Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

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

Read Full Post »

That’s what my mentee said when I told her about the Slice of Life Story Challenge, “Slice of Life. It sounds like a pie.” We were sitting in our regular place — a coffee shop a few blocks from my job. I had my regular drink — a large chai latte — and we had already spent at least 30 minutes laughing and talking and were settling down to write. At first I suggested we try a poem, since I have National Poetry Month on my mind. Then I thought I should tell her about the SOL challenge, and off we went: sitting across a blond wood table, surrounded by the music and buzz of the place, heads down, writing. My favorite part of Tuesday is that, right there.

Write —
dreams, rage,
forgiveness —
all the right words
all the wrong ones, too.
But —
Write. Write!
Words flowing.
It’s all you have,
all you really know.
Write.
And breathe.
This is it:
your own music,
your heart on the page.

Ha! A poem in spite of myself. The first attempt at an arun in more than two years!

_____

An Arun: a fifteen-line poem in three sets of five lines. Each set of five lines follows the same syllable structure: starting with one syllable and increasing by one (1/2/3/4/5 — 3x).



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

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

So, we have:

Woman without her man is nothing.

And also:

Come and eat grandma!

And slowly, even the most stubborn souls begin to see the value of punctuation.

Woman: without her, man is nothing.

Come and eat, grandma!

Oh, what a different a few dots and squiggles can make.

These are famous ones, of course. I was trying to remember a really wonderful one that wound up in print a while ago, and finally found it:

And this is all silly and a good reminder that commas are life savers (I know Ray’s family and dog are grateful for them!) … but there was a story the other day that also proved that a well-placed comma can mean the difference between winning and losing a legal battle.

I’ll admit that I’m a latecomer to the Oxford comma. I was forced to use it in grade school. But I was forced to do a lot of things with my writing in grade school, and many of them I heartily disagreed with and despised. Once I had a little more freedom to write how I wanted, I began to jettison those things I didn’t care for, and the Oxford comma fell by the wayside with the other castoffs. People have argued with me about it quite a bit over the years — which maybe says something about the folks I hang with¹ — but I have remained stubbornly against. I taught English for many years, and I taught the Oxford comma … but also made it clear that a) I didn’t use it myself and b) no one’s grade would be damaged by the decision not to use it.

But then I got my current job. I got this job, and one of the first things I had to do was edit the big, serious report we were producing. And before the editing began, I was asked to put together a style guide so that all of the people who were adding writing could try to have the same set of rules in mind as they worked and so that changes I made to text would all follow clear guidelines.

Making that style guide was, I have to admit, fun for me (which most definitely says something about the kind of person I am!). I saw the guide as my chance to lay down the law, list out my writing pet peeves, make our sleek and shiny report conform to my writing style. (Oh yes, a little power is truly a dangerous thing!)

Pretty quickly in my style-guiding I ran smack into the Oxford comma. And somehow, for reasons I couldn’t explain and can’t explain now, that comma suddenly made sense. Made perfect, why-didn’t-I-ever-see-this-before sense. And I’ve been using it ever since. (Somewhere, my 6th grade teacher is pointing, laughing, and saying, “I told you so!”)



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

__________

¹ This wacky-grammarians-on-my-friend-list business did not extend to the guy who came to a party I threw years ago … who smugly diagrammed the sentences of the people who spoke to him. You may think this is a clever party trick. Trust me when I tell you that it really isn’t.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

In third grade my friends started joining the Girl Scouts, and my mother wanted me to follow them. My brother was a Boy Scout, and it seemed those big, organized group activities appealed to her. I was an often solitary child, as happy to curl up with a book as play with my friends, and she may have worried about my reclusiveness. She talked up the Girl Scouts, but I wasn’t interested. Was I just a contrarian kid, was I opposed to child labor in the form of cookie sales, was I averse to sashes and badges? No. The turn-off of the Girl Scouts was simple: I didn’t want to be called a Brownie.

I hadn’t ever been called a Brownie, mind you – did anyone ever actually call Black people brownies? They did call us “darkies,” but I was too young to ever have been called that. I grew up in a time and place where no one was saying “darkie.” Folks said “colored,” but not darkie. And “colored” is the worst thing I can remember being called until I was older, so it’s curious that I had such a stiff reaction to Brownie.

It isn’t curious that I had some race consciousness so early. My parents were active in the Civil Rights Movement, and their politics rubbed off on my brother and me. And, while I was only eight, I’d had my first self-shaping experience of race prejudice a few years earlier, having been shunned by all but one of my kindergarten classmates simply because of my color.

But I was a meek kid, a go-along-to-get-along kid, so it’s still odd that I would have had strength enough of my convictions to refuse to follow everyone else’s lead, to reject my mother’s urging to become a Scout.

