Archive for January, 2009

On inauguration day our mid-morning at the residency was partially cleared so we could watch the event.  Imagine around fifty children’s authors in a room, sitting on 70’s furniture and surrounded by shelves of geopolitical business books, watching a TV screen slightly larger than a laptop.  Got that image?  Good, now erase it.

I was talking with people about how we tend to remember where we were the day something horrible happened and use it as a memory peg, but so often those memories outnumber the good ones.  It isn’t like you can plan on a tragedy like an assassination or a terrorist attack, and part of why we remember where we were in those moments is that our brains go looking for some sort of grounding.  It’s a part of the story we tell ourselves, the narrative we need to find in order to maintain perspective.

But the good days, the good moments, the things we can see coming, everything blends together leading up to that moment and trails off afterward.  The memories of those good times don’t anchor themselves so much as they come screaming from the distance, gain volume, and then fade away the way a supersonic jet might pass through our consciousness.  It’s like the memory’s version of the Doppler effect, where it wells up and floods past without really stopping to affix itself to a particular event in time.

It was later in the evening, after dark, after dinner, when the moment came for me.  It is what will cement itself as the primary image of the day Obama was sworn into office, the thing I remember perhaps most of all:  large, cold, upper-elevation-formed snow flakes.

inaugural night

distinct and large
the gentle glitter
coated marshmallow banks
in a sugary crystalline shimmer
with a sea glass wind chime tinkle
against a moonless midnight ocean
of blue

on a cold night
full of warm celebration
the moment
in twinkly tears of joy
for far too long
in the heavens

You have to understand, it wasn’t just snow, it was snowflakes about a quarter inch across, their architecture perfectly visible from a distance, so cold that they didn’t immediately melt when you caught them in your hand.  It was a fairy tale snow for the end of a day that deserved a moment all its own.  When generations yet born ask me what I remember about January 20th, 2009 I might talk about heckling a man in a wheelchair by singing Darth Vadar’s theme, or olive green gloves, flubbed lines and big bow-tie hats, but it will be the image of that snow that outlasts them all.

Poetry Friday?  Yeah, I’ve heard of it.  Hanging out over at Adventures in Daily Living this week.

Read Full Post »

Every time there is an award ceremony someone is always upset their favorite book/movie/president didn’t win and then whines about how it’s unfair, how the real winner was robbed, or how, clearly, the judges wouldn’t know a winner if it bit them in the ass.

This isn’t gonna be like that.

The ALA 2009 Youth Media Awards wew announced this morning at the ALA mid-winter conference in Denver, an event akin to the Academy Awards for the kidlit world, though nowhere near as brash.  In a simple ceremony that lasted under an hour (Motion Picture Academy, are you listening?) the American Library Association doled out its annual awards for the Caldecott Medal, the Newbery, and all the others people may (or may not) have heard of.  As always, there was buzz and speculation leading up to the event where the winning and honorable mentions are announced in breathless anticipation to a room full of librarians and an internet full of interested parites.  And as always there were surprises among the expected.

I’m not going to recount the winners here, nor is this going to become a political discussion about what did, didn’t, or should have won.  After a trip to my local indie bookstore, some careful consideration, and a shower I have come to see as clear as the morning air how these awards need to be fixed. Fixed implies there’s something broken, and there is.

When the awards are announced there are very few people who know in advance which books are even under consideration.  Publishers may get an inkling that something is up when calls are placed the day before on behalf of the committees asking for the contact information of an author so they can be, uh, contacted.  So outside of the committee members the first notion that a book is about to win trickles through less that 24 hours in advance.  That means that even the most ambitious of publishers isn’t really going to get a head start on priming warehouses for demand and sending books back to press.

This is key, because what happens is that on the day the awards are announced few booksellers have a majority of the winners on the shelves, much less in quantity.  There then comes the mad scramble to secure books from distributors, or calls placed on print runs, and a fickle buying public becomes too impatient to wait for something they want right then.  Interest in books wane, and then a book buying public just assumes to wait until a paperback edition with a little foil emblem appears or their local library finally gets a copy.

But there are solutions.

1.  Announce the shortlist a month in advance

Hollywood doesn’t get a lot right, but they understand how to make Awards work for them.  They announce their shortlist a month in advance of their ceremony, which gives studios time to flood movies back into theatres and wring some more money out of them.  They create interest, and people like to feel as informed as the Academy in these things.  Then, when the winner is announced, they can argue the merits, agree or disagree, and generally feel like they were part of the experience.

