Thursday, December 10, 2009
Then, a few days later, this mountain of essays needs to be read twice for an ostensibly objective scoring. We do a "holistic" score, meaning we keep all criteria in mind and score each paper on a scale from 1-6: "1" being the student's hangover was so bad she could barely eke out a cramped sentence or two...and "6" being that this student never should have had to take frosh composition in the first place. Many of the faculty are writers, and when we come across a "6" paper we are generally so jealous we give the paper a "5" out of spite.
Grading these papers takes hours. Hours and hours, we sit, slumped over bad handwriting. And I mean bad. These students haven't written anything by hand since they were forced to sign their driver's licenses. That is why I call this experience the Sadistic Holistic Grading Event.
The only saving grace is that sometimes we come across passages that are so funny or bizarre that our fried brains fire up, and we smile. Here are two examples from yesterday's reading:
* In the category "I Guess Everyone Has to Start Somewhere":
As a student, a woman and a good driver with no tickets, I consider myself to be good at all things I do.
* In the category, "Is This Really the Only Example You Could Drum Up?":
People admire those who were dedicated to their cause. Hitler is an excellent example of that. Although I don't agree with his beliefs, he was a very determined man.
Next week I give three finals. Two of the three are taking place at my apartment because a) I need to vacuum and will be forced to do so seconds before people arrive, and b) These are creative writing classes, and we're doing a class reading as the final...and I hate to do readings under fluorescent lighting. So instead we'll read our work by mood lighting as we sit on the floor with food and drink.
This has been a hell of a semester. Thank god for my students. They kept me semi-sane because they are full of life and energy. For those not in the loop, I was essentially homeless late spring/summer because of the end of my 15-year relationship...not to mention the financial, legal and emotional crap that has bled over into my life this fall.
It's not been pretty, but then again, so many great things have entered my life--namely an awareness that other people are generally kind, loving and supportive. Without my friends, family and work life, I think I'd be curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor of my former house. Instead, I feel life's goodness and possibilities swimming through my veins.
My main practice right now is to be in the moment as much as possible. The moment is life, breath and balance.
I also like to have a few future points to look forward to, such as Christmas with family, perhaps a short trip in January, and some readings in spring semester:
* On Wednesday Feb. 24, I will be reading from my new novel, Complementary Colors, from 4-5 p.m. at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in rooms 225/229.
* On Thursday March 11, the poet Cecilia Woloch (http://ceciliawoloch.com/) and I will be reading in the MLK Library in rooms 225-227 from 4-5 p.m.
Friday, November 27, 2009
A few days before my birthday I had a little party. This picture of my friend Janelle and me was taken at the party. Janelle and I have lived in the same residence a few times over the past 20 or so year, during times either one of us was going through one of our various life transitions. We are both writers and my most recent novel is dedicated to her because together we developed the idea for it in her living room.
That's one thing I'm grateful for as I age: the ways relationship develop new textures and depths over time.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Loneliness and being alone aren't the same thing, clearly. May Sarton wrote a lot about that. Maybe I need to revisit her.
Sometimes a wave of loneliness crashes over me. Other times I'm able to float in aloneness and feel at peace.
What I'm facing, in part, is change of habit. The habit of waking up to someone in bed every morning--that feeling of a familiar body reliably nestled next to yours. The habit of knowing that on your birthday, you are someone's special person: someone who will give you a card, a little gift, a cake with candles. The habit of knowing you will make Thanksgiving plans together, and that after the turkey feast you will unpack the holiday ornaments to create sparkle in the darkening days.
It's odd how "being alone" isn't true, for the most part. Most of us have friends, family, colleagues, neighbors--people who love and support us. Why do we focus so much on coupling? There's something about the intimacy...and also the conflict...and then the deadening and reawakening...which often means breaking up and starting over, yes?
Speaking of Coupling, I'm a late-comer to the hilarious BBC comedy. Been enjoying it lately, in a kind of masochistic way...
Happy Thanksgiving to you all...and happy navigation of life and love.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
When I was married, meeting new people was less complicated. There was no second-guessing about how that person might, say, perform in bed. Well, maybe there was, but those thoughts rested securely in my mind's Fantasy Island along with da plane and Charo.
Now there's the possibility that such fantasies could develop into a reality. A reality that might involve beautiful things, like my date paying for the dinner--but also, perhaps, some unpleasantness, like halitosis or hangnails.
This is all about the body, it seems. A fantasy body is a very different thing than a reality body. When you've been married for a long time, your spouse's body is as comfortable as an old couch. Such coziness is synoymous with complacency, and before you know it it's been months since you've searched for stray coins behind your spouse's cushions. In the queer world, they call it "lesbian bed death."
But I know from experience that straight people get lesbian bed death too. And I don't mean they cease oral sex. They cease other heterosexual maneuvers as well. The man sits in the basement on his metaphorical sagging couch, yanking himself into Fantasy Island oblivion with the help of online porn--while the woman, post-dinner, scours the sink for the twelfth time that night.
And sometimes in a wacky gender reversal, it's vice-versa.
So my question is this: When I meet a possible date, how do I stop from fast-forwarding my mind? The fast-forward works something like this: I start talking to a man I've met at a literary event--okay, a bar--and full-speed-ahead, my mind writes a one-sentence story:
He has a gorgeous jawline and strong-looking hands that four years from now will erotically finger the remote control while he reclines on our complacent couch, watching his third game of the day while I wander around the house dejected in my hapless new lingerie.
Maybe the key is to put away the measuring tape and pick up a good book, or a good shrink. One that can help me, as they say, be in the moment and not worry about the future. See, that's the thing about being married. The future is all figured out. Your spouse's teeth will one day float in a glass next to the bed, and sex will be a figment of your long-ago imagination.
When you're single, the future is a blank page, waiting to be filled up with stories. Stories like:
Ten years later, she is a bag lady digging through recycle bins downtown, teeth lost because she doesn't own a glass.
