Friday, September 30, 2011

Life Lessons from the Leaves

When I headed towards the mountains, I knew that I wouldn't have the blazing golds and reds yet.  I knew I wouldn't experience a New England autumn landscape.  Still, I thought there would be more leaves that had turned.  I expected some gold and red, along with greens, something like this:

Instead, I saw green tree after green tree.  I got out of the car at the apple farm and immediately broke into a sweat, that's how warm it was.  I drove to Lutheridge with apples in my car, apples that I hoped weren't getting too hot until I could get them into a refrigerator.  I felt downright grumbly as I parked the car and unloaded my bags.

And then, I turned around and saw this tree--and I laughed:

What a glorious sight.  The sun was hitting the tree just perfectly, so that I did get blazing red and gold.  Sure it wasn't the whole mountainside or even the whole tree.  But it fed my autumnal yearnings in a way that a larger landscape of reds and golds would  not have. 

I spent the better part of half an hour appreciating the sight and photographing it from all sorts of angles.  I also thought about my experience as a metaphor for my life, how often I have my heart set on one sight and how grumpy I get when I don't get exactly what I'm expecting.  This tree was too big to miss, but I do wonder how many amazing things I miss, because I'm looking for or expecting something else.

I know I'm guilty of this in my creative life.  I wish that I had time to write larger works, so I overlook the perfectly amazing poems that I'm able to write in the time that I have.  I discount them because I'm wishing for something else.  I have a tendency to forget about the years I yearned to write poems half as good as the ones that sometimes come to me now. 

To combat that tendency, I try to cultivate gratitude.  I try to give myself credit for what I've already done, as I make new goals and plans.    A year ago, I felt despair and wondered if I'd ever publish anything book length or chapbook length again.  Little did I know I was about to get good news.

I offer these pictures to remind us all that we have some power too.  Even if the planet hasn't produced autumnal sights when we're ready for them, we can create our own.  And perhaps fairly cheaply.  In Columbia, South Carolina, at the Fresh Market (a store that's part Whole Foods, part Gourmet Shop, not the farmer's market), pumpkins were 3 for $12.  And that's in a year with a pumpkin shortage.

Mums are cheap.  And sturdy--a pot of mums will last you into the next season, when you're wondering where to stash the pot of mums because you're ready for poinsettias.

So, if any aspect of your life isn't giving you what you want, perhaps it's time to adjust your perception, to look more closely at your life to see if you're overlooking something for which you should be more appreciative.  Or maybe it's time to step up your actions on your behalf.  In our creative lives, that might mean sending out the manuscript into the world to more places.  It might mean self-publishing.  It might mean that we form more micropresses.  It might mean embracing technology and creating collections of poems that look nothing like they would have in 1956.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Down from the Mountain Top

I am back from my quick trip to the mountains of North Carolina.  When I was young, I was surrounded by people who thought nothing of taking a 10-12 hour car trip, just for the sake of saying you had been to some odd town or tourist attraction.  Ah, the college years, when gas was cheap (under a dollar a gallon!) and we didn't know of all the ways that a car can break your heart.

We got the retreat planned, and even if you're not a spiritual/religious person, you should think about attending.  There's lots of time to create in all sorts of mediums, and it's in the mountains, and it's cheap, as retreats go.  Head here for more details.

I love seeing different landscapes.  I love driving long distances and the meditative state that such driving induces in me:  a calm serenity of sorts, where I can hear the small still voice of my truest self.  I love seeing friends at all points along the way.  I went for four and a half days with no computer screens or television and only the occasional cell phone screen on my non-smart phone as I called my spouse to let him know that I had survived another leg of the journey.

What all did I see and experience?  Here's a taste:

--I saw the ghosts of old citrus groves.  I know where they were, and I feel their presence along Interstate 95.  Many of them were bulldozed to make way for new development which never came--or worse, for the one or two mansions that were built before the economy crashed into flaming bits.  I miss those citrus groves.

--I saw apples in their native habitats:  apples on trees!  Why did it seem so magical?  Was it because of those bulldozed citrus groves?  Or maybe I just love seeing fruit growing on trees.  That sight makes me feel hopeful, like the earth can heal itself.

--I saw cows grazing in fields of grass that came up to their heads.  I saw lots of trucks of cows--I assume they were headed to market?  Or maybe some young farmer had bought a new herd?  A herd to be shipped by random seeming trucks?

--I heard a radio program that talked about how people look at computer data to determine the presence of a planet.  The scientist said that humans are really good at pattern recognition, better than computers.  Hurrah for the human brain!

--Before I left, I read part of Tracy K. Smith's Life on Mars.  I have already fallen deeply in love with that book of poems, even though I haven't read it from cover to cover.  It swirled around my head during the whole trip.

--I finished reading a wonderful book that broke my heart in all kinds of ways:  Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones.  Even as it was breaking my heart, I could not put it down.

--I read an enchanting book:  The Great Night, by Chris Adrian.  What fun!  It did make me wish that I had read A Midsummer Night's Dream more recently than I have.  Ah well.  I quieted my English major self and kept reading.

--Notice how much more I read when I'm away from the screens.  A screen sabbatical:  I need to work more of these into my life.

--I saw a farm for sale and got out of the car to investigate.  It was on the way back to the main road from the apple orchard where I bought apples and jams and mountain honey. 

--I continue to try to convince myself that a farm for sale is not a sign about my life's direction.  I'm trying not to think about the proud tradition of poet-farmers in this country.  I'm reminding myself that a farming life would leave me too exhausted to write.  Too exhausted and broke to boot.

--Did I have autumnal weather?  No.  Even on the top of the mountain, it was still warm enough to break a sweat.

--Did I see autumnal sights?  Yes.  The trees have started to turn, at least on the mountain here and there.

--Was the trip worth the effort?  Yes.  For one thing, we got the retreat planned, which is no small thing.  And I enjoyed seeing old friends, both the human kind and the landscape kind.  And even a small time away can be restorative. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

This Blog Will be Silent for a Few Days

Within the hour, I will head north.  It's time for the retreat to plan the Creativity retreat that happens in the Spring!

Yes, I'm headed to one of my favorite places, Lutheridge.  I'll be going by myself because my spouse has to be down here for budget hearings.  I'm sort of bummed about that, but I've always liked long car trips, even when I'm the only one driving.  I've solved all sorts of creative/life/work issues while driving.  I'm interested to see what my brain delivers today!

I should be back to regular blogging by September 28 or 29.  Regular-ish.  My sister and nephew will be in town at the end of the week!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Equinox

Here we are, right about the time that the seasons shift.  Well, maybe for y'all in the upper 48 they're shifting.  Down here, we're still in Summer mode.  But that's OK.  My 5 year old nephew comes for a visit soon, and he's got his heart set on swimming in the ocean.  Down here, he still can.

What do I want to do this autumn aside from my writing goals?  Should I make a carpe diem list similar to the one I made for summer?  I'm hungry this morning, so they may all revolve around food.  Still, here goes:

--Enjoy mountain apples.

--Bake some seasonal goodies:  pumpkin bread and gingerbread come to mind.

--Decorate a pumpkin or two.

--Buy one of those glorious autumnal flower bouquets, even though they cost $12.99.  Splurge!

--Take some road trips (perhaps a cheat, because I've already planned them).  Enjoy the journey an the destination.

