Yes! What better way to mark a length of distance than to revisit an early chapter. More specifically, a guest from an early chapter. In this episode we hear once again from award-winning poet, Barbara Jane Reyes! And guess what? A lot has changed since she first appeared on the program. In both of our professional lives and also in the landscape of artist-hustlers.
In our talk, we cover a wide array of topics:
Yes, this is going to be a good one! Please enjoy!
|Art of Hustle 013: Poet Barbara Jane Reyes||Click here to READ>|
Intro: Welcome to the Art of Hustle pod cast series where art meets entrepreneurship. Here’s your host Anthem Salgado.
Anthem: What’s up everybody? And thank you so much for tuning in. Today we are going to be speaking with poet Barbara Jane Reyes. You may recall her from one of the very first podcast episodes early back in the days. We’re having her back to uncover new findings in her process as an artist, as an educator, as a cultural worker. And it’s going to be a very awesome conversation. Let me read you her current bio so you understand more about who we will be engaging here.
Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Diwata published on BOA Editions in 2010, winner of the Global Filipino Literary Award for poetry and a finalist for the California Book Award. She was born in Manila, Philippines, raised in San Francisco Bay Area and is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Gravities of Center published on Arkipelago Books in 2003 and Poeta en San Francisco published by Tinfish Press in 2005, which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. She is also the author of chapbooks Easter Sunday, Cherry, and For the City that Nearly Broke Me. Her work is published or forthcoming in Arroyo Literary Review, Asian Pacific American Journal, Boxcar Poetry Review, Chain, 11 11, Fairytale Review, Fourteen Hills, Hambone, Kartica Review, Lantern Review, New American Writing, North American Review, Notre Dame Review, and many, many others.
An Andrew W. Melon Foundation Fellow, she received her B.A. in ethnic studies at UC Berkeley and her M.F.A. at San Francisco State University. She is an adjunct professor at University of San Francisco’s Yuchengco Philippines Studies Program where she teaches Filipino Literature in Diaspora and Filipina Lives and Voices in Literature. She has also taught Filipino American literature at San Francisco State University and graduate poetry workshop at Mills College and currently serves on the board of Philippine American Writers and Artists, also known as PAWA. She lives with her husband poet Oscar Bermeo in Oakland where she is co-editor of Doveglion Press.
If you guys are not yet stoked, prepare to be, because obviously Barbara is a very accomplished person in her field and it’s always a treat to find out what it is people who have such great output do in their day to day, how they think, what their processes are like. And we’re really treated to this interview here to find out more about those sorts of details. Don’t mind the siren that’s just life in any city in America. Okay, here’s the recording, enjoy.
Back in the Hustle
Welcome back Barbara Jane Reyes to the Art of Hustle podcast studio.
Barbara: Thank you for having me again. This is a treat.
Anthem: Yeah, definitely. I mean especially since for listeners who are just catching up, Barbara was my first ever guest on the series and I believe that may have been two or three years ago now at this point.
Barbara: Something like that, yeah.
Anthem: And I imagine lots of things have changed with you. Certainly a lot of things have changed with me in Art of Hustle. Besides the wonderful bio that we’ve all just heard, what can you tell us about things that may be different with you just generally speaking nowadays?
Barbara: Nowadays I am, well this isn’t a change as much as it is like where I am in my publishing status. I did have a chapbook come out a couple of years ago now and that was two years after my last full-length collection. So what I’m doing right now is I’m back in the hustle. I am submitting queries to publishers again. And you think it’s supposed to get easier but then maybe it’s not so much. That’s one thing. I’m querying publishers about my next book manuscript that is good and ready to go. And I’ve been teaching now for the past — I’ve been teaching at the college level for seven years now.
A New Generation of Go-Getters
Anthem: And I know that you’ve always been advocating for young writers, women in particular to really own their voice as writers and also as professional writers. Have there been any new discoveries in your mission to help that happen for a lot of people?
Barbara: Discoveries in terms of specific people or —
Anthem: As an educator and as a mentor.
