Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games.
It’s been a fantastic reading month for me — both in terms of sheer numbers as well as a multitude of books that I loved. Most notably was my delve into the works of manga artist and writer Junji Ito, including Uzumaki, Gyo, and the Shiver collection of short stories. As I mentioned in a previous post, Ito is a master of weird, cosmic, and body horror (sometimes all at once). It’s beautiful, disturbing, wonderful work.
I was also delighted by The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Love, deception, and etiquette are a the center of this story in which a young women travels to the city of Loisail for her first Grand Season. The aim of her trip is to mingle with the Beautiful Ones who make up the wealthy high society in the city in the hopes that she’ll find a suitable husband. Unfortunately, her manner and her telekinetic abilities make her a target for gossip. When she meets telekinetic performer Hector Auvray, she thinks she’s found the kind of love one reads about in books — but learns that no one is what the seem in Loisail.
This is a charming fantasy of manners, full of polite but cruel society and wonderful explorations of the people who live in it. I have so far bought and read three of Moreno-Garcia’s books and I have loved all three of them. The Beautiful Ones was no exception, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
I recently watched a video essay on how media scares us, which compared movies to animation to comics, with a loving description of the works of Junji Ito. This video immediately sent me on a bender, in which I quickly devoured as much of Ito’s manga that I could get my hands on. Here’s a bit of that fantastic journey. (Sorry for the crappy cell phone pics.)
Joanna C. Valente is a ghost who lives in Brooklyn, New York. Joanna is the author of five poetry collections — Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and Sexting Ghosts (Unknown Press, 2018). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing By Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017), and received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. They are the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and an editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms. Joanna also currently teaches courses at Brooklyn Poets. (Bio from Joanna’s website.)
How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?
I started writing as a child, around age 11. I always made art, always had a strange, ferocious drive to communicate and make something that spoke to others. That made us all feel less alone. I think that still rings true today. I write because I want to understand myself and others, and connect to the world in a more fulfilling way. I think all art is political, the personal is political and especially in such a contentious time, where we need to shed light on inequalities in order to really create a truly better world, making art that sheds light on different perspectives is important to me.
Your most recent collection of poetry is Sexting Ghosts. Can you tell us about the project and how it came into being?
The project is an interesting mashup of different things I started writing immediately after finishing my MFA in writing. I was, and am, so obsessed with spirituality, the universe, and where we sort of fit in. I was raised in a religious household and while I largely rejected a lot of the sort of “status quo” ideas of Eastern Orthodoxy (what I was raised in), I do believe in God/the universe, and it is important to me to explore this. I think, for awhile, I felt like I had to reject religion or spirituality, because it alienated me as a queer person — and because of the rigidity of it.
But now I’m comfortable with it, and a fluidity of traditions and approaches — I largely consider myself a witch with a mashup of Eastern Orthodox/Jewish beliefs, which is because of my relationships and upbringing and interest in largely just being authentic and true to myself. So this book is largely an exploration of that as a queer person, using the first part to explore gender and sexuality and dysfunction in the tradition family setting, while the other parts explore this within the technological realm. What does spirituality look like with texting, what does it look like when we look at the universe as a living thing separate from humanity?
Several of the poems in Sexting Ghosts are laid out in a Q&A format, while others explore free verse, prose poetry, and other forms on the page. When approaching a poem, how do you decide which form is best for the piece?
I let the piece speak for itself. With every poem, I think of it as a blank canvas. How does the structure better allow me to tell the story that needs to be told? With lineation, everything counts, everything creates a new and dual meaning — and the rhythm, pacing, stresses, and tension are all built into this. I’m very meticulous when it comes to structure — and once I get in a habit, I want to break it. Challenges are how we grow as writers. I never want to write the same poem forever, I want to grow and change and be a better version.
Is community important to you as a writer? How do you stay connected?
Community is everything. Support is everything, no matter what it is — a writing community, a religious community, a romantic partnership. Being part of an artist and writing community means you have people who can be your friends who get you but also your readers, and the people telling you what you need to hear, those uncomfortable truths (even if it’s just, this poem isn’t your best) or having the bigger discussions around sex, race, gender, etc. We learn through discussion and conversation. Movements don’t happen alone. They happen in a group, and I’m very focused on political change.
I stay connected in any way I can: texting, social media, writing letters, phone calls. You name it, I do it. I’m flexible because I care. I care about people. And honestly, it’s fun to meet people and foster new relationships, in person or online.
Do you believe poetry can create change in the world?
Definitely. I believe art changes the world. I think it’s also very easy to see that, from the obvious changes that Allen Ginsberg and Maya Angelou made. It may seem cliche and obvious to name them, but I think that’s the point. Their ideas and their art literally changed the course of history — and changed humans for the better.
The Big Poetry Giveaway has come to an end. This year, I offered up No God in This Room by Athena Dixon and Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch by me. Winners for the giveaway were determined using a random number generator, and here they are:
Renee Emerson has won a copy of No God in This Room
Crystal Vega-Huerta has won a copy of Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch
Congrats! I hope you both enjoy reading your new books!
Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games.
Orphaned Lewis Barnavelt is sent to live with his oddball, wizard uncle in a strange mansion with a next door neighbor who’s a witch. Everything is cheerfully weird until Lewis learns about the clock in the walls, always ticking away with a subtle, persistent malice. I didn’t know about this book series until I saw the trailer for the forthcoming movie (which looks like it will be quite fun), and I’m so glad I picked it up. The reality of living in a home with a clock ticking down to … something is wonderfully haunting and creepy. And yet, the story maintains a joy for magic and youthful discovery. Also, finding out that the book includes illustrations by Edward Gorey was a bonus delight.
The trailer looks like the movie could be a fun adaptation.
A couple of weekends ago I visited the Silicon Valley Comic Con for a day — my first time attending any Comic Con. My first impression as I walked in was of being completely overwhelmed by the amount of people and stimulation, but I quickly settled in, with enjoying the number of cosplayers and panels.
I was only there for a day and I was on a tight budget — probably a good thing, since I would have acquired vastly more goodies from the show floor if given a chance.
I really enjoyed Artist Alley and seeing the indie creators and publishers, so I bought a couple of comic books to support them, including:
Quince, written by Kit Steinkellner, illustrated by Emma Steinkellner, created by Sebastian Kadlecik
I discovered the Science Fiction Outreach Project booth close to the end on Sunday, which was a good thing. I don’t think my bookshelves could have handled the amount of books I would have grabbed otherwise. As it was, I got my hands on:
New Worlds of Fantasy #2, edited by Terry Carr Always the Black Knight by Lee Hoffman The Null-Friendly Impulser by James Nelson Coleman The Night of the Wolf by Frank Belknap Long Terror by Frederik Pohl The Dream Lords: #1 A Plague If Nightmares by Adrian Cole Men Without Bones and Other Haunting Inhabitants of the Wide, Weird World by Gerald Kersh
Panels and Such
Since I was only at the con for one day, I didn’t have much time for panels, though I enjoyed the ones I saw.
My favorite panel of the day was “The Truth is Out There: NASA’s Search for Life Beyond Earth,” which was hosted by a panel of scientists and engineers from NASA. The presenters were brilliant at sharing information about their work searching for the potential of life in the universe in such a way that was clear to everyone without dumbing it down. Definitely makes me want to study it more.
“Stone Clutched to Chest,” a collaborative poem by Laura Madeline Wiseman and I, has been published in the issue 41.2 of Star*Line. This print issue can be acquired at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association ( SFPA) website.
Our poem, “Stone Clutched to Chest” looks at the Beowulf epic from the point of view of Grendel’s mother — and is one of the many poems re-examining myth, folklore, and pop culture stories that will be published in Every Girl Becomes the Wolf, which is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Maybe check it out, watch the trailer, or preorder a copy?.
NonBinary Review #16: The Little Prince is now available for $1.99!
“In 1943, French aristocrat, author, journalist and aviator Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry, wrote The Little Prince, one of the most translated, most widely-read books in the world. Much of Saint-Exupéry’s life, including the death of his younger brother at the age of 15 and his marriage to Salvadoran artist and writer Consuelo Suncin, was woven into this tale of innocence, adventure and loss unlike anything else written before or since. In this issue, two dozen authors and artists explore this beloved tale that has haunted readers for over 75 years.” And isn’t the cover art by MANDEM gorgeous!
There are a couple of days left to giveaway some books as part of the Big Poetry Giveaway 2018 — or check it out to see all the books you could nab (link is also in the sidebar).
Other Good Things for National Poetry Month
“Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Science explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe,” noted Ursual K. Le Guinn on the intersections between science and poetry. “We need the languages of both science and poetry to save us from merely stockpiling endless “information” that fails to inform our ignorance or our irresponsibility.”
NonBinary Review, a quarterly digital literary journal, has an open call for submissions of poetry poetry, fiction, essays, and art relating to Madeline L’Engle’s 1963 book A Wrinkle in Time. All submissions must relate to the stated theme.
NonBinary Review pays 1 cent per word for fiction and nonfiction, and a flat fee of $10 for poetry (singular poems or a suite) and $25 per piece of visual art.
Danielle Cain (a “queer punk rock traveller”) is looking for answers regarding her friend’s death, which leads her to Freedom, Iowa — a squatter town that professes to be a utopia. However, something’s wrong in down, and it’s not just the heartless animal life wandering around as though they aren’t really dead. I freaking love The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion — which I grabbed off the shelf because of its amazing title and strange eerie cover. It’s strange and surprising, while offering a variety of interesting, believable characters. I just sort of clutched it to my chest when it was over, wanting so much more of these people and this world.
Another great read over the course of the month was Nalo Hopkinson’s collection of stories, Falling in Love with Hominids. fantastic collection of stories from Hopkinson, showing the depth and range in her skill as a writer. The stories in this collection are strange, beautiful, and often unsettling. The opening story, “The Easthound,” begins with kids playing word games against an apocalyptic backdrop (a sweetspot for me). Beginning with this playful banter, the story grows more and more tense as we learn what the source of the apocalypse is. Meanwhile, “Emily Breakfast,” presents a lovely domestic normalcy, involving picking homegrown spinach, tending to the chickens — although it’s a normalcy that includes cats with wings and other animal deviations. “Blushing” is a completely terrifying Bluebeard retelling. And there are many more tales in this collection that are equally worth exploring.
Welcome to the Big Poetry Giveaway! To participate in the giveaway and to find other blogs that are doing giveaways, check out this post.
To participate in my 2018 giveaway, just post a comment with your name and email address included. Please also let me know your first choice, if you win.
Book One: No God in This Room by Athena Dixon
In discussing her chapbook, No God in This Room, Athena Dixon says, “The pieces in the collection are all very image driven. In my poetry and my prose, I tend to concentrate on a central image or thread and then spin the work out from that axis. Some of the poems take something as small as a bee on a window sill and weave a story. Others tackle images directly related to police brutality and shootings. Each of them gives a bit of sweetness and sourness.”
Book Two: Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch by Andrea Blythe
My limited-edition chapbook of erasure poetry, sourced from past issues the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer, explores the relationship between the self and a collective consciousness that has the power to “unleash enviable culture”.
The giveaway ends on April 30th at midnight, at which point I will use a random number generator to select the winners.
How do you participate? It’s simple:
— Anyone with a blog can give away two books of poetry.
— Anyone can enter any or all of the giveaways.
How to Participate
The Big Poetry Giveaway has officially started and will run through April 30, 2018. If you would like to participate in giving away some poetry, then you need to do the following by Thursday, April 5th (deadline extended to April 15th):
1. Create a blog post that uses the header image above (so that we know who is participating), in which you announce which two books you will be giving away. You may choose to include a little note about yourself.
Include a link back to this post so that others can easily find these guidelines and have the option to participate.
Make sure that your comments are open, so that people can enter to win.
2. Once your blog post is live, comment here with:
A) The name of your blog
B) Your name
C) A direct link to your blog post
I will keep a running list of participants, updated every couple of days until I close entries on April 5th.
3. During the week of May 1st, select two winners at random. You can put the names in a hat or use this handy random number generator.
Please note that by participating in Big Poetry Giveaway, you agree to send two books to anywhere in the world. You pay for postage. The winner does not.
1. Can I give away my own poetry? Yes. But please make sure that one of the books is by another poet. The idea is to share books by poets we love.
2 . What if I don’t have a book of my own? Can I still participate? Yes! Just give away two collections by poets you love.
3. Can I give away more than two books? Certainly!
4. Do chapbooks count as books? Yes!
5. Do the books I give away have to be new? Nope. Gentle used books in good condition are fine.
6. I don’t want to pay for postage if someone wins. Can I still participate? No. By hosting a giveaway as part of the Big Poetry Giveaway, you are agreeing to pay for the postage required to ship the book to anywhere in the world. If you are unable to do so, then please don’t participate.
7. Can I enter the drawing if I don’t participate in the giveaway? Yes. The drawings are open to anyone.
8. Can I enter the drawings if I am a blogger giving away two books? Yes. As noted, the drawings are open to anyone.
9. How will I know if I’ve won? The blogger running the giveaway you signed up for will be responsible for contacting you if you win.
10. What are the exact dates of the giveaway? The giveaway begins immediately and ends April 30th, 2015 at midnight (PST or Hawaii-time, not sooner).
The winners will be chosen the week of May 1st, depending on the blogger’s schedule.
Any questions, email me at andreablythe [at] hotmail [dot] com.
I’ve been on something of a book buying frenzy over the past couple of months, hitting up bookstores, small presses, and library sales (and in one case a contest win!) to the point that my bookshelves are overwhelmed and the stacks around my home are growing into towers. Although I’ve been a slow reader lately, there are many of these books that I’m super excited about and I can’t wait to dive into them.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
I am Not Your Final Girl, poetry by Claire C Holland (won this in a contest! woo!)
Let’s Not Live On Earth, poetry by Sarah Blake (which I just finished reading and need to review
To Live Here, poetry by Soul Vang
Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton
The Tale of Tales by Giambattista Basile
The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales by Franz Xavier von Schönwerth
The Letters of Abelard and Helloise
Children of Lovecraft, edited by Ellen Datlow
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Novelists Lexicon: Writers on the Words That Define Their Work
And in a separate pic, because some of my chapbook buys don’t have spines to show:
Salsa Night at Hilo Town Tavern, poetry by Kristofer Collins
No God in This Room, poetry by Athena Dixon
Slut Songs, poetry by Jade Hurter
What do you think? Any books I should jump into reading first?
This chapbook explores the received images of the feminine in fairy tales. The women and girls in this collaborative chapbook resist the common tropes of red riding hoods, gilded mirrors, and iced palaces. Every girl becomes the wolf because every girl has the power to tear apart the cultural conceit of wicked stepmoms, heartless mothers, and voracious monsters. Witches, hags, and mothers of damaged creatures from myth, movies, and lore prowl through this poetry. Lilith settles in to enjoy the county fair rib-off, Grendel’s mother holds her son close, and the Sphynx bears the weight of mythic secrets. Mothers demand their own freedom, daughters refuse gendered expectations, and wives leave what spoils with rot behind. As they wrestle with their place in these stories, they transform into figures outside of the victims or villains they have been perceived to be.
In other poetry chapbook goodness, I completed the work on my kickstarter-funded erasure poetry chapbook, titled Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch, which has been printed and shipped to backers! This was a lot of fun to put together, and I’m thrilled with how it all turned out.
I have quite a few left to sell ($10), so email me if your interested in receiving your own shiny new copy.
As I already mentioned, I adored Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, which is a stunning book of gods and bodies and fractured minds. The writing is stunning, and I highly recommend picking up this book. I’m planning to read everything I can from this author from here on out.
Another great read was Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor. This is a powerful conclusion to the trilogy, which had me crying in front of strangers on several occasions. The trilogy has been imaginative and moving from start to finish. I love Binti as a character in every way and she grows more and more strong and interesting with each book. I’m sad that the series has ended, because I could always read more Binti.
I also did a reread of Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass, the fourth book in The Dark Tower series — which I already wrote over 2,000 words on, but I’ll just say that it was fun to return to the story of Roland’s youth and I’m excited to pick up the next book in the series (new territory for me).
“The first madness was that we were born, that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin.”
I learned about Freshwater after someone (I don’t remember who) quoted a short passage on twitter. Just a single sentence or two — too short to know what the story was about, but beautiful enough to make me long to read the book. It was not yet published at the time, so I watched and waited and clicked the preorder link as soon as it appeared, then I waited some more for this beautiful book to be printed and shipped to me.
It was every bit worth the wait, because this debut novel is gorgeous.
“There was a time before we had a body, when it was still building itself cell by cell inside the thin woman, meticulously producing organs, making systems.”
Born in Nigeria, Ada begins life with a fractured self, burdened with the weight of god creatures that have been bound into her flesh. Living “with one foot on the other side” she is a troubled and volatile child who grows into a troubled and volatile adult, with a tendency toward outbursts and self harm. As she grows and moves to America, where she experiences a traumatic event, new selves crystalize within her, each providing their own protections and hungers.
Much of the story is told from the point of view of these god creatures (or spirit beings), which have their own needs and desires beyond that of Ada herself. Their story and her story blends together, as they have been blended together in spirit and flesh. It’s a fantastic rendering of having a fractured self, the confusing mix of desires and emotions that make up a person, the ways we work to protect and harm ourselves.
“I had arrived, flesh from flesh, true blood from true blood. I was the wildness under the skin, the skin into a weapon, the weapon over the flesh.”
The writing style in this book is lush and vibrant, evoking the energy and power of spirit realms represented in the voices of the gods the speak this story. It’s gorgeous on every page, bringing into existence a story that is unsettling, surprising, and powerful. This is a novel I will return to again and again.
“Dreams either mean nothing or everything — and when they mean everything, they almost always come as messages from . . . well, from other levels of the Tower.” He gazed at Eddie shrewdly. “And not all messages are sent by friends.”
— from Wizard and Glass
Part IV is focused on my reread of book four, Wizard and Glass.
Fair warning: Spoilers ahead.
The third book ended on such a massive cliffhanger — with Roland and his ka-tet set to begin a battle of riddles with a homicidal AI train — that it was a great relief to finally get around to reading Wizard and Glass. This was even though I’ve read these books before and knew how the scene would play out.
Wizard and Glass opens right back with the start of the riddling competition between Blaine the Train and Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake a scene I remember being delighted by when I first read it. And it was just as entertaining to read again, because of how King manages to create intensity in a game of wordplay. I also just really like the idea of riddling, even if I’m not particularly good at it myself. The game plays out, with the group growing more and more desperate each time Blaine smugly answers — with everything wrapping up in a maniacal and humorous form of heroism.
Our heroes all survive of course, arriving at the destination of Topeka, which turns out to be an alternate version of our Kansas — a Kansas emptied of life due to a plague that killed off the population (which I’ll come back to later). All of this is an introductory endcap to what is ultimately the heart of the novel, Roland opening up to the group with the tale of his first mission as a gunslinger and his first love.
In honor of Women in Horror Month — which celebrates women working in the field of horror writing, film, art, etc. — I am stoked to spotlight Saba Syed Razvi.
Saba Syed Razvi is the author of five collections of poetry, includingIn the Crocodile Gardens (Agape Editions), heliophobia (Finishing Line Press), Limerence & Lux (Chax Press), Of the Divining and the Dead (Finishing Line Press), and Beside the Muezzin’s Call & Beyond the Harem’s Veil (Finishing Line Press). Her poems have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies and her work has been nominated for several awards. In 2015, she won an Independent Best American Poetry Award.
She is currently an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Houston in Victoria, TX, where in addition to working on scholarly research on interfaces between Science and contemporary Poetry, she is researching Sufi Poetry in translation, and writing new poems and fiction.
Your most recent collection of poetry is heliophobia. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.
This collection came about through my experiences in the world, and took shape over a span of many years. I started to write the poems in this collection as a student of literature in a university setting, but not really for any of my classes. For me, writing has always been a way to understand and navigate the world, to experience it with authenticity rather than obligation. It has always been an intimate part of who I am, so my own coming of age found its expression in these passages, easily.
I found myself thinking often of the mythology of the classics I encountered, with their archetypal appeal and their visceral logic. I also found myself shaped by the simple delight of old school Goth Clubs, filled with the elaborate plumage of attire and hair, the masks of makeup, and the exquisite sincerity with which dancing and the vibrant wail of music opened up a sense of living against the inevitable call of death, everything with the taste of duende.
Of course, growing up in Texas, as an Asian American and Muslim American, meant that I was often in many worlds at once; I found that the stories of my own dreams and darkness carried faces, melodies, and narratives that often brought a sense of belonging by way of story or shared memory. In this fusion of spaces and sensibilities, markedly ancient and demonstrably contemporary, at once part of the ordinary and outside of it, visibly able to evade certainty and yet always certainly peripheral, I found that defining anything became a kind of puzzle or quest. I wrote constantly, always capturing aspects of the world around me. And, I wove these ideas together with a sense of dream and diaspora, trance and abandon, definition and composure.
Many of these poems are encounters with literature, art, culture, and subculture, but the poems aim to create a tension between the ordinary discourse of reading through the dominant lens and the painfully intimate joy of connecting through the artifacts and elements of our various interpretations of cultural processes. The collection aims to disrupt the notion of definition as a singularly knowable thing. So, I suppose these poems are some kind of unholy fusion of museums, goth clubs, meditations, and global diaspora — all rewritten through dream logic, in some kind of ink made of the timeless decay of memory!
blessed be the young, who are tangled up in rich with lust and longing, locked in a languid exploration into the depths of another, unaware of dangers ahead;
blessed be the old married couple, who have obliterated all their secrets, years kneading together into a comfortable intimacy;
blessed be the broken-hearted, who mine the labyrinths of their own souls, excavating chunks of pain and rage, digging for meaning behind such catastrophic endings — who crawl from the grimy depths into the light, carrying the fragile, glinting hope of love still uncrushed in the palm of their hands;
blessed be the strangers, who lock liquor hazy eyes in an invitation of smiles and lingering touches, fingertips on forearm, drawing one another into a night of coiled limbs and knotted sheets and a bitter-sweet morning of pleasure or regret;
blessed be the solitude seekers, who long only for quiet contemplation and deeper understanding of self;
blessed be the angry, the depressed, the sorrowful, the lost, who fear they have fallen from the path of love, wandering so far into the woods of loneliness they no longer believe such a path exists;
blessed be the artists, who in their love of the world breath in its pain and passions and exhale them as myth and beauty upon page, canvass, tapestry, screen;
blessed be the scientists, who perceive love from the mount of knowledge, witnessing its compilation chemical reactions, pheromones and synapses swirling in a complex network of biology;
blessed be the mating of atoms, who spawn molecules, colliding to form cells, tissue, nerves, veins — shaping humanity and gravel, shale, and stone — rolling into mountains housing leaves, roots, trees — gathering into forests fed by water falling into ponds, streams, oceans — all the weft and fabric of the Earth;
blessed be the Earth, who so loved the sun, it bound itself in centrifugal orbit — for love is gravity;
blessed be the sun, who so loved the universe, it burned with a light that stretched deep into the void of space, softly stroking distant worlds thousands of light years away — for love is light;
blessed be the universe — for the universe itself is love.
