Friday, September 24, 2010

"Friday Night Frolic" - Run Chicken Run

The Felice Brothersfrom the Catskill Mountains to New York City subway stations, a recording studio in an old chicken coop, voices reminiscent of Dylan, homegrown, gritty rock and harmonies, now touring the USAfinding their way to Pawtucket, RI, at the Met Cafe, Friday night, October 29, 2010! 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Miss My “ ”

My “ ” is gon. Wipd from its shiny black ky. 

Vaporizd into thin air; 

rubbd out lik a Mafioso rat by robust and ruthlss punching. 

Bginning with th uppr right arm, 

followd by its middl and lowr branchs, pummld colorlss, 

lik th middl C that I printd on th piano with indlibl markr whn I was just thr. 

Nothing bing prmannt. 

" "A mathmatical constant, the slop of a tangnt lin (of a crtain function), th valu of a drivitiv; 

an irrational numbr of utmost importanc. 

(Not that I shall vr attmpt to us it as such.)

It’s tru—I undrstand now—how th “ ” is th most commonly usd vowl. Utilizd, consumd, xhaustd. I’v witnssd its slow annihilation 

at th hand of th oily skinnd undrsid of my lft middl fingr;

a lon swirling print complling vidnc.

Thoughtlss. Mrcilss. 

But what to com is mor troubling: th gradual dtrioration of T, who’s uppr right cap is missing; 

and th I! Oh my! A mr smudg at th cntr of th raisd bvld squar. 

What to do whn my grayd lttrs hav all vanishd?! Th aging mind drawing blanks. 

How will I find my way? Will th sound of th rat-a-tat tap carry m through—rkindling th addictiv, habitual lik movmnts of my tn rhumatic digits?

Lik a musician’s traind ar, a singrs cultivatd vocal chords? 

Whn all my comrads hav bn limnd bald, will I still hav a story to tll? A song to sing?

But just whn I wondr how I can b m without th lttr “ ”, I am succord by th stubborn blot of my lingring “I”,

my dtrmind vowl. A syllabl, a pronoun, an uttranc unto itslf.  

I wondr if this would qualify as Ars Potica? Profssor B?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why I Don't Tweet

Artwork courtesy
I'm thinking maybe I should tweet. I'd probably get a lot more writing done if I were required to confine my words to no more than 140 characters. After about a year or so of daily tweeting, at a rate of at least once daily, I would have compiled 51,100 charactersenough to fill approximately seventeen pages of writing—and continuing at that feverish pace, it would take me about only seventeen years to write a book. A short book, albeit. Or five years to write an even shorter book. Like, maybe one you could wear on a necklace. Very. Short. 

A friend once invited me to tweet and so I did what any good friend would doI tried it. One little tweet on Twitter. A chirp really. Truly, compared to other folks who tweet, a very weak chirp. I soon discovered that in the tweeting world of Twitter, one must be continually witty and chipper. One must be armed with sassy, snarky, sunny, sage somethings to say. If one does not tweet as such, then it's simply depressing to the reader. Or worse, boring. In other words, one must be very interesting. And I think that the only people in the universe that I'm most likely interesting (notice no "very") to are my children; that is, in terms of making dinner, driving them to a friend's house, helping with homework, making sure soccer, lacrosse, track, basketball, etc. uniforms are ready for the game. Yes, then I am most interesting. Further, there is the problemand not a minor oneof multi-taskingwhich many a twit does take, and I am not a very good multi-tasker. I cannot tweet and blog, text and talk, squeak and squawk all at the same time. I. Just. Can't.

Or I will start to look like this:

The other piece of this, a rather substantial shim, is how incredibly easy it is to instantaneously shoot off every random, banal, unfiltered, uncensored thought in one's head to the entire world. The whole world. Global, that is. I don't think, under any circumstance, this is ever a good idea. Take it from me. Not. Good. Idea.

But wait, did you all know that there are actually Twitter coaches out there? Yup, like this one and this other one, with all kinds of tweet tips for you. Hmmm. Maybe I'm going to have to rethink this twitting twister. I might get that book done in more like... fifteen years? Re. Think.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What Children Draw (An Interesting Sociological Study... Perhaps)

Courtesy of Max

I thought I might be away from this space for a while, but a recent discovery over at Amazon sent me into a bit of a tizzy, spinning around on my heels, spouting all kinds of exclamatory words! Yep, like: Wha?! Huh?! Bwaaah! Get out!

First, a minor diversion and disclosure: the dining room is not nearly far enough away from the kitchen. In fact, I'm pretty sure Virginia Woolf was not envisioning the dining room when she wrote "... a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction..."  Somehow, in between Amazon and logging in here to speed blog, I find myself in my dining room—the new "room of my own" (being the only part of Woolf's equation that I am currently able to address)sitting at this long, book and paper-strewn table, before my laptop, with an empty bag of Pepperidge Farm Sausalito Chocolate Chunk (milk chocolate macadamia, to die for) crispy cookies. I vaguely remember sauntering into the kitchen to fill my empty glass with water, but for the life of me I can't recall pushing open the door to the kitchen pantry. I dare say, perhaps it was the pantry that seized me, imprisoning me in its fragrant, shelf-lined walls, torturing me with its bags of treats and munchies. Wouldn't anyone break under such pressure? It's all a blur. Suffice it to say that it would be of tremendous help if the kitchen were much more than yards away from the dining area, if there were between the room of my own and the kitchen a series of obstacles, such as stairs, doors, streets, tunnels, valley's, mountains, and a large water source.

But that's neither here, nor there, so... back at Amazon I found a couple books of interest (the ones that sent me into a queer oscillation):

See... boys doodle. And girls doodle.

The above books are marketed to kids between 9-12 years old as arts and crafts, how-to books. Inside you'll find "Amazing Pictures to Complete and Create."  But do you notice anything odd here? Yes, that's true, The Girl's Doodle Book is blue. Hmmm.  The Boy's Doodle Book is red. Hmmm. Trying to keep the colors gender-neutral? (Wouldn't they then be green or yellow?) More  likely the intent is to distract one from the obvious with its subliminal color swapyou know: boys = blue; girls = a shade of red—as traditionally conceived within the color spectrum. Once deceived by the hue, the particular pigment, one may not notice what lies within. But look closer and you'll find the doodle images on the Boy's Doodle book red cover to be rather, um, masculine: Ship, shark, medieval knight in shining armor. And on the blue cover of the Girls Doodle book, just as you'd expect, doodles of a more feminine nature: tiara, unicorn, ballerina. (My apologizies for categorizing doodles in this manner, butahemI just can't help it.)

Inside the red book are, among other things, drawings of 1) a mad scientist and mechanical feet, with the caption: Invent a robot; 2) space-suited men with guns, saucers flying in space and a goblin looking thing, with the caption: Alien invasion!; and, 3) armored warriors, with the caption: Make their shields scary. You get the picture (really, no pun intended).

Want to know what's in the blue book? ('Course you do.) Here are more samples: 1) a costumed princess in a theatre, with the caption: Shower the diva with flowers; 2) a table topped with a cake stand, caption saying: Create your perfect party cake; and, 3) French courtesans, and the statement: Give Mademoiselle big hair.

You know where I'm headed with this right? Look, I am not a bra-burner, I am not a self-proclaimed feminist (though I am a feminist)only because I thought the women's movement (remember back when?) had equalized the sexes. Somewhat. To some degree. To some acceptable degree. A teensy weeny bit? But these books for 9 to 12 year olds, published in 2008, SCREAM sexism, blatant bigotry, partiality, chauvinism. (Really, Running Press Kids [publisher], did you not notice the obvious sexual stereotype here?) And despite the fact that I don't see myself as a self-proclaimed feminist, I must admit: I am the mother who bought my son and daughter, from the very beginning of time, gender-neutral toys/things. (Oh, hell, ok, I'm a FEMINIST!) Until they started making their own requests... for not so gender-neutral toys/things.  

