In April of 2006, I received an email from a respected author with whom I had no previous relationship. It was, simply and without additional comment, a list of 13 items, advice I had not sought but which transformed me the moment I read it. This is not overstatement.
Only a month before, I had been appointed by the mayor of Denver as the city's poet laureate. What an opportunity and honor, which I knew I had not earned but rather, must now earn. In accepting, I took responsibility for affirming literary arts in Denver, and really, much further afield in Colorado. I thought first of schools because I am a teacher by trade; also academics, street spitters, the hidden and quiet poets in every corner, elegant seniors whose poetry evokes another era of letters. Why not be iconoclastic and break barriers rather than affirm any one?
I knew I'd never please everybody and wouldn't try, but finally, what and how?
Just as I was settling in under the load of this, the remarkable list arrived. I would like to thank the sender. It made all the difference, and it continues to resonate.
1. There are many people with many needs; you can meet some, not all, never for as long or as much as all would like. You are exemplar, not father to the masses.
2. Your family comes first; children grow up in a turn of a page; miss nothing that is important to your child.
3. Every job has a personal cost; make sure at each turn you can and will be happy to pay it.
4. Avoid all irritation.
5. Choose worthy fellow travelers who care for you and have no enmity.
6. Resist fawning from others; it actually leaches even though it purports to give.
7. Have at least three confidantes who hold your confidences utterly.
8. Remember to rest your spirit, renew your eyes.
9. Nothing is leaving the planet. There will ever be much left undone no matter how much you do.
10. All men and women are to locomote under their own power; no parasitic rides.
11. Spite can speak in kind words face to face.
12. Insist on time to write your own work. Don't give away the store. You will know you are giving too much "out there" if you don't have time or energy to keep to the rhythm of your own muse.
13. Keep an utterly honest journal of the next two years, it will prove valuable to you for helping others who will come after you in many many ways.