have that I wish I had? What could I do to get that?” The answer to this for me was, of course, that I wanted to decorate my own space.

Once I figured out that I was jealous and why I was jealous, these insecurity voices started piping up. They said, “You don’t know how to do this right. You’ve never done this before. You’d be insane to do it any other way than the way Better Homes and Gardens says it needs to be done!” I had recently read this article about how it was “so much easier” if you traced the frames onto Kraft brown paper and figured out the arrangement by taping up the paper before nailing.

So when my husband said, “Why don’t you hang up what we have now?” I know I said, “Well, I need this brown paper,” and he was like, “What brown paper?” And I was like, “This special brown paper that I can trace onto and then nail through once I figure out the arrangement,” and he gave me a look and said, “Okay.” But then I never bought the paper and just continued thinking, “I can’t do it if I don’t have that paper!” Somehow, I think my mind thought that If I continued thinking like that, eventually I’d buy the paper…But insecurity, remember? When I feel insecure, I don’t want to do anything that reeks of security!

But, finally, I just did it. I hung what we had, which is really what I should have done all along. Yes, I’m going to make mistakes, but I needed to try first, right? Like if I want to write a book of poetry (which I’ve done), shouldn’t I go ahead and write a poem first? And since I’ve written a book of poetry, shouldn’t I know how to finish projects?? (The answer is Yes.)

The M seemed the logical midpoint, so I then started with the  other big pieces: the black framed photo collage and our framed wedding photo. Those made sense on a diagonal from one another. Then I put the mirror up. I wanted the spacing to be a little different, so that went between the M and the wedding photo, but much higher up, and then last, the striped framed photo. The important thing for me was making not everything perfectly symmetrical and playing with the spacing, since we intend, at some point, to put more stuff up there.

1. Giant M: Christmas gift from my mother. These can be found anywhere or even made. Our particular one is made out of metal.

2. Black framed photo collage, upper left: This was a gift from a friend for our wedding. I absolutely love it because I know I’d be unlikely to purchase or make this for us myself. Here‘s a way you can make one yourself. I don’t particularly like that the frame is black, so I might go back and paint that frame another color at some point. For now, it’s okay.

3. Striped framed photo, bottom left: I bought this frame on sale from Target. I’d been stalking their frame section for a while, hoping to find some interesting frames on the cheap and finally nabbed this one for $4. The photo inside is one of those silly photo booth photos taped not exactly perfectly on top of the pink insert that came with the frame (I liked the contrasting colors). Here is a closer look of the photo: photobooth 4. Mirror, upper right: This was a find for $5 at Antique Warehouse here in Memphis. They often have some good sales going on (the booth I bought this mirror in was having a 50% off sale that day).

5. Framed photo, lower right: I’ve had this wedding photo in a plain black frame on top of a lawyer bookcase for a while now. It sort of looked depressing up there, rimmed in black, so I decided (finally) to do something about it. I had recently purchased a $2 framed picture of a medieval unicorn (this one, to be exact) from an estate sale. The frame wasn’t in perfect shape, but the picture had matting around it, and I think matting makes pictures look cleaner, so I usually try to pick up cheap frames that have them when I can find them.

I took out the original picture (no, I didn’t want a medieval unicorn on my wall…) and used some wood stain marker (in mahogany) to cover the scuffs on the sides of the frame. I then picked a colorful piece of scrapbook paper that was lavender like the dominant color in my wedding bouquet. I turned the scrapbook paper upside down on the table and placed the matting on top and traced around the matting. I then cut it out and glued it (colorful side on top) to the matting. The scrapbook paper wasn’t long enough to do this in one go, so I ended up having to use another sheet and some careful maneuvering to cover the bottom section of matting as well. Voilà! Framed and matted wedding photo.

Here’s a close-up. I know you can see some of the imperfections in the matting, but you should be distracted by our loveliness instead.

The Nature and importance of Failure and Having a Writing Community

As soon as I started submitting to literary journals, I realized failure would quickly become a part of my life. I didn’t know at the time or even until very recently, some four years after I first started actively submitting, that working through each of those failures (rejections, close calls, whatever we want to call them) in an environment of my peers would help my character in large ways.

Dominic Randolph, the head of Riverdale Country School, says, “The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure.” Randolph goes on to say that most children from affluent families don’t fail at anything, and thus may be terrified of failing and avoid ventures where they may run the risk of doing so.

This was the case for me. I never failed at anything at school, and I also didn’t try out many things that I could fail at. For some, this might be called having a fixed vs. a growth mindset.


Posited by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset, if I have a “fixed” mindset, I only choose activities that reinforce my ideas of myself. I know I’m good at writing, so I put myself in situations where I look good at writing. I don’t put myself in situations where I might struggle, not look like the best, or have to work hard. I don’t try new things or persist in activities that don’t give me the immediate gratification of looking good. If I have a “growth” mindset, the opposite is true. I see my ability at writing as not fixed. I work hard to improve it, listen to feedback from others, read widely, take suggestions. I try new things and feel all right not being the “best” at them.

For many years, I had a “fixed” mindset. I avoided anything that didn’t come immediately easy to me. I dropped sports, avoided people who I was jealous of, ignored helpful feedback (and sometimes even responded angrily). I once took guitar lessons after having no musical training ever, but stopped as soon as it got too hard. I had an idea, whether I wanted to state it or not, that my fate was determined. I was good at writing, and that was that.