And then I started to notice something in my own kids' doodles (w/out books or any other type of aid):

Sampling of the Little Man's doodles over the years:




And the Little (lady) One's doodles over the years:

"Love makes the world go round."

Love is everywhere.

Cutest 'lil fellers. Love. Love. Love.

Do you know what's even more interesting than the books' content? Amazon's customer book reviewsall, incredibly, glowing accolade. "Excellent concept, fun!" charges one dad. "Amazing! Seems like it was created for my son!" states another. A mother proclaims that (paraphrasing here) she bought the "Girls" book for her daughters and friends, but really, she got it for herself. (Seriously?! Thanks for taking us back a few years.) "Fun!" cries another mom. "The illustrations are so nice!"  

Not one feminist outcry. Not one.

Yes, an interesting sociological study indeed.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ars Poetica

Ars what? Ars who? Ars you kidding? It’s right there on the syllabus under Course Requirements: Ars Poetica (3 Pages). Fifteen percent of the total grade. When we get to this section of the syllabus our professor, a lithe, pretty, published woman with a PhD and an easy smile, mentions that we must write an Ars Poetica in addition to two “new pieces” along with one revised work, each piece being at least fifteen to twenty pages. I am silent. My chest is heavy with panic. Does this woman realize that I do not reside at a writer’s colony?  Sure, I'd love to be as prolific as Alexandre Dumas or Joyce Carol Oates but my production, given my real life situation, has its limitations. I’m going to need to establish the habits of Honoré de Balzac and write from midnight to dawn, pretend that sleep is not a daily essential.

I stay focused on her as she continues to rattle on about class participation. She asks if there are any questions. I appeal with parched lips whether our pieces must be a minimum of fifteen pages, what if they’re a little less? Uh oh, I think immediately, the dumb question. I asked the dumb question. “Well,” she responds, “if the story can be told, told well, in a little less than fifteen then that’s acceptable.” I sigh a bit and nod thankfully. I’m wishing I hadn’t forgotten my bottled water in the car. I could use a swig right now. I'm wondering if I'm the only one in the class who doesn't know what Ars Poetica is.

It’s a small class—only four students, including myself, and three of them are in the Master’s program, they are young, two are completing their theses, one is about to begin (I find out) teaching my daughter sixth grade Literature. I am the only student not in the Master’s program, but I am thinking about it, I say, at the beginning of the class during introductions. Considering. Thinking. I also say that I read quite a bit but I didn’t get as much summer reading done as I had hoped. I have two middle-school aged children, I mention, sort of as an excuse. So I have just confessed that I am old (which is self-evident), and that I am a mom and a slacker. Now I know what they’re all thinking: a soccer-mom-slacker; a suburban-soccer-mom-slacker; oh right, this will be an interesting addition to the program. I didn’t confess to the suburban-soccer-mom part but I’m sure that this is also self-evident, even though I have worn long boot-cut jeans (on a very hot day when I ordinarily would have worn a skirt) and a funky t-shirt to class. I am not purposely attempting to appear as a not-too-old-to-go-back-to-school-non-soccer-mom, or bohemian, Generation Y, or Gen-Xer—which I couldn’t possibly pull off anyway—but rather to look just cool enough to mask any connection to suburbia, and maybe the soccer mom thing(which might draw one to include that I'm a bored suburban mom in need of a "new thing"), or an SUV or any idiosyncrasy approximating eighties yuppiedom and conservative white-bread (not that I am either), yet I betray myself by way of introduction. And I suppose denying my baby-boomer conventional suburban lifestyle would be dishonest, even if it doesn’t truly represent my inner rebel, beatnik, free spirit (or is this just how I’d like to view myself?).