My mother didn’t pressure me, but she didn’t give up, either. When I reached fourth grade, she raised the question again. We had just moved to a new town, and maybe she thought Girl Scouts would be a way for me to build a group of friends quickly. I was still anti-Brownie, but she was determined. She did some homework and came back with the idea of starting a Camp Fire Girls troop. First level in Camp Fire world? I got to be a not-in-any-way-racially-problematic Bluebird. I signed right up. I still have my Bluebird pin today.

*

My mother didn’t often get me. I was a strange proposition for her then, and my strangeness in her eyes continued until well into my thirties. I was tall, awkward, unpopular with boys … a kind of photo negative of her. Our experiences of the world and the ways the world saw us were so different, I had to have seemed patently alien to her.

She didn’t always get it right with me – her obsession with my body shape and size was particularly difficult. As was her rampant fear of the quite completely impossible chance of my getting pregnant in high school.

But for all her off-key moves, her inability to figure out who I was because I was so unlike her, she trusted my mind, my capacity for seeing things. Even when she didn’t agree or fully understand my position, when it was clear that I’d thought a thing through and had reason behind my decision, she gave me room, respect.

She could have seen the Brownie situation as small, silly. Could probably have forced me to become a Scout. But she didn’t. This thing that happened between us – this way that she was able to see me and that I knew I was seen – it didn’t happen often. Charting our history, I realize that it happened most consistently when my focus was on race.

In seventh grade, I lashed out at a classmate who called me a nigger. It was the first time anyone had called me that. No one admonished him. Instead, I was seen as the problem. I was sent to the nurse’s office so she could figure out what could possibly be wrong with me to make me behave so aggressively. She called my mother to suggest some appropriate scolding and punishment. My mother wasn’t having any of it. She spoke to me to make sure I was alright, then had some words with the nurse, words that turned the nurse first red then white, words that shut down the scolding the nurse had been doling out.

My senior year of high school, my final presentation in speech class was about being one of only three Black kids in that school. My teacher said I’d have to present another one, said she couldn’t grade the speech because it didn’t fit the topic: “America, the Melting Pot.” She said that, because she’d liked the speech, she’d be generous and give me a chance to write something else, to do the assignment correctly rather than get a crap grade. My mother wasn’t having any of that, either. She had a conference with my teacher, which ended with the speech being graded as written.

(You’ll notice I don’t tell you what my mother actually says in these situations. That’s because I have no idea. That’s her MO. My mother is genteel. A lady and a trained actress. She goes into the fray with grace, has calm, mysterious, carefully-worded conversations … and on the other end … the world is righted.)

*

I don’t know how my mother found out about Camp Fire Girls. We were pre-internet, she had no friends in that town, and there were no existing Camp Fire groups in the area. But she found out what she needed to know. I didn’t care for the other members of my troop much, but I had fun all the same. I like learning stuff, and there was always some new thing. We went on nature walks, learned history, baked bread. We even met some Iroquois elders, for reasons that escape me today. We also learned to knit – a skill I use now to create delicate, lacy gifts, primarily for my mother.

Mostly, what I liked was spending time with her. I was fascinated by my mother. I found her just as alien as she found me. I couldn’t imagine being as poised, beautiful, or talented as she was, and I was already questioning whether I made logical sense as her daughter. But in Camp Fire Girls, all of that could be ignored, and we could just be ourselves with each other.

Which was maybe what she’d wanted. Maybe the Girl Scouts had never really been the point. Yes, she could have forced me into the Scouts, but she could understand my reason for not wanting to join, so she found another way, found a path I could walk, that we could walk together.



I wrote this piece for Listen to Your Mother. I auditioned with it on Wednesday and found out yesterday that I didn’t make the cast for this, the final year of the LYTM performances. I found out while on break during the Girls Write Now genre workshop. That’s a crappy time to get bad news. I’m in that room to learn, to hang out with Sophia, to see other mentors. I put my phone away, put my feelings about the rejection away with it, and got back to the workshop.

I didn’t think about it again until late in the afternoon when I was on the train headed to the hinterlands of Westchester to watch my niece’s school musical. I was still sad about it. I hadn’t realized just how much I’d been looking forward to being part of that show, part of that community. And rejection always hurts, so it’s not surprising that I was sad.

But that sadness was already fading by the time my train ride was underway. I’ve certainly dealt with writing rejection before. MANY times. The hard slap of disappointment has to pass or you don’t move on to the next thing. I decided on the train that I’d share this piece on my blog, and here we are. And now it’s time to move on to the next thing.

original-slicer-girlgriot

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

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »