Sunday, October 31, 2010
That last part I just imagined. We didn't stand in the hot dog line. We have hot dogs at home. And they're better quality.
We did stand in the face painting line, because it was relatively short, and my nephew loves to have his face painted. Apparently, lots of kids like having their faces painted. Hmm. I could write a post that talks about our fierce desire to be someone else--by dressing up in costumes, by having our face painted. Or is it really just the age-old quest for adornment?
I could write about the fact that it's Reformation Sunday. But I've already written several posts on my theology blog (go here, here, or here, if you're in the mood for something more spiritual).
But no, I'd rather write about how today is the birthday of Juliette Gordon Low, born in 1860, founder of the Girl Scouts. What a different world we would have if she, or someone like her, had never founded the Girl Scouts.
In our current world, when we have more females finishing college degrees than males, when more female wage earners are hanging on to jobs than certain male wage earners, it's hard to remember a more constrained time that females endured not so long ago. Along came Juliette Gordon Low, a female artist who like sculpture and working in iron.
The Girl Scouts as I experienced them are designed to expose girls to a wide wealth of experience so that they can discover their passions. Thus a girl could earn a badge in any number of the arts--or in computing, or environmental concerns, or in more traditional areas. In my day, you could earn badges in sewing and certain homemaking arts.
Our Girl Scout troop went camping periodically, at Girl Scout camps, where we slept in huge, canvas tents permanently set up on wooden platforms. We used our cookstoves that we'd made out of coffee cans and for flame, we'd rolled corrugated cardboard around the inside of a tuna can and drenched the whole thing in paraffin. We put our dirty utensils and plates in a mesh bag and dunked the bag in soapy water and clean water.
Older girls went backpacking--back in the days when going into the wilderness truly meant being off the grid. Later, during the summer after my first year of college, I was a backpacking counselor at a Girl Scout camp. There were 3 of us. We went out into the woods, and a week later, someone picked us up. In between, we were on our own. Happily, we endured nothing worse than a huge thunderstorm and weeping girls on the very first night of the trip.
The sun came out the next day, and we dried out our gear. The girls had a great time in the Chatooga River as they swam from South Carolina to Georgia and back again. We all learned some self-reliance and endurance. We didn't cave in to the girls who wanted to call it quits and go home. We hiked onward, and I suspect that we all remember it as a high point of our lives, now that we're all ensconced in office jobs and family responsibilities.
A few years ago, I came across a picture of the three counselors. I didn't recognize myself. I looked so young and fierce, so tightly honed. What happened to that body?
Well, the body may have sagged and gained some weight, but my fierceness remains. I have a self-determination and a rugged endurance that many of my female peers do not have.
You might argue that I had those qualities before, and that's what led me to Scouting. You would be wrong. I took that Girl Scout camp job at Congaree Girl Scout camp because I didn't have any other prospects for summer employment. The pay was miserable, but I felt I had no other choice. I couldn't even find a fast food job. I came to Girl Scout camp feeling like the world's biggest loser--what kind of teenager couldn't even find a job in fast food? And I had experience--I'd worked at Wendy's! And that didn't help.
I remember feeling a cowering fear that I couldn't possibly be responsible for these girls. And yet, I was, and I rose to the occasion.
And that's the beauty of Girl Scouts. We find out that we are made of sterner stuff than we thought. We find out that we have infinite capabilities, and the sorrow of our lives will be that we only have time to tap into some of them. We discover that we have vast reservoirs of strength and courage. So, thanks Juliette Gordon Low--thanks for not believing the lies your culture fed you about womanhood, and thanks for blazing a trail for the generations that came after you.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Or maybe it's a good day to celebrate taking extravagant risks. Today's post on The Writer's Almanac notes, "In his early 20s, he started teaching literature at a small college in the Midwest. But he caused a scandal by allowing a stranded vaudeville actress to sleep over at his place. He was fired. But the college gave him the rest of his year's salary, and he headed off to Europe with it."
What a way to make lemonade when life gives you lemons! Imagine how our literary landscape would have been so different, if Pound had stayed in a quiet teaching life in the Midwest.
I wonder if future generations will look back at our generation and admire our bravery. You ask, how are we brave? Well, we continue to create, even in the face of unspeakable odds. Most days, our planet seems doomed, and if not our planet, certainly our species. Some species do well in hot, acidic oceans, but not humans. And if we can overlook the rather dire outlook from a global perspective, it's still a time of great change. Whole industries that once supported writers seem to be disappearing as quickly as Arctic ice caps. We've seen newspapers practically disappear, and I'm not sure that higher education might not be far behind.
Yet we also live in a time of breathtaking innovation. Many of us can be Ezra Pounds to each other because of the Internet. I love zipping around to other blogs to see what creative types are up to. I regularly go to Sandy Longhorn's blog to tune in to her drafting process. She talks about her creative approaches, and I often find myself inspired; and I often go in a direction in my own writing that I wouldn't have considered, had I not read her posts. Similarly, I would never have thought to experiment with video poems and book trailers, had it not been for the blogs of Diane Lockward and Sandra Beasley. People have begun to use the computing power that's now accessible and cheap in all sorts of interesting ways that wouldn't have been available even 15 years ago; Diane Lockward's recent post spotlights three fascinating projects, but anyone who spends even a small amount of time Internet surfing knows how much is out there.
So today, as we go about our week-ends, raise a glass to Ezra Pound--not Ezra Pound the supporter of fascists, but Ezra Pound, the supporter of other writers. And as we think about Halloween and all the things that spook or scare us, let us resolve not to let other writers scare us. Let us resolve to let the success of others motivate us. Let us remember that creating is not a zero sum game. Just because you came up with a cool idea/thing/approach/creation doesn't mean that the universe is now out of support for me. On the contrary, your creative vibe enriches me--and I'm hoping that my creative vibes will do the same!
