Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Last Day of the Year Edition

1. finding goals instead of resolutions
2. not drinking and driving
3. clean slates
4. having a friend who understands (then mocks) the jinx involved in her declaring that 2014 will be my year, then backpedals just enough to be fairly hilarious (hi, Nan!)
5. finding 1,825 more things that don't suck next year

Monday, December 30, 2013

Two Extra Things That Really Really Don't Suck (The Crafty Poet and The Daily Poet)

If I were forced to use five words to sum up Diane Lockward's new craft book The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop or The Daily Poet: Day-by-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano, I would do so like this: five poems in three days. Lucky for me, I'm not required to use just five words to talk about these two books. Lucky for you, too.

I don't know about you, but I tend to write in spurts. Sometimes, the bursts have artificial boundaries, like committing to writing a poem a day for the month of April, or doing deliberate work in preparation for giving a workshop or attending a retreat. Other times, the bursts are obsessive, subject-driven weeks or months where I wrestle a topic on the page until one or both of us are exhausted. In general, I'm either reading a lot or writing a lot, but seldom both. When I'm being generous with myself, I think of my reading periods as "lying fallow," allowing myself to soak up some nutrients before I produce more crops. (When I'm not being generous with myself, I think of these periods as "being lazy," or "fooling myself," but that's another post for another day.)

I set out to deliberately change the pace in autumn, deciding to devote those three months to pretty much reading nothing but poetry and seeing what happened. I was fairly well spent by the end of the summer: after over two years of mourning, during which I wrote some of my most difficult (and strongest) poems, I had suddenly come back into myself in terms of poetry. I could think on a large scale again, had used that newly rediscovered space in my head to reconnect with some poets I love, had found my way into using those new, difficult poems to anchor a full-length manuscript. The book felt—and continues to feel—right to me, like I've found the proper way to present this work, but at the same time, I came out the other side with what might be the least-favorite question of any artist anywhere: Now what? This was quickly followed by my second-least-favorite question: What if I don't have anything else to say?

And thus All-Poetry Autumn was born. Toward the end of the summer, I picked up The Crafty Poet. Born from Diane Lockward's almost ridiculously successful and useful monthly poetry newsletter and her blog, The Crafty Poet is a collection of craft tips, prompts, discussion, and sample poems from 100 poets of all stripes. A couple of sample poems follow each prompt, and each of the ten themed sections ends with a bonus prompt. The prompts are re-useable, open-ended, and largely craft-focused, so that instead of being encouraged to write about a favorite childhood pet or a lemon, readers are, for example, instructed to find two closely related words (like palace and castle) and see where they lead. "Get an object in there," we're told, and "This might be hard. All the better and the deeper the reward." Indeed.

I'm just as likely to begin drafting a poem just from the sheer experience of reading about them, or reading poems themselves—as response or argument, or because a phrase stokes something in me that I need to feed or quench—and The Crafty Poet is full of opportunities for that, too. Written with a knowledgeable audience in mind, it's the kind of book that can both help a poet grow and grow with her, a valuable addition to any poet's shelves.

My other favorite new poetry book is The Daily Poet, which came about through the prompts Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano developed as part of their writing practice. The book contains 366 prompts—a prompt for every day, including during leap years—and is organized so that each prompt stands alone on its page. Take it or leave it, there is your prompt for the day, although of course it's possible to leaf through the pages, looking for a prompt that feels right. I'm resisting the temptation to do that at the moment, because prompts can go stale on me if I read them too frequently, while pretending I'm bound to some sort of requirement can help me force myself out of my own ruts. After two years of writing poems of grief and poems that I thought at the time were about something innocuous like an insect or a crab and are actually all about grief, it's natural that I began to wonder if I knew how to write anything else anymore. So it was lovely to come across the prompt for December 27 (imagine you're an alien and describe what you see here) or December 28 (write about a favorite childhood food) and stretch my legs a bit. Did the poem about being an alien end up being instead a poem about forgetting? Why yes. Yes, it did. Did the poem about a favorite childhood food get all mixed up with two prompts from Lockward's book, one which asked me to write in the negative ("I am not…") and one which asked me to write an extravagant love poem? Yes again.

The joy of a really good prompt (or 366 of them) is that it leaves the writer free to tinker and invent, or to rebel and invert it and kick it out on its ass. Agodon and Silano are clear about their intent: read the prompt, then let the poem do what it wants. Not every prompt is going to lead to a draft, and not every draft is going to lead to a worthwhile poem, but every exercise is worth doing. In order to write well, we need to be willing to write new, and sometimes that means writing badly—we learn, after all, from our mistakes, not from what we do right. With The Crafty Poet and The Daily Poet at hand, I still have excuses—I'm too tired, I don't have room in my head, I'd rather have a beer—but I don't think I can ever again say I don't have anything to write about. In the past three days, I've found five things to write poems about. If you haven't picked up a copy yet—of one or both—you should. You won't regret it.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Last Monday of 2013 Edition

1. last-minute breakfast invitation from a good friend
2. being able to help out another friend
3. people who still have their Christmas lights up and on
4. being happy with where you are
5. patience*

*theoretical

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Sunday Morning Random Edition

1. getting inspiring/artistic emails from inspiring/artistic friends
2. how thin the Sunday paper is without all the pre-Christmas inserts
3. a quick 4-mile run
4. getting together with friends for the last regular-season game
5. realizing that the Pats played better without me listing a #5 last week.*

*Oh, Wes. You'll always be #5 in my heart.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

All-Poetry Autumn Wrap-Up and Link Festival

I'm going to say right up front that I didn't go about All Poetry Autumn in a particularly methodical way. A responsible blogger-poet would have kept track of the poetry she read, the poetry she wrote, all the ways in which she honored her totally-invented-for-no-apparent-reason process. I didn't do any of that, although I can tell you that APA 2013 was a staggering success from my perspective.

For one thing, it kept me focused on poetry, an often-difficult task during the Fall semester. I love me some fiction, especially some Scandinavian crime fiction (which is, by the way, not at all limited to that girl and her tattoo, a book I couldn't make it through), and I have a couple of Jo Nesbo-with-a-slash-through-the-o books that have been sitting in my iPad since the end of the summer. When I'm teaching, I regularly want some non-academic reading, books I can enjoy without thinking about them too much, the literary equivalent of a popcorn movie (although my standards for such are, I've come to learn, higher than average). Or Runner's World, back issues of which are also stacked up on my iPad. I knew going into the end of September that trying to focus on poetry during these past three months was going to be tough—it's basically the toughest time of my year to do something like that. But I'm a girl who's been known to enjoy proving herself, so there you go.

I had some rules, but not many: because I get paid to read student essays and other preparatory stuff for my teaching, I couldn't just not read prose. So APA had to apply to my non-academic reading. I also decided that reading prose geared toward my poetry was also permissible, as long as it was no stretch at all to explain it. I'm working on an essay about place in poetry—an aspect of my own work that's pretty obvious to anyone who's read more than a couple of my poems—so I had no trouble justifying my reading of Bachelard's The Poetics of Space, for example, or Abram's The Spell of the Sensuous (which is also about place, even though it sounds like a Harlequin romance novel about a rebellious witch and the ruggedly handsome warlock tasked with taming her). Diane Lockward's excellent craft book The Crafty Poet hasn't left my bedside table since it arrived, even though it contains essays as well as poems. The other thing that doesn't leave my nightstand? A notebook and a pen, because all three of these books prompted poems of my own, exactly the kind of result APA was intended to achieve.

In general, though, I read poetry. Lots and lots of poetry. I'm in the middle of Donald Revell's Pennyweight Windows: New and Selected Poems, which is currently taking pride of place beside my bed. Right here on the breakfast tray I use as a lap desk, there are three books: a collection of Paul Celan poems (70 Poems, translated by Michael Hamburger), Mary Ruefle's Trances of the Blast, and an anthology of poems by runners which I happen to have work in: Bearers of Distance. I've also read Robert Hass' The Apple Trees at Olema, a book by fellow Cider Press Review editor Catherine Carter (The Swamp Monster at Home), Thom Gunn's Boss Cupid, which I must have read a dozen times now, the National Book Awards finalists The Big Smoke (Adrian Matejka) and Black Aperture (Matt Rasmussen), and tons of others. Some of them left me a little cold, some of them (like Black Aperture) left me gobsmacked. Some of them were recent and some of them had been kicking around on my shelves for years. Some of them were me returning to books I'd been meaning to get around to re-reading (like Catherine's book, or Gunn's). All of them were worth my time.

I also wrote poetry—it's too soon yet to say if any of it is worth reading, but it's been written. Or begun, at least. And I'm happy with some of the drafts. I revised older poems, some of which I hadn't previously really known how to handle. What's more, I filled up my tank with ways to think about my own work and the work of others. I found some new-to-me voices to admire. I kept poetry coming off the shelf for sales and coming out of the stacks at the library.


