deputized by CAConrad
Samantha Giles got her first job at age 9. She is currently the director of Small Press Traffic.
CAConrad LOVES the poets of San Francisco more than his own mother, and you can see him at CAConrad.blogspot.com/
I want to start by thanking CA Conrad for being and for sending me here in his stead and to say that I wish he was up here saying something brilliant and insightful and infused with color and meaning after having given us all a lot of chocolate. And of course thank you to Alli, David, Sarah, Suzanne and Brandon for co-coordinating, for you all for being here and for some of you for helping out.
In the process of deciding what to say to day I thought about a series of conversations with people whose thoughts on all matters of things to say and think matter to me. And because I still haven’t figured out what I am supposed to say, I am going to relate those conversations in such a way that I hope they help me say something about my labor and the writing that does or doesn’t result from it.
A little side step first to lay down the work life. I am both the administrator a small non-profit literary arts presentation organization and a…ugh…struggle with the word…homemaker? Housewife? Caretaker? of my six-year-old son and forty-seven-year-old partner. Both of these occupations provide an economic value to my household. Both are supposed to be part time, which in fact means I am almost always working or that I am constantly in a situation where what I perceive to be recreational time suddenly becomes work. And neither gives me health benefits.
Both jobs make me feel extraordinarily lucky to have them, because I love them equally and deliriously and I know the scarcity of such good gigs as these and yet both are not without their really terrible parts. I should also say that I am doubly underpaid, albeit in a friendly, compassionate, wish-we-could-do-more way. Both jobs require that I be super organized-- a skill at which I almost always fail miserably, but also require that I bring snacks which fortunately I can handle pretty well with regularity. Each is held together by sheer will as both are crafted in a system of resources that are unsustainable.
Both have the same sense of working in isolation in public, which is to say most of the work gets done alone for a communally-received product. And I think I am supposed to make this look somewhat effortless and create the illusion that neither requires any money.
These jobs deeply immerse me in a community and a politic and a thinking, each of which is almost entirely invisible to the other. This is to say, I never talk about Hiromi Ito at the elementary school playground and I don’t bring my child to readings or often relate how frustrating it is to make dinner for my family at drinks at the bar. Which results in that fact that I always feel sort of liminal in both communities--with one foot in and one foot out.
And I don’t want to be nor do I think I am the kind of parent who would demand that poetic communities change in some fundamental way to accommodate the conversation about what to make for dinner, because I am, I think in league with the other parents in the room, delighted to have an intellectual and communal space that has nothing whatsoever to do with the vast amount of resources it takes to do our jobs as caretakers of our homes. But it is interesting to me how totally nothing whatsoever it feels and what continues to maintain, so ardently, the nothing whatsoever.
Which is partly why, when I decided to return to poetry and pursue my MFA when my son was two years old, I had a conversation with a group of contemporary avant-garde women writers about this intersection of being a parent and a poet and how those angles show up in their writing and community work.
Their answers crafted a surprisingly uncharted map of a place where there are some of us standing with a child on one hip and our poetics on the other and then our bodies somewhere in between. I desperately wanted to hear that being a parent made them more interesting as writers, (sleep deprivation and multi-tasking being the great experiment that it is) or that writing made them better parents, or that both writing and parenting made them better activists. What I most wanted to hear was how great it was but mostly what I heard was an echoing of this invisiblization about what can or can’t be said or presenced about this duality.
And so I think about a somewhat recent conversation I had with Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young, both of whom work at the same university, about “class passing.”, which had a little something to do with the idea (and I am super-simplifying of course) that if one read the right books or maybe the New Yorker and/or accidentally went to the right college at peak of its interestingness, it was possible to front as having a greater cultural relevancy than you might have otherwise enjoyed. And about how this fronting shows up a lot in the academy but also a lot in the general poetry world. I found this conversation baffling, and kept returning to it over a
number of days. Class passing, I said to myself. Class passing!
And most of what was so impenetrable to me was finally realizing this is something I would never even consider attempting to do because of its sheer impossibility. That my woefully under-read ignorance and white trash upbringing is writ large all over me, inescapable and permanent. But also, really, that I wouldn’t even want to class pass if I could, because it sounds exhausting. It made me somewhat grateful for my job as an arts administrator for an organization that is housed by a university but is not part of a university and feel love for my friends who work in the academy, whose jobs are hard in many ways not least of which is that they involve such concessions. Hello academy friends! I feel love for you!
But larger than this, this conversation gave me a lot of anxiety. Because now there was a whole new set of considerations outside of those that I already imagined to somehow wrangle the limninal sense of being here and here and there and there. Because more than the duality of my two jobs, I wrestle with the kind of poetry community and poetic I want to live in.
What I am most left with after all this wrangling and thinking about what gets seen or not or registered or not, is that it is enormous privilege to be standing here talking to you today about this. Well-fed and hydrated and safe on a beautiful day in which I am not working.
That while I do feel strongly that art and culture are as necessary a survival tool as food and water to a collective society and an individual personhood, art is not, in fact, food or water.
And as hyperbolic and cliché it is to say that there are people who do not have this privilege to sit here today in this room buzzing with interesting ideas and weak coffee and no threats of bombing on our streets or other attacks on our physical or psychic safety, it is, nevertheless, true. Which is of course not to say that we should all stop writing and give up our jobs or that I am even attempting to coalesce a manifesto. But only to say that for me it is hard sometimes to sit with the privilege of sitting here.
So how does this all relate to my writing? I will say this:
I feel lucky. I feel grateful for this life I never imagined possible. This life full of reading and books and opinions and ideas full of interesting people that I meet through both of my jobs who seem to care what I think and who also have attractive brains that matter to me.
And so when I get the very very rare focused time to sit down to write, which is these days honestly is only when one of you has asked me to do so, I feel responsible to acknowledge this privilege by writing and thinking about people and communities that perhaps don’t enjoy these same luxuries. So the bulk of my writing projects have concerned the people who have been killed on the streets of my town and the people who have been implicated in my country’s decision to use torture as a means of expediency along with the realities and my complicity in this.
And I don’t know exactly what I am trying to reveal or incite by telling you this other than it feels that I have no choice but to do it. To forge some kind of balance and light, however complicated and fraught, on the unseen and seen outside of this paradigm of me and you and us and them.