If the ALA were to toss out a shortlist of TEN titles for each category six weeks in advance of their mid-winter conference, publishers would have a heads-up AND the opportunity to reposition these books for holiday sales.  What’s key here is that by announcing the titles up front they generate interest in titles for time on both sides of the award, where now they only score that interest after the fact.  Publishers, librarians, distributors, and booksellers would then be able to help guide readers (and buyers) toward titles that have been pre-selected as possibly the best in the field.  This isn’t as easy to do after the fact.

With books in stock up to the day of the announcement, booksellers are then able to best capitalize on the awards and keep customers happy, rather than sending them away feeling like a book that wasn’t available was too obscure to be on hand.  This perception cannot be underscored enough, because if a consumer goes into a store unsure of an unfamiliar title to begin with and they discover it is not available they will be less inclined to seek it out.  Conversely, studies have shown that if a person puts an item in their hand (or has one put there for them by a bookseller) they will be something like 70% more likely to purchase it.  Say what you will about the noble art of reading, books and publishing is also still a business and anything that encourages sales encourages reading and vice versa.

The reason for ten titles is so that the ALA can still award a winner and three or four (or five) honor titles and still maintain some mystery around which book will win.  It also generates controversy about those that don’t, because controversy is still talk, and talk is like advertising, and books could use all the PR they can get.

2. Drag the president into the fray

Why do the winners of the Super Bowl and the World Series get to meet the president and book award winners do not?  Why can’t the president make a public acknowledgment of the shortlist in advance and then meet personally with the winners in a public ceremony with the press as part of his platform on literacy?  I don’t have the pull or the president’s ear, but someone has to, and for a guy who featured families reading to their kids at least three times in his paid political announcement it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibilities for this Obama guy.  Seriously, what’s the cost of something like this?  Nothing?  And what does it do for reading and publishing to have a president give the same amount of face time to writers of children’s books as he will for overpaid sports “heroes?”

3. Oprah

No, I’m not kidding.  I was working in a bookstore when Oprah’s magazine debuted and there was a small, one-paragraph article about a book called The Four Agreements among all the ads and fluff.  That mention in her magazine generated over half a million sales of that book in one week following that mention.  Prior to that the book hadn’t sold fifty-thousand copies in its previous two years.  That kind of power can be scary in the wrong hands but so far the big O has used her powers for good and not evil.

So why not a Oprah Book Club for kids, an O Jr.?  She could give some kidlit authors the same coverage she gives to jokers like James Frey and be promoting literacy at the same time.  Once a month she throws out some quality fiction for middle grade, YA, and picture book readers.  Then in the early part of the new year she does a show (or magazine feature) on the books nominated for the pending awards.  Instant interest, books flying off shelves, and more importantly, young people reading.

Ten years ago if I could have traveled into the future of today I would have slapped myself for saying such a thing, but Oprah cannot be ignored.  She has proven herself to be a champion of books and despite what anyone might think of the person, the advocate for reading that is Oprah cannot be denied.

It doesn’t seem likely that any of these three fixes will be put into place, but any one alone would be almost enough to send a seismic ripple through the publishing world in a good way.  Set aside the question about whether or not books or ebooks are the future of publishing, there will be no future without readers and the place to generate that interest should come from those most passionately concerned about literacy.

For those intersted in the results of today’s announcement you can go to the ALA’s unfriendly site and sort through the individual winners here, or sit through the entire webcast, or just wait a few months until the  books finally arive at your local bookstore with their little foil medallions attached.  If you still care.

Read Full Post »

Have a good semester.

Will I see you at breakfast?

When does your shuttle come?

I already miss you…

For the stragglers among us — and I am among the stragglers simply because I got a short nap in after dinner — the pull to call it a night and do our last minute packing is in defiance of our refusal to let go.  We admit how hard it is on our families and loved ones to lose us from our lives for so long, and I can’t help imagine that first time a lunar orbiter circled the moon and communication went dark.  There was no reason the astronauts wouldn’t complete the orbit unaffected, and yet those moments where communication was completely blocked left mission control back on earth worried about the safe return of the mission.  Here we are, emerging from the dark side of our moon, our residency concluded, our command bases anxiously looking forward to our safe returns and complete debriefings.

