07 May 2018

Take on May

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It's the first day of finals week and I already have that loopy off-my-routine feeling. Waiting for things to grade, and when those things arrive they'll be magnificent: finals from writers on writing, essays from my grad poetry lit class, and mimetic poems for books on our syllabus. This was an eventful academic year, that's for sure, and next up (immediately next up) I've got plenty of Akron Poetry Prize reading and a compressed, three week World Lit course to teach. And hopefully, later in the summer, new poems.

I've got news to share. New poems of mine will be appearing in upcoming issues of Court Green and Waxwing, two journals that I admire immensely. It's such an honor, and helps put a bit of wind to my sails as I am on the brink of sending more work out. I am also incredibly honored to be on this list, as a recipient of an Individual Excellence Award in poetry from the Ohio Arts Council. I'm thankful to live in a state where these kinds of grants still exist.

I spend a lot of time editing and mentoring and talking about making a sustainable writing life, but at the same time I find myself relying so much on "positive feedback" in order to propel myself forward. I think I have less, not more, confidence as I get older. Is that unusual? I suppose I'll find out eventually. 

23 March 2018

The What Next


I'm trying like heck to remember what last year's spring break was like. Has it gotten to that point? Where every year blurs into the past few? Please say no. I suppose having a blog is good because it reminds you of what you did last year and beyond, like a Timehop that's mostly words.

Just now I put on my go-to blue house hoodie. I'm someone who alternates between cold and not-cold on a pretty regular basis. I regulate between writing and not writing on a much less frequent schedule, as in: during breaks from teaching I write, and during the time when I'm teaching, I am not writing. 

This is difficult because my work as a professor and editor often primes me for writing, such as discussing process or reading a particularly magnificent poem to my classes. Currently we're reading Diane Seuss in my graduate literature seminar, and every time I open Four-Legged Girl I am knocked out of my chair by its power. 

In both hoodie on and hoodie off times I'm frequently victim to The What Next. The Is This Going To Be A Book. The Should I Write More Poems Like This Or Just Stop. I think awareness, and giving it a name, is a crucial first step in confronting such feelings. Then I ask myself if this particular anxiety (I have many) is one that is doing me any good, such as the nagging feeling that I really ought to clean out the cupboards and merge all the almost-empty boxes of uncooked pasta.

Sometimes this energy can encourage me to revisit a project, or to think about it with more seriousness, but usually it causes me to spin my wheels and fret and do another load of laundry just to feel as if I've accomplished something. 

A book is like a hardy yet reclusive fruit that needs to grow in a certain degree of dark. If you keep walking into its room and flipping the fluorescent overhead lights on just to check to make sure it's still there, you'll make it wilt. Or so I will tell myself as I attempt to write some new poems this coming week. 

If I'm not cold, I'll hang the hoodie over the back of my chair, just in case. 

08 February 2018

New poem who dis?


I don't think I'm alone in saying that poets are often the most in love with their current work. At least that's the case with my poetry. I love my new poems so much that I leave them in the safety of file folders on my computer and do not even contemplate reading them at events or even sending them out until I have an urgent reason to do so. It's like my elementary school sticker collection. I wanted to protect the stickers, to keep them safe by not letting anyone--including myself--see them, let alone peel them from the harbor of their pages. 

Is this poem-hoarding? Perhaps. But yesterday was a brutal winter day, and once I finally made it to campus I had time to do a few revisions, and then I decided to read all new poems at the Lakewood Library event that evening. The day was so busy that I did not have time to fret about whether I'd miss a word, inadvertently "revise" something on the fly, or flub the cadence of a line. And somehow, when I was up at the podium, it all worked out. Since the poems were new I read them extra slowly, and they were kind to me. 

Reading the brand new poems when they were still brand new enabled me to return to the feelings I had when writing them. It was kind of like one of those capsules that expands into a dinosaur sponge when you toss it into the bathtub, only instead of a dinosaur it was a poem. In the wake of this sentiment, I vowed to return to the poems and get them ready to send out. Sometimes you find a "push" in the place where you'd least expect it. 

25 January 2018

Uphill.


Every year I forget how frantic spring semester can be. We're nearing the end of week two, and my calendar is filling up with meetings and thesis defenses. I'm excited about the thesis defenses, in particular, since we are part of a consortium and defenses mean that I am able to leave town for a day and hang out with different book-length works of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and even playwriting (I do it all).