Friday, October 29, 2010
Of course, we might stay home and decorate pumpkins and hand out candy. The above is a pumpkin that I decorated a year ago. Last year at school, the students made more painted and otherwise decorated pumpkins than carved ones. Yesterday, we had bigger pumpkins, and students carved them with great gusto.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
We can't put the Jack-o-Lantern on the porch because it would rot by tomorrow. Ah, South Florida, with your strange heat and humidity that lasts and lasts. It's hard to feel Halloweeny when sweat is pouring down your body as you wait to cross the street. I'd say that it's unseasonably hot, but it's not. Every year I complain about the heat. I'm patient until the end of October. Now I want to whine.
But I won't. I've got too much to do. My sister and my four year old nephew arrive on Friday! Yes, we get to spend Halloween week-end with a real live child!!! Hence the Jack-o-Lantern. Will we go trick or treating? Perhaps. My sister said that last year my nephew was more interested in handing out candy at home.
One thing we will do that children in the upper 48 won't do: go to the beach.
Somewhere in all of this, a poem lurks.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
It's an interesting revision problem. The document was written originally by someone else, and the requirements for the document have shifted. I've had to add to it, while trying to decide which of the earlier stuff to keep in the evolving document and which to abandon (and of course, I keep all the earlier drafts--you never know when the vision will change again, and you'll need that older material). Once upon a time we wanted narrative, and now we want charts.
And of course, the charts don't always import the way one would like, and I'm still not good at manipulating borders/spacing/columns and making them behave.
In between those chores, I went to observe classes. It's one of my joys as an administrator. I'm lucky in that I don't have any problem faculty, so I don't end up with that sinking feeling that I have to discipline/train/improve anyone that I'm observing.
The biggest treat happened at the end of the night, when I got to participate in a creativity activity. Like the retreat activity I described a few days ago, I wonder how this one would work in any variety of groups.
We had three pieces of white paper. The instructor slowly read a description of a creature, then read it again, and we had about 30 seconds left to draw the creature. The first two readings that described the Glee and the Eel had a Shel Silverstein quality (one creature had a tail like a cat and lots of hair and flat feet, for example). The last reading had us being part of a space ship that was in a different galaxy discovering life on a planet--draw the life form. For the last creature, we got to assign ourselves points, and we got points if we gave the creature more than or less than two legs, more than or less than one nose, more than or less than two arms--in other words, if the creature was less like an Earth form. How creative could we be if not confined by the physical laws of our own planet (and the limitations of our imaginations?).
What fun! It made me wonder if we could do something similar in words. I can imagine in a unit that covers narrative reading a chunk of narrative and saying "What happens next?" And then having students write quickly. I have a vision of a series of pictures and asking people to write a poem quickly. Or perhaps: "Here's a picture, now tell me what it's a symbol of."
I've done something similar, but with objects, not pictures. I bring in pieces of washed up beach stuff (shells, corals, drift wood, beach glass) and ask students to describe in a variety of ways. My favorite way: "What you hold in your hand is actually a religious artifact from another planet or a distant culture. Describe its use in the religion." I also ask my student poets to look at these inanimate objects in front of them (or to choose their own inanimate object) and to give those objects the power of thought and perception.
I love to use Jane Hirshfield's "The Button" (from Given Sugar, Given Salt: no online publication, thus no link, but the whole volume is worth the time). It's a poem that imagines what the button perceives; think of that the next time you button your shirt, that you're bringing those buttons the joy of your caress. At the end of the poem, the button imagines its earlier life because it is "a button made of horn," and as part of an animal horn, it had a whole different life.
I've never tried any variation of these exercises with a Composition class, but I think I'll try it this week. Fun!
Monday, October 25, 2010
Since both of our addresses are fairly easily found with just a few mouse clicks while searching the Internet, I decided not to censor the addresses. Of course, I would redo this posting if Kelli should write me to say, "Eeek! What have you done?!!!"
Here's the package that I took from the mailbox.
Look at the beautiful return address card; I'm impressed with how much information she puts on the card.
She wraps each book in tissue--what a classy touch!
Some cool approaches to book marks. I'm guessing that she made the bookmark in the shape of Emily Dickinson. I'm still researching post cards and book marks. I can't determine whether or not it's cheaper to do these things on the home computer or to pay to have them done.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
We divided up in pairs. Each pair got a piece of construction paper and two piles of neon-colored stickers, the kind that's like an office supply (to mark file folders or reinforce punched holes). We did the exercise in silence.
One person put a sticker on the paper, and then the other person put one sticker on the paper, and the process continued until each person decided to be done (we folded our hands when done). Each person could only place one sticker on the paper during any given turn.
When done, we put our papers on the board and meditated on all of them as a group. What a diverse group of finished projects. Some people had tried to create some sort of realism: flowers and figures and suns in the sky. Some of us did abstract art. All of the projects were compelling.
We talked about the implications. We talked about the implications in spiritual terms (go here for more) and artistic terms. I was amazed by how much I liked the other creations and after viewing them, how lacking I found the one that my partner and I made. I found myself wishing I had been given differently shaped stickers--no need for analysis there.
I plan to experiment with this approach in my Composition class. I wonder if it would lead to a good Process essay. In the past, I've had them create something out of Legos and write precise instructions, just to demonstrate how difficult it is to write precise instructions. Would this exercise do the same? Or maybe I'll use it as a leaping point to talk about creative processes in general. I teach a lot of creative students after all.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
The apples that we got in North Carolina are glorious. On Wednesday night, we ate rainbow trout with a side dish of apples and onions, cream style corn, and mashed butternut squash--a perfect autumnal dish.
