As I have hinted at in some of the posts I’ve written over the past couple of years, my professional life has been difficult, not because of anything having to do with my job per se, but because the college where I teach has become, unsurprisingly, caught up in the national struggle over the purpose of education and the role of educators in our society. This is something I care deeply about and so I lent my voice to that struggle, serving for a time as my union’s communications coordinator—work that, while I do not regret it, nonetheless took me away from my own writing and forced me to pass up opportunities to get my work published, to apply for grants and residencies, that I otherwise would have taken.
Precisely because I did not want to keep my own work on the proverbial back burner anymore, I resigned as communications coordinator at the end of 2013. I had not anticipated, however, just how difficult it would be to clear my head of all that politics. Add to that the demands of my normal teaching workload and the fact that I continually felt myself pulled between and among my different writing interests—poetry, translations, essays—and you will understand why I found it increasingly difficult to keep myself focused and disciplined enough to get any substantive work done. Fortunately, I received word last month that the Queens Council on the Arts has awarded me an Individual Artist’s Grant to work on my second book of poems, which will be called Words For What Those Men Have Done. In accepting the grant, I have agreed as well to present my work in public. Since this second book will continue the exploration I began in The Silence of Men of how my experience as a survivor of child sexual abuse has shaped my life, personally, professionally, and politically, I plan to give that reading in April as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The dollar amount of the grant—which is significant, but not as large as some other awards that are out there—is less important to me than its symbolic value. Not only is it the first grant I have ever been awarded (and it is only the second one for which I have ever applied), but coming when it did, at the end of a year in which my search for a new beginning had not been as successful as I had hoped, it has focused my attention and my energies in a way I don’t think I could have done on my own. I have no choice. To fulfill the terms of the grant, I have both to produce and perform the poems that will make up Words For What Those Men Have Done. As I put it in my grant application:
The statistics speak for themselves. Depending on the measure used, studies show that as many as 20% of men will experience some form of sexual violence at some point in their lives. Yet we do not talk about it. That silence both hurts survivors and allows the violence to continue. This project will start, at least in my community, a conversation that is becoming more and more necessary.
I plan to use the blogging that I do to further this conversation, to talk not only about the issues and struggles I will face as I work on my book and prepare the poems for public presentation, but also to place my own work in the larger national and international context of the work to end sexual violence against boys and men and girls and women. That won’t be the only thing that I blog about, but it will become a primary focus of what I post. I am excited by this new beginning, and I am grateful to have you to share it with. I hope that 2015 is filled for you with light and love, with happiness and fulfillment, with contentment and success.
Cross-posted on my blog.