Once, I was asked how many years it took for grief to go by, and I responded that it had been six years between Elizabeth, my first cat, running away and adopting Timmy, our new family cat. Timmy is alive and well, but Tango, the Bengal rescue cat we loved so much, passed away a bit over a year ago. Although he was old when we adopted him, he deserved the best life we could give him, and more of it in my opinion.
Pets are a strange subject to write about because they are both an eminent commonality and very proprietary. You risk adhering to the familiar and sentimental or boring your audience. I wanted to publish work about Tango; I wanted to prove that I could memorialize him in that way.
A while back, I wrote a blog post about list poems. I was experimenting with new forms, and that's how I won an honorable mention in the Binnacle's Ultra Short Contest this year for cat: a google search. Although I marketed it for the contest as poetry, it is nonfiction: a list of terms in my search history, curated over a year of owning a wonderful Bengal cat.
Why did this idea stand out? Well, after Tango's death it was hard for me to browse the web on my computer or ipad because I had spent a year googling cat terms including a lot of items towards the end of his life. Thanks to Google's autocomplete feature, which says, "Hey, you're searching for something that starts with 'ca'--let me suggest some things!" I couldn't look up anything, and I didn't want to clear my search history either. That, right there, is what grief is.
Although the first works I wrote as a child were fiction and creative non-fiction, it was poetry that captured me. In the fourth grade, our city shuffled school districts and I ended up at another elementary school--a relief to my parents, who had witnessed my social struggles, but not to me, since I had to start over. I ended up meeting a lifelong friend who just happened to want to write poems together. We lived an artistic life then, exchanging books, collaborating on poems, and even going to a writer's conference at the behest of our teacher.
Throughout high school, I wrote. Though I was working on two novel-length projects at the time, I filled several notebooks with poems of all sorts: experimental freeform, perfectly-metered formal poems, translations, poems that used different languages, poems and translations in a fantasy language I developed for my writing project.
In college, I stopped writing long-form fiction, and my poetry writing also tapered off. I wrote some short stories, but after I applied to a poetry workshop--because yes, you have to apply to take a writing class at Princeton--and got rejected, I thought my poems were derivative, useless. (I took one fiction seminar, in a semester riddled with personal issues, where I was afraid to write in my authentic voice and I had no idea who Chimamanda Adichie was.)
Between 2007 and 2013, I wrote almost no poetry, but I kept coming back to the urge to create. When I enrolled at Goddard, I wanted to work on poetry, but it took a backseat to fiction-writing because that was my chosen genre, and writing a thesis in two years requires concentration. I also happened to work with advisors who were not poets in any way. However, I did write a few poems, and even got published thanks to a spur-of-the-moment Rilke translation and a poetry class I took from UWisc's Writing Center (they're a great resource).
I say this because I've dealt with impostor syndrome, the feeling that you don't really belong and are lying about what you are, in many forms--when I first went to Princeton, when I first went to graduate school, every day as I sit here and pretend to be a writer. But there has never been a genre of work where I feel more like an impostor than poetry.
This is stupid because I have had so much practice as a translator it's mind-numbing, and because I went out of my way at Goddard to study the density and intensity of poetic writing.
Yet, even though I will never claim that poetry is my main genre, it is an annoying habit I can't quit, so I might as well get better at it.
No one likes tax time. At best, it's yet another reminder of the grown-up world. At worst, it's the devil coming to take even more of your money than you already gave him during the year. I, however, have a bittersweet relationship with taxes.
My childhood had four seasons: summer, fall, winter, and tax season; my father is a licensed tax preparer. He built this small business while working full-time as a firefighter. It's true that a fire station has a lot of downtime, especially for the person manning the ladder truck, which typically responds to fewer calls than the standard engines or ambulances. Many firefighters do, and thrive on the long shift schedule, which is followed by several days off during which they can grow their other business. Their contacts and reputation as blue-collar heroes help. But that doesn't make it pleasant.
The increased income helped our family relax, pay for big ticket purchases, and make ends meet after the spendy holiday season. However, it also meant high tempers, overwork, stress, and reduced family time. My father worked (and continues to work!) so hard during tax season that he set a standard that seemed nigh unreachable. Many of us have had a ten or twelve-hour video gaming session at least once, or a binge-watch of a show that keeps us at our computer. My dad regularly worked ten or twelve hour days at his desk. We used to joke that the only thing that could get him out of his seat--besides dinner, which my mother insisted we eat as a family--was a fire!
Nowadays tax season is heralded by some wordsmithing of my father's business to client communications, fielding computer upgrade questions, and stealing all the new promotional pens for my personal use. I don't feel a January dread the way I used to, but I still understand that travel in either direction and quality time get eaten up by a business that could kick any standard, big-box tax firm's ass in turnaround time, quality, and price.
However, as I went to tally up my itemized deductions this year, I realized just how much time and money I had spent last year on charitable giving, volunteer work, and donations. I donated to eleven nonprofits, volunteered my time for four others, and assisted other crowdfunding and Patreon efforts that aren't tax-deductible. I also bought products from the nonprofit organizations I support, and used Amazon Smile to give to a nonprofit of my choice.
What I learned: if you keep giving and doing what you can throughout the year, you'll have something to feel good about when tax season comes. Reflecting on my contributions gave me a sense of purpose and direction for the yet-unused time and money in the year to come.
Even if you don't acknowledge tax season as a real season.
Seriously, my dad is awesome and he works with clients in any state. I am also available to hire as a freelance writer and simple web designer.