Dec 16 2016

My Top Ten Blog Posts from 2016

I published 82 blog posts in 2016, including this one. More than one per week, which is not too shabby, but not too great either.

In terms of numbers, my most popular (or most read) posts were as follows:

  1. Poet Spotlight: Jenna Le on Whales, Womanhood, and the Writing Life
  2. The whole Whole30 thing
  3. Poet Spotlight: Chella Courington on being “at home with voice and vision”
  4. The Whole30 Thing – Week One
  5. Big Poetry Giveaway 2016!
  6. Thoughts on the Whole30 Thing Now That It’s Over
  7. Poet Spotlight: Pamela Taylor on balance in life and poetry
  8. FOGcon Recap 2016
  9. Top Reads of 2015
  10. Saying good bye to David Bowie

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).

As a side note, I find it interesting that a number of posts from previous years seemed to still be going strong, such as St. Michael’s a jerk and other paintings at the National Gallery (November 2014), which was my second most visited post of the year.


Dec 15 2016

Finding Your 12 Best Days: Edward Burns’ Reflections on Filmmaking

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.

The Brothers McMullen

The Brothers McMullen (1995)

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.


Dec 13 2016

Reordering and Facing Change

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.

ANNOUNCEMENTS!

Years ago I wrote a flash fiction from the point of view of Peter Pan’s shadow. It took a long time and many rejections the piece — called The Shadow’s Flight — has finally found a home, where you can all read it for yourselves. This is my first fiction publication — and I’m stoked. Thank you so much to the editors of Slink Chunk Press!

Are you looking for something to give the writers in your life? Along with some of my fellow editors at Zoetic Press, I’ve compiled a list of suggestions slightly silly, slightly helpful gift suggestions. Be sure to check out the lists from Lise Quintana and Kolleen Carney, as well!

What I’m Reading

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)

Linky Goodness

If you’re looking to expand your reading list, check out 2016 Asian American Poetry Books and Chapbooks and 7 African Women Poets to Keep You Calm, Cool, and Collected.

How to call your reps when you have social anxiety and Calling Cards  – two comic posts on making calls to members of the government.


Dec 7 2016

Culture Consumption: November 2016

Alrighty, here’s November in books, movies, and such. Some really powerful works this month.

Books

“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

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead Colson Whitehead’s The 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.

Continue reading


Dec 5 2016

Coming Home

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.

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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

Linky Goodness

“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.

Star Trek’s Feminist Statement: Believe Women