Stephen Paling // About Me

Portland, Maine, 1994


I do three things: work in a department store, write, and run around Back Cove for exercise. Two I love, one I hate. I leave it to you to guess which is which. I live in a third floor walk-up apartment with two roommates. My room, which serves as both my bedroom and writing space, has plenty of sunlight and dilapidated wooden flooring. I write at a somewhat rustic wooden trestle table of my own making.

I judge my days by how much I write. Writing makes for good days, not writing makes for bad days. On the morning after a good day, I have a poetry hangover. My energy went to my writing the night before, when I do most of my writing. I often stay up a bit too late, and, both energized and exhausted by my writing, I sleep poorly.

I own my own postal scale, and I buy envelopes, stamps, and printer paper in large quantities. I visit my post office box daily. Literary magazine editors begin to accept my work on a regular basis. I have some momentum. I do not have a large published output, but I have enough to justify continuing.

So why leave? I hate my job. Gravity seems to multiply when I walk into the store. I feel heavier, loggy. My neck feels thick, or my necktie too tight. So I set out to find a better way to support my writing. Off to Boston and Simmons College to get my MLS and become a librarian. I plan to finish my degree in a calendar year, then return to Northern New England to write, run, ride my bike, and feel happy as a pig in mud. It is a great plan. And it leads to a 25-year detour that looks nothing like I intend.

Reader’s Digest version: I amass two Masters, a Ph.D., publish a book (not poetry) and a bunch of scholarly articles and conference presentations. I become a journeyman academic.

My writing seems to fade. I all but stop submitting work for publication. I miss my writing, and begin to see myself as a failed writer, or, in my kinder-to-self moments, a former writer. I have moments when I wish I had stuck to my original escape-the-store plan. But I marry someone wonderful and we have two kids who I adore. Life is good.

Ithaca, New York, 20-teens


I find myself adjuncting in Information Science at Cornell. World class university, world class department. And an absolutely awful fit for me. So after 15+ years teaching in higher ed, I decide to call it a day. I make a career change to K-12 education. First I work in an elementary school library, then in high school special education in the same district. My position is paraprofessional, but my wife works long hours, and I make the transition to Mr. Mom.

Having settled into my new life, I decide to revisit my poetry. What I find surprises me. Over the years from leaving Portland until now, I have written a fair amount of poetry. I just rarely sent it out to be published. But I accumulated more poetry than I thought. Some of it, utterly forgettable, will never leave my hard drive. But, to my surprise, some of it belongs with the best of my writing from earlier years. I have discovered something about my writing, and myself, that I had not realized. I never quit. I just felt like I had.

So after 25 years, it would seem that my plan actually worked. I have people to love. We live in a memorably beautiful place. I am writing again, and I feel happy with what I produce. I have enough good poetry for a book. A book that has accumulated over a period of almost 40 years. And so Rooms in Old Houses is accepted by Cayuga Lake Books.

The universe has a sense of humor, and I laugh along with it.

FaceBook YouTube