The Cure for Cranky

I was a bit off this morning. Wrong side of the bed and all that. Listening to music wasn’t working to snap me out of it, so I scrolled through my podcast subscriptions … and found the answer: Buzzfeed’s Thirst Aid Kit! Bim and Nichole make me laugh, make me blush, make me shake my head in wonder. I don’t always agree with their thirst object choices, but I love everything they have to say about those choices. If you want a good laugh, a quality pick-me-up on a cold, cranky morning, these ladies might have just what you need. They certainly did the trick for me today, sent me out of the house with a smile on my face and some residual giggles in the back of my throat.

(Fair warning: this podcast isn’t for the excessively prim, the overly faint of heart, the easily scandalized … and it’s definitely NSFW and not to be played when young children are in the room!)


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

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Finders Keepers

I’ve been thinking about thinking about what form I’m going to write in April, what I’ll spend my month trying and trying to learn and grow comfortable with. I’ve been reading through plenty of lists of poetic forms, looking for one that would feel like the right challenge, not feeling inspired, not feeling pulled in any one direction.

Until today. I might just be onto an idea. In last year’s Girls Write Now poetry workshop, we worked on erasure poems. I’d never written one before, hadn’t heard of the form until that day. It took me a few tries to really process the “how” of it. And today I thought it might be interesting to spend a little more time with the form. And by “little,” I mean the 30 fast-approaching days of April.

An erasure poem is a kind of “found” poem. You start with an existing text and pull out words and phrases — “erasing” the parts you don’t want to use — to create your poem. Robert Lee Brewer at Writers Digest gives a good description of both erasure and blackout poems, and also makes important points about plagiarism and crediting the author of your source text. And Robin Coste Lewis’ Self-Portrait as the Bootblack in Daguerre’s Boulevard du Temps is a wonderful example. Would that I could create something so fine.

And then I thought I should have a theme of some kind. I immediately thought of taking news articles and finding poems in them. There is so much going on that I can’t find words to talk about because it’s so ugly, so painful, so demoralizing, so devastating. Maybe taking someone else’s words and finding my voice in theirs will be a way for me to start talking about some of those things.

Naturally, it turns out that this isn’t an original thought. The New Republic published a piece last October about the rise in erasure poetry that’s been inspired by Trump’s election. The piece includes a link to some stunning erasure poems from Trump’s speeches.

So. Not original. I still like the idea, and I think I will keep liking it enough to have at it come April.

I gave it a try today. I read a piece in The New York Times about Puerto Rican survivors of Hurricane Maria, and used that as my source text. I like Lewis’ style of attribution, so I adopted and adapted it:

Addressing the Crisis
(An erasure of Daiza Aponte Torres’ “The Refugees in New York’s Hotel Rooms“)

My life upside down
my two daughters,
the island
my home destroyed.
Hundreds of families.
We’re barely surviving.
Stranded
after the storm.
Not enough,
discriminated against.
Confined.
Limited.
Denied.
We are traumatized.
No one will know
the disaster continues
every day.

Yes, I think I’ve found my 30/30 challenge. Have you found yours? What will you be working on next month? Want to join me for some erasure poems?

 


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Counting down to April 7th!

Give me a man who is handsome and strong,
Someone who’s stalwart and steady.
Give me a night that’s romantic and long —
Then give a month to get ready.

That was too long to use as a title, clearly, but it’s the first thing that came into my head when I realized that in a month it’ll be the 2018 edition of the 24 Hour Project! Last year, there were almost 4,000 participants, repping 112 countries!

I’ve been part of this project about two and a half times, and it’s been good each time. I wonder if my shoulder and arm will be up to it this year. I hope so, but healing is more important that wacky creative challenges, so I’ll have to make a decision in a few weeks about what as I can and can’t do.

My plan, as it’s been each year I’ve done this, is to write a tiny story for each photo. That was much harder to do last year than it was the two previous years. I don’t know why, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the difficulty was a one-time thing and I’ll go back to having the stories just materialize with almost no work from me.

Here — complete with typos (it was late! I was tired!) — are some of my faves from last year’s run:

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Things I hope for this go-round:

  • May the weather be warmer!!
  • May I get enough sleep the day before so the midnight to 6am shift doesn’t halfway end me.
  • May I have excellent companionship through the wee hours and for the close-out just as I did last year. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Ms. Raivenne!)
  • May I remember to take more breaks so that I’m able to walk and talk on Sunday.
  • May I get some excellent pictures and have a great time!

(It’s not too late to sign up!)


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

I don’t know anything about classical music. I’ve played some — back in my mercifully short career as a high school flutist. I’ve sung a fair bit. I have favorite pieces. There are symphonies I love, composers who generally never let me down, but I don’t actually know anything. I haven’t studied, don’t understand intricacies or what makes one piece speak to me and another leave me cold. I’m that classic, “I know what I like,” kind of fan.

I could fix my ignorance, of course, take classes that would give me the background and vocabulary for all the things I don’t know how to say about this music. I don’t mind my not-knowing, however. Not really. I like coming to this music following my heart, my emotional response, rather than paying close attention to my head.