We have called this environment many things, including a retreat, a place to recharge our creative batteries, and a hothouse.  Like a hothouse, we grow quickly under artificial conditions and the fruits of our labors are larger than normal.  We live together and eat together and work together, and when the time comes we scatter back to our non-hothouse worlds and attempt to make sense of it all.

Emerging from the dark side, artificially accelerated… these attempts to explain the process and environment always seem to fail.  And it the end, much like a party we don’t wish to leave, it’s yet another bittersweet moment that we will treasure and process and store away for future use in our writing.  Twenty-four hours from now we will either be home or well on our way that direction.


It’s that thing we talk about the entire time we’re here.  About what we do at home, what we will do at home, what’s awaiting us at home, what we’re looking forward to at home.  No matter how much “important” work we do here at the residency, no matter how focused we are, no matter what, we are always mindful of home. A hothouse is not a home, neither is a lunar capsule isolated from all contact with the rest of the world.

There’s work to do, and for that we must go home.

Read Full Post »

It’s a totally different city, two totally different dudes, and yet it appears that these conversations keep popping up everywhere as if part of the collective unconsciousness.  I was downtown in Vermont’s capitol city getting some quarters and Nutella (can’t properly do laundry in a dorm without both) and as I was passing I caught just this snippet from a couple of local Joe’s.

Joe Rock: Am I an ass to who?

Joe Paper: That’s not what I said.  I said Are you an ass-man, not Are you an ass, man.

Joe Rock: Oh!

Isn’t it a wonderful thing what punctuation and intonation can do with the English language?

Once again, twice in less than a week, twenty-something guys engaged publicly in conversation over the most sublime of topics.  And, again, without any sense of shame or embarrassment that others can hear them, or that perhaps they might find themselves judged accordingly.

Okay, listen, I’m a guy.  I’m not saying I didn’t participate in my share of conversations like this.  In fact, I recall having this very same tits-or-ass conversation with some friends of mine… when we were 12 years old and hanging out at Boy Scout camp safely several hundred miles away from anyone who could hear us.  Twelve would be an appropriate age for hormonally-challenged males to be considering the deeper issues of life.  Twelve would make sense of mermaids and the first blush of body fascination.  But to still be having these conversations in your twenties strikes me a type of social retardation, or perhaps a prolonged state of immaturity. And pathetic.

Can I blame this on vapid entertainment, on television shows that sexualize the world and make it okay at the same time to remain in a state of suspended maturity?

Joe Rock, Joe Paper: you’re both asses. And hardly men.

Read Full Post »

Well, here we are nearing the midway point through the residency and oddly I find myself jotting down little poem-like things when my mind wanders.  In the event there are grads or faculty who are wondering: No, my mind is not wandering during your lectures.  Just before or just after, perhaps, or in those moments after breakfast when I’m killing time before having to trudge across the snow-covered lawn in sub-zero temperatures.

I make no claim for these being good.  I’m not even going to say I truly understand what has driven them.  First up, some wordplay based on the possible meanings within a single word chosen at random from an ad in a local free newspaper.


the match sticks to the flame
sticks to the match sticks too
the flame sticks to the match
too stuck to each other too
stuck to the same to the heart
to the flame to the match to
the thing that is same that is
the match that sticks the flame
that sticks to the match that

That was the afternoon of the fist day, actually.  The next day I was toying with a pair of words in my head — horseflies and homefries — and I thought I had something there.  I was thinking something ranch and cattle, and maybe  it had something more to do with the cafeteria food.  But then this came out:

the ayes have it

horseflies do not
(but should they?)

cowpies are not
(how could they?)


(not ever)

blind eyes cannot
(so unseeing)

hereby wasn’t

farcries will not
(nobody heeds them?)

goodbyes aren’t
(who the hell needs them?)

There’s more, but it isn’t finished, and it sort of changes the pattern in a way that almost makes it look like it belongs in another poem.  So I’m going to keep working on it and perhaps that will show up next week when I’ve just gotten home from residency.

Finally, for this one I have to set the scene.  It’s late and I’m thirsty.  I go to the vending machine but I’m denied.  I cross campus and try another machine, denied again.  The next thing I know I’m singing in my best Tom Waits voice.  Somehow I doubt Tom would contemplate anything so banal, but it amused me to no end:

the tom waits impromptu

the vending machine
won’t take my money

won’t tug bills
won’t swallow coins
the vending machine
won’t take my money

just looking for a little of that
pause that refreshes
the vending machine
won’t take my money

taunting me with well-stocked rows
of untouchable recyclable soldiers
the vending machine
won’t take my money

droning a maniacal counterpoint
to a fluorescent display case hum
the vending machine
won’t take my money

I did eventually procure a lovely beverage, thank you, but I’m still singing about the cranky vending machines.

