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Yesterday, I wrote an arun poem for the first time in forever. And a few people commented that it was a form they weren’t familiar with, so I thought I’d post about aruns tonight.

It’s no surprise that the arun isn’t a familiar form because … wait for it … I invented it! No, really. As crazy as that sounds, I did. For poetry month in 2012 the form I chose was the Zeno. When I read about it, I discovered that it was a fairly new form, created in 2009. And that surprised me. I’d never really thought about inventing a form, figured all the forms had already been invented. Or that inventing forms was someone else’s domain, certainly not mine. But there was the Zeno, only a few years old when I learned about it.

Then, in 2013, another slice-of-life writer introduced me to OULIPO and snowball poems (scroll down the page to see the description). Combining my thoughts about the Zeno with the idea of the snowball pushed me to play around with patterns I liked, and — voilà! — I came up with the arun with its specific syllable count but no rhyme scheme because I still haven’t quite reconciled myself to rhymes.

The arun: a 15-line poem with the syllable count 1/2/3/4/5 — 3x.

It still doesn’t seem possible that I created a form. That’s really should be, must be, someone else’s domain. But here we are, with the arun. “Arun” means “five” in Yoruba (according to The Google), and the name was chosen by popular vote in a little blog poll I put up. It’s not super sophisticated, but I like it.

Here’s one I found in a draft blog post from three years ago:

Play
this game —
eyes open
senses alert.
Listen for every
breath,
every
sighed exhale.
Don’t show your hand.
For now, in silence,
watch.
Keep still —
hold your breath.
Listen. Listen.
This is the reveal.

I have no idea what I was upset about on April 17, 2014, but this didn’t express it well enough. I like the one I posted on that day better than this one, but I wanted to share this one anyway. (It was languishing in my “Drafts” folder all this time, seemed only fair.)

Still not sure what form I’ll write next month, but wanted to clear up the mystery of “what’s an arun, and where did it come from?”

If you write an arun, I’d love to read it. If you link to it in the comments, I’ll be sure to check it out.

Or, perhaps, instead of writing an arun, you’ll create a form of your own! If you do, please share. I’d love to try my hand at your new form!



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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The first day of spring. At last! At last! At last! (… which is silly because we had a troublingly-mild winter, but it feels real all the same because this is always a welcome moment: the slide out of winter and into spring.)

And this turn of seasons, this chilly equinox sends my thoughts careering forward to National Poetry Month, looming large on the horizon.

Last year was the first year since 2008 that I didn’t write poetry in April. The first year since 2009 that I didn’t pick a form and stick to it for the month. I was sad to let that creative challenge fall by the wayside, but I just didn’t have back-to-back marathons in me.

Last spring was when I discovered that I needed another knee surgery. I was walking with difficulty, in pain all the time, and I couldn’t dredge up the energy to compose poems.

Today — two surgeries and two “procedures” later — I’m feeling much more like a real, whole person, much more like the kind of person who could attempt a month (or even just a day) of poetry writing.

Thank goodness!

But there is still the question of what poetry? What form will I write this year? I have two weeks to test some waters, try a few forms on for size, see how they look and feel, see what I want to explore for 30 days.

Do you write for National Poetry Month? (Do you write poetry during the rest of the year, too?) Do you have a favorite form? And what do you do when inspiration is elusive and midnight’s nipping at your heels? Sometimes, when that well has been dry, I’ve used prompts from Poetic Asides. I don’t always feel those prompts, but sometimes they are just what I need. One of my favorites came when I was writing prose poems in 2015:

How to Write a Policy Memo

First, figure out what a policy memo is. Because “policy” is one of those things that turns your brain off, makes you fear that all your inadequacies will be revealed under a blinding, white-hot light. Like the instruction: “For questions 9 through 24, use of a graphing calculator is permitted.” Next, learn something about the subject of the policy memo you’ve been tasked to write. Which you probably — surely — should already know but really you don’t. And please refer back to Impostor Syndrome fear noted above. Then follow the instructions laid out on the eHow page you found on writing policy memos. Because eHow really helped when you wanted to learn about sewing a kick pleat, about writing a cover letter. Clearly you can trust eHow for all things. Discard your first draft. All those words! All those strange, floating ideas supported by nothing, anchored to even less. Start over … and maybe stop saying the words “policy memo” in your head. And start over. This time, remembering that you know things, have been in this field a long time, and maybe POLICY isn’t some shaggy, tusked and fanged monster licking it’s glistening lips over your vulnerable underbelly. And start over. Remembering that you have data, can add a table or a graph, that the world won’t end if this isn’t the final draft. Proof before you seek comment … because you know that when you want to say “one city,” your fingers betray your brain and type “onceity,” as if, in the great onceity of time, you had any clue how to write a policy memo. Back away from the computer. Go home for the weekend.

I liked prose poems. Maybe I’ll try those again this year!

Are you going to join me next month for 30 poems in 30 days?



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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On Thursday I wrote about getting the news that I hadn’t been awarded a writing residency I’d applied for. In their comments, Heidi from Wordsmithing and Akilah from The Englishist expressed interest in the DIY writing retreat I made for myself in 2012, and Akilah’s comment made me realize that I’d never written about it. So today I will.

In 2012, I decided to send myself away to write. In both 2010 and 2011 I’d gone to VONA and had my heart and mind and craft blown wide open. For 2012, I decided not to apply, but rather to take the money I’d spend on a VONA week and create a two-week writing vacation.

I was nervous about doing it because I’d never been particularly successful with writing on vacation in the past. I’d turned out a few pages, but mostly spent my time vacationing and maybe (maybe) writing in my journal. But those had all been vacations and not specifically writing retreats, and I wanted to believe that calling my trip something different would actually help flip whatever switch in my brain needed flipping to get me to be more productive.

So I planned.

  1. Find a place to go. I searched on Flipkey (like AirBnB) for a place to go. I searched in Mexico, in the Caribbean, in France, in Canada … Everything looked great, nothing looked right. And then I clicked to an apartment in Tulum and the first photo won me. It was a slightly fuzzy picture of a sunny kitchen table. When I saw it, the first thought I had was, “I could write there.”
  2. Figure out when to go. The retreat was going to be my birthday present to myself, so I wanted to go in the fall, as close to my birthday as possible.
  3. Make a plan for writing. I made my schedule very simple: I would write all morning and go to the beach in the afternoon (it was going to be Tulum, after all, home of one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet). I also signed up for an online writing class and planned the timing of the trip so that I’d be in the middle of the course while I was in Mexico.
  4. Make a plan for what you want to get done during the retreat. There was a story I’d been fighting with. I knew that, if I was ever going to find my way through that story, I needed to understand this one character I’d been avoiding. So I decided that I’d use my retreat to write about him, to figure out who he was so that I could make sense of what he was supposed to be doing in my story. I don’t know if this part of the equation is necessary for everyone, but having a specific project in mind before I started helped me. I wound up writing other things during the retreat, but having this clear idea already laid out in my head helped me know exactly where to begin on day one.

So I was good to go. I was still worried about whether I’d get much work done, but I figured I’d done as much planning as I could or should, and that I’d have to trust myself.

I got to Tulum, the apartment was as lovely as the photos had led me to believe, I set up my writing corner of the dining table, and went to sleep early so I’d be ready to dive in with my schedule the next morning.

My schedule didn’t work out at all. Not even a little. Here is how almost all of my days went:

I got up early and had a little something for breakfast. I sat down with a cup of coffee or tea and started working. After working for a while, I started to feel ravenously hungry and had to stop writing … which would be when I’d discover that it was somehow 3 or 4 or 5 in the afternoon, that I had been working all day.

Two weeks in Tulum, and I made it to the beach twice. Twice. That is actually a crime, I think.

But —

I wrote like a crazy person. I wrote more in those two weeks than I normally write in a whole year.

I have never felt more content, more perfectly at ease in my body, more perfect. I was completely exhausted at the end of every day and fast asleep before 11pm … and then up with the sun to start all over again.

A big part of the success of my retreat was signing up for that online class. It was a class with Minal Hajratwala. I’d taken an online class with her once before, so I knew what to expect. Minal is an amazing and amazingly generous instructor. The materials she prepares, the exercises she gives … always fabulous. I was taking her Blueprint Your Book class during my retreat, and I had a huge breakthrough thanks to two of the exercises she gave us. She is an entirely lovely person, and if you have the chance to take one of her classes, I enthusiastically recommend it.

__________

It’s definitely not necessary to go to Tulum or to go away for two weeks to make a DIY retreat work. You can stay right in your town. You can:

  • Find an AirBnB place that’s not crazy expensive (my apartment in Tulum was $50 a night), rent it for as many days as you can, and go write.
  • Apartment swap with a friend who lives a short train ride or drive away, sit at her desk or at his kitchen table, and write.
  • Stay in a hotel for the weekend, order room service, tell housekeeping to leave you alone, and write.
  • Find a co-working space that will let you rent for 2, or 5, or 7 days, and let the fact that you’ve paid for the space inspire you to actually spend those 2, or 5, or 7 days writing.

The important things are to 1) set aside time to work, 2) be in a place where you can work without interruption, and 3) hold yourself accountable to giving yourself that time.

I’m looking forward to planning a retreat for myself for the end of the summer. I don’t know if I could ever be as insanely productive as I was in 2012, but I like having that bar to aim for.



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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On my way home after a great afternoon and evening out for two different friend dates. Walking to the bus stop, I see this fabulousness:

Yes. That is all. That is all. One call for each of the next four years as THOTUS drags us toward hell.

#RiseAndResist





It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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So, I had my I’m all that moment yesterday … but I also had my comeuppance. I came home to the news that I wasn’t accepted into a writing residency I’d hoped to attend this summer. And, while it’s true that I pretty much never expect to be accepted … this time was different. I thought I’d put together a super strong application, that the reviewers would be completely turned on by my submission and scoop me up with the quickness.

Yeah. Not so much.

I know it’s not as terrible as it feels. They get plenty of submissions. What I write isn’t going to appeal to everyone. I know. I get it.

Still.

The answer, of course, is to keep working, to keep pushing forward, keep submitting my work. I know that. I know it.

And I’m fine. I don’t even need to lick my wounds. I’m actually fine.

But.

I’d been so looking forward to that gift of time. Hanging so much on having that time.

The thing is … I still have that time. Of course. What this rejection takes from me is that particular space. The time is still mine. So I keep my plan to take off from work this summer, and I create an at-home retreat … or I set up a replay of my 2012 DIY retreat, that beautiful gift I gave myself of two weeks in Tulum with nothing to do but write.

I already know these answers. There is always time to write. I just have to take it.

And move on to the next application, the next submission, the next.



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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Shortly after the election, my coworkers and I had a meeting to talk about the election results and how we imagined THOTUS¹ and his masters and minions administration would impact our work. One of my colleagues talked about the need for us to write down our values, to make a written list of what we hold most dear as citizens … and then to rank that list. At the bottom of the list would be the things that were the “nice to haves,” things that were important to us, but which we could imagine allowing to fall by the wayside in dire times. The middle of the list were the “necessary” things, the values we felt strongly about and would be willing to stand up for. The top of the list, of course, would be for the “MUST haves,” the things on which we would never negotiate, the things for which we would fight. He said we’d need that list, that THOTUS would begin cutting away at everything on the list, and we needed to know where we stood, how far we were willing to go, what we were ready to battle for.

I didn’t make my list then. I thought about it a lot, but didn’t write. I sat down to write it out today, using some of my unexpected snow/ice-day time to focus on it. Because, on practically every one of the last 50 days, I have seen the flame-throwers of THOTUS’ scorched earth policy coming for every single thing I hold dear, everything that means anything about being a citizen of this country.

Earlier today, my mom sent me an article about Customs and Border Patrol agents demanding passwords so they can search travelers’ electronic devices. I told her to be prepared to have me call her from jail after I refuse to give up my passwords.

Let me be clear: There is not one thing on my phone that’s so special and important that only I should be able to see it. I could easily hand over my phone if asked, easily give up my password because I — like every single person who is being searched these days — have nothing at all to hide.  But none of that is anywhere near the point.

As I said to her, this is only the first pass. The first swing of the sledgehammer against the wall of what we think is our personal sovereignty. Once we’ve all gotten past this, gotten used to — if not entirely comfortable with — giving up our passwords on the regular, there will come the next thing. And that next thing will be worse. And suddenly giving up our passwords won’t seem like all that much because now we have to travel with letters from our employers vouching for our legitimacy or some such. And we’ll fight against the insanity of that, but then we’ll get used to it and it will stop seeming so bad because suddenly we’re being strip-searched.

It isn’t surprising that the people facing the worst harassment are people who are visibly Muslim or who have Muslim names. It isn’t surprising, but it’s no less awful. And it didn’t start with Muslims. And it certainly isn’t going to stop with Muslims. You know that, right?

So I took a break today, put other things (like remembering that I had a slice to post) on pause so I could think long and hard about the line I will draw in the sand, think about what I hold most dear, about where I’m not willing to give an inch, about what I’m prepared to stand up for, to fight for. I should have done this in November, when my coworker first said it. I didn’t write my list then because I thought it wasn’t necessary for me, figured I was clear, that I already knew all the items at the top of the list, that there weren’t any questions.

There are questions.

And am I really only talking about one line in the sand? Is it ever just one? When I start to think through all of the possible pieces, all the things that may or may not be hard and fast, I come up with something that’s feels more like this:

I’m still working on my list.

What lines will you draw in the sand? What does it mean if you stand up? What does it mean if you don’t?



In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week.
I’m following the lead of Vanessa Mártir, who launched #52essays2017 after she wrote an essay a week for 2016 … and then invited other writers along for the ride!


It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

__________
¹ Titular Head oThese United States — Because yes, I’m one of those people. I won’t say that man’s name if I can help it, and certainly won’t ever put the office title that I respect in front of it. Punto.

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That is always the question in my kitchen. The answer is often a resounding, “Yes!” … but then I run into my nemesis: not enough time. It’s 10:10pm … and I’m just getting my act together to think about the baking?! Oy.

I did some baking around Christmas and New Year’s and then a little more last month. And, now that I’ve been being more intentional about cooking for myself, I’ve been doing more baking, too. I discovered a yummy recipe for nutmeg muffins, and I’ve made them a few times. I even made a batch a mini ones to bring to work for sharing. I’ve made two different kinds of biscuits (and both were delicious), and a couple of loaves of carrot-almond bread.  There are a lot of recipes I want to try. I haven’t yet made my mom’s bread — my favorite bread recipe because the bread is delicious and sturdy enough for sandwiches … and it sparks all kinds of memories from my forever-ago youth and my mom’s baking.

Tonight is going to be about cookies. I have a meeting tomorrow and I want to bring something to share. I’ve settled on chocolate chip. I know that’s pretty ordinary, but I realized when I was picking through my recipes that I’ve actually never made chocolate chip cookies before. Never. How is that possible? Even that crazy year when I made 31 dozen cookies, not a single one was chocolate chip. I mean, I even made cookies with rosemary and red wine that year, and not anything as regular as chocolate chip!

I sure hope they turn out okay. It goes against my usual behavior to bake something for the first time for someone other than myself. I like to test out a recipe first before sharing it with others — I have to know it’s good, after all. What if the recipe needs tweaking? Better to discover that on my own, not with company … I’ll never forget the time I swapped the amount of sugar for salt when making cupcakes for dessert when we had company over for dinner! The Horror!

Are you a baker? What do you like to bake? And who do you bake for? And, if you’re not a baker but a taster, what are your favorite baked things? And who bakes them for you?



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!

Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

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