Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What I Did On My Thanksgiving Vacation

This time last week, I was part way through the long, long state of Florida. We got up early, threw the cosmetic case in the car, and headed off towards Lutheridge, a Lutheran camp which will rent out their cabins during the off season. My family gathers there periodically, in part because it's the only place that my 95 year old grandmother will agree to go.

So, off we drove, taking a side trip to pick her up in Greenwood, South Carolina. Fourteen hours later, we arrived.

So, what have I done in my week of Internet fasting?

--Well, there's the driving, of course, from the southern tip of the country to the Appalachian mountains near Asheville. Four states in fourteen hours (on the return trip, we were more leisurely, with a stopover in Jacksonville). We listened to great music. Is there a better album than Paul Simon's Graceland? Maybe Roseanne Cash's The List. And of course, there was a bit of Christmas music--my all-time favorite, Jazz to the World.

--I reverted to my old 1980's habit of nervously checking for mushroom clouds. After all, the week started with that horrific North Korean attack on the South Korean fishing village. Sure, we think that North Korea doesn't have a nuclear capability that can reach the U.S.--but intelligence sources have been proven wrong before.

--But I was with 4 children (my nephew, and the children of my cousins), so I quickly forgot about nuclear annihilation. Instead, we had light saber fights and puppet shows and trips to the playground and flashlight hikes and art projects.

--We also went to the beautiful sports field of a local high school. While my dad ran his daily 6 miles, we played on the artificial turf. We tried to teach my nephew how to use a baseball glove (he had a smaller version), but we quickly switched to soccer, which doesn't hurt quite so much when the ball goes astray.

--We had great meals. Of course we did--it's Thanksgiving, one of the most straightforward of holidays. What could be better than a holiday that revolves around great food and gratitude?

--My nephew still has such a different sense of storytelling than I do. I tried to create a Thanksgiving puppet show, but he wanted the puppets to fight. When we were at the playground, he loved to pretend that he was operating an ice cream stand with horrible ice cream flavors. He'd hand us "an ice cream cone" and direct us to taste and spit it out. Of course, we complied, with great theatricality. It delighted him. It was only later that I wondered about the wisdom of what we were modeling when he started spitting out his milk.

--We bought a lot of shoes at the annual sale at The Frugal Backpacker. I encouraged my mom to buy 4 pairs of sandals. They were there, in her size, which actually fit her feet, and they were already reduced--but you still got the buy one pair, get one pair at half price deal. I bought 2 pairs, and my mom bought 4. We're tall women, with big feet, and it's rare that any store has any shoes in our size. To find so many size 10s seemed like a sign.

--I taught my cousin's wife how to quilt. We worked on practice Christmas stockings. Will she go home and make the stockings she has planned? Or will she decide that it's really too much effort to quilt by hand?

--Lutheridge has a small community of houses. We looked at one that's likely to be for sale. We wondered, as we have in past years, if it would be a wise investment. We wondered, my spouse and me, if we would like living in a church camp near Asheville. We think we would.

--We marvelled at how quickly the time together zoomed by, as it always does. We thought about the fact that 4 generations managed to spend half a week in a large house and still be speaking at the end of the time--in fact, we were sorry to say good-bye. We gave thanks for the gift of family.

--After spending time in Asheville, we stopped for a bit near Columbia, South Carolina to check out a retirement place that my parents are considering. It's near the city of Columbia, but completely in the country (although with the spread of Columbia westward, perhaps not for long). I miss those rural landscapes.

--We try not to be driving on Thanksgiving Sunday, when I 95 turns into a parking lot, so we stayed with an old college friend in Jacksonville. On Sunday, we went to a nature reserve and hiked a bit through the coastal flats of northern Florida. Such different landscapes on this trip--such a treat!

--I tried not to think about work and all the projects that must be completed by the end of the year. I tried not to fret about all the retreat coordinating that I'd like to have done by December 3. I tried not to worry about all the parts of the chapbook promotion that must be done in the coming weeks.

--I didn't read much, and I didn't write at all, but that's O.K. I find that these kind of trips fill up my well in ways that I can't always anticipate. In the coming weeks, I fully expect to find some poems bubbling up, poems that wouldn't have existed without this time away.

Monday, November 22, 2010

One Last Poem Treat

In the hours before I undertake my electronic fast, I just got word that my poem "Sharing the Sea of Surround Sound" is up at qarrtsiluni, where you can also listen to me read it, if you're so inclined. Go here to read and/or listen. It has a theme that will resonate with many of you as you head towards Thanksgiving, even though it's set in a modern office, not a family reunion.

Thanksgiving Treats

How has it gotten to be Thanksgiving again? This blog is likely to be fairly quiet for a week, as it's time for family, a good time to unplug. I should be back to regular blogging on Nov. 30. So, in advance, happy Thanksgiving. And I've included some treats below the picture, where Blogger has quit letting me put in extra spaces between paragraphs, but hopefully my stanza breaks will continue to translate.

I'm now one of the bloggers at Voice Alpha, a site about reading poetry out loud for an audience. Tomorrow, my first post will go up! I can't link directly to the post, today, obviously, but when you miss me tomorrow, you might head over there to explore the site. Lots of good stuff to be found there!
And if you need a poem prompt, here's one that I've been playing with for a year. Invite a bunch of historical or fictional characters to come together for Thanksgiving--what happens? I've been playing with the idea of Biblical people. John the Baptist would bring locust and honey pie, and guests would get Martha (Mary's sister) tipsy so that she'd stop doing housework.
That poem isn't even close to being in a postable form. But here's a poem I wrote years ago, when I saw a child walking down the street with his mom, during a beastly hot November day. He held one of those drawings where you trace your hand and turn it into a turkey--he had a paper feather in his paper headband. I realized with a start how close Thanksgiving lurked. Out came this poem:
Indian Summer

Summer returns to us, unwelcome
guest. We flip the switch from heat
to air and wonder if Thanksgiving
in the age of global warming
will always be this warm.

The children trace their hands to create
turkeys. They argue over the proper
number of construction paper feathers
to include in Indian headbands.
No one wants to play a Pilgrim
in the school pageant. Founding Fathers
hold no fierceness. Far better to be a Brave.

I bake the same sweet potato dish
that goes back generations, back to the hills
of Appalachia, when my immigrant
ancestors must have wondered at their folly:
a different continent, a different tuber,
it’s still grubbing for food.

