This past Thursday, I got up before the sun and drove to Muncie, IN to visit Ball State University. My host, Peter Davis, arranged to have me visit a couple of classes. Students in the creative writing class asked questions about titles, word choice, titling, favorite poets and form. The afternoon class asked quite a few questions about my non-academic education—jobs, travel, etc. I hadn’t realized it before, but when I had to talk about why I made the choices I’ve made in my life I became aware that one of the reasons I often change my life is because I am in danger of liking what I say I do for a living rather than liking what I do for a living. It’s made me leave jobs, change cities and even led me to live in my car for a short time.
I had a tasty and very messy bar-b-que quesadilla for dinner, and then went to the campus library for the reading with Todd McKinney, who read great, funny poems about a rummage sale. The reading went well and the room where it was held had paintings of both Spiderman and Marilyn Monroe in it. It’s not often I get to read in a room where the walls are decorated with icons. Afterwards, I got to hang out and talk with some people, as well as discuss my upbringing, poetry, and life advice with a student who works for the newspaper. He asked what advice I would offer graduating seniors or students choosing to leave school because of economic circumstances. I remember that at my commencement address from graduate school, Jessica Lange spoke to the graduating class about saying “yes” to life. Another one of my favorite pieces of life advice is from Joseph Campbell who said: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” I told the student something to the effect of: “Make choices you’re proud of.” The rest of it can be gone in a second, but if you live a life you like and make choices you like, no stock market upheaval can take that away from you.
After the reading, I got to see one of Muncie’s finest establishments—The Chug. Mini-pitchers, debates about the greatest rock-and-roll bands and karaoke rounded out the night. It’s been a few years, but I dusted off my sing-along skills and performed “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” It was a really fun evening, and a great way to end my stay in Indiana.
It occurred to me while I was there that the questions I got from students were half about poetry and half about advice. As interested as they were in line breaks and titles, they also really wanted to know how I’d lived my life in the hope that it would help them live theirs. I’m not sure I have any answers, but I am glad those students are asking. I want to ask them in turn (with Mary Oliver’s words): “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”