Last year and this — and again for next year — I have bought not one but two subscriptions to concert series at Carnegie Hall. And they’ve been all classical music all the time. Last year, one of the series was all Russian composers, and that was pretty fabulous. I hadn’t really thought about having a particular love for the Russians, but apparently my musical tastes run similarly to my early literature-reading tastes. Give me the Russians (shame to think this is something I’d have in common with THOTUS)!

The final concert of my subscriptions for this season, the last of my Philadelphia Orchestra performances, was Leonard Bernstein, Mozart, and Robert Schumann. Of the three, as much as I have discovered myself as a lover of Mozart (I resisted at first because it seemed too easy, too obvious — he was someone I was supposed to like), the Bernstein and the Schumann won me, with the Bernstein resonating most deeply.

Just as I love choral singing — my one voice melded into a crowd of others — I love orchestral music, love the singular pieces all playing together to make a whole. And the beautiful playing of the Philadelphia Orchestra under the dynamic and gracious conducting of Yannick Nézet-Séguin doesn’t disappoint.

Favorite moment? At the end of the first movement of the Bernstein, the percussionist is called upon toe use maracas (what does the scoring look like for maracas, I wonder) … and he picks them up … and uses them as drumsticks to play the timpani!! That, truly, was everything. Every last thing.

* * *

Not long ago, I posted on Facebook about how self-doubt creeps in on me, makes me question whether I’m really a writer at all, whether I should just quit messing around and use my time more productively. Watching the orchestra, I wondered if that doubt is fueled, in part, by the solitary echo chamber that is writing. As a member of an orchestra, you can see and hear your work every time you take up your instrument. Your place in the larger whole comes back to you as harmony, rhythm, a full and beating heart of sound. And watching the Philadelphia Orchestra reminded me of some of the self-care I know my creative self needs, things I haven’t been making time for.

I like writing in community. I don’t mean that I like working on group writing projects (although that sounds like fun and could someone please propose one for me to join you on?). No, I mean that I like being around other writers while I’m working. I like basking in and soaking up that creative energy. I like not being alone, like working next to folks who get what I’m trying to do, having those folks be right there when frustration or procrastination hit.

And I know this. But somehow I allow myself to forget. Over and over. Somehow I set aside this vital truth and, instead of finding more ways to write in community, I isolate myself so I can get some work done … and I grind myself down smaller and smaller until I get almost nothing done at all.

My smart, talented lovely friend Lisa wrote a manifesto for nurturing her creativity while nurturing her new child. She drafted it on a dramatic length of butcher paper and hung it on her wall. I’m thinking bout that now, the larger-than-life, in everyone’s face commitment of that butcher paper. I’m thinking I need something similarly large, large like the poster I’ll be making of the Joe Louis fist, large enough that I can’t help but see it and can’t possibly ignore or forget about it.

It needs to say obvious things like “write in community,” but also things like “keep your Carnegie subscription,” “go to the singalong Messiah,” “go to the theater.”

And you’ll notice how few of those things have specifically to do with pen and paper, with me actually doing some writing. But I think that’s another part of the point. Because yes, I need to sit down and work — with other people when that’s possible — but I also need to feed my creativity. When Julia Cameron wrote about “filling the well” in The Artist’s Way, she wasn’t talking about writing every minute of every day. She was talking about the exact opposite, about the fact that we can’t create if the well is dry, if we never give ourselves the chance to take in beauty, nature, music … whatever is going to replenish our spirits so that we can sit down and do the work.

The Philadelphia Orchestra is definitely a well-filler, but my Carnegie season is finished. I won’t be back in my second tier box until the fall. But there are so many things I can do in the mean time. I have a whole summer of well-filling ahead of me, a whole summer to remember to make artist dates and friend dates … and writing dates. I have a friend with whom I have semi-regular writing dates. First summer task: do a better job of making those dates more “regular” than “semi.” It’s a start.

__________

(There was no way I could resist using that title. As soon as I started writing this post, it came flying up from the deepest depths of my memory. I couldn’t even remember what songs OMD were known for, but the name was right there, ready for me to scoop it up. I went to The Google, and was reminded of If You Leave. Oh yes, it all comes back to me now …)



In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind. I committed to writing an essay a week … but fell behind behind pretty quickly. I’m determined to catch up, committed to 52 essays by year’s end.
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.

Peace and power

Last week I printed out a photo of Detroit’s Joe Louis Memorial, the gloriously enormous sculpture of Louis’ mighty fist. I saw it in an article someone forwarded me and immediately knew I needed it posted on the half-wall of my cubicle. Needed it.

This sculpture is one of my favorite things in the world. The first time I saw it, driving from the airport to a conference at the Renaissance Center, I was so wowed I couldn’t breathe or speak for a minute. It is a thing of absolute, graceful power and beauty. It is magnificent.

Here’s one of the pics I took of it in 2012:

I printed the photo from the article (a slightly more close-up, angled, under-the-fist view) and tacked it to my cubicle wall.

I feel it there, casting it’s dark, black spell, enveloping me in its strength and conviction.

So many times during the days since putting it on my wall, I have hung up the phone after an annoying call or looked up after reading an email that has made me sigh and shake my head, and my eyes go right to that picture, go right to that beautiful bright light.