Ten years later, she is still paying off her attorneys from Divorce #1 and Divorce #2 while simultaneously undergoing Divorce #3.
These stories inevitably involve devolution. Why does my mind act as though I am destined to live out life as a Zola novel?
To mix more metaphors, a divorce tears the fabric. That means you are now just a half piece of cloth, like a rag used for cleaning the bathroom. But if the other half has disappeared, what difference does it make? Everyone will just assume that this piece of cloth, sitting alone at the bar, is whole.
Can we cut from whole cloth a pattern of romance and a long, monogamous sex life? Can we sew together something that looks like evolution, not devolution?
I know what I need! I need a tape measure that can divine a happy ending.
On a different note:
I just found out that my new novel, Complementary Colors, is ranked #82,768 on Amazon out of 1 million. That's kind of like being a lipstick at Macy's rather than JC Penney's.
And a year after its release, my novel For the May Queen is at #184, 310. Not shabby for a little book about sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
In L.A., went to a soccer game at the L.A. stadium--the Galaxy and Chivas tied. Saw Beckham play! Carved 15 (not a typo) pumpkins. Dressed as a (slutty) nun for the big Halloween bash at my friend Nancy's house. Went out dancing. Drank too many Cosmos (never again; I'll leave the Cosmos to the Sex & the City girls). Ran from Santa Monica pier to Venice Beach and back again. The sky was ocean-blue, and the ocean sky-blue.
When I got home, found a box at my door. Opened it up and, Voila! My new novel was in my hands.
Taught today, then went to hear Denis Johnson read from his newish noir novel. I enjoyed the reading but was surprised he took no questions afterward. Instead, we headed to the wine and food, receptioning with Denis and cohorts. Ah, the life of the literary jet-set.
Yes, I actually do slip some teaching into the spaces between all this activity. What's gone undone is vacuuming my apartment (dog hair galore) and unpacking my suitcase (gotta get to it because I'm running out of clean underwear).
On tap tomorrow: bill paying, a long run, writing and an evening of pool playing and probably some World Series thrown in.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Kim Addonizio was on campus this week. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet her in the afternoon with a small group of MFA students and faculty. She talked about writing poetry, memoir and fiction. Given that her fiction and poetry are so edgy, I found it intriguing that she's anxious about the reactions of certain people to her in-progress memoir. It was refreshing to hear. There's always something so vulnerable about sharing our art. In the evening she gave a reading, including some new, unpublished poems. A lot of sex and death. Great stuff.
You can now enter the free Goodreads giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Complementary Colors (and many other books).
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Chelle Cordero, Final Sin
Victoria Howard, Three Weeks Last Spring
Collin Kelley, Conquering Venus
Vila SpiderHawk, Forest Song: Little Mother
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Living downtown is so fun. When I'm out walking my turkey, I mean dogs, I feel like that girl.
I've updated my other blog and now have information about both novels, as well as free previews. Thanks, everyone, for all your love and your support of books and small presses.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Saw Mary Roach tonight on campus. She's hilarious, brilliant. Was thrilled to get to hang out with her at a reception afterward, to drink wine and talk about writing, sex and cadavers. No, not sex with cadavers, although one of her books does touch on the subject. If you've never read her, you must.
In an amazing event of serendipity, in my film class we just happened to be watching Milk this week. I hadn't planned it to coincide with National Coming Out Week, but it did. Not only did Obama pledge (ve shall see) to end DOMA and DADT over the weekend, but on the very day we watched the last part of Milk, our Governator signed a bill to create Harvey Milk Day. My classroom was electrified.
What else? At my I'm-Living-A-New-Life Open House, we drank 30 bottles of wine, untold amounts of beer and vodka, and danced on the furniture until the wee hours. I'm so blessed by all the people in my life. I looked around that night and realized it's because of these people I'm alive. And thriving.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
Perhaps it's because I look out into the classroom and remind my tender, raw self that each person there has a whole world. A world of love, connection, pain, loss. I'm being re-reminded that teaching, for me, is about connecting with people, really listening to one another, and providing students opportunities to express themselves, to cultivate curiosity, and to explore words and worlds.
In my Queer Film class, we are watching Milk this week. As students watch it, I ask them to jot down questions. The last few minutes of class, we discuss their questions, and I ask them to look them up and bring what they find to class. They are looking up everything from "Who's Cleve Jones?" to "Where is gay marriage legal in the world?"
I'm also teaching a section of English 1B (second semester Frosh Comp). Students are reading memoirs in groups and developing questions out of them that will lead to research questions. For instance, one group is reading Colby Buzzell's My War, and one research question coming out of that book is: How does post-traumatic stress affect veterans? Another group is reading Jennifer Finney Boylan's She's Not There, and a research question coming out of that book is: When do most transgendered people begin to feel they are in the "wrong body"--and what are the possible options for what to do about it?
One young woman who is reading Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is developing a fascinating question related to whether or not religion is, as she put it, the opiate of the African-American community. Another group who is reading Andrew Pham's Catfish and Mandala--the story of a young Vietnamese-American guy who rides his bike across Vietnam--is developing questions related to bicycling infrastructure.
I'm trying to teach them that asking questions as they read helps them understand how books connect to the world.
Also this semester I'm teaching a Fiction Writing workshop. It's fun to read several student stories a week, to see what their minds have created. And I'm teaching Introduction to Creative Writing. We just finished our memoir unit, and now we're moving on to fiction, with a focus on flash fiction.
On Tuesday the 13th, Mary Roach is coming to speak on campus, then later this month we have Kim Addonizio and next month, Denis Johnson. In spite of furloughs, a 10 percent pay cut (yep, we all got them) and all the weirdness that is our horrible state budget (and is my divorce), I'm trying to remind myself that I'm lucky to get to work in a world where books, words and people matter.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
A poetry writing workshop is one of the settings in Complementary Colors. A character says, “I felt there was something elemental, crucial, tangible about the making of a painting or a poem that seemed—what?—sacred?” Does the poet have a vatic role that is above or beyond gender?
