Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pacing, Patience, and Practice

Compliments make me blush, especially when it comes to being recognized for any sort of achievement. Though, recently my alma mater came out with the most fair-handed press release about my progression as a writer. I don't think I could've asked for a more honest look at where my passion and motivation are derived. To have some of my early insecurities revealed to an audience was truly the best part of me I could offer the public. To have my peers and strangers understand that for me it isn't about recognition paired with opportunity, but it's about the every day inspiration and connection, the things I wrestle with daily (because I am human, first and foremost). And it's also about, what I choose to do with the life experiences I’ve been given—the ones I attempt to draw from for my art, and the ones I wish to share. 

Donald Hall, in his eighties, published an essay titled, “A Yeti in the District”. Which speaks volumes of his humble nature, and how out-of-place and uncomfortable he becomes when thrown into the circus of creative expectation. I would not dare to compare my achievement or experiences with such an ingenious man, or his poetic fortitude. But there’s a feeling of solidarity that comes from knowing there are others, like me, for whom the spotlight is as unnatural a position one can be put in and that sometimes words like “industry”, “published” and “awards” can come off sounding quite callous and insensitive to the person living quietly behind the artist.

After sharing his story about being awarded the National Medal of Arts, Hall writes, simply: “The next day I got back to writing. What else was there?”. While at the time, the piercing eye of the press had a field day over his disheveled appearance at the monumental event. What papers missed in their account was that the composure and composition of a man like Hall is made up entirely of character and the historic significance of his life and work. Who the hell cares if his tie was crooked! He had the kahunas and gumption to put himself out there, to trust an audience cut away from the critics and who were ready to embrace what he had to say.

How do we really measure the sum of a person’s worth? I will withhold the James Allen quotes for the time being. There is, however, a story about Chao-Chou in Zen philosophy that I keep coming across in various texts and different forms: In which, a monk draws a portrait of the master. When the portrait is finished and presented to the master, the master studies it and says, “If it’s really the true image of me, then you can kill me. But if it is not, you should burn it.”

I suspect that at the end of the day, Hall felt similarly.

You can read the press release put out by Southern New Hampshire University, here: http://markets.financialcontent.com/mi.idahostatesman/news/read/28983764/Pacing

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rich and Successful, Who Cares? I Want Something Else.

Recently, while driving to work, Joni Mitchell’s song “River” came on over the radio. A song I have always loved (especially this time of year), because it reminds me of my mother and the many folk tapes she played in the car when I was a kid. My mother would sing along in a low, heartfelt way touched by the lyrics of one of her favorite artists, sometimes looking like she was on the verge of tears. Or she would sing to me and my sisters at bedtime, songs like “Circle Game” or “Blackbird”.

When I got home later that afternoon, I looked up an interview with Joni Mitchell online. There had been something about the song “River” that I hadn’t really noticed before until that morning commute, and I wanted to learn more about it from the musician’s perspective.

At the beginning of the interview, Ms. Mitchell seems cynical, on-guard, and defensive. She can’t really see her lifetime accomplishments or contributions. But instead, she seems more concerned about how others misinterpret who she is as a person. She chain smokes, as she apprehensively eyes the interviewer, Jian Ghomeshi.

What stood out for me over the course of the interview, was not only the way she was self-aware of her growth as a person and artist, (“I am liquid,” she says, and “I don’t like looking back”) but how she ends on the thought and point that we are all truly alone on this Earth, and let’s face it.

The song “River” begins with the image of people getting ready to celebrate Christmas, which is the kind of connectedness we as a culture get nostalgic over. But as the song continues, she speaks of detachment, too. Like when she says in her interview, “Everything I am, I’m not.”

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with an aging population these days—a mostly forgotten population. I think a lot about how they feel, as sometimes my role is to anticipate their needs in a care-giving way. I wonder if they feel alone, or how they feel about strangers assisting them in the most personal ways imaginable.

When we are young, capable, attractive and independent we just don’t see that one day it could all go away. We are vain and selfish, sometimes superficial, and we are so used to the attention we receive in our youth--trying to stay appealing to others, so that the attention we seek doesn’t fade. But as people grow older and become slower, more dependent and less capable, they are treated as though they are a burden and we as a society are too impatient to give these folks any consideration.

I truly admire cultures who respect their elders. How much richer those people are with all that wisdom and knowledge and stories being passed down to them. How connected they must feel knowing where they came from.