Several days this week, I've eaten a simple meal of apples and cheddar cheese. All it would have needed was cinnamon bread to be complete. My grandparents used to travel before fast food restaurants took over the roadsides (and they couldn't have afforded to eat their meals in any kind of restaurant anyway), and apples, cheese, and bread made a complete meal for them. As I've eaten my simple meals, I've thought about their simple lifestyle and how I wish I used their lives as a model more often than I do. Let me be clear: there's plenty about their lives I wouldn't wish to emulate or experience (the poor medical care of the earlier half of the 20th century, the poverty that it took them almost a lifetime to escape, the isolation that came from being a Lutheran minister and his wife).
When we got home, I was happy to see my contributor copies of The Healing Muse. Two of my poems debut in that journal, and I'll post one below. It's based on a true story. Some years ago, my Indian friend came to our quilting group. She said, "I saw the Dalai Lama at Whole Foods."
Of course, it took some convincing, and some of us were never convinced. But really, who else could it have been? We see many a strange costume down here in South Florida, but it's rare to see a bald, Asian, older man with a winning grin dressed in saffron robes down here. And the Dalai Lama was in town. I didn't find it inconceivable that she would see him.
It fired my imagination, in fact, as you can see below. Just for fun, I've also posted a different version of the poem. A few years ago, I was experimenting with form, and I transformed the poem into a sonnet. I honestly can't decide which I prefer. You'll notice that in the sonnet I made the speaker a Christian, which my Indian friend is not. What can I say? There aren't a lot of English words that make a true rhyme with the word immune.
She sees the Dalai Lama at Whole
Foods Market. He compares
brands of vitamin C.
She observes his weary
face, his rumpled
robes and finds a strange
comfort in the realization that even the holiest
among us has need
now and then of an immune system boost.
“Namaste,” she whispers,
as she reaches
for a can of soy protein.
She sees the Dalai Lama
at Whole Foods Market. He compares
bottles of vitamin C; she thinks of his life’s trauma,
and wonders how he dares
to do something so normal as grocery shopping.
She knows what the mystics would say:
after enlightenment, continued laundry and wood chopping.
It is for such acceptance she would pray.
She thinks of this holy man and his immune
system which needs a boost.
She thinks of her own religion, a god triune,
and of her children, like chicks in a roost.
“Namaste,” she whispers and reaches for soy.
She thinks of the world, and prays for its joy.
Friday, October 22, 2010
I've tried to read Doris Lessing. I understand her importance. I just don't like her books.
In the 1980's, I started reading feminist authors in earnest. I subscribed to Ms. magazine. Doris Lessing's name kept coming up. So many of my favorite authors mentioned her work, and in particular, the book The Golden Notebook. I could hardly wait to read it.
I tried to slog through it during the summer of 1985. I was commuting to Southeast D.C., where I worked as a housing counselor for Lutheran Social Services--like President Obama, I was a community outreach organizer, of sorts. I tried to connect poor people to services and grant money. We had money to winterize houses, and we did that. I answered the phones and helped people file paperwork that would keep them from losing their homes. There were hours of downtime where I simply waited for the phone to ring and could read. Plus, I was commuting by bus and subway, which meant I had more time to read. I often carried numerous books with me.
I tried so hard to read The Golden Notebook. I wanted so much to like it. I just didn't. I finally gave up. Occasionally, I returned to Doris Lessing, but I could never finish her books.
Later, in graduate school, I was happy to understand her place in British literature, but I had other female authors from the 20th century whom I liked better: Margaret Drabble and Iris Murdoch for example. I could write about Doris Lessing for my Comprehensive exams, but I never managed to actually finish any of her books.
I don't understand why I can like Joyce but not Lessing. Well, I suspect the key is having a good teacher. In graduate school, I had the fabulous Dr. Rice guide us through the works of Joyce. None of my grad school professors had us read Lessing. I suspect they felt the same way about her work that I did.
Still, I'm happy that her writings came when they did, that The Golden Notebook was there to guide the development of other feminist writers who would be so important to me.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
For many years, I've been going to Create in Me, a retreat at Lutheridge (a Lutheran camp near Asheville, North Carolina) which explores the intersections between spirituality and creativity. It was only recently that I could be part of the planning team.
When the retreat first started a decade ago, the planners were mostly local people who would come over to Lutheridge for lunch and planning. They'd do this several times a year, and the retreat got done.
Now most of the planners are coming from much further away. Last year, for example, my spouse and I took some vacation days and managed to get to one of the planning meetings. I think we win the award for furthest distanced travelled for a lunch meeting, but I'm happy for an excuse to escape to the mountains any time.
This year, we tried something different. We had a retreat to plan the retreat. We met for 2 days, and we actually got it all planned out. In past years, at each planning meeting, there was a fair amount of time spent covering old ground, since each planning meeting had a slightly different participant list. Last year, in addition to the planning meetings, the camp director and I spent more hours than I want to count in e-mailing, both each other and all the retreat leaders. Hopefully, some of the hardest parts are now over: the choice of focus, the choice of what workshops and art stations we should offer, that kind of thing. The coordinating will take some time, but this will be the second year that I'm a retreat coordinator, so hopefully it will be easier than last year.
On the last morning of the retreat, one of the women said to me, "Well, it's back to old shoes and porridge." It's a phrase her mother often used at the end of vacation. I thought that was a wonderful metaphor that described both daily life and life on vacation/retreat. I wrote it down immediately, and you should feel free to share it as you wish.