Barbara: Okay, yeah, well you know I — how do I start? There’s so much, right? Well, one thing that I have been doing is I proposed a course in Philippine Studies at USF and the course is titled Pinay Lit. And so I had an entire semester to fill in with nothing but writing and cultural production by Filipino women. You know, it surprised me how much interest, once I started talking about it on my Facebook or on my website, how much interest out there in the world there was. Just that in this country there really isn’t anything like that. There is no such thing as a literature class dedicated specifically Filipino women. So that kind of interest was eye-opening for me. And it also gave me the opportunity to not just pull in works by the authors that inspired me and continue to inspire me but just to really find who are these younger writers that are starting to publish and print in online journals and who are coming out of or coming into graduate programs in writing and just kind of finding their work. Stuff gets presented to me all the time because I teach Pinay Lit and you know all these young writers’ names come up, you know, “Hey have you read so and so?” and so for that in terms of finding that, there is a population of Pinay writers in this country that are coming up that are already formulating game plans that have already taken into their hands their education as writers and that already know a little about or enough about the process of finding publication. And so that’s been a revelation.
Anthem: That seems really different than our conversation from a couple of years ago.
Barbara: Yes it does. I feel like maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right places or I hadn’t found these young women yet or they had not found me. Or it could just really be that as a result of programs like VONA which is the Asian American poetry workshop, or excuse me people of color writing workshops or Kundiman which is the Asian American poetry workshop or Kearny Street that through these community arts orgs these emerging writers are getting kind of a — are really learning to look at other places to be able to further their own education. That wherever they’re at they know they are capable of doing more and that they can and should be doing more for themselves.
Anthem: I feel like it’s a giant step between really advancing ones craft in any art form and actually getting that work out there into the public in the publication or on a stage or anywhere else. And so, how are these folks, so far as you can tell, how are they arriving at these sort of professional development skills that historically are totally absent from any fine arts program. What are your thoughts on that?
Barbara: Yes that’s a really good point. I know a lot of people who did come out of MFA programs saying, “I was never taught how to submit work. I was never taught that I should do these things.” But I think that really the key to getting those skills starts at the community level. Because there are so many open mics and because there are all these places where it’s like okay if you have like five poets from one area who all went to VONA together or something, they already kind of feeling empowered because they have one another. And that enables them to go out there into the world and find a place where they fit. I guess because it’s been so many years for me since being in this place where I just didn’t know where to go that I can’t even imagine what else they’re doing apart from just kind of — you know I feel like there’s more of kind of a DIY ethos out there that has to do with digital publishing being a lot more accessible, podcasting being a lot more accessible, print on demand. There’s so many things that you can do where as back in the day, like we’re so ancient, but back in the day, it was a big effort to have to lay out a chapbook and take it to Kinko’s and do the folding and stapling and trimming and then carrying those around in your backpack. And I still advocate for that. I love DIY product. But these young folks are so fancy now. They can have e-chaps and just start an online journal or something and all they need again is just three or five of them to kind of figure out how to do that.
Anthem: And I imagine going back to the technology thing that it’s probably a lot easier to develop community than, well I don’t want to take away from the old school way of doing things like meeting at the club or the bar or the café, but I imagine if you’re in an isolated place maybe geographically it’s probably easier to find your community online because geography doesn’t matter when you’re online. It’s easy to find writers. I mean your blog helps a lot of aspiring poets learn about your process as a writer and so I imagine that contributes in a big way to people envisioning what’s possible and also helping make what’s possible for themselves as writers.
Barbara: Correct. I feel like in many ways technology also enables folks to see behind the curtain where as before it was — and I think still I shouldn’t assume that everything is completely transparent now but just that it is a lot easier to see the process. If you’re on Facebook and you’re starting to like stalk your favorite authors or whatever, you see what they’re up to. You see how they do things. You see how they agonize over drafts. You see those kinds of things and it’s like oh, wow, even so and so is still struggling with getting a thing written. A lot of people told me — I had just put up that I had gotten two rejections on my last manuscript. One of them was pretty painful because it was the press of my dreams. And I put that up because that was consuming me and so I need to get past this. So I put it up as a status that I’m officially brokenhearted. I just got this rejection letter and I got a lot of private response from people who were saying thank you for putting that out there. And where as I thought okay here I am having a pity party on Facebook, you know, what makes me any different from any other human being, other people were really encouraged by that just because they see that there is a process that all of us have to go through and it isn’t all smooth sailing all the way through.
Managing Failures and Rejections
Anthem: You know, I have to let you know that I am among those people that appreciates that kind of messaging from successful artists, writers, business people, because a lot of times by the time anything shows up on 60 Minutes or on some other grand program, there’s a lot of putting someone on a pedestal and I think for the rest of us who would consider ourselves part of regular society it’s discouraging because we don’t actually see the steps that any person would have needed to take to get to that level. And I feel like in a way that’s sort of the mission of Art of Hustle, like let’s again pull back that curtain and show people that yeah you’re going to get kicked down in your journey to finding this place of excellence for yourself. So I think it’s important for people, I personally as a value I think it’s important that that gets revealed otherwise you just have this super glossed over mysterious super star artist. And it’s not an accurate picture really of how they got there, you know what I mean?