Being aware of this makes me want to be more patient with others, and more appreciative of the time I do have left on this planet. And I know this is an every day practice that will eventually become just a part of who I am. Though right now, I’m as guilty as anyone of being selfish, caught up in my own stuff, demanding more and giving less. I just hope I am graced with a nice, full life so I can make the changes I need to be a better, contributing person and experience how rich in other ways life can be. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Yesterday, I found out that I was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize by The Milo Review for my short story, "We All Come Here From a Long Way Off ". I've been told I need to learn how to celebrate these successes. But so often is the case, publication news and milestones hit me blindsided, because I'm working with my head down (which I have been doing a lot of since relocating to rural Vermont).

I have manuscripts in the works, and that's all I see-- a collection of poetry & a novel. And right now, I'm reliving the whole submission process of trying to find publishers that will consider my work worthy of their time. There's no systematic matrix with this go around, no prayers to a higher power, nor is there the sort of restless anxiety I used to get when I realized a particular piece wasn't quite tight enough or ready to be sent out (but I was impatiently overzealous, and did it anyway). Now, it's all research and simple trial-and-error. I've become a fantastic weeder, understanding where to focus and plot my time, and when to just walk away and let things run their course.

I do, however, want to thank all those small presses that have curated my work over the past couple years: The Citron Review , Cigale Literary , The Tower Journal , DEAD FLOWERS: A Poetry Rag , Vagabond City Journal , and The Voices Project

And I especially want to thank, The Milo Review and WORD PORTLAND, for giving me the opportunity to showcase my work, and for supporting me in ways above and beyond.

check out my Pushcart nom here ----------- >  2016 Pushcart Nominees

to read more about The Prize --------------------- > The Down-low About a Man & His Cart

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I’ve gathered all my nuts and berries for the winter. There’s a storing up process I undertake during the mild, fall months. It’s all intake and experience and documenting­—making sure I have a decent amount of material to hold me over through the hibernating months of cold and snow, so I don’t go mad with cabin fever. I used to find humor in imagining the crotchety hermit who holes up and writes by the light of a candle’s flame. Now, I understand why people choose to live in such a way. 

In past years, I’ve noticed that I am by far more productive when I don’t have the distraction of wanting to be outside in the woods or fields, or on a mountain or by the ocean side.  This was actually the first week I didn’t want to break off freely into the acres around where I live, because hunting season opened and I find it difficult to enjoy my surroundings when rifles are echoing through the valleys. I even purchased my first neon orange hat this year, but I have found it more useful to wear when I’m sitting stationary, chilled and writing in a drafty old house.

Whoever said making art isn’t a war zone too?

Right now, I’m tackling two major manuscripts. They each require abandoning my inhibitions and insecurities to examine new territory. I certainly have my work cut out for me, with many challenges to come and an inexhaustible amount of drafts. But I have time, and recognizing this gives me the patience I need to focus on the tasks at hand.

And this only affirms for me that I will probably never live full-time in a tropical or temperate place (I’ve tried before without much success), because the reality is that the seasons too closely mirror my motivations and moods and development. And so I’m starting to suspect my fate is sealed in these little dynamic quarters I maintain.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

what is salvageable

Typically, mornings if the weather looks clear, I crawl up on the roof and write with a pot of coffee and a beach chair.  There’s a feeling of exposure being up there, having nothing boxing me in or keeping me away from the edges. I watch the birds, and work until the blacktop’s too hot to walk across without any shoes.

On fogless days, there’s a pristine view of the Casco Bay and its outlying islands. The sailboats, the ferries and the cargo ships—all out and going since dawn. And as I discovered from the roof’s vantage point just this last week, the sun coming up over those waters is more brilliant and perfect than the idea of it.

Even at night, under the milky cataract of moonlight, there is something both serene and surreal that makes me feel removed. But also, invigorated; with energy that comes in on all sides.

I lost two poems off the roof today.  The day after heavy rain and there is always a straggling current of air that smells like the stormy day before. I was lost in thought: thinking about how sensually hands shape to organic matter; how they can adjust in force or tenderness, as if they have a mind of their own....I was also listening to the wind blow over the cracked chimney next door, which naturally made the sound of a mouth whistling over a bottle. Two notes: simultaneously high and low.

It was during one of these tailwind gusts, a couple loose-leaf pages—unattached and shoved inside a book I opened too freely—danced right off the roof.  

I sat there for a minute, still deciding what to do. I thought maybe it was a sign I wasn’t meant to keep those words permanent, and that I should perhaps move on to something else.

Finally I got up, close to the ledge and looked over.

One page had landed in a neighbor’s yard among their clutter of car parts and kid toys, and the other had landed on a second-story deck beneath a charcoal grill.

Since I was too embarrassed to knock on either door to ask if I could retrieve my poems, I chose to sneak around the building to the more accessible yard, hoping no one would see me or ask why I was trespassing, “For the likely story of a poem,” right?