Then I enrolled in an MFA program.  There, I wasn’t the best at writing; I was on the bottom tier for at least my first year. I went home crying from workshop several times because I found my peers’ feedback so unfair. I also was antagonistic of their comments, thinking to myself, “Well, they’re not doing that in their own poems, so how can they say that about mine!” Even though a small voice said inside of me, “What happens if they’re right?” I also started submitting,and (big surprise) The New Yorker didn’t accept my poems. The red carpet wasn’t laid out for me. I was going to have to work and change, or I’d never get any better. 

This morning, while reading an article on how to get young people to volunteer, it stated that “75.9% of those whose friends volunteer on a regular basis also volunteer.” It goes on to pose the question, “Who knew peer pressure could be such a good thing?”

I can apply that to my own life. On my own, pre-MFA, I submitted to a couple of literary journals, but stopped as soon as those first rejections came back.  I wasn’t willing to keep trying to submit on my own and face failure after failure, but in an MFA program, surrounded by my peers who were also submitting, also facing rejection, and even encouraging me to submit, I was more than willing; I was resolved. I went from thinking “I’m the best. Let me stay the best.” to “Let’s see if I can get better. Can you help me?” 

Today I keep trying, regardless of what the endeavor is. I’ve used that persistence and humility in submitting my individual work and my book and chapbook, applying for jobs, running and doing yoga, and teaching. I also try to silence those voices that say, “Oh, you’ll never be good at that.” If I’ve learned anything from this whole process, it is that I can change. More specifically, that I can change with the help of others.

Happy writing!

The Nature of Grit

As part of my new job as a Latin teacher at a private upper school, I am reading Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed over the summer. I’ve found it absolutely fascinating, especially in examining my own life choices and how I would like to make a life for my students and one day my own children. Tough goes into an extensive amount of research which highlights how early adversity effects children (even down to the physiological level) and how important it is that character be taught, that it not be something we view as “fixed,” but as something we can learn. If we believe that character traits can be taught, we believe we can change, that we can grow to become optimistic instead of pessimistic, grow to become willing to take healthy risks, etc.

Tough mentions that the seven character traits likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement (according to Chris Peterson, coauthor of Character Strengths and Virtues) are grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.

Grit. noun. Small, loose particles of stone or sand. verb. Clench (the teeth), esp. in order to keep one’s resolve when faced with an unpleasant or painful duty.

Gritty. adj. 1. Containing or covered with grit. 2. Showing courage and resolve for long-term goals.

I am gritty. How can I be a poet and not be? We all are rolled in the dirt of how hard and insensitive the world seems toward us. We are the forgotten, slightly amusing lot.

I imagine we’re charming in what I can only describe as how you might feel toward a friend you love who has a character defect that isn’t terrible, but is annoying. Like the guy who splurges on things you find unnecessary (like a large canvas painting of a goat), but then won’t go out for a month because he’s so strapped for cash. Or the friend who asks if you’ll meet her at noon for lunch, texts you at 11am to see if you can do 11:45 instead, but then she still shows up at 12.

These traits are a little annoying, but we still love our friends, and I imagine people feel this way toward us poets too. “Oh, you’re still doing that poetry thing? Oh,” friends have said to me. While I was pursuing an MFA in poetry, my father would jokingly tell people that his daughter was pursuing a degree in rap. When I told acquaintances of mine that my chapbook was being published, not only did they have no idea what a chapbook was, they then asked me, “A book? Just of your poems?” Another friend of mine even asked, “What kind of poems do you write? Do they rhyme?”

These questions reflect a lot about how most people don’t have a frame of reference for what it means to be a contemporary writer and how few people read poetry beyond what they were required to for school. I tried once to explain the nature of submitting to literary journals to my husband. He hears about it from me a lot, but that still doesn’t mean he quite understands the agonizing choice, every time, of putting another packet together to send to another journal, or what it means to get and re-submit in response to a nice/personalized rejection, etc. I ended up writing a blog about the best extended metaphor I could come up with, but still, if you haven’t done it, you’ll never totally understand.

We’re all taught poetry is supposed to look one way in school, and for most, that’s their only conception of poetry: it rhymes, has a strict form, maybe deals with things philosophically or language mumbo-jumbo-y. We’re also taught that the only other kind of poetry is what we write in our journals in response to a bad break-up, and this is also something we’ll “grow out of” and only comes from a “surfeit of feeling.”

A girl once came to me preparing for a poetry exam in her 11th grade English class. She had worksheets and lecture notes stating that her teacher believed what made a poem a poem was that it had a “turn,” a term which seemed to change meaning from class notes to handouts to worksheets.

She told me, “I hate poetry,” and I was sad for that. I could also understand that her confusion completely turned her off from anything at all poetry. Why is poetry instruction like this? Why are things “boiled down” to THIS is a poem BECAUSE? Many people have said to me, “I’d read your poetry, but I just don’t get poetry.”

Anyone not reading poetry past their school-age years is missing out on how contemporary poetry often doesn’t rhyme or have meter, that it sometimes uses swear words (gasp!), talks about filthy and lovely things, and is all-in-all greatly entertaining. These people don’t know about chapbooks(!), lovely little works digestible in just 30 minutes and loved forever. They don’t know there are even poetry books filled with poems by just one poet! We can all moan these things, but we poets have to stay gritty.

That’s it. Stay Gritty.

Stay Gritty can mean a lot here.

  • Stay resolved.
  • Stay writing and reading.
  • Stay engaged in a writer community.
  • Stay in love.

Especially that last one. Always that last one. Poetry needs love, especially when so many have never loved it at all. Maybe if we all love it enough, more people will? Doesn’t that sound nice?