That’s kind of cool to think so, but I really don’t know. I do think words are magic. So maybe poets are sorcerers. That line from my novel is spoken by the narrator, Gwen, when she is just opening up to the world in a new way. It’s a transformative time—and poetry plays a big part in her transformation. But it’s not like someone waves a magic wand or one poem does the trick. She’s ready, she’s open to seeing the world in new ways, which is why it’s suddenly possible for her to write poetry and to fall in love with a woman for the first time. So perhaps that’s what’s beyond gender: when you are in a transformative state where supposedly common-sense boundaries begin to morph. Certainly poetry does have the potential to help us see something in a completely new way. That sounds akin to a spiritual experience.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
The Al Gore of your soul is alarmed. Line
of your heart: you thought hate had disintegrated,
ecofriendly. Hulking polar bears, uninitiated,
can't get a foothold. A few fringe lovers
declare conspiracy. A miles-wide tangle
of synthetics in the sea appropriates
the mounting waters. You create
greenhouse gasses, neglect to separate
your recyclables. You haphazardly debate
the cavities, the virtues, of belief and disbelief.
Your car gets horrible mileage. In the park you retrieve
a plastic bottle from the garbage like the homeless.
Where are the landfills? What feels more formless
than an inconvenient truth? Which is the best bitter pill
they make? Of the chemicals interred in your soil,
which will nourish, which poison? We forget what is most
biodegradable is the body, eyeballs to bones.
Embalming chemicals are meant to sustain
a façade of self. Steel coffin, we try to retain
the unsalvageable. Dropped deep in dirt, it’s dark.
We pretend all will keep, even worm and hook
in that cool murky world of enough, and time.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Here's what one famous writer has to say about the novel:
Unflinching and mysterious, Conquering Venus is that rare combination of poetic and page-turner. Collin Kelley who refreshingly faces taboos head-on has packed his cinematic debut novel with compelling characters, meaty plot twists and satisfying surprises. This novel is freshly contemporary as well as, in its own fashion, a love letter to Paris.
Oops, that's not a famous writer, that's moi. But still, you can trust me, it's a great read! Oh, and some other writers who aren't his close, personal friends have said great things about the book, including Charles McNair and Gary Zebrun.
You can order it from any bookstore if it's not stocked there, you can buy it on Amazon, and you can order it directly from VHP.
I'm headed to L.A. this weekend. I'll be staying with an old high school friend and his beautiful family. Always great food and swimming pool time there. They are taking me to something called the Avocado Festival. I expect it to be a bacchanalia as it always is with them.
I reconnected with this old friend not long ago after not talking to him since high school. He's such an upstanding citizen now that have so much fun teasing him about the things he did in high school. One time he snuck out of history class through an open window and the teacher didn't notice--not until he did it the third or fourth time. Everyone played dumb about how he escaped. I "passed" Chemistry class only because this dear friend changed my grades in the grade book for me when that teacher had left the room, probably for a drink from his flask. This friend also taught me how to drive a stick shift at the fairgrounds, so if not for him I never could have driven cool sports cars.
On Sunday I'll be at the West Hollywood Book Fair. if you're in the area, come by, see our books and say hi. The three lovely authors present will be happy to sign your books or body parts.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
So now I am a single woman living in a downtown apartment. It feels worlds away from my previous incarnation as committed partner in a 15 year relationship, where the focus was family and creating a domestic world together.
Here are some things I'm learning in my new incarnation:
1. When you are with a woman, people see you as a lesbian. When you are dating men, people see you as straight. Bisexuality is invisible. Maybe even to the self.
2. When you have two small dogs in a 6th floor apartment, buy a piece of sod and place it on the balcony on top of a piece of plastic. That way, you don't have to walk the dogs more than once or twice a day. The rest of the time, they can use the small square of grass. It costs only about $3 at a place like OSH. Water it regularly and replace it when it gets too dry or smelly.
3. Time becomes more friendly when you have only to walk across the street to get to work.
4. Coming out of a long-term relationship, while painful, is also an opportunity to reinvent yourself. Suddenly you realize that you can plan a trip and go. You can play your piano or grade papers at 2 a.m. You can spend all day in bed, revising your novel on your laptop.
5. Speaking of writing, when you write autobiographical fiction and poetry--and your life takes a major U-turn--reading your work can feel like reading the work of someone you know very well but who clearly is not you.
6. A divorce turns the most intimate person in your life into a stranger.
7. In your new incarnation, your own strength can surprise you. You can do things like peel your sorry, sad ass off the floor and make an appointment with a shrink or attorney. You can catch yourself laughing after thinking you never would smile again. You can begin running and biking again, feeling the muscles awaken in your back, your legs, your heart.
8. When your attorney or attorney's assistant calls, you feel they are talking in slow-motion, which works great for them since they charge an absurd per hour rate.
9. Friends and family are oxygen. They call you, invite you over, let you come live with them, email you, offer you boxes and arms for moving, make you dinner, spend the night when you can't imagine making it through the night alone.
10. When you begin to heal, you want to do more for every person who crosses your path. Loss can morph to tenderness. The earth shifts: We humans are vulnerable. And resilient.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
And I also have a growing appreciation for fun! I have so many loving friends who've been inviting me (the single gal!) to join them for the activities I've described above, as well as meals, swimming pool & wine afternoons ... And this isn't just about fun, but it's about human connection. I'm coming out of the cave of grief and into the light of celebration of life.
I'm also feeling the desire to write again. It's been a few months since I've had the focus or drive to write, but I can feel stories and poems swimming in my veins.
As my friend Sally said, life is amazing; it wants to live.
Here are a few words from Walt Whitman on that score:
O LIVING always—always dying!