And I feel myself become calm.

The first time I saw it, I was with the woman who was my boss. She was appalled, thought it was “so violent.” I wondered if we were looking at the same piece of art. Violent? Where? How? Could she really not see the sleek, delicious glory of it, its heavy, soul-filling affirmation?

No, she thought it was angry. Angry.

Maybe it is angry. Maybe that’s why I love it, maybe seeing it then — two years before the finally-and-for-good emergence of Angry Stacie — was the initial push, the moment when my heart felt the vibrating resonance of recognition, felt how completely I would come to embrace my rage.

I don’t think so, though. Yes, to the vibrating resonance, but not in recognition of anger, or not anger as such. Recognition of the fullness, the beauty of being exactly who I was — as big, as loud, as angry, as strong, as emotional, as articulate, as fed-the-fuck-up, as loving, as hungry as I actually was.

Which is what it’s giving me now, too. I have to swallow myself at work sometimes, hold back my honesty, pretend to a version of myself that can be made to fit the space I’m given. Like not lashing out when a superior refers to  formerly-incarcerated youth as “little criminals” and can’t seem to understand the value proposition of creating education and job training programs for them. Like not slapping the hand of the coworker who reaches out to touch my hair.

That fist is a signpost, a reminder that I’m still here. A reminder that, even when I have to walk softly, I can still fight, can still push back. That my voice can still shout, even in the dark, especially in the dark. That fist is my mantra, my affirmation, my vision board all rolled into one.

I need the picture poster-size and on my wall at home. That fist. To wake up to it, to fall asleep under its watch. Imagine.


In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week … I’ve fallen behind, but I’m still committed to writing 52 essays by year’s end.
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.

R is for: Reading

Tonight was the second Chapters reading for Girls Write Now mentees, and Sophia was on the bill! She was so nervous, but she was great! All the girls were great. I’m always so amazed by the writing I hear at Chapters, by the power and beauty and honesty and vulnerability and humor. These girls are fire. 100%

A favorite moment came from the mentee who was co-emcee of the evening. When it was time for her to read out the name of the raffle winner, she took the paper and looked at it quizzically then leaned into the mic and said, “The winner is … Moonlight!”

The mentee/mentor emcee pair will be a hard act to follow. And that’s exactly what Sophia and I will have to do in two months when we emcee the June Chapters! I’m already stressing about what to wear and what I’ll do with my hair.

I’m so honored and proud to get to work with Sophia, to get to know the other mentees and mentors that are part of GWN. Such a great evening. Can’t wait to get back to work with Sophia on Tuesday!

Fire

Fierce, beautiful words
these young writers are power.
Their energy shines
reminding me: stay open,
keep trusting my voice
keep welcoming my muses
there is treasure here.
There is music and magic
all of this is free —
free … in exchange for the work
in exchange for faith
and yes: the blood, sweat, and tears,
the torture of the blank page.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



Apologies and Disclaimers — SOLSC 8

In her comment on yesterday’s post, Ramona said: “Stopping by your blog reminds me that it’s time to try another arun. Such a fun form for me and I love that you introduced me to it.” I had a whole other post in mind for today, but reading that changed everything. I can’t say how happy it made me to read that Ramona was thinking about aruns, thinking about writing some come April. I guess I really did create a poetic form! That is still so crazy to me.

I’ve been thinking about April on the horizon, too. I have many writing deadlines for March:

  • Submit my VONA application next week
  • Keep up with my comics homework
  • Post a slice of life every day
  • Prepare a story to tell at How to Build a Fire on the 31st

(Yikes! Seeing it all written down is a bit alarming!)

But still I’m thinking about April. Part of me wants to go back to prose poems, or go even further back to rhyme royals. There is still the trusty arun … or maybe I should just create something new!

Every year, about halfway through April, I start to think I’ve lost my hesitations, that I can finally say I write poetry without offering up a series of apologies and disclaimers. It’s never true, however. I always come back to this sense that “POET” is a hat I’m not qualified to wear. For the last two years I’ve been reading fiction and non-fiction at a reading series run by two wonderful young women I met (of course?) through the Brainery. I got an email from them not long ago asking if I write poetry, if I’d like to be part of a poetry festival event with them this summer.

Yeah. Can I tell you how quickly I tried to push away from that table? Me? Write poetry? Read poetry at a festival that’s all about poetry? At a festival where people would assume that anyone on the mic sees themselves as a poet? Oh, that’s clearly taking things to extremes.

I did push myself, but toward instead of away. I sent some sample poems (and a full serving of disclaimers) to the series ladies and let them judge. So, this summer, I’ll be reading at a poetry festival. Me.

How many times am I going to acknowledge that I need to get out of my way before I figure out how to do it? Sigh.

So, with April looming, I was already worrying about how I have the nerve to call myself a poet and take on a 30/30 poetry challenge. But then here is Ramona talking about writing aruns and thanking me — me — for introducing her. It may just be time to set aside my disclaimers and apologies.

Maybe.

Possibly.

We’ll see …


It’s week two of the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to yourown slice!

SOL image 2014