Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sunday Scribblings: Poetry

This week's Sunday Scribblings prompt, Poetry, is so timely for me. One of the things I wanted to do with my week away was to read some poetry, and I have read, and listened to, Mary Oliver's beautiful poems.

I'm not quite brave enough to write and share a poem on the blog yet, since I don't, by far, consider myself a poet. What I want to do instead is share some of my favorite lines/phrases from Oliver's poems from the book Thirst.

*My work is loving the world.*

*the lovely meaninglessness of time*

*For a long time I was not even in this world*

*How to keep warm is always a problem, isn't it?*

*From the complications of loving you/ I think there is no end or return.*

*You have broken my heart./ Just as well.*

*In the city called Wait,/ also known as the airport,/ you might think about your life--/there is not much else to do.*

Beautiful, no? For more poems and writing about poetry, head over to Sunday Scribblings. Best Blogger Tips

Alice Munro

I am such an Alice Munro freak, I once drove from Boston to New York to see her speak. And it was worth it, even though my car broke down and blocked traffic in the middle of NYC.

It's funny, then, that I'm learning about a new book of hers, Too Much Happiness, while I'm in her home country of Canada. And I am so happy to share this wonderful review published in Canada's Globe and Mail.

My favorite line is: "Most importantly, these stories are not asking for our praise, they ask for our attention. They...ask...for silence – and not an awed silence at that (though awe is certainly possible), but the silence that happens when you close a book and pause and continue with your life, less lonely than you were before."

That sentence sums up what I look for what I read, and write. Best Blogger Tips

What I'm reading

I'm taking some of my retreat time to catch up on the articles I've been meaning to read. I thought I'd share some of them with you, dear readers. The first one I'm getting to is a commencement speach David Foster Wallace gave to Kenyon College 2005 graduates, sent to me by my brilliant friend Megan, who always passes along the best articles.

Some of my favorite quotes from the article:
"And I submit that this is what the real, no-bull- value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out."

"There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration." [This reminded me very much of some of the article I read in last week's Sunday Scribbling posts on the prompt "Adult"]

"The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default-setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it's going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who are all these people in my way?"

"But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars -- compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true: The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship..."

"The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness -- awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water."

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out."

One of the heartbreaking things about this speach is how often Wallace talks about suicide, years before he killed himself. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, August 28, 2009

Question for other writers. Please discuss.

When you're submitting your work, do you submit to contests with fees? If so, how much do you spend per year? How do you decide which are worth paying to join?

I ask because I tend to avoid contests with fees, because it seems that $10 or $15 contests could add up very quickly. But one of the writers with whom I am on retreat said that the two publications she has gotten were both through contests. And she admitted that she spends a lot on entering them. So I'm wondering what others do. Please comment. Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, August 27, 2009

On retreat

I am in beautiful Haliburton, Canada, on a self-directed writing retreat with two of my wonderful friends from my MFA program. So far, our days have been filled with:

Delicious and nourishing dinner
Writing/reading/listening to poetry on CD

Could life get any better?

I'm working on chapter 2 of my novel, and some other miscellaneous writing tasks. And I am more relaxed than I thought I could be. Pictures coming soon. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, August 24, 2009

My new favorite quote

"A work of art is, first of all, work."

~Paul Engle
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Creative gifting

One of my favorite creative outlets is gift giving. What better way to use your creative/crafty talents than by sharing them with the ones you love?

This is one of my go-to gifts for new parents: a diaper cake!

It's very simple to make, and people seem to love them. Here's a step by step:

1. Buy a pretty plate, preferably something with the design on the edge of the plate, so you can see it when the "cake" is on it.

2. Buy diapers, and roll about 20 individual diapers, tying each with a ribbon.

3. Then place the rolled diapers on the plate, standing them up longwise. Use enough of the rolls to cover the main part of the plate. Then tie another ribbon around the whole layer of diapers.

4. Repeat, making the second and third layers smaller, so the cake is tiered.

5. For the finishing touch, I use basket wrap, which you can get at craft stores. It's basically a cellophane bag that you place the gift in, tie the top with yet another ribbon, and then use your blowdryer to make the cellophane shrink to fit the gift. If you don't want to buy this type of wrapper, you could also use colored saran wrap.

You can also tuck little gifts into the tier ties, such as pacifiers or small toys.

Ta-dah! A gift that's sure to be a hit at your next baby shower. Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Submissions Fatigue

I am sitting here, submitting some stories to some journals, and wondering why I find this process so damn draining. I try to make it as painless as possible--Before "submission day," I create a list of journals I want to submit a particular story to, along with the pertinent information about how the journal prefers to accept submissions, the editor's name, etc. That way, when I finally have some free time, I can open the file and run quickly down the list.

In theory. In reality, it takes me hours to submit one story to eight journals. Why? Part of it is that I want to double check everything on my list, to make sure I don't screw up the email address, or whether a journal wants stories mailed and printed in a particular type of font.

Another part of it is that I find it emotionally taxing--No matter how "used" to rejection I get, I still don't enjoy sending my babies out to the slaughter. So I try to give myself frequent, short breaks so as not to overwhelm my system.

Anyone have a better system than the one I described? If so, I'd love to hear about it. Off to bed... wishing my stories good luck out there in the world! Best Blogger Tips

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sunday Scribblings: Adult

I haven't Scribbled in a long, long time. But since I'm trying to reinvigorate my blogging (as I posted about here), I figured I'd return to an old favorite way to get my writing.

On this week's Sunday Scribblings prompt, this question about adulthood spoke to me the most: Are you glad to finally be an adult? I thought about this question the other day, when I heard some fellow commuters talking about their teenagers. The parents were saying how lucky the teens had it--they didn't have bills to pay or jobs to worry about. I shook my head and thought to myself, How wrong those people are. I will take bills and jobs and car troubles and relationship problems and all the other downsides of adult life over the many downsides of being a teen. The most prominent one in my memory? How poorly developed my sense of myself was.

With every passing year, I get to know myself that much better. And with that knowledge comes a sense of confidence that I just couldn't have had as a teenager. I didn't trust that I had the strength to get through the minor challenges that I barely think about now. I remember crying so hard when the Amtrak train I was supposed to get on was oversold and there was no more room for me. I was 19 or so, heading back to college after winter break. When the train stopped at Penn Station, even the doorways were crammed with people sitting on their suitcases.

As the train pulled away, tears of frustration filled my eyes. I didn't know what else to do. I pictured train after train coming into the station already full, and my being stuck in Penn Station forever.

Now, when things like that happen, I know that even if I can't get a fair or reasonable response from the people in charge (as was the case when I tried to get someone to explain to me how they could sell more tickets for a train than there were seats on that train--why have me make a reservation for a particular train if that reservation is meaningless?), I can take care of myself. I can buy a bus ticket instead, or rent a car. I can call someone to see if I can spend the night on their couch and catch a train the next day. I can sleep in the train station if I really have to.

I can also deal with the anger and frustration that comes with these situations by venting out loud or in my head. By knowing that when I get home, I WILL be getting a refund for that train ticket if I had to spend more money on an alternate mode of transportation. And I know that no matter what happens, I'll be OK. I'm smart enough and strong enough to figure something out.

As a teenager, I didn't know that about myself. And I wouldn't trade that knowledge for anything--not the ability to sleep in every day of the summer, not the ignorance of credit card late fees, none of it.

What are your thoughts on adulthood? For others' take on the subject, check out Sunday Scribblings. Best Blogger Tips

A gardening slide show

I'm taking a multimedia journalism class, and one of the simpler tools we're using is slideshows. Here's one of photos from my garden.

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New look, altered focus

I haven't been blogging much lately, even though I've been thinking about the blog quite a bit. Part of me blames Facebook--it's such a fast, easy way to share links and thoughts with people, many of whom would never venture over to this ole blog. [Readers, any thoughts on the redundancy between FB and your blog? Do you post certain things in one place, other things in another? Would love to hear your thoughts.]