O the burials of me, past and present!
O me, while I stride ahead, material, visible, imperious as ever!
O me, what I was for years, now dead, (I lament not—I am content;)
O to disengage myself from those corpses of me, which I turn and look at, where I cast them!
To pass on, (O living! always living!) and leave the corpses behind!
Monday, July 6, 2009
I will be back to the blog again when I'm feeling healthier and stronger. In the meantime, feel free to check in with me on Facebook. And I close for a time with two poems that emanate my truths.
The Afternoon Sun
by C. P. Cavafy (Translated by Aliki Barnstone)
This room, how well I know it.
Now they rent it and the one next door
as commercial offices. The whole house became
offices for agents and merchants and companies.
Ah, this room, how familiar.
The couch was near the door, here;
in front, a Turkish rug;
near the couch, two yellow vases on a shelf.
On the right, no, across from it, was an armoire with a mirror.
In the middle, the table where he wrote
and three wicker chairs.
Next to the window was the bed
where we made love so many times.
These sad things must still be somewhere.
Next to the window was the bed;
the afternoon sun spread across halfway.
...One afternoon at four o'clock, we separated,
just for a week....Alas,
that week became forever.
A Pity, We Were Such A Good Invention
by Yehuda Amichai
Your thighs off my hips.
As far as I'm concerned
They are all surgeons. All of them.
They dismantled us
Each from the other.
As far as I'm concerned
They are all engineers. All of them.
A pity. We were such a good
And loving invention.
An aeroplane made from a wife* and wife.
Wings and everything.We hovered a little above the earth.
We even flew a little.
(*original says "man")
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
"Up and coming" is not just PR blather. As I read her book, I got the sense that I was being introduced to a poet who is doing serious work that will have longevity, a poet who richly incorporates craft and experience.
Please tell us about the genesis of your new book.
I started writing some of these poems quite a while back, maybe even ten years ago, before I ever thought about going to graduate school for creative writing. I always knew I wanted to work in academia and be an English professor, but I assumed I’d go the PhD route and teach British literature at some small, private liberal arts college. You know, the standard dream everyone has when they fall in love with literature. I loved doing my Master of Arts in the Programs of Humanities at the University of Chicago (sort of a design-it-yourself program built around a core course—mine was British literature with some philosophy mixed in), but after that sort of intensity and the exorbitant price tag, I didn’t know how to go on to get a PhD. Luckily, I started adjuncting at a community college and a university, and one of my colleagues invited me to take his creative writing class. I ended up using the work I generated in that class for an application manuscript for grad school for creative writing and then went to Vermont College’s (now Vermont College of Fine Arts) low-residency MFA in Writing program. This book is basically the manuscript I generated there as my creative thesis.
Of course, I kept taking out weaker poems and adding stronger ones in the five years I was sending it out to publishers, but the bulk of it was written during my time at Vermont under the tutelage of my advisors that I had each semester. I couldn’t have asked for a better graduate school or writing experience.
What's the one thing you most want people to know about your book?
I really wanted to write an ambitious first book, and I hope I’ve accomplished that, but it’s one of those things that only time will tell. It’s tempting to get enough “good” poems to put together a first book and start sending it out as soon as you have enough, and I tried not to do that. I chose the poems that are in this collection out of hundreds I’ve written, and a lot of them, I feel, are ambitious poems, and several of them have won awards or honorable mentions in contests. My goal is to do writing that is important, not just good.
A Barbara Walters question: If you were a poem by any writer, which poem would you be and why?
I really think I would be “Do Not Duplicate This Key” by Richard Jackson. It’s brilliant and daring and smart and gorgeous and all kinds of things I’d love to be. Here are the first few lines of it:
It is not commonly understood why my love is so deadly.
At the very least it uproots the trees of your heart.
It interferes with the navigation of airplanes like certain
electronic devices. . . .
Isn’t that great? Who wouldn’t be won over by a love poem like that? And he fits everything in there from Ovid to the Spin Doctors (as in the 1990s band) to war in Sarajevo. Another favorite part is:
… Even the skeptic,
David Hume, 1711-1776, begins to believe in my love.
My own steps have long since abandoned their tracks.
My own love is not a key that can be duplicated.
It knocks at the door of the speakeasy in Sarajevo
and whispers the right word to a girl named Tatayana.
It’s just a beautiful, beautiful poem, and it sustains itself for three pages, which shouldn’t be considered long but is, in the poetry world these days.
Why do you write poetry?
I think I do it because I have to. Some people fall into alcohol, some people fall into drugs; I fell into poetry. It really just seemed to be my natural response to the world around me; I can’t even explain it. When I was a little kid. Little. I don’t know what age, I used to try to make up songs when something was happy or sad or upsetting, and then I think the music part of that fell away. I guess it was too much to try to plunk out the tune on a piano and then write out the notes on staff paper. If I wrote poetry, I really just needed paper and (back then) a pencil. I still think it’s the cheapest, most accessible art form to take part in. You really just need a notebook and a pen, and you’re all set.
The first time I can remember a poem being my initial response to something happening was in elementary school, my cousin shot my dog. I heard about it after school; someone told my sister about it, and she told me. I was devastated, and I wrote a poem that had a definite stanza structure with a refrain. If I remember correctly, I had a drawing that went with it. Poetry is sort of how I deal with everything—a good day, a bad day, a beautiful sight, and so on.
Do you think teaching is a good complement to writing--or does it just get in the way?
I think that the teaching itself and the interaction with students is wonderfully invigorating for writing. I said in an earlier interview that I learn so much from my students, I even thank them in the acknowledgments section of my book because they are so inspiring. I think that the massive amounts of grading that most instructors have to do for their jobs is what is prohibitive. There are those lucky souls who have a 3/2 course load; I am not one of them. I teach five courses a quarter on the quarter system, so fifteen regular courses a year, and I elect to teach two six-week summer courses for extra pay.