And this, I reason, is why I am back in school for creative writing. This is how I rebel mid-life. At nearly fifty years old, it’s time to follow my true passion, time to step beyond the evening adult-ed writing classes, time for some moxie, see if I have any real skill, finesse, artistry. It’s why I still have that letter my fifth grade teacher sent to me the summer after that school year, after Holy Family closed, after the coolest hippie-teacher ever—Mr. Sawyer—returned to New York in his shiny, baby-blue, white-capped VW bus. “Keep writing, Jayne,” Mr. Sawyer wrote, “keep it up, follow your heart.”  It’s why I am collecting dusty, esoteric books on writing and literature. I have a lot of catch-up to do. I have to look up Ars Poetica.

I jot down notes: get Lydia Peelle—Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing. Pick up Virginia WoolfTo the Lighthouse. Wait a minute, don’t I already have the Woolf book? I’ve already read it, haven’t I? I strike through the note. I look at my young, cagey classmates. What do these kids know about flax and prunes and Metamucil and perimenopause? Could they craft a literary work of art out of prunes and purgatives? Bloated peri-prune prose? I’ll bet not one of them has ever scrambled down the laxative aisle at CVS. Why am I thinking about this?  Probably because I’m sure they can write circles around me just as easily as my children can (with knees straight) touch their fingers to their toes. See? Like it’s the sort of thing anyone can do anytime. I’m just not that limber—of leg or locution. I’m the only one who can’t write down one damned word in my notebook when our professor tells us to quickly scribble our thoughts on what a story is. What is a story? Hmmm. What is a story? Hmmm again. Everyone is writing but me. Blank, nothing going on here. I’m just the kid who’s going to ask all the dumb questions which is exactly why I refrained from asking what should have been my first query: if the professor could please clarify the meaning of an Ars Poetica. No, I refuse to expose myself as this student—yet I know I’ve already made the fatal error. I start to write choppy sentences about story, from a reader’s point of view, and maybe from a writer’s, but since I am not a writer (not really) I feel no authority. And then, what I fear most happens: she asks us to read what we wrote. The young students, the ones who haven’t had a twenty-eight year hiatus between semesters, write full lyrical sentences about what they think a story is. I read mine, the last choppy-sentenced paragraph: tell with honesty, humility. Sustained suspension of disbelief (duh, I can’t believe I just read that, isn’t that Story 101?). Theme should deliver message of hope… must contain substance, relevance, heart… so its audience may be captured by its spirit, transformed by its message. “Oh, a tall order,” says the professor, “story as transformative…”  I respond saying that I do believe that writers have a certain “responsibility” and we discuss this for a moment, thankfully just a moment, because I want to run my  philosophy right off the road as it’s launched from my lips, realizing that I have once again undeniably dated myself by the use of one term: responsibility.

Funny thing about writing is that I am so engrossed with the craft, honing technique, words and phrases constantly running around my brain, the need to jot everything down as soon as the thought springs, that I have become an irresponsible mother. I am the mother who is late to pick up her kids, who forgets to buy blue knee socks, pick up a gallon of milk, even make dinner sometimes. I’m inarticulate for fear of cognitus interruptus, my kids ask me questions and I’m mute, mind full of words, fractured sentences pogoing in my head. Completely irresponsible. Ars Poetica irresponsible.

The professor passes out a reading selection to be discussed at our next meeting, and asks us to bring in an author’s piece to review next week. The dumb question leaps from my mouth again, a conical dunce cap, it asks, “Contemporary?”  Yes, contemporary confirms the professor, Faulkner and Hemingway will not do. Remember?—relevance? —that is what I wrote/said isn’t it? The professor wraps up the class an hour before it is due to end. The young ones seem happy to go. But wait—an hour? I have a sitter until 7:00pm! I can’t go home now. I get in my car and decide drive over to Barnes and Noble and look for Lydia Peelle. They don’t have her, so I look at other literature, I browse the new hard covers, I look at the “how to” books, books about writing, and grammar. I buy Lorrie Moore’s new book—A Gate at the Stairs; and, Mystery and Manners—a book that I hadn’t before seen which contains select Flannery O’Connor (a favorite of mine whom I don't believe would be considered "contemporary") writings. I’m near the one hour mark now and should really go home, so I make my purchase and head outside, into falling darkness, for the car.