This week I did some serious copyediting of university policy for one of my committees, and it made me think back to my red pencil and copyediting symbols of yesteryear. I may have had a hint of nostalgia, but promptly drew a red pencil line through it.


15 January 2018

Working from home when home is work.


I'm not one for mulling over regrets, but often I wish that I could work happily with background noise. I envy friends who can listen to music while replying to emails (without typing the lyrics into said email, as I would do). Cafes are such energizing places, but I can barely concentrate. I grew up in a very quiet house, and work best in absolute silence. Right now as I type this, I am very aware of the clock ticking in the next room, for example, but at least it's consistent.

Today is rare for me: an entire day to work, hopefully quietly, at home. Zero kid schlepping, no cleaning, minimal laundry, only very slight cooking. I started working at 7:00 am and plan to work straight through until 5:00, with a brief lunch break and some moving around. As I do this, I'm recalling and practicing some strategies that have helped in the past, and I would like to share them with you.

1. Pick out an outfit that feels as much like pajamas as possible (without also feeling depressing; I walk the line between comfy and sad in terms of house clothes). 

2. In anticipation of this work day, purchase numerous moderately healthy snacks from someplace like Aldi or Trader Joe's. Have them on hand and deploy as needed. If the day seems to call for more coffee than usual, don't fight it.

3. Don't be afraid to move the furniture around a bit. I do best with natural light, so today I moved my desk chair into the dining room to face a large window. I have pillows to best replicate my ergonomic office workspace, and a blanket for my lap, which is a pleasant luxury. I've moved my dog's bed into the dining room so that she completely ignores it and sleeps on the couch instead. This morning she learned that she could push me around the house (hardwood floors) in the rolling desk chair. Thankfully she's now all tired out from that.

4. Give yourself some non-snack treats, like time on an app or making a blog post (this is my first treat of the day). Don't forget to walk around periodically. One thing that helps me is to remind myself: no cleaning today! Yes, must accomplish (arduous tasks 1-5) but no cleaning.

5. Be clock-aware, but not extraordinarily so. If you are able to give yourself a number of hours of work at home time, rather than saying "Oh snap, only three more hours," reflect back on all that you've done so far. 

6. Even if it seems stupid to write a particular task on a list or in a planner, do it anyway. Then cross it off. 

Tomorrow the new semester begins. I keep reminding myself how lucky I am to have a day of focused and somewhat restful work time and preparation, even if there's some dog snoring to go along with the ticking clock nearby. 

06 January 2018

Return of the page.


If you know me you know that I believe in paper. I annotate student and friend poems longhand. I emblazon papers with notes in green and orange and pink and light blue. I use a paper planner in addition to all my calendar and list apps. I devote a significant amount of my life to editing a book series where paper books are also art. So then why is it so much trouble to write lines for poems down longhand in a notebook? How come I'm not like so many poets who keep journals? Should I be blaming the twitter for this? Blaming myself? 

Over the summer I decided that the first step in getting back to paper was investing in a nice notebook. Green is my favorite color, and I value paper that feels good under a pen, so this one looked right. It also couldn't be too fancy, or else I'd be afraid to use it. It couldn't be too big, or I would come up with excuses for leaving it behind. Ideally, it would have that wholesome book smell when opened. I also hoped to return to my early, pre-computer habits of writing things out. When I went to college it was with an electric typewriter, and I typed my poems but wrote them by hand first. Somewhere along the line, I deferred to composing exclusively on computer because I can type faster than I can hand write (thanks to all those secretarial jobs in the 90s).

Typically I jot notes in my phone because my phone is handy. In a couple of weeks I'll be insisting that my Writers on Writing students invest in a tiny notebook for hanging on to interesting phrases. I keep a wee notepad in my purse, but most frequently defer to the notes section of my phone. However, it's not exactly instantaneous when I'm looking to jot something on my phone. In fact, I often end up in the wrong folder of "notes" and have to punt and go all the way back to the beginning, and in the process I could easily lose a fragment of my fragment. Once I attempted recording notes to myself, but I messed it all up and retained an audio transcript of some fumbling and swears.

Even though I didn't make any solid 2018 resolutions, I'm trying to write things down in the green notebook more often. One bonus: upon returning to it after a while away, I found a bunch of useful poem notes that I'd forgotten about. Since beginnings are difficult, I set a tab in the notebook halfway through, and started there. And finally, I keep reminding myself how smooth the paper feels under my pen.

Take on May

It's the first day of finals week and I already have that loopy off-my-routine feeling. Waiting for things to grade, and when those ...