Mornings Are Best For Poetry

This has always been true for me. Do you have a preferred time of day for writing?

#APAD is flowing along. Day 3 is finished … well, the first draft is finished. Word Light Show can be found on WordPress and Facebook. The prompts have definitely been working for me, thus far.

#gowrite

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#APAD 2018 Is Underway!

This year the plan is to write a poem a day and share the first drafts here. Check out the #APAD 2018 tab, beneath the little arrow you’ll find a new poem each day along with a mention of what inspired the attempt.

Today’s poem is here. Feedback is welcome, also feel free to link me to your daily writings in comments, or to a favorite poem you’re reading each day in celebration of National Poetry Month!

Here’s how to save yourself, your beautiful self.

The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

Once the decision has been made to read a certain book based on whatever criteria or recommendation has inspired the choice, I avoid reading blurbs and forewords until the end. More often than not, it is satisfying to completely consume the story within before reading other readers’ opinions or the author’s intentions spelled out in black and white on or just inside the cover. Satisfying, because I often receive validation of my own opinion, my own emotions, particularly with good books. So is the case with The Bluest Eye.

I heard of this book many years before I actually sat down to read. A reader and hopeful writer can’t possibly embark on a chosen life of reading and writing without hearing of Toni Morrison. She is out there, generous genius teacher and author, her works waiting for careful perusal, for minds that will absorb and consider and decide. I waited, unsure then how to articulate that instinct demanded I take the time to mature, to hone my blunt mind into a finer, more delicate receptacle for Ms. Morrison’s work. I waited years more after a professor said my piece, “Springtime”, called up the memory of The Bluest Eye, with it’s nursery rhyme refrains. When I finally opened the book, it was immediately apparent that I still wasn’t ready.

Even so, since consuming that story, since delving into the foreword and snippets of interviews with the author, since scrounging around for reviews and reading articles that list The Bluest Eye as one of the most challenged books on national school reading lists, I am grateful that I waited so long to read, grateful that I read when I did.

Consuming all this information, listening to Morrison’s own voice explain why she wrote the book, why she made specific decisions regarding the narration, has brought me to a few conclusions that might make great suggestions for teachers who would like to present this book to senior level high school students (to share it with lower level groups would not be appropriate, in my opinion). Before I get into that, however, I want to share excerpts from the most eloquently informative book foreword I have ever read.

The assertion of racial beauty was not a reaction to the self-mocking, humorous critique of cultural/racial foibles common in all groups, but against the damaging internalization of assumptions of immutable inferiority originating in an outside gaze. I focused, therefore, on how something as grotesque as the demonization of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society: a child; the most vulnerable member: a female. In trying to dramatize the devastation that even casual racial contempt can cause, I chose a unique situation, not a representative one.

The extremity of Pecola’s case stemmed largely from a crippled and crippling family—unlike the average black family and unlike the narrator’s. But singular as Pecola’s life was, I believed some aspects of her woundability were lodged in all young girls. In exploring the social and domestic aggression that could cause a child to literally fall apart, I mounted a series of rejections, some routine, some exceptional, some monstrous, all the while trying hard to avoid complicity in the demonization process Pecola was subjected to. That is, I did not want to dehumanize the characters who trashed Pecola and contributed to her collapse.

One problem was centering the weight of the novel’s inquiry on so delicate and vulnerable a character could smash her and lead readers into the comfort of pitying her rather than into an interrogation of themselves for the smashing. My solution—break the narrative into parts that had to be reassembled by the reader—seemed to me a good idea, the execution of which does not satisfy me now. Besides, it didn’t
work: many readers remain touched but not moved.The other problem, of course, was language.

Holding the despising glance while sabotaging it was difficult. The novel tried to hit the raw nerve of racial self-contempt, expose it, then soothe it not with narcotics but with language that replicated the agency I discovered in my first experience of beauty. Because that moment was so racially infused (my revulsion at what my school friend wanted: very blue eyes in a very black skin; the harm she was doing to my concept of the beautiful), the struggle was for writing that was indisputably black. I don’t yet know quite what that is, but neither that nor the attempts to disqualify an effort to find out keeps me from trying to pursue it.

My choices of language (speakerly, aural, colloquial), my reliance for full comprehension on codes embedded in black culture, my effort to effect immediate co-conspiracy and intimacy (without any distancing, explanatory fabric), as well as my attempt to shape a silence while breaking it are attempts to transfigure the complexity and wealth of Black American culture into a language worthy of the culture. Thinking back now on the problems expressive language presented to me, I am amazed by their currency, their tenacity.

