Your life is yours: a future wish for emerging writers
By Leah Horlick
Today’s the day, friends! This will conclude my residency with Open Book and the Careful Inventory skillshare. I’m very grateful to each of you who have read along and shared your thoughts with me. The point of a skillshare is we’re each learning from each other, and you have certainly held up your end of the bargain! I hope I’ve done the same, and I hope this has filled even a small part of the gap created in mentorship for emerging poets and writers during COVID.
We’ve addressed a whole host of topics over the past month: online safety, boundaries in performance settings, money, reaching across the disciplines, and taking care of your body while writing. I’ll add one more for our finale today: learning to save some things for yourself. I don’t believe this approach has an expiry date, but if there was ever a time to start thinking this way, it's probably now. I'll explain.
You may have encountered some pseudo-mystical advice in this industry about giving your all to the writing or how poetry is all that matters and or how you should be making sacrifices for your art. I know that for many, this is perhaps meaningful on an inspirational level. But it is not a reliable matrix for decision-making. Your life is yours. (Ugh, Horlick! Boring! Not romantic at all! I know. But it’s working out for me so far.)
You don’t actually have to mine your own life for content. No one is checking to see how much you have given up for your craft. (If someone in your life is checking, I would separate yourself from that right now—yikes!) I definitely take great comfort in the work I have created; like I said in my interview that preceded this residency, I really do believe writing is a companion. We are lucky that we’re not in a vocation that we’re expected to age out of, like some of our classical dance colleagues, for example. But a fulfilling writing life is still not a substitute for health care or an active social life with people you love (*sob*) or creating your queer family or having enough to eat. I want all of this for you and then some. Ideally, writing is a complement to your future. If you are able to ask for (and receive) support when you need it and try out some of the suggestions in previous posts, writing shouldn’t take away from your future, either. Sacrificing yourself for your art is the last thing we need in this hellscape. We need all hands on deck for living.
I don't mean to create a rift between living and art, or living and writing. I know that for many of us the two are hand-in-hand, and I certainly need one to manage the other. But I used to think it all had to go in a poem eventually, and everything had to be “good enough” or “interesting enough” to be "useful" for writing. I don’t mean trying to live a poetic life (whatever that might mean to you), or finding joy and meaning wherever you can. I mean I was fixating on what the next “useful” topic or experience was going to be, as if I were just a collage of possible content. Capitalism will try to creep in everywhere, hey? That’s no good for this femme and might not be sustainable for you, either. Luckily I had many supportive people help me cut that out before it went too far, and I want that for you as well. It’s okay to save some moments just for yourself and the people you love. Some parts of your past, present, and future can stay as beautiful or horrible memories and not become a personal essay or your next chapter or your next poem. “Leave it all on the field” is good advice in a college sports movie, or maybe if you’re a performer at an audition and you don’t mind mixing your metaphors, but not necessarily for writers.
This will mean something different to each of you. It will likely vary according to your cultural context, and your thoughts on it might change as your career changes, too. So with that in mind, I will keep today short and sweet. Please support the writers, mentors, and artists I've linked to in previous posts by exploring their work, following them on socials, buying their books, and/or donating to their Patreons. I hope that the conversations we’ve started over the past month will continue, and that you’ll consider sharing these posts with the emerging writers in your life during and after the pandemic (may it begone swiftly, soon, forever, once and for all). For those of you in other genres and disciplines who have shared that this series would have made a difference for you early on, too: thank you for this incredible compliment and feedback. Let's keep being kind to our past and future selves.
I’m very grateful to Grace O’Connell and Holly Kent at Open Book for the opportunity to complete this residency, and to Brenda Leifso and Rayzel Bermudez at Brick Books for making the connection. Brenda and Rayzel have worked double-time, all the time, all April to share these posts and make sure my virtual book tour had incredibly warm, virtual crowds. Many of you attended more than one event and read along through the residency—I can’t thank you enough, and can’t wait to see more of your upcoming work. Please keep me posted. And if you haven’t done a blessed thing besides survive this past year—good. That's the priority. Take all the time you need. I’ll be thrilled to hear from you when the time is right. Sending protection and peace to you and all your people, until then.
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The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Leah Horlick is a writer and poet who grew up as a settler on Treaty Six Cree Territory & the homelands of the Métis in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Her long-awaited third collection of poems, "Moldovan Hotel," is available now from Brick Books. Her first book, Riot Lung (Thistledown Press, 2012), was shortlisted for a 2013 ReLit Award and a Saskatchewan Book Award. Her second collection, For Your Own Good (Caitlin Press, 2015), was named a 2016 Stonewall Honour Book by the American Library Association. She is also the author of wreckoning, a chapbook produced with Alison Roth Cooley and JackPine Press. She lived on Unceded Coast Salish Territories in Vancouver for nearly ten years, during which time she and her dear friend Estlin McPhee ran REVERB, a queer and anti-oppressive reading series. In 2016, Leah was awarded the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Emerging Writers. In 2018, her piece "You Are My Hiding Place" was named Arc Poetry Magazine's Poem of the Year. She lives on Treaty Seven Territory & Region 3 of the Métis Nation in Calgary.