If you’re a writer, though, you make yourself write whenever you can. I know writers who get up at three in the morning every day to write for two hours before “the real world” intrudes, and another who teaches full-time and writes like crazy for the entire month of May and revises the rest of the year. Each person just has to figure out what works for him or her.
Do you believe all poetry is political--or just some poems?
I believe all poetry is political. First of all, you’re expressing that you’re literate if you’re doing something in writing, and you’re showing that you have leisure time (of some sort) during which to write, and if you’re intending to be read by others, that what you’re saying is important enough to be put down on paper and passed on. These are all political acts. Of course, getting out of bed and going to work is one sort of political act, and refusing to get out of bed and go to work is another. I guess I’m one of those cultural theorists. The ones your mother warned you about.
Please share with us one poem from the collection, and then riff a little about the journey the poem takes the reader on.
I think I’ll use “A Man Walks Into a Bar”:
A Man Walks Into a Bar
He was tall, well-built, blue-eyed,
a guy most girls would want to take to bed.
Then he reached for the beer with his left hand,
revealing the stump of his right.
We could tell the second he knew that we knew.
We’d smile, but the smile wouldn’t travel
all the way to our eyes. He’d turn back to the bar,
fold his arm closer so that we could
no longer see
as we rushed off to sling beers for guys
not as good-looking but more whole,
the ones who leered lecherously,
on “Short-Shorts Night”
and left ten dollar tips for two dollar beers
always expecting more, always bitter when we didn’t deliver.
The quiet one, we wounded week after week, a guy
any of us would have considered “out of our league,”
“a long shot,” if he had been unbroken,
the sad, blond man we were afraid to love.
I worked in this sports bar the summer before my last year of undergrad, and it was like another planet. It was this bustling, rowdy place that seated something like 360 diners, and it had a TV on nearly every imaginable surface—even in the bathrooms. I used to have to know how many TVs in case a customer asked, but I don’t remember now. I want to say 81 TVs. But it was really this sad place a lot of the time; people would lie and say they had tickets to be somewhere important and get us to put a rush order on their ticket, and then they would spend over an hour there; this one lonely obese man would come in and sit in the same attractive server’s section each day and order a gigantic meal and then a caramel apple sundae for dessert (and we felt like we were helping to kill him by giving him all this food), and all kinds of pathetic, drunken loneliness.
The above poem is one of those instances that I felt bad about taking part in. I wanted to start out with the standard line to a joke, “A Man Walks into a Bar” because I think we generally think of bars as a happy place, but a lot of people are there to escape and forget their troubles, and it’s doubly sad when they are wounded there, too. So, we have the expectations of the servers seeing this attractive man, and then that acknowledgment when “he knows that they know.”
Nancy Mairs has an essay about how the reason for our discomfort with the disabled is because we realize that it’s the one minority we can become a part of at any time, and looking back at how I was when I was twenty-one, it makes sense. There was something really scary about seeing this man who was beautiful, and then noticing his missing arm. But, somehow, it’s still too much in the poem, and I have to keep up with the pace of the sports bar and rush off, serving more beer, but I mean the poem as an apology and to show (I hope) that I’ve grown in the last ten years since I was a server at a sports bar. I hope I’m a better person and that I would treat this man differently today, and I hope that life is being good to him now, wherever he is.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I’d like to thank everyone for following along on this virtual book tour and all of the interviewers; it’s been fabulous.
I’m doing a book giveaway on Goodreads.com that I would love for your readers to enter. In honor of my book’s half birthday, I’m giving away six free copies; one for each month the book’s been out. And if people message me on Goodreads that they’ve entered the drawing but didn’t win, I’ll sell them a book for the cover price, but I’ll cover the shipping for them (US only).
Of course, everyone can find me on Facebook; you can never have too many friends in the writing world!
Monday, May 18, 2009
That hasn't meant, however, that her new living arrangement has been an easy transition. Yes, the place is very nice--and she knows she fortunate to be able to afford it. She loves not having to shop, cook and clean. Yet at first she missed her friends, her community, in her hometown. She (sometimes jokingly) complained about all the "old people" there--and also how little "sense" many of them seemed to have. She is aware of those in the locked-up unit at the other end of the building, the Memory Care section that is likely to be her destiny some day.
Mom became immediately involved in almost every activity, from attending Resident Council meetings, to attending the nightly movies and outings, and participating in the exercise classes. She began to make some friends, while at the same time often experiencing extreme frustration while trying to communicate (as her verbal skills declined). This didn't stop her from agitating for change when she believed there was a problem. For instance, she spoke up about putting Resident Council meetings on the schedule rather than expecting people to remember they were the first and third Tuesday of each month. Another time, she and other residents noticed that the servers sometimes handled the forks by the tines; others were hesitant to speak up, but Mom sure wasn't!
Also, the evening movies were starting too soon, in her opinion, because some people were still finishing up dinner. Again, she spoke up. Some of these interactions were especially difficult for all involved because of Mom's language decline. However, even though she says often in her journal that it's "easier to keep quiet," she certainly doesn't always do so (perhaps to the chagrin of those running the place where she lives!).
This entry continues the journal she began keeping when she moved. Previous entries are linked here:
Mom's Alzheimer's Journey #1
Mom's Alzheimer's Journey #2
Mom's Alzheimer's Journey #3
(Note: I've kept the spellings and grammar the way Mom wrote them so that readers can have a sense of her abilities but have included needed corrections and more information in brackets when necessary for clarity. I've also changed some names to protect people's privacy.)
I think Bernice (a resitant [resident] here) has lost all of what she used to have--for instance, I think Bernice used to eat in restaurants but she has foggent [forgotten] that she did. For instance she forgot whach [which] questions. Whether she just fortgot [forgot] or or doesn't know it. I suspect she just forgot it. She has AZ.
I wonder what Tilly's -- a resistent [resident]--dignosis is. Something I wonder about sometimes. Probrbely [Probably] she's undiagnosed. She's an enimga [enigma]. She remembers songs from the past. But She forgets wahat [what] happened yesterday morning. She's good at the "word game"--the instructor put a long word--or sometimes two connecting words on the board (not a very good board). And she's very good at that, [at extracting] words from the long word. ...
My numbers confuse me. For instance, I can't tell time by the clock. Fortunately, I know what numbers come next [in a sequence]. I'm confused about numbers in other ways too. For instance, I could[n't] figure out how many dominoes I had the other day. I thought there were 7, but I was often wrong.
I repeat the last thing I heard over and over in my head.
I danced today because of a musical program here (I'm at [she wrote her new address here, correctly) the music was proded [provided] by a man who played ... It sounds like a piano and various musical instruments. We have [a] grand piano here & 3 regulars play it. ... Anyway, I danced a jitterbug. I received various comments ... My husband & I couldn't imagine life withoust [without] dancing ... We sometimes danced at home.
I communicate poorly. I leave out a lot of words. I just don't talk most of the time. It's easier than trying to explain what I mean. ... Except when I'm with Carole, who understands. A few other people understand my illness, too, and make allowances.
Certain things keep going through my mind--people and all kinds of things.
I'm getting more and more sleepy although my mind is active. I do a number of thing[s]--go for walks & I use the exercise room regullary (you can see what problems I'm having spelling & writing)
I got lost going to the senior center today [which is next door to the assisted living community]. It's not my usual "lostness" I'm sure it's a symptom of my disease I got lost coming back from my walk ... I not only got lost, I can't find my way around the senior center, too. I saw a program on Carmen. It was opera.
It doesn't make me feel any better to know people in "memory care" that I will be like them eventually.
Phyllis said I did well coming back from my walk today. I think I memorized my way back--maybe memorized isn't the word, at least I learned my way back.
I feel back for Phyllis. She's in a place she doesn't want to be. She wants to be in a [three]-level place--assisted living & a nursing home (In case she needs it) & independent living. She needs this place now for her sister who has dementia. They went to a place the other day that has all three levels but it won't be finished for 3 years. (That's good for me.) [Mom said this because she liked Phyllis a lot and didn't want to see her leave.]
I'm glad I'm not like one gal with AZ who can't even remember what she ordered for breakfast. ... It's Teresa that I have been the butt of jokes about but she forgets soon after & I don't know what to do about that. I blurt out answers I don't mean ... If I told her my diagnosis she'd forget soon after! She doesn't mean any harm. I'm probably too sensitive.
I want to give a copy of my books to the Senior Center [She's referring to the three books she authored]--also to the public library but I'm waiting for the rain to stop.
I find more & more difficulty making myself understood. I try but sometimes it's no use. ... I'm not good at m-power, a memory game which is sposed [supposed] to help memory. It doesn't help. ...
I've missed two council meetings & I don't want to miss another. I missed two of them because I went on Valentine's day with my daughter, Ann, to Yosemite. I forget where else when I neglected to go.
I spoke to the diatician the other day (I forget when) about handling the silvevar [silverware] and stacking unused dishes. I don't know when she will be back to do the training to show them how to do it. They shouldn't do that! She was concerned about it ...
I told Cathy, a woman who works here that she wasn't told that the movies should start at 6:45 rather than 6:30. The woman ... the assistant .. told me she didn't understand what I was trying to say. (It's not surprising since I have a hard time expressing myself.) I was trying to explain that the movies start at 6:45 instead of 6:30. As I say, she interrupted me & told me to calm down. She thought I was saying something else. Anyway, when ... I made myself clear at last, she apologized & said that she was sorry. I don't think these people have enough training to do what they do, but that would take a college education ...
I have another [doctor's] appt. to have my colon looked at. Oh, happy days.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
"At Nine" by Kathi Anderson is a beautiful piece of poetry-ish prose about the enticements and fears of childhood freedom. A good read for adults and young adults. Sarah Natalia Lee's story "The Cafeteria" would be a good one to share with young adults as well, as it demonstrates the empowerment of compassion and resisting peer pressure.
Namid's memoir "I Am 30" is a straight-forward, beautiful yet brutal piece about life with M.S. The human will shines powerfully through her writing, as it does in Chelle Cordero's piece ("Strength and Love and Family"), which focuses on her struggles with pregnancy and miscarriage.
Smoky Trudeau's story "Goodbye, Emily Dickinson" is funny and moving; it's about someone who embraces life even though many others see her as pathetic. Sue Stewart's "50 and Counting", is a story many women who've been through mid-life divorce will relate to.
Life's biggest question is: What is this human will to continue in the face of everything life can throw at us--including knowledge of our own inevitable demise? This anthology grapples with this question through many different voices and lives.
Full Table of Contents:
The Visit ….. 9
Lillith T. Lewis
Strength and Love and Family ….. 21
Banana Boats and Boatloads of Cousins ….. 25
At Nine ….. 33
Flight of the Crone ….. 37
Reflected Fear ….. 39
Wide Open ….. 41
The Ties That Unbind ….. 47
Season for Love ….. 57
The Cafeteria ….. 69
Sarah Natalia Lee
The Color of Change ….. 75
Gami ….. 79
Trey’s Need ….. 83
I Am 30 ….. 91
Someone Formerly Known As Not-So-Braveheart…..95
Goodbye, Emily Dickinson ….. 103
Forest Song Little Mother Ch. 9 ….. 101
Fifty and Counting ….. 145
Synonymous with Ecstasy
(or, an apologia for the thesaurus)….. 153
The Journey ….. 161
Yesterday’s Hearts ….. 171
Marilyn Celeste Morris
Promises ….. 175
Lonely Soul Ch. 19 ….. 203
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Please tell us about the genesis of your book.