So, would I do it again? Absolutely. I have just begun to read prose again, skimming through an excellent and potentially dangerous (and much-longed-for) baking cookbook I received for Christmas, and spending the moments before sleep last night with the (signed!) copy of Lawrence Block's newest Bernie Rhodenbarr novel my brother sent me, which is always a good time, if a quick read. And the Nesbo books await, along with those back issues of Runner's World. Then again, the Celan translations are right here, next to my left hand, and I used part of an Amazon gift certificate to pick up Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano's already-essential book The Daily Poet, which offers a different prompt for every day of the year. I've drafted three poems in the past two days, and worked on revisions, and thought about my editorial work and my own writing in multiple new ways, so maybe some of that prose will have to wait a little longer…

Five Things that Don't Suck, Random Edition

1. old-fashioned snail mail
2. thinking about new goals
3. avoiding the word "resolution" if at all possible
4. puppies, kittens, and pretty much all other baby animals
5. the idea of writing a phone number on a matchbook so someone can call you from a pay phone in the rain at night*

*probably in black and white, most likely while wearing a hat and a topcoat because he's probably Humphrey Bogart 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Funky Dancers Edition

1. Robert Downey, Jr.
2. George Clinton
3. Anyone who was ever on Soul Train
4. toddlers
5. James Brown

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Boxing Day Edition

1. PJs
2. leisurely cups of coffee (yes, multiple)
3. reading new books
4. gradually finding homes for various little treasures
5. naps

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Ho Ho Ho Edition

1. Lou Rawls' jazzy "Little Drummer Boy"
2. Dean Martin's drunk, inexplicably German-accented "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
3. quiet mornings and boisterous afternoons
4. or vice-versa
5. getting a little teary at "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and/or "White Christmas"

*No judging! It's Christmas! And if you're naughty today, the Repo Elves will come and take away your gifts.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, In my Kitchen Part III Edition

1. chocolate peppermint cookies
2. salted caramel cashew shortbread*
3. pan a l'ancienne
4. three different kinds of homemade ice cream**
5. English muffins

*because seriously, my friends. Seriously.
**caramel gelato; peppermint stick; vanilla

Monday, December 23, 2013

On Making a List, Checking it (More Than) Twice, and Finding the Right Word for You

Some of you might know about Lisa Romeo's blog—I wrote a guest post for her a little while ago. She posts some great stuff both for and by writers, and one thing in particular that caught my eye recently was this post about I Did It lists. An I Did It list works differently from a To Do list: instead of listing the things you want to do, or should do, or would feel better to get off your conscience about not doing, you list the things you have done. This is especially appealing to me because I tend to start all my To Do lists by listing one or two things I've already done that day, for the sole purpose of being able to immediately cross them off the list. I may have other strengths, but I am amazing at crossing things off a list.

Lisa's list is geared specifically toward her writing, and before I started to compose my own list, I decided to take the same focus. Within just a few minutes, I had a fairly sizeable list, and it's grown over the past couple of days as I've thought of other things to add to it. Some of them are relatively little, like recording myself reading a friend's poem for a website or writing a blurb for another friend's chapbook. Some would be easy to overlook because they seem so obvious, like writing poems or keeping this blog. Others are huge—putting together a manuscript I'm really proud of, doing the early work for an anthology that a friend of mine and I are editing together, getting the chapbook Dear Turquoise—a small collection of poems that are incredibly important to me—out into the world.

But I'm not going to share the list. I've already shared more of it than I'd intended to. More on that in a minute.

Another thing I've been thinking about recently is my word for 2014. The poet Molly Fisk came up with this idea—or maybe she stole it from another poet, I don't know. We tend to share these things. Hell, it's not like the FTTDS lists were my idea, and look where they've gotten me. The idea is not to pick a word, but to let a word pick you. Last year, my word was towards (because I grew up reading a lot of British fiction—if you'd prefer to think "toward," I won't judge you. Much). I don't much remember how it came to me, but I knew it was right when it got there—I needed to be moving towards something. Anything would do. I was still struggling with grief, I had put my manuscript aside after having fiddled with it so much that it became unworkable, I was feeling stuck. At the same time, though, I was moving—running, getting stronger, getting healthier. It's not that I saw light at the end of the tunnel last December, because I didn't. I wasn't even looking for it. But I knew what I needed anyway, somehow.

This year, when Molly started asking on Facebook whether our word for 2014 had found us yet, I realized I hadn't been thinking about it at all. Once I put the invitation out there, however, it walked right in. My word for 2014 is yes.

Here's where it gets a little strange: part of finding my word for the year is looking up its etymology. Yes seems like a no-brainer. It's agreement, right? "Do you want a million dollars?" "Why yes, yes I do. Thank you!" But it's not that simple. Yes is also a way—and a strong one at that—of negating someone else's statement: "You don't like avocados." "Yes, I do!" Not only that, but while its roots are in the word yea, it was a more powerful form of agreement than yea. Think about it as the difference between yeah or yup and yes: if my response when Jed asked me to marry him was "Yeah," we probably wouldn't have gotten married (my response might have been "Yay!" but that's beside the point).

So yes doesn't always mean "I agree." It runs the gamut from absolutely to absolutely not. It's a flexible, contradictory word, and anyone who knows me knows I love the contradictory—I love that sort of mushy middle, where everything gets messy. That's where all the interesting stuff happens. And I really love the idea of having a word for the year that is itself so contradictory and complicated, that its false simplicity is part of that contradiction.

The I Did It list is a way of saying yes—and yea, and Yay!—to the things that I made happen this year. Or to the things I allowed to happen, because some of my accomplishments for 2013 are really more about giving things the opportunity to happen than they are about actively doing things. They're also about the work I did in order to be able to give them the opportunity to happen. If I had won an award, for example (I didn't), it would be easy for me to leave that off the list, because I didn't actually do anything—in grammatical terms, I was the object; the event occurred in passive voice: an award was given to me. But if I wrote the poem (and did all the reading and drafting and following-of-dead-ends and such that comes before and with writing a poem) and revised it and then put it out there into the hands of someone who was in a position to give it an award…well, then. That's active voice right there, right? I won an award. So that kind of thing—stuff I didn't do myself—goes on the list, as does the work I did to make it happen.

I'm still working on my list. I'll probably work on it right up to the end. Just during the time it's taken me to draft this post, I've added seven items to the list. SEVEN. To a list I thought was complete yesterday. And yesterday, a close friend of mine told me she hoped I'd share the list when I had it where I wanted it.

Despite the fact that I had found my word—yes—just an hour or so before I received that particular email, I told her no. I thought about it for maybe a minute: Am I supposed to say yes to this? Am I already turning my back on my word for 2014 before the year has even started? Then I realized that there are different ways of saying yes.

It is far too easy for us to compare ourselves to other people. Writers are particularly bad about this—maybe we pay more attention than non-writers do, or maybe we're just more open about it. We compare ourselves all the time. So-and-so just got her third book accepted at Such-and-Such Press, and I didn't even like the first two. Famous-for-Being-Famous Man just signed a book deal at Major Publishing House and he's not even going to write his own damn books. My Best Friend got nominated for a Pushcart and I didn't and I feel like a jerk for not being happy enough for her. My Other Friend is doing this or that cool thing that I haven't been asked to do. Guy-I-Only-Know-From-Facebook is writing for Salon. If you write, you've probably engaged in these comparisons, and you might not even know you're doing it. Sometimes you might come up well ("I'm way better than he is!") and sometimes you might not ("I could never write anything that good!"), but it's human nature, and it's compounded by the fact that writers by nature are observant beasts. We notice things. We're good at it. Combine that with how few writers—especially poets—can make their living writing, and things can get very, very ugly.

In no way did I want to be a part of that, especially not with my friends, people I love. It is far too easy, I told my friend, to compare our own work to one of these lists and then bludgeon ourselves with that list. It's especially tempting to do so without writing a list of our own, because we "don't have anything to put on it" because we "haven't done anything." If we're in the right place, we can celebrate another writer's accomplishments, especially if that writer is a good friend. If we're in the wrong place, we can create a circle of self-loathing: resenting ourselves for not measuring up, resenting the other writer for her accomplishments, resenting ourselves for not feeling generous or supportive enough, which means we don't measure up….

You can see where this is going.

So I said yes to my friend—and to all the other friends in that particular email string—by saying no to that specific request. I said yes to encouraging her to make her own list, and yes to being a source of support instead of a potential weapon. I said yes to my own list, yes to recognizing that I have kicked ass this year and deserve to feel happy instead of vaguely guilty about it because I have friends who are struggling, yes to taking the things I truly deserve and deserving the things I take. The coming year is the Year of Yes, but before we get there, I hope to spend another post or two talking about where I've been—how the running goals went, in particular, but also a report on the newly-ended All-Poetry Autumn.


Meanwhile, I'd encourage you to think about writing your own I Did It list—as a writer, in another aspect of your choosing, or just for the year in general. I'd also encourage you to see if a word for 2014 finds you. Open the door, as Molly Fisk says, and it will find you.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Christmas Eve Eve Edition

1. how good the house smells
2. getting good news, even if it screws up your sleep
3. news so good you can't even talk about it in public
4. knowing the power of the jinx
5. being vague*

*Don't tell my first-year comp students, please. They should think being vague sucks.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, In my Kitchen Part II Edition

1. chocolate chip cookies
2. brownies
3. candied orange peels dipped in dark chocolate
4. candied lemon peels (not dipped in anything yet...contemplating)
5. sugar cookies

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, In my Kitchen Edition

1. spritz
2. molasses spice cookies
3. chocolate crinkle cookies
4. orange cinnamon biscotti
5. homemade English muffins

Friday, December 20, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Out for Breakfast Edition

1. a husband who gets up early enough to go out for breakfast
2. the distinct possibility that the waitress will be wearing some sort of festive, headband-based, Christmas-themed thing on her head
3. good coffee made by someone else, refilled as necessary
4. blueberry pancakes*
5. OJ
*may not indicate actual breakfast order this morning

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Forgot to Name Yesterday's Edition Edition

1. not caring that I forgot to name the edition yesterday
2. feeling the love over the Dear Turquoise chapbook from poets and non-poets alike
3. not having to do that elf-on-the-shelf thing
4. having three kinds of cookie dough in the freezer, ready to be dropped onto trays
5. making more today (maybe)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck

1. meeting a friend for lunch for the first time in way too long
2. a December thaw that lasts for days
3. drinking coffee out of a mug that has a kitten in a Santa hat on it
4. Jed pretending to be afraid of the kitten
5. kittens

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Whoops Edition

1. being so caught up in fun things that you forget to post a 5 things list until, um, 6PM
2. putting together the Christmas cookie list
3. sampling new contenders for the list
4. homemade English muffins
5. not having to go out in this weather

Monday, December 16, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Some Days Are Harder than Others Edition

1. ice melt (dog-safe)
2. Christmas lights reflecting off the ice-covered snow
3. those Yak Trak things you can strap onto your shoes for traction. You know, on ice
4. being a grown-up who can decide to put off grocery shopping until tomorrow
5. the hot beverage of your choice

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Slushy Edition

1. Slushies
2. being able to shovel just by pushing the slush out of the way (so very thankful we didn't get more snow before it started to rain)
3. hot cocoa afterwards
4. Christmas lights
5. Austin Collie and DJ Williams. I hope.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

