Monday, August 27, 2007

At work when no one's looking...

I tool around on websites for scientific discoveries, like the two-mile carpet of sea-life deep, deep in the ocean where new species like this cuddly fellow were discovered. Not that I sit around fanticizing about being a deep sea diver or anything. I mean hi:

But sometimes I daydream about having a job where I get to sit around reading cool stuff all day and, like, learning. Oh, wait, I am a student. I forgot. But I’m a grown-up student. The kind who still has to go make money and stuff on top of all the studying.

I usually check out the NASA photo of the day, which is often something like this wicked beauty:

But lately, with all the space shuttle blah-blah, has been more like this:

And now, I'll go do some actual work. To which I say PHHHHHT.

Friday, August 24, 2007


ANN ARBOR, MI—After completing a poem originally titled "Last Dawnbreak," local poet Keith Taylor spent five additional minutes removing verbs and punctuation in order to give the piece a level of vagueness more suitable for publication.
"Harshness your light fallen—Sporadic. Droppings." reads the now-untitled poem's opening line. "Juniper glass, my world of 19—. Orion! Orion!"
Though he has already replaced the names of his friends with largely unknown African deities, Taylor said the poem would not be totally ready for publication until his 5-year-old nephew completes work on the third stanza.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


I’m trying to write a poem about Anna Akmatova. She’s a dead Russian poet who was censored by Bolsheviks. She stopped writing for a while, then wrote and burned everything, then kept writing and invited her friends over to memorize her poems, then she burned them.

As I understand it, the catalyst for writing again was another mother who, standing in the cold hoping for news of her children in the prison—these mothers went to the prison every day and stood in the freezing cold for hours hoping for news of their sons—recognized Anna and said to her, “Please, describe this.”

I want my poem to honor her in several ways—and because I’m going with a scientific angle for this project, my idea is to approach from the perspective of neurology:

What is true is that no matter what we learn about the brain, mind, cells, of neurological thunderstorms that fire between neurons to create thoughts and feelings, we can’t locate the soul. There’s nothing that anyone could probe in Anna’s brain, or mine or yours, to retrieve these poems. A neurologist can point a pin to the part of the brain that makes an arm move, say, but they cannot locate the part of the poem that desires the arm to move.

Anna’s poems were safe—and what a solution to censorship, to memorize them and to put them in the minds of others. What a demonstration of the power that creative writing has. It’s threatened an entire government, destabilized countries, healed masses, told the stories that may have otherwise gone untold. Further, Anna couldn’t stop writing for long. And she wouldn’t stop writing, which speaks both to the power of the urge a writer has to write, and to the determination of this amazing artist. After all, she was risking her life. Many more people have been killed for far less offenses.

Consider the brain, though: Not to get all mystical, but it truly is a mystery. And in Anna’s experience, functioned as a sort of locked chest that all at once holds the treasure, but would appear empty if broken into. Well, that’s just kind of beautiful. It is a hiding of art—like human beings are hidden in secret rooms behind book cases during wars. Authorities might’ve heard the echo of the footsteps, but wouldn’t have every found the source.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Lion

Okay, okay already. I’m back. It’s just summer, you know? And I’m working full time and writing a thesis. And swimming in the lake by my house a lot. And S and I are on our third family visit in the past month. Woah, Nellie.

My 31st birthday is on Monday. You know how some people don’t really do birthdays—maybe go out for dinner or something, or just exchange a simple gift or two. Others loathe birthdays and feel grumpy about getting old and freak out about how the haven’t done what they’ve wanted or generally get depressed about how long its been since they’ve been carded for a drink (or how long it’s been since they’ve been out for a drink)? Yeah, that’s not me. That’s a bunch of crap.

I love birthdays. Maybe it’s the Leo in me. Maybe it’s that fact that I have a low tolerance for misery, and therefore have the drive (and fortune) to have lived a life that’s included lots that I’ve wanted out of it. Maybe it’s the parties, or the fact that turning a year older only means I’m in a better position than ever to make what I want out of my life happen. As for the other stuff - crow's feet? - pish! Who cares!?

Leos are stereotypically known for enjoying attention, having fabulous hair and enjoying parties thrown in their honor. Yes, that’s all fine with me. Every person deserves these honors, I think, and I’ll gladly shove any friend into the spotlight to celebrate their birth, existence, their lovely lives.