Spot of Bleach is an organic mix of sensibility and growth up until the time book was printed in 2006, dating back to poetry first written in 1980 when I wrote the sestina “Twisted, A Sestina of Love” at a writing class at Columbia University. As I put the book together, it seemed to choose its own subjects from which I named chapters.
The placement of the chapters took some time to figure out. I took the book apart and put it together several times before being sure the fit was right. Finally it made sense that the very risqué love story should go at the end. I wrote that story in 2001 when I attended the creative writing program at CCNY, where I earned my second masters.
From the very beginning, my creative writings caused a riff in every writing class. Other members became angry about my style and very often argued about my characters complaining that the characters didn’t make them feel empathy. Most professors pointed out that the very thing that the other students didn’t like about my characters, are the things that make the characters alive and real.
What's the one thing you most want people to know about your book?
The book evolved out life experience, creativity, and my powers of observation. There are many stories to tell and within this volume I tell many. You may hate what I write about or how I write, but I promise this book won’t bore you.
I need writing like air and this book is what I breathed out. I call my poems “my offspring” because I have given them life. In that regard, the book is a parallel expression of the years from which the works are collected, an assortment of articles, stories, philosophical meanderings or what may now be called flash fiction along with narrative poetry.
Please tell us a little about the photographs that are included in your collection and how you see them as complementing the poems.
Years ago after I purchased my first digital, people said I had a good eye for showing things in a different perspective. Since the book is very personal, the photos add to this view by showing more about how I see things. For example, the cover section Philosophy has a photo I took while in Thailand visiting the Golden Buddha. The cover for the chapter forms is a famous rock form in Los Cabos. The cover pic came to me in a dream, and although the pic was ten years old, it was an urban pic of me in Central Park with my favorite statue, the Lewis Carroll Statue of Alice in Wonderland.
A Barbara Walters question: If you were a poem by any writer, which poem would you be and why?
I would be “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer. Since childhood, I have loved that poem and trees have always appealed to me. I watch the moon and stars through stark branches. I watch the trees change season-to-season and sometimes fall into ill health or get blown over in a storm. Living in a big city as I do, trees are my opportunity to commune with nature. I’m lucky my building is in the northern tip of Manhattan Island where there are many parks. My apartment overlooks an extended spot of nature near the highway. I have several poems inspired by nature and trees.
Why do you write poetry?
I write because I have to; I don’t have a choice. Writing is my first love. I need writing to survive. My poetry has evolved along with me to do more than only share stories. Sometimes there’s a story within, but it will only be one facet of the entire poem which has taken on existential and surreal elements, especially in my newer bluetry series and other writing which can be seen on my blog.
Do you think the Internet is a good complement to writing—or does it just get in the way?
The internet is made for networking and research or maybe just made for me. I can surf all day and network endlessly and it seems to fit my style. It works for me. Look at all the things I’ve done on Facebook alone; first I made a fan club for someone else then for myself, then for a magazine which published my work. Then I promoted several other groups and people. Afterwards I became an editor for The Cartier Street Review and another editor took note of all this activity and asked me to edit an anthology with her. The internet helps move things along.
The only problem I see with this is for a solitary person like me, it encourages me to stay in the house and remain solitary. Why go out when I can accomplish so much sitting in front of a computer?
Do you believe all poetry is political—or just some poems?
I think all poetry is political to the extent that life is political. Every time we make a statement or write a sentence it has wider implications, unless all you say is pass the butter, and even something like that can be made political. Why not get up and get the butter yourself? So much is a mechanism of social behavior we learn. And why must we follow norms? Who is it who decides what norms to follow?
I have always rebelled against norms. For example, I love to eat with my hands instead of a fork, I love to bring up subjects that could be embarrassing. I often write about relationships based on power structures. Work relationships and the structure of work are also political so if you write about work then, in essence, it’s political. Some poetry is blatantly political, concerning the presidency or human rights. More subtle poetry is about relationships or written from a woman’s or man’s view. Sometimes people don’t consider my work political in spite of the fact that I often address social issues in my writing.
Please share with us one poem from the collection, and then riff a little about the journey the poem takes the reader on.
Professional caregivers often suffer and burn out because of our pain. It’s a difficult job to keep giving with no payback in sight except to know you’ve done right by someone, so I related. That night, I said I’m going to write a poem about this baby and JoAnne said, Please do, it would help me to deal with it.
Others who have heard me read this before will request it at readings. I'm actually quite bad at attending readings which is kind of strange because there's this dichotomy; I'm very friendly and outgoing while simultaneously reclusive and shy. The other thing to remember is that when blues first emerged, they said it wasn’t “real” music and the same with jazz. Dare to be different, I’ve lived my life by that code.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a series of bluetry poems. I labeled them bluetry (yes I made it up) because this series concerns the common themes of blues. This year has been a year for the blues for me. I was compelled to write these. The first bluetry I wrote invokes Billie Holiday—one of my all-time favorites—and is called “I sing the blues for you today.” This poem took me three months before I knew where I was.
I threw Billie’s lines in the bluetry and they took off. I also have a bluetry poem about a dog rescue and canned hunts, another passion of mine. What I see happening in my poetry and writing is that I mix more elements together and take risks. I take a pinch of surreal, mix with equal parts enthusiasm and passion, add existentialism and observations, throw in some reality and voilà!
The most frequent comment about my work usually concerns its honesty and openness or something about my passion. Absolutely, I write with passion, the way I live. People often write me about my poetry and comment on my life being so sad. I don’t know what to do about that really but passion is evoked from intensity. That is the way I am and the way I was born. Perhaps artists become artists because they do feel things more intensely.
From way back I always have a pen in my hand. Now I mostly sit in front of the computer but if I'm forced to go out, I've always got pen and paper at hand and most often use it. Now, I have very little time, being totally involved with two current projects, editor at The Cartier Street Review, and also for The Smoking Book, an anthology concerning smoke, fire, fog, or anything that concerns smoke. I also write interviews for Street Literature Review, the paper mag. It’s also time to return to that unfinished 186 page novel and just spit it out! I love writing and love reading. Being busy with passion is what I live for.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
It's about what happens in life when we--and others--suddenly see ourselves differently.