Now it's back to preparing for my chapbook publication, which I hope to write more about here. I've been impressed with various postings from poets who have special somethings for people who come to their readings, and I'll ponder that here. I'll write more about trying to get blurbs, the first time I've had to do this. I'll write more about how much technology has changed since my last chapbook publication and what that means: more opportunities (book trailers on YouTube! Cards of all sorts that I can create myself) and more work that I feel like I should do.
I'll also write about all the treats that were in my mailbox when I got home! Kelli Russell Agodon wins the prize for nicest packaging of a book to be sent through the U.S. mail. I am now ashamed of the ways that I completely overlooked those possibilities for my first book mailing, and I resolve to do better when I have the next book to mail. I also had some poem publications waiting for me.
Now it's back to notifying all the journals to whom I had sent some of these poems that the poems are no longer quite as available. Of course, I think that every poetry packet I sent out since August included at least one of the poems which will now be part of the chapbook. If a journal still wants to publish the poem, it's cool with me. Given the realities of the publication world, however, I can't guarantee that the journal publication will happen before the chapbook publication. All of that is out of my hands.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
My background is Literature, not Linguistics, and I studied literature from more recent time periods (19th and 20th century), but I can still appreciate the ways that the language changed after the French arrived in England. I can still marvel at the suppleness and resilience of the languages from that time.
Unlike what we would see in some conquests, the Anglo-Saxon language of the vanquished people didn't disappear. It absorbed parts of the invading languages, Latin and what would eventually become French. The language adapted and changed into the interesting amalgamation we enjoy today.
The history of the language explains why English is so difficult in some ways, so full of rules that seem arbitrary, even though linguists could explain why they're not really as arbitrary as they seem.
The history also explains why the English language has such a rich vocabulary. Think about the many words we could use for house: dwelling, mansion, hut, hovel, . . . on and on I could go. For every verb, we could come up with several others that would work just as well: walk, perambulate, stroll, . . . and then I could move to even more descriptive verbs: march, skip, stomp. Most other languages don't have this wide ranging vocabulary.
When Harold took that arrow in the eye at the Battle of Hastings, he opened the eyes of so many generations to follow him. Today we should celebrate our enlarged vision that comes from having a broader language.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
When I first got the news about the publication, I pulled up the manuscript and looked at the Table of Contents. I have a lot of work to do in terms of letting journals know that individual poems I've submitted to them will soon be appearing in a chapbook. Of course, if they'd like to go ahead and make a decision, I could include them in the Acknowledgements section if they accept my poem(s).
The last time I had a chapbook accepted, in October of 2003, I was not as swamped at work. I had already done the bulk of my Autumn submitting, which means I had already sent out dozens of poetry packets. I dutifully wrote to everyone, but no one wrote back to say, "Hey, great, we'll go ahead and accept these, even though they will be part of a chapbook."
Interestingly, I had already gotten acceptances for a few of the poems, so I wrote to those journals. I know that some journals take a long time between acceptance and the appearance of the journal. I knew that there was a very real possibility that the chapbook would appear before the journal.
Happily, none of the journals seemed to mind. I gave the journal publication credit in the chapbook, and the sky didn't fall down on our heads if the chapbook beat the journal to publication.
This Autumn, I haven't done nearly as much submitting as I had in October 2003, but I've done some. I need to sort through my submissions notebook. I'll try to do that in the next few days. And I'll also think about biographies. I need a short bio and a longer bio.
Finishing Line Press also wants me to get some blurbs for the book, so I'll work on that too. I don't have a timeline from the press yet, which makes me hesitant to reach out. Yet I know that people need time to write a blurb, so I don't want to wait. Later, I'll write one unified post on this blurb-getting process.
I've found the countdown to publication posts of other writers to be immensely interesting and helpful, so I want to do that too. I'll label these posts (countdown to publication) and that way people can seek them out or avoid them, as they wish.
But for now, it's time to think about the rest of my Wednesday. I need to get to Spin class early. I'm participating in a countdown to Christmas program--each of us is trying to lose 10 pounds by Christmas. Today is the first day--the weigh in and the measuring of bicep, thigh, and waist. I've already adopted a motto: "No cookies until Christmas!" I usually gain weight in the pre-Christmas period, and I'd like to avoid that this year. Hopefully, this weekly weigh in will help keep me a bit more on track.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
In an interesting juxtaposition of holidays, today is also the real Columbus Day, not the federal holiday. Oktoberfest and Christopher Columbus . . . surely a poem lurks there. Old world, new world, hmmmmm.
I must confess, I might have overlooked Columbus Day, except that the mail didn't come and I thought, oh yeah, Columbus Day. Today, of course, is the real anniversary: in 1492, the 10 week Atlantic journey ended when a sailor saw land.
Unfortunately, Columbus was looking for a shorter trade route, and since he didn't have a sense of how huge the planet was, he had set off on a voyage destined for failure, at least failure as he set the parameters. He had stumbled on a wealth of natural resources: tomatoes, corn, beans, not to mention lumber, vast continents of space which could absorb people fleeing from overcrowded Europe, minerals, astonishing soil . . . but Columbus never did find that trade route.
I always wondered if he felt a sense of failure, so I wrote this poem. The title refers to a poem by John Donne, "Good Friday, Riding Westward, 1613," which I was teaching at the time.
Columbus Day, 2001, Riding Westward
Christopher Columbus set sail in search of a swifter
trade route, an easier way to bring spice
back from the Far East. At what point
did he realize that he’d gone astray, that a whole
continent stood in his way?
Did he ever realize the value of his discovery?
I picture him grumbling. “These natives
are weaklings. I’ve never seen such a sickly
bunch.” I’m sure he never saw himself as the source
of the infection. Did he mourn the lack
of gold and spice? He had no idea that he’d found
an agricultural mother lode: beans, corn, and tomatoes.
How often do I sail upon these same waters?
Always yearning for the voyage I had planned,
not enjoying the trip I’m on. Always questing
for traditional treasures, never envisioning
the wealth before me, so simple is its disguise.
Monday, October 11, 2010
I Stand Here Shredding Documents
I stand here shredding documents.
I think of my mother and her basket
of ironing, the baskets of clothes,
both clean and dirty, the constants
of laundry and housekeeping.
I yearned for a different set of baskets,
an inbox and an outbox,
clothes that need professional attention
from dry cleaners and a house
that it didn't get dirty.
Now I have become my father,
a woman of file cabinets
and endless meetings of infinite boredom.
I stand at the shredder,
my daily friend, and think of work
that is never finished.
Here I tried to include lots of elements, and I love that the rolodex is open to the state of South Carolina Retirement System contact info.
The poems throughout the book talk about women's work of all kinds, and so I tried to create art that matched the subject.Above, a scaled down approach: shreds as nest.
I had lots of fun with pairs of bronzed baby shoes (I have 2 pairs, one of which was my mom's, and one my spouse's).
My spouse got into the fun too.
And here, above my first attempt at combining photos in Photoshop, which is a new program to me. I didn't do any of the arty things I could have done, like shading, blurring, and all the numerous effects I could have done within each photo itself. I'll keep playing with photos and images I've found and later this week, I'll ask you what you think makes the most effective cover art.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
My little gym at the hospital near my work is being remodeled. Consequently, my beloved spin class was canceled on Saturday. At first I thought I'd take an easier day close to home--or maybe just not exercise! But I had friends who invited me to their beachside gym in Ft. Lauderdale. They have spin class on the open-air roof, and I've wanted to try it. I wouldn't have wanted to try it in the summer though, and I imagine it might get fairly chilly up there with autumnal temperatures and wind.
We hopped on our bikes and spun away. The glass-like sea still attracted surfers, who stood on their boards and paddled with long paddles. We watched all sorts of boats go by, from small, zippy things to big cargo ships. We saw lifeguards head over to the beach, and near the end of our workout, back they came. The view was picture perfect, a stereotype: glistening water, palm trees, blue sky with fluffy clouds.
The bikes, on the other hand, were not so perfect. A bit rusty, a bit clunky, first generation spin bikes--leaving them in the open air, close to the salty ocean, has done them no favors. I'll be glad to return to the very different spin room at the hospital, with its more well-maintained bikes.
But I'm grateful to have had the rooftop spin class class--I need those kind of only-in-South-Florida experiences to remind me that there are advantages to living here, even if it means we don't have the wonderful autumnal experiences that the rest of the country enjoys.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
I still haven't heard back from Finishing Line Press, so I don't have a sense of my timeline. I'm proceeding as if everything will be due very soon. This afternoon, I plan to play with the camera to see if I can create some art for the cover. Perhaps I'll post the possibilities here and let people vote.
When I first got the e-mail from Finishing Line Press, I panicked about the idea of cover art. Then I did a Google Images search on the phrase working women and came up with some interesting vintage stuff, 19th century woodcuts and drawings of women at looms, women doing housework. The thought of securing permission to use that art made me decide to play with the camera. Plus, I'm not sure that a 19th century woman at a loom (which fits with the overall theme in many ways) would attract the widest number of readers.
Or does anyone really choose to buy/read a chapbook based on cover art? For me, good cover art is just a bonus. I'm usually buying the chapbook because I love the author or because I've read a poem and want more or because the chapbook has a really good title.
Even if I go with a different option for the cover, it will still be fun to play with the camera. I spend far too many leisure hours on the sofa. I need to do more art. And we finally have a working desktop computer, so I can actually see the photos I take--and I have Photoshop, so I could manipulate those images, if I wanted.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Today is the birthday of Frank Herbert, most famous for writing Dune. Once upon a time, I'd have told you that Dune was one of my favorite Sci Fi books, but I've since read so many others that I like better. But Dune probably paved the way for most of them.
On The Writer's Almanac website, Garrison Keillor notes, "Dune was one of the first science fiction novels to completely imagine an entirely different world, with different plants and animals, different social classes, and a whole set of elaborate religious beliefs."
Dune was one of those huge books, a doorstop of a book, but I slogged through it. I was one of those kind of geeky kids, the kind that took snooty pleasure in the fact that she was reading bigger books than everybody else. It was one of those books that was slow, slow going for the first 100 pages, and then the plot zoomed off. These days, I'd put it aside for something else.
I remember one art class that I took at the time. Basically, our teacher left us alone with the art supplies while he worked on his art. I made a swirling picture, painted in desert hues, a picture that seemed to bake on the page. My classmates accused me of ripping off Star Wars, and I loftily informed them that my work was influenced by Dune.
I've gone on to love other Science Fiction much better. The works of Octavia Butler always make me gasp (well, her last book didn't, but I understood that she was working on a trilogy that she didn't get to finish). Marge Piercy does interesting feminist Sci Fi. Margaret Atwood is another one who can imagine whole new worlds, based on the crumbling decay of our current planet.
My current tastes run to apocalyptic strains but then again, I've always loved a good end-of-the-world story. I don't always like those books that imagine different planets with different creatures/institutions/languages/societies. Once I did. Once my tastes ran to Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov--all those classic guy writers well-loved by Sci Fi geeks of my generation.
Those books hold up well too. A few years ago, I re-read some classic Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles. Still, a wonderful book.
I have no time (or inclination, if I'm being honest) to re-read Dune. But I'm grateful to Frank Herbert for opening those doors to all those writers whom I loved so much, during a geekier time in my life. I've probably learned as much about traditional science by reading Sci Fi, which often set me on a research quest to discover what might be real/possible and what was complete fiction, than I learned in boring high school and middle school Science classes. How sad is that?
How wonderful that we've had these books. How wonderful it must be to write those kind of books that inspire the kinds of quests, both research and of the imagination, of my younger years.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
In the late afternoon, I noticed a curious subject line: "Chapbook Acceptance: I Stand Here Shredding Documents." At first, I thought it might be a hoax. Perhaps someone had been reading my blog and decided to offer to publish my manuscript if I would give them my bank account number. It's not your traditional hoax/fraud scheme, but I've been noticing an uptick in offers from other countries from people who can barely write in English, all of them offering great things if I'll just send them financial information.
I opened the e-mail to find out that it wasn't a hoax. In February, I entered the Finishing Line Press New Women's Voices Chapbook Contest; I sent them my manuscript I Stand Here Shredding Documents (also called my working woman chapbook, for those of you who have been following along for almost a year the progress of this book; I first wrote about the idea of this collection at the end of this post; I write about choosing the chapbook title here). I didn't win the contest, but they do want to publish my chapbook. Hurrah!
I was at work, so I couldn't dance around the house. I wanted to whoop, but I try to keep some decorum in the office. I did forward the e-mail to my spouse and then I called. I also went to the Finishing Line website, just to make sure the e-mail wasn't an elaborate hoax. The various e-mail addresses match. The tone of the e-mail and the tone of the website are similar.
I felt a wide variety of emotions throughout the rest of Monday. There was the incredible happiness; it's been a long time since my first chapbook's publication, and I had begun to wonder if I'd ever see a book-length publication again. There was the mix of fear and nausea: are the poems really ready, is the manuscript really ready? What if my boss and other higher ups read it and decide that I'm ungrateful and fire me? I tend to think I've been writing about modern life, especially the lives of working women in a broad, sociological sense, but people take offense at all sorts of things.
Then I had to laugh at the idea of everyone up the administrative chain reading my chapbook. I know from my own experience that many weeks, I don't read much more than my constant stream of e-mails--and I think that my superiors will have time for poetry? It's a lovely thought, but those days may be over forever, those days where we could linger around the coffee pot, discussing poetry and intellectual ideas and paintings. Maybe they never existed.
I also thought about how many journals have these individual poems under consideration. And now I need to write to those places to let them know what's happening. With my last chapbook, that didn't pose much of a problem. I also had a moment of sorrow for those poems which had never been published anywhere else. This chapbook could be the end of the publishing line for them. I'm also keenly aware of the fact that I could send those poems out to journals for the next 10 years, and they might never be published. So I'm grateful for this opportunity.
Finishing Line Press will want art for the cover, which spooked me for a few hours, and then I started thinking of all the possibilities. Likewise with blurbs . . . at first I felt afraid and unworthy, and then I re-read Kelli's blog post on blurbs and decided to try to be brave.
I sent e-mails and Facebook messages to a few writers whom I know from the blogosphere who have published chapbooks with Finishing Line Press (thanks Karen J. Weyant and John Guzlowski!). I wanted to know if they had any regrets about letting the press publish their chapbooks. I'm happy to say they did not. They offered me congratulations and support.
I began to send out e-mails to my friends and family. I worry sometimes, about sending those kind of e-mails. What if my friend is having a VERY BAD DAY, and my good news makes her feel even worse. But I also know from experience how cheering someone else's good news can be. I love knowing people who have actually won literary prizes, grants, publications--it means that regular people actually do accomplish these things. It's not just those well-connected few.
Then, on Tuesday, I found out that my blog postings for the national website were up, and I began to feel ridiculously lucky and blessed. It's been a great writing week.
In the coming weeks, I plan to blog about this process. I've always appreciated the efforts of others as they document the process of going from individual poem to manuscript of collected poem to book. And of course, once the book is available for pre-publication order, I'll be letting everyone know--the press run depends on how many chapbooks are ordered in the 6 week pre-publication ordering period.
I hope to remember to say this again and again during this process: thanks to everyone who has read these poems, voted on the title of the manuscript, talked about the wisdom of a collection of poems about the modern workplace and women, and been supportive. My life is enriched in many ways, and having a wide circle of "believing mirrors" (as Julia Cameron calls them) is one of the best life enhancers of all.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
As an adolescent, I whined about going to church. I delighted in pointing out every hypocrisy that I saw. My patient parents were willing to discuss/debate/argue for hours, but we went to church regardless.
I always declared that when I was old enough to make my own decisions, I wasn't going to church, which is exactly what I intended to do. Still, in undergraduate and graduate school, I was involved in Lutheran campus ministry. In many ways, that ruined me further for church as most adults experience it. I wanted more than a church where I just popped in for an hour every Sunday morning to get my commitment done. I longed for the community I felt in my childhood churches and in campus ministry. I wanted shared meals and deep discussions and the occasional fellowship just for fun. I wanted an outlet for my social justice aching.
In my mid-30's I returned to church for a whole host of reasons, which I won't go into here. It's not my theology blog, after all. But it is my creativity blog, where one of my many topics is my writing life. And my writing life has taken some surprising turns over the past few months. Again, Facebook figures into this narrative. When I signed up, I expected to connect with old friends. I didn't expect writing opportunities to come my way.
In late July, one of my Facebook friends wrote to ask if I'd be an official blogger on a site that the national Lutheran church (the ELCA) was putting together. I first said to myself, "This must be a mistake. I haven't been to seminary. My uncle once accused me of turning my cousins against the church. I'm not worthy."
Once I worked through all my weird emotions, I wrote back to accept the offer. I wrote one blog entry, but the site wasn't up, so I didn't announce the fact that I'd been chosen as an ELCA blogger. I wrote the second blog post, but the site still wasn't up. I began to wonder if it would happen. I didn't regret writing the blog postings; after all, if the Church didn't use them, I'd just post them on my own blogs.
Yesterday, I got the news that the blog part of the site is up and running at http://www.livinglutheran.com/. If you go to the site it looks like we've all been posting since August.
I've written two posts. My first assignment was to write about Lutheran spirituality and what it means to be Lutheran. It's posted here. I decided to focus on the Lutheran concept of grace, which I think sets us apart throughout Protestantism--and in some ways, gives us more with which to wrestle. Why be good if God will forgive/love us anyway? You can read the whole text wherein I talk about the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard: "But what if we changed the metaphor? What if instead of laboring in a vineyard, we talked about people at a party? The people who get there early get the freshest food and their choice of drinks. They get to enjoy the party for more hours than the people who stagger in late."
My second assignment was to write about vocation, so in this post, I focused on my childhood love of heroes like Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman and with feeling like I'm not living up to my full potential: "Many of us feel that some jobs are more spiritual than others. I used to think that monks and pastors enjoy more spiritually important jobs. But now I realize that we all have the same task. For many people who will never darken the door of a church, the only face of Christ they will see will be the face of Christians out in the world."
Now that the site is operational, I'll even be paid for these posts. What an amazing thing. I started blogging mainly because I fell in love with a variety of blogs, and I thought, I want to do this too. I've read a variety of blog postings through the years which talked about ways to monetize one's blog, but I've never been interested in that. Early on, I installed a sitemeter because I wanted to know who was reading, but that interest only lasted a few months. I'd blog now, even if no one read these postings.
But I can't deny the power of these new media outlets. I've gotten more than one writing opportunity from my Facebook connections. I've bought most of my poetry books in the last year because bloggers recommended them or because I like the blogger and assume I'll like their other writing too.
This has been the week of much good writing news, but this post has gotten long, so I'll save my other good news for later. In my creative life, I've been intrigued by how often good news comes in clumps. Week after week of rejections, and then suddenly, I get several acceptances in one week. Blog post after blog post that inspires no reaction, and suddenly there's the blog post that gets lots of comments. Even during my writing, I've noticed that I have a time where I write lots of poems and have lots of ideas, punctuated by times when I can't seem to get anything from idea to finished poem.
It's the knowledge of these cycles that keeps me going during the times when I'm in the slump part of that cycle. Right now I'm in a non-slump time. Strange to think how much has changed just since Monday morning. More on that later.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
I'm seeing a theme in my reading choices, reading choices which I assume are fairly random. I picked up Egan's book because of a glowing book review, and I picked up a few other books on this theme as I wandered through the library. The latest book I've read carries on with similar themes: aging (especially the part where we look up to discover that we're at mid-life) and art and beauty.
I just finished Michael Cunningham's latest, By Nightfall. What a great book. I've loved Michael Cunningham for a long time now, even before the rest of the nation discovered him after he wrote The Hours. I love him because he infuses his work with English major allusions; he makes me want to go back to reread great Modernist literature. I love him because of his language. I love the way he weaves things together.
I've also loved Cunningham for years because of his insights into the writer's life; for example, in an essay in Saturday's The New York Times, Cunningham writes about how all writing is really the work of translation. This essay came one day after Jeanette Winterson's review of Cunningham's latest book. I went to my public library website, and low and behold, the book was in. I went right out and grabbed it.
What a beautiful book. How sad and tragic and oddly hopeful. It makes me want to own an art gallery. It makes me want to create art. But more importantly, it makes me want to continue to create beauty out of words.
I'll leave you with some choice quotes, but I'll put them out of order and not put the page numbers with the quotes, so as not to spoil the plot. Seriously, read this book. It may make my list of the best books of 2010, maybe even the best book I've read in 2010 (can it really beat out Egan? Hmmmm, must think a bit more).
"What do you do when you're no longer the hero of your own story? You shut down for the night and go home to your wife, right? You have a martini, order dinner. You read or watch television. You are Brueghel's tiny Icarus, drowning unnoticed in a corner of a vast canvas on which men till fields and tend sheep."
". . . the sky so blank you can imagine God forming it with His hands like snowballs and tossing them out, saying Time, Light, Matter."
"To what extent do the Impressionists exist at all because it was suddenly so much cheaper to leave Paris and go to Provence?"
"Even now, after all those ad campaigns, after all we've learned how about bad it really and truly gets, there is the glamour of self-destruction, imperishable, gem-hard, like some cursed ancient talisman that cannot be destroyed by any known means. Still, still, the ones who go down can seem as if they're more complicatedly, more dangerously, attuned to the sadness and, yes, the impossible grandeur. They're romantic, goddamn them; we just can't get it up in quite the same way for the sober and sensible, the dogged achievers, for all the good they do."
By Nightfall is a book full of fabulous nuggets like those above, while at the same time spinning a plot about characters who make me both care about them and wince. I couldn't put it down, and once I was finished, I read parts again. Some books, I finish and I think, well, that's time I'll never get back. This book enriched me and expanded my sense of time, and that's no small thing.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
What a powerful movie. I knew that it would be. In some ways, it's strange to think that the movie is set in the mid-80's, during my lifetime. It already feels like a million years ago, that time when Germany was divided, when we expected nuclear war at any moment, a time of check points and spies and covert operations.
The film revolves around a Stasi agent who monitors a famous writer and his actress girlfriend. The writer is not subversive at the beginning of the film; indeed, he's the darling of the Communist government. One of the government higher-ups is interested in the girlfriend, and the film asks what we're willing to pay/do for our art and for the freedom to practice that art.
Throughout the film, I kept thinking back to arguments that I used to have with my Air Force father during the early 1980's. I was an insufferable adolescent who thought that she knew it all. My Air Force dad had classified information that he was not about to share with me. I argued that at least the Soviet Union made sure that everyone had their life needs met, even if they didn't have freedoms. My father assured me that I didn't know what I was talking about, that freedom was far more important than food. In some ways, we were both right and both horribly wrong. The film shows the price of the Communist system. In Iron Curtain East Berlin, the clean streets have no graffiti. At the end of the film, children can't play kickball in the streets, and graffiti has colonized every wall.
I kept thinking about how lucky I am as a poet. I assume, and probably rightly so, that no government agency is keeping files on me. I'm not one of those baby boomers who would be outraged to find out that the FBI really could care less about me. Of course, having been born in the 1960's, it also won't surprise me to discover that there's a government file somewhere. As a poet, I can write whatever I want, and until recently, I could assume that maybe 200 people at the most might ever see it, unless I had phenomenal luck like Mary Oliver or Billy Collins.
Of course, the Internet changes everything. Now we're all being monitored, all the time, and we don't seem to care much. I talk to faculty members who talk about how they want to keep their phone number absolutely private, and I always ask, "Have you Googled yourself lately?" Most of us don't have truly private lives anymore.
I'm sure it's still possible to go underground, to live off the grid. But most of us choose not to.
For poets (and probably other artists too), this more exposed life has been wonderful, in a way. We have more ways to get our work out than ever before. We're not dependent on the few people who have the money to put together a book or a journal. We can network like we never could before. I've bought many a volume of poetry that I never would have, simply because I've read their blogs. I've bought volumes of poetry because a blogger whom I like recommends a particular book.
It's a brave, new world, in ways that Huxley and Orwell couldn't have predicted. It will be interesting in 25 years to see what parts of our current life make it onto film. What are the outrages that we're not as cognizant of simply because we're living through them or by them or far away from them? What will surprise us? What will we long for? What will we miss?
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Yes, I realize how fortunate I am--I have not just one, but two computers. There are days when I think a second laptop would make sense, in addition to the laptop and the desktop we already have. It's been frustrating being back to sharing a computer. I had forgotten how much we've come to rely on our technology. And we don't even rely on it as much as some folks. We still do our banking and check paying in the old-fashioned, paper way, for example. Our cell phone can make calls, and that's about it. I don't want to haul around too much technology, and so I haven't bought a lot of it: no Blackberry-like device, no e-reader, no fancy phone that could do everything if I could just figure it out.
Everyone thinks I'm joking when I say that if an i-Pad could make and receive calls, I'd buy one. The screen is big enough to read from, and I could do all sorts of word processing with it. I could buy/read books and read magazines. I could make calls and photos and movies. Sure, it would be the world's biggest phone, but I rarely use the phone, so I wouldn't care.
Once we get the computer back to where it was before (we still have software and data to reload), I wonder how long it will be before I trust it again. My friend has written of her feelings of betrayal as she faces some of the first signs of aging (we're both in our mid-40's, so yes, I realize it could be much worse). I feel similarly about the computer. Can I really trust you? How often should I back up everything? Probably daily, if I'm doing a lot of work, to be safe. How long before you contract another virus? Yes, for those of you about to ask, I did think I had the most up-to-date virus checker stuff and yes, I thought I was checking daily. An ickiness still got through. How long before some piece of code goes wonky and I can't even get past the Welcome screen? How long before the computer rejects the mouse again? My computer seems back to its youthful vim and vigor, but is it real or is my computer trying to fake me out? I wish I knew.
So, what was I doing before my computer went wonky? I was thinking about my collection of linked stories: writing new ones and revising old ones. I was writing poems. I had a submission strategy for both individual poems and manuscripts. Now is the time to return to writing. We have a whiff of autumnal weather. I'm ready to return to some vim and vigor myself!
Friday, October 1, 2010
Yes, some days I'm punished for being too efficient. If I had spent the morning writing poetry and then wandered into the office late, I'd have spared myself some e-mail effort.
Then, I spent hours deleting old e-mails, because my work e-mail told me that my mailboxes were close to getting so full that I wouldn't be able to send e-mails. It's my fault. It's hard for me to sort as I read, and so, old e-mails accumulate as new e-mails come in. Eventually I end up with a pile to delete. Sigh.
This week, my time has been consumed in the maw of administrator duties. I'm feeling that crankiness that comes from not having written anything.
Wait, after weeding through e-mails yesterday, I must amend that. I write a lot on any given day, any given week. A lot of dreck and drivel. If I was the kind of person who picked up the phone, I wouldn't have such a depressing record of how I spend my work time. Yet, it must be done. People have questions, I have answers. People need to leave written records and trails, as do I. Because of all this background work, education happens.
I spent a delightful afternoon with new faculty, helping with new faculty orientation. I need these times to remind me of why we do what we do as administrators. As a teacher, I didn't have so many moments of crushing doubt about the worth of my daily work. As an administrator, that is not the case. My job is to make an easier path for the faculty in my department, and sometimes, I don't have the power to make the path easier--and I can't always be sure about the best way to do that. It's lovely when I do, like when I can be a resource person for new faculty.
I also need to remember that as a faculty member, there would be times when my writing life would suffer because of my work life. Life is cyclical for all of us, after all. Some days, the planets align, and we write with ease. In other weeks, we sense our waning creativity. If you're like me, you feel a bit of panic during those times. It's important to remember that a writing burst is likely just around the corner.