--Ramp up my gratitude journaling.  I actually only journal metaphorically in this category.  Still, I want to spend time focusing on what's going well instead of what's making me tired and anxious.

--Spend more time reading books.  Real books.  Paper books.  And maybe buy my first eBook, since I'm interested in writing them.  I think my first one will be the one that Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy  have been editing, Fire on Her Tongue, a collection of women poets writing right now (more info here).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Last Day of Summer: Autumn Goals

This morning, I was all dressed and ready to go out on my run.  Then a rain storm swept through, which I assumed meant we were in for a morning of rain.  So, I settled in for a morning of writing.

Of course, it hasn't been a morning of rain.  But I still got some writing done--a poem!  A total gift, inspired by this post and this post on Dave Bonta's blog.  I wrote a poem that uses imagery of falling satellites and capital punishment and ends with this stanza:

"Let my death come as the unpacking
of a box of books,
old friends on a new shelf.
Let my death be as an apple
in the autumn, far from the tree,
but with new friends nestled
between the covers of crust,
a new home in warm pastry."

Today is the last day of summer, and tomorrow we enter the last quarter of the year.  Time to make some goals.  I revisted my 2011 writing goals which I wrote about here.  Many of those goals are still good ones:  a poem a week, that kind of thing.

But let me focus a bit more:

--I want to have my Fall mailing done by December 31.  Lots of packets to lots of journals.

--I want a strategy for submitting my book length manuscript, Ash Wednesday at the Trinity Test Site.  I have let most manuscript submission fall by the wayside during the past year.  I figured that I had a book coming out, and my focus should be on getting ready for that book and promoting that book.  Now it's time to return to other manuscripts.

--I want to re-order the manuscript that I've thought of as my spirituality poem manuscript.  I've written new poems that would fit, and I've gotten a glimpse of an interesting new possibility for other poems to include, which I wrote about here.  I'll focus on that possibility/task during my writer's retreat in November.

--I need to continue to promote my chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents.  I need to arrange a few more readings and think about if there's anything else I should do.

--I've just begun to think about eBooks.  I'm ablaze with ideas, and it's time to think about whether or not they could work.

--It's also time to think about the fact that eBooks can do more than paper books.  We could have hyperlinks, photos, even video.  Hmmm.

--I'd like to take photographs that could work, should I put together an eBook of my manuscript Simple Things to Make Your Body Feel Good.

That list is more than enough for a three months.  Let's see what happens!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Muse Kisses the Morning, and the Day Blooms

The closing on the condo that we've been trying to sell for over half a decade now didn't happen yesterday, but I'm trying to live in hope that it's a simple logistical delay, not collapse. 

So, to make myself feel better, and to record my inspirations for later, and to do some Wednesday Gratitude/Attitude adjustment, let me talk about some things that went right yesterday:

--Early morning, driving back from my run at the beach, I misread a hotel sign.  It said (I think) Ocean Mist, but I thought I saw Ocean Muse.  All the rest of my drive I kept repeating it.  I think it would make a perfect name for a seaside retreat or a writing program of some sort.

--As I was waiting for the closing that was not to be yesterday, I was recording some ideas I've had for eBooks.  I have lots of ideas, and even some partially finished manuscripts.  I pulled out one of those manuscripts yesterday, thinking it was 30 or so pages long.  Nope--I had written 136 pages back in the early days of this century.

--Why did I write this book?  Years before I started writing, my housemate had complained about fitness/wellness/nutrition books.   He said, "I just want some simple, easy suggestions for what I can do to make my body feel better."  I made a list.  I started writing little essays about each suggestion.  I am grateful for good ideas that I can write about. 

--I still have the manuscript, and in a file that my current computer can read!  These days, that fact seems like a miracle.

--I also still have the handwritten list of all the essays I meant to write, and soon, I'll see if I actually wrote them all.

--Even though we didn't close on the condo, we still went out for dinner with my husband's dad and step-mom.  We had a fabulous meal at a beachside restaurant.  The weather was heavenly, the view couldn't be better, the company delightful, and with time on the meter for a little stroll afterward.  I'm lucky to have married into a family who loves me, and whom I love.  I'm lucky to live in such a beautiful place.  I'm lucky to have this problem of wanting to sell a property. 

--And I'm lucky even if the news is bad, if the sale doesn't happen for some reason, we can go on, as we have been going on for years.  We have work, we can pay our bills, we have our health, and we still have all our wits about us.

--Tomorrow is the last day of summer.  Time to think about Autumn goals--but time for that tomorrow.  Today, I'll enjoy some watermelon and turn my face to the sun--but not for too long.  We're still in intense UV time down here.  No sense getting a severe sunburn!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

MacArthur Dreaming

Ah, to be a MacArthur Fellow when the winds turn autumnal!

Yes, when I'm not dreaming of being a Supreme Court Justice or starring in the Broadway revival of Godspell (the only musical I'm sure I can sing), I dream of being a MacArthur Fellow.  Sure, I'd rather be a Nobel Laureate, but I assume that the competition for that prize is much stiffer--and writers who are U.S. citizens so rarely win.  So, yes, I'd be happy to win a MacArthur Fellowship.  I wouldn't even remind people more than once a day that it's also called a genius grant.

Today I was reading the list here, and thinking, wow, there's a lot of scientists on this list. Frankly, I'm not sure what some of these scientists are studying:  condensed matter physics and organometallic chemistry?  I'm reading and reading and thinking, c'mon, no writers of any kind?

Finally, I got to Kay Ryan's name.  And then, just before the end of the list, there it was:  A. E. Stallings.  What a thrill!

I've always loved these awards because of how wide-ranging they are (to see yearly lists, head here).  One year, an instrument maker is one of the Fellows.  One year, a deep sea explorer.  Every year, at least one writer or drama person is on the list, but often only one.

I find myself profoundly happy that Stallings won.  If my copy of her Archaic Smile was here, instead of at the office, I'd reread it this morning.  It's one of the more perfect volumes of poetry I've ever read.  There's a unity to it that many poets will never achieve.  Her skill with form, with rhythm, with meter--it takes my breath away.  Her deep understanding of mythology leaves me in awe.

I find myself thinking about one of my other favorite formalist poets, Catherine Tufariello, who loaned me her copy of Archaic Smile--after reading it, I immediately ordered it.  I was juggling a variety of adjunct jobs, but I loved it so much I bought it, even though it was only available in hardback.

I first knew Catherine when she came to work at a South Carolina community college where I worked.  Years later, when I was an adjunct at the University of Miami, I was told that my office mate would be Catherine Tufariello.  I thought, how many Catherine Tufariellos can there be in the world?  I left her a note on the desk we would share, but rarely at the same time, since that was how adjunct office assignments were made.  Yep, it was her!

We met weekly for lunch, and I'll remember it as one of those magical times, where we explored Miami and explored poetry and talked about our hopes.  Maybe it was magical because she knew fairly early on that she was only here for the school year--we knew we had to make the most of our time together.

At the time, Catherine worked almost exclusively in the formalist realm, and she inspired me to try my hand at formalist poems.  I'll never be as accomplished as Catherine or A. E. Stallings, but attempting those forms and meters has given me a new appreciation for poets who can make it look so effortless.

In honor the MacArthur Fellowship, I've ordered some books that I've had in the Amazon shopping cart for some time, as well as Stallings' second book, Hapax, which I don't have.  I ordered Tracy K. Smith's Life on Mars and Jessica Goodfellow's The Insomniac's Weather Report.  I know that Life on Mars has some science themes, and I'm expecting that Goodfellow's will too, based on her chapbook, A Pilgrim's Guide to Chaos in the Heartland (an amazing book--and that title!--don't you just weep for joy and envy?).  I also ordered Christine Valters Paintner's The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom.  I need some inspiration in that direction!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Busy, Busy, Busy Emoticon

I'm not sure what this week will look like.  Lots going on this week, in addition to it being the last week of the quarter:

--hopefully, tomorrow we will be closing on a condo that we've been trying to sell since 2005.  My mother-in-law lived in it until she died right as the housing market started its long downward spiral.  It's been an interesting journey, which perhaps I'll blog about some day, but not today.

--my father-in-law and stepmom-in-law are in town visiting and we're having a good time with them.

--I'm off to a retreat to plan the Create in Me retreat at the end of the week.

--I must do follow up eye doctor tasks--pick up a pair of contacts that will let my corneas get more oxygen and see if I can make the switch.

For your reading pleasure, I direct you to some of these postings by others:

--Garrison Keillor gives an interesting history of the emoticon here (after the poem for the day).  Ever wonder who was the first to notice that a colon and a right parenthesis looks like a smile?  Here's your answer.

--a new way to look at plagiarism here.  It's not plagiarism, it's repurposing!  Feeling blocked?  Learn how to be uncreative.

--If, however, you feel like repurposing your own work, here are some interesting thoughts about how the skills you've learned in blogging apply to eBooks.  And perhaps you can repurpose some of those old blog posts!  Will people pay for what you've already posted for free?  This author says yes and gives you tips for how to do it here.

--More of these types of links from Robert Lee Brewer's blog here and here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Inhabiting Our Characters: the Interview, the Dramatic Monologue, the Poem, the Poetry Reading

Today is the birthday of Anna Deveare Smith.  I'm thinking of her and of Studs Turkel and other people who have mastered the art of the interview.  It's made me think of all the things one can do with an interview.

I have a B.A. in Sociology, to go along with my B.A. in English.  I decided to go to graduate school to study English because I didn't like the direction Sociology was headed as a discipline in America.

Actually, it was one of my favorite professors who was quite blunt with me, and for which I will always be grateful.  He reminded me that I had almost failed Statistics, and that the future of the discipline was becoming much more Statistics focused.

In the spirit of full confession/disclosure, let me reveal that I FAILED Statistics.  We all did, every member of that class.  However, if you look at my transcripts, you'll see the grade of C.  How did I pull this off?  My Stats professor graded on a true curve, and half the class did better than I did, and half worse.  Thus, my C.

I would have wanted to be my generation's Studs Turkel, but instead I studied English.  It wasn't until the work of Anna Deveare Smith that I thought about all the ways one can use the interview.

I've always loved books that are simple transcripts of interviews or recrafted interviews.  I'm happy to buy books like that or to read/create those kind of blog posts.  But there's so much more that we could do with an interview.

Anna Deveare Smith shows us several of those possibilities.  Before she starts writing, she interviews a wide variety of people; she is perhaps most famous for doing this in Twilight:  Los Angeles, 1992, an amazing play which looked at the 1992 riots from a variety of directions and voices:  a police officer, Cornel West, an Asian owner of a liquor store, a Black Panther activist, Rodney King's aunt . . . I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  What she accomplishes still amazes me.

The plays that she writes would be important in their own right, but then, she also acts in them.  To say that she acts is not exactly the right verb.  She inhabits those characters.  I haven't had the good fortune of seeing her live, but I'm told that she transforms herself.

Long, long ago (1986? 87?), Whoopi Goldberg did something similar with her one woman show, which was billed as comedy, but was so much more.  Similarly, her work combined sociological insight and solid acting and amazing writing.

I love the art of the dramatic monologue, which can do so much and offers so many possibilities.  The work of Anna Deveare Smith works as monologue, but if you look at it on the page, it also resembles poetry.  Thinking along these lines makes my attention turn to poetry readings.  Could we learn something from writer/actors like Anna Deveare Smith?  Could we so fully inhabit our poems that we transform ourselves?

If we did that, would it be a poetry reading or something else that we haven't created a name for yet?  Could we inhabit our characters and then move back to our poems that aren't persona poems in any way?  Hmm.

Anna Deveare Smith shows us all what can be done with our creative work, a valuable lesson in today's multi-platform climate.  We can take that blog post and turn it into a poem.  If our poems have strong narrative voices, we could create a show along the lines of Anna Deveare Smith and early Whoopi Goldberg.  If we find ourselves channeling the same character when we're writing, perhaps we should devote a whole reading to that character--it's time to rediscover the joys of the art of oral interpretation, for those of us who were high school drama geeks.

And for those of us who weren't high school drama geeks, we can learn a lot about the skills of oral interpretation from these playwrights, like Anna Deveare Smith and Eve Ensler, who bring a documentary skill to their art, but who also bring a wide variety of characters to life.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hildegard of Bingen, Administrator Extraordinaire

Today is the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen; go to this post on my theology blog for my thoughts on her and spirituality.  Actually, the post is less about her spirituality and more about what she was able to accomplish, despite being a medieval woman.

Thinking about her made me think about Julian of Norwich.  I'd never heard of her until I taught the first half of a British Literature survey class and wanted to include more women writers.  Frankly, there weren't many to choose from.  I'm grateful, in a way, because my inclusion of Julian of Norwich meant I had to learn a lot about medieval women and the monastic tradition.

Until I did that research, I would have told you that medieval cloisters oppressed women.  But really, they offered the only protection available to women who lived in/outside the margins of society (artistic, widowed, not wanting to be married, weird in any way).

I've been feeling irritable lately, and I know why.  I haven't been spending as much time on my writing as I wish I could.  I look back wistfully to those times when I had huge swaths of time all to myself.  I try to remind myself that I had all that time because my husband was working long, awful hours or because I didn't have many friends or my best friend had just moved or because I was underemployed.  Still . . .

I love the lives of these medieval mystics because they remind me of what can be accomplished, even in a life of containment and boundaries.  Let's take Hildegard as an example.  She was an Abbess, and because being in charge of one cloistered community isn't enough, she founded another.  She wrote music, and more of her music survives than any other medieval composer.  She was an early naturalist, writing down her observations about the natural world and her theories about how the natural world heals us.  She wrote to kings, emperors and popes to encourage them to pursue peace and justice.  She wrote poems and a morality play and along the way, a multitude of theological meditations.

She did all of these things, in addition to keeping her community running smoothly.  Yes, I'm thinking about Hildegard as an administrator, a woman who could be efficient and artistic at the same time.

During these times when I feel like I'm accomplishing NOTHING as an artist, it's easy to convince myself that I've peaked, as much as I was going to peak.  It's easy to sink into a spiral of self-pity and despair:  "I should have worked harder on this project, I should have followed through on this contact, I should have taken this job, I should have moved to that place."  On and on I can go in this way.

In these times, I try to stop the downward spiral by reminding myself of all I've done, despite my job which takes 40 to 50 hours a week.  A year ago, I was just about to get the news that Finishing Line Press would publish I Stand Here Shredding Documents. Of course, I didn't know that at the time.  A year ago, I was feeling despair, wondering if I'd ever have anything chapbook size or larger published again.  And then, the good news came.

Of course, it's good to assess periodically, to make sure I'm on the trajectory that has the most chance of taking me where I want to go.  For a long time, I kept this George Eliot quote taped everywhere:  "It is never too late to be what you might have been."  Now I smile, thinking that I was all of thirty-two years old when I wrote that quote everywhere.  I had just barely arrived at the situation that seemed inadequate.

So today, I'll remember Hildegard of Bingen and her example of what a woman can accomplish despite the obstacles that her society puts in her way.  I'll think about the ways that the Church fostered her creativity.  I assume that she wrote much of what she did because her religious community had need of it:  morality plays, liturgical music, letters that kept her community afloat.  I have hope that in later years, I'll look back and see the ways that my work fed me, both literally (with a paycheck) and figuratively (by time off to go to workshops and conferences, by colleagues who nourish me, by giving me the subject of many a poem).

Maybe I'll add some plants to the herb garden today in honor of Hildegard.  Maybe I'll listen to some medieval choral music or chant.  Maybe I'll write a letter to someone in power to remind them of the imperative to work for peace in our time.

Or maybe I'll write a poem (or finish the one I started a few hours ago).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Publishing Your Work as Both Book and Article (and Movie? and Sound File?)

Yesterday, my friend and I were talking about publishing possibilities.  She's got an idea that would make a good book:  a non-fiction, advice kind of book, a what employers wish students would know kind of book.  She was thinking about self-publishing vs. traditional routes.

I asked her about her intended audience, and she talked about our students.  Well, we know our students don't read, even if passing a class is at stake.  Why would they shell out money for a book that's not required reading?

Her idea is the kind of idea that could have many different lives.  She could do a stripped down version of her idea (which she defined as 40-60 pages).  I pointed out that she could do an even shorter version, something article length, a list of suggestions with a few sentences or paragraphs about each.  Our students might read an article which is essentially a list of things.

I suggested that she do all of the above, at different price points.  She could write the article and sell it electronically for 99 cents, one of the magical price points (over $2.99 seems to be the point at which people hesitate before clicking or decide not to click).  If people read the article and want more, they could buy the chapbook size book or the longer one.  They could buy a paper version or an e-book.

In early October, when both our lives calm down a bit, we intend to investigate this idea further.  I'd like to learn more about these different formats.  I have been thinking about assembling a book of ideas that teachers could use in both creative writing classes and composition classes.  I like the idea of selling individual chapters for relatively cheap, as an enticement, a try before you buy kind of thing.

For awhile, I've been thinking of using different platforms all at once:  electronic books, paper books, and for poems, perhaps sound files.  I've only just begun to think about different lengths and what things might be possible.  And for non-fiction, should we also be thinking about other genres, like video?  Hmm.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Retreats and Liturgy/Prayer/Recipe Possibilities

Gravity is working overtime in our house this morning.  So far, I've spilled my berry yogurt shake--an impressive mess!  Before that, my coffee bubbled over in the microwave.  I will sit here and write and try not to spill anything.

I've been thinking about the women poets writing retreat, Poets on the Coast, since poets Kelli Russell Agodon and Susan Rich first announced it here.  I've been reading the accounts of the week-end here and here.  It sounds like a wonderful time.  I'm glad that they had such a good time that they're doing it again next year.

Could I go?  The logistics felt overwhelming to me this year; after all, it's on the other side of the continent, and would involve a plane trip and a car trip across unfamiliar terrain, which would also mean a car rental.

I'm hoping that they'll write more about planning the retreat.  How did they brainstorm which sessions and workshops they'd offer?  How did they balance group work with working with individual poets?  How did they decide what was worth including and what wasn't?  And how did they decide on the price?

Yesterday over lunch, I was feeling inspired by their success and wondering if one (or Kelli and Susan!) could do a similar gathering on this part of the continent.  My friend and I chatted.  Would our beaches be as picturesque?  Yes, in a very different way.  Could we find a hotel like the one they found?  Could it be affordable?

Would people want to come more than once?  How exhausting would it be to offer such a retreat?  Could we do it more than once?

And if we wanted to have poets come in to offer special workshops, what would that cost?

Could we do it during one of the week-ends that the Miami Book Fair is going on?  Could we work with them somehow?  Hmmm.  That's a thought for a future year, obviously, since the event is a mere 2 months away.

My mom and I did a creativity retreat for her women's group at church, and it was one of the more fulfilling things I've ever done.  We had the church all to ourselves on that Saturday, and several of the women were expert at arranging for food, so we didn't have to cook.  In the morning, I led Bible study, and then we had creativity stations set up:  knotting quilts for Lutheran World Relief, creating Easter cards for the troops, flower arranging, keeping a spiritual journal, and maybe one or two others.  These were led by me, my mom, and a few women who were part of the group.  Then we had lunch, and we repeated the morning, with new Bible study and a chance to do drop in stations again.

My mom and I have talked about taking that show on the road, but I'm not sure how well it would work with church groups we didn't already know.  One of the reasons it worked so well with my mom's group is that we could tap the talents of the women there.

I love Kelli and Susan's idea because they stayed at a hotel.  Longtime readers of this blog know that I've dreamed of buying land and creating a retreat center, but among the many drawbacks to that plan is that there'd be lots of cleaning:  cleaning to get ready for retreatents, cleaning after they left, providing meals. 

But holding a retreat at a hotel takes care of some of that.  Brilliant.

While I'm thinking of possible futures, let me record something else that occured to me this morning.  A week ago, I wrote this post which talked about spiritual tracks in an MFA program or creativity tracks in a seminary.  I responded to a comment of Wendy's about writing liturgy, which made me think about Marge Piercy's book, Pesach for the Rest of Us:  Making the Passover Seder Your Own.

I think there's a market for books that combine liturgy, prayers, and recipes, regardless of the religious tradition.  I tend to think that because I can write liturgy and prayers and create recipes that anyone can do it, but it's just not true.

Would people buy a paper book? 

My hope for all of my writing is that my work will be published in multiple formats.  I know that some people would want an e-reader version that they could take with them to the kitchen and to church.  I know that some people would never read my work if it didn't come out in traditional book form.  We don't have to choose.

I'd also love to start creating books, both traditional and e-books, that talk about retreats and retreat exercises and that help people who can't afford to go/host/create a retreat or people who might need to do it on a smaller scale.

Could I write a book that would appeal to teachers, camp leaders, and writing workshop people alike?  Or am I thinking of multiple texts?

I'll have to continue thinking on another day.  Now it's time to carefully put on my clothes and jewelry and carefully drive my car to school, with hopes that my klutzy spell is behind me.     

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hermione, All Grown Up

Until a few weeks ago, I could have made this claim:  "I am the last woman in the English speaking world to have not read any of the Harry Potter books."

I meant to read them.  I mean to read a lot of things.  I saw a few of the movies, and until the 5th one, I enjoyed them all.  I thought I'd like the books too.

I remember the summer of 2001, the last summer when children's books and grown up books shared The New York Times Bestseller list.  I was teaching the first half of the British Literature survey course, the one that starts with Beowulf and ends somewhere in the 18th century, if the class stays on track.  That summer, the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf and one of the Harry Potter books were both on the list.  I called my class' attention to this fact, and we had a great discussion about it.  The works have a lot in common, after all.