Barbara: Absolutely and I was thinking about this because I’ve been watching a lot of sports documentaries for example and those are people too that when you finally see them in professional sports, you know maybe you saw them in college but you don’t see where they grew up. You don’t see what kind of odds were against them. Even if you see them in the draft and they’re supposed to be — I don’t know, they’re somewhere down there in the dregs. They’re not the superstar who everybody’s going to want to go after first. You know there are these really interesting narratives there about struggle and process. And you don’t see that when you just see an icon on the t-shirt.
Barbara: Yeah, so I’ve been really appreciative of that. There are a lot of authors that I do follow on Facebook and then I see them, they’re still hustling. People who I think these people are amazing, they’ve got these amazing books on these amazing presses and then here they are still struggling over airfare and gigs and lines in a poem and that makes it so much better for me too, it really does.
Anthem: Yeah because we’re all just human at the end of the day.
The Importance of Celebration
Barbara: Well, there’s that, absolutely. And I know I put a lot of, hey I just got published here or hey I got this awesome thing, but those are also very important to celebrate and appreciate and say I worked hard for these things. Here is all the hard work I’m doing and here’s the pay off.
Anthem: Right. You’re allowed to be excited. You know we’re not often enough allowing ourselves to be excited about our own successes.
Anthem: I feel like there’s this false modesty that happens sometimes. We get as stoked as anybody else when something good happens for us. We should show that too.
Barbara: Celebrate it, right, absolutely. And those become markers along the way. There’s always going to be a next step to get to and a next step. I was just thinking every single step along the way, you get a new publication, you get a new book contract, or just like a poem accepted somewhere, however big or small the venue and I think those are things that if we don’t stop to appreciate them, then the work really feels like nothing but kind of heartbreak and exhaustion because it’s hard work.
The Problem with False Modesty
Anthem: Yeah absolutely. Can we, since we’re talking about Facebook stuff can we talk about that one hilarious post, that article you posted maybe several weeks ago now about the writer who’s always kind of giving himself a high five on Facebook. Can you describe that article first of all and what your feedback might be? It was like the fictional writer who’s like, “Oh I’m having lunch with someone famous. And oh my book just got picked up.”
Barbara: Oh that, okay.
Anthem: But it was a sort of like snarky article about this fictional writer. So can you first describe what the article was, it’s tone and what it was trying to convey? And what your reaction to it was?
Barbara: Yes, okay I remember now. It was this article that was saying something to the effect of we hate that guy. We hate that guy who’s constantly high-fiving himself on Facebook. We hate that guy who’s constantly putting up all of his, and I’m gendering him but it isn’t always a him right, who’s always putting up all his accomplishments and name dropping, “Oh I was hanging out with Pablo Neruda today,” which is ridiculous because he’s passed away but you know what I’m saying. But I think that there was another piece there about the false modesty part, which you mentioned. “Oh, I’m so fortunate and I don’t deserve this but –” and then you drop this awesome news. So this goes back to what you and I was just saying about be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Be proud of what you’ve just earned.
So I think that — I’m not exactly sure what people who were reading the article were getting out of it but for me the piece that I honed in on wasn’t necessarily the here are all of these accomplishments and I’m broadcasting every single one but the piece about the insincerity about the, “Oh I don’t deserve this.” Or “I was telling my awesome supermodel wife who I don’t deserve but she’s so good to me about this.” You know it’s like just own the thing already. So yeah, I don’t know what else to say about it except that a lot of the annoyance that I have to just unplug and go climb a mountain or something when people’s online personas are getting on my nerves. But a lot of it really does have to do with that, just not being able to comfortably just say, “Here’s what I’m working on. Here’s what I’m proud of. Here’s what I’ve done. Here’s what I got.” And always having to preface it in this way that’s like — well it’s insincere.
Anthem: Like a fake humility.
Barbara: Fake humility and I don’t understand what the purpose is of that fake humility. I think that there’s always going to be people who are jealous or who get very negative about the fact that other people around them seem to be accomplishing all of these things. But I don’t think that those people should be our problem as long as we know the work we’re doing and the integrity of the work we’re doing then oh my gosh if we’re accomplishing good things we should be very pleased and also grateful and just putting it out there like that as genuinely as possible feels like to me the right way to go. And like I said, there’s always going to be people who are jealous because they feel like, oh well they don’t deserve that. I deserve that. Well go out and get that.