Read Chapter One by clicking here.
If you leave a comment on the Complementary Colors blog (click on the "Leave a Comment" link at the end of the chapter), you can win one of 3 signed copies of the book that will be given away this summer.
Every Tuesday around this time I begin thinking about Adam: What he's going sing, the twist on what he's going to sing, what he's going to look like. Is this insane?
I hope he goes on tour by himself in the next year or two. He is definitely someone I would see in concert, but I don't have any desire to go to a huge stadium and be forced to sit through the others who, while they may be talented, don't hold a candle to Adam. That said, I have this sinking feeling that Danny Gokey's going do an upset and win. Don't know why, it's just a feeling I have.
My feeling is probably wrong. Let's hope.
Speaking of concerts, we have tickets for her in September:
and them in October:
Yep, they'll be together for the event! Of course they don't look like this anymore, but hearing their voices together will be Nostalgia 101. (What ever happened to men with beautiful hair and beards that looked like they belonged in a shampoo commercial?)
These concerts are my favorite venue, Mountain Winery.
Also in the plans for this summer are finishing the first draft of my novel and several great events: a trip to Tofino, a weekend at a rental house in Asilomar for a friend's 50th birthday, a family reunion, and a lot of hiking as well as kayaking in our new, red kayaks. Can you tell I'm excited for summer? The only thing that stands in my way are a stack of student papers, one more day of regular class, two finals to give, two full days of holistic scoring torture, and grades to compute...
Monday, May 11, 2009
Saturday, May 9, 2009
When Mom was diagnosed, she started keeping a journal. Her wish is that I share this journal so that others can see how this disease affects people. She also wants me to write about it from my perspective, which I've been doing in a memoir that chronicles the illnesses of both my parents, and the impact on our family.
So, this is one of my Mother's Day gifts to Mom, continuing the series. (The other gift will be spending the day with her and a bunch of other family.)
Even though she can no longer do much reading and writing, her influence shines through me. Still, the journal can be very emotionally wrenching, especially this entry I share below. In the journal, it's evident she still has her sense of humor. For instance, she often addresses me, challenging me to decipher her spelling and handwriting. And though she also displays a pragmatic attitude toward death, it's painful to realize she has so much awareness of all she's undergoing.
She and I have talked about much of what's in this entry. She worries about us, her daughters, and how we are suffering. I tell her we are taking each day as it comes, enjoying being together. Besides, this is the way of things, isn't it? Parents take care of you, then you take care of them. She certainly did that for her own parents. I'm afraid I'm not as stoic about the whole thing as she is, but I try to be the best daughter I can be without jeopardizing my own health. Not always an easy balance to strike, but if anyone understands that, she does--the woman who took care of my ill father for more than 20 years.
At these links are the first two entries from her journal:
Mom's Alzheimer's Journey #1
Mom's Alzheimer's Journey #2
And now here's the third. (Note: I've kept the spellings and grammar the way Mom wrote them so that readers can have a sense of her abilities but have included needed corrections and more information in brackets when necessary for clarity)
I lost my way coming back to my room today -- but maybe that was a fluke.
What's short--I wonder because because I read on the interenet that the average age of life after an AD diagnosis is 7 1/2 years. I also read on the internet that there's a 'short' & a 'long' AD. How log is log [long]? How short is short? Supposedly, the long variety is slow growing--pople [people] get the symptoms slowly over a period of time. I feell I have the rapidly the fast-growing variety. My symptoms seems to be coming on rapidly. So my question is still watch [what] is rapid & wot is slow? I'll ask the neurologist.
[Friends who were visiting] help me too much. I can understand that. They tried to help me across the street, as if I couldnt recognize the signifal [signal] lights. I tend to walk closer to the sidewalk and they wouldn't let me! As I said I can understand that. Theveve never dealt with someone with AZ, but neither have I.
I have more & more memory loss. I can't remember names and when I speak I can't remeber things--like words of things. One time, I remember not regnoising [recognizing] a place--it was if a blank wall were staring at me.
In the book I'm reading by an AZ patient, typing is not a problem for her, it is for me! Kathleen gave me the book--there are easy words in this book, so I can read it. She gave speeches til toward the end of her life. There are also short breaks in the book--places where one is able to stop, not the disese. I read about a treatment that slows down the disease for some people. It's an injection in the spine. I'm not looking for things to slow the disease, I'm look[ing] for things to speed it up! (Good luck, Kahtleen, in decifering this!)
I've lost Annie's present. It makes me very sad to realize this, not just because I lost it but I liked it and I have lost my glases. I can barely function without them.
I found them. They were in my apartment, under where the bed meets the mattress. A caregiver helped me find them.
[Note: An early symptom of my mom's disease, for at least a year before she was diagnosed, I can now see in retrospect: She had a very hard time organizing things, and she often lost things. I would help her clean up her desk, and then the next day it would be a mess again.]
I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping at night.
I've been having a lot of pain in my rt side. I think it is muscle pain. It is localized under the rt rib cage. I'm not sure it is a muscle pain. I hope it is something more serious, something that would take me quicker.
I blurt out things I don't mean regalerily [regularly]. I've been the laughing stock on many occasions. It bothers me some, but there is nothing I can do about it.
The preident [president] of the residents council is someone I can relate to ... her husband died of AZ. I'll try talking with her ...
I lose my way a lot. I lost my way coming back from my walk today (again). I couldn't even find my room. I've been losing my way other places too. Thank goodness I still remember--almost everything.
I've always been geographically challenged, but this is different.
I don't feel bad about my condition. "Why not me," as my husband would say, but when I think of all my daughters, I feel sad when I think of all they've been through & have yet to go through.