The view from the room is so fabulous we start calling it the Kennedy Suite. September in Boston can be breathtaking. The humidity of August gone, mornings rise cool and inviting, the days unfold crisp and clear. This day is no exception. Below us, The Charles glints in bright sunlight, and the many sailboats that dot its surface are like pearls stringing themselves along the river’s ribbon. I sit near the large window. My boyfriend, J.B., sits upright in a hospital bed. We are at Massachusetts General Hospital on day six of a mysterious illness that makes it difficult for him to breath. He has a history of compromised lungs; even a chest cold can plunge him into a kind of purgatory. He is alert, aware, in good spirits, and sequestered —not quarantined— in this private room in the event this illness is highly contagious. We are worried, frightened by the looming unknown.
A therapist once told me the three pillars of a balanced life are: work, home, and relationship. Not necessarily in that order. Later I added another, creative expression —four pillars, better balance— which for me evolved into writing, especially poetry.
In the fall of 2007, all four pillars are sturdy, supporting the structure I call my life. After many years of dating (and three failed marriages between us), J.B. and I decide to live together. We choose the smallest house on the street, a cottage in the woods, in a neighborhood of broad-shouldered Colonials and estate homes. Still a rookie in real estate (a profession I hope will allow time for writing), I have recently sold my first million-dollar house. And I have just won a top prize, including publication, in the Worcester Country poetry contest, Worcester being the birthplace of poets Elizabeth Bishop and Stanley Kunitz.
Despite what the cognitive mind knows, the emotional mind gets lulled into thinking —when life is good— that things will remain as they are. Not so. (Bishop famously wrote about the art of losing.) Nothing is static. Our structures succumb to something, some weather of the universe, a sudden hurricane in the heart or head.
J.B. survives his 10-day stay at MGH —he has a pulmonary embolism and Lyme disease— but the other pillars of my life begin to wobble. I will never sell another million-dollar house. I will never sell another house, period. Unwilling to endure the cliff dive real estate takes the following year, we shutter our boutique firm and join a larger company. I will not survive that transition, but in the void left by my crumbling career, I see opportunity and decide to pursue an MFA in writing. It will be seven years before I win another contest, though I enter many and am nominated for others; seven years before I see another poem published.
When I was a child, my parents took us to First Encounter Beach on Cape Cod. The tide went out so far you couldn’t find water deep enough to swim in, but I learned —after mishaps between crabs and my toes— that the pools created by the receding ocean held their own wonders, lifeforms not visible when the tide was high.
J.B. and I are now married and live in the same house. I write more, and more intentionally, involve myself in writing communities. Balance, I’ve discovered, is fluid. Writing satisfies that need for creative expression, and there are the wonders I discover when my mind dives into words, whether ocean-deep or shallow as a pool. I haven’t mastered the art of making a living from writing, but I think it’s there, just below the surface.
Jane Poirier Hart, formerly an editor for a music industry publication and a features writer for a small town newspaper, is a poet, essayist and sometimes blogger. She holds an MFA in Writing (2013) from Vermont College of Fine Arts and was awarded a Poetry Fellowship at the Writer’s Room of Boston in 2014. Her poems have appeared in The Southern Poetry Review, The Worcester Review, and The Ocean State Review, among others.
Jane suggests donating to Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders. The work they do in war-torn regions and countries affected by endemic diseases is essential and seemingly endless.