Jill Tomasetti on Standing Still in the Middle of It All and Creating a Resource
Jill Tomasetti learned to walk among oaks and maples in a small town in Connecticut. She learned how to love books at Bennington College and how to make poems in the graduate creative writing program at San Francisco State University. She learned to love the ocean in San Francisco, where she lives, writes, and teaches preschool. Jill is a founding member of Drop Leaf Press. Prima Vera is her first book & is available at dropleafpress.com.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I say, “I teach preschool,” and then wait to see if more explanation is needed. It usually is. Teaching doesn’t always sound like enough for some people, especially in early childhood education. But there is plenty more to the story. I like the way I spend my days, making art projects, reading picture books, talking about the basic things we do every day to be good friends to each other. Teaching at such a hands-on, fundamental stage keeps me paying attention to very simple things. It also keeps me outside myself for the day. It balances out the ponderous poet tendencies. I like to keep the writerly parts of my life much quieter.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
Rhythm. My relationship to time. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the smallest, quietest part of the day that I don’t want to let it go, even when it means I lose out on something else. I often move at a very slow pace. It can be hard to make space for being slow, between working full time and doing all the necessary life things. Teaching is wonderful though because I am creating opportunities for those expansive moments to occur for my students within the structure of a 35-minute lesson or a 20-minute storytime. It’s what I try to do and what I love about poems too. It’s my favorite struggle. The legwork of getting things moving and then getting so caught up that you just stand still in the middle of it all.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I am way too process-oriented to even make goals most of the time. I think about times when I am better at being myself, times when it’s been harder. I like the idea of holding myself to standards that I can be proud of. Where I put my time and energy in a day, how I talk to people. I do have lots of ideas of “the good life” — it includes a collection of vintage dresses and sweaters, lots of good food, friends I love, and so so many books. And making things! Making food, doing arts & crafts with friends, sewing weird things I never wear, hoarding small scraps of paper for a collection I mysteriously call “letter writing supplies.” You never know when an occasion will demand faded yellow graph paper or a paper butterfly I got at a craft store two years ago. If success is measured in curated collections of supplies for potential projects, then yes, I can consider myself successful.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
It’s a toss up between “Sad Cat Diary” and the opening scene of Pride & Prejudice (the 1995 BBC miniseries of course), which I have seen so many times, all I need is to hear the music during the opening credits and I instantly feel comforted.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read all the Little House books, but not just because I am all about domesticity (I am) or coming of age stories (love ‘em) or have fantasies about other time periods and/or wildernesses (obv I do). I read all the books and then read biographies. Then reread the books as a part of a broader narrative. I admired the woman who wrote her own story in a time when women couldn’t often do that much adventuresome stuff. I wanted to be an author too.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
I think about this a lot. I don’t get out of the city as much as I’d like. I love forests. I love camping. I am a little bit afraid of bears. I like the kind of camping where you leave the car behind you, well out of sight, but it’s not so far away that you couldn’t go back to get something that you really really need because also I am an over-packer. I like camping where you pitch a tent and settle in for a few days. Four people is nice. Hiking but not so much that it makes me grumpy. Mostly fires, swimming, quiet. Meadows at night. I could go on.
What is your fondest memory?
Swinging in my backyard in Connecticut. I grew up in the woods in a small town. I’d swing leaning back to see everything upside down. Sky, trees. Sky, trees. Things felt very clear. I am here. Climbing rocks, which are also interesting to look at. Certain bird calls were a constant refrain. The texture of my yard, which I studied closely in my quest for quartz and daddy long-legs. I had so much time. Everything felt expansive and clear and lyrical. Like a Lorca poem.
What are you working on right now?
I am slowly starting work on a new set of poems that lifts off a bit from the natural world and wilderness landscapes my poems so far have mostly inhabited. I just finished my first book Prima Vera, which was released by Drop Leaf Press this spring. I am also one of the founding members and editors of Drop Leaf Press, which is a fairly new endeavor so we are always asking ourselves, what next? We have so many ideas. It is a wonderful, overwhelming process of taking those ideas and sorting them, assigning tasks, buying paper, sending out correspondence, checking our gmail, processing book orders. I love it. It helps that I get to work with four of my favorite people 🙂
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I’d like to break my own habits more. Be more adventurous in subject matter and style. I definitely get into certain modes that lose their gusto, to use a Marianne Moore word, after a while. I also work on children’s books from time to time. I’d like to get more serious about that. Picture books have so much of what I love about poems.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
I’d like to buy a house by the ocean. I know that sounds lame, but it is a big deal to buy a house. Yes, I’d love to travel the world and get unlimited master’s degrees, but I’d like to know that I always have a place to belong and take care of. A home to share with others and to provide refuge. A retreat and a place to start from. I like the idea of creating a resource, really a place for myself and the people I love to circle around, to gather, to run away from sometimes. That stuff is important. And it just sounds really nice.