And now back to some paperwork.  I am in school, after all.  Looks like Poetry Friday is hanging out over at  Karen Edminsten‘s place this week.

Read Full Post »

The process of picking an advisor begins with what we jokingly call sped dating.  Actually, we don’t pick an advisor so much as we limit the possibilities from among the many.  And I guess it technically begins long before the speed dating, as we spend the early days on the rez in a casual frenzy pumping fellow students for information on the advisors we might be considering.

It’s an information exchange worthy of Cold War espionage.  You need quality intel, so you need to trust your source.  You need to branch out of familiar sources and hunt down those you might only know casually.  Who did you have last semester?  How did that go?  I had So-and-so.  Yeah, it was good, it went like this… Then you catch a glimpse of conversation nearby, you shift your attention, listening for an in to crash the conversation yourself.  You reevaluate unfamiliar and contrary sources  I don’t know that I trust this person’s opinion, but maybe they’ll have a contrary view that will help round out the picture, or maybe even add something I hadn’t considered.

So many ways to triangulate the intel.

Next, you need to gather material first hand.  You visit faculty at assigned meeting places.  You toss out where you are and what you’re hoping to work on.  They counter with their working methods, strengths, possible suggestions.  Like a mating ritual, a flourish of color and a flash of feather, a call and response.  Five minutes, ten tops, get a feel for the situation, trust your gut, move on to the next one, do the dance all over.

After having done the ritual twice before there are people you can automatically rule out, people you’ve interviewed before, people you simply need confirmation on one way or another.  There’s usually one stand-out but it’s best not to put up hopes because therein lies madness.  The process, you are constantly told, is arbitrary, yet you’ll end up with the person you need.  No one believes this, even if it’s true.  It makes no sense.  Why bother to interview and select people only to have the final decision be so arbitrary?  You’ll end up with one of your choices, but if you truly end up with the person you need would that still be true if you listed those people you truly did not want? Would the fates make the necessary corrections?  Would an intervention take place?

Dating over everyone reconnects their conversation, moving and thinking forward.  Who did you interview?  Who are you thinking about?  Who would be your first choice? Our choices are collected by lunch, decisions made and discussed by the faculty by dinner, and we learn sometime later in the evening.  Then will come the official greeting, a proper first date, a course plotted, and an agreement for a future date.  Is this any way to become a writer?


Read Full Post »

There’s a good chunk of the residency devoted to Workshop, that place were groups of us hang out and get work critiqued for a good hour or so.  The groups are artificially random – that is, there are a balance of genres and people at various stages of the program with little else to connect them – spread out over the course of the coming week or so.  Usually two folks are reviewed at each Workshop except for the first day, which is all about laying out ground rules for the group in addition to one critique, and the last day, which includes the last person and a summary of the Workshop experience.

Guess who drew the first critique for his Workshop on Wednesday.

A year ago when I started the program I think I would have plotzed had I gone first.  I think most first semester students would, which is why a second or third semester goes first.  Of course now that I’m up I’m totally cool with it.  There’s a certain amount of anticipation that comes with waiting for your turn, and the further down the list your turn is the worse it feels.  You sit throgh all the other crits hearing people’s opinions, their thought processes, the way they think, and you cringe at every misstep you hear as it applies to your own piece.

My first semester, throughout the rez there had been a sort of running theme about prologues; What is the point and purpose of a prologue, does it detract from the story, are there certain rules that apply, are they even necessary? As we get to read a section of our Workshop piece before being critiqued and get to address prefatory remarks (before being forced to remain silent for an hour while everyone else talks about your work) I announced “Okay, I get it.  The prologue chapter has to go,” which saved me having to cringe through fifteen minutes of that discussion.

The advantage, of course, is that you get the crit out of the way before the group really gets its footing and can lay into you.  It isn’t so much a question of setting a bar (though it could be depending on the piece) as it is that this group is still trying to sort through their dynamic while talking ablout your work.  This means that there’s a slight leaning toward the personal perspective rather than the academic one.  After four or five critiques people are referencing various lectures and comments previously made and a real reaction to the piece at hand is like mining gold buried in the iron pyrite.

So tomorrow then, I get to hear what this group of folks thinks about my crazy YA story about a couple guys who try to get out of a Community Service requirement at their high school.  I’m already bracing mself for some misunderstandings about the protagonists (there is more than one), the narrative voice (not set yet), and the fact that I’m writing it as an ensemble peice.  Hopefully I won’t be too devistated to post the reaction a couple of days from now.

Read Full Post »

First, if you think this about a celebrity sighting, well, no.  It isn’t.  If through some Google search you stumbled onto this thinking there’s some crazy story about me and an encounter with a great character actor, well, thank you for bumping up my hits.

Last summer when I took the bus to my residency it was around the time that a Canadian gentleman went a little crazy and stabbed a passenger in the middle of their trip with a steak knife.  I know this could be a little unnerving to some, but these things happen in the world and you can’t go around thinking you could be next.  Seriously, I knew people who moved to California and were in constant fear that every truck rumbling on the street was the Big One that would level the state. “I’d rather have hurricanes/tornadoes/blizzards because at least you see them coming!” they would say.

Really?  You mean that you’d feel better knowing every time a crazy person was going to threaten someone with a knife somewhere?  You’d feel better having every little pety crime blown up to national safety alert status?  Hey, no biggie, that’s what Fox News is all about.  Listen, the world is full of the unexpected.  You can’t live in fear.

Total digression, but a few years back I had some use-it-or-lose-it holiday time so I planned a trip to DC.  I’d never been, wanted to go, flights were cheap, done.  After planning the trip, there was that guy going around killing people, the sniper in the car, Malvo I think was his name.  Anyway, people were coming up to me saying”You cancelled your trip, right?  That guy’s still at large!”  And you know what?  He was, but I was still going.  Because I could have gone to ANY CITY ON THE PLANET and had something happen to me.  One known guy shooting people isn’t any different than any number of unrelated random events happening anywhere else on this planet and, to be honest, the numbers didn’t indicate I was any more at risk that anyone else.  Two days before I left, they caught him.  I enjoyed my trip without incident.

So before I left today Suze kept saying “Don’t sit next to any crazy Canadians!” because, well, because she loves me and wants me to live and come home.  Okay, I can dig that.  But short of interviewing my fellow passengers the best I could hope for was to trust any sort of hinky vibes someone might be putting out there.  No vibes, near empty bus, smooth trip.

Until White River Junction.

WRJ is right on the border with Vermont and New Hampshire, and the bus depot (a dingy bunker if ever there was one) is where drivers trade off, gas up, and people make connections elsewhere.  It’s also where everyone has to get off the bus and take a break.  This time when we get back on we’ve got a new driver.  He’s a stocky dude, red hair combed five different directions and in layers, a week’s worth of beard on his face, and a croaking voice.  If you were blind in one eye or squinted just a little you’d swear you were looking at American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Just before we get under way Bus Driver Hoffman goes up and down the aisles checking tickets and passports for those going on beyond Montpelier into Canada.  As he nears I hear him give some sort of comment to every rider, in a flat monotone suggesting an aging comedian forced to work the lines at Disneyland.  “Two more stops for you.” “No, I don’t need to see your picture, we let customs handle that.” “Next one’s you, buddy” (said to me).  Only after he passes do I realize: I’m surrounded by Canadians.

I did not panic.  The Chinese woman behind me was asleep the entire ride, and the woman across from me was too busy reading Ken Follett and secretly eating a five-dollar-foot-long sub to even notice I was alive.  As we pulled out of WRJ (aka Nowheresville, USA) I was satisfied that the ride would proceed as it had, calm and normal and–

“Welcome aboard Greyhound 9143 with service to Montreal.  My name is Tony and I’ll be your bus driver for this leg of the trip…”

What I thought was going to be a simple announcement was anything but.  Tony (if that is his real name) went on to run down the various destinations along the way, approximate times of arrival, and then into some rules and regulations as riders.  And some more rules and regulations.  And some more.

“If you do use the lavatory please remember to lock the door.  This is to ensure your privacy and comfort and to prevent the door from suddenly opening, either from another passenger or on its own.  I’ve seen both situations in the past, this model bus in particular is known for it’s faulty door locks…”

What the hell?  The crazy Canadian on the bus is the DRIVER?!