As a human being alone, it is easy to forget
the heart is more then sinew,
more than ventricles and muscle,
more than an engine pumping blood.
The heart is expansive — capable
of holding in perpetual eternity
a moment, able to stretch wide,
broadening to embrace worlds
upon worlds within its every beat.
As a single lady along, I say,
though we may never find the One True Love
promised us in fairy tales, we may come
at last to learn that Love itself is true.
Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist, working primarily in the horror genre. She is the author of five poetry collections, including the Bram Stoker Award-winning, Brothel (Raw Dog Screaming Press) and her most recent collection, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare (Raw Dog Screaming Press). Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.
She is the poetry editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction.
Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare is a collection that was inspired by heavy doses of bad decision making, traveling down lonely roads, sleeping in the back seat of my car, and drinking too much whiskey after the bars closed. I’ve done a lot of growing up and calming down over the past three years, and after intense periods of self-care and therapy, I felt ready to stare down my demons and write about them in a way that was more autobiographical than what I usually do. Sure, there are still elements of horror and dark fantasy interspersed throughout, but this one is more about me and the trauma that I carry.
Planning to hopefully be more on top of sharing these in a timely manner this year (haha). So, here’s my month in books, movies, and television.
I did not finish reading a single book in the month of January — although I’m almost done with Wizard and Glass, the fourth book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. It’s a been a fun reread of this rather long book and I’m looking forward to putting together my thoughts on it (and returning the book to the library, because it’s quite a bit overdue at this point.
The other book I’ve been working on is Falling in Love with Hominids, a short story collection by Nalo Hopkinson. I love her work and am enjoying the stories I’ve read so far.
I also have several poetry books that I’m in the middle of, books in which I’ve read a poem here and a poem there, but haven’t read through completely.
Books Finished Last Month: 0
Total Books for the Year: 0
Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King and Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson
Guillermo del Toro is my favorite director and The Shape of Water is a gorgeous addition to his filmography — a stunning and strange dark fairytale about a mute women who falls in love with a creature from the deep, who has been captured by a government organization for testing. Del Toro and his team have the ability to conceive such beautiful monstrous creatures for the screen, the design stunning, the personality showing through. I loved this movie. However, I want to point to “I Belong Where the People Are,” an essay by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, in which she examines how the movie portrays disability. It’s a beautiful, well thought out essay on an important subject.
For January, Kickstarter is hosting the make/100 challenge — essentially urging creators to created a limited edition something (100 tee shirts, 100 sculptures, etc.). It’s concept I found fascinating and I really wanted to participate when they launched the challenge last year, but I had too many projects going on at the time and it didn’t work out. So, this year I was determined to put a project together.
After thinking about what would work best, I decided to do an extension of a 30/30 poetry challenge I did in April, in which I created 30 new erasure poems based on Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer as source material.
The Kickstarter project — A Fearless Chapbook of Erasure Poetry — is to print a limited-edition chapbook of erasure poetry, compiling 20 of these already completed poems and 20 new poems that I am making during the course of the project.
I wanted to keep it simple, so I have only three reward levels:
$1+ — get a pdf of the chapbook and a thank you on my website
$10+ — get a signed print copy of the chapbook
$40+ — get an original of one of the erasures I create, in addition to everything else
Simplicity seems the best way for me to make it through the challenge with the least amount of stress (especially considering all the other projects I have going on simultaneously).
I’m trying to approach it in such a way that I’m asking for money without directly asking for money. Essentially, by posting a new erasure poem every day with a link to the Kickstarter included, I’m hoping that it will draw enough attention to achieve my goal.
So far, this idea is working well — I’m four days in and have achieved 26% of my goal. Yay! Although, I have a feeling I may need to be more direct as the project goes on… kind of like this:
If you have a buck or two to spend on some poetry, I would be thrilled if you could head on over and back my project.
(Whew. Not so hard.)
Anyway, it’s a strange, fun experience so far (making the video was a journey in itself), and I’m excited to see how it will all turn out.
My day three poem:
“I’m decades in to being a poet, but it continues to hurt to write them,” notes Karen Craigo in her excellent post, When the poems don’t come.
Sarah Blake is the author of three poetry collections, including Mr. West, an unauthorized lyric biography of Kanye West from Wesleyan University Press; Named After Death, a chapbook from Banango Editions; and most recently, Let’s Not Live on Earth, a full length collection, also from Wesleyan.
She lives outside of Philadelphia and travels to participate in readings throughout the year. She is also the author of a forthcoming novel, Naamah (Riverhead Books), a reimagining of the story of the wife of Noah.
Let’s Not Live on Earth is your most recent collection of poetry. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.
About a year after my son was born I started writing a lot again, but I didn’t have any ideas about what the poems could be doing together. During that time, I wrote “The Starship,” a book-length poem told in second person narration, all about leaving Earth. When it came time to put a book together, I knew I wanted “The Starship” in it. I looked through years of poems to find the ones that were in conversation with “The Starship” and that’s how the book found its shape.
Your collection includes the epic poem, “The Starship,” in which a woman shifts her perception of existence when a spaceship suddenly casts her home in shadow. What is your process for writing longer form poetry? How do you balance the narrative arc of the poem with a sense of poetic immediacy?
The process is very similar to writing a shorter poem for me. The poem is all encompassing and it’s hard for me to do much else. I found myself writing pieces of “The Starship” on my phone at the Y and in bed. With a shorter poem, it’s ok to have one strange day like this, but with a longer poem, I have trouble sleeping and find myself constantly thinking about the poem for weeks. I’ve resisted writing longer poems since “The Starship” because of how it wrecks me.
I balance the narrative arc with poetic immediacy by building the poem out of small sections, which each get the attention of a poem. I love experimenting with the gestures language can make that feel satisfying, in just a few lines and across a book-length work.
During the month of December, I had a vast number of projects and deadlines going at once. What kept me from collapsing into a quivering mess from being so overwhelmed was taking out my physical notebook and writing down every necessary item that needed to be completed that month. That list, which I was able to return to daily, helped me focus my attention in order to actually get things done — not to mention the absolute pleasure of scratching a line through an item once it was accomplished.
This experience has prompted me to try out a Bullet Journal, essentially a system of tracking and planning one’s daily life in a way that’s entirely adaptable to one’s specific needs. There are hundreds of tutorials and inspiration posts about bullet journaling throughout the internet, all with their own unique way of approaching the system. If you bullet journal, I would love to know about your process too.
I’m not starting fresh with a shiny new book the way most people do. First, because I hate leaving a notebook only partially filled (it makes me twitch). Second, because this is kind of an experiment and I want to see how effective it will be for me.
Essentially, I’m hoping it will help me with the tracking of my goals throughout the year, as well as with breaking down the bigger goals into bit sized bits for progress on a day to day basis. So far it’s going well, which brings me to:
My Goals for 2018
1. Clear My Schedule Enough to Be Able to Focus on THE NOVEL – I would love to be able to put “Finish the Novel” on here, but I know down in the depths of my wailing heart that would not be practical. I can’t seem to focus on the novel, while I have a number of projects going that need my attention right now. The plan is to clear the handful of things that are most important to me, with the aim of launching into novel revisions by July 1st. These things include:
A Kickstarter project to create a chapbook of erasure poetry that I’m launching this month.
Finish story/chap based on the 12 Dancing Princesses fairy tale
Write all of the episodes of a webseries that I’m working on with some filmmaking buddies (probably most important on this list since it involves obligations and deadlines and other good things like that)
Finish and submit various poem and story things (though some of these could be put on hold once the noveling recommences)
Prepwork for the novel (a bit of research, outlining, and so on that will be helpful when I get to the editing)
The trick is going to be not piling on more projects in the meantime, which is going to take some self control.
2. Return to THE NOVEL – Assuming all goes well, I’ll spend the second half of the year focusing on the novel. Just doing that — digging into the work and making progress — would be amazing.
3. Run a Half Marathon – This has definitely been on my list for a couple of years, and I refuse to give it up. I’ve run 10K races before, so running a half marathon should be doable. The key is sticking to a running schedule (4 times per week) that allows me to accomplish training goals.
4. Blog At Least Once a Week – Donna Vorreyer and Kelli Russell Agodon have started up a blogging challenge for poets for the year, in which every participating poet agrees to post something about poetry (craft posts, reviews, interviews, etc.) at least once a week. Since I’m always trying to make sure this blog stays active, I jumped on board. If you want to keep up with my posts without having to think about it, you can subscribe in the sidebar. The list of participating poets is here.
5. Other Goals:
Attend an open mic or author reading at least once a month
Hi, all. Hope you’ve had a good November. Here’s my month in books, movies, and television.
Tipping the Velvet presents the life and times of Nancy Astly, an oyster girl, who falls in love with male impersonator Kitty Butler. After forming a friendship with Kitty, she follows her into the theaters of London, where she works as a dresser (helping Kitty with costumes) before becoming a performer herself. This beautifully told story is a sensual exploration of love and the ability of gender roles. Waters is a master of historical fiction and I loved this almost as much as I loved Fingersmith.
Clouds of Sils Maria is a complicated movie to explain. It’s centered around a film actress (Juliette Binoche) who is starring in the revival of the theatrical play that launched her career and her complicated feelings about now being in the role of the older woman. But the heart of the movie is her relationship with her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart), exploring the innate weirdness of this position, in which one is more than an employee and less than a friend, in the attention demanded and intimacies shared. Most of this movie is these two characters alone together, and Binoche and Stewart play off each other beautiful with deep, complicated performances that reveal the layers of their relationship. This movie is also about the nature of art and loneliness and so many other things. It’s a movie that brought me to such a depth of feeling that I could sit in stunned silence afterward. By far, my favorite movie of the year. (My longer review is here.)
I watched a lot of horror movies this year — around 34 or so — and though I’ll be posting my favorite movies in general for the year later on, I decided to give horror movies their own list. So, here are the top ten horror movies that I watched for the first time in 2017.
Get Out (2017)
Chris, a young black man, goes on a weekend trip with his white girlfriend to meet her parents at their secluded estate in the woods. The weekend starts off awkward and grows increasingly unsettling as it builds into a nightmare. Brilliantly executed by writer and director Jordan Peele, Get Out is a smart, frightening, and sometimes humorous satirical thriller that unveils the nature of racism as microaggressions give way to violence.
It’s been a rough year — and I know I’m not alone in expressing that sentiment. Putting aside the politics and news stream (which has been a constant barrage of stress and frustration), if I were to sum up 2017 in a single word, it would probably be: overwhelmed. As it turns out, this has also been my usual response these days to the question, “How are you doing?”
The year also presented a great family sorrow, as my grandmother, Florence Schlegel, passed away at the end of November. She had an amazing history — worked as a coat check Girl in NY, serving the likes of Howard Hughes and other celebrities; worked at Lockheed Martin constructing aircraft during WWII; lived on a homestead in Alaska and shot three black bears; served her community in Anchorage in a number of ways; and she was always witty and funny, and all around awesome. We miss her so much.
For all the stress and sadness that the year has yielded, though, it’s also offered up some wonderful experiences — adventures in travel and the writing life, some amazing books, and delightful moments with friends and family.
Below is some of my 2017 journey. If you’re inclined to share, then I would love to hear how your year treated you, as well.
I feel like I’ve done more writing than I’ve done in any previous year, although I don’t really have a way to prove that (and I’m not certain it’s true when I think about the multude of 30 challenges I did in 2016). I haven’t really been keeping track of word counts or other forms of tracking, partly because my work has been across so many diverse projects (poetry, script writing, fiction, etc.).
A part of why I might feel this way is that I’ve been trying to consistently focus on my writing in two ways — first, by getting to work early and using the extra time to write, and second, by using my lunch time to write. These little chunks have been helpful in not only getting words on the page, but also accomplishing the business side of writing, like getting work out on submission.
During the year, I sent out 47 submission packets (with anywhere from one to five poems or short stories — nine more than previous year I received 42 individual rejections and had a total of ten poems and one short story published. Not bad. Nowhere near the 100 rejections I was aiming for, but still not bad.
This does not include the collaborative poetry, submissions, and publications that have occured over the past year. I am so grateful to Laura Madeline Wiseman for being my partner in this work, and an inspiration in general. Together, we have had eight poems published in 2017, and have received an acceptance for our chapbook, Every Girl Becomes the Wolf, to be published by Finishing Line Press.
For a couple of years, I have been doing weekly updates noting writing progress, books read, goals for the week, and other tidbits. The idea of these posts was to hold myself accountable for the progress (if any) that I was making, as well as keeping the blog itself active. I started off 2017 continuing these posts, but stopped doing them about halfway through the year when they began to feel more burdensome than helpful. Rather than spending time crafting an obligatory weekly post, I tried to focus on posts with more content to them, like my revisit of The Dark Tower book series.
In total, I shared 45 blog posts, about half the amount of posts from the previous year. I’m okay with the lower number, since it’s more important for me for focus on finishing my existing poetry and fiction projects than sharing things on the blog. However, I would like to share more (hopfully) thoughtful posts in the coming year.
Normally I share my top reads in a longer, separate post — but I’m starting to run out of spoons to make it through the end of the year, so here’s a truncated version.
My reading stats are they lowest they’ve been in probably a decade. In years past, I’ve averaged about 90-100 books per year, this year I’ve managed 45 (as of this posting), which kind of pains me. The reason for this significant drop in my reading rate is because of how I refocused my time at work (taking up my lunch to write instead of read) and the introduction of Netflix into my home life (and the subsequence TV binge-watching that that implies). That said, I’ve managed to read a number of books that have delighted me this year, which I present below.
Top Ten Fiction Books (with series books counted as one)
The Obelisk Gate & The Stone Sky (Broken Earth Book #3) by N. K. Jemisin
It’s been an interesting year for running. On the one hand, all totalled up, I ran 73.63 miles over the course of year — which sounds like quite a bit. But most of those miles were in the first half of the year with March being the highest month at 17.58 miles. All of this is reflective of how my motivation regarding running shifted throughout the year (with an impact on my body health).
One of the highlights of my running practice this year was attending the She is Beautiful Run in March (despite being incredibly hungover at the time). My sisters came along and we took part in the joys of this event. I’m looking forward to finding more events like this next year.
The day job certainly kept me busy in travel and sent me on some great adventures, including some good times in Nashville, Tennessee and most notably a two week trip to Dubai and Singapore, during which I fit in a short hopover to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I loved the cultural experiences of that trip, although the heat and humidity was so intense that I was soon happy to head home to more moderate weather.
And just for funsies, my sister and I put together a two week trip to South America, squeezing in a few days in Peru (including Machu Picchu), Chile, and Argentina. Since our time was so short, we only saw a fraction of these countries, each of which I would like to take far more time to explore.
Well, that’s my year in a snap shot. How was your 2017?
Athena Dixon is a poet, essayist, and editor. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Linden Avenue Literary Journal, a phenomenal publication that she launched in 2012 with the aim of increasing “diversity in publishing by encouraging work from writers traditionally underrepresented in the industry.” Her own work has appeared both online and in print in various publications. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Best of the Net nominee, and a Callaloo fellow, and has been a presenter at both AWP and HippoCamp.
Athena’s first chapbook of poetry, No God In This Room, is now available from Argus House Press.
You recently published your first collection of poetry, No God in This Room. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came into being.
Back in 2016, I came across a contest announcement from Argus House Press. They were seeking intersectional manuscripts from poets in or from the Midwest. I thought I was a pretty good fit and pulled together a chapbook I thought best represented me as a woman, an African-American, and a Midwesterner. In recent years I’ve concentrated on essays about growing up in the Midwest, so it was nice to be able to find a home for my poetry on the same topic. This was actually the first contest I’ve entered and to my surprise I won! The collection was originally titled Way Station, but after Bianca Spriggs read the manuscript she suggested a new title. No God in This Room was the hands down winner.
The pieces in the collection are all very image driven. In my poetry and my prose, I tend to concentrate on a central image or thread and then spin the work out from that axis. Some of the poems take something as small as a bee on a window sill and weave a story. Others tackle images directly related to police brutality and shootings. Each of them gives a bit of sweetness and sourness.
What lessons did you learn in the process of pulling together your debut collection of poetry? What was the biggest challenge in finishing the project?
Most of my lessons came after I entered the manuscript. I thought I was a good fit, but I’d never submitted more than a few poems at a time. After I was selected, I started worrying about what I’d included and whether or not the collection was cohesive. I toyed with the idea of withdrawing it altogether or entering into major edits because I wasn’t confident that people would like what I’d put together.
I’m a writer who reads everything aloud obsessively and I wasn’t sure the mouth feel and sound of the poems was right. Thankfully, most of my doubts were quieted when I read the blurbs, stepped aside, and listened to my colleagues.
In the future, I’d take quite a bit more time organizing the pieces and finding both the inner threads and outer structure of the manuscript in advance.
Do you have a favorite poem from No God in This Room? Why is it your favorite?
I’d say my favorite is the opening poem, “Boxes of Andromeda”. I wrote it for my mother. I was sitting on the floor at AWP back in 2015 and I scribbled it down in one sitting. I think it captures my mother perfectly. She was a factory worker, but was still very much a feminine figure. I wanted to honor her sacrifice of body in order to give me a different path.
How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?
I started writing short stories when I was young. I’d write what was pretty much fan fiction featuring R&B singers and groups. I still have a suitcase full of them at my parents’ house. They are pretty embarrassing!
I wrote my first poem in November 1990. When I was in the 8th grade, I had a student teacher who taught us poetry for a grading period. She was very encouraging of my writing. She told me I wrote like Emily Dickenson. I had no idea who that was. So, I started to reading poetry and writing more. From there I wrote for any venue I could. From middle school through college, I wrote for an endless number of newsletters, online magazines, poetry forums, student magazines on campus, and did freelance work.
I keep writing because of two main reasons. The first is because on those days I am feeling confident I know I am a damn good writer and I love what I produce. Those are the days I want to share what I craft with the world. The second is because I need writing to be my voice. I’m pretty quiet and sometimes I feel invisible. Writing lets me speak in ways that I sometimes can’t muster out loud.
As the founder and editor-in-chief of Linden Avenue Literary Journal, as well as being a writer, what advice would you offer to writers just getting started?
First and foremost is to be yourself! Find your voice and find what you love to write about. Knowing that allows you to be confident and vested in what you are creating. That doesn’t mean it won’t, or can’t, change over the years, but if you have some real connection to what you are writing it will show in the final product.
It may seem that you have to follow trends or like certain writers or presses, but that’s not true. The writing world is vast and eventually you will find your niche and your community. When you do? Support it and it will support you!
Do you feel community is important as a writer? How do you stay connected?
Community is important, but it is also important to know that every community isn’t for you. Sometimes, especially in the age of social media, we get the idea that a writing community has to be a group of witty and cool people who riff off of each other on Twitter and other apps. Sometimes community is that. Other times, and for me, community is a couple of people who keep me grounded via e-mail and in a private setting. This works for me because of my shyness. My community also consists of people of varying ages and backgrounds. This allows me to have fresh eyes and perspectives on my literary pursuits and questions.
Do you believe poetry can create change in the world?
I believe that it can, but it needs to be coupled with action as well. Bringing awareness to topics via our creative works is massively important, but it can’t stop there. As I said earlier, if you find your voice you are going to be vested in what you are writing. That passion and interest can manifest in many ways, but I think those actions should extend beyond writing into volunteer work, fundraising, protesting, campaigning, or any other manner of engagement.
Name one poet no one knows but should.
There are a quite a few, but those writers that I find really exciting usually come via the submissions at Linden Avenue. Two that come to mind are Daschielle Louis and Rosie DeSantis. We recently published both of them and I was very impressed with their work.
What can the world expect from you in the future?
Hopefully, my collection of essays will find a home and be sent out into the world. I’ve been crafting and publishing these essays for about the last two years and it would be wonderful to finally share all of them with the world. I also have two poems in the forthcoming Black Girl Magic anthology from Haymarket Books. That will be available in March 2018. There are a few things in the works that I have to keep to myself for now.
And of course, I will continue to publish Linden Avenue along with my staff because it’s one of my priorities to offer a place for all writers get their work out to the world.
Here are Part I and Part II of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. Part III is focused on my reread of book three, The Waste Lands.
Fair warning: Spoilers ahead.
The Waste Lands begins with signs that Roland Deschain, the gunslinger is slowly going mad. At the end of the previous book, he stopped the Pusher from shoving Jake (the boy who appears in the first book) in front of a car, thus preventing events from the first book from ever happening. This creates an interesting temporal paradox, in which the gunslinger begins to experience split realities — one in which Jake dies and one in which he never met Jake. As time goes on, his mind becomes more and more divided between these two realities.
Sofia Samatar’s collection of stories reveals human (or not-so-human) tenderness as the aching of a wound, or the gentle kindness from another, or the vulnerability of the young. It’s a stunning collection of powerful stories with beautiful writing and many with creative ways of expressing the tale (essay format, journal entries, letters) that provides a unique depth and texture.
I love “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” a story in which a young woman comes to terms with her anger at the loss of her mother, sharing the stories with the reader, she keeps hidden within herself. The phrases “I don’t tell” and “I won’t tell” are repeated throughout, highlighting the need for new stories free of the pain and mistakes of the past.
On the flip-side of the relationship between mother and daughter is “Honey Bear,” an affecting story of a woman and her husband driving to the ocean with their daughter. The story sings with love and compassion. The woman is ill, the husband frustrated and over protective. She holds to her daughter with such affection in a world that is slipping away, dying. The ending of this story — which I will not spoil — shattered me. Love is so powerful. So is hope, however small.
Another deeply moving story is “Walkdog,” which is presented as an class essay about knowing one’s environment. The author chooses to write about walkdogs, creatures said to steal people away, forcing them to walk behind them for years and years. The use of footnotes here are critical to the way the story unfolds, gaps of the personal slipping under the seemingly academic, building into a story about a bullied boy and the girl who loved him, but not enough to protect him — all culminating in a heartbreaking conclusion.
Power structures are often explored in these stories. “Ogres of East Africa” — which I’ve read three times now and the story grows with each readingfor — shares the story of Alibhai a servant to a white hunter looking to track and hunt an ogre. As he records stories of ogres for hig master, he records his own history in the margins, his story slowly moving to the forefront of the text.
In a similar fashion, “An Account of the Land of Witches” presents the story of a slave finding freedom in a strange land in which boundaries are meaningless. Later a woman in our modern world goes looking for the history of this land, basing her dissertation on the slave’s letter and her master’s refutation, only to have her efforts stopped when the borders are closed by war.
There are so many more lovely stories in this collection — both “Dawn and the Maiden” and “Cities of Emerald, Deserts of Gold” stand out for me in terms of their beauty of language. Take for example, this passage”
My love is a river. My love is a brink. My love is the bring of an underground river. My love’s arms ripple like rivers in the moonlight when he unlocks the garden gate. — from “Dawn and the Maiden”
One could go one-by-one in an attempt to honor each story in its turn. But I’m afraid I don’t have time, so I’ll just say this is a gorgeous book, worth every penny in the cost of acquiring it.