F-f-f-f-five Th-th-things that D-d-d-d-don't S-s-s-s-s-suck, Chattering Teeth Edition

1. dogs who are smart enough to sleep in when it's really cold out
2. that $15 wool coat I bought a month or so ago
3. layers
4. fleece-lined anything
5. warm slippers*

*I don't think Santa reads this blog, but I figure it's worth a shot

Friday, December 13, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Friday the 13th Edition

1. black cats
2. stepping on cracks
3. three- or five-leaf clovers
4. face-down pennies
5. not believing in superstitions

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Baby It's Cold Outside Edition

1. sending my brother a text that reads "Have a holly, jolly Christmas, and in case you didn't hear, HAVE A HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS!!!" and having him reply that he did the same thing that morning when he heard Burl Ives singing
2. getting a private joke "Happy holidays..." message from his wife
3. discovering that the super-warm wool cardigan my friend Julie gave me buttons all the way up into a turtleneck
4. coconut carrot soup with a healthy dose of sambal oelek in it
5. getting my act together, Christmas-wise

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Slept in Edition

1. pumpkin bread
2. fluffy bathrobes
3. cafe latte
4. slippers
5. a good book

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Last Day on Campus Edition

1. seeing a truly gorgeous sunrise this morning
2. immediately thinking that it will be a while before I see one again because I will be able to sleep through the next 30 - 45 of them
3. poetry, and being able to write some
4. long runs, and having time to do more of them
5. the return of the slow-cup-of-coffee morning

Monday, December 9, 2013

On Picking Nits and Making Picks

Some of you might know that I'm the Managing Editor at Cider Press Review. We put out an online journal, a "best of" print edition, and two or three books a year, almost all of which come through the two contests we run annually. The Cider Press Book Award is independently judged—Caron Andregg and I (and occasionally one or two of the other editors) read through all of the manuscripts that come in, gradually narrow down the field, and send a selection of finalists to a judge who makes the final decision. The Editors Prize follows much the same process, with the exception that Caron and I decide which book to publish. We've received some fantastic manuscripts, and every time we come down to the final cut, be it choosing a pack of finalists or choosing which manuscript we'll publish next, we have to let other excellent manuscripts go.

If you don't know any of this, I'll forgive you. My own parents didn't know, and now that they're retired, it's basically their job to go around bragging about me when I'm out of earshot.

My time on the editorial staff at CPR has taught me surprising things about being a poet. First of all, I don't think it's possible to read that much poetry—and good poetry at that—without developing one's own craft. Reading both the full-length manuscripts and the individual poems submitted for the journal force me not just to consider but often to express—and clearly—the qualities I value in a poem. Sometimes, it's easy to make cuts: a poet hasn't honed the craft enough or is sending out work before it's ready; a poet can't be bothered to read the guidelines; a writer—and this lack of basic give-a-shittedness amazes me every time—submits fiction or creative non-fiction to our all-poetry journal; a poem is strong but in a style or mode that I don't appreciate (in which case I pass it along to Caron, who makes the call—it helps that she and I often have different aesthetics); a poem is, for whatever reason, simply not the right fit for us.

Other times, it's more difficult. If a poem loses me as a reader, where does it happen, and why? I care about both clarity and mystery, and that can be a delicate balance, like climbing a cliff—if there isn't enough on the page to give me a handhold, I'm going to fall; if there's too much on the page, I'm going to get bored and jump just so I have something to do. Like this hypothetical cliff-climbing, I'm happy to work, as long as it's not work the poet should have done for me. I'm happy to be trusted as a reader, but that trust is not a one-way proposition: I also need to trust the poet as a writer. For example, if a poem is written in sentences—that is, if it generally conforms to the rules of English rather than taking liberties for artistic effect—I'm going to care about grammar. I want my poets to know the difference between lie and lay, between lightning and lightening (an error I didn't realize was so common until the year I spent editing a long-gone journal called The Lightning Bell), between every day and everyday. Can I overlook one if the poem is great? Yes, but I'm going to ask the poets to change it in print, and I can probably tell myself it's a typo even though I know deep in my liver that it's not. Can I overlook more than one? Odds aren't good, my friends. Not good at all.

I want surprise. I want a new take on the world. I want to be moved. I want to feel something—almost anything besides irritation or ennui will do. I want to keep reading. I want to be compelled to read a single poem again, to read the next poem in the manuscript, to read the manuscript again. And let's be honest—I end up reading the winning manuscript over and over again during the editorial process. I want a manuscript that I'll love just as much, if not more, when it goes to print as I did when I opened the file (or the envelope containing the hard copy) the first time. These qualities are difficult to itemize. What, exactly, goes into making a surprise? And how does a poet strike the balance between "surprise" and "gotcha—look how clever I am"? How does one poem about a mother dying in a hospital leave me bored and another leave me moved?

More than anything else, I've come to believe that it's a matter of deliberateness. I want every move a poet makes to feel deliberate (for that matter, I want every writer to feel deliberate as well, which pulls a lot of "but the plot is so good!" fiction off the market for me. Ugh. Sorry, Dan Brown). I know this is a fallacy—poetry is an art, and the creation real art often involves accidents. So there's a deliberate quality to the poet's choices—to make a sonnet that conforms to the traditional rules of a sonnet, say, or one that breaks the rules and still resonates within the form; to break the conventions of grammar; to arrange a manuscript in a certain way; to encourage or force me to leap with the poet if I want to keep my footing (man, do I love when that happens well). But poets also need a deliberate quality to their accidents—the accidents need to feel intentional once the final poem or manuscript is on the page. If you've ever heard Faulkner's advice that you must kill all your darlings, I suspect this is what he was talking about: the beautiful lines that don't fit, the places where we fall in love with the sound of our own voice, the image that maybe sparked a poem but no longer feels essential. These places often begin as accidents. The deliberation comes in when we decide whether that accident fits in a way that will help us illuminate the poem in revision, in a way that strengthens the poem.

And here's where we come to the this-shouldn't-matter-but-it-does-it-really-really-does section of this particular post: your entire submission should feel deliberate.

Look. We all make mistakes. We address a cover letter to the wrong person or reference the wrong publication. We think we've attached the poems as requested but forgot to double-check and have to send an oh-my-goodness-I'm-sorry-I'm-such-an-idiot email with the poems attached (hint: attach the poems first, poets. Always add the attachment before you compose the email). We send simultaneous submissions to publications that don't accept them. That sort of thing happens, and, unless the editor is a total douchebag, it's generally all right. Avoid it if you can, because you want to be the kind of poet who makes an editor's life easier, not more difficult. But if you pay careful attention to your submissions in general, the very occasional error, handled professionally, will slide right by.

Submissions to the most recent CPR Book Award recently closed, and Caron and I have been reading a lot of manuscripts. Hundreds. And I've realized in recent days how grateful I am to the poets who pay attention to the things I list below. Please note that violating these tips won't—usually—get a manuscript pulled from consideration. But following them might help it rise a little closer to the top. Editors are generally doing this work out of love—I don't pull a paycheck from CPR, and neither do the vast majority of editors out there. We're doing this work because we love it. When poets follow this advice, I generally don't notice. But I do notice when they ignore it. So here is what I do, when sending out my own manuscript, to try to be the kind of poet editors want to work with:

·         I proofread the manuscript, and then I proofread it again. Then I send it to someone else (or multiple someones else) to proofread. And then I proofread it again, often by reading it out loud. And something will probably still slip by, but I will have caught the others. The result? A manuscript that looks—say it with me now—deliberate instead of half-assed, one where the typo is clearly a typo because the rest of the manuscript is so carefully assembled. One that the editors know they won't have to do a lot of fiddly work with should they accept it. If you're not good with grammar, ask a grammatically inclined friend to read it before you send it out. If you miss your own typos, send it to someone who won't.

·         I follow the guidelines. If a press wants two—or three, or fifty—cover pages, that's what I send them. If the editors want the cover page with my identifying information clipped to the manuscript, I clip it. If they want it separate from the manuscript, I don’t clip it. I read the guidelines as I assemble my submission, and then I read them again. Most publishers fall into two categories: ones who read blind and ones who don't. I keep two versions of my manuscript on file. One is anonymous and has no identifying information. The other has two cover sheets, one with my name and contact information and one with just the title of the book. It's not rocket science—the editors have reasons for asking what they ask, so just follow their guidelines. It's also the first impression you make with an editor. Follow. The. Guidelines.

·         I follow the editors' preferences. This is slightly different from the advice about guidelines, above. A preference often isn't presented as clearly as a guideline. If they accept both online and mailed submissions, but state a preference—in any way—for one or the other, that's the way I go. One publisher might suggest that online submissions save postage and trees. Another might charge a higher fee for online submissions, to cover the cost of printing and/or the submissions management software. One might state outright that they're old-school, or that they read the submissions in hard copy, gathered around a table. Another might begrudgingly include a mailing address. Whatever they seem to (or clearly) prefer, that's what I go with. Remember: it's about making their lives easier.

·         I include full contact information. We recently received a manuscript—via post—that didn't include a full return address anywhere on it. Not on the envelope, not on the manuscript itself, not on the check. There was no state or zip code listed, no email, and the phone number didn't include an area code. If you're submitting online and the guidelines request an anonymous manuscript, upload an anonymous manuscript—the submission manager software will keep everything straight, can be set so that your personal information isn't visible to the readers (at CPR, our submissions manager puts the word "blind" in the author field for us), and then can be reset so that the personal information reappears. If you're submitting a hard copy, make sure your contact information appears somewhere.

·         I don't wait until the last day of the submission period. Editors are often trying to keep ahead of the pile of submissions—by sending in my manuscript a couple of weeks early (or earlier than that, if time and budget allow), I'm giving them a chance to read my manuscript at their leisure, rather than as one of a sometimes overwhelmingly huge stack of manuscripts. Yes, it means a longer wait for a response. But think a minute. What reader would you rather have: one who needs to get on to the next manuscript and the next and the next (and who has quite possibly already read several before getting to yours) or one who's relaxed, maybe sipping a cup of coffee, who's feeling good about herself because she's able to get some work done ahead of the onslaught? That's what I thought.