As I located the piece of paper among a litter of other gutter remnants, I was startled by someone clearing their throat. Looking up to the porch behind me, all I could see was a pair of jeans and a partial eye peeking out from a foreground of tomato and pepper plants.

I waved my hand in greeting, holding the page over my head. “My poem flew off the roof,” I called out. “Just grabbing my poem.”

Instantly, I realized this could’ve been a pet parakeet I was referring to and I probably would’ve gotten the same response, which was:

“These tomatoes. I didn’t think they’d go, but they did. Now look at 'em.”
“They’re beautiful,” I agreed. “Must’ve of been all that rain we just got.”

The man behind the bushes then pointed out to a corner of yard now taken over by a forgotten swing set. “Used to have a garden, there.”

I tried to imagine it, as he moved away from the plants and the balcony so I could see his face. He had sad eyes, and he limped on the stairs.

He looked at me, then back to the wooden boxes full of healthy green vines. “Those are some tomatoes, huh?”

I nodded, and he seemed satisfied with this and went inside.

Walking down his driveway with poem in hand, I knew I wouldn’t be getting the other lost page back, because of what it might entail.

When I returned to the roof to finish my work, curiosity got the best of me and I took a look over to see if the page was still there on the deck beneath the grill.

I discovered that it wasn’t, and it was likely picked up by the residents of the house. I then wondered if they had decided it was trash and threw it out.

It was a short poem, written in a flash of thought. I know I won’t remember the exact words I used, so it’s already a forgotten poem. But I understand that more poems can be formed from even the faintest memory of verse. Just like the man who planted his tomato seeds remembering how he once had a fine garden of his own.

The Salvaged Poem

Stillness disquiets those who don’t,
or can’t possess it.
And so I walk,
as an act of observance:

A single broken wing,
lying fallen on the sidewalk—
entrancing, like a pretty girl
and a three-legged dog.

Someone calling out to “Redemptus!”
As the sculptor’s plaster splatters,
and the scent of vinegar
comes through a window.

All in a day’s scouring of corners. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

writers take to the beach.

As we move into mid-summer, spoiled by these pristine days, I wondered about other writers who in their time put off work days for a little beach bliss.

Here is a collection of some of my favorite seaside depictions:

Virginia Woolf & Clive Bell
Studland Beach, Dorset 1909
Jack Kerouac, Peter Orlovsky & William S. Burroughs
Tangier, Morocco 1957
Sylvia Plath
Henry Miller
Sylvia Plath
Jack Kerouac

Hunter S. Thompson

Thursday, June 19, 2014

it's better to be like a ball with no edges.

I’d forgotten what it was like to put time into a longer project. Following the wrap up of graduate school, I optimistically deserted my thesis (and its many incarnations) knowing that it was in the best interest of my sanity to let my first manuscript stew in a drawer, out of sight, out of mind. And if I ever felt so inclined, dried up, or nostalgic, the one-foot draft pile would be there where I’d left it.

I honestly believed that there were bigger and brighter ideas to tackle out there (in the figment of every writer’s world). Things that people really cared about. I already knew some things, and could certainly write my knowledge into the broader spectrum of things.  And so it was the end of a proverbial relationship, my manuscript and I were taking a break, and surprisingly I didn’t feel a morsel of remorse over how it all went down.

I joked, It will be my first written, last published piece. Posthumously, of course. Since we all know how the ego loves morbidity.

I’d also forgotten what it was like to be in a relationship with another human being. Not another artist, not another project, but another person who made time for me and deserved my time in return. During the occasional bout of rationale, it seemed essential to shift my energies to what was budding between me and my new love interest. Someone actually wanted to be my partner! I didn’t know what to do with that sort of evidence. And once we got past the I Feel Worthy, You Feel Worthy insecurities, our shared sentiment to let our love run freely and evolve naturally, restored my faith in the organic matter of things. I didn’t realize how regimented I’d become in my personal life and routine, and how much I actually beat myself up over not creating or not producing enough/smarter/profound material; how much I aimed to be better at everything I attempted to an unhealthy degree.

It’s better to be like a ball with no edges, a friend reminded me. You just keep rolling with it, bumping along even the rockiest of terrain. Now, when you find you and your lifestyle are more fashioned like a box, you quickly become stagnant or sedentary, sometimes requiring a forceful budge to get momentum going again.

In less than two weeks, my partner and I will be beginning what we hope is a sustainable, cohabiting future. I confess there were years and years where I questioned if I could ever live with another person. And if I did, how would my art be affected? I worried about falling into one of those scary “comfort zones” in relationships, where self-motivation is muted, and passion gets squeezed out by obligation and the constant proof that unfulfilled individuals seek. I think about that line in the movie Reality Bites, where the character Vickie (played by Gene Garofalo) says, “My parents have been married for 26 years. They’re like brother and sister at this point. She goes to the bathroom with the door open… [Na-ah, I don’t want that. I want passion the whole way through]” And who could blame her?