I also blame lack of time for my recent un-blogging. Work has been crazy. As has life in general. Mostly in good ways, but still.

I have been thinking a lot about my life and what I want to do with it (For this I blame the many people around me who are having babies, a life-structuring activity that I am just not ready for.) The bottom line is that I want it to be a creative life. What does this mean to me?

* Writing. Lots of writing. Writing for fun. Aloowing myself to write about whatever subjects call me at the moment, and in the style that calls, too.

* Keeping a daily journal. This is separate from the writing bullet just because it's so important to me that it deserves its own space.

* Gardening. Surrounding my home with beautiful flowers and delicious plants.

* Animals. I'm not sure why taking care of my animals feels like a creative outlet to me, but it does. I think it has to do with the intimacy that animals give at such a low cost in terms of drama or emotional neediness.

* Photography.

* Crafts, like knitting, collaging, sewing, decorating the house.

* Yoga.

* Devoting the time and energy to the people in my life whose relationships I cherish, and not spreading myself thin on people who I don't deeply connect with.

* Getting out in nature.

* Dancing. Even if it's just in my living room.

* Volunteering. I realize this is stretching the meaning of "creative", but I do think that giving back to the world/your community is an important part of living a meaningful life. Which is really the purpose, for me, of deliberately living a creative life.

What does all this have to do with the blog? Well, along with the new look, I plan to alter the focus of the blog to reflect these various creative pursuits.

Hope you like the slightly altered focus and the very altered look. Please let me know what you think of both, but especially the color scheme. If anything is hard to read, I want to know so I can change it.

Thanks all. I'd also love to hear what things you think of when you consider your own creative life. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, August 07, 2009

Good Quote

I feel like the blog has been a little quote heavy these days. I promise to post some pics this weekend to even things out. But I can't help but share this quote, which the ever brilliant Jon Stewart said back in January, but which I just heard today (thanks Utube!)

"If you don't stick to your values when they're being tested, they're not values.... They're hobbies!" Best Blogger Tips


No, this post is not about people's bums. I'm talking about the back covers of books. I just read an interesting blog post by a book reviewer that talks about his preferences of what is found on the back cover of books:

"The method I judicious quotation from the book itself. Not the first paragraph, because everyone can flick to that easily enough themselves. Just a really good, representative section - say, the beginning of a passage the author would read at an event - or a single brilliant line."

I agree that this method has a lot of value--it gives a sense of the prose, and if chosen well, it can also give a sense of the plot.

I also like when there is a synopsis that is clearly written to mirror the prose of the book. This works especially well for short story collections, since there is no one plot to talk about. For books of poems, I like to read a short description of the poet's style (ie, what topics she writes about, whether she relies heavily on one type of structure or another) and then to get an excerpt or short poem.

I wonder, how much say does an author get about the backside? Can she write the copy herself? What better way to make sure it is a good representation of the style found in the book itself... Any published authors out there, I'd love to hear about your experience with backsides. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, August 03, 2009


I recently read about a conflict between an author and her publisher regarding book cover images. It wasn't just a situation of artistic differences--the publisher chose a cover showing the face of a white girl when the main character of the book is black.
The author, Justine Larbalestier, explains the situation very well here. The basics: the publisher felt that books with black people on the cover don't sell well, and they wanted a photo of a girl on the cover, so they went with a white girl. Since the book is about an obsessive liar trying to mend her ways, the publisher didn't feel that having a mismatch between the cover and the character's description of herself was a big deal.

I work in publishing, so I understand that cover images are very important to a book's commercial success. And as writers we should all be concerned about our commercial success because, after all, we want our work to reach people and we want to get book contracts in the future. But c'mon. There are clearly ways to satisfy the needs of the marketers and the integrity of the book. (The sad fact that racism affects book buying is a whole 'nother matter.)

That said, one positive thing about this controversy is that people are talking about the book. I, for one, am going to read Liar, which I may not have heard of if it weren't for the ill-chosen cover. Best Blogger Tips