Feb 6 2017

“One forges one’s style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines.” – Émile Zola

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.

Since I’m on the subject of procrastinating, here’s a bit from a great piece on Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators, by Megan Mcardle:

“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.

Linky Goodness

“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.

An App That Makes It Easy to Pester Your Congress Member.

“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.”


Jan 30 2017

Beginning the Year with Words

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.

Thomas Nguyen.

Isobel O’Hare.

Caits Meissner.

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.

Linky Goodness

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?”

When You Brag That The Women’s Marches Were Nonviolent by Ijeoma Oluo.

How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101.

Alvin Chang describes how White America is quietly self-segregating, “Everyone wants diversity. But not everyone wants it on their street.”

20 Small Acts of Resistance You Can Do Today.

Celebration of women filmmakers triggers heated debate between Salma Hayek, Jessica Williams and Shirley MacLaine presents an interesting conversation between these women concerning issues of intersectionality in supporting women filmmakers.

_____


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.

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