Hearing “civilized” languages debase humans, watching cultural exorcisms debase literature, seeing oneself preserved in the amber of disqualifying metaphors—I can say that my narrative project is as difficult today as it was then.

A class study of this book, in my opinion, should begin with studying those last two paragraphs. The question of language considered by the author as she wrote Pecola’s unique situation on the page demonstrates just how vital Morrison understood her story to be, how vital it was to her to express the tragedies humankind brings upon itself. In doing so, she told her side of the story as well as that of several fictional characters. She expressed her own fears, hopes, disappointments, and brought to light the dangers of simply being a child.

Allowing the students to approach the study as if each of them has previously stated their wish to find the words, the language, to express the overwhelming tragedies, hopes, successes, fears, dangers, loves, injustices, and disappointments experienced thus far in their own lives would put them eye-to-eye with this author and her narrator. To do so, would allow the students to step into this story with an important mission—to observe a regional, cultural, socially historical masterpiece unfolding.

That’s what Morrison has created here—a textbook of self and social expression, a social history, a book of language arts.

See The Pretty Girl. The Pretty Girl Has Blue Eyes. The Pretty Girl Is Happy. See How She Smiles And Smiles.

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

They say that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. If the beholder is born into a world that has forcibly narrowed the definition of beauty down to a handful of irrefutable criteria, what then? Like all trends, the definition of beauty is set by societal powers that be. The rest of the population mindlessly follows the trend. These are the beholders. Few dare to make an open challenge.

In a moment of surprised admiration, the beholder forgets that handful of criteria and basks in a beauty never noticed. Just a moment passes, one fleeting moment of adoration warms the eyes, the cheeks, the heart, before the beholder realizes her sin against the norm. Shame is a sickening flood. Paranoia, self-loathing, bitterness grays the landscape and the beholder is repulsed. Shame and self-loathing turn to anger. The beheld must be punished.

In a moment of low-feelings, lack of accomplishment, and run of the mill worthlessness and dismay, a beholder has turned away from her own mirror chanting a silent mantra: Please don’t let anyone else notice. Please don’t let anyone notice. Please … The mantra screeches to a halt when someone else enters line of sight and the mouth of the beholder pulls tightly into an expression of mean relief, a mean laugh escapes loud enough for the beheld to notice. Oh, that one’s ugly. YOU’RE SO UGLY. I’m not nearly as ugly, thank god! No one will notice me now!

And what of the beheld, who had no hope, no choice, no noticeable voice. No hope of persuading others of her intelligence and self-worth, of her importance to even the tiniest sliver of the world? No choice in what features result from a random mishmash of DNA, no voice to speak the question of why people must hate that which is not fashionable in the moment, or the century. Hate can kill souls, murder bodies that don’t align with trending color, or tone, or shape. Who made hate fashionably acceptable? Why?

Toni Morrison believes that we all want to know why, but why can be too insurmountable, so here’s how. Here’s how a year of seasons and a small town of small-minded people honed down to baseness and despair all conspired to kill the soul of a child. To break the mind. To make suffer the ugly.

Perhaps, if we see how easily innocence can be murdered by mindlessness, we may recognize our own part in it and stop. Stop. Stop.

Set apart from the unflinching look at race, poverty, and the shame that gets ingrained in the genetics of those on the wrong side of either, the intensely rich language of The Bluest Eye is groundbreaking. The poetics of it, breathtaking. Without that choice and precise execution of gorgeous language skills, this story could not be consumed. We wouldn’t bear it.

It’s a brutal world poor Pecola suffers through. It’s a brutal world for all little girls, all little black girls whose parents don’t possess the personal tools, the personal pockets of hope to share with their little girls, that might reassure them. Here’s how to defend yourself, how to save your beautiful self.

Pecola’s story begins eight decades ago, The Bluest Eye was published nearly five decades ago. Has much changed in this world far out past olden timelines? Not a lot. Will reading Morrison’s first novel change the world? It just might change yours. Brace yourself.

One Of Those Days

Today is one of those days full of enough sun to fool you into thinking winter has given up its labor. So desperate for mornings free of gray cold rains spent warming the car and trying to untangle another cardigan from dog hair, you squint into those golden stripes of warmless sun and decide not to mind the wind threatening to chase it off.

You decide to ignore the fact that the patches of green burrowing out of dormant lawns are weeds, not real grass. You decide to sidestep shadows clinging to corners in spite of all that bright light at their edges. You’d freeze to death in those narrow swaths of darkness, promise.