So, the true test will be finding the balance of honoring the passions I know fulfill me as an individual (because I’m damn good at doing it alone) and melding together with my partner in a sharing of experiences and interests and dreams, and also being able to draw inspiration out of the places I never even thought to look before.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

wallace stevens and martha's vineyard

"Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
They never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weaving of our afternoons." - sunday morning, wallace stevens

On Martha’s Vineyard there is a great thrift store that is unique and not ubiquitous to those I frequent when I’m home in Portland, ME. For those like me, who enjoy picking through second-hand and consigned merchandise, you know the smell of worn clothing and loved furniture. It’s a musty scent, like the inside of a tent after a camping trip.

However, on the island, my favorite little thrift store is a converted garage just outside Vineyard Haven, tucked away near a dead end road that leads to the salt marshes. On nice weather days, the air circulates from the street where the doors have been pulled up and open, through the building of racks and boxes and shelves, and out to sea.

And the finds that can be dug up! Abandoned paintings and drawings of visiting artists, enough cookware to fill your kitchen, clothing for those who care about labels (and not the price tag), tennis rackets and golf clubs and roller blades, tools of antiquity, and books, books, and more books. I now know to leave extra room in my suitcase, because it is likely I will be returning home with new reading material.

During my latest trip, I lucked out and visited the store when all books were ½ off. This was a real score for me, since my literary budget has been overextended in recent years. I have to say, if I have a sickness for anything, its spending money on books. I just can’t help myself, especially when I come across excellent writing. It’s the equivalent of finding a piece of art hidden or forgotten in a bin, then discovering the $5 sticker. For a moment, I’m saddened by how under-appreciated the work is, but my faith is quickly restored when I know I will find value in absorbing and savoring what the opportunity has afforded me. Acquiring knowledge and being grateful for the beautiful things brought into this world holds a different weight than material gains. This is a truth I know.

All and all, I spent $3 and got three wonderful works for my collection:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

And the strap slips off her shoulder...

Did you know that I contribute to another blog?

The Red Dress Conversations is more than just a bunch of random thoughts on a page.
It is an ongoing dialogue between mothers and daughters and sisters.

Want to know what women truly contemplate when they consider the roles they live each day?

The Red Dress Conversations is a meditation on the preservation of memory.

It is the interwoven threads that make up the fabric of our many stories.

Want to read more?

Click here  >>>>>http://red-dressconversations.blogspot.com/

the nature of having expectations.

Sometimes I blurt things out without thinking about what I’m saying. Then when the moment has passed and I’m alone, I think, “Oh, hell.”

Yesterday, I had a bout of Turrets in response to this guy: “So, have you published anything? And where can I find you?”

“I don’t give my information out.”
“Come’n, Amazon? Do you have anything on Amazon?”

“God! I hope not.”

“What?”  **blink, blink ** with blank look of confusion on his face.

“I mean, I hope I never do.”

“Wait, why?”

“Because I don’t believe in what they do, or that they benefit authors. Their sales and distribution, not to mention the copyright issues…***mumble, mumble***”

The guy walks away, unimpressed. And I feel like I’ve won, for there was no personal information forfeited. The guy also probably thinks I’m an asshole without any tact, but that’s okay considering I’d rather remain true to who I am, than paint an inaccurate picture of what they want to see.

Ever since I ordered a copy of Jack London’s Martin Eden online, and received a digital reprint riddled with grammatical errors, I have not given Amazon anymore of my business. Instead, I go downtown to my local bookstores, Longfellow and YES!, and see what they have in stock. If they don’t happen to carry what I’m looking for, I then order it through their distributor. It is quick, easy and I know the product I’m getting is what I want. Also, by doing this, I maintain relationships with the staff who work at these establishments and gain recommendations in the process.

The metaphor that can be used here, is this: I need a hammer to hang a picture. I don’t own a hammer, so I decide to seek one out. Instead of buying a brand new one at a Sears or Lowes that I’ll use for that one job, I borrow one from the neighbors. And in turn, a level of trust is established. They know I will return the tool and will be considerate of their things in the future.

Loyalty is a wonderful achievement. But it takes multiple parties to be on board with the exchange. It is not a one-sided agreement, built on convenience. It is having your expectations met time and time again, and being satisfied with the results.

Too bad that guy didn’t give me a fair chance to state my case. I bet I could’ve turned him on his head, seeing the jungle as well as the trees.