Quail Bell published six of my poems over the past couple of months, all from the Poeming project, in which over 50 poets were each assigned one of Stephen King’s books and charged with the challenge of crating 31 found poems in the month of October. The poems Quail Bell selected were:
In other awesome news, Zoetic Press has started a new podcast called, The Literary Whip. The podcast highlights poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that was rejected by Nonbinary Review and other publication. This is work that almost made it past the slush pile to publication, but was ultimately rejected.
Fell a whole month behind and still moving slow, but here we go — presenting my last two months in books, movies, and television.
The Stone Sky is a powerful conclusion to N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. Essun has grown into immense power and is determined to end the seasons (times in which the world tears itself apart), while her daughter, Nassun, with her own power and burdened by the memories of cruelty enacted on her and other orogenes, sets out to destroy the world for good. The character walk through an apocalyptic landscape of ash and cold, a world coming undone, each marching to their own destiny — and in the end a beautiful conclusion full of heartbreak, forgiveness, and ultimately love. The Broken Earth trilogy is brilliant from start to finish — one of my favorite reading experiences in recent years.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter is a well loved collection, especially the title story “The Bloody Chamber.” People have been telling me about it for years — and now that I’ve read it, I totally understand why so many people love it. The story follows the Bluebeard fairy tale closely: a girl marries a rich man, who gives her the keys to the house telling her that she can open all the doors but one — a test she fails to nearly disastrous results. Carter takes the myth and brings it into the modern world (1970s, when it was first published) and provides more depth to the main character, giving her a history and motivation for the choices she makes. It presents servants that have personalities and her mother, who has fought in revolutions and can advice her over the telephone. The resulting story is at the same time grittily real and subtly magical.
One of my pet peeves about fairy tale retellings is that they often loose the magic when they are modernized. But all of the stories in Carter’s collection present similarly gritty and unsettling takes on old fairy tales, while not loosing that original weirdness and magic. It’s a fantastic collection.
I was delighted to learn that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) “has designated November 3rd as International Speculative Poetry Day to bring attention to the genre of poetry influenced by science fiction, fantasy, horror and other imaginative genres.” This is the first time it’s been held and I’m stoked.
In honor of International Speculative Poetry Day, here are a few of my favorite collections of speculative poetry.
Southern Cryptozoology has been twice nominated for the Elgin Award, which is no surprising to me because it’s one of my favorite poetry reads in the past few years. This collection presents a bestiary of strange, legendary creatures from the Southern parts of the U.S., examining what it means to be monster or human, beast or woman, myth or flesh. The lines are wildly spaces on the page, leaving gaps and holes where truths or secrets or double meanings might slip in. And I discover new things every time I pick up this book.
“A whole town: armed to the teeth,
arming themselves against my teeth.
She-cat of Bladenboro,
I’m here for your dogs,
your sheep, your sons, your blood.
You know who I am, boys.”
– from “The Beast of Bladenboro”
(wordpress likes to compress the spacing, but you canread the complete poem at Drunk Monkeys)
In this anthology, editor Rose Lemburg offers feminist speculative poetry from diverse perspectives. The quality and range of styles and stories these poems address make this a powerful collection of science fiction, myth, and folklore. (I did a longer review of this book in 2013.)
“Perfection is frictionless —
I need to stub my soul on yours,
I need to lick the slivers in your wounds.”
— from “In Defiance of Sleek-Armed Androids” by Lisa Bradley
“This is a story,
and it is true of all stories
that the sound when they slam shut
is like a key turning.”
— from “The Girl with Two Skins” by Catherynne M. Valente
David Pérez uses speculative imagery in his poems to explore the ways things fall apart at the most intimate levels and how was can pull the pieces together from the chaos. There are poems in this book, like “Tickle Me Elmo on Black Friday,” that haunt me; I’ll be minding my own business and then wham, I’m thinking about them all over again.
Why bother saving us
when you have fewer scars from machines
than you do from the men who made them?
You don’t have to answer that.”
Anne Sexton’s Transformations presents retellings of classic fairy tales. The poems bring a unsettling, raw beauty to the original tales, while also being darkly humorous.
“No matter what life you lead
the virgin is a lovely number:
cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
arms and legs made of Limoges,
lips like Vin Du Rhône,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes
open and shut.”
God Went to Beauty School is a collection of YA poetry that envisions God trying out life on Earth. God goes shopping, gets a job, gets cable, explores all the mundanities of human life — and it’s deeply enchanting.
“He got into nails, of course,
because He’d always loved
hands were some of the best things
He’d ever done
Here’s Part I of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. These are my thoughts on rereading The Drawing of the Three, the second book in the series — and as such, there may be spoilers ahead.
The Drawing of the Three opens precisely where the first book left off, with the gunslinger Roland alone, collapsed from exhaustion on the shore of a great ocean. As the tide rolls in, he is woken by the incoming tide (which douses his bullets) and is greeted with horrors that drag themselves out of the water. These lobstrocities with their strange questioning sounds attack him as he’s waking — and this attack, which happens in the first five pages, is brutal, leaving him catastrophically wounded.
Undeterred, Roland continues his long, plodding journey toward the Dark Tower. As walks up the beach, with infection from his injuries spreading, he discovers the first door, the first drawing.
In the first book, The Gunslinger, the man in black laid out Roland’s future using a form of tarot cards, presenting three cards in particular that represent the people he would need on his journey to the Dark Tower — The Prisoner, The Lady of Shadows, and Death (but not for the gunslinger). Each door represents one of these cards. When opened, the doors reveal our own world at different time periods, from where (and when) he must draw out the people destined to join him in pursuit of the Tower.
In the afterward to The Drawing of the Three, King wrote, “This longer second volume still leaves many questions unanswered, but I feel that it is a much more complete volume than the first.” And I am in agreement with this sentiment. I enjoyed my reread of The Drawing of the Three more than I did the first book. Where The Gunslinger felt a little disjointed, as though all the pieces didn’t quite fit together, The Drawing of the Three feels whole. The storyline is simple on the surface, with the gunslinger finding three doors and opening them, but each door presents it’s own complications in terms of how the gunslinger can obtain who and what he needs. As new companions are added to the story, things become increasingly character driven, with their flaws driving much of the conflict — as they tend to do in relationships. It makes for interesting character growth for all three of the main characters, and that growth more than anything else is what makes this such a great novel.
Friday night, I had the delightful experience of seeing Constellations, a fantastic stage play written by Nick Payne and performed at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts.
Constellations is a romantic drama with a blending of physics and beekeeping. The play illustrates string theory and the idea that every decision we make spins off alternative universes. The characters relive moments multiple times, a scene repeating again and again each time a little bit (or sometimes drastically) different than the one before. Other scenes jump forward and then back in time, moments unstuck that only make sense when all is finished. As the play goes on, we get to see every possible side of these two characters and their relationship, the good and the bad, the moments that go horribly wrong and those that go impossibly right. This nonlinear presentation of the story provides an emotional depth. The play is
The staging is kept simple, with just a few low tables or stands that the actors can move around the stage to set up a different scene or location. The back ground is a network of interconnected lights, which change along with each scene in a new configuration, like varying constellations. The lights also look like neurons in brain, the interconnections of the mind.
With the background kept minimal, the focus, then, is on the performances of the actors — who have to bring fresh emotion and perspective to dialog they have to repeat two, three, or more times as each scene repeats. Robert Gilbert and Carie Kawa achieve this with phenomenal skill, making the leap from scene to scene almost look effortless.
I loved every second of this play. Unfortunately, this weekend was the last of its run, but if this gets put on my a theater company in your local area, I highly recommend going to see it.
Coming in a little late, here is my August in books, movies, and television.
When I picked up The Girl in the Road, I thought it was going to be an entirely different book than what it was.* Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the story about two very different women making long journeys, both escaping from danger (perceived or real), both looking for hope at the end of the road. One makes her journey as a young girl by sneaking aboard a truck crossing Africa, the other walks along the snakelike spine of the Trail, an energy generation system spanning from India to Ethiopia. This novel is richly textured, with complex characters and explorations of sex, self, and sanity. A great read (although I really didn’t understand the epilogue and if someone wants to explain it to me that would be awesome). Continue reading “Culture Consumption: August 2017”
Nasty Women Poets presents a “timely collection of poems speaks not just to the current political climate and the man who is responsible for its title, but to the stereotypes and expectations women have faced dating back to Eve, and to the long history of women resisting those limitations. The nasty women poets included here talk back to the men who created those limitations, honor foremothers who offered models of resistance and survival, rewrite myths, celebrate their own sexuality and bodies, and the girlhoods they survived. They sing, swear, swagger, and celebrate, and stake claim to life and art on their own terms.”
Honored to have have a collaborative poem with Laura Madeline Wiseman included in the Nasty Women Poets anthology from Lost Horse Press.
Drunk Monkeys published my short story, “Missed Connections / Red Head at the House of Needles,” in their August issue. This is (I believe), the second actual short story that I’ve evern published, and I’m so happy to have it appear in a great publication like Drunk Monkeys. Here’s the story opening:
i am normally not the kind of dog who whistles at women on the street or stalks them with my eyes. i figure ladies have enough to worry about without some creeper giving them a hard time
“We need to stop thinking of poems as poems, but as art pieces that weave together different techniques from other disciplines, in a way to expand the line, the beat, the image,” writes Joanna C. Valente.
Kolleen Carney is a Boston-born, Burbank based poet with an undergraduate degree in English from Salem State University and an MFA in Poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles. She has published two chapbooks — Me and the Twelve Step Program (Salem State Center for Creative and Performing Arts) and Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament(Grey Books Press, 2017). Kolleen is currently the social media coordinator and managing editor for Zoetic Press, as well as an assistant poetry editor. She is also the editor-in-chief and social media coordinator for Drunk Monkeys.
Your new collection of poetry, Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament, has recently been published by Grey Books Press. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.
I fell in love! As silly as that sounds. To be honest, some of the poems I had started years before, like “Bestia” and “A Very Distant Rooster”. This collection is obviously an unfolding relationship, the start of a romance, of a true love — something I am not sure I had really experienced in the past, at least not with this intensity. When Fritz and I finally got together, I wrote more and more about our experiences before and after the fact. They came easily. He’s easy to write about. Everything he does is a poem in the making, and I am constantly memorizing it all.
The poems in your collection explore intimacy and sex with a mixture of fire and decay, creation and wonder. They seem to speak to the way love can be both comforting and frightening all at once. Does this reflect your personal belief or understanding of how love is? How do you bring this intimacy to your poetry and how do you bring poetry to intimacy with others?
I absolutely believe love is a terrifying thing. To love someone is to become vulnerable, and I hate being vulnerable. But in the same way, I love the comfort of a life with someone, a routine. A warm shoulder, another body next to you at night.
I used to think I didn’t really know how to love anyone beyond my son; like, I loved people, but not that sort of real love where people die holding hands or whatever. Now I do. Now I know.
I love the idea that decay leads to new life, by the way. That fire that decimated the hill? Because of that, pinecones opened up, seeds fell, and someday that hill will be filled with new trees. It’s amazing.
Love poems are sort of a new thing for me. I have never written anything so positive. I guess yes, that intimacy comes through in the poetry, because I am just trying to frame how I feel in a way that sounds nice. As for bringing poetry to intimacy, I just try to keep this feeling going, to make everything a little magical. Sometimes even going to the store can be an adventure.
My love for Stephen King’s books began in high school. At least, that’s when my passion was at its highest peak, a time when I sought out every copy of his work I could find through book stories, libraries, and garage sales and read book after brick-thick book full of nightmares and horrors. Over the years I’ve read over 25 books by King, mostly the novels now considered classics published in the ’70s and ’80s along with several short story collections. I even dedicated a video poem to his work a few years ago to show my appreciation.
Of all the numerous King classics I’ve read, the book I held with most love in my memory was The Gunslinger, the first book in The Dark Tower series. I remember being hooked immediately by the opening sentence, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” It seemed at the time the perfect opening sentence, setting the main characters into place upon the stage and presenting an immediate mystery as the reader wonders, Why? In fact, I loved that opening sentence so much, I memorized it and the line has often come to mind at random moments over the years.
I remember being blown away by the story, with the plodding gunslinger dragging himself through the desert, the man in black, the boy torn from another world. It leveled me and, although purely in a fantastical way, opened up new ways of perceiving the universe (or universes, as the case maybe). It became one of those books I clung to after reading, not wanting it to be over yet. Continue reading “The Gunslinger – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part I”
“I feel strongly that we’re only hurting ourselves as writers by being so secretive about money. There’s no other job in the world where you get your master’s degree in that field and you’re like, Well, I might make zero or I might make $5 million! We don’t have any standards in that way, and we probably never will. There will always be such a wide range of what writers are paid, but at least we could give each other information.” Cherryl Strayed in conversation with Manjula Martin, published in Scratch
Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin (founder of now-closed Scratch Magazine), presents a mix of interviews and essays on the act of trying (sometimes succeeding) to make money as a writer. These perspectives come from writers of varying backgrounds, from novelists and poets to news and creative nonfiction writers, to filmmakers. A number of writers I’m fond of are included in this book — such as Austin Kleon, Malinda Lo, Roxane Gay, and Daniel José Older — as well as many writers whose work is new to me.
Readers of Scratch will not find a step-by-step guide on how to “make it” as a writer. This collection of essays never reaches a consensus, except perhaps to say that the pathways to making a living as a writer are multitudinous and have not all been discovered yet. Lacking any one clear answer, the reader instead of directives, the reader is given personal journeys (sometimes deeply so). It’s not a matter of “this is how you should do it,” but rather “this is how I am doing it”.
With all the traveling and such, I’ve fallen a bit behind. I’ve read some great books and seen some great movies over the past couple of months, though.
“There is a point when a man may swim back to shore, but he was past it. There was nothing left but to be swallowed by the enormity of the sea.”
— from Certain Dark Things
I love vampires and I love Mexico City, so it’s no surprise that I loved Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The world Moreno-Garcia has created features vampires of many species that live out in the open with humanity. Though vampires have been ousted from many countries around the world, they’ve gained a stronghold in Mexico, forming powerful and dangerous cartels — with the exception of Mexico City, which exists as a vampire-free zone due to the strength of the human gangs.
Certain Dark Things is told from multiple points of view — Domingo, a garbage-collecting street kid; Atl, a descendant of Aztec blood drinkers on the run from a rival vampire gang; Rodrigo, a human servant of vampires hunting Atl; Ana, a cop who becomes wrapped up in events when bodies start turning up; and a few others. Altogether, this is a brilliant crime thriller full of vampires and gangsters and femme fatales. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is fast becoming one of my writers favorite writers, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.
“There are worlds built on rainbows and worlds built on rain. There are worlds of pure mathematics, where every number chimes like crystal as it rolls into reality. There are worlds of light and worlds of darkness, worlds of rhyme and worlds of reason, and worlds where the only thing that matters is the goodness in a hero’s heart.”
— from Down Among the Sticks and Bones
In Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire, Jacqueline and Jillian are twins born to parents who never really understood or wanted children, parents who believe children are objects to be shaped to their desires. But the world is full of doors to other worlds and Jacqueline and Jillian find their way to a place of darkness and death, where they suddenly have the ability to choose.
Seanan McGuire seems to be getting better and better with every book she writes. The writing in this book is beautiful, often taking on the “fairy tale” tone of an outside narrator as a separate character relating the story.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a standalone story in the Wayward Children series, and as such, you can read the books in the series in any order. Although if you really want to know what happens to Jack and Jill, then I recommend reading Every Heart a Doorway, which chronologically comes after this one (even though its the first in the series). I hope there are many, many more books in this series, because I’m loving it. Continue reading “Culture Consumption: June & July 2017”
Wrapping up my journeys in South America — following Peru and Chile — my sister and I elected to drive across the border from Puerto Varas, Chile, into the Patagonia region of Argentina. Renting a car provides a freedom when traveling that going by public transportation and by foot does not. We were free to take any road we wanted, to wander and explore. Plus, the roads were well maintained and most people seemed to obey the traffic laws (at least as much as they do in the U.S.), so driving around Patagonia was fairly easy.
We drove past lakes and up into the mountains, where we quickly went through the border checkpoints (since it was the slow, winter season). In between each set of checkpoints is the actual border, welcoming drivers into Argentina on one side and into Chile on the other.
When I saw “we drove,” I should really clarify and say that my sister was the one to do the driving — and she hates driving. I would have been happy to drive, but since the car we rented was a manual transmission and I don’t know how to drive manual, she was stuck with it. She didn’t complain though, because it was some beautiful driving.
Continuing on my journey to South America, I’ve already shared about Peru, so now we’re on to Chile.
For Love of Pablo Neruda
My main purpose for visiting Chile was the opportunity to visit the home of one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. He had three homes that were turned into museums — La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso, and his home in Isla Negra.
I was able to visit two out of the three homes, both of which feature an impressive collection of old maps, found objects, and artwork gathered together by the poet, who also served as a diplomat.
La Sebastiana is a narrow tall home, with a tight hallway leading up to each of its four or five floors. At the top was his writing room and his desk, with a few papers contained there under glass.
La Chascona is situated on a hillside in the Bella Vista district of Santiago. Neruda named the home La Chascona, which means “tangled-haired woman,” after his wife and lifelong love, Matilde Urrutia. La Chascona also featured some poetry in Neruda’s own handwriting, displayed at his desk, as well as a display of his published books in editions from around the world.
Pablo Neruda died from cancer shortly after Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, overthrowing democratically elected Allende. After Neruda’s death, La Chascona was ransacked, items were stolen and destroyed, and the drainage ditches were blocked off so the house would flooded. Matilde held the funeral in the destroyed house and the funeral procession that followed turned into one of the first public protests against the military regime. Matilde continued to live in La Chascona, restoring it and the art within, eventually starting a foundation to preserve Neruda’s legacy. She was also a human rights activist, which brought her into conflict with Pinochet.
My poet heart soared walking through the spaces Neruda once walked. I adore Neruda’s words and the passion he had for his wife, his country, and the world. It was an honor to two of his homes and to see how his love of life translated in to the spaces Neruda and Matilde made for themselves.
The one home I missed out on, Isla Negra, was actually the home I had in mind when wanting to come to Chile. Somehow I confused it with the Valparaiso house, but that’s alright. I was thrilled to have visited the two homes I did and now I have a reason to return to Chile.
It’s been two weeks since my sister and I have been home from our trip in South America, and I’m still awed by all the places and adventures we were able to fit into our two weeks of travel. Our journey took us through Peru, Chile, and Argentina — all three beautiful places to explore. We did a lot of hoping around, which was perfect for this trip, but a part of me wants to go back to one or all and really settling in to a single country for a longer period of time, so that I can get to know it in depth.
Since I have a ton of photos, I’m splitting this post into three parts, starting with Peru, where we visited Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
Our experience of Lima was a colored by how exhausted we were after our red-eye flight. But with only one day to explore the city, we wandered through the main city center. The Plaza Mayor was crowded — with two events happening simultaneously. At the Palacio de Gobierno some sort of changing of the guard was going on, with soldiers in dress uniform marching and parading horses while trumpets blared. On the other side of the square, a procession accompanied by music was pouring out of the Catedral de Lima — large pavilion after large pavilion, each held aloft by four men or women proceeded out of the entrance of the cathedral. They held elaborate pedestals adorned with the images of the Virgin, Christ, and various saints. The procession was accompanied by dancers in brightly colored, traditional Peruvian dress. The trumpets from the government building clashed together with the music from the cathedral in a wonderful cacophony.
Later we stopped in at Choco Museo to try drink hot chocolate flavored with chile. Afterward, our explorations took us to Casa de Literature Puruana (House of Peruvian Literature). Inside was a library with an old printing press on display, as well as museum exhibits introducing two Peruvian poets — Magda Portal and Louis Hernandez. All of the displays were in Spanish, of which I know only a little. Nevertheless, I’m excited to go looking for their work and for the opportunity to learn more about them.
We ended our day at the Basilica de San Francisco, a church and convent which houses underground catacombs.
I’ve had a number of poems published over the past several weeks (or months, but whose counting), which I haven’t gotten around to announcing yet — partly because of the trip to South America I just returned from, which I’ll be sharing more about soon. Anywho, here’s what I’ve got new out on the nets:
Diode Poetry Journal published, which includes “Carrie White: Our Lady of Blood”. This a part of the collection Pantheon that I’m still trying to find a home for.
Rogue Agent, a journal I love, published “The Idea, What Else,” a found poem using words from Stephen King’s The Plant.
A few poems written in collaboration with the wonderful and amazing Laura Madeline Wiseman have also been published. Devilfish Review published “Stumble Tumble Down This Animal Hole,” and The Drowning Gull published three of our collaborative poems, “Lighting the Ghost Lamps,” “The Path of Coding Eternal,” and “The Women of Straw and Branches.”
It’s been a good month for publishing, and I’m honored to have work included in each of these publications.
Last night, I slipped out of my routine and to check out the Well-RED poetry showcase, featuring poets published in the Spring Mother Tongue anthology at Works/San José. The event was hosted in part by Poetry Center San José, a rad organization and a great place to turn to for more on South Bay Area goings on in poetry. It’s the first time I’ve been out to a literary event in months (probably, maybe, at any rate it’s been a rather long time).
Spring Mother Tongue is an anthology edited by Arlene Angeles Biala, Santa Clara County Poet Laureate. The collection provides a space for poets to share the stories behind each of of their own names. “You may recognize yourself in us. You may recall your own name(s) and stories around it/them and be moved to use your own poetic voice. I hope that you do,” writes Biala in the introduction.
The readings present a nuanced and layered exploration of names and what they mean. Some are funny, some are sweet, some explore the ways names are used to strip power away from us, and some are reclamations of power. It’s a beautiful anthology, one I recommend picking up, especially if you’re a local to the Bay Area, California.
What I’m Reading
I am about halfway through and entirely loving Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which is about vampires in Mexico City. The story is told from multiple points of view, both those of humans and the vampires themselves. I’m loving learning about the different species of vampires, each with their own evolutionary traits of abilities, strengths, and drawbacks. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a fantastic writer, quickly rising to the top of my list of favorites.
What I’m Writing
Over the past week, I completed a draft of a six page poem — the longest single poem I’ve ever written. Most of my poems tend toward the shorter side, 30 lines or less, and I’ve thought of myself as a poet who just wasn’t the type to write longer pieces like that — but apparently I’ve proved myself wrong. I’ve set it aside for the time being, letting the original flow of idea rest, so that I can come back to it for an edit later.
I also have episodes of a web series in progress — episode one has been done for a while, and I’ve started in on the opening scene of episode two. If I can focus and not get distracted by all the shiny poems I seem to be wanting to write this week, then I can probably finish drafts of at least two more episodes before I head out on my next big bit of travel in a week and a half.
The Running Life
Got my first run done in over a month on Saturday. It felt great to hit the pavement, good for my muscles and good for my soul. I was able to run a bit farther than I expected considering how long it’s been since I last went for it, which was reassuring. I need to get back into the routine. I can tell that my body needs it.