Hopes surge strong as another day of almost is promised on the heels of the first. Color is suddenly craved with a strength equal to that of your winter coffee cravings. Once your cardigan, the only one akin to a pastel left over from a clearance sale two years ago, is free of stray blond canine locks, optimism gets the better of you. It’s decided: sandals are the only suitable choice of footwear.

This means, of course, you have to tend to frightful seen-nothing-but-fuzzy-socks-for-months-feet. This task will spend a high percentage of your faux spring energy boost. More coffee won’t hurt anything. Sip a mug full of sweetened caffeine while soaking those poor feet, you’ll be fine.

Lavender toes, almost-lavender cardigan, strappy black sandals, a pasty lick of ankle and neck showing, you go out the door looking forward already to a lunch break drive under yellow skies. Delicious, frothy yellow-gold skies. Not a drop of warm in all that froth.

Routine For The Win (AND AT LEAST SHE’S CUTE)

Newest puppy, who now stands twenty-four inches taller than the older fluffier pup and weighs 50+ pounds, has finally learned to stop shredding toilet paper rolls and my notebooks to bits as part of her daily routine. That’s good. She has, however, gotten creative in her searches for shoe insoles, business cards, food packaging and paper napkins, or whatever other paper/plastic might be in reach on end tables or kitchen counters, or in my purse which I keep forgetting to hang on the coat rack by the door. This means that EVERY SINGLE DAY I sweep up swaths of debris.

Sundays have been major chore days throughout my adulthood. This is the one day each week that all the laundry gets washed, dried, and put away. The day a real breakfast gets cooked, trash is put to the curb, the bathrooms get scrubbed, and the kitchen might stay showroom clean for about ten minutes. Oh yeah, it’s also the day I clean the floors AGAIN.

Traditionally, so I’ve been told, Sundays are meant for rest. This never held true when I was a kid. The parental units got up early enough to shove me out the door (gently, gleefully) wearing my best shoes and hair barrettes, where I’d be met by the Sunday School van that would return me about two o’clock. Mama would already have laundry stacked to the rafters and Daddy would be revving up the lawnmower. I learned at some point they did indulge in after-early-chores naps followed by what Roy Rogers episodes might be on, but for most of the morning and late afternoon they were homemaking.

No vans come around to give me puppy respite (I should find out if that is a thing), so I’ve got the long-legged girl butting her head against the back of my knees as I rev up the vacuum or try to load the dishwasher. SHE IS OBSESSED WITH THE DISHWASHER. She follows me from laundry room to closet to bathroom to garage to kitchen until I give up and try to convince her the backyard is the place for puppies to be on Sunday mornings. Which means, this time of year of course, the wet backyard. So when she comes back in I meet her at the door with a giant towel in an attempt to save the floors from paw prints. Never works. 100%. Never.

Sundays have always been homemaking days for me because I work Monday-Friday, plus two Saturdays per month, and during workdays I have desperately tried to avoid anything more than the basics (cooking dinner and bathing) because good lord I hate housekeeping. Not a neat freak, me.  Or at least in the past I wasn’t worried over a little clutter during weekdays. Since the little girl has come along, cluttered floors and tossed sofa pillows and paw prints kinda drive me insane.

Hence, my chore-free daily routine has been ruthlessly interrupted with ill-tempered sweeping, mopping, tidying, and often shouting WHERE DID YOU EVEN FIND THIS STUFF YOU CHEWED UP. GET OFF THE THING. DON’T DO THAT STOP. (Thankfully we’re no longer in an apartment, but in a house sturdy enough that the neighbors are spared from all the shouting and vacuuming.)

I hope.

After butting my head against the metaphorical wall for nigh on seven months, it’s become obvious I have to throw my twenty-plus-year-long routine out the metaphorical window. I sat down, had a talk with myself that went something like this: Kathy, face it. You now have two choices. 1) halfheartedly battle squalid shredded paw printed hell six after-work-days per week and labor your patootie off every Sunday, or, 2) embrace a routine of daily cleaning—along with a few other sensible changes—so Sundays can be for light laundry, a little floor cleaning, after a big breakfast and before driving to hours at the library so you can write, then visit a few cute shops or the cinema so that you don’t lose your everlovin mind and the puppy goes deaf. Choose #2.

I have chosen #2.

