It’s one of my favorite poems: Marge Piercy’s “To be of Use”. The last stanza shaped my work for nearly forty years.
The work of the world is common as mud.
(Read the entire work at the Poetry Foundation.)
As a teacher, I always tried to make student work useful. Every little exercise was designed to build on the last, moving towards a semester project that could be added to a writing portfolio, or used in an application to grad school. Everything I wanted them to learn was something I hoped they could use in real, everyday life.
Wisconsin author Kitty O’Meara has written “And the people stayed home”, a poem for our time of social isolation and physical distancing. In an interview a few weeks ago, she underscored her poem’s message that this time can be an opportunity to create, to produce, to be useful in ways that elude most of us in our everyday lives. Some of us are required - called, even — to real, essential work in the outside world, so that the rest of us can be safe and well. But all people cry for "work for that is real".
What work is your heart crying for? When the quarantine is lifted, what opportunity will you regret? I am not here to tell you what to do. What you must not do is kill this gift of time. Making bread is fine. Playing music is fine. Unpacking the boxes from your last move four years ago is fine. Making masks for those who need them is fine. Making masks for kids to play with is fine. Do the work your heart is crying for, and do it as well as you can.