Total miles in the last week: 2.20
Total Miles for 2017: 70.84 miles
“a poem is an utterly free space for language; no objective and definite criteria could possibly apply to evaluate it. In fact, poetry is the only utterly free space for language that I’m aware of, and that is what makes it indispensable to me, and also what makes writing it and reading it a political act: Any act where freedom is urgently at issue is a political act, and any space that makes us aware of our innate freedom is a radically political space.”
Leah Schnelbach’s fantastic essay “Sometimes, Horror is the Only Fiction That Understands You” is a wonderful exploration of what Stephen King’s writing has meant to her in life — and as someone who read every King book I could get my hands on in high school, I completely resonate with this.
May was an interesting month, in that it was full of fabulous travels. Still managed to read and watch quite a few great stories.
I adored Bone Gap by Laura Ruby a subtly speculative novel about Finn and Sean O’Sullivan, two brothers surviving in small town full of gaps that people slip through all the time. First, their mother abandons them for a new life, then Roza — the young woman who shows up in their barn and brings light into their lives and the lives of the whole town — vanishes. The story and characters and magical realism and the setting of a small town (where everybody knows everything about everyone, even if they always get the story wrong) is gorgeous. Also, the audiobook narrator Dan Bittner does a fantastic job of bringing each of the characters to life, making them feel distinct when the POV shifts.
I’ve done quite a bit of traveling over the past two-and-a-half weeks. I flew into Dubai and Singapore to attend conferences and exhibitions for work, and then took a bit of extra time in order to take the train up to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All three places were quite a bit too hot and humid for me, but were quite interesting to explore.
It was a fantastic experience, one I could probably write many words on, but I’m still a bit jet-lagged and sleepy, so I’m going to keep things simple and just share some photos from the journey (more along with videos are on my instagram).
“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”
I delighted in A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, the audio book of which is read by the author herself, who does a wonderful reading. The novel is told from two points of view — Ruth, a writer on a remote island who finds a mysterious packet in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, containing a journal and letters and other items, and Nao, living in Tokyo, whose story is told through the journal itself.
There are so many layers to my love of this novel. The characters and their stories captivated me. Nao, who has faced such levels of bullying at school and sorrow at home, relates her decision to end her life in a straightforward manner. To her it is the only logical solution to what she’s been through (and she’s been through a lot). In her journal, she presents her life with a sense of self-depreciating humor. After all she’s been through, and despite her resolution, there is an underlying strength to her. It’s an interesting balance between depression, sorrow, and enjoyment of small moments.
Ruth is also fascinating to me. Her life is marked by less overt drama, and her story relates more of the small moments, the routines of her life that both provide her with contentment and feel like traps. As she explore’s Nao’s story through the journal and tries to seek a way to help this girl who lives across the sea, she finds certain threads of her own life loosening, creating their own minor havocs.
This novel is also so meta. One could start with the writer character, Ruth, who shares her name with the author of the book, which suggests the potential of the autobiographical slipping in even if none of it actually is such. Even the title A Tale for the Time Being has double meaning — as in both, a tale for a person who lives in time, and also a tale for right now. I don’t want to get too much into the ways this is a meta narrative, since a lot of it comes at the end, but I will say that it had me thinking about the creation of art and degree to which the reader participates in the creation.
I think this is one of those books I’m going to have to reread many times.
Stacey Balkun’s poetry has been described as nuanced, insatiably curious, and fearless. She is the author of two chapbooks, Lost City Museum (ELJ Publications 2016) and Jackalope-Girl Learns to Speak (dancing girl press 2016), which has recently been nominated for an Elgin Award. She is also co-editor along with Catherine Moore of Fiolet & Wing: An Anthology of Domestic Fabulist Women Poets, a teaching artist at The Poetry Barn, and Chapbook Series editor for Sundress Publications.
Your most recent collection of poetry is Lost City Museum. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.
Oddly enough, the phrase “Lost City Museum” came to me after a poetry reading by New Orleans poets Elizabeth Gross and Geoff Munsterman. Both read fascinating poems about loss, water, and preservation: all of the themes linking my most recent poems. The idea of a lost city and a museum commemorating it made me realize exactly how this project would come together.
I’m interested in how these poems incorporate imagery of both the concept of museums as buildings for artifacts and objects kept static and preserved behind glass cases, untouched, and imagery of water in the form of sea, rivers, and rain as a constantly moving force. Can you talk about what draws you to this kind of imagery? Did the imagery provide a focus for forming the collection or did you discover the theme after having written a number of individual poems?
I’m fascinated by weird, under-known history as well as mythology, both of which seem elusive to a degree and ever changing, ever moving. I wanted to somehow capture that tenuous energy to reflect an emotional landscape. Some of these poems were written during my MFA, and some came later. I lost my father about a month before my wedding. For months I wondered, how can a person feel the most lonely at a gathering of friends and family meant to celebrate her love? I struggled to write about this tension, and I think images of ocean and rain or desert and drought helped me explore and understand that odd momentum of gain and loss. This type of tension has always been there in my work, yes, but as these poems came, I sort of re-discovered it and saw a thematic thread that helped order the poems, though not necessarily narratively.
In many of my previous weekly updates have noted that I’ve been feeling a wee overwhelmed, which has lead me to skip weeks — like last week. When I started off posting weekly updates, it was an effective (mostly) tool to check in with myself and see where I’m at, particularly in regards to my writing progress. It helped me keep forward momentum on my work for a time.
Its easy to get locked into routines and to beat yourself up when you fail to follow them (like I do). It can take a while to figure out that things are not working like they once did.
With all the projects I have going on the weekly updates (and the website in general) can sometimes feel like a distraction from the work I need to be doing. I won’t be giving up the updates entirely, but I’m likely going to allow my weekly updates a little less weekly as needed.
At some point, I’m going to need to explore my goals for this site and what I’m hoping to accomplish with it.
What I’m Reading
I’m *this* close to being done with The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin — and I’m hoping to finish it off by the end of today. So many revelations about this world, it’s amazing. Really. I love this series so much.
What I’m Writing
I’m still trying to find a home for my Pantheon chapbook, so I binge submitted it along with a number of individual poems all at once. I’m . . . hopeful, somewhat?
Another chapbook is sitting by ready for a good edit and then a send out, almost ready to face its own slew of rejections.
The 30/30 challenge went well. I completed all 30 erasure poems on Instagram, all using Trader Joe’s Feerless Flyers. It’s been a fun journey down a number of different roads in terms of themes and erasure styles. My personal favorite of the month has to be “Naval,” pictured below.
No runs over the past two weeks, but I got myself out the door and took a long walk with a friend. We strode through the trails near her house and talked and talked. It had been a while since I just took a really long walk. It was wonderful just to be out there with a good friend in nature and enjoying the trees and the stream near the reservoir. Starting to feel the itch to get back into my running routine again and/or adding in some hiking.
Longest Run walk of the Week: 6.1 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 6.1 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 68.64 miles
“We have a cult of success in America. We believe that if we just work hard enough, we will achieve. It is certainly better to hold these beliefs than a fatalist vision of the world in which fortunes are determined entirely by factors outside of oneself (social position, nepotism, economic status, etc.). Nonetheless, there is something naive about our way of looking at things, and cruel too, in the way children can be cruel because they are too young to have anything but an absolutist vision of the world. It isn’t always true that failure has direct correlation to insufficient grit or ambition.”
“In the years before I was 50, I placed a manuscript in a drawer because I didn’t know what else to do with it. I might not have written again for a long while. I might not have started writing poems ever. But unhinged desire did lead to poetry, and it was because of the support I received from others that the drawer didn’t shut completely.”
The stories in Things We Lost in the Fire are dark, unsettling and powerful. Mariana Enríquez uses horror and the uncanny to explore women’s lives, from schoolgirls to grown women, some impoverished, some wealthy, most reaching for levels of independence or to carve out some space for themselves in the world.
One story tells of three friend drink and drug their way through their young years, a partying haze. Part of the beauty “The Intoxicated Years” is the breathless quality of the prose, moment rushing into moment as the girls rage through their days. At first, it seems a story of reckless freedom, but it becomes clear that all of their adventures are underpinned with a growing viscousness that’s beautifully powerful and raw.
In “Spiderweb,” a woman feels bored and trapped by the marriage she rushed into, and when she brings her husband to visit her family, she’s embarrassed and repelled by him with every passing moment. One a trip with her cousin Natalia and her husband to Asunción (an open market offering mostly knockoffs or illegal items), her frustration comes to the surface. I love the way this story builds on the feeling of being stuck by the choices you’ve made.
“No Flesh Over Our Bones” is the story of a woman finds a human skull, rings it home and names it Vera. The woman becomes more and more obsessed with the skull, desiring to make it whole again. The story approaches the realm of body horror as it explores women’s relationships to their bodies.
In “Under the Black Water,” Marina is an attorney who works with the people who live in impoverished in the slums of Buenos Aires. She learns that strange things, including a dead man coming up out of the water, are happening in the slums. When Marina investigates, events grow more and more disturbing in a way that feels Lovecraftian. This is one of my favorite stories in the collection. I love the main character and how the story is both grittily realistic and strange in the ways it explores poverty and environmentalism.
Among the most disturbing and powerful stories for me was “Things We Lost in the Fire.” Body horror is a key trope in this story, in which women claim their own lives and bodies by setting themselves on fire and living in the world with their scars proudly shown. The scars are presented by this movement of women as a new kind of beauty, with fearlessness and a fervor, and yet.
I’m looking forward to reading more work by Enríquez.
Note: This book was provided as an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
When I finished watching Clouds of Sils Maria all I could do was sit in stunned silence, letting myself exist in that space a little longer. A few minutes after the credits rolled to a stop, the tears came. I’m not sure how to describe what I was feeling, except that I knew I had seen something beautiful and I wanted to immediately watch it again.
The trailer sucks, by the way. Although it shows clips from the movie, they’re so out of context that it comes off as a completely different movie. And I get it, Clouds of Sils Maria is full of subtleties and is a hard movie to sum up in a simple, marketable way.
On it’s surface it’s about an film actress starring in the revival of the theatrical play that launched her career — now in the role of the older woman. She has to face how time has shifted and she has shifted with it. The more she delves into the role, facing the character’s pain, the more her own insecurities come to the surface.
It’s about the relationship between stars and their personal assistants, that weird line — on the one hand it’s an employer/employee relationship, and on the other hand, the state of constantly being with your employer, answering their phones, and so on creates an intimacy. Sometimes that leads to friendship, sometimes it leads to weirdness. As the central relationship in the movie, Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart spend a vast number of scenes alone together. They both provide phenomenal performances, with great chemistry together.
The movie is also about art and what it means to different people. Most of the conversations involve discussions about the theatrical play — analysis of who two women in the play are and what they and their literary relationship stands for. These conversations illustration how the meaning of art changes from perspective to perspective, whether from person to person or from one person at different stages of their live. And as these conversations about a fictional play takes place, it brings attention to the question of the two main characters in this movie and what they stand for (will this movie have the same emotional resonance to me ten years in the future as it does now?).
The movie leaves space for quiet moments and some questions unanswered. It’s a movie I feel strangely protective of this film — I want to tell everyone to watch it, but I also am a bit afraid family and friends might not connect with it the way I did. But then, I suppose that’s all apart of different people understanding art through different perspectives.
Over half of last week was consumed by as work trip to Michigan. I flew in and out of Chicago and then drove across Michigan visiting industrial facilities (something I find so interesting). Over the course of the trip I drove about 940 miles. Most of the roads revealed large, flat empty fields with skeletal trees surrounding them. I wanted to get out and explore the forests, to stand among the winter trees, but my driving schedule didn’t really allow it. I did, however, get some photos from the roadside.
This is probably where I should connect these miles to a metaphor about the roads I’ve traveling in my creative life, how I’ve persistently pursued poetry and fiction and filmmaking, how I’ve come across mountains and ravines and struggled my way through, how these roads have garnered me new perspectives and insights into myself and the creative world at large — but I’m just not going there right now. Maybe some other time.
What I’m Reading
I’m stoked to be reading The Obelisk Gate, the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy. This book is just as fantastic as the first book, The Fifth Season, which presented a world defined by continual catastrophe (review). I love this world and the characters in it. More about this world has been revealed, making it even more interesting than it already was. I can’t wait to see where this is going.
What I’m Writing
I received three rejections for my homeless ELJ chap over the weekend, back to back. One of them said nice things about my work and offered to publish a few of the poems in their upcoming journal, even though they couldn’t take the book — which was nice.
These days, I’m finding my skin is not as thick as it used to be regarding rejections. I keep reminding myself that most manuscripts get rejected a dozen or more times before finding a home. So, I’m setting myself a requirement to send the chap out to four new publishers, and I’ll continue doing that until it finds a home.
Even with all of the traveling and holidays and life being lifelike, I’ve managed to consistently keep up with my daily erasure poetry on Instagram. I really enjoy doing these and I’m considering putting together a self-pubbed chap of erasure poems at some point.
The Running Life
The not running has continued, and I can feel it in my muscles that I need to be getting back out there again.
Longest Run of the Week: 0 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 0 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 62.54 miles
“Literature’s grand mission is to tell the complicated truths about what it means to be human, but the most powerful proof that any writer has achieved that lofty goal is in the humble phrase: me too,” says Cheryl Strayed in a response to question on the power of words.
“So maybe it was just sad, doughy me, at home stuffing the void with takeout, but it felt like Sad Girl Theory had infiltrated all the biggest moments in pop culture over the past two years. Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s breakout TV show Fleabag and Rachel Bloom’s My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend each fixated on two things: being sad and being a woman and the connection between both.,” writes Sophie Atkinson in Feminism and the Pursuit of Relentless Happiness.
The writing life is full of its disappointments. The words are never quite the gossamer things they were in your head. Projects you spend days, weeks, years on don’t always come to fruition. The work you submit to journals for publication gets rejected, again and again, over and over. Events get cancelled. Publishers close.
At the end of March, ELJ Editions announced that it was closing its doors — an event that leaves my chapbook Pantheon, along with a great many other books, without a home. Since this announcement, I’ve been dealing with feelings of sadness and self doubt, while at the same time being moved by how the writing community has responded. In the wake, publishers have stepped up, offering to take a look at homeless books, and ELJ authors have come together to provide support and encouragement — which is a beautiful thing.
Over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been processing this news while also being overwhelmed at my day job, I’ve let a few things slide, including the National Poetry Month fanfare I normally engage in.
Things, life, whatever is moving on, and I’m currently working to find my chap a new home. If you want to send me some good vibes on that account, I’d appreciate it.
In the realm of good news, my poem Songs for Psyche is now up at Devilfish Review. I’m excited about this because I’ve been trying to get work in Devilfish for a while now.
Here’s a little taste of the poem: “if you believe the path / of an arrow is straight // you’ve never / been within / cupid’s quiver”
There are lots of rewards available — including things like handwritten postcards and limited edition Nonbinary Review anthologies — all awesome. Also, if the project gets 100 backers, it will publish a print version of the anthology.
What I’m Reading
I just finished Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor, which was amazing. I love the imaginative interstellar world building of this, and I can’t wait for the third book.
Next up is The Obelisk Gate, the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. The first book, The Fifth Season, was one of my favorite reads from 2015, so I can’t wait to get started on the sequel.
(One of the things I’ve let slide is my monthly Culture Consumption report, and at this point, I’m going to let it go. I’ll catch up on all the things at the end of April.)
What I’m Writing
In honor of National Poetry Month, I’m doing 30 days of erasure poetry on Instagram using the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyers. I love doing erasure poems, because it’s a soothing process for me, something I can do with a movie on in the background.
I’ll be traveling for work this week, so I’m hoping to get some editing work and new writing on the webseries done while I’m sitting around in hotel rooms.
The Running Life
No running last week. Or the week prior. This was partly due to my having to work overtime a lot of the last couple of weeks
Longest Run of the Week: 0 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 0 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 62.54 miles
“I sometimes hear publishing new writers talked about as if it were an occult art. Tea leaves consulted. Sand art made. A voice in the dark. But it’s not that hard to find very good new writers. You just have to listen to people. There are agents who seem to constantly have good new voices, magazines which have a record of publishing them, cities where they seem to develop and read in public, and, of course, teachers and writing programs around which they seem to cluster. Just as tornadoes hit the plains and avalanches happen in winter, spend enough time in these spaces and soon enough something miraculous will walk into view.”
Sunday I participated in the She is Beautiful race for the fourth time in a row. It’s one of the most delightful races I’ve been to, with beautiful women of all ages streaming along the Santa Cruz coastline together. It makes me happy every time I go.
This time was additionally joyful in that I was joined by sisters galore and the four of us formed a small team. None of us were really prepared to run a full 10K — not only did we not train properly, but we also insisted on partying to 2 a.m. together the night before. Honestly, we were all so hungover it was a miracle we got out of bed, let alone participated in a 6.2 mile race event. One set of sisters managed to run 4 miles before walking the rest, while another sister and I ran one mile. In the end, we were all happy to have participated (despite our exhaustion) and we’re all planning to go again next March (preferably with less pre-game drinking).
The Santa Cruz coastline is beautiful, and one cool discovery was that someone had put together elaborate piles of rocks in impossibly towering stacks. What a beautiful kind of public art.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman continues to be a fun read, with it’s story of wizards and magical bookshops and talking books. If my available time allows, I’ll probably finish it tonight.
What I’m Writing
Not much. I’m plugging along (slowly) on the first episode of a web series idea and I’m working on various non-writing projects. So, there’s not much to report on that front.
The Running Life
So…., my challenge to run a minimum of a mile a day fell off entirely (with the exception of one run on Friday) last week due to a combination of exhaustion and stress — exhaustion being recovery from FOGcon and stress because my car broke down, leaving me to figure out how I was going to get to work everyday. The car is fixed now. But I don’t know that I’m going to jump back on the challenge at this point. It taught me that I’m capable of squeezing more runs into my life, which is a great thing to know.
It’s unfortunate that my training fell through, since it left me a bit unprepared for the She is Beautiful 10K. As I mentioned, I ran the first mile and then walked the rest — keeping my sister company, since she was injured.
Although I loved the She is Beautiful experience as I always do, I do wish I could figure out how to make the progression to the next level of training and push myself to safely increase my mileage. I’m sure that getting more run days in will be a part of that — since I started to feel the difference during my challenge (right before I quit, that is).
Longest Run Walk of the Week: 6.2 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 8.23 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 62.54 miles
My weekend was full of FOGcon in all its geeky glory. Lots of fun and thinking about speculative literature and movies. Lots of food and drinks and karaoke. It was wonderful and exhausting to the point that I came home on Sunday and immediately fell into a mid-day nap. Still feeling tired a day after (and I should probable wrap up this post as soon as possible, so I can head off to bed.
Sometime this week, I’ll do a full recap with notes from panels and book recommendations. For now, here’s my bookhaul from the even, which was somewhat small this year. Probably a good thing, since my bookshelves are already overflowing and my reading time is slim. The books:
Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
The Velocipede Races by Emily June Street
Life in Babel by Brett James (mini-chapbook)
What I’m Reading
I’ver started The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman, which I picked up with the intention of reading before FOGcon. The story is of a young boy who escapes his abusive uncle only to be trapped by an evil wizard, who expects him to be his apprentice. Sherman did a great reading of the prologue and first chapter during FOGcon and I’m excited to continue reading this fantastical adventure story.
What I’m Writing
I wrote on FB earlier today about the state of overwhelmed I continue to be feeling, due to the multitude of projects I have going on. The bulleted list of things to accomplish is long and it seems to only be getting longer the more I work on it. So, I keep taking one item at a time. Then one more. Then one more. And hopefully I’ll get through a few things by the end of this week.
One of those things is writing the first episode of the webseries in time for critiques later this week.
The Running Life
My personal challenge for March to run a minimum of a mile a day has been going well for the most part, although I have not been hitting all the days. I skipped Wednesday, Sunday, and today — Wednesday because I could feel my muscles were already overworked from the workout with my trainer and the other days because I’m still recovering from the weekend festivities.
I’m going to try to finished up the rest of the month straight through. But even if I don’t I feel like the challenge was something of a success in terms of what it taught me about the effects of daily running.
Longest Run of the Week: 1.76 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 7.11 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 54.31 miles
“Dolly Parton started writing songs as a child, and she left her home for Nashville at 17, and she’s been working ever since. She’s 71 now; she says she writes songs every day, unless she is sick or on a movie set. It’s hard work to maintain a career that spans decades. This is important to remember for all creative people. It is a long game. There is no overnight success,” writes Annie Hartnett in Lessons I Learned From Dolly Parton on a Creative Life
FOGcon starts later today. It’s a small con for fans of genre and an event that I’ve gone to several years in a row. I usually try to read at least one book by each of the Honored Guests ahead of time, so that I’ll know their work when I see them speak. I’ve been a little behind on this “homework” this year and have only managed to get one read in so far — The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett.
The Liminal People is a scifi crime novel centered on Taggert, a man with the power to heal or hurt the people around him. He serves a ruthless man and has done terrible things in the course of his work. Although he dislikes it, he has made peace with his life — until an ex love asks for his help to find her daughter. The search for the girl leads him into a face-off with others with enough power that they seem to walk the borderline between human and god.
Taggert is an interesting character, bordering a line between hero and anti-hero. He’s capable and willing to be cruel and violent, but his cruelty is mostly associated by the way he’s been trapped into his current life by his master, Nordeen. Taggert also acts to protect the people he cares about, even if it means personal danger to himself.
The novel is a great crime/action thriller that sets up an interesting world, in which powerful people have the ability to manipulate the world (which kind of makes us ordinary humans feel rather small) Being both on the shorter side and fast paced, it’s a quick read (perfect for where my head has been at lately). I’m looking forward to checking out the other two books in the trilogy, The Liminal War and The Entropy of Bones.
Next up in FOGcon homework is The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman, who is also an Honored Guest at the event.
My reading continues to be sloooowwww, but at least I finished a few things this month — along with seeing a TON of movies.
Through the Woodsby Emily Carroll was a favorite read from this month. This beautifully illustrated collection of scary stories, involving ghosts and wolves and other stranger monsters explores the dangerous things hidden in the dark that can steel one’s life and/or self away. The art uses bright vivid colors with a mixture of line styles to create a sense of tension and unease while reading — some scenes are vividly terrifying.
I also loved reading Jessie Carty’s collection, Shopping After the Apocalypse. In this collection of prose poetry, the narrator begins a journey across an apocalyptic landscape. Contemplative and beautifully written, each poem builds on the next forming an interconnected story of isolation in an abandoned landscape. The result is a more contemplative exploration rather than the violence and terror expressed in most apocalyptic storylines. I really enjoyed this collection so much that I interviewed the poet about her writing process.
For the past, oh, year or so, I’ve been telling myself, If I can just get past this project or trip or ordeal or whatever, then things will mellow out and I won’t feel so overwhelmed any more. But when the project or trip or ordeal or whatever is completed, another just sprouts up in its place — creating an ongoing saga of overwhelming days that seem to be never ending.