I usually drag my celebrations out for a week at least. There’s the Actual Day fun stuff:
There shall be no working on the birthday. No, no indeed. Birthdays are for sleeping in, sex, cupcakes for breakfast, the spa, soap operas, swimming, toenail painting, wine with lunch, a phone call to my momma (she’s the one who did the hard work, after all) and dressing up fancy for a night at a cool restaurant that costs too much and has really fantastic Triple Chocolate Desserts of Death.

Then there’s the “weekend evening near the actual day” where one gathers one’s friends for a big social event of some kind. There shall be no stressful planning for this on the birthday-girl’s part—just the giving of the guest list and the showing up looking cute.

And then there are the ongoing random events for friends who couldn’t make it to either of those events—for example, I’m going to dinner and drinks with my friend Liza at some point because she can’t come to the party.

If that sounds a little self-indulgent, that’s because it is. It’s supposed to be. Everybody gets one. If they don’t use it, well, that’s just foolish. Why people don’t take advantage of the natural excuse for a day like this—a birthday—is beyond me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my tiara’s in a box around here somewhere…

Monday, July 23, 2007

In the Jungle of Nool

Zetta’s post today has me reflecting on my weekend. Saturday morning I slept in with the S.O. and had the rest of the day, really, to myself. I got a massage in a neighborhood I rarely spend time in. Afterward I wandered around stopping into cute shops and dig through stacks at used bookstores (Best of Jane Kenyon, $6. Score). Then I went to an alfresco cafĂ©, wrote while I ate and drank ice tea in the sun and struck up a conversation with two of my table-neighbors, both dining alone, and chatted there for a while. Then I went home and read and took a nap. Then I lugged a blanket and some stuff to the beach behind my house and I went swimming, read on the blanket, went swimming again, read on the blanket, etc. till I was tired of that. Then I went to a Great Gatsby-themed party and made some new friends and ogled everyone’s debonair threads and had something called a lemon-fizzy-ginger-something-or-other, then I went home.

Sunday, S’s sister and two nieces arrived for a visit. The girls are 5 and 7. I don’t normally get all kid-happy, but I adore these two. Regardless: they’re a shitload of work. Kids just are--this is no newsflash, to be sure. And eventually I want one, maaaaaybe two. But the nonstop of kid-rearing: holy shit. His sister, who has a good-dad of a husband at home, is still frazzled all the time, even though her kids are well behaved. I realize that if/when I have one, my wandering-around-book-stores and leisurely adult conversations over iced tea will go bye-bye.

More difficult to swallow is that that time will be taken over by constant running, managing, repeating requests, breaking up sibling squabbles, wiping up spilled things, feeding, schlepping, picking-up-after, etc. This is in exchange, of course, for the countless rewards of one of the most rewarding kinds of love. Granted, some frazzled parents would benefit from asking and accepting more help, though often the resources for help are complicated or nonexistent. I intend to hold off until the situation is right--until have the resources I need to have a kid and not go completly insane. As for S’s sister—after dinner I sent Sis and S straight out for drinks with strict orders to get her to relax. And I took the two little lady-bugs to my house for some slumber-party Dr. Seuss-filled girlfriend time. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed the literary genius of Horton Hears a Who, or given little girls hugs before sleep. It was good. For a weekend.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

'Cause if it ain't Scottish, well, you know what it is.

My inner critic used to be a lady in a slick pink jacket (think Grease!) who sat on the edge of my couch smoking Misty Lights. If she couldn’t stop me from writing at all, she mostly carped on about technical skills—how I didn’t know enough about point of view, scene, summary, dialogue, whatever—to ever really be any good. Then she bitched about my fears of breaking the rules, of imagination in my work just sounding weird instead of unique. Apparently inner critics have no problem contradicting themselves, in case the Misty Lights weren’t annoying enough on their own.

She wore the pink jacket because a pink jacket is what symbolizes, for me, being able to make creative choices for what you want, not what you should do. I remember shopping with my mother, who always taught us to evaluate choices based on utilitarian criteria (mind you, I was in the second grade, here), like price, usefulness, return on investment. The very first time I remember making a choice just because it pleased me was the time I bought a slick Pepto-Bismol pink jacket at Penny’s. Now, my inner critic wears it to mock me. The jacket, I loved it. But it was tacky. See where following a whim gets you? On the worst-dressed list. In writing, she said, following whims gets you some shitty writing.

I’ve learned to shut up the critic through practice, mostly, and mental tricks like reminding myself that when I write, it’s just an SFD (Shitty First Draft), so it’s allow to suck. Sometimes I actually sit down and tell myself before I begin “Write something sucky. Then put it away and mine it for good bits later.” That way when Pink comes in the room and shouts, “Who pooped?” I can say, “Oh, that’s just my first draft. Right now, it’s allowed to stink.” And keep writing.

Now that I’ve had the experience to get over that amateurish inner critic, I’ve come across a new strain of critic to which I’m not entirely immune: The Professor. The professor isn’t a real professor; my real live professors are awesome. He’s an old Scottish snooty, brainy imaginary bastard who tells me that okay, so I can write some stuff that’s kind of good. I’ve had success in a couple small literary journals. But that doesn’t mean I’ll get anywhere. Slush piles are huge and getting a first book that sells well is unlikely, and it’s harder to write your second book than it is your first. When you get to the point where you’re not the emerging star some publisher can “discover” but you’re not established yet, that’s when most writer’s stall.

The Professor is Scottish and a professor on account of a critical, self-indulgent essay I read on science poetry written by such a character. He quoted his own work as supporting material for his arguments throughout the piece—as in, “I believe that a successful poem about science must be written by one with a PhD in astrophysics. To quote, well, me, here’s an excerpt of my poem on the escape velocity of carbon molecules in the Kupier belt…” Hellooooo.

Anyway, the Scottish snot says that it’s better to be a scientist who writes poetry (like him) rather than a poet who includes science because scientists are always successful. Even if a theory is tested and proven wrong, its successful in that in eliminates a possibility. However, a poet can fail all the time—if all they ever do is get published in literary journals that have more submitters than subscribers, what Big Fat Losers of Doom. Furthermore, poets are too fluffy to get science.

Where’s Pink when you need her—Who pooped?, indeed.

To me, there is no “us” and “them” about it. Sciences and arts are both high creativity in different forms. An equation is a language that creates something we may not be able to perceive with our senses just like poems use a language to generate something we can feel but isn’t tangible. That’s what I say to The Professor. That, and that starting out in little LitJo’s isn’t failure, it’s awesome. And for God’s sake, lose the kilt and put on some damn pants.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I have a confession:

I like working on my thesis. It doesn't feel like a looming burden. It feels like a fulfilling break from all the zooming around.

Mind you, I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing, writing a book. I’m focusing on my current job, which, here in pre-thesis, is to read lots, write lots of poems, send them to my advisor, get them back, revise them. The whole making-them-perfect part and putting-them-in-some-kind-of-order part is a speck off in the distance, no doubt approaching much more quickly than I can perceive now. I return again to my comet analogy: Before I can even say, “Why, what’s that dim light? Is that a co—” the deadline-comet will smack me in the head at full speed, I’m sure.

Its summer, right? This weekend I saw a play, went to a party, watched the Twins win, rowed for 2 hours, had dinner with Voix, went shopping with Jess and still managed to work on thesis for about 4 hours and fall asleep on the couch watching a movie. The whole thing was fun, but thesis was a nice calming breath of relaxation in all that.

Not writing is scarier than writing at this point. I mean, it’s kind of like doing laundry. There comes a point when there’s so much damn laundry to do that you keep avoiding it, when really, that makes more laundry pile up so you REALLY start to avoid it and before you know it, you’re buying new underwear because you don’t want to face The Pile.

Likewise: The more hours I go without getting ideas out the more will pile up for when I do sit down to write and I feel like it’ll get all jumbled around into a big stinky mess instead of being neatly folded in stacks or rolled into little sock-beans and lined up in a drawer. There’s a backlog of stuff that I’ll lose if I don’t go get it down. But lo—there is a full time job to keep. There is a man to drink wine with on porches. There is the Mississippi to row.

Unlike laundering jeans and spending an afternoon handwashing unmentionables and rolling socks into little beans, which I do not like, I love writing when I get to do it. Time flies by, I get good ideas, the poems look better than they did before. Progress happens.

People bitch about Minnesota winters (myself included), but there comes a time after summer where you long for a nice spell of fall thunderstorms. You get to sink into a chair and just stay inside and stop going. The end of summer is one big sigh, but right now we are in the middle of it. There are no thunderstorms--just the loud call of sunshine/refreshing beverages/backyard parties. And, of course, the comet, just a little smear off in the distance.