Sunday, May 17, 2020

Mary Ricketson, poet and mental health counselor, writing through a pandemic

Mary, thank you for being our guest on Netwest Writers today and taking time to answer our questions. You work as a mental health counselor, and I imagine the pandemic has changed your work life in many ways.

GCB:  Are you working from home and are your clients accepting the new methods you have to use now?

Mary: Thank you for asking about my work as a counselor.  It’s the science, talent, and heart that feeds me well beyond whatever we usually think of as career.
Yes, I’m working from home.  Most people are fine with this change from in person visits at my downtown office, since all of us understand the safety needs of the pandemic.  I have a revolving door of clientele, so already there are some I’ve never met in person.  There are a few people who prefer to wait, deal with their issues when they can meet with a therapist in person.  I treat that like any other personal preference- it’s up to them, handle it with all the respect any human being deserves.
The pandemic is very stressful for people.  No one calls for help simply because of the pandemic, but it adds to stresses already there.
GCB: I imagine you had to learn new technology for working at home and did your clients have trouble accepting the changes?

Mary: Primarily I’m working via my cellphone.  I’ve learned to use speaker phone so the phone is not in my ear all the time, and I’ve learned some tricks about how to keep it charged.  I do meet via video with skype.  I already knew how to use this, so I’ve managed to avoid learning a whole new technology, thankfully.
Some people have to go out to their car with their phone to gain the privacy needed for a counseling session.  Other people simply can’t manage because their children are home from school.  Some arrange for child care.  Others muddle through.

GCB: Do you find working from home more tiring or easier than going to your office each day?

Mary: I miss my office.  I thought it would be a real treat to work from home, and indeed in some ways it is.  I’m incredibly more fatigued at the end of my work day now.  It takes much more energy to attend only via voice, or even the face that shows in the  video of skype or any other tele-conference.  I’m constantly finding words and asking questions to make up for the nonverbal cues and the energy I usually get in person.  Besides that, there is a difference in the reward I feel.  Nothing makes up for that in person energy exchange.  For now, however, it’s safety at all cost.

GCB; You are a poet. How has this chaotic time affected your writing? Do you feel less creative or more creative in your writing? Do you find you write more now being home so much?

Mary: I’ve been determined to write as much or more as usual during this pandemic.  I’m counting on creativity and my time in nature to bring me the balance I need in life.  Honestly, the pandemic stress is so gigantic, it’s a tough call to meet that balance.  I can keep writing and even bring poems to completion, but the business side of writing, like submitting, is suffering down here at my place.
My schedule is to get focused during my early morning walk, then start writing before the world gets in my way, and before going to work.  I’ve kept this schedule during this odd time.  It gives a predictability to my life, and I think it keeps me tuned with the time and ritual when I expect my creativity to appear.  I even take a note pad on my walk, write down images or ideas.  If I don’t, it all drifts away like a dream you think you are going to remember.

 GCB: Recently you published a poetry book, a memoir in poetry, about your parents and your life growing up in Mississippi. Tell us how that book came to be. Did you set out to write poems for this book or did you find you had poems already written that fit in this theme?

Mary: Slowly I came to a decision that my life in Mississippi during my formative years was worthwhile.  I avoided knowing that for a great deal of my adulthood, embarrassed about the racism of the times.  Other problems in my family were not what I wanted to write about.  I worked within myself for quite some time to find the worth, discover what I was proud of. 
I did set out on purpose to write the poems that turned into the book.  I went through picture albums, remembering, jotting notes all over my house.  I phoned my brother and sister, asking for tidbits and gems.  I talked to my parents, if you can really talk to the dead.  I called one cousin on my mother’s side, and I talked often to my aunt on my dad’s side.  All this generated memories in a kaleidoscope kind of fashion.  I was thrilled and frustrated with no pattern coming to the surface. 
I kept noticing point of view in any kind of poems I read.  I got the idea to get inside my parents as best I could, try to experience the move to Mississippi and our life there, how it must have been for them.  That turned a corner.  I got excited to the max, started writing in every spare minute I could find.  By the end, I had fallen in love with my parents and found a new aspect of being proud of my life.