Today is the very last Sunday I stay cloistered in the house with laundry and floors. Beginning tonight, I will go to bed surrounded by tidiness, prep dinner on my lunch breaks, hang my purse on the coat rack by the door, change all my bills to PAPERLESS ONLY, take ads directly from the mail box to the outside trash can, stop buying paper napkins, stop accepting business cards from people, and clean up paw prints before bedtime while a load of laundry is in the wash. If I get an hour to write or read each weekday, cool. If not, I’ll have most of next Sunday.

Life will return to sane livability. Right?

 

 

 

 

 

Potential New TV Yum

HBO’s newest series features two of my faves from the way way back: Holly Hunter and Tim Robbins. And oh my god are they old! (This doesn’t exactly make me feel like a spring chicken.) But once I get over all that, I’m right back to reveling in just how much I love ’em.

The first episode introduced me to new favorites: Daniel Zovatto, Jerrika Hinton, Raymond Lee, and Sosie Bacon. I wasn’t sure why the baby sister character (Kristen) appealed to me so much until I saw her real name and realized WOW that’s Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon’s kid! No wonder. She definitely caught a great dose of the acting gene.

As for the other young members of the cast, I can’t claim any previous knowledge or recognition. No matter, I’m in love.

The premise of the show was irresistible—two eighties hippies chock full of grand ideals adopt children from around the world, perhaps in hopes of building a family that reflects the diversity and unity they believe the future holds.

Greg (Tim Robbins), has spent his life striving to bring positive change to the world … a world in which frequent mass shootings are now a thing and a reality TV president resides in the White House. Poor Greg, the philosopher, tends to throw up his hands a lot nowadays after yelling What’s The Fucking Point! Meanwhile, his lovely wife Audrey (Holly Hunter), the once free loving world changing hot coed who used to drop acid for enlightenment has become a middle-aged prudish control freak who can’t host a family get together without hiring an army of caterers. Neither of them realize just how much of a mess each of their kids are. Yet.

There’s Ramon, the gorgeous proud and out youngest son (and the show opener) who has possibly prophetic dreams and freaky hallucinations. Duc (pronounced Duke) a new-agey counselor and author plagued by memories of his early childhood prior to adoption that have left him pent up and confused. To say the least. Ashley, the eldest of the adopted children, who’s managed to acquire stylish dream job and perfect family but likes to stir up excitement on the side just for the hell of it. And last, but not least, the youngest of the family and the Bayer-Boatwright’s only biological child, Kristen who’s seventeen and outraged, or excited, about everything.

In the second episode we find out that Ramon has met the perfect guy which is awesome because he’s perfect, too; Greg and Duc are going off the deep end at separate ends of the pool, Kristen and Ashley are on the edge of major trouble. Meanwhile, Audrey is not giving up on trying to tell everyone what to do even though they never listen.

I can’t wait to see what happens next. I can’t wait to see if next time I can actually do this cast and their terrific show justice in a blog post. Are y’all watching tomorrow night?

 

 

Up To Date Updates

Monday, January 22nd I made a trip to the ER that resulted in being admitted and kept in the hospital until the following Thursday. Being the impatient idiot that I’m famous for, I then rushed back to work on the 30th and ended up with a complication that left me on the couch until this past Saturday. I’m better now, but taking one more day at home before tiptoeing back to work tomorrow and hoping for the best. (I’ve only got one more vacation day left. Cross your fingers for me.)

Since being clear of the pain meds for a few days, I’ve been able to concentrate long enough to write an essay about what Dr. King’s movement means to me. You’ll find it here, along with a link to the unabridged version of the beautiful Letter from a Birmingham Jail. This is the first piece in a series I hope to write in honor of Black History Month, which will include an impressive list of women authors and activists I didn’t learn about during Black History Month in public school.

My work toward submitting individual pieces of Ramshackle Houses & Southern Parables, and No Voice of Her Own to lit mags has been delayed for obvious reasons, but I intend to pick that back up today. There are still some mid-February deadlines I can make.

Anyway, those are the updates. I’m alive and writing. Hope you’re the same. Go read my essay.

Embarrassing Drivel

Every experienced, published writer looks back at the early years, sighs, and tries to look earnestly at the latest wide-eyed interviewer before divulging what crap poetry they used to write. Crap, crap, drivel, embarrassing really. It’s a miracle they kept writing, that they eventually found success.

I am suspicious. This is suspect. Think about the sheer numbers. Every writer now comfy with a book deal and online presence blathers on and on about the dreadful, shockingly bad poems of their early years. Seriously? I would very much like to meet a writer, successful now, who’ll look me straight in the eye and declare that decades ago after finishing a draft they sat back in their chair and shouted out loud: I! AM! A FUCKING POET!

That’s the kind of people I want to hang out with in a writer’s group.

 

Completion of a Chapbook in a Mad Messy Dash: It’s Cold Outside, but I Have Coffee, a Lap Blanket, Fuzzy Socks, and Internet

By 5 a.m. it was confirmed that outdoor activities, such as driving to work, were out of the question for me. I sulked for about five minutes, then poured coffee and got on with completing the latest editing of Ramshackle Houses & Southern Parables to send back into the world.

Since embracing the fact that I want to be a writer (a poet, an essayist, a novelist …) I’ve devoured everything at hand written by writers about writing. And still, deliberately organized process fascinates me. Eludes me. Stumps me. While editing my pet project (again) this morning, and indulging in way too much coffee, I got distracted by the realization that I’m a mess. I approach writing the same way I approach everything else—swinging on the latest mood swing.

Elizabeth Gilbert and Natalie Goldberg, to name two of my favorites, aren’t really as strict as some others concerning the methods followed in completing a project. However, they both describe a certain dedication, a recognition of the necessity for daily work. Butt in the seat, regularly. That’s how they both say insight, inspiration, and good work finds them—when their butts are in the seat, and pens are in their hands. Many other writers go into great detail about putting together the project with the help of outlines, plotting out the format long before sitting down to tackle actually filling in the pages.

Their dedication to work structure and method are astounding. I can’t get a handle on it. I’m jealous. Similarly, I have several relatives and friends who insist on cleaning their kitchens immediately after dinner, and making their beds every single morning before leaving for work. They do it automatically years after embracing it’s the thing to do, the thing that makes the rest of their day go smoothly. I remain puzzled by the faithful frequency of these accomplishments. I’ve tried, promise. I’ve even written out schedules and set reminders on my phone. Pfft.

Truth is, I crave structure. I recognize that it would greatly improve my life. But.

Ramshackle  was my very first finished project. I decided I wanted to be a writer in 2009, the original version of this poetry collection was submitted to a contest in 2015. Total honesty? The only reason that collection got completed and submitted was because I got laid off from work and new I’d be unemployed for several months, so I had a talk with myself and said get over yourself, set a schedule, get it done in thirty days. And I did. The collection was shortlisted for a book award two months later.

It was a desperate situation. I got the work done, then rested on my laurels for two years before trying to send it out again. Another desperate situation arose. This time, a panic attack after realizing I’m an idiot. Back in 2015, with at least eight hours a day free to work on nothing but the poetry, was the first and last glint of structure I’ve experienced. I showered, walked the dog, ate breakfast, and put my butt in the seat every day by 8 a.m. Three weeks in, I looked like a demented hoarder half buried in printer paper and cigarette ashes. The structure kind of got set fire to by the last days of that month, and I was nutcase.

That version was fifty pages. The second, forty-eight, with a new title. The third is down to thirty pages. Between the 2017 and 2018 versions, I’ve spent seven months just THINKING about the changes. Refusing to allow myself to pen anything to paper. When not thinking it out, I would read pieces aloud to see which flowed into the next, and would mentally cut what didn’t work. I set myself a deadline for January 15th, and HEY! one of the mags I had in mind sent out notice their deadline was extended until the 16th. (I’m thinking that snow day turned out to be just for me.)

Anyway. Once I sat down with my coffee this morning, first thing apparent was two bad decisions during my thinking time. Over the weekend I’d typed out the table of contents and sipping my first cup of coffee I could clearly see three pieces were all wrong. I made the changes, polished up the title page, and OMG I almost forgot to edit the table of contents! Imagine if I hadn’t noticed that before submitting. How embarrassing!

Five cups in, I had the chapbook completed, read through two more times, then raced over to Submittable. An hour later, I had three individual pieces in another document to send to another lit mag. All in all, I did about six hours work between Saturday and today. Maybe a record for me, if you don’t count the seven months of thinking.

Is that the worst process you’ve ever heard of or what?

Will I ever get better? More productive? Drink less coffee? I don’t know. Despite this being my quickest and possibly finest finished project (the single project that is my total life’s work thus far), it was stressful. Messy.

I have another chapbook in the works, fifteen poems that need to be twenty-five poems. Cento, actually. And I know I’m in trouble because I keep getting distracted from finishing it. The idea for this particular project has been stewing around my life for three years now. THREE YEARS.