I've been thinking about Grendel's mom, about writing a poem about a modern-day diagnosis of Grendel.  Maybe he'd have Oppositional Defiance Disorder.  Maybe he'd have Autism.

But back to Harry Potter.  My book club chose it because one of our members was tired of not getting her students' references to the work.  I had wanted to read the book.  So we chose the first volume, which I still had on my shelf, surprisingly enough, yellowing away, waiting for me.

I read it on a rainy Saturday, and for the first half of the book, I was surprised with how delighted I was.  I loved Rowling's depiction of Harry's family.  I loved her use of names.

The second half of the book didn't feel as luxuriously paced to me.  It seemed like Rowling was in a hurry to wrap it all up.  And oddly, though I had seen the movie, the ending of the book still surprised me.

I suppose I'm not surprised by my surprise.  It's been a long time since I saw the movie, after all.  How many years?  Ten?

Will I read the rest of the series?  Maybe.  I find the sheer size of the series daunting.  Life grows ever shorter and my list of what I want to read ever longer.  Ah, the eternal sadness.

Will I reread the book?  Doubtful.  It was a nice treat for a rainy Saturday, and it reminded me of the kind of book I loved as a kid, so it had an odd nostalgic value, even though it wasn't a book from my childhood.  I envy my friends who have read the series several times now, who still wax rhapsodic over the books.  I just don't feel that way.

But I'm happy the books exist.  I'm happy that children and adults love them so much.  I'm grateful because I suspect Rowling has single-handedly staved off the collapse of publishing for awhile longer yet.

One of the best compliments I ever got:  back in 2002, one of my friends said that she and her daughter (who was about 8 at the time) had decided that I'm Hermione all grown up.  Some people wouldn't see that as a compliment, but I was touched, both because I love Hermione (even without having read the series!), but because it made me feel like my friend and her daughter really know me.

Yup, I'm Hermione, and my opinion didn't change after reading the book.  I recognize her good girl tendency, her worry about getting in trouble, her wanting to do the right thing, her overanalysis, her overachieving even when overachieving isn't necessary and for what end?

Could I write a poem about Hermione all grown up even if I haven't read the whole series or seen all the movies?  Hmmm.  What kind of children would Hermione have?  How would they rebel?  How would she handle it?

Yes, I might have fun with this!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Scientist's Daughter Considers Sunrise--Tuesday Tidbits

--People ask me why I get up so early.  This morning, as I was running before sunrise, with the cold, crystal, coin of a full moon to my west and the smooth comforter of the Atlantic to my east, I thought, this is why.

--We've had a calmer hurricane season down here than people in landlocked states, like Vermont.  Our overnight lows have been slightly cooler, still in the high 70's.  Usually by July, our lows never go below 85.

--Interesting to watch how the light changes what I'm perceiving.  When I started my run, in the dark, I thought that the only whitecaps around were the clouds.  Once the sky began to lighten, the clouds got darker.

--The sea and the sky are both gray this morning.  But it's a pearly, luminous gray, not that sullen gray that speaks of storms.

--I hadn't really thought of myself as a scientist's daughter until this post of Jeannine's.  I wrote a comment about being the daughter of a computer scientist.  And now I can't stop thinking of scientists' daughters who become poets.  I want to write an academic paper that looks at the poems with spiritual themes written by the daughters of scientists.  If you have any insights, I'd love to hear them, or even correspond about them--perhaps even cowrite the academic essay?

--I keep thinking about this post of mine, where I consider jobs that might honor the intersections of spirituality and creativity.  I want to put myself in a better position for such a job, should it ever exist--thus, the thinking about an academic essay, or at least something to present at this year's College English Association meeting in Richmond, Virginia.  You could present something too--the deadline for submissions isn't for a few more months yet.

--I haven't forgotten about my panel presentation for AWP, even though I missed this year's deadline.  I'd love to put together a panel discussion of female poets who use fairy tales in their work--or who create their own fairy tales.

--Is creating one's own fairy tale a form of spirituality?  Perhaps that should be the focus of my academic essay.  Perhaps I should write 2.

--I never wanted to have a publish-or-perish kind of job, but I'm finding myself wondering what it would be like to have that job.  I yearn for an academic library; interlibrary loan just isn't the same, and even with everything available on the Internet, I still need a good library.  I find myself longing for the time to write, to research, to ponder. 

--On Saturday, we watched the adolescent daughter of one of our friends arrive from a journalism conference to go rushing off to work on her Senior year project for high school after talking knowledgeably about Constitutional law and her Chemistry friends who just don't get her passion for the Constitution.  Except for the daughter and the visiting grandmother of the granddaughter, we are a group of women at midlife, even if we (I) have trouble admitting that we're at midlife, or perhaps slightly beyond. 

--We talked about doors that have closed forever.  One of the Saturday group could have once been a career ballet dancer--that door really has closed.  We will none of us be permitted to join the military--if we are allowed to join, we know the situation is dire!

--Is it too late for this publish-or-perish job that I'm not even sure I want?  Or is there another way to get access to a good library and time/encouragement to write/create?

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12

I found yesterday to be harder than I thought it would be, and I anticipated that it would be hard.  In the end, I was glad that the anniversary fell on a Sunday; go here for more thoughts in that direction.

I resolved not to turn on the TV, and I didn't. But NPR did Sept. 11 programming ALL DAY. Impossible to escape. At first, I wanted to listen. So, I listened a bit as I got ready for church. Our church service, too, focused on Sept. 11. Just exhausting, in a way.

When we got home, we live-streamed Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion show, fixed lunch, ate lunch, and took a nap.

I tried to use the day to be grateful that I'm alive and in good health and that most everyone I love is alive and in good health. But that induces a bit of survivor's guilt. Why am I so lucky? And a bit of fear, because eventually, I won't be lucky in that way.

By late afternoon, I felt a bit better, and listened to the NPR programming as I prepared packets to send to journals and magazines.  It seemed life affirming, in a small way, to continue with my normal activities, to send poems out into the world.

I'm glad the day is over, although I'm not looking forward to some of today's tasks at work.  I'll try to focus on being glad that I'm alive and employed, even if it means I must go to strategic planning meetings about unpleasant situations and redo schedules and plans that have already been done.  There are worse fates.  Much worse.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Osama's Sunflowers

I have been dreading this day for almost 10 years, since I've known that it would be impossible to escape the continuous coverage of the events of September 11, 2001.

I think I'm glad that this anniversary falls on a Sunday.  If you want to know what I'm hoping to hear in our places of worship today, go to this post of mine on my theology blog.  The lectionary readings for today, readings that were chosen long ago before world events intruded on our ordinary lives, circle around forgiveness.  For a meditation on forgiveness and today's lectionary readings, see my post here.

For a great post that combines theology, Shakespeare, and thoughts on creativity, I like this post by Marly Youmans.

If  you want a post that lets you look further back, on the events of September 11, 1973, when the U.S. orchestrated a coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Chile and catapulted Pinochet to power, here's a great post, with great links, by Lyle Daggett.

I've been thinking about Pinochet's reign of terror, about the events of 2011, about our loved ones who vanish and we're not sure what happened to them.  I've been thinking about ash of all sorts.  I've been thinking of all those documents incinerated on September 11, 2001.  I suspect I've been thinking about those documents so that I can repress the memories of bodies.  I keep thinking of the Pentagon, of taking a tour of the Pentagon when I was in grade school, of being told how indestructible that building was constructed to be--but it wasn't.

Today, I listened to this interview with Lawrence Wright, who wrote The Looming Tower.  I wanted a story more along the lines of this one  that explored the events of the summer of 2001.  I wanted a longer, even deeper discussion.  I'm haunted by all the things we missed, all the pieces we didn't put together.  I'm haunted by the folks who say they tried to get a meeting with the President and key staff to go over all of this, but the scheduled meetings were cancelled again and again and again.

It makes me think about my life and all its facets.  What am I missing?  What should I focus upon?

Lawrence Wright told us this nugget about Osama bin Laden, who flirted with both terrorism and agriculture, before committing to terrorism.  He loved his sunflowers.  I will be turning that idea around in my head all day:  the terrorist who fell in love with the sunflowers that he grew.

I understand how people become disaffected enough to leave their sunflowers behind and turn to dreams of destruction.  I'm grateful for my religious heritage that reminds me of the seductive qualities of evil, that warns me not to succumb to that glittery facade.

Will all these swirls find their way into a poem?  I'm not sure, but I'm willing to be those sunflowers will resurface in a poem somewhere.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Manuscript Revelation

I've been thinking of myself as having three, distinct, book length manuscripts organized along the following themes:

--nuclear imagery and all the ways our technology fails us

--poems that cover spiritual ground
  • poems that use Biblical imagery or characters
  • poems that use monasticism
  • poems that imagine God and/or Jesus as a physical person in our current world
--poems that talk about work life, particularly work life as women experience it, particularly the ways that modern work life is so ridiculous.  I also have a subset of modern-life-as-ridiculous poems that don't revolve around work, but around family or other societal institutions.

Today I was putting together poetry packets for submissions to literary journals, and I thought, hmm, what if I combined them in new ways?

I've already done a bit of this in the third section of nuclear manuscript.  The first two sections talk about the way technology has failed us, and the third section offers a look at the things which can still console us.

I've also realized that a lot of the poems that deal with monasticism make an interesting juxtaposition to the work life/modern life poems.

This November, when I'm at my annual writer's retreat at Mepkin Abbey, I had planned to completely rework the manuscript of spirituality themed poems.  Now I've got a way in to that revision.  And hopefully, by writing it here, I'll have this idea captured in a place where I can access it.  I can't tell you how many times I've written ideas down on sticky notes or scraps of paper, a system with obvious limitations.  I've started many a manuscript notebook, thinking I'd have one place where these ideas are stored.  I've often forgotten that I had already started a notebook and a year or two later, started yet another one.

I love blogging, because my blog offers me a place to capture writing prompts and possible poetry ideas, a place to write down revision ideas, a place to document what I've done and what I hope to do.  And it's much more searchable than other systems.  I also hope that over the course of the years, it will be useful to other writers, the way that the blogs of others have been useful to me. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Carpe the Last Days of Summer!

So, I know that the kids are in school, as well as many of us who teach and work other jobs in school.  Maybe you live far enough north that your summer is over.  But most of us could still sieze the last days of summer.

Back in June, I came up with a list of what I wanted to do this summer:

"So, what would be on my list this summer? Let's see . . .

--go to the beach more often (why live here, after all, with all the extra expense, if I'm not going to the beach?).
--go kayaaking in our local park
--swim in my friends' pools
--make homemade ice cream
--grill corn on the cob
--enjoy watermelon
--go to one of the tourist attractions in the area where I haven't gone before, like Vizcaya
--SCUBA or snorkel more
--go to yoga class more regularly
--finish creating the fountain that we started building last year"

I did go to the beach more often, to run and watch the sunrise, not to sunbathe or frolic in the surf.  I went diving once.  I finished the fountain.  I swam and enjoyed all those foods.  I didn't kayaak or go to a local attraction outside of the beach.  Not bad.

There's still time this week-end for one last cookout, even if autumnal weather has come to your climate.  Many of us could go for one last swim.  We could enjoy one last fluffy movie or a beach read book.  We could go to a museum, if we live in places where we'd still like some air conditioning. 

I mention these things because this week-end is the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.  You might be like me and might be dreading all the coverage.  You may not want to feel that sadness and horror all over again.

I plan to use those emotions to remind myself that life is short, and that we should try to squeeze every bit of joy out of every day.  Each season goes by fleetingly fast.  Enjoying the pleasures of each season, and trying to enjoy something each day, can help.

If you need something for your poet's soul to counteract all the coverage you might face this week-end, here's a great interview with the poet Tracy K. Smith.  I will be buying her book momentarily.  How have I not heard of her before?

Now to get ready for my work day, a day of dreaded meetings.  I'll pack some watermelon to enjoy between the meetings.  And at least at the end of the day, my book club meets.  I'll hang on to that promise of happiness to come at the end of a work day.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Intersections: Natural Worlds, Spiritual Worlds, and Writing

Today is the birthday of Terry Tempest Williams, a woman who has served as a signpost of sorts for me as a writer.  I first became aware of her in the early 90's, but I'm not sure how.  Was she anthologized in one of the many textbooks I used?  Possibly.  I read a lot more magazines then, so maybe it was that route.

When I thought of her then, I thought of her as a feminist writer, which she certainly is, but in a different way than earlier generations of feminist writers.  She seemed either less angry or angry about different things.

I thought of her as a writer chronicling the natural world in a way that hadn't been done much before.  I thought of her in the tradition of Rachel Carson.  Her work made me want to move to the desert Southwest.  Her work shed a different light on the nuclear era, and I suspect that should I ever become a famous writer, some intrepid grad student might see some links between my work and hers.

Today, because of the miracle of the Internet, I was able to reread "The Clan of One-Breasted Women," an essay which neatly demonstrates her writing as feminist and naturalist (you can read it here).  Reading it this morning, I was struck by the spiritual dimension of her writing.  She was the first writer I ever read who discussed her life as a regular Mormon.  I say regular, meaning that all other writing I had read treated Mormons as cult members or as polygamous freaks.

I have spiritual writing on the brain this morning.  Lately, I've been trying to think of alternate jobs.  What else could I do, should my current situation go poof?

Yesterday, over lunch with a friend, I blurted out what I'd really like.  I said, "I want someone to look at my blogs and look at the fact that I've coordinated retreats and someone who reads my poems and the writing I've done for spiritual books and magazines and says, 'Come teach in our MFA program.  We'll create something just for you.'"

My friend said something along the lines of "Yeah, right, keep dreaming."  She said it in that scoffing tone of voice that said, "You'll never get what you want."

You may wonder why I keep a friend like that, someone who would breathe negative energy all over my dream.

Here's why:  my brain has much in common with a punk rocker 18 year old.  My brain says, "Hey, you think I can't do this?  I'll show you.  I'll learn 3 chords by Christmas and then by next Christmas, I'll know three more, and I'll have written 5 songs, and then I'll write 5 more, and I'll put out a CD, and people will wait in long lines to hear my band."

You can tell my brain is of a certain age because it would put out a CD, not a YouTube video.

I woke up this morning thinking, tell me more about that dream, Kris.  What would it look like?

Perhaps I'd teach in an MFA program, teaching Spirituality and Writing.  Why shouldn't MFA students study the intersections of spirituality and writing?  That part of the publishing world is still doing very well, after all.