 GCB: Do you prefer traditional publishing  or self-publishing of your poetry books?
         Mary: So far, I’ve only published by traditional publishing. I’m intrigued by self-publishing; I may go there yet. Mainly I want to present my writing in the most professional and respectful way I can.

 GCB: I find that marketing is the hardest and most time consuming part of being a writer. How do you feel about marketing and do you have any tips for our readers on how to best handle this part of being a writer?

Mary: I always wish I knew more about marketing, or that it would come easier, and that someone would do it for me.  No one does it for me, it’s harder than it looks and it constantly changes, and no one seems to understand enough. 
For me, it helps to talk about my books to everyone I know and even some I don’t know.  I have to push myself about this.  I read in public everywhere I can, bring books for sale, and keep looking for new places to read.  I try to invent places to read.  I stop myself from dreaming about being popular and fame coming naturally to me.  I go to writing conferences whenever I can, volunteer to read and also trade books with other authors.

I keep wanting to learn to budget my time to spend a regular portion of time weekly on the business end of writing.  I’m not there yet, but I’m sure it’s the right practice to achieve.

 GCB: You have been a member of NCWN and NCWN-West for two decades. How has this membership benefited your writing life?

Mary: I would have done nothing with my writing if I had not been a member of the North Carolina Writers' Network.  The alliance with other writers has been the cornerstone of my writing.  The tradition of joining with others for critiquing our work has been skill-building help and a motivator for me.  I’ve grown in confidence as a writer during my time as a member.  I need my connection with other writers in order to grow. 

 GCB: I often teach aspiring writers. What advice would you give an aspiring poet who wants to one day publish his/her poetry?

Mary: Write daily if at all possible.  I used to set my alarm for 5 am so I could write for an hour before getting my child up for school, do all the getting ready, and then go to work myself.
Share your work with others.  You don’t quite know yourself if you live in total isolation.  It’s the same with writing.
Read your work in public.  Our reading events are as much for ourselves, our own growth as for the opportunity to share and entertain.
Write from your own experience.  Be willing to learn who you are, be willing to be surprised at who you find.
Tell the truth when you write, even if you change the truth somehow.  That may sound like a riddle.  It’s not.
 GCB: Tell us about each of your poetry books, please, and where they can be purchased.

Mary: Disorgananza was my first book, in 2000.  It’s a small book, printed on a home computer, and put together for family and friends, mostly as Christmas gifts. 
I have one copy only now.

I Hear the River Call my Name is my chapbook, my first book via a publisher, Finishing Line Press, 2007.  I didn’t know I could do this.  I took a class in putting a chapbook together simply because the class was being offered, and well why not?  This book is out of print.  When I spend more time on the business of writing, I’ll figure out how to re-publish it.

Hanging Dog Creek is myfirst full length book, published by Future Cycle Press, 2014.  I did this on a wing and a prayer. 
I had to deal with a lot of editorial suggestions and even harsh criticism.  But someone there believed in me, and kept encouraging me not to give up.  I had lost a great deal in life by then, that there was no way to keep.  I was determined to get this done, and I did.

Shade and Shelter was published by Kelsay Press, 2017.  I felt like I sent that manuscript to a million places, and ultimately changed the title a time or two.  Once Karen Kelsay accepted it, there were no significant changes to be made.

Mississippi: The Story of Luke and Marian was also published by Kelsay, 2019.  I frankly did not know how in the world I would get this book published.  Over and over I submitted it.   When I was ready to start over with a real big breath, I sent an inquiry to Kelsay press because I had not received a response in the time they advertise.  I got an almost immediate reply saying my book was already accepted, but someone in the chain of staff had not seen her email.  After that, things went pretty fast.

Hanging Dog Creek, Shade and Shelter, and Mississippi are all available directly from me, or from Curiosity Bookstore in Murphy, or City Lights in Sylva,NC or order on Amazon.

Thanks, Glenda, for this opportunity to converse about writing.  It’s been fun.

GCB: We appreciate Mary Ricketson taking time for our interview and for all she does for writers.

Glenda Council Beall is Program Coordinator for NCWN-West , Owner/director for Writers Circle around the Table.

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