Saturday, January 25, 2014

Five Things that Don't Suck, On the Road Again Edition

1. heated seats
2. all the extra "e"s in the Weare Towne Grille--no charge!
3. singing along to Elvis Costello at top volume
4. playing the James Bond theme and pretending to be a spy*
5. seeing my Clancy (hiya, Clancy!)

*because all the best spies drive Subaru Foresters. All the PRACTICAL, value-oriented spies. ALL OF THEM.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Five Things that Don't Suck, Somewhat Delayed Back to Campus Edition

1. jumping in with both feet
2. while somehow simultaneously diving in head first
3. deciding that no matter how I go in, it will be good to have both my feet with me
4. being on campus early enough that I can park close enough to a building that I might not freeze before I get inside (hello, 8:30 a.m. class...)
5. caffeine

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Five Things that Don't Suck, Whoops! Totally Forgot Edition

1. being happy enough that I forget to pay attention to it
2. lunch with a good friend I don't see often enough
3. a leisurely cup of green tea
4. figuring out what to wear to campus tomorrow
5. being ready for the semester, even before the snow delay

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Five Things that Don't Suck, Snow Day Edition

1. fluffy, light snow
2. how pretty it is when it's freshly fallen
3. the way Butler turns into a porpoise when he goes out in it
4. a big cup of hot tea
5. not having to make up the school day in the spring

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Five Things that Don't Suck, Calm Before the Storm Edition

1. how many people went out to buy milk and bread last night
2. the fact that someone has put out a "french toast alert" system that correlates supposed warning signs for blizzards with a color code
3. today's color is orange, so I hope you got some eggs while you were at the store, because french toast doesn't make itself, people
4. being able to start a list with a declarative rather than just a noun with or without an introductory modifying word or phrase
5. parallelism in lists*

*Bonus thing that doesn't suck: wiseassery

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Waiting Really Is the Hardest Part (Damn you, Tom Petty)

I lost out on a book prize today—one I really, really wanted, from a press I admire, and which came with an optional residency in Italy. For the past two months, I've been in the running—first making the long list, then, just before Christmas, being notified that my manuscript had made it to the finals, along with five other manuscripts. One in six. That's not bad odds in the poetry book world, not bad odds at all. At Cider Press Review, it's not unusual for us to get 500 or more manuscripts submitted for a book award, if that gives you any inkling of what one-in-six means for a manuscript. I have no idea how many manuscripts were under consideration for this one book prize, but I doubt it was fewer than 300 or more than 1,000. Mine made it to the top six before the judges chose a book by someone else.

And I'm surprised by just how okay I am with the whole thing. I tend to be pretty relaxed about sending out work, basically blasé about getting rejection slips (or, as one writer I know calls them, letters of decline), almost as blasé about getting acceptances—although I'll be the first to admit that the latter feels much better than the former. The point is that my mood doesn't rise or fall based on what any given editor or reader thinks of my work.

In part, this attitude comes from my work at Cider Press Review. I know, from being on the receiving end of all those manuscripts (never mind the individual poems—I hesitate to even count those, but if you'd like an indication of what that entails, our submission period has been open for just under three weeks as I write this, and we've received almost 260 submissions—most of which contain three to five poems, so go ahead and do the math about what we're facing over the course of the next few months)…where was I? Ah, yes. I know, from being on the receiving end of all those manuscripts, that there are all sorts of aspects of awarding a poetry book prize that are way beyond the poet's control. I know what it feels like to fight for a manuscript and lose, what it feels like to fight for a manuscript and win (again, I prefer the latter), what it's like to think you know which manuscript an outside judge will choose only to be proven wrong. I know what it's like to make the phone call to tell a poet that his or her manuscript will soon be a book, and what it's like to write an email—like the one I got this morning—saying, in essence, how disappointed I am that a manuscript will not be a book, at least not this time around.

That knowledge makes not winning (I truly hesitate to use the word "losing" in this context—it's one thing to say I lost out on a prize, another entirely to simply say that I lost) easier. The email makes it even more so. At the same time, this manuscript is important to me, in ways that I haven't really figured out how to express. I've said before that it was important to me to do right by the poems I've included there, and I believe I've done so. And it's one thing for my poet friends to say they agree with me—no matter how much I admire them (and I do), they're still, after all, my friends—but it's another to have my work reach people I don't know with such power that they not only fight for it, but write me a note to let me know they were fighting for it.

I can't tell you how much easier it is to not have to wait anymore. Not winning is way easier than maybe winning.

I am not a fan of waiting. I never have been. It's not that I'm impatient, necessarily—poetry can't be rushed, not the composition and certainly not the revision. Teaching can't be rushed. Patience is a runner's friend: after nursing a sore knee over the summer and much of the fall, I want to get back to running 30-mile weeks. I want to get my long run up to 15 miles, just to prove to myself I can and to keep things interesting. I want to continue to get faster, too. But if I rush increasing my mileage, I'll get hurt. If I rush increasing my speed, I'll get hurt. So I need to be patient, and running is really good practice. I'm patient with students, with reading, with walking my mother-in-law—over the phone, no less—through adding a second email account to her Gmail, with any number of things. I'm not generally patient with myself, but I'm working on it. [Insert joke about how it's not going as quickly as I'd like here.]

Here's the thing I'm learning about patience: it's hard sometimes, sure, but it's much easier when I feel like I have some kind of control over things. In general, I like to take action. I like to move. If I want a new job (I don't!), I'll go find one. If I want a poem to appear in a specific journal, I'll send them work—again and again if I have to. I will, if something is important enough to me in the moment, drop everything else and focus my attention on doing everything I can to accomplish that goal. In general, I would rather be doing something; it doesn't always matter what it is.

With book prizes—with any publication, really—there isn't anything to be done. I've put together a manuscript I'm really proud of. The poems are strong, they do what they're supposed to be doing, and I've put them together in a satisfying order. I sent it out to some carefully-selected publishers. One of them announced a winner and gave no indication of finalists; one of them announced a winner and finalists and I wasn't on the list; an editor at a third sent me that really nice rejection  letter of decline this morning. A handful of others won't respond for a few months, most likely. That's the way it goes. I send it out and I wait.

The relief of today's no comes in it being time for me to do something again. Time to look up a couple of publishers, see where my work will fit best, send the manuscript out again. Time to look up a couple of more publishers for February (I try to send to two each month, but it's not a hard-and-fast rule). And yes, it's nice to get kind words from the handful of people I told about this particular book prize, nice to feel supported and loved and strong. Mostly, though, it's nice to take action. 

Five Things that Don't Suck, Resilience Edition

1. moving forward
2. getting answers
3. feeling encouraged
4. a little self-delusion
5. going for a run

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Five Things that Don't Suck, Go Pats Edition

1. not actually believing in luck
2. or jinxes
3. just believing in talent and skill and drive
4. wearing my lucky Butler t-shirt
5. baking some lucky snickerdoodles