Thankful Thursday - January Gill O'Neil (aka PoetMom) & the Ability to Saying No

January, Kelli, Kristin & Susan in DC: Busboys & Poets

Today's Thankful Thursday is that I am thankful for January, both her and her blog. And also for saying no (myself included).

First, to January-- My favorite things about January's blog (and it is one of my very favorite blogs, one I enjoy keeping up on) is that she is honest and I love the way she writes her blog.  I so appreciate honesty in people, calling it as they see it and not trying to create a false appearance for the world (i.e. - This is my perfect life syndrome - for fear of anyone finding out that we're not perfect).  January's blog is positive and truthful, detailed and open.  It's a great mix for me as a reader/poet/mother.

I also love how organized, self-motivated, and determined she is.  I love her lists in her blog (this is how my mind works as well) and am thankful to get a glimpse into the life of a smart, strong woman/mother/poet/person in the world.

What's also great is I got to meet January in person and she's just as likable, kind, and personable in person as she is online.

So now that I've made my list of things I'm thankful about January, now let's get to the saying no part (I inadvertently wrote "party" - A saying no party.  Yes, this is what we need!)

I noticed twice on January's blog this week, that she has talked about feeling over-scheduled, even booked herself for 2 reading in one night, and on the last post I read she wrote this:

Between work, home, and festival planning, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. So I've decided not to take on any new projects, events, or favors until June. I have a tendency to say yes to everything, but I'm feeling stretched. I can barely keep up with the projects on my plate now. Seems like a no brainer but it's taken me this long to realize my limitations.

So, I too, can suffer from yes-itis.

And I think one of the hard parts of being a successful poet like January is and having a book as she does (Underlife (New Voices)) is that people want you for many different things-- readings, conferences, workshops, individual consultations -- and all those things take up a lot of time.

And it can be hard to say no.  We want people to ask us to do a reading or teach a workshop.  It fulfills us. It's fun.  It can be one of the reasons we love being a poet in the world.

But sometimes it can be too much.

I actually have a sign on my desk with a small self-portrait of Frida Kahlo that says, "Be the Crystallized Ginger."  Meaning: Pay attention to what you say yes to, be strong in caring for your time, priorities, and values.  Yes, all that in those 4 words.

It's a term a friend (also a poet) and I came up with because I wanted to keep September free for myself before my book came out.  The crystallized ginger represents being sweet, but also keeping that "bite" that ginger has, realizing you can be both kind and make sure your own needs are being met.  Strong and sweet, baby.

So I too, constantly remind myself to say no to the things that I either don't want to do or will cause me to feel overwhelmed with not enough time for myself.  We writers need our me time.  (Some of us more than others!  This is the Emily Dickinson part of myself talking here.)

And I guess it's not necessarily saying no to others, but yes to yourself and your own values and time.

So I'm also thankful today for saying no also and for saying yes to what's important to us, each of us, we each get to decide our own priorities.  And I'm thankful about that too.

Thank you January for your wonderful blog and for bringing up a topic - saying no - that I have also been thinking about.

I'll blog more about saying no next week.  Oh, there's a lot on that topic!

Cheers and thanks and yes to each of us.



  1. I think I found January's blog through you or Susan and am delighted whenever she posts. She's one of the hardest working poets I follow.

  2. Be the crystalized ginger--I love it!

    It's hard for me to say no because I'm afraid that no one will ever ask/invite me again.

    I remember in Barbara Kingsolver's first book of essays, "High Tide in Tucson," she writes about being a bookish, nerdy kid and feeling astonished to find herself as an adult finally having friends. I feel a similar dynamic at work with my tendency to overbook. It's so nice to feel included!

    And for me, sometimes, there's that breathlessness that comes with being asked to write, to contribute, to read at an event. I feel like I wait so long and then the invites come in a big rushing clump. And I really, really want to do it all, because for so long I was yearning to be asked.

    Now I sound all needy and weird. I thought I actually got to grow up and leave my high school self behind at some point.

    I have no solutions--but I do love your saying!

  3. Maureen-- I agree! She's incredible!

    Kristin-- I love this:

    she writes about being a bookish, nerdy kid and feeling astonished to find herself as an adult finally having friends. I feel a similar dynamic at work with my tendency to overbook. It's so nice to feel included!

    ****We all love feeling included! I do this too.

    I'm such a homebody, but there's a great excitement in being included! But then I struggle as I need to keep that home time as my introvert self with extrovert tendencies needs that time to recharge.

    And you do not sound needy & weird. ;-) ( That made me laugh that you wrote that though.)

  4. Thank you for the kind words. My so-called life seems cobbled together most days, but I am doing the best I can (like most of us), and having fun in the process.

    (And thank you for my birthday postcard!)



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