"To bring the poem into the world / is to bring the world into the poem."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011



I work for a major California public university whose budget, like with other such schools, has been under much pressure...

I used to meet a lot of artists who were campus employees; we all seemed to gravitate here for the same reasons: it paid a decent wage plus it allowed for time to work on our art. You'd find artists in all corners. The academic culture of exploration and well-roundedness permeated even at the staffing level. I don't run into them as often due to my work, but they are still here.

But the projects to save money, become more and more efficient, as well as reducing the staff force, have added stress and work to those that remain. I find myself physically, mentally, and at times emotionally exhausted. At the same time, people are grateful to have a job that still pays for health benefits. I have to admit this past week was the first time in my 14 years here that I ever thought about leaving the university, maybe going to another campus, or maybe leaving it entirely. Though I wonder if it's really greener elsewhere.

In my time here I've had to look people in the eye and tell them, "We had to let you go." And yeah those people had kids and houses and problems. I've gotten promoted and demoted and reorganized. I do a lot of apologizing: to staff because I can't give them any more money, to my boss because we didn't have enough resources to finish on time, to customers because technology just doesn't work the way anyone really wants it to work. And I thank a lot of people, too, for their patience, for their hard work, for sticking around even though all I can give them is a thank you. I don't expect a thank you. And that's ok.

At the same time, both my husband and I are fortunate to still have decently paying jobs each with good health care coverage.

As for my writing/poetry, much of it got put on hiatus well before the crisis as I dealt with the personal crisis of infertility. 4 years of trying, 2 miscarriages later we finally got some answers to why and where to go from here. But not after rollercoasters of sadness and hope and a whole reworking of my own identity as a mother and aunt and how children fit in my life now and in the future. I actually have a blog I've never made public that I used as personal therapy. I didn't want to reveal this process before simply because they were other forms of grief and I needed to protect myself from being exposed. Even then, it took the 2nd miscarriage 3 years after the first to actually contextualize and articulate the grief I had experienced after the first miscarriage. It took 4 years for me to actually speak of this to anyone outside my sister and a few close friends.

Oh I know there's a world monetary crisis, and we aren't properly counting the numbers of people who are really unemployed and underemployed. I have not kept up on who's to blame. But I already went through a phase of blaming myself, and don't really have any more energy to blame anyone else.

What all of it makes me wonder is what is really necessary and what is really important? I think, oh we had wanted to buy a stand alone house to raise our children (whenever they may come), but at the same time, this condo is just fine. And it's a block away from my sister and her family. And we have a pool that I teach my nephew to swim in. And a short drive away I visit my parents and grandmother and their dog. And I still go to my local farmer's market, because I want to know who my dollar goes to even though it can be way more expensive than Safeway.

And yeah, there's a financial crisis yet I'm sure there will be millions of people still with cash running to buy the new iPhone model.

In the meantime, I'm working on a Tagalog/English children's book with an artist friend of mine that I hope to self publish to a kindle/ipad format. Because really, this next generation doesn't really use books. So how does that change what poetry looks like and how people interact with poetry or writing for that matter. While I lament the death of paper books, I find it all the more encouraging that literature whether bad/good/great is getting more and more accessible. Classic novels are free online. Books for $0.99.

I put my poetry on hold because I wanted to just fully experience what was going on. I refused an invite to the SF Intl book festival because I wasn't ready to participate. Though I'm happy they had a good turn out. And it looked like it was a lot of fun. I spent the weekend running errands with my sister and nephew, who calls me Anya and points to ants on the ground and I figure there will be another Int'l book fest to go to next year, but that my nephew won't show me the ants on the ground again.

I do know I will return to poetry because I can feel the poems in me. But for now much of my writing happens at work, picking the right phase to deliver bad news, find the correct tone to encourage people to have just a little bit more patience and to do it all without stepping on anyone's last frayed nerve including my own.

We soon embark on the what could possibly be the final tries at getting pregnant with invitro fertilization. And from what the last 4 years have taught me, it's important for me to be present, forgiving, truthful, and loving. And I'm hoping those things will get me through the Great Recession too.

"...a screen shot from a video of me and my nephew swimming. Abstract but with enough detail to show what I find important nowadays."


As I think about "recession poetics," I find myself worn out by work. I entered management without any kind of experience into a department already in the red at the start of all these cutbacks. Navigated the staff through two mergers, two staff cuts, and doubling of customers in an environment where the customers are all stressed out and critical about everything. While I've worked to integrate all the training I've gotten on how to be a good supervisor/manager, rumor has it people say I'm still underachieving of my potential. I really don't know what they want from me anymore.

I haven't felt this way about my work since 10 years ago. The growing fatigue waking up each morning. The Sunday dread wondering if I can make it through this week.

I find myself polishing up my resume I haven't touched for 2 years and talking with my husband about what if I quit and looking into some career counseling to see how I could take my skill sets out of the university. Or maybe we move out of the bay to some place with cheaper housing where I could quit and do what I love, whatever that was or be a stay at home mom. Why, in this recession, am I even thinking of quitting when there are alot of people who could use a job? I don't know but sometimes it even seems like a good idea.

But the practical side of me needs a plan, and worries about the credit card bills, and medical expenses. Maybe I can build a empire off of photo postcards on zazzle and building craft stuff to sell on etsy or be like my cousin flipping Russian dolls on eBay to sell to Kansas housewives who fill their kitchens with kitsch. Or would I actually finish writing all those books I wanted to write, need to write because I'm just too tired to do so now.

Maybe it is like the Joseph Campbell quote on my Facebook feed, it's time to let go of the life I planned to go live the life that's waiting for me.



I am sharing "How to Battle a Wind Goddess" from Kali's Blade as I find myself with this desire to fight and struggle, yet get tossed at every turn. I think I'm somewhere in the middle of this poem, not quite at the turning point, still finding a way to inhale, to breathe.

How to Battle a Wind Goddess

“Night, hush, wave, sea, foam. Touch, skin, eyes, mouth, bone. Own, him, her, not, mine. Heart, breathe, walk, us, home.”
-excerpt from performance “Before Their Words” by Maiana Minahal

She had stolen my love. By taking him away she had broken me in two.

In my rage I ran upon her with all my strength. But how do you battle the wind? Defeat a goddess?

To touch something that cannot be seen, to be tossed by her great force, yet capture nothing in my arms.

For hours upon hours we fought. When I trapped her in my cloth she carried me through the heavens. I hid amongst the bamboo learning

to bend and sway in her breeze. I screamed but she deafened me with her howls. She encircled me, crushing me in her tornado.

And then,

I swallowed her. Inhaled her, held her, drove her deep, deep, into my lungs, my pores. Til she infused my blood.

Where she became my flesh I became a wind goddess.



Michelle Bautista, author of Kali's Blade, has worked as a public servant for 14 years and comes from a family of public servants. Having graduated in the middle of the dot com boom, she passed over $80K jobs at consulting firms to take her first job for $34K a major public university. She now finds herself in a flurry of activity of budget cuts, re-orgs, hirings and firings ever wondering these days if she'll be next and if it's time for a career change. At the same time, she continues to believe in the mission of the university and the changes they are making.


1 comment:

EILEEN said...

There's such courage in your honesty here. Thank you so much for sharing,