I used to feel like I was busy. Too busy. I had a million things going on, like most adults. (I'm still a little miffed that nobody told me adulthood was going to mean being busy. I really expected more leisure time, like when I was 12. Alas.) Between a full teaching load, editing a literary magazine, running a small poetry press, serving on a board of directors (and several associated committees), volunteering in my neighborhood, going to church and engaging in various discipleship activities (meetings, teaching, programmatic hanging out), working my garden, being a father, a husband, and an artist, going to Cub Scouts, grading and grading and grading papers… I was exhausted. And I was doing none of these things well.
A couple of summers ago, my wife and I were part of a class, Gospel Fluency, at our church. We looked at ways the gospel has shaped our lives and identities, and how to respond to such humbling grace. I complained eloquently ("I know everyone is busy, but I am the busiest!"). When I finished speaking, a classmate said, "You get to do a lot of cool things." I was dumbfounded and didn't say another word the rest of the class. I thought about the cool things I get to do: work with Whitworth students, Rock & Sling, Sage Hill Press, Project Hope Spokane, West Central Marketplace, and missional community; grow food, raise children, and be married; write poems and share them with people.
The more I thought about it, the more those things started to merge. They were cool things I got to do, they were great places God had put me, and they were all essentially the same: they were about building and sustaining community. They were about sharing, and the goodness of God, and about meeting with people, talking with them, understanding them, helping them, and being helped by them. So instead of having five jobs and a dozen different commitments, I had one big workplace, and my job was to help people make connections and to show them the great things going on in our community.
Last fall, I was selected as Spokane's first poet laureate. It was a tremendous honor, and I was excited to start the work. Many people were confounded, though. "You're already so busy. How can you do one more thing?" I heard that often. But since my job is all one thing, being poet laureate doesn't feel like more. And it has connected me to several larger artistic communities in Spokane: performance and slam poetry, and arts organizing. I've met hundreds of people working to make Spokane better. They are doing amazing things, and I get to help; I also get to share my work with them, and tell them about Rock & Sling, and get Whitworth students involved. The circles of connection grow larger.
One of my hopes as poet laureate is to coordinate all of the reading series currently running in Spokane, to provide a central place for Spokanites to check in and see what is going on in their city. Students and others complain from time to time about Spokane's lack of culture and dearth of arts events, but if I chose to, I could attend a reading, show, gallery opening or play each day of the week. All across the city, you can find people making meaningful works of art.
Writing poetry requires the ability to see the world differently, and to reframe the common as miraculous, sacred. I live in West Central, and most people dismiss the neighborhood as hopeless. They call it "Felony Flats." But if you look at it differently, it's the most beautiful neighborhood in Spokane, full of hope and true community. When we choose to view our work, our communities and our world in new ways, our lives may not become less busy, but our purpose can become beautiful.
Thom Caraway joined the Whitworth English Department in 2008. He teaches fiction, nonfiction and poetry writing, and literary editing and design. He is also the editor-in-chief of Rock & Sling, the university's literary journal.