For those of you who scoff, I'd point back at the early career of Terry Tempest Williams.  Who would have imagined the explosion of writing programs, and other disciplines too, that explored the intersections of the natural world and writing.  Who would have imagined the expansion of so many MFA programs, for that matter?  Why not MFA tracks that explore spirituality and writing?

Those tracks could explore traditional genres (poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, scripts), but could also explore other areas, like writing prayers or writing liturgy.  If we were allowed to do some cross-disciplinary work, it would be cool to explore traditional hymns and modern songwriting.

You may be saying, "Whoa, sounds like you'd really rather be at a seminary or theology school."  Well, yes, that appeals too.  Why not a track in seminary that trains pastors-to-be to use more of the creative arts in their ministry?  I've sat through many a boring sermon through my several decades of going to church.  Clearly, some seminarians could benefit from learning some of the basics that most MFA students learn about how to hook audience attention and keep it.

I'd love a staff position at a church camp, particularly if it came with a place to live in a beautiful setting.

Yesterday, late in the day, I talked to two of my colleagues who are also licensed to do psychological counseling.  Not for the first time did I think I had majored in the wrong field, as I listened to them talk about how they had helped some of their patients.  Could I do art therapy of some sort?  Would I want to?

That gets a little too close to some of the fields that feel dangerous to my soul:  police work, intelligence work, all the fields which would expose me to the uglier side of human nature.

I've thought of pastoral counseling, though, or being a spiritual director.  Hmm.  Could I meld my creative interests with my interests in that direction?

And the underlying question:  how much more schooling would any of these paths require?

It feels good, though, to have some ideas about alternate paths.  Now I've got some possibilities to ponder.  What kind of classes would I create for this MFA program, which may or may not exist yet?  How would I teach students to be marketable?  How might I train pastors who would want an arts program at their churches?  How would I create retreats that would bring people to a church camp?

I have lots of ideas!  Now I'll work on capturing them and molding them into some sort of cohesive unit.

Just think, if my friend hadn't been so negative, my brief yearning might have flitted right in and out of my head without ever finding flesh and form.  And I'm grateful to writers like Terry Tempest Williams, who have allowed their writing to go in a multitude of directions, thus showing the rest of us what we might be able to accomplish.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Return to Fiber?

I'm not doing much with fiber arts these days.  Once upon a time, I was a quilter.  I made quilts that looked like this:

Here's a detail to show you the quilting:

Not only that, but I did interesting experiments with fabric scraps, threads, and beads.  I created pieces that looked like this:

Or this:

I was also making lots of baby quilts.  My friend and I wanted to go to arts and crafts shows and sell our work, just to see what would happen.  We planned a schedule for late fall.

This all led me to a different phase in my artistic life, and for some reason, I've been thinking about it lately.

Five years ago, I was working on these:

I started making these because I had some green fleece, which reminded me of making Christmas trees out of felt when I was a child.  I made a more modern version, with fleece and beads that I sewed on with metallic thread.

I kept making these because I thought it would be good to have small things to sell at our Autumn craft shows.  I also kept making them because it gave me an excuse to play with beads and to have fun with glittery objects. 

People reacted with curiosity, but also as if I was a bit daft.  I told people that I was getting in touch with my inner kindergartner.

I miss my inner kindergartner.

In the end, I made dozens of these and sold precisely three.  I gave away some for Christmas presents.  Then the dozens sat through the winter, spring and summer. 

In the end, I mailed them all to my mom, for her women's circle's craft sale at their church in Virginia.  She tells me that they all sold and were very popular.  Maybe that thousand miles further north made the difference.  Maybe people are just more willing to spend money to support a church craft sale than the kinds we have down here.

Lately, I've found myself with a hankering to make something with beads and shimmery yarns and interesting scraps of fabric.  A Christmas ornament or something more abstract?  A flat piece or something with dimensions?  Something collagey?  Something that might also support my new chapbook?  Hmmm.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Jane Addams and Our Impending Autumn of Ugliness

Today is the birthday of Jane Addams, one of my long-time heroes.  I've written about her in terms of theology here and written here about her in terms of communal living and what we might learn from her successes.  Today as I was reading about her life, I was struck by how much she accomplished.  Where did she find the energy?

I'm just exhausted at the thought of going back to work today, and my work doesn't really take that much out of me physically.  It's not always easy emotionally, but I can't imagine that Addams had no emotional upheavals in her work for social justice.  Why could she do so much?

This morning, I was struck by the fact that it was an inheritance that catapulted her on the path of becoming the first female winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Her father's death left each child with roughly $50,000, which allowed Jane Addams to go to college and to buy Hull House and fix it up.  Eventually, other donors helped, and she didn't have to use so much of her own money.  Still, if she hadn't had the inheritance, Hull House would have been but a theory.

I suspect we are headed into an Autumn of Ugliness as our legislators argue about the best ways to spend the money they don't have or about why we can't spend it.  I'm in a bit of despair myself over the state of the economy, over the imploded labor market, over the dwindling job market (no jobs created in August?  None?  Really???).  I suspect we'll hear all sorts of ugly things about the rich and the super-rich.

When you do hear people talking in ugly terms about the rich, remember Jane Addams and the fact that a lot of rich people do a lot of good in the world.

And what a lovely fantasy to indulge in, when you need to tune out the Autumn of Ugliness:  what would you do if you found yourself with a chunk of money?  How could you use it to make the world a better place?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Working Woman's Blues--with Blueberry Recipe

If you came here on this Labor Day hoping for a cogent analysis of the state of U.S. Labor, you'll find far better articles elsewhere than I can write.  The Washington Post has some good ones today.  In this article, E. J. Dionne gives us some quotes out of context which sound quite Communist; can you guess who they are?  It's the kind of article that could lead to some good student assignments in your Composition classes.  In this article, Harold Meyerson reminds us of the promises that were made about the post-Industrial economy we find ourselves in, promises which have been broken; is it time for a new Industrial Revolution?  In this article, Robert J. Samuelson gives us truly depressing statistics about job creation.

Samuelson points out that for every job opening, there are 4.5 unemployed workers who would like that job.  My first thought:   those are pretty good odds.

I have a Ph.D. in British Literature, and my spouse has an M.A. in Philosophy.  He looked at the statistics for jobs available for every Philosophy Ph.D. (at that time, about 80-100 unemployed Philosophy Ph.D.s for every tenure track job) and decided to get an M.P.A.  I've stuck with my original plan and moved into administration, and in some ways, it's worked well for me.  But I can't help but notice the adjunctification of my profession.  Should I want to move back into teaching, full-time jobs (tenure track or not) are increasingly hard to come by.

Like I implied, I'm probably not the best person to write about the plight of the unemployed, especially the unemployed males.  I'm still not sure that bringing manufacturing back to our shores is the way to go.  I'm old enough to have met a generation of mill workers dying because of the lung diseases they developed because of inhaling the fibers that manufacturing generated.  I've studied dispossessed workers through the decades, and the golden age of manufacturing left many behind, particularly as they got close to retirement.  And even though various manufacturing developments made machines in the 20th century safer than they were in the 19th, there were still horrible deaths that post-industrial workers won't face.

I know that we can argue over whether it's better to have some job, any job, even one that might mangle your limbs than no job and no way to pay your bills.