Why Are You Addressing The Haters?
Anthem: So do you feel like the fake humility then is a reaction to haters?
Barbara: Right, yeah okay that makes sense.
Anthem: So then it’s both bad. It’s bad because it’s fake humility and then it’s bad because there’s all these haters that make you want to do fake humility.
Barbara: Right, you know it’s like why are you addressing the haters? Why are you worried more about the haters than you are about your artist community or your family or your colleagues or your students or anybody around you who would be proud of you or be happy for you? Why worry about these haters who are really sadly kind stinking up the space with this sour attitude that — and again back to what I was saying earlier, the work is hard. You get all kinds of rejection. The thing that you wanted and you don’t always get and you just have to keep plugging away. And if you let all of the rejection kind of consume you then maybe you will become one of those haters.
Anthem: Right, that’s interesting. It’s all kind of connected.
Barbara: And to me that’s sad. And sometimes, again I look at other poets who have stuff and I go, damn I want some of that stuff too. But I don’t go hate on that person. I just go and try to get stuff right, which means another publication somewhere else or something.
Anthem: Right and I think that’s a really interesting thing and I tried to write about it recently. And I don’t know if I can articulate it well now, which is probably why I tried to write about it but I think whenever you find something that someone is doing, I think normally most humans will have one of two reactions. You’re either going to find it inspiring and you’re going to aspire towards it. Or you’re going to find it unrealistic for yourself and you’re going to hate it in the sort of sour grapes kind of way. And I feel like we all have a choice when we’re viewing the world to say to ourselves, well I’m inspired that this person can accomplish that and I too will try to accomplish something like that for myself. Or you could go the other way and say, that will never happen for me, good things don’t happen for me and life sucks.
Following The Blueprint
Barbara: Yeah and there are poets who have big amazing things and then I think okay well that may not be realistic for me now so how did that person get there? I know of a poet who has said, “How did this guy become the poet laureate of the United States?” Well he did all of these things. He had all of his publication. I’m on my way there. I’m not there yet but I’m on my way there. And I thought about that too because there was an event I went to at the SF Jazz Center a few months ago where Alejandro Murguia who is a San Francisco poet laureate and Juan Felipe Herrera who’s the California poet laureate, they were performing together. And as they were talking I was just marveling at the two of them. I got to talk to them afterwards and I was marveling at the two of them and I thought these two have left very, very clear blueprints for anyone of us to follow, myself included. Heaven knows whether or not I’d ever become the next poet laureate of whatever but you see their publication. You see the way they work. There’s nothing mystical about that. You just see decades of hard work. And so yeah, I would be — while what they’re doing seems kind of out of my league, I don’t see why I can’t step up and publish with that same amount of ferocity that either of them have in various places, not just with huge important presses but just every place that you publish is, for me a blessing.
Anthem: David Archuletta who I interviewed a couple of podcast episodes ago said something that has stuck with me since which is no success is too small, meaning make it all count. And I think that’s what you’re speaking to.
Barbara: Yeah. I think so. I’m not going to — there are people who, you know if I could ever get my act together when different editors are asking me for work, I don’t look at the name of their journal or their name and say oh they’re not work my time. If I’m not sending them work it’s because I either don’t have any or I just have too much on plate. It’s fallen off my radar but I’m never going to look at someone’s publication and say oh they’re not worthy of my work. That’s just not gracious.
Choosing Publications to Submit to
Anthem: Right. Let’s talk about that for a second. Strategically speaking, in your profession, it would be, well, we already know it’s impossible time wise to submit to everything, for everything. And so I feel like in my own experience, some things are weightier than others as far as like advancing your career and while we want to give to multiple folks in the community in various capacities, how do you weigh for yourself if you’re going to submit on particular poem, which publication you’re going to submit it to when you have a choice between, I don’t know, say, three or four?
Barbara: Okay that’s a good question. I had some work accepted into a Latino poetics anthology called Angels of the Americlypse, which is play America and apocalypse. And that’s coming out this summer from Counterpath Press. And because of its impending publication, the editors Carmen Jimenez Smith and John Chavez asked, “Hey do you want to submit these poems to Poetry Magazine because they’re going to be featuring a handful of our writers.” That was a no-brainer. Hell yeah, I want to be in Poetry Magazine. And I tell my students this, one of the most important things about Poetry Magazine to me is that was one of the places early in the century that Carlos Bulosan was published. That was one of the places in the mid-century, mid-20th century where Jose Garcia Villa was published. I wanted to be one of those Fil-Ams in this publication and so that was the opportunity. So you know for me again that was a no-brainer.
But a lot of the time too, it’ll be a press that might be quite tiny or very new but their mission statement is important to me or intersects with my value system. I met Melissa Sipin who is the co-founder of TAYO Literary Magazine which started out as a Fil-Am specific publication but has since opened up to accept writers and artists of different backgrounds. But because of its — well it’s titled TAYO right? It’s “us” in Tagalog, and because of that mission of inclusiveness with Filipinos at the center that became an important place for me to send work. So a lot of it is like that. Who is asking for work and what does their publication represent? Those are the ones that are going to come higher up on my list. I had gotten so overwhelmed with all of my work and then an editor from another press had contacted me and said, “We’re editing an anthology of essays by immigrant writers in America. Would you like to be a part of this, to write about your experience as an immigrant, as a bilingual person, as something?” And I was like, yeah I think I do. And so it become a lot of these places that are interested in immigrant voices or interested in feminist voices, women of color, where I know also that the audience is really thirsty for that work and really needing that work.
Anthem: So it’s very values driven?
Barbara: It is.
Anthem: And would it be fair to say that you would submit to as many things as possible until such point that time wouldn’t allow?
Mass vs Masterpiece
Anthem: Okay I guess my next question was is it, because some people are about sheer volume in the sort of like Picasso style, like just produce like crazy, get as much stuff created and out there. And then some people are like well if I just do one great thing then that’s fine by me. So are you of the school of thought that it’s all about really churning out as much artistically and professionally rather than focusing on the one masterpiece so to speak?
Barbara: I’m somewhere in the middle because I don’t believe in volume for the sake of volume right? If you have some crazy goal of writing 20 poems a week or I don’t know, and you’re doing everything in your power to get those 20 poems out but maybe five of them are really good and you’ve written like five really good poems in a week, take those other 15 and workshop them or something or just appreciate that that had your writing muscles going. So it has to be both volume and quality. There was one year that I wrote and published one good poem the entire year. And I was devastated. And of course I was still an undergrad and so I was still very, very new as a writer but to publish only one poem in an entire year was like, oh my god I need to do better than this but that was quite a good poem. So somewhere in between those two things I think is a comfortable and realistic place to reside because you know how for example National Poetry Month comes around and then all of a sudden everybody’s writing a poem a day which is great. But then you see people start dropping off and writing nothing but haikus from the 15th to the 30th and maybe some of those are some bomb ass haikus but maybe some of them are just 17 syllables of stuff to fill space.
Anthem: Right, I get that. Awesome, the last time we talked I recall too that when I asked you about how you create time to write you seem to do it anywhere, anytime. You’re just so driven that any moment is a good moment to write even if it’s just taking down a couple of notes for a future piece of writing. Is that still the case these days?
Create Anywhere, Anytime
Barbara: It really is. I’ve always been a multi-tasker. I work in various places and so I’m constantly carrying around scratch paper and pencils with me everywhere just to write a few things down here and there. Yeah if I have a ten-minute break at my work or it’s my lunch hour or something then I’ll be reading and writing down notes or taking down some of those notes and making a poem out of them or something like that. Or I’m looking at the manuscript and I’m editing. So something is constantly happening in terms of creativity. Yeah, I’ve never been one of those people who could have this neat schedule where I would wake up at five in the morning and write for a couple of hours and then get ready for work. I can’t do that. And I know some people are really great at that so I’m not knocking that process but for myself being a multi-tasker and then living in a really bustling place, that seems to be my rhythm and I do think it has something to do with place. You know when you’re running around here and there and this is metropolitan area where you’re constantly colliding with people, you don’t know what language or what thing or what story these other people have around you, but those things are constantly kind of stimulating me such that a trip on the bus to the BART Station and that walk from the BART Station through Chinatown is going to yield something.
Anthem: Can I ask you, because it sounds like that’s, if we’re going to put it in business mode for a second which is what I do a lot, it sounds like the creation of the writing and some of the editing process occurs to me, in a business sense, that it would be product development. So at what point do you put on your manager hat to actually get a distance from the work to do other things that you might need to do with your career because it’s not all poetry. There’s poetry and then there’s publishing and there’s marketing yourself and then there’s teaching and there’s building the curriculums. So at what point do you put on your manager hat to be able to organize all the different things that you are multi-tasking?
Barbara: That’s a really good question. And I don’t know that I’ve been able to do that as effectively as I would like to but I think that that’s what happens to me when I realize that I’m at the tail end of creating the manuscript. At that point I will have already decided on what poems I want to include and what’s the movement from the first poem and it’s trajectory all the way to the very end. And as I’m doing that a lot of that is tinkering so I don’t consider that really product development anymore as much as it is, like, okay we’re crafting this thing into a finished product and — so yeah I think that all of this writing and all of this kind of generating of stuff has to happen first and I feel like that’s a good majority of what I do. Then again no maybe it’s not because I mean I’m a hustling a manuscript right now which means that I’m writing cover letters and I’m querying editors and I have to just hunker down and just do it. So I mean you’re right it does have to happen and it is a lot different from creating, although I’m constantly still kind of creating. I’m working on new stuff right now as I’m working on getting this manuscript out there into the world as well. And a lot of that I’m kind of varying. I go back and forth between the things when it’s like well once you’ve submitted a query all you can do is wait for a response. Once you’ve submitted a manuscript and an editor’s reading it, all you can do is wait. So while I’m waiting and I’ve got this list of people to query I’m very slowly working down that list instead of sending out a blitz to 100 people at a time. I’m doing it slowly because I just don’t want to rush myself. I’m not in a rush to get the next book out. I’m perfectly fine with where I’m at with my publication.
Focused Multitaksing vs Haywire Multitasking
Anthem: I guess that’s what I want to ask you about as far as a methodology for working, this idea of pacing yourself because when you say multi-tasker someone might be hearing, just be wild and crazy all the time. And so I’m very curious to know what your science is and what differentiates the way you multitask and the way someone else may be multitasking and not accomplishing anything. Because there are people who do so much but for some reason their output is actually pretty weak because they’re not focused. So what’s the difference between focused multitasking and just haywire multitasking in your opinion?
Barbara: Okay well that’s a good question. That’s a good distinction. When I’m in multitask mode with a manuscript and working, obviously the working is what you do to pay the mortgage right? And then all those little snippets of time that I can get in a poem or something or a few lines, I’ll do that. When I’m creating the manuscript and I’m like okay I know what I want to write about. I know what the theme of this thing is. I know what voices I want this thing to be in, that enables me to kind of hone in and kind of tune other stuff out. And say like okay that’s a lot of noise over there. We’re just going to push that aside and like really kind of hone in on the voices that I need represented in this manuscript. So already, there’s that process of filtering going on. Given what I want these voices to be doing that’s telling me what kinds of forms and what kind of language I should be using for my poems and that’s making all these other possibilities kind of, you know I’m pushing those a little bit further away as well. I haven’t been doing a lot of aggressive submitting to publications. I don’t do that so much when I’m in the process of just writing. So that’s something that I just kind of, okay I don’t need to do that so much right now. So I put that away. So there’s a way you let some of these things fall away. And then when you have a body of poems that you’re pretty confident are good and done, then you can go okay is it time to submit to some places? Maybe I’ll try to. Who’s accepting work right now? Then I’ll go kind of look that up and see who’s accepting work and whether those are the folks that I want to send to or are these folks who would even be interested in my stuff? So you can kind of filter a lot of other publications and say okay those I’m not going to worry about. These four or five sound really good right now because of their missions, because of who they’ve published or whatever. So I’m always in this process of filtering as well to get the poems finished, to get the body of poems finished and then to find out who are the editors I should be sending to? Yeah I hope that answers your question.
Anthem: It does.
Barbara: Because I don’t think that’s haywire as much as it is there’s a ton of noise and you need to just keep silencing things and putting other things further away from you.
Anthem: I’m going to interpret it through my filter and you tell me if I’m on point or what you have to say about it. It sounds as if even though you’re multitasking that you’re still working through a very clear sequence of actions.
Anthem: And that sequence of actions determines where you are in the process and what you need to be paying attention to and not pay attention to at that moment.