Some days, it seems that all I can do is take advice from Dory:
And just keep swimming, swimming until I get through it all. Keep writing, keep working, keep on keeping on until the next project or trip or ordeal or whatever is done and I can move onto the next.
What I’m Reading
I don’t know what is will me these days, but all of my reading is incredibly slow. Too much going on to focus on books the way I used to, I suppose.
I’m currently reading The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett. This is FogCon homework, since Jama-Everett will be one of the Honored Guests at the event. The story involves people powerful enough to be considered beyond human and the reaching for more power that comes from this. It’s very interesting so far, with a thrilling storyline. I’m not sure where it’s going to go and that makes it fun.
I’m also reading Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, because Okorafor is amazing. And it won both the Hugo and Nebula for Best Novella. It’s really wonderful so far and I’m sure I’ll polish it off tonight.
I’ve paused my progress on Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, due to my desire to get some books read in time for FogCon. Also, despite being a fantastic story has turned into a really slow read for me. It’s unfortunate in the sense that this slow reading with gaps of days in between isn’t really allowing me to immerse myself in the story the way I would like.
What I’m Writing
I have a lot of non-writing projects that are on my desk at the moment, including getting submissions out there, editing work, preparing and posting interviews, etc. — all of which is taking time away from the actual writing and editing of existing work. My 15 minute rule/plan goal is not really working out, so I may have to adjust at the end of March.
A number of good things continue to develop, though, particularly in the collaborative arena. Laura Madeline Wiseman and I continue to meet weekly to write and edit new poems and we’ve produced enough work that we’re starting the process of putting together a collection.
I also met with some people over the weekend to discuss the creation of a web series, which I’ll officially announce later if it becomes finalized. But for the moment, we’ve hashed out the first act of the proposed series and I’m going to start writing scripts for that in the coming weeks. I’m excited to see where this goes.
More rejections coming in, more submissions going out. I tell myself this is all a part of the process, because it is — because even the most famous of writers faced rejection, because rejection is not a sign of your value as a writer. I tell myself this, and most of the time I believe it.
Goals for the Week:
Get more poems edited
Hot potato my submissions to at least two more journals/publishers
The Running Life
Inspired by Sierra De Mulder , I’ve set myself a personal challenge for March. The goal is to run a minimum of 1 mile daily, only about 12-14 minutes for me depending on my pace. After completing six days in a row of running (with some days in which I ran far more than one mile), I’m feeling rather good. Because I’m mixing in some longer runs, the short runs don’t seem that difficult. The hardest thing so far is being in the right headspace to make sure I get out there no matter what.
Longest Run Walk of the Week: 3.63 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 10.51 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 47.2 miles
Malanda Jean-Claude examines The Chaos That Makes Poetry: “What does it mean to be a word smith? A writer. I struggle with answers for things I never had dreams to become. A cannon, an act of rebellion. A synagogue, a revolution tucked in the Quran inside of a prayer. Hip-hop laced with the holy ghost, a contradiction in my own walk.”
“Art isn’t easy. It’s not just that we need a revolution in style but also a revolution in audience, distribution, circulation, performance, perception and, indeed, motivation. These revolutions are never a question of being marked as ahead of the times—that is the problem with the label avant-garde, with its flamboyant promise of “being out front.” Rather, the issue is staying in and with the times and not letting the times drown you,” write Charles Bernstein and Tracie Morris in Poetry Needs a Revolution That Goes Beyond Style.
The Academy Awards were presented yesterday. I didn’t watch them — funny, since I spent so much time making sure I saw the Oscar nominated short films and Best Picture nominees over the course of the past two weeks. (I was playing with my toddler niece and nephew instead and don’t feel a bit bad about it at all.) I’ve meant to do the following write ups BEFORE the Oscars happened, but never got around to finishing them, so here they are now, all in one go.
Received 8 nominations and won for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali).
In Moonlight presents three stages in life of an African-American man, from being a young kid who finds an unexpected father figure, to a teenager experiencing his first love with one of his friends, to becoming an adult. I don’t know if I need to say what almost everyone who has seen it has been saying, since it won the Oscar for Best Picture and all, but I’ll go ahead an reiterate it anyway — Moonlight is a beautiful movie. The cinematography, acting, and story all come together in what feels like an incredibly moving dream of an experience.
I was thrilled to learn that Moonlight won Best Picture, because the title is well deserved. It’s too bad the announcement occurred the way it did, with the Oscar gaff of the lifetime. The initial mistaken announcement of the winning film does not in any way take away from the accomplishment of director Barry Jenkins and his team in creating this phenomenal movie. But it did unfortunately take away from their moment to shine on the Academy Awards stage, their thank you speeches punctuated with confusion. Nevertheless, Moonlight and it’s a wonderful movie and well deserved.
The rest of the noms…
Received 8 nominations and won for Sound Editing.
Arrival was probably my favorite movie of 2016. Seeing it a second time around only cemented my love for this beautiful first contact movie, in which a linguist and a scientist work together to decipher the language of an alien race. The cinematography and sound editing are amazing, the editing jumping back and forth through time skillfully draws out the emotional impact of the storyline, and the aliens are truly alien. I love this movie so much.
If you loved the movie as much as I did and are interested in the process behind screenwriting and moviemaking, The Blacklist has a fantastic podcast interview with Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter who adapted Ted Chiang’s story into a script.
Received 3 nominations and won for Actress in a Supporting Role (Octavia Spencer).
Hidden Figures is the true story of the black women computers that performed mathematical calculations as part of the space program at NASA. These are incredible women and the movie, which hits all the right notes in terms of humor and perspective, has me wanting to learn more about them and the other women of science who have often been overlooked.
Received 6 nominations (no wins).
Lion is the true story of a little boy who accidentally ends up lost in Calcutta thousands of kilometers from his home. When authorities are unable to find his mother or brother, he is adopted by an Australian family who raise him. As an adult, memories of his childhood in India come back to him and he begins a search using Google Earth to find his birth mother. It’s an incredible story. So many feels.
Manchester by the Sea
Received 6 nominations and won for Original Screenplay and Actor in a Leading Role (Casey Afflek).
There were some issues with the theater a couple of Saturdays ago, so I showed up a half hour late to Manchester by the Sea. Nevertheless, it was still a great movie, a moving story of grief and family and trying to overcome the past. It felt anchored in its location, which was almost a character itself.
Received 4 nominations and won for Actress in a Supporting Role (Viola Davis).
In Fences, Troy Maxson, an African-American man working as a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh, works to raise his family while railing agains the challenges of poverty and racism. It’s clear that this is based on a stage play, from the first scene with its constrained setting and long, eloquent monologues. The writing is beautiful, not so much focused on realism of the moment, but rather evoking a heightened sense of poetry. The writing is backs up with phenomenal performances from the entire cast, who bring these characters to life and handle these lines with amazing power and grace.
Hell or High Water
Received 4 nominations (no wins).
Two brothers begin robbing banks after their mother’s deaths in order to preserve their family’s land. They specifically take on the bank chain that holds the loan against the property, a kind of clever revenge. Hell or High Water starts right in the middle of the action and drives through to the end, with just enough breathing room to get to know the brothers and the officers hunting them. The movie is great — not quite on the same caliber as some of the other best picture noms — but still great.
Received 6 nominations and won for Film Editing and Sound Mixing.
Desmond T. Doss was a U.S. Army medic who served during WWII. As a conscientious objector, he refused to carry a gun into battle (something that created significant challenges during his training). The story that unfolds and what Doss does is so unbelievable that it made sense for the movie to end with a mini-documentary, as if to clarify some of the history.
Hacksaw Ridge was good for a war movie, which is not generally my thing. The style of this in terms of cinematography and storytelling felt old, by which I mean it presented the typical look of big budget Hollywood films. I think if I had watched this one first out of the whole set, I would have been fine with it. But since I had already seen a number of the other best picture noms — most of which were more creative or experimental in their style and tone — this felt old fashioned.
La La Land
Received 14 nominations and won for Director, Cinematography, Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Stone), Original Score, Original Song (“City Of Stars”), and Production Design.
La La Land is fun and all for a musical about two beautiful young people trying to make it big in Hollywood. The cinematography was pretty for the most part and the music was great — but otherwise it was pretty mediocre. I like both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who are great actors, but not great dancers or singers. The story is a bit light on emotional depth, as well. Nostalgia seems to be the greatest factor driving many people’s love for this (that and maybe how much Hollywood loves its own mythology), although it doesn’t quite live up to the classic musicals it’s meant to be in homage to. Fun enough to entertain, but nothing special.
* * *
In related news, the Razzies — which I don’t normally pay attention to — announced their “Worst” awards in film, with Hillary’s America garnering Worst Director, Worst Actor, Worst Actress, and Worst Picture. And that’s kind of awesome.
Jessie Carty is the author of eight poetry collections, including the full length collection Practicing Disaster (Aldrich Press, 2014) and the the chapbook An Amateur Marriage (Finishing Line, 2012), which was a finalist for the 2011 Robert Watson Prize. Her work has placed third in the St. Louis Poetry Center’s 2008 contest and has been nominated for the Best of the Net Award, and she has been a finalist in a number of poetry and chapbook contests. Her latest collection of poetry, Shopping After the Apocalypse, is now available from dancing girl press and was nominated for an Elgin Award.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?
I always think of myself first as a reader. I feel very strongly that you can’t be a writer without being a reader. I have very clear memories of wanting to read before I could actually do it. As an avid reader, I found myself, from a very early age, wanting to play with words.
I’m actually in a little bit of a lull as a writer right now, but whenever that happens I return to reading. And not just poems. I read across genres. You just never know what you’ll read that will spark you to write even if it is just for yourself. Never discount the power of just writing for yourself! I also find, when I’m not feeling “the muse,” that it helps to mix things up. I’ll try out a different way of composing: using a pencil instead of a keyboard or a different size notebook.
So what keeps me going? I think at the heart of us all is the storyteller. The troubadour. The record keeper. Because, as I wrote as a teenager, I write to free myself from myself. Or maybe now I’d say, with a little less angst, I write to be and know who I am.
Your most recent chapbook of poetry is Shopping After the Apocalypse. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about.
This was an unusual project for me in many respects. I had not been writing that much when the title came to me just out of the blue. (I love how the mind works!) I don’t normally write from titles. In fact, I usually don’t title a poem till well after it is done. Heck, when I read poems I don’t always read the title before I read the poem in case it “gives something away.” Instead of immediately writing I just started musing about this idea of what it would be like to shop after the apocalypse. It occurred to me that the first place I’d probably shop would be at my home so that’s where I started. Then I made “myself” into a character and wondering what I would do next? Where would I go? And thus the poems became a journey from location to location with the idea of “shopping” to keep me writing until I got to a final destination.
Going to the Best Picture Showcase has become a tradition for me. I love seeing the movies all at once and seeing good storytelling on the screen. But this year has been a strange one, in that circumstances aligned in such a way that I was not able to go with the usual group and no one else seemed to be available. My options were to either skip the showcase this year or to go by myself.
So, I went by myself — both to the first half of the showcase and a double feature of the Oscar nominated short films. It was fun. Although I didn’t have a gathering of friends to chat about the movie afterward, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the experience.
Plus, I got the chance to meet a little old lady who sat next to me in the theatre. She was all sass and talking about it being one of those days where nothing goes right. White curly hair. Wearing a rain coat exactly like the one I inherited from my grandmother.
She was funny as hell. At one point, she was talking to her sister about her doctor, and the sister said, “Does he have a good bedside manner?”
My little old lady replied, “I bet he has a good bed manner.”
She said she would be showing up for the second part of Best Picture Showcase, so I guess I’ll have one buddy (for at least a movie or two of the marathon anyway). Maybe I’ll make some other buddies, too.
What I’m Reading
I’m still reading Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman. It’s fantastic, but I’m plodding along slowly because of all the other distractions going on.
What I’m Writing
The rejections came piling in last week, so a large portion of my time was chocking down disappointment and spinning submissions back out into the world.
Goals for the Week:
Get more poems edited
Hot potato my submissions to at least two more journals/publishers
The Running Life
I was struggling a bit last week, completing only two runs and the one being more of a long walk than an actual run. Sometimes the mood swoops away from me and it’s a stuggle to get any running in at all. Always feels good to get out and move, though.
Longest Run Walk of the Week: 4.11 miles (
Total Miles for the Week: 6.16 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 35.43 miles
Seyward Darby explains how What America Needs Now Is Horror Movies: “Good horror movies reflect immediate social anxieties and abiding fears that humanity, in both the individual and collective senses, is under threat. The great ones go even further: ‘[I]t isn’t just that these traumas trigger these films,’ film historian Tom Gunning once said, ‘but that we understand these traumas through these films.’ My favorite fright-fests adjust the lens one additional time. They pose the provocative question: What if you’re the monster?”
“I’ve never felt bullied or unwanted in Geek spaces. I definitely think that as geeks, we’re in a struggle together,” says Minnesota Playwright and Poet Saymoukda Vongsay in an interview with Twin Cities Geek
I love short films and am fascinated with how they are able to tell compelling stories in tiny spaces. I’ve been wanting to watch the Oscar nominated short film showcases that play every year, but haven’t had people to go with or the timing was off. This year, I made it happen, taking time to see both the Animated and Live Action selections, and it was fantastic. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to also see the documentary shorts and I don’t think I’ll be able to this year. But I’m making it a goal for next year.
As a quick note, it was interesting to discover that all of the live action shorts were significantly longer than the animated shorts (with one exception), being 15 minutes to 30 minutes in length. I tend to think of short films as being in the 3-15 minute range, maybe due to the number of shorts I’ve seen through YouTube of Vimeo. I’m sure cost and time is a part of the reason why the live action movies were longer, with animation taking more time to create cell by cell. The differences in length might also have to do with how people connect with animation compared to live action. I’m not sure. But it’s interesting that the animated shorts were often able to provide as complete and moving of stories as the longer pieces in a shorter amount of time.
My thoughts are below, with links to trailers provided.
The Animated Shorts
Blind Vaysha, directed by Theodore Ushev (8 minutes/Canada) – Blind Vaysha is a strange folk tale about a girl who is born with a strange infliction, in which she can see only the past out of one eye and only the future out of the other, essentially making her blind to the present. It’s a bit more talky than most of the other animated shorts, but the art is beautiful with a heavy-lined graphic style and strong-toned colors. I loved the way some images overlapped, stretched into impossible shapes, or presented sketchy, swirling images. A little more intellectual than emotional, but it’s my favorite of the animated films.
Pearl, directed by Patrick Osborne (6 minutes/USA) – A girl and her dad tour the country in an old hatchback, busking and making music and facing life. Although the animation is somewhat blocky and not as dynamic or perfect as some of the other offerings, this is a moving story filled with music telling a sweet story with almost no dialog.
Piper, directed by Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer (6 minutes/USA) – This story of a baby piper bird facing his fear of the ocean is funny and adorable in that predictable Disney/Pixar way. The animation is technically perfect and beautifully rendered, worth watching for that alone.
Pear Cider and Cigarettes, directed by Robert Valley and Cara Speller (35 minutes/Canada/UK) – There are parts of Pear Cider and Cigarettes that are gorgeous, the animation slick and stylish with hard angles that reminded me of certain comic book drawings. In the story, which is based on a real human, a man describes the dynamic personality of his friend, Techno, who eventually became a hardcore alcoholic. This is the most adult of the animated films, presenting a complex and straight look at sex, drugs, alcohol, and the fall of a friend. It’s also the longest out of any of the short films I watched. Although the last third of the film was moving, the first two-thirds were a little slow going for me and I think it could have been cut down a bit while still maintaining its powerful effect.
Borrowed Time, directed by Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj (7 minutes/USA) – A sheriff returns to the site of his father’s death. The CGI animation is good, but the story didn’t connect with me, despite a few genuinely surprising moments.
Due to the adult nature of Pear Cider and Cigarettes, the screening showed three additional animated films in order to give parents time to bring their kids out of the theater, if need be.
Timecode, directed by Juanjo Giménez (15 minutes/Spain) – One of my favorite shorts of the night, Timecode is the story of two parking lot security officers who begin communicating with each other in an usual way. This utterly delighted me. It’s wonderful and a bit weird. It probably is not going to win, but it’s the one I’d watch again and again without hesitation.
Sing, directed by Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy (25 minutes/Hungary) – A girl comes to a new school and is delighted to join the school’s award-winning choir — only to discover that the choir is not what it seems. It’s a wonderful story about friendship and people coming together in quiet revolt against unfair systems.
La Femme et le TGV, directed by Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff (30 minutes/Switzerland) – A bit of a quirky tale and almost-but-not-quite romance in which an older woman set in her routine. Every day she waves a flag at the passing TGV train, which leads to a mysterious answer from one rider. It’s sweet, even if the ending felt a bit abrupt.
Ennemis Intérieurs, directed by Sélim Azzazi (28 minutes/France) – An educated, Algerian man applying for French citizenship finds himself confronted with a young immigration official whose examinations grow more and more invasive. This is essentially just a movie of two men sitting in a room talking, but the writing and acting are stellar, making this intense and captivating as each man tries to gain control, although the power is clearly skewed in favor of the young immigration official. There’s a lot going on in this, reflecting the current issues surrounding immigration and prejudice against Muslims. I’d like to watch it again and think about the layers some more.
Silent Nights, directed by Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson (30 minutes/Denmark) – A woman working at a homeless shelter begins a romance with a homeless refugee from Ghana. Although the acting is great and it’s well done, there were aspects of this that annoyed me in terms of how the young woman approached him, more as someone to save instead of as a whole person. I also really didn’t like the ending (which I won’t talk about because of spoiling).
On this Valentine’s Day, as I sit here putting together my weekly update, I want to take a moment to send some love. It’s been a rough start for the year and will likely continue to be rough for a lot of people. So, I’m sending you all some love and wishing you joy.
The Drowning Gull has accepted three collaborative poems from Laura Madeline Wiseman and myself. Looking forward to seeing them published.
What I’m Reading
I finished some actual books last week! Woo! Now I’m just on Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, a sequel to the amazing Seraphina, the story involves dragons and war and half-dragons seeking each other out.
What I’m Writing
I actually found myself avoiding the Twelve chapbook that I intended to work on. As I sat down to work on it, I felt in my gut the need to let it sit a little longer, giving my brain more of a break before launching into editing it again. It can be good to allow this kind of space (if you have the time), so that you can approach it fresh.
So, instead I found myself taking a look at other poems needing some editing and even tried to convert a Frankenstein poem into a sestina — which fell apart halfway through, but I’ll come back to sometime this week.
In addition to actual writing and editing work, I’ve been in the submission-rejection-submission cycle. I’ve been skipping right over the sorrow stage and making sure to send out work again as soon as the rejections come in. It’s kind of fun actually, like hot potato-ing my poems right back out the door.
Goals for the Week:
Get three poems edited
Hot potato my submissions to at least two more journals/publishers
The Running Life
Longest Run of the Week: 3.35 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 3.35 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 29.27 miles
Last week was a bit stressful in terms of the day job while we were getting the magazine to press. Because of that — combined with the fact that I did two strength training sessions instead of my usual one — I chose to take my Tuesday and Thursday morning runs off in order to get a fraction more rest.
Saturday was a gorgeous day, sun and cool — just the right weather for a good run. I managed 3.35 miles, with a minimal amount of walking in between, and felt great afterwards. Although, my goal this week is to get my long weekend run up to 4 miles.
Then on Sunday, I tripped on the sidewalk and fell hard. I didn’t injure myself — at least not any more than a few bruises and aches — but the fall left a bit shaky. I thought about doing a run or even a walk to work some of the feeling out, but opted to let my body rest that day instead.
Sarah MacLean on why Bashing Romance Novels Is Just Another Form Of Slut-Shaming: “I don’t defend the genre anymore. Instead, I bite my tongue, because I’m more polite than most of these people, and it would be rude to say what I’d really like to say, which is: ‘What’s your problem with women and sex?'”
On Tuesday night, I forged out five hours after an already stressful day at work to make a last ditch effort to complete a chapbook manuscript in time for a looming submission deadline. I slammed into the work, editing and in some cases entirely redrafting prose poem pieces, following by a reordering of the set, and what final polishing I could manage within the tight deadline. Some of the final pieces came together strong, others less so.
I love deadlines for the amount work they force out of me in short spans of time. I don’t know that I would say I thrive under them, since who can thrive when you’re mentally and physically exhausted to the point all you can do is collapse into a stupor. However, I do find them valuable.
However, the intensity of the deadline is influenced in no small part by my capacity to procrastinate. For example, on Monday night, the day before this five hour editing bonanza, I had set myself a goal of finishing off edits on a handful of poems — only to find myself watching Game of Thrones instead. I would saved myself a lot of stress and pain, if I hadn’t avoided the work Monday night.
“Over the years, I’ve developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: we were too good in English class. This sounds crazy but hear me out…. If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good.”
In her piece, Mcardle also writes, “Most writers manage to get by because, as the deadline creeps closer, their fears of turning in nothing eventually surpasses their fears of turning in something terrible.” This was pretty much the driving force that got me to finish the chap in time for deadline.
I didn’t expect that my chap would be selected. I just had that feeling based on how rushed my work was, and that feeling was confirmed less than a week later, when the rejection came in (mega kudos to the publisher for the awesomely fast response time, though). I couldn’t feel too bad about this, however. The deadline provided me with the impetus I needed to finish a project I’ve been poking at for well over a year. Over the next week or so I’ll take a look at it again to refine it further and send it out again.
What I’m Reading
I finally finished Tim Burton: Essays on the Films by Johnson Cheu, a rather good collection of academic essays on Burton’s films — interesting analysis in the ones I could decipher.
Still working my way through Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez and Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman. Both are great.
Just started Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz on audio book this morning. I didn’t realize when I picked it up that it’s a future dystopia/utopia novel, in which people are expected to fit into norms or risk being sent to the Blight. This allows for transgender identities as long as they are able to fit into the gender binary once they select their gender, but causes problems for Benders, in other words genderqueer folks who don’t fit neatly into the binary. The story centers on a young teenage Bender, named Kivali, who is sent to a camp where they are expected to learn how to fit into society. It’s very interesting so far.
What I’m Writing
Following Tuesday night’s deadline chasing, I pretty much allowed myself the rest of the week off. I had completed my !5 Minutes per day, after all — and then some. Now it’s time to get back to work. Most likely this work will involve a new look at the chap for more polishing. Some additional poems will also get some looksees to see what edits need to be made. Goals for the Week:
Go back in for a fresh look at the chapbook; get three poems edited
The Running Life
The dawdling continued a little bit this week. I got one weekday run in and one weekend long run in. However, my body was so achey on the long run that I cut it short and walked most of the way. I’m glad I got two days in this week, which at least keeps up the baseline — although it doesn’t do much for improving my distance.
“I am most satisfied when a poem works on several levels, when it sings, rings, plays the changes, and invokes the transcendent,” says Akua Lezli Hope in an interview.
“The progressive liberal agenda isn’t about being nice,” writes Tucker FitzGerald in Intolerant Liberals. “It’s about confronting evil, violence, trauma, and death. It’s about acknowledging the ways systemic power, systemic oppression, systemic evil, work in our world around us.”