·         I pay the reading fee, if there is one. Small presses function on their reading fees, because so many poets are more interested in getting published than in actually reading poems (which…um…think about it. If you aren't reading poems, who the hell do you think will want to read yours?). Fees pay for printing, and for shipping copies of the winning book to all the entrants, and for getting the winning book out to reviewers, award committees, and such. Fees do not—and I can personally assure you of this—buy the editors fancy cars. Or, usually, lunch. If you have every intention of paying the fee, but just don't have the time to do it now, stop. You don't have time to submit. Don't make an editor hunt you down for a reading fee. You're taking up time that could be better spent reading your poems.

·         I buy a book, if I can. If the reading fee covers my choice of a book, I choose one. If a contest comes with two versions of a reading fee—a slightly lower one that's just for the contest and a higher one that includes the (often discounted) price of a book, I choose the higher one and get a book. This won't make me more popular, or make my manuscript receive better consideration. It just makes me a better poet because I'll be reading more. And THAT will make me more popular, and make my next manuscript receive better consideration.

·         I learned how to format a table of contents. And I'm now a wizard. If you're a friend of mine, I'll format your TOC for free. It will take me 10 minutes, and you will be able to alter it at will. I learned this valuable skill in an expensive and time-consuming way and it will require seven years of your life to perfect, like becoming a surgeon or a top-level athlete. Oh, wait. None of that is true. I just googled "make a table of contents in Word" and learned how to do it. It looks a thousand times more professional. And yes, the twits at Microsoft change how it works every few years (this is, for the record, the third time I've become a wizard at formatting a TOC because it's never the same process, so when you do your googling, you might want to include which version of the software you're using). And yes, the tool is really not designed for poetry manuscripts. Get over it.

·         I trust the reader (in this case, the editorial staff). I recently read a manuscript that included footnotes explaining everything. I don't want to get into specifics, so I'm going to make up an example that is really not too far off. If my hypothetical manuscript contains several references to my visits to Italy, I might include a note that explains that a title of one of my poems is taken from a museum card describing the Laocoon of Rome (it's a sculpture—just work with me here). I will most emphatically not include a note explaining that lasagna is an Italian dish that layers pasta with any number of other ingredients, often—but not always—including meat, cheese, or vegetables and some kind of sauce. I especially won't do so if the poem allows a reader to understand the definition of that word through context. Don't be that guy, poets. Just don't. I know you think I'm exaggerating for effect here. I assure you I am not.

·         I'm polite. Thank you for your time and consideration takes about 2 seconds to type into the "comments" field of a submission manager. When I received word that my new manuscript was short-listed at the first publisher it went to (yay, me!), I sent an email back, thanking them for letting me know and thanking them again for their time and consideration. Again, this won't take my manuscript any further in the competition (and I'll know in the next couple of weeks whether it's made it into the top 6 and, therefore, is going to the judge, so go ahead and cross those fingers for me), but it makes me a better poet citizen. Should my manuscript get chosen somewhere, the editors will already know what kind of a poet I'll be to work with. I'll be the kind of poet who wants to make their lives easier (where have we heard this before?) and as a result, I'll feel confident in standing my ground should we disagree about some aspect of the book.

Here's what it really boils down to: turning this manuscript into a book is not about me. Writing the poems? That can be about me. Arranging them? Sure (although I have advice for that, too, I'm going to save it for another post because this one is already far too long and there's also a plethora of advice—often contradictory—about arranging manuscripts out there on the internet). Making decisions about the final content and quality of the book, should it get that far? Absolutely. But before I can get to that last step, some wise editor needs to agree to publish the manuscript. Someone needs to see what I see in it or, with luck, see more than I see in it. And in that sense, turning the manuscript into a book is about the editor, not the poet. Be a good poet, yes. Be the best damn poet you can muster. But also, be a good prospect. Will it make the difference between getting your book published or not? Probably not. But can it help get you to the top of the slush pile? Absolutely.


Five Things that Don't Suck, Up Too Early Edition

1. the fact that Butler isn't really sick, just anxious about the housefly*
2. caffeine
3. beginning the semester wrap-up today
4. thinking about how big a tree I can talk Jed into this year
5. comfy-warm socks
*don't ask

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Bonus: One of the Dear Turquoise Poems

I'm ridiculously pleased to have one of my Dear Turquoise poems up at Redheaded Stepchild, one of my favorite online journals. Take a peek if you like. And I've got a new post ready to go up here on the blog soon--probably tomorrow.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Last (?) Day of Grading for Fall '13 Edition

1. the magic of math, whereby grading 1 extra paper yesterday means I grade 2 fewer today than yesterday*
2. giant cups of foamy coffee
3. the vaguely inappropriate coffee mug my sister-in-law sent from South Korea one Christmas
4. making pumpkin bread for the writing faculty**
5. Aqib Talib
*It's sad that yelling "Math!" is nowhere near as much fun as yelling "Science!" but there ya go. It's still more fun than not yelling anything.
**Shh! Don't tell them! I do it every year, but we need to pretend it's a surprise!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Erroneous Forecast Edition

1. waking up to find no snow
2. no ice, either
3. not having to scrape anything
4. big, fluffy bathrobes
5. having that end-of-the-semester snow-day sort of feeling without--have I mentioned?--snow

Friday, December 6, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Last Day of Classes Edition

1. the mood on campus
2. finding students asleep all over the library, often in semi-hilarious positions and/or with semi-hilarious makeshift "beds"
3. feeling prepared to deal with the semester-end onslaught
4. Irish tea
5. students asking thoughtful questions

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Off-Campus Edition

1. canceled appointments that leave my morning suddenly free
2. getting stuff DONE ahead of the pile of grading that's coming to me in pretty much exactly 24 hours
3. coffee and the newspaper, because I'm old school like that
4. relatively warm (if grey) weather for the next couple of days
5. getting ready to shift into full-time poet mode for a few weeks

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Long Day/Long Week Edition

1. getting to talk to a good friend at the end of it
2. maybe getting a run in (finally!) a little later
3. waking up (if a little groggy) to an acceptance from one of your favorite online journals
4. drinking Chinese tea that came from a packet you can't read, in a travel mug given to you by a thoughtful former student (now friend)
5. parentheses

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Suddenly Quiet Edition

1. coffee
2. a long, slow morning*
3. Moussie's determined wait in the car so as not to be accidentally left behind
4. the prospect of an afternoon nap*
5. getting through the last gasp of the semester, one day at a time
*we'll just ignore the fact that it's long and slow because I was up at 5:30. 
**we'll also ignore the fact that it's unlikely to happen. The prospect is what's important here, people

Monday, December 2, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Last (But Not Least) Week of Classes Edition

1. um...the last week of classes. Duh.
2. the scent of old Chinese food and desperation that begins to permeate the library during over the next two weeks*
3. walking into the library at 8 in the morning and finding students sleeping everywhere**
4. being caught up on grading***
5. the promise of Indian food at the last dept. meeting of the semester
*Okay, so it kinda sucks. But it's also kinda funny
**Seriously, guys, just go to bed
***Until Friday, when all hell breaks loose

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Last Day of Thanksgiving Weekend Edition

1. gearing up for the last week of classes
2. finishing up the leftover vegetables in an awesome breakfast hash
3. being made aware--however terribly--of how precious this world is, and the people in it
4. having coffee ready when I wake up (luxury!)
5. Dan Connolly, especially that time he ran with the ball like a little kid

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Random Edition

1. almonds
2. those long fluffy duster things you can use to get cobwebs off ceiling fans
3. Guglielmo Marconi*
4. having a fire in the fireplace
5. weekends so long you have to think a minute to figure out what day it is

*and not just because you can pretend his name is pronounced Googley-Elmo and that maybe he's not the inventor who helped develop long-distance radio but instead the inspiration for googley eyes. But that, too.

Friday, November 29, 2013

On Thankfulness, Pie, and More Thankfulness

Yesterday, Jed and I hosted our fourth consecutive Thanksgiving dinner. We've been hosting Thanksgiving since our second year in this house, and each year we invite anyone who wants to join us—family, friends, an assortment of international students who would otherwise be spending the entire weekend in the almost-totally-empty dorms on campus. I'm a good baker and a good cook, and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love cooking for it; I love hauling out both sets of good china and the silverware; I love owning 30 matching napkins. I love the whole turkey-filled shebang, and I feel strongly that this particular meal should be cooked by someone who feels the exact same way. Every year, we get together with people we love and just enjoy some community. While I suppose there are multiple ways in which this could go wrong, it doesn't happen here—the family members absorb the friends (or "chosen family," as we like to think of them) and the students. The students are charming and often hilarious. The dogs get extra belly rubs. There's pie. Everyone seems to enjoy themselves, and when it's all over and I've come home from dropping the students back at campus, I put on some PJs and pour myself a glass of wine and enjoy having my feet up.

When I was a kid, we went to my grandparents' for Thanksgiving, and for every other major holiday for that matter. Some of my happiest memories are of the cousins sitting around the same table. The kids had their own table in the living room; the adults ate in the dining room. One year, Turquoise got promoted to the grown-up table and was back with us by the time dessert rolled around. One year, after my grandparents had moved to the beach house full time, and we were all basically adults, and the cousins all still sat at a separate table, two of the younger cousins set off on a mission to secure an entire pie for the kids—what followed was an elaborately yet spontaneously choreographed dance, with Jonathan grabbing the pie while Eric distracted the adults, then a hand-off while Jonathan chatted innocently with an uncle, then another hand-off and another conversation, on and on until we erupted in cheers in the sunroom when the two of them arrived, victorious, with the pie. (Note: it was the cheering that did us in, because my dad heard it and came in to see what the fuss was about. Grown-ups: 1; Cousins: 0.)

I've been trying to think if Turquoise was there for that Thanksgiving—I think it was before she moved to California, but I'm not sure. For that matter, I'm trying to remember if it was Thanksgiving or Christmas. If it weren't for the pie, it could have been almost any time—we often gathered in groups at the beach house, and for all the family's struggles, those times were always filled with laughter. The cousins grew up cracking each other up around the same table, whether we were wearing towels wrapped around our swimsuits in August or sweaters in December. But there was pie, so I know it wasn't summer. I hope Turquoise was there.

I can tell you this: Turquoise was here yesterday. In one of the last conversations we had before she died, she asked me if I would take her wedding silver—she wanted it to be well-used and well-loved, wanted it to go to someone who wouldn't find it a burden, to someone who got the same emotional recharge by gathering people around a table, to someone in the family. It was the same pattern our grandmother had, and she loved it. I told her I'd take it, and it arrived in April, almost a year after Turquoise died, in a small box along with a pair of pearl earrings. After a lifetime of postal correspondence—well over 30 years' worth—this was the last time I would go to my mailbox and find something from Turquoise. The package came, and I unrolled the felt bag that contained the silver. I took out a table knife and weighed it in my palm, then put it back. I opened the little plastic zip-bag that held the earrings, which were a surprise. I left the silver on the kitchen island and carried the earrings into the bedroom and put them, along with a necklace she had given me on the last day I saw her, on top of my jewelry box, where I tend to lay out the jewelry I plan to wear the next day.

And I stood in the bedroom and cried. Her death was as fresh to me as if it had just happened. There are always moments like that after a loss—I wake from a dream of her and mourn her again as I come back to reality, or I come across a picture of the two of us that captures something of what we were to each other at our best and my chest thickens and hardens until I want to howl. It doesn't happen anywhere near as often as it used to, and thoughts of her are likely to make me laugh instead of cry, but I am still astonished by her death, gobsmacked by the idea that someone so ludicrously vibrant is somehow not here anymore. Perhaps I've said this before, but I've begun to think some people are simply too big for this world to hold.

There are people who believe that the dead watch over us, that their appearances in our dreams are visits, that they leave us pennies or special birds or songs on the radio. I would find the thought very comforting if I thought it was true, but I don't. I really, really want to, but I can't. What I believe is that I have had the last contact I will ever have with Turquoise, that the rest of my life stretches out ahead of me without one of the people who helped define me from the moment I became aware of the world. Whether I believe in an afterlife or not—and despite the fact that I was raised with faith in one, at times of desperate grief it's easy to think of Heaven as a convenient lie invented to comfort the bereaved—it is now likely that I'll live as long without her as with her.

At the same time, she was here yesterday in a way. One of my sisters-in-law was wearing a bracelet made of pink stones. I have one just like it in green, a gift from one of Turquoise's closest friends, who gave it to Turquoise and then got it back after her death. Sue gave it to me because she couldn't bear to wear it, but I find it comforting. I wasn't wearing that bracelet yesterday, but I did wear the necklace Turquoise gave me during that last visit. And I asked my mom to make sure she set out Turquoise's silver at my place at the table—it was the first time it would be on the table since it came to me, and I wanted to be one of the first people to use it. I'm not sure why it mattered—Turquoise certainly wouldn't have cared; she just wanted it to be used, and used in a gathering like yesterday's.

Maybe because it's my grandmother's pattern, the silver felt natural in my hand. I have no idea how many times I've cut a piece of turkey with a knife weighted exactly like that one, or put a fork shaped exactly like that one in my mouth. For the most part, after I picked up the fork and knife for the first time, I didn't think about it at all. A student cracked a joke. Another smiled at me from halfway down a table so long it stretched past the length of the dining room and well into the living room.* Jed's mom called it a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. My dad helped someone finish off her pie. My brother-in-law and I discussed the secret of including mashed potatoes if one wants to create the perfect leftover sandwich. One of his sons handed me a turkey he made by tracing his hand on a piece of brown construction paper. I ate and laughed and tried to spend a minute consciously taking it all in.

I still think of Turquoise every day.  That will probably change eventually, but like most as-yet unfulfilled inevitabilities, I can't imagine it now. I do know that yesterday was our kind of day, hers and mine, and that she would have loved it.

*There's no kids' table at my house. Whether that's because I no longer qualify to sit at it yet would hate to be left out or because having 2 table-tall dogs precludes leaving the kids to their own devices is another essay for another day.


Five Things that Don't Suck, Black Friday Edition

1. not participating in this particular boost to the economy
2. wearing PJs all day
3. ALL DAY
4. leftover pie
5. hanging out with my folks, Jed, and 3 sleepy dogs

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Thanksgiving Edition

1. you
2. me
3. being related to people who happen to be family
4. gathering with people I love
5. pie

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Not Your Average Tuesday Edition

1. a short (if busy) day on campus before a long weekend
2. pumpkin in my oatmeal (who knew?)
3. all 3 dogs actually hanging out in their own beds
4. coffee instead of tea midweek*
5. coming home to the sounds of Jed vacuuming

*"Luxury"--but only if you use the Monty Python "We had to go live in the lake!" voice to say it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Getting Closer Edition

1. wrapping up 101 for the Thanksgiving break
2. getting the grocery shopping done
3. chair and table delivery
4. cleaning up the china
5. being so close I can almost taste the pie

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Pre-Thanksgiving Football Edition

1. breakfast with relatives I don't see often enough
2. not having the dogs wake me up at 3AM*
3. banana bread
4. not having a ton of stuff on the agenda
5. Tom Brady
*theoretical

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck,

1. my mom answering the question "What doesn't suck today?" with "Nothing sucks today."
2. my mom
3. the fish tank
4. this big warm wool sweater Julie gave me (hi, Julie!)
5. socks

Friday, November 22, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Parental Arrival Edition

1. stew
2. bread
3. seeing my parents for the first time in months
4. their hilarious little dog
5. the almost-certainty that Gracie will--daily--try to wedge herself into said hilarious little dog's hilariously little bed

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Pre-Arrival Edition

1. having a clean house
2. sleeping in a little bit before a busy day
3. knowing that my folks are on their way
4. knocking things off the to-do list
5. the fact that I just accidentally typed that as "the do-do list," which really isn't that different

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Mystery Edition

1. getting good news that you can't talk about yet*
2. not talking about it even if you could because you understand The Power of the Jinx
3. planning
4. scheming
5. coming up with ways to keep your mind off #1
*and might not talk about ever, because it's potentially a precursor to REALLY good news, and if that REALLY good news falls through, the bloom will be off the precursor rose, as it were. (Words is my business.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Random Edition

1. leaves
2. tea
3. the super-warm-made-to-measure socks my sister-in-law knitted for me
4. days where you can spend the whole day in PJs if you want to*
5. long soft skirts that make you feel like you're spending the whole day in PJs, but cause everyone to tell you how nice you look**
*note: not today
**suckas

Monday, November 18, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Ready for Some Football Edition

1. not dreading what is probably going to be a tough game
2. the vegetarian chili from Thug Kitchen (warning: TOTALLY adult language--google at your own risk--but the chili is awesome)
3. the possibility of a beer
4. the realization that eating out of the freezer in an attempt to make room for Thanksgiving also provides us with more available containers for leftovers
5. Rob Gronkowski

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Painting Edition

1. being outside all day
2. how good the shed looks
3. being ridiculously excited about how good the shed looks
4. the kind of clean you can get only after really hard work
5. painting clothes

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Gotham City Edition

1. Batkid
2. the paper the SF Chronicle put out
3. how completely generous people can be
4. the expression on the Riddler's face as he was being marched to the car
5. the fact that the Penguin was involved (because he's the best villain--sorry, Joker)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Random Edition

1. good news
2. friends and family who care about you
3. Italy
4. having just one week to go before your parents get here
5. thinking that #4 doesn't suck

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Off-Campus Edition

1. breakfast with a friend
2. jeans
3. the complete absence of any sort of meeting whatsoever
4. making Cookie Day preparations
5. beginning the serious prep for Thanksgiving guests

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Not-So-Random Edition

1. roasted vegetable soup with a little (or a lot of) Cholula
2. warm coats
3. hot tea
4. cute boots
5. toasty gloves

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Rain Rain Go Away Unless You Want to Hang Out a Bit Edition

1. it's not snow
2. being okay with just repeating #1 four times to fill out the list because that's how true it is
3. long skirts that feel like bathrobes but have everyone telling you how nice you look*
4. good writing weather
5. fleece-lined knee-highs

*suckas!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bonus: Guest Post at Lisa Romeo Writes

Hello there, poetry friends, process junkies, and various people who think I'm funny. I've got a guest post up at the great blog Lisa Romeo Writes. Technically, it's about how to handle working with a series, but if you know me, you probably know it's more about how impossible it is to handle working with a series. I hope you'll take a look.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Poppies Edition

1. veterans
2. service
3. families and other loved ones
4. those be-all-that-you-can-be Army commercials from the '70s
5. men* in uniform

*and women. I just don't appreciate the look as much on a personal level.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Falling Off the Wagon: Was She Pushed, or Did She Jump?

When you grow up with a mother who makes her living working with recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, you learn a lot of colorful expressions. And if you're a kid, you're likely to misinterpret some of them. Fall off the wagon comes to mind as one of the most common (and least swear-ridden), and I knew I needed to write about it when I looked up the origins and the very first site that came up in my highly-academic-and-not-at-all-half-assed Google search mentioned Robert Downey, Jr. It's a sign, I thought. Then I got a little sidetracked thinking about RDJ for a while, and when I came back from my Happy Place, I was already halfway through writing this opening paragraph. If you'd like to take a minute or ten right now to think about RDJ yourself, I encourage you to do so. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Good? Good. Okay. So I guess there used to be a thing called a water wagon. It was horse-drawn, and would roll through town spraying down the streets in the summer months. When the expression fall off the wagon came into being, using the image of a water wagon to describe someone who was drinking water instead of spirits made perfect sense. When I was a kid, though, I just figured the phrase came from the idea of a sort of Western-expansion-era drunk driving: he was so drunk, he fell off the wagon. Or maybe it had something to do with that bandwagon I'd heard so much about, the one people always seemed to be jumping onto. I didn't know. I also thought the expression was doggy-dog world, which I found perplexing because it didn't seem like such a bad thing to me. What do you want? I was a little kid. Moving on.

I've been thinking a lot about whatever you want to call it—backsliding, relapse, wagon-falling-off-of—in terms of my running. Since August, I haven't run much. My weight has remained relatively stable (at my peak, I was up about 3 pounds, right at the top of the normal 5-pound-or-so range I seem to have), and while the lack of long runs lately has cut my calorie burn, it's also cut my appetite. In other words, things seemed to be holding fairly steady despite my relative lack of exercise.

This little break hasn't been entirely by choice. I lost my footing on a trail run at the beginning of August and pulled a quad pretty seriously. I'm not sure if that accident is what triggered the pain in my opposite knee, but something happened there as well over the next couple of weeks and I couldn't seem to shake it. I'd take a few days off, have a good, relatively short, run where I felt strong, and then feel pain during the next run, or during a walk two days later. I replaced my shoes. I slept with my knee wrapped in an ace bandage (it helps). I iced. I elevated. I rested.

I want to make it crystal clear here that I'm not a run-through-the-pain kind of runner. I am, and have been from the beginning, a stop-running-if-it-hurts kind of runner, because I've tried to keep a long-term perspective on my running. Running through pain might be admirable in the short term (although I can't imagine why), but if you continue to run through pain, you will pretty quickly reach the point where you cannot run. Like, at all, ever. And I want to be able to run for a very long time indeed. So when I talk about knee pain here, please note that I'm talking relatively minor pain—more than discomfort, but not enough to make me grit my teeth. I'm not a medical professional, and I've said before that you really don't want to take medical advice from a poet, even if her mom did make a living as an R.N., but my total layperson advice if you're regularly in pain when you run is to see a doctor before you run any more. Don't risk permanent damage.

This pain/no pain cycle lasted for weeks—long, frustrating weeks, yes, but also weeks where I suddenly realized that I'd freed up a lot of time. I didn't have to figure out how to stack my day so that everything could get done. I didn't have to pull dinner together while simultaneously trying to refuel, hydrate, and not cool down so much I started shivering before I could get into the shower. For that matter, I didn't have to plan dinners whose preparation included a chunk of down time large enough for me to get cleaned up before we ate. I didn't have to worry about the dogs dragging a freshly showered, wet-headed me out into the cold (because of course their favorite time to go outside, no matter how recently they've gone, is after I get out of a shower). I cut an entire load of laundry out of my weekly chore list, based solely on the lack of workout gear and extra towels. On top of all that, this break came during the beginning of the semester. I was back on campus, back to grading, back to having to fit the rest of my life in around my teaching schedule.

I was a little frightened by how easily my attitude about running shifted. Before I got hurt, I looked forward to my runs, especially the long ones. I looked forward to seeing what I could do, to persisting through a 10- or 12-mile effort, to feeling physically strong and capable in a way that I've been able to manage only since I started running. I read Runner's World and running blogs and books about running. I enjoyed the way food had become fuel to me and the way my definition of comfort food had changed. Eventually, I stopped doing all the above. It wasn't a good idea for me to take long runs, or do speed work, or hill work. Many days, it wasn't a good idea for me to run at all. And if I couldn't run, I didn't really want to read about people who could. And if I didn't have to worry about how my diet would affect my run, it didn't matter what I chose to eat.

Except it did matter. I started finding reasons—excuses, really—not to walk, not to practice yoga, not to worry about much of anything in terms of my health. My clothes still fit as well as they do these days, meaning most of them were still too big for me, so I figured it would be okay. I'd get back to the program, such as it is, when I felt better. Sometimes a girl just needs a break. The month of October was particularly bad for this kind of thinking. Yes, I needed the break. Yes, I needed to let my body do its work and heal my knee. But the thought patterns were familiar and unwelcome.

That kind of thinking began to scare me. I ate a ridiculous amount of Halloween candy, even taking into account the fact that my definition of "a ridiculous amount of candy" has changed considerably in the past two years. I ate compulsively. I ate when I was not hungry. I—and I am not at all proud of this—found myself putting the wrappers into different waste baskets in the house so that I wouldn't be confronted with the visual evidence of what I had done to myself that week. Of all the disturbing behaviors I found myself slipping back into, that one troubled me the most. It's disordered eating, evidence that I was putting having more in front of everything else, despite the fact that I did not in any way need—or even want—more. I recognized the mindset all too well. I haven't changed a bit, I caught myself thinking more than once.

And then I reached the point where I realized everything has changed. Because I stopped. I just stopped. I decided I'd try going back to the treadmill for my runs. I figured the treadmill had worked for me during the entirety of my first year of running. It helped me take off that first hundred pounds, and do so without injury. I don't like it as much as running outside, but it's easier on my knees and I console myself by catching up on television via Netflix and my iPad. Most importantly, if it worked, I knew I'd be able to find my way back to myself. I don't know how I knew this—I suspect it had to do with the hope that I'd had success with it before—but I knew it as well as I know my middle name (which is not "Danger," an oversight for which I might never be able to forgive my parents).

The difficult part was remembering that I was no longer in 30-mile-a-week shape. I used to run ten or twelve miles for my long run on the weekends; over the past couple of months, I'd been lucky to run ten miles total in a week. I needed to remind myself that, while I was still in good shape, I wasn't in half-marathon shape. I wasn't in new-speed-record shape. Two weeks ago, I started with an easy three-miler. A couple of days later, I did another one. Then a third. I watched a bunch of documentaries about vegetarianism and veganism and happiness. By the end of the week, I'd run eleven easy miles with no pain. This past week, I increased two of the runs to four miles, and logged fourteen miles total. I've moved on to watching documentaries about the amazing machine that is the human body (some of them kind of gross, but I'm okay with that. Having a nurse for a mother can do that to you).

During this process, I've reminded myself of the multiple reasons I love running. I've begun feeling strong again. Capable. In control. Jed and I were already eating better, in general, than a lot of people we know—more vegetables, less meat, less junk food—and we renewed our commitment to those choices. We added in a resolution to cut our meat consumption even further by deliberately including more vegetarian dinners in our week. We were already usually keeping vegetarian for breakfast and lunch, and usually for dinner once a week, although not necessarily through a conscious decision. I made another loaf of bread, made some more soup, walked past the half-price Halloween candy in the supermarket.

We don't always fall off the wagon—sometimes, we're pushed. Sometimes, we forget to fasten our old-timey western seatbelts and end up being tossed around a little bit but manage to stay on board. I think for the past couple of months, I've been riding on the running board of the wagon, hanging on by my fingers. I had the choice to pull myself back up or to jump off, and I chose the former. The thing is, taking care of ourselves sounds like work, and we tend to describe it in terms that evoke effort—working out, getting to work, working on myself, working on my eating, working harder, not slacking off. But I'm telling you right now that taking care of myself is far less work than not taking care of myself. "Slacking off" is what takes the effort. Making excuses. Finding time to nap because I'm not sleeping as well. Maybe feeling a little gross after I eat instead of feeling fueled. Berating myself. Worrying. I feel better when I eat well. I feel better when I exercise. I sleep better. I have more energy. I look better (or maybe I don't—maybe I just see myself as looking better, because I don't beat myself up about that particular aspect of my life).

I'm on the wagon, and I have no plans to fall—or jump—off. I love this particular wagon. I love the ride. And I love my doggy-dog world.




Five Things that Don't Suck, New Game Plan Edition

1. adjusting for a slower morning because it was raining when you woke up and you can't paint the shed
2. finding a recipe for carrot soup with coconut milk and Sriracha (come ON!)
3. baking, baking, and maybe a little more baking
4. making some time to write
5. Wes Welker*

*It's a bye week, people. Calm down. And my Tiny Little Man still doesn't suck, even if he's now not-sucking for another team (sniff, sniff).

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Getting Ready Edition

1. counting chairs (25 so far)
2. arranging to borrow tables
3. finalizing the guest list
4. ordering the happy, small-farm turkey
5. thinking about pie. Lots and lots of pie.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Friday Edition

1. dinner with friends
2. time for a run
3. not having grading this weekend
4. a latte or two while still in my PJs
5. seeing how long I can hang out in my PJs until I feel socially obligated to put on real clothes

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bonus: Books and Books and Books

Hey, all, guess what? My chapbook, Dear Turquoise, is out. You can read a sample poem (and order a copy if you want) from Dancing Girl Press. I'm proud of the poems, and I love the cover that Kristy Bowen designed.

I realize it's been pretty quiet around here lately, but it's all for good reasons. I've put together a second chapbook, called Creature Feature, which should be out soon. It's a collection of poems centered on the Universal monster movies of the '30s and '40s. I've been writing new work and trying to get it out in the world. I've been working on editing an anthology for poets and workshop leaders (more on that later), working on writing my own part of that anthology, editing two upcoming poetry collections from Cider Press Review, reading my way through my poetry library, and teaching. I've also been working on two guest posts for other blogs, and I'll post links to those when they go up. In short, All-Poetry Autumn has been amazingly productive so far, and I'm trying to go with it, mindfully and with gratitude. On top of that, I've been managing to get some running in, despite nursing a minor injury for the past couple of months (don't panic, Mom. It's nothing serious).

Which reminds me: I also have a couple of poems in the upcoming anthology Bearers of Distance:Poems by Runners. A portion of sales benefit the One Fund, to support the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, so it's a worthy cause and a worthy book. And it got a review on NPR's show Only a Game. Cool, huh?


I do have a lot to tell you about, and I will. But for now, follow one of the links up there. Read a poem. Get a copy of the book or the chapbook if you like. Or go crazy and get both—I'm not gonna stop you.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Belated Edition

1. Scoring great deals at Goodwill
2. Keeping stuff out of landfills
3. Not supporting sweatshops, transportation costs, labels with skeezy advertising* or skeezy management**
4. Maybe managing to get that Mackelmore song out of one's head, eventually
5. Having more than 20 dollars in my pocket***

*I'm looking at you, American Apparel
**And you, Abercrombie and Fitch
***Dammit, Mackelmore! Why you gotta be so catchy??

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Rough Week on Campus Edition

1. having very cool students
2. working with amazing people
3. how funny people are--genuinely funny
4. when an entire campus comes together in support
5. getting to work somewhere this gorgeous in the autumn

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Random Edition

1. cloth napkins
2. chimney sweeps
3. window washers who dress up as super heroes
4. super heroes
5. clear sinuses

Monday, November 4, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Up With the Birds Edition

1. being up early enough to see a little sun this morning
2. an extra cup of tea
3. getting some paperwork done early
4. loving dogs even if they can't tell time
5. cute outfits

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Extra Hour Edition

1. an extra hour of sleep
2. or of hanging out with people you love
3. or for getting a handle on things
4. or for trying not to think about how dark it's gonna be at 4PM
5. Tom Brady

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Weekend Edition

1. not having a ton of stuff on the schedule for a change
2. the smell of pumpkin bread in the oven
3. a second, slow cup of coffee
4. dogs who let us sleep in a bit
5. PJs. Comfy, comfy PJs

Friday, November 1, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Stuff I Do for a Living Edition

1. getting to visit good friends at other colleges
2. reading stuff that fascinates me
3. spending a lot of time thinking and processing
4. being creative
5. solving problems

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Great Pumpkin Edition

1. Boris Karloff
2. Bela Lugosi
3. James Whale
4. Zita Johann*
5. tiny candy bars

*Google her. And then watch what she does. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Largely Theoretical Edition

1. not seeing any Christmas commercials until after Halloween
2. not seeing any Christmas commercials until after Thanksgiving*
3. calmly rationing out tiny candy bars
4. only buying Halloween candy I don't like*
5. the prospect of the nursery school costume parade around campus today

*from the Fat Chance Dept.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Game 6 Edition

1. not jinxing the Sox
2. the way Papi likes to carry Koji around sometimes
3. a World Series that's actually fun to watch*
4. Koji saying, "I am just a regular human being."**
5. finishing out the Series at Fenway

*even if I don't allow myself to do so (see #1)
**possibly a lie

Monday, October 28, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Case of the Mondays Edition

1. sleeping in
2. leisurely breakfasts
3. long conversations over a second cup of coffee*
4. the possibility of a nap later
5. The Sox and the Pats
*or a third. Or whatever.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Seeing Stars Edition

1. vegetables*
2. the gorgeous photo of a bee that my friend Nan brought to us yesterday**
3. pie for breakfast***
4. asterisks****
5. planning the next Clancy visit already

*almost all of them
**thanks, Nan!
***theoretical. I actually had roasted root vegetable hash with leftover roasted broccoli and cauliflower for breakfast. Because I have a will of IRON
****see what I did there?
*****mark your calendars

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Visitors Edition

1. house guests
2. having an excuse--any excuse--to make pie
3. hugs
4. happening upon an h-based theme for the list
5. how cool poets are

Friday, October 25, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Friday Edition

1. not having any meetings for a change
2. hanging out with good friends you don't get to see anywhere often enough
3. navratan korma (seriously)
4. being caught up with grading
5. the best going-to-sleep night of the whole week

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Potential Syfy Channel Movie Edition

1. "Cowquake vs. Sharknami" and it sequels*
2. wondering how to get a shark to South Dakota
3. genetically mootated cows**
4. casting decisions***
5. cashing in on your genius

*"Cowquake vs. SharknamII" and "Cowquake vs. SharknamIII"
** you can blame my nephew Tim for the pun, because that was not me. And I hoped his parents would have raised him better than that, but no such luck
*** what are Gary Sandy, Jan Smithers and Frank Bonner doing these days? Because a WKRP in Cincinnati reunion would just increase the potential demographic draw, right? RIGHT?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Mystery Theme Edition

1. the big white dress
2. cake
3. little kids requesting ridiculous songs from the DJ
4. changing your last name from something you're not fond of to something you are
5. knowing that the wedding is the least important day of the marriage

Monday, October 21, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Random Edition

1. unicycles
2. not falling down
3. really good swear words
4. polar bears
5. the color green

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, World Series-Bound Edition

1. Koji. Just...Koji.
2. breaking a series-long slump with a grand slam
3. Pedroia saying, "I wanted to run around with him, I was so excited."
4. taking just one off-season to go from being the worst team in the league to playing in your 3rd World Series in less than a decade
5. Rob Freakin' Gronkowski

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Farmers Market Edition

1. mixed cherry and pear tomatoes in various colors
2. beets
3. French radishes*
4. pie apples
5. late season corn on the cob

*fake French laugh optional...Okay, so not really optional. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Better Late Than Never Edition

1. making your own mozzarella (seriously. So good.)
2. lavender
3. Nancy Drew books, especially if they involve secret passages
4. when the dogs sing along to a siren*
5. warm socks
*except at 3AM

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, A-Political Edition

1. roasted root vegetable hash with an over-easy egg or two and some hot sauce
2. taking the dogs out and discovering it's way warmer than you thought it was
3. making cookies for a bunch of peer writing tutors
4. a good pair of slippers
5. my various friends who can go back to work for the country today

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Short Week Edition

1. making cheese*
2. sending a really strong book to the printer **
3. when one of the dogs sleeps all curled up like a kidney bean, but with one front paw sticking out like a sprout
4. squeezing the last few days out of my lighter-weight skirts
5. non-drowsy antihistamines

*not a euphemism, but probably should be
**not mine. Don't get all excited

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Last Day of October Break Edition

1. 2-day work weeks
2. staying in PJs well into the morning
3. autumn leaves
4. starting to plan for Thanksgiving
5. marching into the last half of the semester focused and on top of things

Monday, October 14, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Great Day to Be a Fan in Massachusetts Edition

1. Austin Collie (whoever the hell HE is)
2. Kenbrell Thomkins
3. Belichik actually joking around at the press conference
4. David Ortiz
5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia*

*also my favorite dish to order at an Italian restaurant. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Attic Clean-Out Edition (mostly)

1. donating a whole truck load of stuff to people who can use it
2. the knowledge that you could walk up and down stairs all day because that's how mighty you've become
3. recycling. Lots and lots of recycling
4. realizing that you can't wear your wedding dress again because it's too big (not that you'd want to)
5. Stephen Gostkowski

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Looks Like We Made It Edition

1. walking into October break with a clear desk
2. mixed metaphors
3. seeing what I did there
4. amusing the hell out of myself because I'm punchy with freedom
5. having time for my own work, once I stop fooling around

Friday, October 11, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Day Before October Break Edition

1. knowing my alarm won't get set again until Tuesday night
2. having grading AND editorial work off my desk (and desktop) by noon
3. not really needing 3 other things that don't suck because of these circumstances
4. the possibility of setting an away message on my email
5. lazy mornings in PJs, possibly involving waffles and cartoons

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Really I Mean It Edition

1. stripping wallpaper
2. painting (latex only, please)
3. cleaning paint brushes
4. dance breaks
5. a hot shower after a day of physical work

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Halloween is Coming Edition

1. clear fall days
2. leaves crunching underfoot
3. not feeling the need to put pumpkin and/or pumpkin spice in everything I eat or drink
4. loving pumpkin anyway
5. jack o'lanterns

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Back to Nature Edition

1. goldfish*
2. moss
3. worms**
4. cardinals
5. starfish

*the crackers or the fish. I won't judge. Much.
**before you get all "ew!" I want you to realize that without worms and insects, we would have drowned in a pile of our own garbage eons ago (and yes, Julie, I'm looking at you)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Unsupervised Childhood Edition

1. catching bullfrogs
2. sledding and/or jumping off a shed roof after a heavy snow*
3. deciding whether to duck a wave or ride it
4. a bowl of Crunch Berries eaten while sitting on the floor in front of Saturday morning cartoons
5. blowing dandelion seeds into the wind**

*Don't try this at home--it didn't suck, but it wasn't safe, either
**Sorry, local lawn-owners

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Too Wet to Mow the Lawn Edition

1. a really, really good book
2. warm, comforting beverages
3. potato leek soup
4. keeping Pat Mojo in the pie safe*
5. Aqib Talib

*it's only crazy if it doesn't work

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Belated Edition

1. not having wallpaper
2. stripping wallpaper (seriously, I love doing that. Sue me)
3. brownies with peanut butter chips in them
4. telling corny jokes
5. not being the guy with the car fire on Rt. 123 this afternoon (sorry, dude)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Happy Birthday to Turquoise Edition

Note: today is Turquoise's birthday. This list is full of things she loved or things that made us laugh (or both). It doesn't begin to cover it.

1. playing Scrabble using only proper names (50 bonus points for spelling "Rutger")
2. blatantly cheating at cribbage (or Scrabble. Or Trivial Pursuit. Or, or or...)
3. Eric the half a bee
4. making fun of vapid pop stars (Shaun Cassidy, Debbie Gibson...doesn't much matter who)
5. writing ridiculous songs about pretty much anything

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Unintentionally Hilarious Edition

1. that time, as a kid, I pointed to an actor on TV and said, "Who is that guy? Is he somebody?"
2. the former boss who insisted on using the expression "take a dump" to describe falling down*
3. the time my mom learned, by using the expression in front of her grandchildren, that "cut the cheese" does not always mean "slice that cheddar into pieces."
4. the (long-since graduated) former student who, in one of the first papers I ever graded as a professor, referred to Mel Gibson as a "tool bag."
5. whoever the student was who engaged in this exchange with me:
ME: It was in the early '90s, so I was in my twenties and you were...
HER: ...Not alive?...

*"It's really icy out there! I just took a giant dump in the parking lot!"

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Still Determinedly Optimistic Edition

1. baby manatees
2. cookies
3. that too-young-to-know-better thickly-Boston-accented girl I met in my undergrad who wanted to know how Jimmy Buffet could possibly have cut his heel on a Pop Tart*
4. the fact that someone (Mrs. Estes, maybe?) made the decision that the Jr. High chorus was old enough to sing "Margaritaville" but not old enough to have booze in the blender, and forced them to sing "juice" instead, in order to avoid offending anyone**
5. margaritas***

*Blew out my flip flop / Stepped on a Pop Tart...
** Note to any middle-school chorus instructors out there: if you're singing "Margaritaville," the blender-based booze is already more than implied, my friend
***Rocks and salt, please

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Determinedly Apolitical Edition

1. kittens
2. puppies
3. baby otters
4. basically anything that does or might frolic
5. that thing kittens do when they're surprised and they get up on their back legs and throw their front paws out wide and they have crazy eyes and stuff. Often, they fall over, but not in a way that they're gonna get hurt. That's good, too. Because most kittens don't have health insurance.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Shameless Plug for Bearers of Distance (Poems by Runners)

Hi all,

Just a quick note to let you know that I've got two poems in this way cool anthology from Eastern Point Press. Half of the profits are going to The One Fund, to support victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. I'm proud to be a part of it, and hope you'll support it.

You may now return to your regular ad-free blog, already in progress.

Five Things that Don't Suck, Up Too Late Edition

1. when the Pats play day games on school nights
2. being able to watch the last quarter in bed
3. sleeping in my Wilfork t-shirt
4. any win (even a close one)
5. caffeine

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Under the Wire Edition

1. having all my grading done before kickoff
2. a fire in the fireplace
3. homemade pizza
4. Sam Adams hazel brown
5. Dan Connolly

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Saturday Morning After Friday Night Dinner Edition

1. Kristen's fake-surprised face
2. How soft Jack's hair is with the buzz cut
3. mai tais
4. running into old friends
5. scallion pancakes

Friday, September 27, 2013

Five Things that Don't Suck, Theoretical Edition

1. having all the laundry clean, folded/hung up, and put away
2. ice cream for dinner
3. the First Annual Robert Downey Jr. Objectification Film Festival (East)
4. kitten parties*
5. gravity**

*tiny hats optional
**see what I did there?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Off with the Old, On with the New

Maybe you know this about me already: I don't like to shop. I call myself cheap, but I'm not—I gladly spend money on friends and family members, I firmly believe that large purchases should be the best whatever-you're-buying that you can afford, Jed and I donate money to charity. We tip very well, we pay our taxes, we help out friends and family from time to time as need be. I buy a lot of books directly from small poetry presses, because I believe in what they do. All that kind of stuff. And I don't care about things—there are precious few objects in this world that I think of as, well, precious, and most of those are valuable for sentimental reasons.

I do, however, take care of my things, but not for the reason most people probably think I do. I take care of my things because I find waste arrogant. Please don't get me wrong—everyone needs to make his or her own decisions on these issues, and priorities are going to be different for everyone. I just wrote—and deleted—a whole long paragraph talking about the ways in which I deviate from my ideals, but it was boring, so I won't make you read it. You're just going to have to trust me when I say that I truly believe everyone is capable of making individual decisions about this stuff, and since I'm living in a glass house over here, I'm not looking for any good throwing stones. Hell, I'm not even wearing my glasses at the moment, so I probably couldn't hit anything even if I tried.

The bottom line is that Jed and I would generally rather buy quality items and repair them rather than replace them. And since I'm not a fan of the work involved in repairing them, I try to take care of them to begin with, whether this means not dunking our 20-year-old wooden salad bowl into soapy water to clean it or making sure our even-older cast iron skillet gets well dried out after we use it or trying to keep up on routine car maintenance. I find waste arrogant, and being wasteful goes against my environmentalist leanings, which might, now that I think of it, be part of why I find it arrogant. I know things need to be thrown away, but if I can limit the amount of those things—through taking care of my stuff so it lasts longer but also through things like  composting, recycling, and refusing wasteful crap when it's handed to me (seriously, why on earth would I need to put a bag of potatoes INTO A SECOND BAG in order to carry it out of the store?)(and before you get all Ah-HA! You should be buying loose potatoes and putting them in your own bags! let me just stop you by saying that my store doesn't sell loose organic potatoes and I do bring my own bags. Plus, you need to go re-read the paragraph above this one, since you obviously weren't paying attention to my little I'm-not-judging-because-nobody-is-perfect spiel.  So there, you pedant). At any rate, a better word than "cheap" is probably "frugal," but "frugal" conjures up images of dowdy women sitting on hard wooden furniture, darning socks by the light of a candle made out of the drippings gleaned from the birthday cakes of her younger, more extravagant relatives. With "cheap," I can at least enjoy the hyperbole.

I have also, since I started running, gotten really into buying used when I can. For the past year and change, most of my clothes have come from Goodwill or other thrift stores (mostly Goodwill, because there's a pretty good one close to me). I'd say that I rarely buy anything new, but a ridiculous number of the items I've bought from Goodwill have come with the tags still on them. A pair of $130 wool Michael Kors pants for six bucks? Why yes, thank you, don't mind if I do. My love for thrift shopping has risen dramatically as my sizes have shrunk because I really am too cheap to buy an entire new wardrobe every season, which is pretty much what I have had to do. I live in New England, where the seasons are actual seasons—by the time it gets warm enough again for me to pull out the skirts I was wearing just a week or so ago, they will no longer fit. Nor do any of the clothes I was wearing last winter, with the exception of a couple of  sweaters that are meant to be oversized (but are getting kind of ridiculous even so).

All this to say that this morning, after yet another run where my pants started sliding down my hips somewhere in the second mile, I decided today was the day where I would bite the bullet and pick up some new running clothes. I'd been keeping an eye out for them all summer in Goodwill, and managed to pick up a couple of things—a long-sleeved wicking shirt here, a short-sleeved-but-tighter-weave shirt there. There was no luck with pants, though—running clothes in general take a beating, and running pants probably bear the brunt of it (although bras certainly earn their keep) in terms of friction and all sorts of other issues you can probably figure out if you've ever, you know, worn clothes. I just couldn't find anything used that was still in good shape, and the same went for jackets. I do know that runners get very attached to the clothing they have that works for them, and tend to wear it into the ground, and that they get loyal to their brands, so there's not a lot of this-doesn't-fit-right going on out there. Or maybe we're all hoarders. I'm not sure. In any event, the pickings at Goodwill were slim. And it's getting chilly out there.

I managed to spend over $250 on clothes today—mostly for me, although I did get a pair of running pants for Jed—and I'm not done. I'm going to need a couple more pairs of pants or tights if I'm going to keep running outside this winter (which I am). On the plus side, I didn't have any kind of panic attack. I found a pair of running tights that are made out of recycled plastic bottles, which may have assuaged my guilt a bit. I got two jackets of different weights, which will get me through the winter. I got a pair of long-sleeved wicking shirts and some tights to help me get a little more wear out of my heavier skirts before I shrink out of them, too, and four camisoles (also very tough to come by used) because they're part of my teaching uniform in the colder weather. There was probably some other stuff that I'm not remembering right now.

And it's supposed to make me feel good, right? People have been telling me things like how I deserve it, or otherwise talking in ways that imply that they think shopping is some kind of reward. I "get" to buy new clothes—it's one of the great "advantages" of losing weight, this justification of shopping, of spending money on myself. As a Facebook friend (and fellow poet and runner) was saying earlier today about her own process, I'm supposed to feel like I am somehow better, more complete, more acceptable, because I am smaller. I'm supposed to hate my larger clothes and be happy to be rid of them because they are representative of a time when I was, despite my size, less than. And that's troubling enough, but the added layer of fulfillment that I'm supposed to get just from buying crap? I don't get it.

It doesn't feel wasteful—I'll get my outgrown (ingrown?) workout clothes as scrubbity clean as I possibly can and donate them along with the rest of the stuff I can no longer wear. One of my friends will probably take some of it; my mom might take some of it when she's up for Thanksgiving; the rest of it will get donated and someone will get a bargain. But it also doesn't feel like I am in any way completed by the process. What I feel is a vague satisfaction that I won't freeze my ass off on my next run, either because my pants aren't warm enough or because they're falling to my knees. I'm pretty happy about one of the jackets because I haven't had a spring/fall weight jacket in well over a decade, and I'm sick of having to choose between freezing and wearing a winter-weight jacket when it's only about 45 degrees out. And because it'll do double-duty as an outer layer for running on really cold days. Plus, it's cute and sporty and makes me feel like an athlete—a fast athlete. A fastlete. Did I need any of that stuff? Well, the pants, probably, yeah. But the rest of it? I probably could have figured out a way to manage. Will having it make my life easier? Yes, both because it will take away an excuse to keep from running and will keep me comfortable while I'm doing so.

But does it make me complete? Is it somehow reinforcing the idea that I am deserving? I can't say that it does. And I'm more than a little worried about the idea that it is somehow supposed to. I've been writing—and reading—some really good poems lately. I've got great students in my classes this semester (as usual). I've got projects in the works that I'm excited about and a manuscript that feels…fully cooked, somehow, and despite the fact that I've been nursing a persnickety knee for most of the summer, I kicked total ass in a 5K last weekend (Seriously. I broke my 5K personal record by over ninety seconds and left Jed in the dust and—most importantly—finished feeling good and strong) and have twice in the past week broken the 10-minute-mile mark for the last half mile of my run and felt fabulous doing so instead of spent. I feel powerful and mighty. I've been amassing a collection of really sweet notes and emails and such from people I haven't met, complimenting my work. I have a job I love and a creative life that fulfills me and a husband and home I adore and two hilarious dogs.

Jockey, as much as I love them, doesn't make running tights that can give me any of that (although they can help with the whole running well thing, so props to them for that). My Columbia jacket is going to keep me warm, but it's not going to make me complete no matter what size it came in. Would owning these socks or this underwear make me feel like a more valuable human being?

Well, okay. You got me there.

But generally speaking, no. At the risk of sounding preachy, we really need far less than we think we do, and beyond that, far less than we want. Another Facebook conversation earlier this week (although this time with people I actually know relatively well) dealt with gratitude, specifically with this gratitude study. I encourage you to watch the video, but I'll say here what I said then: I know for a fact that people who practice gratitude are happier, and that the biggest differences can be seen in the people who need it most desperately. I often say that running saved my life, in more ways than just the physical benefits—and I believe it. But so did stumbling into the routine of listing, most every day, five things that don't suck. The bar is set deliberately low, but it is still a way of acknowledging gratitude. Buying more shit won't make anyone happy, not for long. The happiness that brings is fleeting at best, especially if, like me, you're not a fan of shopping. But gratitude just gets better. It always fits, you don't need a receipt to return it, and it's always the perfect color. What more could I want?


Except those socks. I really, really want to be grateful for those socks. (Jed thinks they're crazy, by the way. Boys. Snort.)