Barbara: Yes thank you. I should hire you as my coach. But that’s absolutely right that you have all this stuff that you need to focus and you need to clean up and you need to put through a filter and then once you’ve been able to do that then you have a much more clear product in front of you that is a manuscript or a very good draft of a manuscript, that if you have a very good draft, then you should know what your next step is, making that draft into a final product. And then you should know once you have a final product, where are the places that might be interested in this final product. So every step along the way you’re making these decisions. I’m talking about myself in second person by the way. So every step along the way I have an idea of who I would like to send my work to and whether it would be a good fit or not. And there might be people who are yelling and screaming, kind of other noise that I’m just not hearing it. I’m not going to be side tracked.
Put Yourself on a Trail
Anthem: That’s really important and I’m glad we talked about that. Going back to keeping things balanced with the work and the rest of life, can you enlighten us with how you spend your weekends these days?
Barbara: Yeah. I’ve been hiking. My husband, Oscar Bermeo who’s also a poet, he and I have been hiking and I was doing that a lot with my sisters and my cousins many years ago while I was in the process of writing Diwata, you know the book came out in 2010 but I had been writing that since about ’06, ’07. And one thing I noticed about just stepping out into the natural world and putting myself on a trail was the kind of attention that I was paying to physical details, colors, textures, smells. These days I’ll hear a little flutter and I’ll be like oh it’s and name some kind of bird or whatever. Or I’ll look at a flower and be like oh that’s a monkey flower, something like that that I’ve been paying a lot more attention to these things because place is so important to my work, I really need to know details of place. And so being out in the natural world is very important for that. But another thing that’s also very important there about being in the natural world is pacing. It’s about for me my poetic lines are something that I’m paying a lot more attention to because, and I’ve talked about this in previous interviews too, I remember I was just kayaking in the Oakland Estuary which don’t knock it, it’s really good kayaking out there, urban kayaking right but you know there always come a point when I’m in a kayak in the middle of a body of water that I realize that the only thing I’ve been paying attention to is the rhythm of my paddling. That’s easily translatable in poetry. In terms of again rhythm and meter, heaven forbid I use the word meter right? And just instead of just kind of barreling through work, which is something I did when I was a much younger poet, back when we were spoken word artists in the ’90s right, I couldn’t punctuate, I didn’t know where to break lines and I would be on a microphone just suffocating myself because I didn’t know where to stop and start. And so that’s something that I’ve been getting a lot better at. Just very cleanly breaking a line here, or just putting a piece of punctuation down there and just kind of going, that’s the way this is going. Let’s just log through this very methodically. But then I think that’s also been informing. Like I was saying I’m not in a rush to go out there and get my next 50 poems published and my next five books need to come out now. I’m not in that mode and I think a lot of that patience might be informed by the fact that I’ve been hiking up mountains for the past x numbers of years.
Anthem: Was that by accident that the hiking informed your writing process or did you specifically go out hiking to inform your writing process?
Barbara: No, I didn’t do it that way. It was definitely like a happy byproduct. I didn’t go out there expecting it to improve my poetry but it —
Anthem: What was the main purpose then?
Barbara: Just to get healthy.
Anthem: Can we talk a little bit about that because I feel like, again going back to the multitasking sort of archetype, that person who’s always on the verge of burning out. Can we talk about why that’s a priority for you? Or if you’re okay opening up about it, why it became a priority and what you’re finding now that you’ve been doing it for some time now? How long have you been going regularly?
Barbara: Probably about two or three years now.
Anthem: And these aren’t short hikes right? These are —
Barbara: Some of them are, I mean for me a short hike is like six miles and 1600 feet up.
Anthem: That’s the short one?
Evoking a Buddhist Experience
Barbara: Yeah like five, six miles and a good butt-kicking incline. But yeah and a lot of it is, there is that mountain and I’m going to get to the top of it and sometimes it’s just that simple. But health-wise it has become important. I remember I was talking to my aunt about this and I was saying I had a friend that was joking that everybody around us are actively trying to get a Buddhist experience and so I was laughing about that and going why does everyone want to have a Buddhist experience? Everybody needs to go to meditation classes and whatever, I’ve just been climbing mountains and that’s just what I’ve been doing. And my aunt said to me, “Well that’s kind of your Buddhist experience right there. That’s your meditation. What are you doing when you’re going up a mountain? You’re clearing your mind, you’re breathing. You’re in nature, how is that not a Buddhist experience?” I was like well I wasn’t out there trying to get myself a Buddhist experience but those were the things that I really needed to do. I needed to clear my mind precisely because I’m running around all the time. And I’ve found that it’s just enabled me to deal with stress so much better.
Anthem: Probably I imagine psychologically and also physically because physically you’re working off the stress, right?