Alrighty, here’s my January in books, movies, and such.
This is the first is time in, well, probably ever that I haven’t completed a book over the course of a month — not even ONE. I’ve been doing a lot more watching TV than reading this past month as a way to unwind and reading three books at once sort of extended things out a bit — though really it was the watching that got me.
Books Finished This Month: 0 (*weeps*)
Total Books for the Year: 0 (*wails*)
Still in Progress: Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez, Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, and Tim Burton: Essays on the Films, edited by Johnson Cheu
I’ve been meaning to see Spotlight, for a while, ever since it won the Academy Award for Best Picture along with Best Original Screenplay. The movie is based on the story of how a group of reporters uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. Although a bit slow paced in the beginning, the movie is fascinating to watch, to see how each small piece of evidence, every interview, every mistake comes together in the end.
I’m particularly interested in how the characters are developed in the movie — which is to say not much, since the main focus is not on the emotional trajectory of these characters, but on the trajectory of uncovering and revealing the truth. And yet, the writers, director, and actors do an excellent job of using small moments that make us connect with them and reveal how their work is affecting them. It’s all very well done.
I also enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for and Don’t Breathe was a great thriller with tight pacing. XXX: Return of Xander Cage was all over the top action and somewhat stupid, although in a stupidly fun sort of way (it also gets points for having lots of diversity in its cast).
New-to-me Movies This Month:
1. Spotlight (2015)
2. XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017)
3. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
4. Don’t Breathe (2016
I enjoy watching shorts and I’m hoping to taking time to watch them more often. All of the ones I list here are available online with links provided.
My favorite of the batch was The House of Small Cubes, a Japanese animated story of a flooded a world, in which an old man dives into his past — a beautifully animated and so many feels.
I also loved One Week, no surprise since I’m a huge Buster Keaton fan. A couple gets married and are given a build-your-own home kit — with disastrous and hilarious results.
Game of Thrones was my greatest time-suck last month — although I didn’t intend for it to be. I meant to take it slow and just watch an episode here or there, then something shocking or catastrophic would happen at the end of an episode and I’d have to watch the next. I went through Season Two and Three in this way — and if my pace keeps up I’ll probably finish all the way through Season Six before the end of February.
However, my focus Game of Thrones is not entirely there when watching, so sometimes I miss little details. I have a feeling I’ll have to watch it all again at some point in order to make proper commentary on it. But I continue to love Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen (Khaleesi), and Tyrion Lannister, as well as Brienne of Tarth, who was introduced in season two.
I also checked out the first episode of Black Mirror from season one, which tells the story of a kidnapping and a bizarre ransom demand involving the Prime Minister of the U.K. It was complicated and smart and sooo disturbing. I’m excited to see more.
I’m starting to fall behind on The Walking Dead again, only this time it has less to do with being terrified of what’s going to happen to the characters and more to do with finding myself having greater interest in other things on TV. At this point, I’m mostly sticking with it to keep up with discussions among family and friends.
That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?
Welcome to my first Weekly Update of the year. I post these because they provide a good way for me to hold myself accountable, both in terms of meeting my writing and reading goals, as well as making sure I post regularly on the blog.
Lately, there seems like there’s so much to write about, so much to resist and fight against, so much to do and say and act on that at times it feels overwhelming. Sometimes you can only do what you can do, so today, I’m going to talk about the Uptown Fridays event hosted by Nomadic Press that I attended a couple of Fridays ago, because it was wonderful and inspiring.
It was an interesting challenge getting to the event that night, involving an hour long car ride from my work to Oakland — only to find when I arrived that I had left my wallet back at the office, which meant that I had no cash or cards on hand to buy dinner or books from the reading. I considered returning to my office and coming back over the bridge (which would have made me late to the event), but decided to roll with it. Since I had an apple left in the car, I knew I wouldn’t starve and I let go of the idea of otherwise needing my wallet on hand. I let go and gave myself to enjoying the event I came for.
Thomas Nguyen performed a set of songs that were moving, some mixed with speeches and sounds from a tape recorder to wonderful effect. (He was also my hero of the night, reminding me of the toll on my return trip to work for my wallet and giving me a fiver to make it back without a wicked ticket.)
Isobel O’Hare read both from new work and from her chapbook The Garden Inside Her. I’ve known her from the online Facebook world for some time, so it was great to meet her in person. Her work is great and I’ll have to buy her chap the next time I get a chance.
Caits Meissner, whose work I’ve been following for years, was a delight to meet and hear read. She read both a new experimental piece that gave me chills and from her new book Let It Die Hungry. I was so grateful that my checkbook was in my purse, because it allowed me to buy Caits’ new book and have it signed. The book includes poems in both text and comic form — I can’t wait to read it.
For all the frustration of getting to the event and leaving my wallet behind, it was worth every bit of panic and frustration, because the night was a blessing. And it’s clear to me that I need to attend events like this more often, more events where people speak and address the world — both because it’s important to support artistic communities in times like this and because I find such experiences soothing to the soul.
What I’m Reading
My reading pace has been abysmally slow this month, has in fact been getting slower and slower over the course of the past year. I think this is partially because I’ve been reserving my lunchtime reading for getting some writing work done and because I’m too mentally distracted when I actually get home.
I’m currently working my way through Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez and Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, two very different books that I’m enjoying quite a bit. One is a collection of darkly beautiful short stories, the other is a novel about dragons.
If I finish on book this month, it will have to be Tim Burton: Essays on the Films by Johnson Cheu, because I’ve been working on it for several months now.
What I’m Writing
I have been off and on sticking to the 15 Minute Rule more or less over the past couple of weeks, especially during the last week when I launched into that wonderfully productive time of deadline panic. Poor Belly Press is closing for chapbooks in two days and I would love to have my Twelve Dancing Princesses chap picked up by them, because their chaps are so beautiful — which has lead me into desperately trying to edit and polish up my work in order to make the deadline. In fact, I should be getting off the blogging and back to work right now. (But allow me just a moment more.)
Goals for the Week:
Finish chap edits and get it sent out
The Running Life
Since one of my goals is to actually accomplish a half marathon this year, I’ve decided to add running to my weekly updates.
I’ve been keeping with my routine of getting up hella early and making it to the gym two days a week for some short runs before work. These shorties are at about 25 minute, or 1.5-1.6 miles. Good small starts in preparation for the buildup, and they feel make me feel energized and cleansed in the morning. However, I have skipped my long weekend runs the last couple of weekends. I should be pressing past three miles into four miles at this point, but I’m dawdling.
I’ve been gathering links for weeks, so this is going to be a longish list.
In How To Keep Your March Momentum Going (regarding the amazing, inspiring event that was The Women’s March), Catherine Pearson recommends actions like signing up for e-mail updates from your local legislators and calling Congress daily.
“What comes next for the anti-Trump resistance will depend on how consistently these activists will engage and turn out for causes that are not their own; whether they’ll continue to phone their federal and state representatives after the inauguration and confirmation hearing hubbub dies down. It’s quite possible that what was started as an arguably superficial gesture at unity will evolve into one that holds the most powerful dissenters accountable for the least powerful,” writes Devon Maloney in Some Inconvenient Truths About The Women’s March On Washington.”But to do so, resisters must first reckon with complex issues of intersectionality.”
In Before You Celebrate The Zero Arrests At The Women’s March, Zeba Blay writes: “Of course, it is always a good thing when citizens are allowed to exercise their right to protest without anyone being harmed or detained. But there’s a question that should be asked and acknowledged, even as we celebrate the success of the protest:Would the outcome have been the same if the march had been exclusively organized by and mostly comprised of women of color?”
This is the second year in a row that I’ve been hesitant to set forth concrete goals for the year, paranoid perhaps that if I set down anything specific I won’t complete them (a strange paranoia, since I’ve been known to accomplish at least a goal or two in the past). This feeling is mixed up with the general sense of feeling overwhelmed by life, the universe, and everything, not to mention my writing. But I think I’ve settled on an idea that works for me (at the present moment, at least).
Writing Goal: The 15 Minute Rule
In my writing lately, I feel like I’m being pulled in a hundred different directions — with numerous poems and short stories and even a novel all halfway drafted or needing a rewrites. The pileup of things to finish (not including all the ideas that haven’t even been started yet) is so tall that I’m not even sure where to begin.
It reminds me of having to clean a cluttered room — clothing piled on top of papers piled on top of other random things, covering every surface and the floor, the things you need on a daily basis lost underneath the junk. When decluttering a room, I’ve sometimes used a technique recommended to me by a friend. Pick a small section and spend just 15 minutes clearing that out. The next day, pick another section. And the day after that. Until the room is clear.
This year, instead of trying to set specific goals, I’m going to try to apply the 15 Minute Rule to my writing — 15 minutes everyday working towards finishing or editing a draft, sending something out on submission, or drafting something new. Or a total of 1.75 hours for the week.
Rather than trying to nail down the goal of finishing a specific story (or the novel glaring at me from the corner of the room), the 15 Minute Rule will allow me to refocus as needed without feeling guilty about working on something other than what I initially planned.
So far, I’ve been fairly consistent about getting work done, with some editing accomplished and some submissions sent out. As a result, I’ve already received my first rejection. Yay?
Other Goal Stuff
I’ve set myself a goal of reading 70 books for the year, a bit more than the 57 books I finished last year. At some point, I’d like to get back to reading an average of 90 books, like I used to, but keeping myself above 50 still feels acceptable.
My one other concrete goal is to complete a half marathon (finally). I’ve signed up for a gym near my work, so that I can get some runs done in the morning before work. My sisters and I are registered for the She is Beautiful 10K in March, which is a good starting point. If I can keep up the training, getting to a half marathon will be entirely doable.
Do you have goals for the new year? Share them in the comments.
I read a total of 57 books in 2016, far lower than usual, but it was a particularly busy year for me in regards to writing and other projects. Nevertheless, there were many great reads this year, so many that I would not be able to narrow them all down to just a few. So, here are my favorite reads, all categorized, because that’s how I roll.
Best Science Fiction Novel
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. The more I read Connie Willis’ work, the more I admire her as an author. Doomsday Book was no exception. Set in Oxford—at a university in which historians are able to actually travel back in time to witness and experience the past eras they research—the story is split between Kivrin, who travels to the Middle Ages (one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history), and Dunworthy, her mentor who is terrified to see her go and is left to face his own crisis in the present day as a sudden influenza outbreak flares up, forcing Oxford to go into quarantine. Dealing with disease as it does, it’s a dark story, although it is laced with Willis’ wit and humor. I especially loved Kivrin’s journey to the Middle Ages and fell in love (as Kivrin does) with the family that takes her in. A fantastic book, one that had me itching to read more in Willis’ time travel series.
Alrighty, here’s December in books, movies, and such. I’ll be posting my lists of Top Books and Top Movies from the year over the next couple of days.
Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway introduces Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a place for children who have been there and back again, those who have found doorways to other worlds (of which there are many) that feel more home than home, and who, for one reason or another, found themselves back in the mundane world of their previous lives. It’s a place where these children can bide their time, trying to make do while they search for a way back to where they really belong, or learn to accept and make peace with the fact that they’ll never return. The story centers on Nancy, a teenage girl who has traveled to an underworld presided over by the lord of the dead, a place where she has learned to still herself into a statue. Having returned home, her parents can’t accept who she is now and so have sent her away to this school, where disasters begin to happen shortly after she arrives.
This story is beautiful and I love the way it presents different worlds for each kind of child and different kids for each kind of world. I also love the way it rejects the idea that a child like Alice would want to live in England instead of a place like Wonderland. It’s a good thing that this is a series, because I wanted more from this book, more of the characters and this strange school and of the worlds beyond.
Just about all the 2016 in review posts I’ve read so far have begun the same way: 2016 sucked, but there were some good things, too. I feel everyone on that sentiment.
If I look back — past the overwhelming days, past the stress — there have been some great moments, a few of which, I’m happy to share here.
The Publishing Game
I sent out a total of 32 submissions in 2016 — including poetry, fiction, and chapbooks — with a total of six acceptances, one finalist placement for a chapbook, 20 rejections, and five still under consideration.
My first collection of poetry, a chapbook titled Pantheon, was accepted for publication this year by ELJ Publications and is scheduled to come out in August 2017. I couldn’t be more excited. The cover art is currently being developed and I’m sure there will be other developments as we get closer to the publication date.
Several of my solo and collaborative poems cowritten with Laura Madeline Wiseman have appeared in or are forthcoming in several anthologies, including: The World Retold(The Writers’ Guild of Iowa State University, March 2016); Red Sky, an anthology on the global epidemic of violence against women (Sable Books, September 2016); Write Like You’re Alive 2016 (Zoetic Press, September 2016); and Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghouls, Ghosts, and More! (Apex, forthcoming in 2017).
Slink Chunk Press published “The Shadows Flight,” a flash fiction piece. It’s the first piece of fiction that I’ve ever published and I’m grateful to the editors for sharing it with the world.
What I Wrote in 2016
I left the novel on the sideline last year, focussing instead on smaller work like poems and short stories — trying to get drafts completed and edited and sent out into the world. Although I felt a bit lacking in productivity toward the end of 2016, I have to admit that it’s been a fairly productive year. I’m pretty sure I came close to doubling the number of submissions I sent out, which means an increased amount of words were written to enable that.
The bulk of my writing was completed while participating in three writing challenges — for ELJ Write Now, I wrote 30 poems in the 30 days of April as a series of Our Lady poems praising pop culture characters, which became the basis for the soon-to-be-published Pantheon; Zoetic Press’ Write Like Your Alive challenge in the month of July drove me to complete another 23 poem drafts (of varying quality); and finally, The POEMING 2016 in October was a found poetry challenge in which poets were each assigned one novel by Stephen King and were required to create one found or erasure poem per day for all 31 days. I usually sign myself up for a month-long challenge at some point every year for the past few years and rarely complete them. So, I surprised myself by signing up for not just one challenge, but three and completing each one.
I also participated in a Short Film Scriptwriting Challenge through MMtB. Although my script was not one of the ones selected to be produced that night, it was an great experience that provided me with some contacts of people working on indy films in the Bay Area and reminded me how much I want to work on films.
More writing and editing and writing and editing happened throughout 2016, I’m sure, although I can’t remember it at the moment. Nevertheless, I feel confident about the work I’ve done and am feeling good as I move in to 2017, ready to accomplish even more. Maybe even move back toward working on the novel again.
I’ll put together another post on my writing goals for the year in a later post.
Travel in 2016
Most of my travel has been within the U.S. on a variety of work trips. Nashville was a delight — I loved the music and the history and food (oh, my goodness the food). I also ended up in parts of Ohio, Kentucky, and Alabama for a day or two at a time.
Closer to home was a weekend in Yosemite National Park. It was frigidly cold and so, so beautiful, worth every shiver and layer of shirt, sweater, sweater, coat, scarf, gloves, and hat that I had to put on.
I also made it out of Dusseldorf, Germany for a week (also for work). It’s a trip I’ve made several times before, made delightful by the fact that my brother joined me. We walked through the Christmas Market, tasted spiced wine, and rode the ferris wheel. So much fun.
Running in 2016
I’ve been continually trying to progress in my running — although like most of my goals, it sort of dropped off toward the last few months of 2016. I haven’t accomplished my goal of running a Half Marathon yet, but I did run the She is Beautiful 10K again, which is always a delight. Nevertheless, I have made progress — because despite skipping running for weeks at a time sometime, I can come back and get back into the groove fairly quickly. Apparently, I’ve been consistent enough for my muscles to remember, so that I don’t feel as though I’m starting from scratch each time I restart.
How was 2016 for you? I’d love to hear about some of your good things.
As we drove along the dark roads under the sheltering shadows of trees, the face of a mountain rose up before us like a monolith, ghostly in the blue moonlight, while the stars sprinkled the noctilucent sky behind. All of us in the car — except the one sleeping — gasped. The night could not hide the grandeur of the mountains that sheltered us in Yosemite valley.
It was the first time to Yosemite National Park for most of us (my mom, my sister, my sister’s friend, and I), and somehow entering the park in the dark, barely being able to see anything other than the mountain aglow was the perfect introduction.
* * *
Visiting Yosemite in the winter is beautiful, but the cold can be exhausting. Our group was in a constant battle against the cold, grasping for every ounce of heat, the heater in our tent barely holding up against the drafts that slipped in through the door and window flaps. It was a good thing we brought our own sleeping bags and an extra assortment of winter gear.
My clothing was mostly California-thin, laughable as winter wear. The cold was a creeping thing, working its way through layers of clothing, to crawl along the skin, slip its way in to settle under the surface, nestle in my bones. I layered pattern upon pattern, not caring about hat conflicting with scarf conflicting with coat, in an attempt to maintain warmth.
* * *
The only time we really got warm was on our hike, our bodies becoming furnaces fighting against the frost and wind as the trail inclined upward, leading us toward rivers and waterfalls and mossy stones and vistas.
Water was everywhere on this trip, sliding over rock faces in grand cascades glittering with a framework of ice or dribbling through cracks, rushing through rivers, leaving slick patches on the trails, nearly invisible and dangerous underneath our feet. It covered everything in during each night, making the whole world glitter.
* * *
I’ve fallen in love with Yosemite. The place is too beautiful not to return to again and again. I hope I’ll get the chance to return again soon, whether in the frigid cold of winter or the heat of summer.
Thank you to the editors of Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghouls, Ghosts, and More! I’m looking forward to seeing my poem “Beware of Attics” reprinted within its pages sometime in 2017.
I’m enjoying Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier, a graphic novel about two sisters who move to a coastal town with a local population of specters. The artwork is bright with clean lines and slightly cartoony (as in the characters have large round eyes and exaggerated expressions. Fun, so far.
What I’m Writing
Mostly I’m dealing with end of the year stuff, figuring out just what I accomplished this year and what I need to finish up in order to clean out my files and prep for the new year. This will involve a considerable amount of gathering and editing and arranging, I’m sure.
Goals for the Week:
Edit, edit, edit — and submit something
“The women in her stories are often constrained – by convention, by their families, by their own fears and subconscious desires. And beneath it all is a sense of powerful, hidden rage – a rage that belies the setting of so much of her fiction. Under the bland surface of these small, suburban communities, something dark is fermenting; something is about to erupt,” writes Joanne Harris on the Shirley Jackson centenary.
It’s interesting to look back and see which of my posts gathered the most interest. On the one hand, posting here is entirely for myself, something to keep me engaged with words and with the books I read. On the other hand, it’s also my author website and ideally I’d like to increase the readership. Looking at the numbers, it seems clear that I need to reach beyond the weekly updates, providing more content, such as Poet Spotlights, event reviews, and longer essay style posts might gain more interest.
I’m stoked that the Poet Spotlights fall into this category. I enjoy helping my fellow poets get the word out about their work and I would like to do more posts like this more often in the coming year — a minimum of one a month, although if I can do more that would be great.
It doesn’t surprise me that the Whole30 posts were in the top ten either. There’s a wide audience for nutrition and food, although it’s not something I’m likely to post on much in the future.
The majority of my blog posts — at a rough guess, I would say at least half — are the weekly update posts that I do. These are great for keeping me accountable and active in posting, but are probably somewhat less interesting to readers (a fact that is reflected in the number of reads they get).
In Independent Ed: Inside a Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life, Edward Burns relates his experiences working in the film industry as a writer, director, and actor. Burns directed and produced his first film, The Brothers McMullen, on a tiny $25,000 budget — which went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1995. Since that initial success, he has gone on to make ten more films on his own terms and act in several big budget Hollywood movies (such as Saving Private Ryan) and television shows.
This memoir highlights Burns’ successes, but perhaps more importantly delves into his mistakes, the poor decisions and bad luck that makes a movie fail to be the success one hoped it would be. These missteps, more than the successes, are where the greatest lessons lie.It’s hard to figure out why something succeeds, much easier to point to the number of reasons why something didn’t. His honesty in looking back on these moments, in which he examines where he went wrong and where the cards were against him, is a part of what makes this memoir work.
A few practical, useful pieces of advice are littered throughout the book (the difference between a master shot and a two shot, for example), providing some help in the nitty gritty of making a movie — but the real value of this book is in his philosophy toward filmmaking in general.
For Burns, the act of independent filmmaking is the ability to make movies according to your own vision and away from influences that might compromise that vision. He describes the twelve best days of his life as the twelve days he spent filming his first movie, The Brothers McMullen — twelve days telling a story true and making a movie for no other reason than the sheer joy of making a movie.
After The Brothers McMullen became a success and as his career as a director progressed, Burns continued to seek out those twelve days of joy. This lead him to choose projects that may have had smaller budgets, but that provided him with the freedom he needed to tell the kind of quiet stories to which he was drawn and to experiment with new technologies (such as using digital cameras and premiering some of his films on streaming services).
With the availability of such technologies, he notes, filmmakers have the opportunity to seek out their own twelve best days, to experiment and learn how to make movies while in the process of making movies in the same way writers learn how to tells stories through the act of telling stories, and musicians learn how to create songs by plucking strings on a guitar to get it right. He explains:
“At this moment, anyone who dreams of becoming a filmmaker is lucky indeed. For the first time in the history of cinema, filmmaking does not need to be a capitalist enterprise. You no longer need millions of dollars or even thousands of dollars. You are no longer beholden to someone writing a check. It no longer needs to be a business. It can be your artistic expression.”
Many filmmakers have realized this and are using various outlets on the internet to get their movies made and seen. But, as someone who’s often felt overwhelmed by what I believed the barriers to moviemaking to be, it’s empowering to be reminded that those barriers than I had imagined them. It’s a strong message for me — for all of us creative types — to get back to work and to keep seeking out those best days, those days when we are engaged and living our work.
As a footnote, I realize that I’ve never seen any of the movies Burns directed. As someone interested in independent filmmaking, I’m fascinated by what people are able to accomplish with small budgets and creative thinking. It would be interesting to do a marathon focused on movies that Burns directed to see how his skill in low budget movies evolved over time.
Another Note: This book was an ARC provided by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.
Over the weekend I got a gumption — wouldn’t it be a great idea to rearrange my closet, flip-flopping it, so that the office supplies and the clothing would switch places. (Since, I don’t have a separate office, I have to keep all of my office supplies in my bedroom.) It’s an idea I’ve had for months now, but kept putting it off because I keep a heavy filing cabinet in the closet and I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off alone.
Then the gumption happened. So, I put Daria on in the background and pulled everything from the hangar rack down out of the closet, creating a massive heap of clothing and boxes and bins on and around my bed. Then I put it all back in with minimal sorting.
It was far easier than I thought it would be to make the switch.
The strangest moment for me was as I was restoring order — a strange anxiety started creeping up around the edges telling me that this was all wrong. My clothes were not meant to be here, my craft supplies not meant to be there. This feeling of wrongness started to freak me out a tiny bit. I felt my pulse speeding up and my chest tightening.
But I kept working. I knew what I was feeling. It was an underlaying fear of change. How many years had I kept my closet in the exact same order? Four? Five? I was used to the status quo and a part of me was rebelling against any alteration to that status. Mostly, I just laughed the feeling off and kept working until I was done*. Since completing it, the anxious feeling is gone, having been replaced by the mild confusion about the location of things.
My mom has said that it’s a good idea to reorder things in your life from time to time, because switching things around breaks up your routine and keeps your mind more actively engaged. In the few days since I’ve made the switch I have found that I have to actively thing for a moment before I move to the new location of my socks, for example. I’m not sure if it will help my mind in other ways, but I’m happy with the change.
* Technically I was only done with one phase — there are two more to complete the reordering project. The first is to switch up the top shelve as I had done with the lower section. The second is to go through all the stuff I haven’t looked at in ages to see what I might get ride of and/or condense.
After finishing Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire last night, which was a lovely tale of lost girls, I’ve picked up Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal and started listening to I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson on audio book. Good stuff all around.
Still also enjoying Tim Burton: Essays on the Films. It’s quite academic in its discussions, so it’s taking a bit of work to get through, but it’s at least stretching my ideas of how to interpret Burton’s films.
What I’m Writing
I finished up my writing assignments from the previous week, but did little on the litany of poems and stories that need editing. I’d like to get a bunch of them completed and sent out by the end of the year — or a dozen or so poems and at least one story.
This is in addition to various administrative, end-of-the-year type stuff that I need to get done.
I’ve lucked out this year and am able to take some vacation time during the holidays. So, if I can stay focused I should be able to pull that off.
Goals for the Week:
Edit, edit, edit
Post two additional blog posts (not including this one)
Alrighty, here’s November in books, movies, and such. Some really powerful works this month.
“If you want to see what this nation is all about, you have to ride the rails. Look outside as you speed through, and you’ll find the true face of America. It was a joke, then, from the start. There was only darkness outside the windows on her journeys, and only ever would be darkness.” — from The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead’sThe Underground Railroad — which has won a National Book Award and a Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction — tells the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When a fellow slave Ceasar tells her about the Underground Railroad, she agrees to escape with him and begins a journey north, taking her through various states and cities — each one with its own unique culture, some welcoming her with open arms, others openly hostile. The story unfolds the landscape of the Unites States, unveiling the many shades of racism, both openly violent and disguised behind a seemingly friendly face. This is a powerful book, at times uncomfortable in its straightforward portrayal of the violence inflicted on Cora and her peers, but always beautifully written and challenging in all the best ways.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been avoiding writing much of anything, either here on my blog or poetry and other projects. I’ve been overwhelmed following the election and also busy spending time with the family over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend followed by jumping on a plane to Germany for a week long work trip.
Life is like that sometimes. But I’m back home and back writing. I will probably have a string of posts wrapping up the year over the next couple of weeks.
In the meantime, here are a few pics from my time in Dusseldorf, Germany last week.
What I’m Reading
Independent Ed by Edward Burns is a memoir describing the filmmaker’s passion for the process of directing movies and his focus on independent work, as well as some stories from his acting career. Rather interesting and enjoyable with a few useful tidbits of advice here and there.
I’m also working my way through Tim Burton: Essays on the Films, edited by Johnson Cheu. The essays present some fascinating analyses of Burton’s movies. For example, one of the essays examines atypical bodies as presented in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
What I’m Writing
I have not been writing much of anything lately — all a part of giving myself time to decompress. I tend to feel two ways whenever I’m not writing. The first is guilty, as I know in order to improve at writing and to develop my career, I need to put words on the page and send them out into the world in one manner or another. The second thing I tend to feel is acceptance, a kind of forgiveness mixed with relief, because I also know that there is no sense in beating myself up when I’m not in a place to deal with words directly.
This whole not-writing thing is going to shift, I’m sure — in part from necessity, as I had a meeting yesterday regarding an upcoming project that could be an amazing amount of fun. As the project is in its initial stages of discussion, I can’t really share what it is yet, but I may be able to do so over the coming months, assuming everything pans out.
I also have some writing assignments that I need to finish up this week.
Goals for the Week:
Finishing writing assignments
Type up and send out meeting notes regarding mystery project
“We are living through a time when dark, violent forces have been released, encouraged, and applified, on both sides of the Atlantic: by Trump in America, the Brexiteers here, Le Pen in France and too many others eager to extend its reach. I contend that in the face of such ugliness we need the beacon of light that is beauty more than ever — and I hold this belief as someone who has not lead a sheltered life, nor is unaware of the true cost of violence on body and soul. It is because of the scars that I carry that I know that beauty, and art, and story, are not luxuries. They are bread. They are water. They sustain us.” — Terry Windling in Dark Beauty.
“The 2016 presidential campaign was decidedly lacking in poetry. Yet in its aftermath, as Americans consider the contours of their new government, they are, often, turning to poems,” writes Megan Garber in Still, Poetry Will Rise.
A lot going on the past few days, so I’m coming in a little late, but here’s September in books, movies, and more.
I really enjoyed Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville, even though it took a ridiculously long time to read. It was worth it, but it seriously took forever to read.
Miéville presents an ornately complex city, operating on a mixture of steampunk science and magic, layered with neighborhoods, districts, slums, and inhabited by numerous intelligent species from humans to khepri (insectile humanoids), Garuda (birdmen), cacti men, and other beings. Everywhere is slick and reeking with filth and squalor (although it’s noted that there are rich burroughs that are less so. It’s a fascinating place, although one I’m not sure I’d want to visit.
The story spends some time getting to know the main characters, alternating between their POVs and adding more characters as it goes along building to a catastrophic moment that unleashes danger and fear on the city. Those first 200 or so pages are necessary to making the novel work, but I had a hard time getting through them (almost too much information to be absorbed). When the action finally gets started things become gripping while still being richly detailed. A great novel, but it definitely took some work to get through.
I did a reread of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, which was a nostalgic experience that I talked about elsewhere.
I returned to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life this month, although looking back I’m not really sure why. I knew I wanted to read a writing book and this was a book I loved once upon a time, but it had been years since I’ve read it and there were plenty of other as-yet-unread writing books on my selves that I could have picked up instead.
Maybe I was just drawn to it. Lamott’s words were as witty, intelligent, and compassionate as I remembered them, but I struggled through the first portion of the book, my mind distracted and unable to focus — a problem with my own headspace more than the words on the page.
I think I’ve been a bit mentally overwhelmed in recent weeks (or months), too many things in life and literature for me to process — which might be a reason I’ve been turning more to TV and movies as a form of relaxation, since they tend to require less engagement.
But as I read and continued reading, working my way through the my own mental blocks, the book slowly anchored me and I felt a little clearer. Lamott writes about her own challenges in writing and in life and the ways it can overwhelm and drive her into despair. Seeing to her imperfect journey was a comfort, providing a sense of I’m not alone in this mess as I approached mine.
At the moment, I don’t have the book in front of me, so I can’t seem to call up any of the specific pieces of advice that Lamott gives. So, I’ll point to Carina Bissett, who also did a reread of Bird by Bird recently and shared a lovely piece on the ways that this book has helped her through challenging times. In her post, she highlights the recommendations Lamott has for getting past perfectionism and moving into getting words on the page — shitty first drafts, short assignments, the picture frame technique.
As Carina notes in her post, “It can be a difficult pursuit to move past the desire for perfection in order to put the story on the page in its raw and garbled state. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to discover the places where a story might have missed its mark or characters whose voices might never be heard if you don’t get the words on the page.”
Once upon a time, I would have recommended Bird by Bird primarily to young writers, writers just learning to face the immensity of the page. But having reread it now, I can see that this is a book for writers of all ages and at many stages in their career, a book that teaches compassion for the self, even when struggling with the writing life and the universe, and everything.
I’ve loved horror stories and costumes since I was a kid, so it’s no surprise that Halloween has long been my favorite holiday. I love the excuse to dress up as something imaginary and the call on the creepy and strange with spooky decorations.
As an adult, I haven’t indulged in my love of Halloween nearly as much as I would have liked. Although, having a niece and nephew has certainly brought some of the joy of the holiday back to me. Watching them pick our their costumes, take joy in carving pumpkins (I was ordered to design Nightmare Before Christmas pumpkins featuring Jack, Sally, Zero, and Oogie-Boogie), and run around delighted with the act of trick-or-treating makes me delightfully happy. I always make sure to wear some sort of a simple costume for them, since I know it makes them happy.
Once upon a time, I would have planned out my costume in advanced and would have tried to be more inventive. But since I have not been attending any parties or going out with friends in the last few years, my costumes have become more and more simple — just enough to go trick-or-treating with the niece and nephew. This — combined with the fact that I’ve had zero decorations at my home — has made me feel somewhat disconnected from the holiday I love.
So, at the last minute, I hit up the dollar store and other inexpensive stores, and I invested in some inexpensive Halloween decorations that make my heart swell with happy. Sometimes it’s the little things — like a few decorations — that make life all the better.
Now that I’ve started up a little collection, my plan is to add to it, bit-by-bit every year, gathering and growing my Halloween joy like I’ve always wanted.
On a related note, Shannon Connor Winward, the editor of The Ghosts Issue, has been doing a series of blog posts highlighting each of the poems she selected for the issue and why she chose them. I’m really honored by the kind words she had to say about my poem.
What I’m Reading
In honor of the holiday, I’m starting A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which was inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd. I’ve read and loved Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, so I’m fully expecting this one to be excellent. Also, I’m already in love with the dark, sketchy artwork which loosely reminds me of the wonderfully creepy artwork form one of my favorite books as a kid, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which is being adapted into a movie by Guillermo del Toro, news that makes me all kinds of happy).
What I’m Writing
THE POEMING 2016 — a 31 day found poetry challenge comes to an end today. I’ve finished up all of my daily poems, which you can read over at Tendrils of Leaves. I’ll probably be taking a few of these down here and there as I start sending stuff out on submission, but they’ll stay up for at least a day or two.
Nanowrimo starts tomorrow, but I will not be nano-ing. I will however be doing another challenge, an eclectic do-something-everyday challenge, which I’ll talk about later.
I was going to go into more detail, but the short version is I got a new hair cut and color, went and picked out some pumpkins with the fam, and am now resting because I’m fighting off a potential soar throat.
I’ve started up Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clark, which is fun and readable so far. The science is there, but in just enough detail to make the discovery of a giant cylindrical alien starship seem real without stopping up the flow of the story. I’m enjoying it.
Still working on Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
What I’m Writing
I am caught up on all my daily poems for THE POEMING 2016. It’s been a challenge to keep up with them everyday with the amount of non-writing to-dos there has been over the past few weeks.
In other news, it’s amazing what can you do under a deadline. When I discovered that the submission period for poetry at Uncanny Magazine was coming to an end in just a few hours last Monday, I rallied into editing mode — because Uncanny is one of my favorite genre publications. In two hours I did a complete rewrite of the poem, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” a Rapunzel retelling. I was happy enough with the results that I sent it in right as the deadline was closing. Now to just wait for a response.
As the month draws to a close I can’t help but think about November and the forthcoming Nanowrimo. Although I don’t think I’m going to sign up for the novel writing challenge, I’m trying to think about what other sort of challenge I might set for myself — particularly a challenge that will help me to get work done and out into the world. Maybe an editing/submission challenge of some sort. I don’t know.
Goals for the Week:
Get all my required POEMING found poems written and posted
Avoid getting sick
As I’ve been trying to get back into running, a pastime that both keeps my body out of pain and clears my head, I found Ryan Holiday’s essay, The Timeless Link Between Writing and Running and Why It Makes for Better Work, rather interesting. He writes, “I run because I love it. Because it’s good exercise. It’s the only exercise I’ve ever really been good at, and I’ve done it essentially non-stop since middle school. But I run for another reason, the same reason that many writers apparently run: it makes me better at my job.” I don’t think you need to be a runner (or walker/hiker/etc.) to be a great writer, but for some of us, it acts as one of the many support struts that aids our work.
“I remember watching 1984’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind for the first time. A young woman flies in, early in the film, on her white glider, into a vast forest of beautiful yet toxic plants and takes a sample from one into a beaker. When I hear her voice, something makes me shiver. When she takes off her brown oxygen mask under the protective molted shell of a beetle’s eye, poisonous pollen falling around her like snow, it happens again. I know she’s the girl on the cover of the movie case, yet here she is: alone, exploring, unafraid, androgynous. I’m a tween, and I don’t process my thoughts clearly at the time. But I know, suddenly, that she is different from everything else I’ve watched up to this point. She seems to wear power like a coat. She lingers in my thoughts after the movie is over.”
Between multiple birthdays, a baby shower, going to press at the day job this week, and now starting to feel energetically off (and maybe getting sick) — I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and a little behind on quite a few things. So…, I am keeping this short.
What I’m Reading
I didn’t actually read anything last week — at least not anything in book form. I temporarily lost my copy of China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station and just didn’t make any progress on Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
What I’m Writing
I made it through all my daily poems for THE POEMING 2016 last week, except for Sunday. Now with all that’s been going on and how I feel and everything else, I’m a few days behind. I can and will catch up, of course, but I have to make sure to find space to mentally and physically rest in order to prevent a collapse.
Goals for the Week:
Get all my required POEMING found poems written and posted.
A lot going on the past few days, so I’m coming in a little late, but here’s September in books, movies, and more.
Pixar Animation is one of my favorite movie making studios. Not every flick is my cup of tea, but they seem to approach each project with a sense of innovation and heart. How they manage to consistently maintain that level of creativity in an industry that tends to churn our generic blockbusters on a regular basis is presented Creativity, Inc. Written by by Ed Catmull (one of the founders of Pixar) with Amy Wallace, the book is simultaneously a history of the computer animation industry, a memoir of Pixar with all its ongoing success and challenges, and a guide for approaching the management of creative teams.
One of the main ideas behind his management philosophy is that it’s impossible for one person to know everything, and that, in fact, it is certain that there are things unknown that are influencing the flow of creativity. He writes,
“I believe the best managers acknowledge and make room for what they do not know—not just because humility is a virtue but because until one adopts that mindset, the most striking breakthroughs cannot occur. I believe that managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them. They must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear. Moreover, successful leaders embrace the reality that their models may be wrong or incomplete. Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it.”
This acknowledgement of unknown factors influencing the dynamics of a creative environment enables the initiation of a process of self reflection and analysis — not as a one time solution but as an ongoing process of growth. As one solution proves to be successful, another litany of challenges will present themselves and it’s important to know how to navigate those new challenges and change tactics as they arise. One of the many things I love about this book is how it shies away from simple, trite catch phrases that are usually presented as rules for success. Phrases such as “Trust the process” sound wise at first glance, but can often come to be meaningless. The reality is that finding solutions often requires adaptability and a willingness to address problems, failure, and change.
One of the great flaws, he finds in many operations is how they address failure as something to be avoided at all costs, a believe that often stifles creativity and risk taking. Catmull asserts that failure is “a necessary consequence of doing something new.” The very act of forging ahead on a new project, whether creating a film or writing a book, means that there will be inevitable failures along the way. Rather than seeing these failures as doom, seeing them as inevitable enables people to work through the frustration of not getting it right the first time (or second or tenth). It’s something that I’ve learned (and am still learning) to accept as I’ve attempted and failed again and again at finishing my stupid novel — each failed attempt getting me closer and closer to understanding the heart of the story, getting closer to learning how to get it right.
I also rather likes what Catmull had to say about change (similar to failure, in that people tend to be terrified of it):
“Here’s what we all know, deep down, even though we might wish it weren’t true: Change is going to happen, whether we like it or not. Some people see random, unforeseen events as something to fear. I am not one of those people. To my mind, randomness is not just inevitable; it is part of the beauty of life. Acknowledging it and appreciating it helps us respond constructively when we are surprised. Fear makes people reach for certainty and stability, neither of which guarantee the safety they imply. I take a different approach. Rather than fear randomness, I believe we can make choices to see it for what it is and to let it work for us. The unpredictable is the ground on which creativity occurs.”
I could probably quote passages and passages of this book, and examine each one closely, but I would quickly run out of space here. Having listened to Creativity, Inc. on audio book (narrated by Peter Altschuler), I’m eager to buying a print copy so that I can peruse the text more closely to better absorb the information and examine it for concepts that might help my own creative life.
Although I’ve pursued the more solitary act of writing poetry and fiction, I’ve been interested in the process of filmmaking since high school. The collaborative nature of the medium, in which a handful to hundreds of people with their own skill sets, come together to tell a story is fascinating to me. As an entry point into the medium, I’ve tried to write screenplays (both short and feature length) over the years and have even made some awkward attempts at directing with no idea of what I was doing and no understanding of the complexities involved in the process.
Other than the money and (more importantly) time aspects of the filmmaking process, the biggest obstacle for me over the years was trying to figure out how to track down a community of filmmakers to work with. I didn’t even know where to begin. So, I was stoked to discover MMTB – Movie Making Throughout the Bay, which not only provides that sense of community, but also has a “get in there and get movies made” attitude with workshops and challenges that focus on making moviemaking happen.
Over the the weekend, I participated MMTB’s first Writers & Actors Short Film Challenge. Writers showed up at the MMTB headquarters in Rodeo, CA — and interesting jumble of a building with rooms that can be staged in a variety of ways — were given a set of guidelines and four hours to complete up to three scripts. The guidelines were simple enough: keep the story under three minutes, include all three available actors, set the story using one of the rooms in the building, and no special effects. After four hours of writing, we gave feedback and voted on the scripts, and the top three scripts were filmed that night.
I managed to complete one script to my own satisfaction — which was not selected for filming. But I received a lot of positive feedback for my incredibly awkward bathroom scene, which starts out humorous and becomes a story about one of those unexpected moments in which two people connect. I also received some great feedback about how to make the short script better. (Someone said the script made them incredibly uncomfortable because it was set in a bathroom, which made me laugh because uncomfortable was what I was going for.)
In general, I was impressed with the number of quality screenplays that the group was put together and I had a great time sticking around to watch the scripts become films. All of the actors were equally impressive, memorizing their lines on the fly, getting into character, doing a rapid shoot, then switching up for the next one and doing it all over again.
I seem to have forgotten entirely about making any announcements in a while, so I’ve got quite a few of them to share. Woo!
“The Tenth Sister,” a prose/hybrid poem that is part of a series based on the Twelve Dancing Princesses fair tale, has also just been published in the Write Like You’re Alive 2016 anthology from Zoetic Press, September 2016. The anthology, which I also helped curate, is free and full of tons of great writing.
And last but not least, “Because Her Face Fades,” a poem I cowrote with Laura Madeline Wiseman, was recently published in Faery Magazine #36, Autumn 2016,
What I’m Reading
China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station is amazing but presents slow, slow, slow reading for me. It’s a little too challenging for my overworked brain right now, but I keep pressing on.
Still reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, as well.
What I’m Writing
In addition, to the script challenge I mentioned, I’ve also launched into the THE POEMING 2016, which my first three found poems based on Stephen King’s The Plant up at Tendrils of Leaves and ready for your reading pleasure.
Usually when creating found poems, I work in erasure (like this, for example), in which I take a printed text and blackout words until all that’s left is the poem. It’s a very restrictive way of doing found poetry, as you have to move down the page in such a way that it remains readable, but it also provides the ability to incorporated fun visual elements.
But I’m trying something different with THE POEMING, opening myself up to using any word on the page in any order. But since I’m still drawn to the tactile sensation of writing on paper, I end of creating wild intricate webs of lines and circles words (as pictured below). It’s a fun sort of chaos and somehow I’m still able to decipher it as I work through a page — despite sometimes getting temporarily lost in my own maze.
Get all my required POEMING found poems written and posted.
“That book you’re writing is mewling again in the dark. It’s a half-formed thing — all unspooled sinew and vein, its mushy head rising up out of the mess of its incomplete body, groaning and gabbling about this life of misery it leads. Its life is shit because you haven’t finished it. It’s flumping along on stump legs, pawing its way through your hard drive, bleating for attention. It needs words. It needs plots. It needs resolution,” says Chuck Wendig in his post, “Here’s How To Finish That Fucking Book, You Monster”
Last week, I took a business trip that took me through Nashville, northern Alabama, and into Kentucky. I spent quite a bit of this trip driving from location to location and with all the work meetings and industrial site visits, there was little time for hanging out.
I checked out the Nashville City Cemetery and would have loved to have explored it more, but it was sweltering hot and humid out and I couldn’t handle it. Not even in the shade.
Most importantly, I made sure to get my good eats on while at Nashville by visiting Hatti B’s for some great fried chicken and Biscuit Love for some bonuts.
What I’m Reading
China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station presents an incredible detailed portrayal of one of the strangest fantastical cities I’ve read. There’s a strange mixture of magic and science combined with a gritty seedy feeling — the entire city being filled with grime and refuse and other more disturbing images. It’s not a nice place to visit (or live), but it’s also beautiful in its way. The characters, too, are rather interesting — one being an artist pursuing a dangerous commission and the other a scientist of magic (it seems) who has been provided with a seemingly impossible challenge.
Still reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, as well.
And I’m reading The Plant by Stephen King — an unfinished novel about a plant that invades the office of a small publishing house — for THE POEMING (which I’ll talk about below). I’m sure many sinister things are abound to happen in the story, although I’m not sure how deep into the story it goes before it just drops off into unfinished territory.
What I’m Writing
Due to the traveling, my writing was sporadic last week. I attacked some poems in an attempt to meet an anthology deadline, but trying to combine the submission process with being on the road stressed me out. So, I let it go for now. But at least I have a couple of solid poem starts that might find homes elsewhere.
At the moment I’m getting prepped for THE POEMING — an October challenge in which 50+ plus poets have been each been assigned one of the 50+ novels written by Stephen King. Each poet will write/create a found poem from their assigned novel (mine is The Plant) and will post one new poem per day in the month of October. All of the poems will be shared on Tumblr — my challenge page is Tendrils of Leaves.
Goals for the Week:
Work on that short story or one of the poetry collection projects
The Cito.FAME.Us open mic event last week featured a special screening of Through The Walls: A San Quentin Film, a documentary produced by Change it Up media about how inmates in San Quentin prison were (and are continuing to) use music to overcome loss and create change. POISE, a rapper and activist, presented the documentary and discussed his own time in prison and his work with music and activism. He explained that documentary was made in secret, using one of the rooms the inmates were allowed to practice and perform in.
The documentary follows a specific group within the prison that is attempting to not only change their own lives, but pledging to work to change the communities they grew up in once they leave prison. Part of the philosophy is that as much as music is a reflection of the world, music also has a powerful effect on the world — so the group is attempting to write positive lyrics that share the truth of the prison life they’ve lived and of the world as they see it, as opposed to feeding the fantasy of being a gangster, and hopefully affect change.
Through the Walls is still in progress — the plan is to extend 45 minute version shared at Cito into a feature length documentary. I hope it gets some traction, because it’s a great film. I think the movie could be an interesting tool in classrooms, where it could be shown in order to spark discussion with students. You can check out the trailer for Through the Walls behind the cut.
For those who haven’t been reading the weekly posts, here’s the simple scoop on Whole30. Essentially, it’s a 30 day challenge to eat clean — as in no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites), or re-created junk food — as well as to detox, change, habits, and so forth. There’s more to it than that, lots of philosophies and perspectives and addendum and such that fill and entire website with essays and blog posts about the challenge, but that’s the essential gist.
I didn’t really have any expectations when I started this challenge, so it’s easy for me to call it a success — and on the whole, I’d say it was. I followed the rules for 30 days, even when certain family members begged me to quit so that I could drink with them, even when I sat helping a friend put together grab bags of candy while she ate cupcakes, even when I was getting really, really bored and feeling really, really over it.
I’m not going to passionately rave about how great Whole30 is, like I’ve seen other bloggers do. But I will say the experience was worth it for me. Three days after the challenge has ended, and I’m still feeling pretty good.
For anyone interested, my here are my week one, two, three, and four breakdowns of what I spent on groceries and so forth. My overall thoughts and feelings are below. It’s a little random, but that’s how I roll.
It’s Not as Hard as It Seems
Okay, I know I said I had no expectations going in, but I guess I had one — that it would be hard as hell.
That was one expectation I was glad to have proven wrong. The Whole30 did take more work, requiring time and energy to meal prep for the week and cook after getting off work. But when I looked for it, the willpower to say, No, to candy, chips, and other junk food was there. One reason was that I was in the right headspace for this. When a sister roped me into trying to do this two years ago, the entire concept annoyed me and I didn’t really try, which had me quitting at the end of the week (better than my sister, who quit after two days). This time around, I was ready to commit, which made things go smoothly. Another reason was that I had already stopped buying some of the things on the banned list (such as milk and bread).
The hardest part was reprogramming weird habits that are almost like muscle memory. Like grabbing taquito off of my nephew’s plate to take a bite and show him how good it is and that he should eat it, too (which never works). Or, snagging a piece of candy out of the dish at the doctor’s office. In all of these occasions, I didn’t even particularly want the thing I was grabbing, but latched onto as a reflex. I caught myself immediately, but was surprised how I could act without making a conscious decision to do so.
The other challenge was that eating Whole30 is more pricey — with my grocery costs at least doubling what they were before the challenge — although not too bad when you can buy things to last you a couple of weeks, such as bulk items and meats that you can freeze.
The best way I can describe how I feel after all this is clean. The best way to describe it is the opposite of when you eat fried food and junk, when you feel heavy and dragging and like your skin is producing grease. It’s a good, light feeling, one I’d like to hold on to — which is one of the reasons I don’t have any immediate urges to runout and consume copious amounts of junk food.
The only thing I desperately wanted to have in the final two weeks of this challenge was corn (specifically corn as part of a Chipotle said) and a beer. Not the worst things to be craving as things go. I am not, however, dying to have chips or cupcakes or chocolate or any of the other things I used to want to have ALL THE TIME. In fact, if a cupcake were set in front of me, I wouldn’t even really want it right now (although I would probably be tempted to take a bite, which would likely lead to more bites). It’s kind of cool and makes me feel more in control of
There’s Sugar in Everything
I kid you not. Read the labels. It’s added to salad dressings and lunch meat and all kinds of things you wouldn’t think sugar would be in. It was one of the hardest things to avoid.
Also, wheat, which is also in a ton of things — although since most of those things are processed food items that I wasn’t allowed to eat anyway, it was easier to avoid.
Apparently, I Can Cook Things
I have been known to be a lazy cook, the kind of cook that just throws pre-made frozen food into the oven and sets a tim, the kind of cook unwilling to do anything that requires even a hint of additional effort. My mom and sisters have consistently made fun of me (in a loving way) for my complete lack of interest in this regard, as they are all rather good cooks in their own way.
But on the Whole30, I had not choice but to prepare my lunches at the beginning of every week and cook my dinner every night. So, I planned out that required small amounts of effort and time and was able to come up with a number of good eats that often took me less than 20 minutes to make. This included super easy stuff like chicken salad wraps or lettuce-shell chicken tacos to slightly more complicated meals like sausage and zucchini-bell-pepper-cauliflower stir fry, baked salmon with brussel sprouts, and a beef patty and portobella mushroom burger. After three weeks, I was even starting to get a little creative, mixing together ingredients without double checking a recipe first.
My favorite meal was a sausage sweet potato hash with a friend egg on top (I do not have a photo of this, I’m afraid as I got lazy about taking food pics toward the end) — something I would never have thought to make prior to this challenge. This breakfast is sweet and savory, and I love the egg yolk mixed up in it all. It’s just so good and supper simple. (If anyone wants the recipe, then I’ll provide it, but honestly it’s just sweet potato, yellow peppers, and sausage in a pan with a fried egg).
I Freaking LOVE Almond Butter
No, seriously. I didn’t know how good this was, so blinded was I by the standardized peanut butter.
A Balance Between Healthy and Happy
Finding a good balance between healthy and happy is the next step. What this balance looks like is different for everyone. Theodora Goss has a great post on this concept and presents an example on what works for her. For some this balance may involve sticking strictly to something like the Whole30 plan, for others it may mean eating whatever the hell they want when they want, and for still others it might mean something in between.
It will probably take some time to figure out exactly what sort of balance works best for me, but this is what I do know:
I want to stick to having most of my meals consist of primarily meat and vegetables, with an addition of some grains like corn, quinoa, and so forth. I feel like this would work well for me, since I probably need some additional carbs beyond meat and veggies in order to power my running. I’m also happy having various kinds of fruit for a sweet kick with dinner or whenever.
I want to keep the habit up of cooking my dinners most nights. It feels good to be in control of my own cooking and it’s great when I get a tasty meal just right.
I’m going to have beer, wine, whiskey, or other booze when I feel like it (even if Whole30 says its a no-no, as in never). Enjoying a drink from time to time is a part of what makes me a happy person, as long as I’m keeping it (mostly) in moderation.
I am not going to play an is-it-worth-it game every time I want to have something less than the usual healthy. That kind of game would probably just make me miserable in the long run, feeding the kind of guilt spirals I just don’t need.
That said, I don’t want to fall into the eating-junk-food-because-it’s-there trap, which was something I did quite often before I started this challenge.
I’m sure I’ll have to change things around and re-adjust in the coming months as I continue to explore what sorts of food works for me, and as I face peer pressure again. (It’s amazing how much easier it is for me to say “I can’t because I’m doing Whole30” than it is to say “I’d rather not.”) Already this week, I’ve had a glass of beer and some sushi and other non-Whole30 items — and I’m still feeling clean, still feeling good. Let’s keep it that way.
Tell me about your own food journeys in the comments. Whether you’ve done the Whole30 things or have tried other kinds of plans.
It’s been a great month. One of the highlights this month was the All Womyn’s Showcase (write up here), which I not only attended but also participated in. I love attending live events (even if they sometimes exhaust me) and I keep telling myself that I want to see more of them.
Super Mutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki is such a wonderfully strange graphic novel. For most of the book, each page represents a single vignette, a tiny story about one or more of the characters from the Academy. At the beginning the vignettes jumped between so many different characters, it was difficult to keep track of who was who and what was going on, which made it a little hard to get into. But, as I continued reading and the characters began to repeat, I recognized a main set of characters I could connect and resonate with, allowing me to settle into the odd and beautiful stories at this strange school which features an array of mutants and magic and science.
Some of the vignettes are anchored in ordinary teenage angst (like crushes and school dances and friendship) that makes them easy to relate to, while others are simply, delightfully bizarre (such as the everlasting boy, who throughout the book experiences a variety of deaths and rebirths and eternities). There’s a lot of wit and wisdom present (sometimes beyond what I would expect from a typical teenager, though these are not typical teenagers). Taken as a whole, Super Mutant Magic Academy is really a fabulous book, which doesn’t allow itself to be anchored by any single storyline, but lets itself fall into the chaos of teenage-dom with all its weird wisdom and foolish obsessions.
Admist a great many other things that happened last week, on Sunday I attended and performed at the All Womyn’s Showcase — which featured five hours and more than 20 performers of poetry, music, and art, as well as booths for artists and community activism. It was a stellar day, one that I felt so honored to take part in.
Some of the amazing poets included Arlene Biala, Santa Clara Poet Laureate, with two moving pieces; Christina Springer; Jaqunasty, a spoken word poet with a powerful voice and words full of feels; and Aasha, who performed several kick-ass poems, as well as co-hosted the event alongside Estrellita Munõz. Also, Nicole Henares shared a poem from Madrid with Bianca Rodriguez performing flamenco alongside — there was something powerful about seeing two such different forms of art performed side-by-side, with ever staccato-ed flamenco step punctuating the words in the poem.
There was so much great music, too — Socorra floored me with her foot-stomping rock; Claymoon wowed me with the growl of the lead-singer’s voice and the emotion in their lyrics; Astralogik made me want to sway to their soulful electronica; Bird & Willow shared some lovely folk; and as always Q&A made my world a better place with their beautifully strange, folky tunes.
One comedian, PX Floro, also took the stage and she was hilarious.
This is really just the short list, as there were so many other amazing poets and artists who gave wonderful performances at the All Womyn’s Showcase as well. Thank you so much to Robertino Ragazza and Quynn Nguyen for organizing and hosting this amazing show!
In other awesome event news, I also attended Cito.FAME.Us hosted by the hella famous Lindsey Leong on Thursday night for the first time in many months. I read a few poems and listened to a variety of comics, musicians, and poets share their works. There have been some changes with Cito — the event remains a weekly, free open mic taking place at Iguanas in San Jose, but the hours now run from 8:30 – 11:00 pm, with signups starting at 8 pm. It a great venue for South Bay poets and artists to come share, with all forms of work welcome, from poetry to music to comedy and dance (as long as it’s family-friendly, i.e. no cuss words). Sometimes they even set up a screen to share short films and other media — as they will be doing this week with the screening of Through the Walls, a 45-min documentary filmed at San Quentin State Prison that shows how inmates are healing through music.
What I’m Reading
I’ve come back to Gateway by Frederik Pohl, a book I started reading many months ago but only got a few pages into before the time limit expired on my library loan. The story seems to center around a man, who continues to be haunted by his time working on Gateway, some sort of space travel station (though I’m not clear yet on how it operates, since I’m still in the beginning).
Still reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and the nostalgia is strong.
What I’m Writing
I honestly can’t remember what — if anything — I wrote last week. So, that basically means that I didn’t write anything, which is not where I like to be.
Goals for the Week:
Work on that short story or one of the poetry collection projects
“Many complain when the word ‘awesome’ is used to describe things that are not, in fact, deserving of awe. Yet few object when ‘awful’ is used to mean something other than ‘full of awe.’ … There have been a number of people who have inveighed against this loose sense of awful over the years, but their ranks are thinning, and most of us seem to not mind its use very much. If you have taken these conflicting positions about awesome and awful, you needn’t feel bad about it (and you probably don’t); one of the only things that is as resolutely illogical as the English language is the way that most of us feel it should be used.”
The what and why of the Whole30 food challenge is here, but essentially the rules are no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites) for a 30 days.
How I Feel
There are four days left in the challenge and I’m feeling good — that same clean feeling throughout my body. I also have no cravings, or at least not any for junk food (I just really, really want some corn, okay?). My only physical complaint right now it that my right shoulder and neck are a mess — although that is more than likely from some other cause.
In general, this has been a good experience (which I’ll write about next week when this is all officially over), but I’m definitely looking forward to being done and having more flexibility in terms of my food choices.
Glowing with the Moon is among my favorite open mic events. It’s a summer event, hosted outdoors by Lorenz Dumuk at the beautiful School of Arts & Culture @MHP in San Jose. The combination of the outdoor venue and the wonderful people who come to participate always makes it a relaxing and enlightening event. I read an older poem of mine and listened to many other poets read their own words. Tshaka Campbell was particularly powerful — his performances usually are — and I hope he comes out with a book soon, so that I can enjoy his poetry as often as I want.
Red Sky, an anthology on the global epidemic of violence against women forthcoming from Sable Books, will feature the poem “The Matchsticks I Sold for Him,” which was cowritten by Laura Madeline Wiseman and myself. I’m not sure of the date of publication yet, but will let you know when I do.
Quite a while back (like, two years ago) I wrote a post on the crowdfunding platform, Patreon, which enables fans to make monthly contributions to artists in order to keep them creating new stuff. There are a lot of great writers and publications on there (some of which I mention in the first post).
After spending some time contributing to other creators on Patreon and a considerable amount of time dithering about my own worth as a writer, I’ve decided to create my own artist’s page on the site. This means that — if you love my writing and are so inclined — you can contribute money every month to help me out in this whole writing thing. I still feel really weird about this, still doubt whether my writing is good enough to have fans, still question whether I’ve provided enough rewards for backers — but I did it anyway, because the worst that could happen is that no one contributes and my page just sits at zero for forever, leaving me exactly where I am now.
What I’m Reading
I’ve started on a reread of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and its interesting reading this now, because I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a writer compared to when I first read it.
Although I haven’t started it yet, SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki is next up on my list (I’ll probably be getting into it tonight, actually). I’m sure I’ll dig this one, because I also really enjoyed her book, This One Summer.
What I’m Writing
After last week’s hiding away from all things words, the Glowing with the Moon event was a breath of air invigorating me back to the page. I was able to come clear with one prose poem draft and I was able to shape is into a “final” draft — which felt good.
I also turned to a not-quite-drafted Hansel and Gretel retelling, but I just sort poked at it with a long stick a couple of times without getting too close. I know I’ll be able to get this one out eventually, maybe even sooner rather than later. But there’s still some mental processing going on.
Goals for the Week:
Work on that short story
“Many fantasy authors wrestle with the desire to produce historically plausible narratives that are not innately offensive and oppressive by modern standards of gender, sexuality, and race relations. This is a worthwhile struggle; there are far too many lazy works that blame their prevalence of rape and misogyny on “historical accuracy.” At the same time, patriarchy and sexism have actual societal consequences; you cannot just create a world where women can become fighters and everyone wears a magic birth control necklace and expect that nothing else will change. Adding divorce into the mix is one means of balancing gender and marital dynamics, without sacrificing the coherence and logic of a fictional society,” writes Anise K. Strong in Beyond Happily Ever After: Why Divorce Needs to Be An Option in Fantasy Fiction.
The what and why of the Whole30 food challenge is here, but essentially the rules are no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites) for a 30 days.
I’m three weeks in and fully in the I’m so done stage.
How I Feel
Clean (I don’t really know how else to describe it), but otherwise normal. No surges of energy that other people have described. At least not yet.
Mostly, though, what I’m feeling is a kind of boredom with the level of restrictions and I’m wanting this to be over with. I’m not craving anything in particular (except booze). I don’t want candy or pastries or chips or other kinds of junk food. All I want is to be able to have some corn on my Chipotle salad. Or, quinoa. Or, other mostly healthy things that provide some variety, but are restricted during the Whole30.
And I want a freaking beer, or wine, or whiskey, or whatever.
Other than that, I’m feeling pretty good to go on this. The cooking is sometimes annoying after a long day, but doesn’t feel overwhelming. Even the weekly meal prep is easy enough. So, I’m sticking with it and I’m certain I’ll make it through the next week and a half.
Meanwhile, my dad being his ever helpful self told me I should drop this thing so we can go out and have drinks together — thanks, dad.
I felt like I was hermit-ing myself away this week. I don’t mean that just in the sense of hiding myself from the world (because when I think about it, since I spent time with my sister on Monday and hung out with a friend on Sunday), but also in the sense of hiding from my own creativity and somewhat from social media. Although, this feeling may be less reflective of last week than how I feel at this moment.
I don’t know if I’m ready or willing to pull myself out of that mode just yet, but I can tell that this is going to start to drag on me if I let it go on, too long. When I’m in this mode I tend not to get much of anything productive done and that’s not helpful on many levels.
What I’m Reading
I finished up She Walks in Shadows, the anthology edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles and may have some thoughts to share on it soon. But for now I’ll just say that it’s a solid collection of weird, Lovecraftian stories.
I’m about halfway through The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms, which is an entertaining adventure romp with a fun, sassy main character.
What I’m Writing
Rinse and repeat from last week — no new words were written last week, and no major editing. I’m finding it very difficult right now to face words, can stand to either look at a blank page or edit anything I’ve already written. Kind of frustrating, but I’ll work my way out of it soon, I’m sure.
Goals for the Week:
Work on something – ANYTHING
“We love her and we hate her in equal measure. We feel that way because she revels in being all the things that we are told we aren’t allowed to be. She is confident, and she has wrinkles, and her nose isn’t a formless nonthreatening comma in the middle of an ill-defined wide-eyed face—it’s a knife, or an arrow, or a scythe. She frowns. Everyone in the audience and on the internet wants to talk about whether or not she’s sexy but they’re asking the wrong questions and she’s laughing at them for it,” writes Sarah Gailey in Defense of Villainesses.
The what and why of the Whole30 food challenge is here, but essentially the rules are no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites) for a 30 days.
How I Feel
I’m told most people quit on day eleven. That was yesterday.
I’ve had a few “I’m so over this” moments” and some cravings this week, but they were mostly idle thoughts and I was able to easily enough brush them aside.
The hardest part of the week was hanging out with my niece and nephew. There are some weird habits people can get into around kids — they aren’t eating their dinner so there is leftover food on their plates that’s easy to nab, or they have their little cups of Goldfish crackers and it’s just so easy to reach in an grab one, or so on.
While feeding my nephew dinner, which he was not eating, I went to do the see-look-it’s-good thing and went to take a bite of one of his taquitos to prove to him that I wasn’t lying, that his good was indeed good. I brought the taquito up to my mouth and even touched my teethe to it before I realized what I was doing. No bite was taken, thus no rules were broken. But, man, it was so close.
The funny thing is: trying to prove to a kid that they should eat a thing by eating it yourself never actually works. They see us eating stuff they don’t like all the time. So, maybe that habit should just be shut down entirely.
It was a mellow week last week. I gave myself space for that, just sitting around and watching TV and old movies.
I particularly loved binge watching Stranger Things — creepy and nostalgic with amazing music and some cool world building. I can’t wait for season two.
What I’m Reading
I didn’t read anything out of books last week, so I’m still working on both She Walks in Shadows, the anthology edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles, and The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms.
What I’m Writing
No new words were written last week, and no major editing. However, I did manage to make some minor tweaks to the new chapbook and send it out to a contest for consideration.
As I mentioned last week, I’m doing the Whole30 challenge — essentially no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites). Here’s my week one round up of how it’s going.
How I Feel
So far I haven’t felt overly tempted have been few. My office has chocolate in stock and other no-nos for this challenge. But even though I’m aware of them and other temptations in my everyday, I’ve found that I’m able to glance them longing for a brief moment and then move one. (I have had an anxiety dream midweek in which I was tricked into eating some pasta or something and felt frustrated about having to start the challenge over.)
Apparently, it’s entirely normal during the first 14 days to experience headaches, lethargy, sleepiness, crankiness, and so on. My energy has definitely went down as the week went on, with it being harder and harder to get out of bed in the mornings up through Thursday. There were also a couple of times midweek in which I’ve had less patience things that normally don’t bother me (although the fact that I’m overwhelmed with work at the moment may be contributing to this).
However, I woke up this morning with significantly more energy than yesterday and in a much better mood, so hopefully I’m on an upswing.
Wait. July is over already? Where did the year go?
I’ve long loved the work Charlie Jane Anders does — both as the host of Writers with Drinks and as a long-time editor and writer at i09. So I was thrilled to have been able to pick up a copy of All the Birds in the Sky (which I got signed at one of her readings in San Francisco).
The novel is sort of a like a nature witch and mad scientist love story that explores the philosophical differences between how magic and science approach deal with a world that’s falling apart. Both have their own ways of trying to make things better, but when magic and science begin to clash, it threatens to destroy the world instead.
I love the characters in this novel. Both Patricia and Laurence had rough childhoods that they managed to survive and deal with in their own ways. Though they are both flawed, they also have their own sense of compassion that leads them to try to do good in the world. Somehow, despite all their differences and mistakes, they manage to fit together.
Anders’ writing is beautiful — a mixture of beautiful details, humor, and emotional resonance. I loved this book.
Pantheon, my chapbook of poetry based on a series of Our Lady poems has been accepted for publication and it forthcoming from ELJ Publications in August 2017! Each of the poems speaks to a female pop culture character, examining their hidden stories and the ways these characters can sometimes feel personal or sacred to our lives.
This will be my first collection of poetry and I’m so excited!
In related news, I just learned that three of these poems — Harley Quinn, Ursula, and Rogue — will be published in Issue 8 of Yellow Chair Review!
What I’m Reading
I’m still working on both She Walks in Shadows, the anthology edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles, and The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms. Both are thrilling in different ways, the one being dark and strange Lovecraftian short stories and the other being a fun action adventure fantasy romp.
What I’m Writing
The 31/31 challenge hosted by Zoetic Press wrapped up yesterday. I finished a total of 23 poem drafts for the challenge, which feels kind of awesome because now I have 23 new things that can be edited and submitted.
During the course of this challenge, I managed to put together first drafts for all the prose poems in my Twelve Dancing Princesses collection — something I’ve been meaning to polish off for a long time.
So, now it will be all editing, editing, editing and submitting for a while.
There is this thing called the Whole30 challenge. It’s a challenge to eat whole, non-processed foods for 30 days, including “meat, seafood, eggs, tons of vegetables, some fruit, and plenty of good fats from fruits, oils, nuts and seeds.”
During that time you are not allowed to consume added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, carrageenan, MSG or sulfites. You are also not supposed to create baked good (breads, pancakes, etc.) with compliant substitutes, and smoothies and other blended drinks are frowned upon.
The aim is to go for healthy eating and there are entire areas of the internet given over to how awesome this challenge is and the health benefits it provides.
Although I find aspects of it annoying, I’ll be doing the Whole30 challenge for the month of August. Why? Because my sister has had some anxiety and health challenges, she wants to try it to see if it will help her, and she doesn’t want to do it alone. So, I’m backing her up.
I’m pretty sure I have the willpower to stick to the plan (she says as she sticks a piece of chocolate candy in her mouth). My two main challenges are going to be cooking and cost.
Most of the recommended meal plans I’ve seen for Whole30 so far have been elaborate to say the least, often written by people who seem to enjoy cooking. The plans involve weekly meal-prep work and homemade dinners every night and 50-item shopping lists.
None of which works for me or my sanity.
I don’t really cook much and I dislike grocery shopping. And it seems like the Whole30 thing would less helpful if it includes a massive amount of stress.
I’m trying to find ways to keep it all as easy and cheap as possible. I need breakfasts that I can put together in less than 5 minutes flat and ideally eat while I’m walking out the door (right now I do protein shakes, which are not allowed in the plan). Lunches will be mason jar salads made on Sundays (something I used to do for a short while) and dinners will have to be one-pan and able to be finished in no more than 20-30 minutes. Most of my shopping will be at Trader Joe’s. Apparently, I can have carnitas salads from Chipotle, which is awesome for a quick fix, since they’re right across the street.
I’ll post weekly updates on the meal plans and costs and how things are going — in part to just keep myself accountable.