But instead of arguing, let's bake!  Here's a great recipe to celebrate the end of summer.  You can modify it to be lower in fat by having more milk and less cream/half and half.  You can add more or less berries, fresh or frozen--or a different fruit.  You can use up your odds and ends of bread; I used a combination of regular French bread and a multigrain baguette, but I'm willing to bet that any bread would work.

In short, it's a perfect recipe:  easy, cheap, and incredibly tasty.

Blueberry Bread Pudding

1 pound French bread cut into cubes
4 C. cream (a mix of 2 c. half and half, ½ c. cream, and ½ c. milk worked very well)
3 eggs
2 c. sugar
3 T. vanilla extract
2 c. blueberries (1 ½ pints worked very well).

Combine cream/milk mixture, eggs, vanilla, and sugar. Add bread and stir gently. Add blueberries and put into a buttered 9 x 13 inch pan. Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes, when top bread cubes should be golden. For even more of a texture variation, bake the last 5 minutes on broil, but watch carefully to avoid burning.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Our Disillusioned Movie Fathers

For the long holiday week-end, I went to the library and got an armload of movies.  I'm amazed at how behind I am in my movie watching.  I got In the Valley of Elah, thinking it had just been released last year.  Nope, a few years ago.

I got that movie thinking it would be similar to the movie Missing, which I've written about here.  It took me much of the movie to determine the similarities.

Both movies deal with fathers who have some of their most cherished beliefs ripped away from them.  They're even more than disillusioned--one wonders how these men will carry on.  Both movie fathers have their illusions ripped away because their sons have gone missing.  They arrive on the scene thinking that they will save the day and find the missing son, and end up with a corpse and even more questions.

The two actors show the agony of this process differently.  Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah goes for the understated devestation approach with moist eyes, but no tears.  There is one scene where his face transforms into a grim mask as he hears a confession, and it's amazing that he can transform his face into a series of slits.  Jack Lemmon in Missing has a much more visible grief, one that I found excruciating because in the beginning he's so self-assured and confident, and he ends up so crushed and defeated in face, in voice, in posture--he completely inhabits that brokenness. 

Many reviewers have criticized both films as being left wing propaganda or idealist in some way, but I didn't find this to be the case.  When I first saw Missing, I was in high school and considerably less left wing than I would become in college, and these days, again, I'm not on the extreme edge I once inhabited.  I admit that I might be unable to see the bias in these movies because of my tendency to leftist tendencies but I see the conflict differently.

To me, the conflict is more generational, rather than the left-right kind of divide.  The fathers have one set of values, while the sons have a different set.  The fathers' values during the course of the movie are shown to have value, even if the rest of the culture no longer shares them.  In fact, I could argue that the broken societies in which the fathers find themselves point to the value of the abandoned values.

I also rewatched Charlie Wilson's War, another interesting piece of this portrait.  How unlikely that Charlie Wilson would be able to do what he did.  How amazing that the Afghans were able to get the Soviets out of their country.  How sad that the story of Afghanistan follows the trajectory that we're seeing.

I was watching these arms smugglers in that movie and thinking of my idle daydream of becoming a deliverer of  U.N. relief aid.  I think of that ultranutritious nut paste that was created fairly recently that has saved so many lives--but have those lives been saved just to be transformed into cannon fodder?

The movies I've been watching would say yes.  The movies I've been watching have been fairly negative in tone.  I'm ready for a more hopeful message.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thinking about Manuscript Revisions and Other Friday Linkage

This week at work has been a tough one, in a quarter of tough weeks--but this week may win the prize.  I want next quarter to be one where all the weeks are competing to win the prize for lightheartedness and the granting of deepest wishes.

How I wish I had spent the month of August writing poetry postcards, the way Kathleen did.  Next year!  How I wish I was thinking about readings, like Jeannine is.  This week-end and this month!  I love the view of Kelli's writing shed, and this week-end, I'll go to the writing shed in my mind.  Write now, she commands, and I will.

It's Autumn, and time to think about larger manuscripts again.  Are you working on a manuscript?  Here's a great article on assembling them (thanks to January for this post which got me to the article).

I return to the question which haunts me periodically.  I have a manuscript with poems that have a nuclear theme and explorations of the variety of ways that technology fails us.  Each year, I look back over the new poems that I've written on similar themes, and I wonder about reworking the manuscript.  Add the new poems?  If so, which to take out?

Or is it better to start assembling a second manuscript with similar themes, even though I haven't found a publisher for the first one?

I look at the publishing world, and the fact that I'm 46 years old, and my brutally realistic side says, "You're likely to only have one shot at publishing any given manuscript with that theme--or any other theme.  Take the lesser work out and add the newer."

But once, the lesser poems were the strong poems that I added to the manuscript in past revisions. 

Last year, I wanted to enter the manuscript into some contests that required a shorter manuscript than the one that had approximately 75 poems that was my standard.  I cut rather radically.  So my other question is about optimum length.  I think I like the shorter manuscript.

It occurs to me that I could do a chapbook series on the theme.

Now my head hurts.  I wish I could say that I would be thinking about these things during today's round of meetings, but I will not.  The schedule of winter classes is due at the end of today, and I'm behind.  Insert heavy sigh here.

But after I get that done, I'm ready for my long Labor Day week-end.  Hurrah for 3 day week-ends!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Carpe Diem Dates

Last week, my spouse and I found ourselves with a few hours of free time in the middle of the day.  How strange is that?  We debated how to spend that time:  run errands, do housework, rearrange the bookshelves, attack to overgrown yard?

We still weren't sure whether or not we'd be dealing with a hurricane by the end of the week, so we decided to go to the library and get some DVDs, just in case we were stuck inside for awhile (hopefully with electricity!).

We got our books and DVDs and still had time on the meter.  What to do?

We were at the library at the beach, so we decided to wander around a bit.  We ate at a Mexican restaurant with an east wall open to the beach.  We got special prices because it was lunch time.  The restaurant played a mix of traditional Mexican music and techno dance music.  We watched the wind whip the sand and waves, but overall, the weather was beautiful, as it usually is before a hurricane.

As we drove home, my spouse said, "We had a carpe date!" (imagine an accent mark over the carpe, a la carpe diem).

I knew exactly what he meant.  We had seized the day and had a spontaneous date!  Usually we have to plan at least a week ahead to be spontaneous.  Unfortunately, that habit leaves us unprepared when we find ourselves with unexpected free time.  We often waste a good chunk of time trying to figure out what to do, so much time that we spend most of our time trying to figure out how to best use that time.

How many of us do that with our writing lives too?  Or we overlook free chunks of time, because we're committed to the idea that we need to be at a certain desk, with a certain computer, at a certain time of day.

I admire those writers who have carpe dates with their muses, the writers who carry notebooks with them, the writers who spend time thinking about the poems they will write, so that they're ready to seize whatever free moments fall into their days.

I've been trying to do the same thing with my submission process.  Instead of wondering where to send submissions and wasting lots of time looking up journals, I have a list.  If I have 15 minutes, I could get a poetry packet or two in the mail.

I need to do the same thing with typing revised poems into the computer.  I have lots of poems waiting to be sent out into the world, but first I need to type them up.  I've gone through my notebooks and flagged the ones I think would make good additions to book manuscripts I'm assembling and revising.  I'll type those first.

Carpe Diem dates with my muse--I like this idea!  Let the planning for spontaneity begin!