When I get in, my husband is in the kitchen and our sitter has left. He has prepared dinner for the kids and I am grateful, I’m still working through the student-to-mom transition, not yet ready to dive into household minutiae. I ask him—my clever, bookish husband—if he by any chance knows the meaning of Ars Poetica. “Know, I don’t,” he says simply. And mon dieu, I am encouraged, I am plumb delighted! My husband, the one with the English/Creative Writing degree, does not know (or, at the least, does not remember) a thing about Ars Poetica! Does this mean there is hope for me? I race to my laptop, plug "ars poetica" into Google and find that it is a term meaning: the art of poetry. What that translates to is essentially writing poems about poetry, literary poems, like those of the greats—Aristotle and Horace—not geometric shaped limericks, haiku, sestinas and cinquains. This does not bode well for me, as I am not terribly excited by poetry, I am too pragmatic for poetry, I am about as poetic as a rock. For me, poetry is to literature as scrapple is to gourmand, the entrails of both frightening to me. But perhaps that’s because I never quite flushed out the proper seasoning.

So I’ve got my work cut out for me. I have serious fear factor to confront. Tonight though, I think I’ll start decompressing by making school lunches, ironing clothes, washing dishes. I’m welcoming the distraction. I will listen to my children, I will answer their questions, I will tuck them in at a reasonable hour. After which I’ll review my favorites—a little O’Connor, some Capote for smiles, and maybe doze off with Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which has been perched bedside for some time now. I always keep it by me for inspiration and courage. I wonder if Ms. Lamott has ever written an Ars Poetica.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Feeling Negative, Anxious, Frustrated... Change Your Trailer

Feeling low, negative, anxious, suspicious, angry, frustrated, intimidated, trapped, misunderstood, paranoid? Dr. Wayne Dyer (and who doesn't love Dr. Dyer?) talks about paradigm shift, casting away conscious and unconscious crutches, taking a look at old habits and excuses and recognizing the absurdity of these crutches. Once one has acknowledged ones vices, one is freed to turn it all around, alter the path. Well, that's only a smidgen of Dr. Dyer's philosophy, in a bitty brown nutshell, but it's healthy advice and good therapy. 

I've been feeling a little defeated lately, unsure of the direction in which I'm headed and whether I've got the tools and chutzpa to get me there. A little concerned about this semester's writing workshop which starts tomorrow (haven't got a single idea in my head, completely, utterly blocked). And then I saw thisa bit of unconventional therapy and inspiration (click on the arrow!): 

So there you go...  think of your life as a movie (oh, the dramaor maybe it's more like Monty Python, in which case you need not read further). How's it playing? Having fun? Waking up with a bright smile on your face or dread hovering over your head? Feeling like it needs a little recalibrating, take a few things out, move some items around? Here is another mode of paradigm shift:  Change your movie. Change your movie's trailer (after all, do we not review our life as a series of snippets?). Edit and tweak until you are beaming with benevolence, have affirmed your self-worth, inner-goodness. Re-write the whole damn thing if you have to, but make sure its ending is heartwarming. Change the soundtrack, too—to something that makes you want to clap your hands and roll your shoulders. Let the revised version play over and over in your head. Self-affirming trailer.

Oh, happy Sunday. Glorious, rainless, staggeringly brilliant day. Absurdly bright. Shining. A hummingbird breezing about my hanging fuchsia. Today, is the perfect day for a hike up Solsbury Hill, a paradigm shift, a trailer transformation...