“Also keep in mind that you are not to annoy or offend you fellow passengers or in any way cause injury or harm while on the vehicle.  This includes offending sounds and well as odors from nail polish remover, permanent markers, aerosol sprays of any kind, and that includes feet.  People, if your feet are a little funky — and you know who you are — you need to keep them in your shoes at all times.”

I’m laughing.  I’m holding it in but I’m laughing.  The way Tony Seymour Hoffman is running through his spiel it’s like he’s given it a thousand times, yet it also sounds like he knows who’s on the bus.  I also can’t help but wonder, since I’ve never heard anything like this in the past, if this isn’t somehow connected to the incident last summer.  Was someone driven over the edge by stinky feet?  Would that be enough to turn someone homicidal?  Could a faulty door lock have caused an embarrassing situation that lead to cold-blooded murder?  Did the legal department at Greyhound just sit around and try and nail down every single customer complaint into a single policy once and for all?

Fifty minutes later we arrived in Montpelier, without incident.  As I retrieved my bag from the storage bin I thanked Tony Seymour Hoffman and he flinched, as if a rider being kind to him was as shocking as a slap in the face. A crooked twist of a smile crossed his face and for a split second I almost asked him if he was related to a famous actor.  But if I’d done that I would have been the crazy rider of the day.  So I turned and hoofed my way toward school and watched the bus lurch toward Montreal.

Read Full Post »

The travel day starts on the T, where some college Joe’s are talking on the way into downtown.  For the sake of not wanting to embarrass the institution they belonged to I will not identify it here.  Suffice to say, they are students from a school in Boston.

Joe Paper: So, listen.  Like, which would you… which would you rather ‘do:’ Classic mermaid or, like, you know, the other way around?

Joe Rock: Which would I rather… what?

Joe Scissors: You know that mermaid?  Ariel?  She’s totally hot.

Joe Paper: Do, like who would you do?

Joe Scissors: The other kind?

Joe Paper: Classic mermaid is, you know, girl on top fish on the bottom.  And the other way is–

Joe Rock: Classic.

Joe Scissors:  The other way?  Like fish on top and girl on bottom?  Is that a mermaid?

Joe Paper: Yeah.

Joe Rock: Classic.  No hassles there.

Joe Paper: But, like, how would you do her?  She’s fish!

Joe Scissors: Fish on top?  Like, face and all?

Joe Rock: Dude, classic.  She can just, whatever.  Lay her eggs and whatnot.  She’s still got a mouth.

Joe Paper: Yeah, but the other way…

Joe Rock: You’d hump a fish?  That’s all it is.  A fish with legs–

Joe Paper: And an ass.

Joe Rock: Classic.  All the way.  That Ariel, you know?

Joe Scissors: Totally hot.  What was she, like fifteen?

Joe Rock: Classic.

Joe Paper: This our stop?

High school guys, I could understand.  These guys were talking about their classes and the new semester and were clearly older college students.  What the hell is wrong with these three dudes that (a) they think this is a valid conversation to have (b) in public and (c) without a shred of embarrassment?

Read Full Post »

Hours from now I’ll be on a bus headed north for Montpelier.  From all over the world — literally — a small band of like-minded folks will be descending on the smallest state capital in the United States.  We’ll be there to reconnect, recharge, and retreat.  We’ll also be there to stay up way too late talking, eating cafeteria food made by culinary students, and frantically making decisions about how to spend our next semester actively pursuing a collective dream.

It doesn’t happen in a vacuum, by accident, or without support.  Though these dates have been in place for over six months, this residency is turning out to be a real household wrecker.  While I’m up north Suze is working frantically on a case that may send her south for a few days at the same time.  I know Suze has kept the details from me to avoid making me feel bad about leaving — to keep from feeling I’m abandoning everyone and everything — and to be honest, I don’t know what I could contribute as a solution even if I were up on everything.  She’s got her mother coming for a few days, she’s working the connections of friends in town to keep an eye on the girls in the afternoons before she gets home from work.  Even though lectures and workshops are going to be fully engaging, it’s going to be hard not to wonder (and worry) about things at the homestead when my attention drifts.