When I was young, I underestimated the strength
of my own spine. I wanted to join Indian Princesses,
sit around a fire, have a special, secret name, to participate
in rites created for white girls with no hip
heritage of their own for outsiders to exploit.

Now I long for my elders, dead too early
from those diseases of a life half lived
in poverty. They left me with a handful
of recipes, good gardening techniques,
and a lifetime of lonely rituals.

Miami Book Fair 2010

I have been to many poetry readings, but none took the kind of effort to get to that yesterday's reading did (and that includes readings in other cities that have required an airplane trip!). Of course, there was the always-present road congestion on I 95, but one expects that. I've only travelled once or twice on that Interstate in Miami-Dade county where traffic didn't come to a halt and crawl along for miles. Then there was the driving around and looking for parking and finally finding a far-away lot that had a decent price. Then there was the walk to campus.

Here's a shot of the Miami-Dade College campus, with the concrete structures so common to community colleges built in the 60's. Once there, I had to pay admission; I thought I only had to pay admission if I wanted to go to the street fair, and I inwardly fumed for a few minutes before I said to myself, "Come on--you can shell out $8 for a book fair!" And so I did.

Once I found the right building, I still had a quest. There were throngs of people waiting in various lines, and at first I thought I had goofed by thinking everything was free and all I had to do was show up. But I decided to go to the room first, and if I needed to wait in line, I'd go back. So, I hiked and hiked around the mazelike hallways, wondering if I was going the right way. From a far distance, I saw a person who looked like January O'Neil, so I decided to head that direction. And finally, I found the room and discovered that all those lines were for the events that required a paid ticket, like for Patti Smith, a poet of sorts, but more famous for being the godmother of punk and one of this year's National Book Award winners.

I'm happy to say that the reading was well worth the effort. Above you can see all the poets, although I didn't get individual shots of them all. This was my first attempt at taking pictures during a reading, and I can't always see what I've got until I get home and see the computer screen. From left to right above: Kevin Pilkington, Susan Rich, Mark Statman, and January O'Neil.

A blurry photo of Susan Rich above. I have read about readings where she brought violet scented chocolates to the audience, but alas, this was not one of those readings.

Mark Statman read third, and he chose some poems that were in response to poems that had been read by the other poets, a gutsy move, I thought, since it wasn't planned in advance. I wasn't familiar with his work before, but I really enjoyed it.

Here's a photo of January O'Neil reading her poems, which are as delightful in spoken form as on the page.
In fact, all of the poets read beautifully, and all of the poems engaged me--many delighted me. It was the kind of afternoon that enriches and nourishes on many levels. When I was young, I thought that every day of grown up life would be just like that. Now that I'm older, it takes some effort to make sure that I have a few of those days here and there, spread out amongst the daily tedium of other tasks.

I had worried a bit about the hike back to the distant parking lot, but happily, there were still plenty of non-threatening people on the streets, along with the mentally ill and downtrodden. The streets of Miami remind me a bit of New York City, without all the tall buildings. There are grates in the sidewalk, but why down here? We don't have subways. There are all sorts of businesses, like discount nail coloring salons and strange shoe stores, along with all the bright chains. The architecture is an interesting mesh of modern and Latin country inspired, and I thought the shot above captured that.
I made it back to my car with no problem, hopped back on the Interstate, and drove home under gloomy skies to an evening meal of home-cooked hamburgers, red wine, and poetry afterglow.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Week-End that Reminds Me Not to Worry

My spouse has often said that my Native American name should be Frets-for-Nothing. Every so often I have week-ends that remind me not to worry.

I got my contract from Finishing Line Books on Friday--hurrah! I remember when I first sent them the information needed for the contract, including my Social Security number. I sent it via e-mail. When the contract didn't come, I had one sleepless night where I was sure I had been scammed somehow. Even though the rational part of my brain reminded the drama queen part of my brain that setting up an e-mail and a website to so closely resemble the actual website of a small press to dupe poets was not something that crooks would likely do, I still couldn't fall asleep. So, I wrote them to make sure the e-mail had gone through, and they wrote back to say yes, and the contract would be along eventually.

And now, here it is. Now it is time to do the printing of photos, the final proofing of the manuscript draft, the copying onto CDs of everything. Hurrah.

Yesterday the home inspector came and the home inspection went very well. I don't know why I always expect those to go badly.

Actually, yes I do know why. Our first houses were repossessed rehab houses, which we picked up for very cheap, but which needed all sorts of repairs and renovations. I often wonder if I'd be a more relaxed person about home repairs and inspections if we hadn't had the experience with those houses. I have seen first hand what damage substandard/misinstalled plumbing can do. I know first hand why aluminum coated wiring was such a bad idea. I have seen wood rot in all its glory. I know all about rodents and reptiles and insects.

Whenever it's time for a home inspection, I always worry that the inspector will find some kind of disastrous something that will require thousands of dollars to fix. Sometimes, that happens. Happily, yesterday was not one of those times.

I may post later today too. I am headed to the Miami Book Fair to hear Susan Rich, January O'Neil, Kevin Pilkington and Mark Statman read. I know that at one reading, Susan Rich gave the audience violet scented chocolates, so I'm both hopeful for chocolate and poetry. But the poetry alone will be prize enough. I don't know the two male poets, but I love the work of Susan Rich and January O'Neil. And here they are, together, near the town where I live!

When we first moved here, I imagined that I would go to the Miami Book Fair every year. But of course, I haven't. It's a little ways down there, and my regular life has often intervened. But happily, this year, the poets I most want to see are reading on a Sunday. Hurrah again!

Now I must go to take the pumpkin bread out of the oven. Sure, it's 75 degrees right now and our high today will be 83 degrees or so. Not exactly the weather to inspire autumnal baking. But with Thanksgiving fast approaching, I'm done with waiting for the weather to cooperate. I'll eat warm pumpkin bread for breakfast and adjust the AC to make the house cooler, while waiting for it to be time to head down to Miami.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Reprieves and Rescues

This week, a meeting was cancelled, a meeting that we have on a regular basis. These meetings always lasts at least 2 hours, and they usually leave me drained and irritable. These meetings often kill the better part of the day, what with the dread of them, the meeting itself, and the recovery time afterwards. When the meeting was cancelled, I had that feeling of elation that a snow day used to bring: the gift of time, the gift of letting go of anxiety.

When I read Dean Dad's post about meetings, I realize I shouldn't complain. I've never had so many meetings in one day that I forget their locations. Still, I find meetings the bane of my existence. I wouldn't mind them if we talked about something new or if we emerged from our meetings with actions that we actually attempted. But too often, meetings are just repetitions of what we've already been discussing via e-mail. All too often we talk about possible actions, but we never actually attempt them.

Let me stress that I think that most people have similar experiences with meetings. I see meetings as a leftover creation from the 20th century, which we continue to have as part of our lives just because we've always had them. It's like a land line telephone--occasionally very useful, but often not the most efficient tool.

Is the university such a leftover? Is higher education doomed for the dustbin along with _____? ( . . . oh there are so many ways to fill in that blank (8 track tapes, video tapes, typewriters, doctors who visit your home, dairies that make home deliveries . . .).

I went out for a late lunch with a friend who is more resistant to technology than I am. We talked about the future of education. She believes that the future of the Western world depends on scholars thinking deep thoughts. I'm fairly convinced that state legislatures are at the end of paying for scholars who sit in universities thinking deep thoughts.

She thinks the end of the university means calamity. I tend to agree, but I'm also fascinated by the ways that technology opens up new opportunities that we can't anticipate. I read this article in The New York Times which made me really excited about the possibilities that technology might offer to us. And then I read this article about a person who writes a wide variety of papers for students (some of them working on the Ph.D.), and I just feel gloomy.

Of course, for those of us who have been college level teachers for decades, it's hard to imagine what else we might do. I worry that we're seeing an education bubble (just like the tech bubble, the housing bubble), and I wonder when it will pop. There are days when I think, this must be how newspaper writers felt in the late days of the 90's (and before that, autoworkers). I hope to make it to retirement--and then I feel gloomy again, because I can't imagine that I'll ever have enough money to actually stop working.

But enough of this gloom! It's the week-end, and we're promised beautiful weather, with the joy of Thanksgiving to anticipate. Last night, my psyche sent me a powerful message, which I think applies to all of us creative types.

I dreamed that I was hosting a creativity party for a wide variety of friends and acquaintances. They kept asking for supplies: fabric, papers, paint, beads, ribbons. I gave them what I had. I kept looking for the rest of the supplies. I said things like, "I know I used to have more fabric than this, but here's what I have" and "Where's the rest of my paper? But look at the cool patterns on this sheet." We created marvelous things.

You don't need a degree in Psychology to analyze this dream: we may not have everything, but we have enough.

That will be my mantra today, as the home inspector comes to create a variety of reports that will determine our insurance rates.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Black Friday Looms--Plan Now

On my theology blog, I wrote a post about preparing for the holiday season now, a week before the biggest shopping day of the year. Many of the suggestions are applicable to the non-theologically inclined. After all, it's not solely religious people who end up irritable and frazzled by the end of December.

This week-end makes a good time to think about our holiday shopping. Maybe we want to be brave and think about how much gift giving/receiving we really need to do. A few years ago, my family members all agreed to donate to one charity that we all selected, and we've continued to do that.

One year, before our charitable giving initiative, my family experimented. We said that we would give gifts under $10 or gifts that were handmade. It seems to me that poetry is the quintessential art for this experiment. Most of us have a huge supply of poems and some access to either technology or art supplies. Why not select a poem for each family member? Make a broadside or a video. Import some illustrations. Take some photos that go with the poem. Or write poems specifically for the people on your gift list.

Even if we can avoid the holiday gift giving frenzy, there are other times of the year where we find ourselves giving presents: birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and all the rest. We might think about how our gift giving dollars can support poetry.

I plan to write a blog post about my favorite books of poems that were published in 2o10, but I might not get that list together before next Friday's shopping frenzy begins. So I thought I'd point you to some of my posts from last year.

--If you want to give books with a spine for the holidays, this post offers suggestions with a brief description.

--If you want to give chapbooks (perfect for people who aren't sure they even like poetry), this post offers suggestions with brief descriptions.

--This post explores other ways to give gifts that also support poetry (a subscription to a journal, for example).

Many of us find ourselves exhausted several pounds heavier in January, with more credit card debt and more regrets. Let's vow to make this year different. Let's look for holiday strategies that can nourish us as poets and enrich our creative communities. Instead of a heavy holiday meal, let's have a poetry potluck. Instead of baking cookies for everyone on our list, let's invite our friends over to bake together. Instead of giving stuff, let's give experiences (a date for lunch or a museum or a movie--in February, when we need a treat). Instead of a huge party, why not a do-it-yourself writing retreat of an afternoon or evening where our friends gather for a shared bottle of wine (or hot cider or cocoa or sparkling water) and some writing prompts.

Now is the time to strategize.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, Margaret Atwood!

Today is the birthday of Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite writers, one of the writers who most inspires me. Every year I hope she's chosen for the Nobel Prize for Literature--she writes in so many different genres, and manages each one so perfectly. I've never finished a novel of hers and felt disappointed; how many authors can make that claim on you?

The first book of hers that I read was The Handmaid's Tale, a book which terrified me with its absolutely believable account of the takeover of the U.S. by a fundamentalist Christian faction. It's a book that holds up remarkably well; I just reread it a few years ago and still found it terrifying.

I must have become an Atwood evangelist, pressing that book into the hands of friends far and wide. I don't remember doing that, but I've had friends who tell me that I told them with great fervor that they must read the book (and I do have a tendency to do that). That book convinced several of us of the importance of women's reproductive rights. Women can have access to a wide range of jobs, but if we can't control our fertility, those opportunities won't mean much.

In later years, I'm also struck by the environmental degradation in that novel and more famously, in her later novels (Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood). When she was in Miami as part of the book tour for Oryx and Crake, she said that before she wrote the book, she did an amazing amount of research, and much of what she describes we already have the technology and the know how to do.

Similarly, she said that when she wrote The Handmaid's Tale that everything that happened in that book was actually occurring to women somewhere on the planet in the mid-80's.

She's written historical fiction and contemporary fiction, in addition to her jaunts into science fiction, and she does them all spectacularly. Her poetry thrills me. Her nonfiction is better written than almost any other non-fiction being written today.

It's writers like Margaret Atwood that inspired me originally to be a writer. What they did, I wanted to do too. Margaret Atwood still inspires me, although with that twinge of sadness that comes from having to admit that I'd need several lifetimes of practice and honing to become as good as she is.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Cost of Calories and Kitchen Remodels

My writings about food this week have put me in mind of an earlier poem about people who remodel their kitchens, but don't really cook in them. I've posted it below.

I wonder if this poem still works, now that the economy is in tatters. People probably can't get those loans necessary to do a glamorous kitchen remodel. Many people are returning to their kitchens, since they can't afford to eat out.

Or are they? Maybe people aren't eating at fancy restaurants as much, but a fast food meal is still astonishingly cheap. It's no wonder that so many of us have gained weight. One time, I thought about those value meals, which were around $6 at the time and contained 1,000-2,000 calories in one tasty meal. I thought about my farming ancestors (of just a few generations ago) and how much work it would take them to end up with a meal of 2,000 calories: the planting, the animal husbandry, the cooking, the clean up. Think about the effort to make french fries, for example. No, not the french fries that start with a bag from the freezer, but the kind that start with a pile of potatoes. Most of us would never eat french fries if we had to make them ourselves from potatoes.

And fast food is still cheap, and I can't make that food for that low price myself. If I'm looking simply at cost, it makes sense to abandon my kitchen and eat in the car. But as we know, there's more to food and meals than cost.

So, here's my poem. It was first published in Willow Review in 2007, and it will also be part of my new chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents.

Kitchen Remodels

In a culture that doesn’t cook,
homeowners remodel their kitchens.

Their budget for appliances
would feed a third world country for at least
a week. They need restaurant capacity
refrigerators, freezers, and stoves,
even though they won’t stock
any food. They will pay for a forest’s
worth of cabinets. Granite countertops gleam,
then gather dust.

They’ll store designer
china, along with stoneware for every day,
while every day they eat off of paper
plates, or out of wrappers, greasy
papers cluttering the car.

They’ll gather in the blue gloom
of their individual televisions to eat fast food
while watching celebrity chefs
on distant food networks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More White Whales in Tuesday Tidbit Form

--Yesterday's post, in which I considered how obsessing over weight loss and obsessing over housework keeps us from doing our important creative work, didn't even consider children. I don't have children, and I try to refrain from pontificating on motherhood overly much. I read Tillie Olsen's Silences; I know the grim statistics about how well motherhood goes with artistic output. But I've also been startled at how much my young nephew has enriched my life. I imagine that my sister and her husband enjoy day after day of such enrichment. I forget about how much of their days revolve around clean up and transportation.

--In this article, Erica Jong develops the idea of society's vision of perfect mothering and how impossible this vision is for normal women who aren't rich. She also throws in some history: "The first wave of feminists, in the 19th century, dreamed of communal kitchens and nurseries. A hundred years later, the closest we have come to those amenities are fast-food franchises that make our children obese and impoverished immigrant nannies who help to raise our kids while their own kids are left at home with grandparents. Our foremothers might be appalled by how little we have transformed the world of motherhood."

--I won't even talk about the people who cook for their dogs. If I only knew of one person who did this, I might dismiss it as a fluke. In fact, my sister cooked an anti-cancer diet for her dog, and I'm fairly sure she bought the dog an extra year of life. We'd probably all do better if we ate that diet: sweet potatoes, tofu, sardines, collards--those were the mainstays. But I know several people who not only cook for the perfectly healthy dog, but cook several separate meals for the various appetites in the family. I need not tell you how many extra hours of every day this cooking consumes (not to mention clean up!).

--If you feel like you're crazy for not being able to get everything done (in motherhood or in other aspects of life), it helps to think about where the message comes from. Is it your grandmother who demands that house be vacuumed weekly, even if you've been out of town for the larger part of the week? Is it your 7th grade teacher who tells you that you're not living up to your full potential, even though you write several poems a week and blog almost daily and send out packets of poems into the world, all the while holding down a full-time job and making sure that the bills get paid? Who is this voice that demands that you polish the wood furniture and the silver? Why can't you just put all of the laundry in the washer all at the same time? Why do you have to wash the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, the recycling before you put it in the bin?

--Of course, you might have very good answers. If it's working for you, carry on. If you find yourself longing to have time to accomplish what your heart desires, look at what you can jettison.

Monday, November 15, 2010

That White Whales of Weight Control and Housework

I've had eating on the brain, or not eating. I've been fighting a cold for a week, and often one of the signals that my body is fighting something is that I lose my appetite. Anyone who knows me knows how unusual it is for me to forget to eat or to be listless about it. I'm the type of person who wants every meal to be a festival. When we're done with one, I'm immediately anticipating the next.

When I'm fighting a bug, I think, so, this must be how normal people eat. A simple meal does the trick. If I'm bored or tired, I don't turn to food when I'm fighting a cold. I take a nap. I'd probably have better control over my weight if I had a work life that let me take more naps.

Before my week of cold fighting, I was at Mepkin Abbey, another place which shows me a different way of eating. For more on that, you can read the post I wrote this morning about what the monks can teach us about eating.

Even before my Mepkin trip, I've been more intentional about weight loss since early October (I'm always wishing I could lose weight, but I'm not always as intentional as I need to be to lose weight). There's a group of us at spin class who took a challenge to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks, as we prepare for the holidays. Each Wednesday, we weigh in, something I've never seen as a group activity. I'm surprised at how well this weekly weigh in has been working for me. I want the group to be proud of me, especially my supportive spin instructor. I had always thought that having a weigh in would feel more icky, in a judgmental kind of way.

I just finished Geneen Roth's Women Food and God, a book which I both admired and found irritating. I'd read excerpts, and it sounded really good. But it fell short in terms of ways to really change attitudes. Or at least, I found those portions of the book lacking. I do a very good job of recognizing my hypercritical inner voices. I do a less good job of ignoring those voices, even as I'm knowing that I should banish them from my head.

Here's a paragraph from early in the book, which made me excited about the possibilities of the book: ". . . our relationship to food is an exact microcosm of our relationship to life itself. I believe we are walking, talking expressions of our deepest convictions; everything we believe about love, fear, transformation and God is revealed in how, when, and what we eat" (page 2).

But the book doesn't really talk much about God, so if you're looking for the spiritual angle, this is not the book for you. This quote is about as close as she gets: "To discover what you really believe, pay attention to the way you act--and to what you do when things don't go the way you think they should. Pay attention to what you value. Pay attention to how and on what you spend your time. Your money. And pay attention to the way you eat" (pages 16-17).

Those of you who have been wrestling with weight issues (and likely reading a lot about it) won't find much new here, but much of it bears repeating, like this gem: "Dieting gave me a purpose. Bingeing gave me relief from the relentless attempt to be someone else" (page 23).

I have found that when most other areas of my life are going well, it's easier to eat like a sane, healthy person. When something distresses me, I eat for comfort. I don't eat junk. I eat delicious, calorie dense things I've made myself. So at least I haven't developed a junk food habit through the years. But as I hit midlife, it's really time for me to look for non-caloric ways to comfort myself.

But knowing that trigger isn't enough. I also eat to celebrate. I eat when I'm bored or tired. I love to cook, either by myself or with friends. I eat because I don't want to hurt the feelings of people who have cooked for me.

I'm hoping that this year can be like last year, when I lost weight during the holidays, something which had never happened to me before. I usually gain a few pounds and then some. But last year, I had a hectic schedule, where I was racing from one commitment to the next. I had no time to do my regular, highly caloric holiday baking. Some days, I hardly had time to eat regular meals. And unlike a lot of people, I can't eat and drive, so on the days that I had no time for a meal, I went without. Let's face it, I have plenty of calories stored in reserve. I can miss a meal here or there and not suffer.

I spent much of yesterday thinking about Moby Dick and modern day equivalents. What foolish quests do modern people take on our individual Pequods? What events put us off course?

I've always thought that women become ensnared in weight/image issues and housekeeping issues. I have friends who obsess over their appearance but who won't let anyone see their homes, for fear of letting people see how they've let the house go. I have friends who obsess over cleaning tasks, but make no concessions to fashion (no make up, severe haircuts, clothes that can survive five thousand rounds in the washing machine).

You'd think that the feminist movement would have set us free. I remember once one of my lesbian friends who told me that the joy of being a lesbian was being set free from patriarchal expectations. We both exploded into laughter when I said, "For someone who is set free from patrirachal expectations, you sure do spend a lot of time ironing."

I wish I had some pithy way to end this post, some tried-and-true technique for wrestling our true selves free from the lies our societies have fed us. I do know that awareness is an important first step, and vigilance an important second step. We need to think about what will make us happy on our death beds and what will make us feel regret. I will not feel sad if you cannot eat off my kitchen floor--I have pretty plates for you to use. But I will feel sad if I give up on my writing so that I can mop the floor. I will feel sad if I never invite you over because the house isn't as clean as it could be. The house will never be as clean as it could be, and no amount of effort will change that. We live in the house, after all.

Balance. That's the word I return to again and again. The Mepkin monks seem to have worked that out. Their lives are balanced, with times for worship, time for study, times for work, times for meals, times for sleep. I'd like the abilty to realize sooner when my life has spun out of balance and to correct my trajectory sooner--that's my task for the last half of my life, since I haven't mastered it yet.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Call Me . . ." Oh, Nevermind

On this day, in 1851, Moby Dick was published. We were required to read this book in high school, but I confess that I never finished it. I wanted to finish, just so that I could say I had done it. Oh, how I wanted to finish. But how little I wanted to read it.

As I remember, most of my high school class hated it, didn't attempt it, and read the Cliff's Notes. One encounter that motivated me to keep slogging through it was that one of our punk rockers waxed so enthusiastic about the book, going so far as to say it was the best book he'd ever read. Then, as now, I paid attention to what people were reading, and I knew that this guy read widely and some fairly deep stuff. And out of everything he'd ever read, he declared Moby Dick the best? What was I missing?

Now that I'm older, I understand how and why Moby Dick has spoken to readers through these 160 years that it's been around. That idea that we can go off (to a new town! to the sea! to anyplace where people don't know us!) and reinvent ourselves--how much that still speaks to us, at least Western readers. The idea of that quest, which seems both heroic and dizzyingly stupid at the same time--how much that seems like a valid metaphor for so many of our life situations at midlife and beyond! That cataloging of so many elements of whaling life! That mixing of cultures on the ship!

When I think of Moby Dick, I think back to a time when I was commuting twice a week to the University of Miami, a commute that involved a trip to the train station and two different transit systems, neither of which ever ran on time. I always lugged numerous books with me because Kindles didn't exist then, and I didn't want to face a multi-hour commute without books.

Again, I always paid attention to what my fellow commuters read. And for several weeks, I watched a young man's progress through Moby Dick.

This reader looked like the kind of hipster who should have spent late hours in jazz clubs playing saxaphone. Instead, he got off at the stop that took people to a sprawling hospital complex, so I suspect that his real life was very different than my imagined life for him. Perhaps he was a med student. Or maybe an orderly. Or maybe something totally different, since he wore regular clothes, not scrubs.

He also read the Bible on a regular basis. One time, a homeless guy approached us asking for money for the train. The Moby Dick reader gave the guy his transit card. I asked him how many trips had been left on it, and he said three.

I was impressed with that approach to panhandling, that ability to help the downtrodden without having to give away cash, cash that might not be used for train fare.

I've tried to create a poem out of the above details, with no luck. There's much there that should work when woven together into a poem: long train rides, long American classics, futile voyages, a quest which might kill us. Feel free to play!

I find it interesting how these ideas migrate across genres as I write. A failed poem becomes a blog post. Once after seeing a priest smudge ash crosses on the foreheads of unconscious patients in the ICU where my mother-in-law slumbered, I sat down at the computer fully intending to write a poem. Out came a grammar exercise for my Composition students. Only later did that exercise become a poem.

Ah, all these elusive whales, all these long sea journeys . . . or perhaps I metaphorically overreach.

Speaking of whales, I've been exploring Nic Sebastian's Whale Sound site, and I've enjoyed the poems very much. This morning I mustered up the courage to submit a poem.

While there, I noticed that she's about to launch into chapbooks. Audio chapbooks. What an intriguing idea. But instead of sending a manuscript I've already assembled, I want to spend some time thinking about my poems. Are there poems in my ocean of work that really need to be on paper? Are there poems that work better spoken than read? Hmm. Let me think a bit.

So, today, may your quests be fruitful, may the search not kill you or capsize those around you!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Unconventional Poetry Reading Opportunities

This seems to be the season for poets to be on the move going hither and yon for readings; Sandra Beasley always makes travelling for poetry promotion sound heavenly (go here for an example). Sandy Longhorn has a great post about her recent poetry reading and how it came to be. Once upon a time I would have felt jealous. Now that I've had some seasons of doing my own poetry readings, I'm less jealous. After all, I could go on the road to read too, if I wanted to do a bit of organizing.

When Pudding House published my first chapbook in 2004, I knew that I wanted to get out there and promote it. I wasn't exactly sure how. So, I thought about where I have friends and family--I could travel to promote my book, but cut down on expenses by staying with friends and family. Added bonus: I got to see friends and family, and they were happy to come be part of the audience. It's comforting to know that there will be friendly faces in the audience.

And then, once I'd chosen locations, there came the hard part. How to find reading opportunities? I Googled the most obvious possibilities: reading series and book festivals. I realized that almost every community seems to have some kind of book festival. And so, I got to the hard work of applying.

I applied all sorts of places, even places where I was fairly sure I wouldn't be accepted, like the National Festival of the Book on the Mall in D.C. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I had always assumed that smaller, regional book festivals accept everyone since they have so many participants, but based on my limited experience, that doesn't seem to be the case. But my searching for book festivals led me to some other possibilities.

When I was at USC, the Women's Studies department was always doing interesting things, so I wrote to all the Women's Studies departments that worked for me geographically. That search didn't lead me to readings, but it led me to non-university women's centers, which did lead to a great opportunity.

I discovered that the Women's Center of Jacksonville was having an art exhibition that tied in to the themes of my chapbook. And so I wrote them and asked if they had thought of having a literary component. They wrote back to ask if I'd come to do a poetry workshop and said they would also organize a reading, which I'd share with some Jacksonville writers. I said sure. It was a fabulous week-end.

Many blogger poets lately have been having cool sounding readings in conjunction with art museums (read Kelli Russell Agodon's post about the event here and Susan Rich's post about creating the event here). I've always thought that museums made natural partners for poets. I'd like to begin thinking about some kind of proposal for a local museum.

I also wrote to every state that has a Center for the Book. Here in my own town, the Florida Center for the Book has offered amazing readings and workshops, like the ones I attended with Marge Piercy in 1999 and in 2001, Richard Jones. During these times of budget cuts, those centers might be grateful for a local poet who can organize a multi-poet reading.

I also thought about schools, which have been the primary places where I've seen poets. So I wrote to a variety of English departments, which didn't net me any invitations. I wasn't surprised in a way; after all, back then, a lot of English departments had the kind of budgets where they could invite more famous poets.

Of course, I should have really written to people that I knew, but most people that I knew weren't teaching Creative Writing classes. How could I be a visiting poet for my colleagues that taught Composition or Literature?

An experience I had later answered that question. In 2007, I had a reading at an arts festival at my college (in Newberry, South Carolina) and then 5 days later, I needed to be at Lutheridge (near Asheville, NC). Obviously, I didn't want to drive back to Florida and then north again in two days, but I felt like I needed something to justify staying. So my grad school friend and I collaborated.

She was teaching a British Literature survey class, the second half that covers the time period from the eighteenth century to the present. Some of my poems revolved around literary figures like Keats and the Wordsworths. So, I did a hybrid kind of presentation: I read my poems, and I did a bit of teaching about the biographies and the literature that inspired the poems. I handed out my poems and the poems that inspired them. It was a great experience. The students stayed alert and interested. They had questions. They said that I had made them think about literature in a whole new way--but of course, they were Southerners, raised to be polite. Still, it was a great experience, which has made me wonder about other ways to be a visiting poet than the traditional Creative Writing classroom experience. If we've been to graduate school and been the least bit social, we probably have a network of friends teaching a variety of classes across the country. When I taught a heavy load, I'd have been happy to host a writer friend who was willing to cover his/her own expenses (since I've never taught at places that had a budget for bringing in outside speakers). And students benefit from the experience in ways we can't always anticipate.

I've noticed that some academic conferences have become more open to literary readings. In 2005, a group of us read work that used the history of the early U.S. as inspiration. We read at the annual conference of the Society of Early Americanists, a group of historians. When I first started thinking about reading at conferences, I thought about major conferences, like the AWP. But the world is full of regional conferences, many of whom would be open to all sorts of possibilities, if you can put together a proposal. This website has tons of academic conferences which are looking for proposals; it's almost overwhelming.

Now the clear problem with my proposals is that they don't necessarily pay. But I didn't go into poetry hoping to be rich; that's why I've continued to stay in academia. I've found that if I have a poetry reading lined up or a paper presentation, it's easier to get time off from work; you might even work for a place that would pay your travel expenses. But even if you don't have a travel budget at work, much of this travel could be tax deductible, depending on how you organize your financial life.

I know that poetry won't pay the mortgage, but I'm happy to have it in my life. I see myself as sort of a poetry Jehovah's Witness, traveling the country with fliers that I press into strange hands, reminding people of a mystical reality shimmering just beyond the horizon of daily life.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Writers' Retreats and Monasteries

Sandy Longhorn has a great post about how she came to be a recent visiting poet. I admire her bravery and tomorrow, I plan to write a post about other ways we might arrange for readings and campus visits.

Today, however, I want to write about writers' retreats. Over on Facebook, a friend asked several questions about Mepkin and how I came to go there. This post answers those questions, especially the theological ones, which may not appeal to readers here. Kathleen Norris fans will want to read that post and this one.

This is the time of year when many of us find out that we didn't get accepted for NEA grants and other opportunities, like writers' retreats. I remember carefully putting together an application to go to Hedgebrook, and I was so sure that they would invite me. But then, they didn't, and I felt that crushing disappointment.

In later years, I've come to realize that there are other options besides the ones listed in Poets and Writers. The problem with the most popular writers' retreats, of course, is that everyone is applying. Perhaps we should go to some of the regional literature and/or writing conferences and use them as a chance to write in a nice hotel. Or we could create our own retreats. Most church camps let people come to stay in the off season, although prices can be as steep as a resort, and the facilities may not quite match the price.

Most people don't think about monasteries as places to stay for a do-it-yourself writer's retreat. Most people assume that you have to be Catholic or committed or a religious freak to be admitted. But that's simply not true. Most monasteries have a variety of programs, for people who want to stay a week-end to people who want to stay for life; many religious orders take a vow of hospitality, which means they welcome everyone (although they may have limited facilities, which means they fill up early). Many of them simply ask for a donation, unlike fancy retreats, which may ask you to pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. You will likely to be welcome to eat meals with the residents. You will likely be invited to be part of the services, although your attendance won't be required. For possible locations, go here and here.

Some things to think about: the lodgings are likely to be simple, perhaps Spartan; you may have just a bed and a desk and you might even have to share the bathroom. You likely won't have things like televisions and radios, since many monasteries value times of long silence; you may not get cell phone reception, and wi fi is slow coming to rural areas, where many monasteries are located. The meals will likely be delicious, but vegetarian. If you're the kind of person who wants a hunk of meat with every meal, you may feel deprived. You won't have a front desk at your beck and call; monasteries presume a certain level of self-reliance.

In short, you're not going to a spa.

However, you'll get some opportunities that you wouldn't get at a spa. You can attend services, lots of them, throughout the day. Even if you're not religious, you might find them beautiful. The success of the Chant series of CDs in the 90's shows the appeal of this ancient liturgy. Some monasteries have magnificent libraries. Many monasteries are located on extensive grounds, through which you can take long walks. You might find that you're the kind of person who gets a lot done without the online distractions. It's a spa for the soul.

And if you can't get away for a chunk of time or can't afford it, don't neglect the possibility of a one day do it yourself writer's retreat in your own town. Kelli Russell Agodon has an inspiring post where she tells us how her friends did one. If you're in the mood for solitude, tell people that you're leaving town for the week-end and turn off the ringer on the phone. Get groceries at the beginning of the week-end, and then let yourself enjoy a retreat at your own house.

Some of us don't even have that option, I realize. Children, pets, significant others, and housemates have their own demands. Even so, we could carve out a smidge of time. Smidges here, smidges there, and soon it all adds up. I think it's important for humans to have some down time, both daily smidges of down time, and larger chunks, where we have time to reconnect with our deepest desires.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Sesame Street!

On this day in 1969, Sesame Street premiered. For fascinating insights on what the show's creators tried to do, go to today's posting on The Writer's Almanac. I love that the shows creators were trying to give disadvantaged children an advantage through the use of television. They knew that kids were going to be watching television, so they tried to create television that would nourish the intellect, while also being fun enough that children would actually crave the show.

It worked spectacularly. I should know. I was one of the earliest viewers. If I didn't see the very first show, I tuned in soon afterwards. I loved it. I was four years old, and I'm sure my stay-at-home mom loved it too, because it gave her a chance to grab a nap or to get a head start on dinner.

My parents read to me every day, so it's hard to know what fostered my early literacy most. I do know that by first grade, I could read beyond grade level. I remember a writing exercise that frustrated me. I wanted to use a word that ended in a silent e, but I knew we hadn't learned about those words yet, so I couldn't decide whether or not to risk it. I remember risking it, and the teacher getting mad at me, but that might be a false memory. Would a teacher really have been angry at a precocious child?

Why yes, that has been my experience throughout my schooling. Do what the teacher expects and get gold stars. Stretch the boundaries and get letters sent home. So, I quickly learned to read the system, so to speak. I've had some teachers who were more adventurous, and I thrived. With the ones that wanted to play by a strict lesson plan, I could deliver what they wanted quickly, and then turn to my own reading, writing, and life of the imagination.

Sesame Street fostered that sense of wonder, a world where your friend could be a big bird, a world where various classes and races mingled. I might even go further and argue that our own semi-post-racial world is due to Sesame Street. Some of the most beloved human characters on that show were Latino or African-American. It's what the social scientists tell us: it's harder to discriminate against whole groups of people if we've met individual members of the group. Sesame Street made the viewer feel like we knew those people.

I've watched the show periodically throughout the years, and it holds up well. After a hard day at work, my spouse and I have even been known to actually choose to watch those PBS shows. They're amusing and delightful, even when we already know the lessons that they're trying to teach.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Can Monks Teach Us about Creativity?

I'm back from Mepkin Abbey. It was a wonderful time, although it was freakishly cold. I scraped ice off the windshield yesterday! Well, that's not exactly true. I started the car, turned on the defrosters, let the car run while I loaded it with all my stuff (really, I pack as if there's going to be a nuclear war, and I won't be able to make it back to civilization to scavenge!). Still, it's never been this cold when we've been at Mepkin.

My English major friends and I were talking about how people react when we say we're going to an monastery. Some people are curious, but most react as if you've just mentioned you're headed off to the one remaining leper colony in North America. Or at least the first time you tell people they react that way. By now, most of my friends and colleagues seem to unsurprised that I'm headed out. I suspect that they think that one day I might not come back. Except, of course, that I'm female, Lutheran, and married--a woman of many commitments, like that marriage, and a mortgage.

I plan to write a series of posts over at my theology blog about the different ways the monks can instruct us. But they have lessons for us that aren't just spiritual. I'm always amazed at how much more I get done at the Abbey. The schedule is pretty full: 6-7 worship services (all of them at least a half hour long) with lots of walking back and forth to the chapel. Mepkin Abbey is a sprawling property, so we walk 10 to 20 miles a day. Yet I still get more reading and writing there than anywhere else.

It's not because I'm neglecting my friends. We have long conversations, the wonderful kind where we talk about our lives' trajectories and what we think about them. Even in this time of political turmoil, we didn't spend much time talking about the elections. We did talk a bit about how hard these economic times are, even though we're all lucky enough to have safe jobs.

Safe for now. We're all in higher education, which begins to feel to me a bit like the newspaper industry of the 90's. I feel like the institution is under threat, and we just don't even perceive it yet. More on that in a later post perhaps.

Mepkin Abbey is in a fairly remote location by the Cooper River in South Carolina. It's near Charleston, but I can't get a cell phone signal and there's no Internet. I get a lot done when I can't log on.

Now I'm not one of those anti-technology people. I love being able to look something up instantly. I used to keep a list of things to look up the next time I was at a library. It's wonderful to have so much information available. I love the community that I feel online. I often go to one poet's blog and find myself inspired to write poems I wouldn't have written without their blog postings. I feel more connected to old friends because of Facebook--it works better for most people than writing letters or e-mails did.

But I am not as careful as I need to be about not letting the Internet suck away all my free time. My time at the monastery reminds me of how much I can get done when the Internet is not available. Last year I assembled not one, but several manuscripts. This year, I made lots of notes on a variety of projects and wrote pages and pages in my journal.

The other thing I realize when I visit the monastery is how much time I spend staring at a screen. Monks have a variety of beautiful vistas, both natural and human-made. Monks surround themselves with art of all kinds. Perhaps I feel more inspired at Mepkin because the Abbey has been purposefully constructed to offer inspiration. I could do that on a smaller scale in my life: more walks by the ocean, for example, more seasonal displays on my mantel or tables to remind me of the passage of time, more sounds that aren't NPR, changing the art that surrounds me--these are just a few of the possibilities.

As we enter into the hectic pace that often comes between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I want to do more to hang onto my introspective, meditative state.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Off To Mepkin Abbey--Back to Blogging by November 10

It's that time of year again, time for lots of travel. This time, I go off by myself to Mepkin Abbey. Years ago, after reading Kathleen Norris, a group of friends decided to investigate Mepkin Abbey. They had such a powerful experience that they implored me to come. I did, and we've been trying to meet there every year on a regular basis.

Although it can be a grueling/boring drive, I never regret it. It's a feast for my eyes, as I get to see scenery that's so different from South Florida. I get a lot of writing and planning done. On a drive there in 2006, I had a view for how my short stories could fit together into a volume of linked short stories (a feat I'm still tackling). Last year, I put together a book length manuscript of my poems with a spiritual theme (that manuscript is currently at Steel Toe Books, since they had a call for manuscripts with a spiritual theme). Last year I also put together a manuscript that I called my working woman chapbook--I went on to rename it I Stand Here Shredding Documents, and regular readers know that it's been accepted by Finishing Line Press.

So, I'll look forward to seeing what comes out of this voyage. I should be back to regular blogging by Nov. 9 or 10.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Morning after Election Day

There have been years when I've been so interested in election results that I've stayed up late; I wanted to know the direction of the future before heading to bed. Ah, youth! Last night I went to bed because I got so tired of the constant interruptions by our local newscasters who breathlessly announced races still to close to call. Really? Nothing definitive has happened since ten minutes ago? Leave me alone and let me watch The Biggest Loser.

I know people who have managed to retain their youthful righteous indignation when it comes to politics. Not me. I survived the Reagan years, where I fully expected a nuclear war. My students look at me as if I am a clueless dope when I say such things, but I was not the only one constantly scanning the horizon for the mushroom cloud.

I've seen regimes come and go; sweeping changes one year are swept aside two years later. I've been more enthusiastic about some candidates than others, but these days, I'm hoping for the best but not taking any of it too personally. I still agree with Martin Luther King that history arcs towards justice, and I don't expect to live long enough to see the full transformation, but I see the arc, and it thrills me.

I also know that life can throw us a lot of sorrow that we're not expecting, so I'm not going to get myself worked up over sorrows (political or otherwise) that haven't come yet and may never arrive. I'm happy to have my health, a job that I like, my mental self intact--as poet Jane Kenyon says in this poem, "It might have been otherwise."

Here's my poem that tills similar soil, although it focuses more on the otherwise state than Kenyon does. This poem was recently published in The Healing Muse. It's part of my series of poems where I imagine Jesus moving through our modern lives (going to spin class, playing putt putt or softball, helping with hurricane clean up).

Transfiguration Sunday on the Cancer Ward

He waits with them because who knows
better how disconcerting
it is to discern one’s disjointed bones
dissolving into water. He remembers
how it feels to be forsaken.
He remembers feeling life flow out of him,
only a husk of his former humanity remaining.

Here, he can’t do much.
In a world of free will, cancer cells can multiply,
bright sons of the morning who would rather reign
in hell than serve in heaven.
Here on the cancer ward, he can’t do
much, but he does what he can.

He brings ice chips and water to those annoyed
by their drought desert mouths.
He offers consolation to the woman who complains
that she can see all her bones through her translucent skin.
He offers tales of transfiguration,
and holds out the hope of resurrection.
He reminisces with those who are too far
gone to remain on the earthly plane much longer.
They trade tales of what they’ll miss most:
crisp sheets on a fresh-made bed,
long lingering meals,
birdsong in the morning,
the change in light that signals a new season,
homemade bread,
the soft rains and gentle sunsets,
a perfect bottle of wine.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Our Institutions Are Made of Gingerbread

Well, I did manage to write, even with my sister and nephew here. I blogged regularly, worked on a paper proposal which I submitted to the College English Association (their annual meeting is in St. Petersburg this year--the city in Florida, not Russia), and worked on an article for The Lutheran. An editor read this post on my theology blog and wanted me to write something like it for the magazine. Hurrah! I realize that she could still reject it, but it's nice to have been asked to write on spec. When I think of how often I've sent essays to magazines . . . and now, out of the clear blue sky, I'm asked to write an article.

I've always admired Kathleen Norris, and her book, The Cloister Walk, is one of my all-time favorites. Years ago, I would read the acknowledgements of her books and try to figure out her writing trajectory. How did she become the writer and theologian who created those books?

How much time we waste trying to figure out the trajectory of others. I'll admit that it has some minimal importance. But what life has taught me is that technology will change all of our trajectories in ways we can't anticipate now. From what I can tell, Kathleen Norris was published primarily in small journals before rocketing to the best seller list. These days, those journals don't exist. I suspect blogs and other online resources have filled the void. What will be the technology of the future?

If only I knew. Here again, I should take a lesson from the past. It's fruitless for me to try to forecast the technology future. I need to focus on creating the best writing that I can, and to keep my mind open to new technology directions--I'll learn as I need to learn, and in the meantime, I can keep the focus on where it should be, the writing.

If only it was that easy.

I also need to be alert to cross fertilization. This week-end, I was writing out a variety of possibilities for a title for my academic paper. I left those word sketches on the desk, and a few hours later, my spouse said, "I like where you're going with this latest poem."

I asked for clarification, and he said, "The office building is made of gingerbread--cool idea."

My paper proposes to look at the way mid-century female poets used the fairy tale and compare with the ways that female poets currently use fairy tales. I will argue that the predominant difference is the use of the fairy tale to explore the modern office. I used a shortened version of that title. I hadn't thought of it as a poem prompt--but now I will.

If I had been a good citizen, I'd have spent time thinking about voting. Here in Florida, we have a lot of constitutional amendments, which I find dizzying. In my younger years, I'd have diligently studied them. Now I'm older, and I resent being asked to effect legislation this way. Don't we elect state senators and congresspeople to do these tasks? They're the ones with time to ponder all the implications.

Plus, I've lived in Florida long enough to see that each of these votes on constitutional amendments comes with a host of unintended consequences. We vote for smaller class sizes. A good idea, right? But we don't figure out how to pay for those smaller classes. Sigh.

But I will go and do my civic duty. I don't expect to have to wait in line. It won't be that onerous. I'll stand in line and think of the gingerbread structures and all the ways that metaphor could fit for our variety of institutions.