Wednesday, August 13, 2014

One Final Post...

FEBRUARY 2015 UPDATE: My essay, The Bad Wife, was published in the January 2015 issue of PANK Magazine, a badass print and online literary journal with tons of edgy, insightful and luscious prose and poems. Go read PANK!

Suburban Soliloquy has closed its doors. You can find me, now, at Banks of Noon (where I'm cross-posting the below piece), a new writing blog. I'm also taking this opportunity to introduce you to four friends and cohorts, from  different pockets of the USA, who are genuinely gifted writers. 

I'm deeply grateful for all your support and for your friendship over the years, and I hope to see you around town in the future.  :)

Writing Process Blog Tour

My friend and partner-in-crime, Maria Mutch—the boot-rockin' ingenious writer—tagged me some weeks ago when she posted her contribution to “The Writing Process Blog Tour.” She asked me to answer four questions about my writing process, and my first thought was: No! I don't have a process! But Maria, author of, among many other brilliant works of art, the poignant Know the Night: A Memoir of Survival in the Small Hours, possesses criminal powers of persuasion, and she forced me to confront the challenge (i.e., my fears). I’ve known Maria for some years now (we met in a writing workshop when her memoir was still in its infancy), and I know how brave and tenacious she is, and that she would not let me off the hook easily, and so...
Thank you, Maria, for inviting me; my second and resounding thought is, Yes!
What are you working on?   
Currently, I am working on completing my thesis in partial fulfillment for my MFA degree in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars, Bennington College. My thesis consists of a collection of essays, a few prose poems, and perhaps a song and some photographs. Okay, well, maybe not a song. Aside from the pseudo-scholarly work, I’m also writing one or two essays that address the complexities of conserving historic and open space in suburbia. Unfortunately, that exercise involves dipping into politics, which is something I’m allergic to. I’m sneezing a lot lately.
How does the work differ from others of its genre?    

I have trouble with that word—genre. (The hoodlum in me wants to confiscate genre from the landscape of literature and bury its burden deep in the earth). I don’t know how to categorize what I’m working on, so I can’t say how it differs, other than that my essays are my essays (until they become the reader’s) and are of a somewhat fractured nature. They are not necessarily crafted with a central theme in mind, however, a thematic concern (danger, uncertainty, fear) does seem to emerge as I piece my thesis together. But I don’t think about these things when I’m writing. Sometimes I feel like I’m not thinking at all, and sometimes I’m thinking so much it hurts. 
Why do you write what you do?    

Writing has been my passion for as long as I can remember. (These days that’s not too long.) So has photography. I've written off and on for years, it' in my blood, I come from a family of logophiles. But I'm a late bloomer in terms of getting serious about my writing. (Same for photography.) Now, I am in a program that offers me an abundance of inspiration, advice, and the space and structure—which I sorely need— to write. It’s been a fantastic experience and I do worry that, without its structure, my space will become slippery and I will begin to flounder. But I’ve come to realize that I need to write. I write from a place of curiosity, to learn, to know and, fortunately, I always want to know!
I draw inspiration from the natural world, particularly the mountains, seas, skies. Land, sea, sky: they are not mute; they talk to me—we’re in a relationship, share a reverence  for one other, which is something I seek to emulate in my relationship with humanity. As most of my writing is personal in nature, it consists of a lot of interior thought—how the outer world affects the inner and vice versa—which is oft obsessed with the interconnectedness of all things, with signifiers and symbiosis. The lens through which I filter my experience of the world informs how and what I write. When I say “lens” I mean that both metaphorically and literally. Which leads me to process… 
How does your writing process work?   

I wish I could tell you that I rise each morning and write. But I don’t. I’m criminally undisciplined. Sometimes I don’t write for many days. Though I read every day, and am often lost in research (whether in books or the interwebs). Then there’s the walk. It always starts with the walk—a prelude to the actual act of writing. The walk sets a rhythm that allows me to connect with the world and its swells and shifts. I don’t leave home without my iPhone or camera, in the event I want to take photographs while I’m walking. Photography is also a huge part of my writing process. My handwriting is atrocious, I’m terrible at carrying a notebook, and stuff just passes right through me, so I have come to understand that the only way I’m able to take notes is through the lens of a camera. (Although I have, on occasion, scratched something down on found paper in the middle of the night. But I couldn’t later read it.) And photographing, like writing, is also about looking, and I don’t think one can write well without really looking.
The interesting thing about the picture-taking is that, more often than not, I manipulate the photo, apply various filters, so the scene looks how it appeared to me in that time now gone, or how I think it might have appeared to me, or to a deer or a loon or some other living thing that is also looking and processing. Sometimes the result may have a surreal quality. (But then, what is real is relative, and we all have our own unique filters.) The filters may skew figures or wash out color, may highlight little corners that tend to go unnoticed, or may shade areas that don’t wish to be revealed. Mood is set, perspective is established, and the resulting tone and feel informs point of view. And I remember what I felt the moment I was present to snap it, remember what I thought, where I came from and where I’m headed. Barthes said that the “Photographer’s organ is not his eye … but his finger: what is linked to the trigger of the lens, to the metallic shifting of the plates…” I think the organ, the aesthetic organ, so to speak, is both eye and finger. Eye to the world, finger to the trigger and keyboard.

Next up on the tour, look for posts from four fantastic writers (and Bennington cohorts) who’ve agreed to accept the torch: Megan Culhane Galbraith, Denton Loving, Susan Pagani, and Barrett WarnerMegan's work has been appeared in Hotel Amerika, Danse MacabreDrafthorse, The Notebook (a recent guest editor)and Rosebud. Her essays have been featured on 51% on WAMC-FM and have been twice selected for the Bookmarks Reading Series at The Arts Center in Troy, New York. She lives on a gorgeous farm in upstate New York, and knows how to wrangle a horse and throw a party. Denton, executive editor of Drafthorse, and editor of Motif V.4 - Seeking Its Own Level: An Anthology About Writings On Water, is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection, Crimes Against Birds (Main Street Rag); he's also the recipient of several writing awards including the Gurney Norman Prize for Short Fiction, and the Alabama Writer’s Conclave Fiction Prize;  his fiction, poetry and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Birmingham Arts Journal, Appalachian Heritage, Minnetonka Review, Main Street Rag, Nantahala Review, and in numerous anthologies including Degrees of Elevation: Stories of Contemporary Appalachia. And his southern accent woos us all. Susan is a journalist, editor extraordinaire (I know, she's handled my early drafts), foodie, and fiction and nonfiction writer. She recently coauthored The Secret Atlas of North Coast Food (Heavy Table, 2013), and contributed to Minnesota Lunch (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011). She can write about food and birds like nobody's business. Barrett, the author of Til I'm Blue in the Face (Tropos Press), and the winner of Salamander's 2014 Fiction Contest, is an editor of Free State Review. His short stories, reviews, poems and lampoons of U. S. poet laureates have appeared in Atticus ReviewCalifornia QuarterlyCoal Hill ReviewComstock ReviewFreshwaterSoutheast Review, and many others. He says he's lazy but his work says otherwise. These, my friends: I love them (even if they make me look bad). You will, too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Seeking Its Own Level


This gorgeous anthology (two of my water photos appear on its covers!) has been released by Motes Books, and features writings from authors and Bennington Writing Seminars faculty Amy Hempel, Bret Anthony Johnston, Jill McCorkle, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, and many of my friends and cohorts from BWS, as well as other emerging and renowned writers and poets.

David Joy, author of Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman's Journey, says of Motif v4: Seeking Its Own Level—an anthology of writings about water:
"'Under the rocks are the words,' Norman Maclean wrote of the river, and in this water-themed volume of MOTIF all stones are thrown aside. What's left are the words. From established forces like Margaret Atwood to emerging voices like John Sealy, this anthology is a rare blend of literary current guaranteed to leave you breathless."
You can purchase your very own copy at here.

Many thanks to Denton Loving, editor, and Kate Larken at Motes Books for this stunning collection of words on water.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Friday Night Frolic" — Meet Me at the Playground

[An FNF repost—initially published in 2011—because I love these guys, and they know how to usher spring into summer. Memorial Day is for remembering the past, commemorating and thanking our loved ones, and glimpsing into future's shiny possibilities. It's also the time of year that marks the beginning of days that open wide and warm, reminding us that the world is chockfull of beautiful things.]

At the playground, or in the park. Or anywhere the sun's warmth and the cool, breezy air conspire to liberate those heavy burdens tucked in your worn, leather satchel. (Gosh, that arm must be sore.) You might want to swap the satchel for something light, like a crisp canvas tote bag filled with peaches and champagne and a Frisbee. Wear your All Stars. Or your woven slip-on sidewalk surfers. Or flip-flops. Or nothing at all. Bring your felt Indiana Jones hat, or a baseball cap, or a straw fedora, or anything brimmed and easily stolen by the wind.

It's been a long time.

How will I know you? Will you still look the same?

Remember my small Brooklyn Heights apartment on Kane, where I gazed at Lady Liberty from the third floor paint-chipped window? I could walk to the park from there. A long walk. I won't do it like that, though. Not this time. I want to get there quickly. I'll take the subway from Cobble Hill to Prospect Park. (If I can still do that. If it's still there.) Up Flatbush. I always liked the underground surprises along Flatbush.

I'll be waiting for you. At the swings. Adorned in a long, gauzy skirt, white t-shirt, beige linen blazer and crinkle scarf. And flip-flops. We'll spread a colorful, vintage Peruvian blanket under a large singing sycamore, pop the cork and consume fuzzy fruit and bubbly. Our cheeks will blush with spring's lustrous shadegolden rays and mossy, ripening trees, cherry plumaged cardinals and deep blue, blossoming crocuses.

Late afternoon you'll decide to pull the old drum sticks from your tote and bang them against the tin filled with chocolate mouse layer cake. I'll be amazed you've kept them all these years. I'll want to cry, but I won't. The ice cream guy will come by with his cart and you'll buy two vanilla bean ice cream cones, and we'll toss the Frisbee while licking streams of sweet goo racing down the waffled spires, running through our fingers. We'll put thick blades of green grass between our thumbs and blow. If it's not playing on someone's transistor radio we'll still hear music in the air. We might even sing. We might even dance.

Then we'll head over to the playground. Remember how we used to play? Hopscotch or jump rope or the see-saw or monkey bars... You used to dangle from that damned center bar and never let me pass. We'd spin on the little merry-go-round 'til we were dizzy.

Remember some kid almost lost a leg on that spinny thing? We won't do any spinning this time. But we might hop on that little springy frog. We might go for a slide on the big one with bumps in the middle, and jump through recycled tires. (Though we might also need some Dramamine to do it all.)

Or perhaps we'll just sit on the colorful, vintage Peruvian blanket, and eat ripe peaches. And layered cake. And vanilla bean ice cream. And we'll listen to spring's symphony:  birds, swaying trees, the little waterfall, babies on the carousel, and pedal boats on the pond.

And get to know one another again.

When it's silent, in that shared-grin moment, we'll know it's time to pack up our bags. We'll meander past the playground one last time. You'll be whistling. I'll challenge you to a monkey bar duel. But this time, I know you'll let me pass. This time you might even hold my hand. In mid-air. As I pass. Your arm will no longer be sore.

We'll remember that we were always layers of percussion and harmony.

We'll still like each other. A lot.

I'll want you to take the subway back home with me. So we can get there quickly.

Percussion and Harmony.

(And lots more over at Pearl and the Beard. Go visit!)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Magnolia Has Come Around

In such a way that not I, nor words, can express. Just look. And listen.

No. Words.

"But to say what you want to say, you must create another language and nourish it for years and years with what you have loved, with what you have lost, with what you will never find again." ~George Seferis

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Month of Rains

April has come to mean many things to me. April is often when we head south during school vacation, taking time for this little family to regroup in a warmer and less hurried setting. Although this year Max is taking Drivers Ed courses during his week off from school. Driver's Ed for chrissakes!

Two years ago this month I wrote about Mary Gaitskill in The Startling Subterrane of Demonsand published eight other blog posts, including a little ditty about the la la la of anodyne, and a family trip to Niagara Falls (slowly we turned, step by step...).  Last year, in April, I wrote about losing my friend Sheila, and a family trip to D.C. It wasn't the best of months, yet there was still beauty, a lovely diffused  April glow, in its lengthened days. This April has not offered much time to blog, try as I may. And so...

Word of the day is splenetic. One meaning: melancholy (though obsolete).

April is rainy. Around this time, two years ago, I told you that Max loves a rainy day. But that the rains tend to hurl melancholy straight to my mind's warped door. The magnolia has not yet come around. (True. I just looked.) This time last year, I told you April hath thirty days. It hasn't changed.

(If I'm not mindful I could eat a whole 12.60 ounce bag of frozen m&ms in one sitting—in which case, I might become splenetic. In a different way.)

April is National Poetry Month.

(This could be The Blog of Links.)

This month, Lulu submitted her first poem for publication. She's been writing lots of poems. As she did last year and the year before that and the year before...

Here's one she wrote today:


Dribble dribble drop
There’s another thought
One, then two, then three
The emotions pour out of me
The page is filled with countless words
Ink the color of robin birds
No date or time
This is only mine

It was pouring yesterday when I picked her up from lacrosse practice. Rain and lightning and high winds, barrels and cardboard and all kinds of debris flying across the roads. She tossed her equipment in the trunk, jumped in the front seat and happy sing-songed, April showers bring May flowers!

Yes, indeed.

(I'll let you know when the magnolia comes around.)

The picture of her that tops this post was taken in an April of more than a few years back. Maybe six or seven. Or eight. I can't remember. But it was April all those years ago, and we were in Gettysburg. Lemme tell you, if the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in D.C. doesn't get to you (I know: if you are human the VVMW got to you), Gettysburg will.

After a splenetic meltdown in April in Gettysburg of all those years ago, we bought Lu a wood stock, steel barrel, pink Lady Kentuckian musket. Her brother had gotten a toy rifle the day before (against my wishes) and, thanks to her father, there was no saying No to her.  We walked Pickett's Charge, where this photo was taken, and could feel the low drumming of that war. Melancholy. There were boys on that field. Boys.

Emily Dickinson was thirty-three years old on July 3, 1863, the day Pickett and his troops charged across the open field. Though miles away in Amherst, MA, Dickinson was deeply moved by the events  of the Civil War which made its way into her poetry, in poems like My Portion is Defeat—today.

But it is this beautiful Dickinson poem (that has nigh a drop of rain but water, water everywhere), the unabashed wildness of nature, a long, long way from Gettysburg, war, the wildness of man, that I'll share with you today:

Poem 23: In the Garden

A bird came down the walk:
He did not know I saw;
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.
And then he drank a dew
From a convenient grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the wall
To let a beetle pass.
He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad, —
They looked like frightened beads, I thought;
He stirred his velvet head
Like one in danger; cautious,
I offered him a crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home
Than oars divide the ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or butterflies, off banks of noon,
Leap, plashless, as they swim.
Happy April. Happy Spring. Read poetry! Write poems!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Hitting the Triangle at the Right Time

I'm in the dining room, the warmest room in the house, back on Blogger, tapping the keys, attempting to hit something, anything (maybe it's the coffee pot—which I've already too often hit—or, maybe it's the pavement that beckons me, walk! or, it might be—or should be—the books, or maybe it's my damn forehead) at the right moment. Smack. Harder. Smack. As it turns out, I hit my forehead more than anything else. And it hurts. 

This snippet, from a paper cutout taped to a black and white photo found on Bennington alum Mary Ruefle's website, was this morning's flash moment:

Mine is like the role of a triangle player in an orchestra. 
Every once in a while, I have to hit the triangle at the right time

British musician/producer/composer Nitin Sawhney's answer to How does the orchestra's triangle player earn a living? (From The Guardian):
No one in an orchestra is paid by how many notes they play. They're paid, and rightly so, for the amount of time they spend in rehearsal and on stage. You might think a triangle player's job was pretty easy compared to, say, a first violin, but just think of counting all those bars' rest and what happens if you come in wrong.
Sometimes, I experience extended moments wherein the weight of time flattens me. The brows are thinning, people! I don't want to come in all wrong, I haven't the time! Jesus, how long do I have to wait before hitting it? And can you imagine if a writer were paid for the number of hours she put in sitting at her desk? RehearsingWaiting? Smacking her head with the palm of her hand. Repeatedly. Rehearsing some more. Waiting, waiting, waiting. To hit it. Smack, smack, smackIt might actually be worth all those hours of self-flagellation.

I'm going for a walk...


I'm back. Wait. Wait. Waiting... Rehearsing... smack.

- - - - - - - - - - - 

I'm going to pick up the kids at school...


I'm back. Wait. Wait. Waiting... Rehearsing... smack.

On Bennington:

Here's the best thing about a writing workshop: You cannot escape from what you've failed to include. There's an (rhetorical) inquisition: Why has the shell hardened? Are you rich? You have kids(!)? Is it dead or gone? Are you ok? Are you wearing snowshoes to write? 

Mute answers: I'm not sure (maybe I used the wrong adjective—or the wrong WIP altogether). Hell, no. Yes. Both. Yes. Hahaha... um, bad metaphor. Really bad metaphor.

Writers are reading between the lines. They are scrutinizing the subtext. This is good, yes, but I'm thinking, They are all so much smarter than me. How did I get here? Perhaps I hit the send button, with my writing samples attached, at the right time. Yes, that was a triangle at-the-right-time moment!

My two essays were workshopped on the last day of the ten-day literary vortex that was my first residency at Bennington. Pretty easy compared to, say, a first violin. From there, I lunched and vortexualized with my new writerly vortexees (and, boy, do you ever bond quickly with writerly vortexees), and then set out (a little weepy) for my three plus hour drive back home. Counting all those bars' rest. Lulu kept me company on the phone for the last half hour stretch through Rhode Island, right to my front door. What happens if you come in wrong? There, she waited for me with a great big zealous embrace. 

I waited a long time for that hug.

(Lulu knows precisely how to come in right.)

Happy, happy I was to be back home with the orchestra. Waiting, rehearsing, even smacking the head. You see, what I've discovered is that, as impatient as I am, 
I can wait. And don't I enjoy being a triangle player.