Then there’s the pending CT, the critical thesis.  This is the semester I’m charged with pouring some great bit of wisdom at length into something graduate-worthy. This has been freaking me out almost since the beginning and it’s hard to imagine it’s going to go as smoothly as people tell me it will. The CT, this residency, it all reminds me of when I was a Boy Sprout and we’d stand at the trail head at the beginning of a backpacking trip.  We’d know how many miles we were headed, where camp was, starting and ending elevation, but that first step seemed so impossibly far away from the last.  And when it was over it semed as if the first step was so insignificant compared to some of the others along the way. It also seemed a lot shorter than the actual time spent, like somehow time fluctuates to make the monumental insignificant, magnifies the minute into momentous, and makes the whole process strange and horrible and wonderful and new and old all at once.

I’ve got ten days ahead of me that are both familiar and unknown to me.  When it’s over I’ll come home and all of this stress and anxiety will evaporate, replaced by stories and the comfort of order.

*     *     *

One part of me wants to keep up with what’s going on here in blog land, to keep a running diary of rez and all that happens, and the reality is that if I have any spare moments I’m going to want to check in at home or keep up with emails and whatnot.  So if I go dark for a few weeks, trust that somewhere else everything is much brighter.

Much love and public appreciation to Suze who is making this possible, despite some incredible obstacles on all fronts.  I owe you some Oreo truffles, among many other things, sweeite.

Read Full Post »

Prepping for school residency really messes with my rhythms.  I’m too distracted, too torn by things to do, mixed-up with a combination of anxiety and excitement.  This meeting-twice-a-year thing has all the feel of summer camp, where you come from all over to see your camp friends and become inseparable until it’s time to go back home to the rest of your world.

Yesterday I sent ahead boxes with bedding and heavy boots and snacks and a reader I prepped for fellow classmates.  In a few days I’ll travel myself and catch up with those boxes.  Then for 11 days I’ll be in a shared room, eating according to a schedule, sitting for hours on end soaking up strong vibes and good wisdoms.  But right now it’s as if in preparation my brain is scrambling to get clear.  My brain doesn’t want me to think about reviewing books or hunting down poems or even mundane things like doing laundry or making sure I have my favorite pens available.

But every once in a while the hazy sludge clears and a single thought or two pops through, streaming like rods of liquid lemon pudding through the black meringue of confusion.

I was thinking about how poems for teens always feel to me like exercises in calculation.  Topical in subject, but also limited in audience.  We don’t teach Dickenson or Frost or any poets as products of a particular age, and yet there are books produced for particular ages as plainly marketed as a breakfast cereal or some new fad.  Young children have their poets that remain in print and perennially published, but where do the tween and teens find their poetry?

Then I was thinking that if  ever jumped the fear and decided to take my poetry seriously, what I would like to write is nonsense for adults. I look at all these poets with their thin, perfect bound collections on the new shelves in the library and long for a title that says “Hey, I’m a little bit of absurd, come take a dip!”  But it’s not there.  Plenty of titles that promise meditations over heavy subjects pondered over steaming cups of liquid on wintry days (adult poets seem to mention coffee a lot), or detached musings of humanity witnessed from public transportations (because poets are too poor to travel otherwise?), or lengthy explanations for biographical behaviors in relation to family dynamics (confessions of some minor transgression that has haunted the poet for years).

Do adults not want to escape from the serious now and then the same way kids do?   It seems like that’s the message.  In your youth you may read poems about imaginary creatures and about tormenting siblings, but as an adult those poems have to be about creatures haunting your marriage or about the tortured relations among adult siblings with Serious Problems.  Oh, sure, occasionally adults are allowed to indulge in a frivolous haiku or an absurd bit of verse, so long as its topical or satirical, as if to show restraint.

I don’t like cake any less than I did as a boy, but as an adult am I supposed to pretend that I don’t like it as much, that there’s some sort of adult joy in the parceling of treats?  Once, through a strange set of circumstances, I discovered in my teens that I actually preferred my birthday dinner the next day as leftovers.  For breakfast: cold spaghetti with meat sauce, German chocolate cake, and Seven-up.  Cake for breakfast is wrong?  Who says so?  It has more nutritional value than some cereals kids eat.  So just because a poem is humorous I’m supposed to put it aside as an adult and consume more broccoli instead?

The world is an absurd place, more absurd as you get older and understand it more (and less).  Why paper over the absurdity with something sensible and rational?

Then the fog descends again, leaving me to fret about pre-trip details, internal arguments over the reading I should do versus the reading I want to do.  Appointments must be made and kept, errands run, kids and cats fed.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »