To Be Both Flowers

I always thought I was supposed to be a hermit.

This post comes from poet extraordinaire Jacqueline Suskin, photography by Shelby Duncan @shelbyduncan

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I always thought I was supposed to be a hermitWhen I envisioned my future as a poet, I imagined myself tucked away in a tiny shack, holed up in some remote area, a rural lady at her desk, crafting page after page. I have indeed lived alone in the desert on a ranch for months, working mustangs and walking the dusty roads with only my thoughts as company. I have lived in a redwood cabin, nestled in a valley, working in the vegetable garden and typing poems by the woodstove. Truly, this is the life that I like the most. In these times apart I have finished writing both of my books. Solitude has always been a key ingredient for my creative process. But alas, no matter how many times I set myself apart, I never end up alone.

Historically poets and writers are unaccompanied. The traditional image of the lone author at her desk, toiling away while the rest of the world sleeps, is one that I’ve held onto. I imagine skirting the crowd, penciling details in my notebook, and then running home to create into the night, but I could never fully make myself a wallflower. I could never hold back during a dance party or resist the temptation to celebrate in order to keep a disciplined daily writing schedule. I’ve always drawn people to me, I’m extremely outgoing, and I find connection comes easily. I’m pulled into their stories, into wild expressions of shared appreciation for life, and I follow the lead of these links from place to place. I’m wholly distracted by people and have a hard time saying no to experiences.

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When someone asks me to come to Hawaii, I have to say yes. When I’m taking a retreat in Joshua Tree and my oldest friend is randomly passing through on her cross country road trip, I have to invite her over. I know that when I’m alone, when I choose to remove myself from the crowd and hold back, I get to work and am extremely productive.

So how do I succeed? How have I been able to be a professional poet since 2009 when I’m constantly preoccupied with peeling myself off the wall and observing from within the masses? It works, because I write poetry in public. I sit with my typewriter in large throngs of people and make myself available. I mix both of my talents, my ability to turn inward and write wherever and whenever comes from years of traveling, taking in cultures, and connecting with folks at the drop of a hat because that’s what I know how to do best. So many of my ideas for books come from this type of interaction. When I set up my Poem Store at the Farmers’ Market or at a wedding, I’m in some way still a wallflower of sorts. I get to sit on my little perch and take in the human condition. Each person who gets a poem shows me something about the whole picture. With Poem Store, I get to be both kinds of flower: one that vines up the wall to climb and take note from afar, and one that blooms boldly in sync with everyone else, relating to all types of color and style, all kinds of feelings and opinions.

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So even if I stray from the idealistic “writer as hermit” archetype, I see my time spent available to the community as something that stands as a foundation for the rest of my work with words. I’m working on four new books at the moment and I’ve promised not to be too hard on myself as I travel around the country with my friends instead of focusing on these projects. Each moment adds to the whole and eventually, I will take time apart, reconnect with the wall, with that separate space from where I can take it all

in. I know that the key to being someone who actually writes and doesn’t just think like a writer, is to take that time apart, retreat, stand back and observe the whole adventure. I always look forward to that part of the cycle. It truly is like being a flower, understanding that the seasons come and go, and winter is my time to withdraw so that I can nurture the gifts that I have to offer when I unfurl for everyone.

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