Barbara: Correct, yeah. And Oscar and I have had amazing poetry discussions along the way. I mean we’re together talking for hours going up a trail and talking about something we’ve read or whatever. So there’s that kind of mental and intellectual or artistic thing going on where I’m kind of like going through a process about a poem or about something I mean to write. But then there’s also, physically you’re sweating it out. You’re breathing. You’re regulating you’re breathing. I think there was a period where after grad school and then — I had become very sedentary and put on a little bit of weight which was whatever but then after a certain period of time, all of a sudden my clothes were falling off of me and the ten pounds I put on, 20 just came off. And I hadn’t meant for that to happen either but just in terms of it being beneficial, I’m definitely a lot more like I’m chill about a lot more things. I’m not blowing up at people about a lot of things. And I also feel like I have a little bit more energy to deal with this full-time work, run to campus and teach until ten at night kind of schedule. I still get very tired but if I spent the weekend watching TV instead, maybe that wouldn’t help my being tired so much, right?
Anthem: There’s something I really appreciate about people, you know how you were talking about how it’s important to own your failures and rejections, I think it’s also important to own our physical bodies. And I think as artists, as creative people, as intellectuals, we often times disassociate from our bodies. My theory is that it goes back to high school. Like people who were physical were often called jocks. And so we think it’s like this whole other culture that we can’t relate to but I think that’s kind of foolish and it’s damaging at the end of the day to entire community if you have all these artistic, intellectual people dismissing the functions of their own bodies and just letting themselves get unhealthy.
Barbara: Right because it’s been de-prioritized. I know that when I was in high school, the thing that was most important that my parents stressed with me was thinking, doing your homework, doing your reading, your intellectual abilities. But then I saw other people from my honors classes also on the swim team or on the track team or whatever and I had a hard time kind of reconciling that. How could they do that? And I realized it was because I felt like I had been dissuaded from doing that, maybe because I wasn’t so good at playing sports so I was like well if you can’t do that, then you should be reading and excelling in calculus, you know what I mean? But definitely like oh yeah physical things are like base. Or if you’re into sports, then you’re a jock. Yeah, it’s lower culture or something. But another conversation I’ve been having just about athletes and sports has to do with how much of that is a mental effort, right? Oscar always says Pacquiao, people peg him as being this like no education, etc., that he’s nothing but this body. But how much mental power does it take to be a boxer? So I look at — and that’s why I think I’m a lot more interested in athletics now because I’m seeing an artistic process and a mental process kind of unfolding there as well constantly. I remember during the last summer Olympics, Kobe Bryant was going around to all of these different events and he was so interested in all of these athletes’ processes. And I’m not by far a Lakers fan or a Kobe fan but that gave me a little bit more respect and insight into like what it means in any discipline to be at the top of your game.
Anthem: Yeah, to be a high performer.
Barbara: Exactly, yes.
Anthem: I have a reading list that I have for clients and one of the books on there is actually a sports psychology book because I feel like the psychology of what you do, the mastery of it, goes across disciplines. So it’s something that I recommend to some folks, even if they don’t fancy themselves athletes necessarily because the mind game is where it’s at for a lot of success.
Barbara: Absolutely and discipline I think and rigor and that goes across boundaries.
Barbara’s Website and Upcoming Projects
Anthem: Very cool. Well, thank you so much Barbara for spending time over here, though people already know where can people find out about your work and any upcoming projects?
Barbara: Okay my website is barbarajanereyes.com and you can find me on Facebook. I post up a lot of stuff about what’s happening in the literary world whether it’s call for submissions or poetry that’s coming out that’s interesting to me. But for sure I’ve got a couple of events coming up in August and I’ll be posting about those on my website. But also, I am working on an anthology of Filipina writers. And I’m in the process of also creating a curriculum for an online Filipina reading and writing course and that’s going to be through PAWA which is Philippine American Writers and Artists. And so, I’ll be posting stuff about that as well. But I decided that I was going to do that, a Filipina reading and writing workshop online because interest is not geographically specific right now. So yeah just find me on my website and stalk me on Facebook.
Ignore The Haters
Anthem: Awesome. Thank you for welcoming the public to do that. Do you have any final words of wisdom before we sign off?
Barbara: Oh my goodness. I’m so terrible at this signing off business. Just own your success. Own your accomplishments. Work hard and just don’t feel like you have to cater to any kind of lower common denominator and just ignore the haters. Ignore the haters. Unfollow them, block them, whatever, just ignore them.
Anthem: Cheers to that.
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