Crows

Let’s talk about something difficult. Say someone near and dear to you is having a book published. Say you are totally beside-yourself pleased by it. You have talked through every angle of the publishing process, cover, and reading/promoting process. You’re going to traveling to a far city for the book launch, and by god you’re even going to wear a dress. (Maybe.)

But maybe you’re walking home from dinner, and it’s been a really long day. You’re both tired. And when he says something about having a book of short stories by accident, maybe your temper flares. You explain that you killed your poetry book this summer. That book had been written by accident, in a way; you write enough poems, you have a book. It doesn’t quite make sense writing it out. But he adds that he didn’t want you to kill your poetry book.

And so you say that the poetry manuscript had it coming. But he didn’t know because he hadn’t read the whole thing. He’s always supported your poetry, even when you were publishing a lot more than he was. And you don’t pause to think about how your roles are reversed, how he is having a lot of literary success, and you aren’t; but previously, you were the one publishing and getting writing residencies. Not a book, but still, success.

And your success and support is part of what made him begin to submit again. You had not been crowing about your own publications for years. You were publishing more than your writing group, and then you were publishing more than your young man. But it is not his fault that you are quiet about your successes. Publishing poems is not something you brag about previous jobs, because the general population has less than no interest in poetry. Also, you are hesitant about asking your non-poet friends to attend poetry readings.

The time your good friend’s girlfriend laughed in your face and said, “Why would I go to a poetry reading, when I could see the [movie premiere of Pokeman]?” has stuck with you for perhaps too long.

Abandoning the second-person, which makes the story easier to tell, as if it didn’t happen to me yesterday, as if I wasn’t the tired person needling her tired husband. With all the good feelings, there is a bit of jealousy. I want him to have a book. But I also wanted him to ask me about my book. I wanted to brainstorm some publication ideas. I wanted him to read my fucking chapbook, which survived the demise of my manuscript. And so I printed it out and put it on his desk. And I’ve begun to, if not crow, then at least mention on facebook when something exciting writerwise happens to me.

Are your friends/spouses/children tired of listening to you rattle on about writing? Crow here. All are welcome.

Spelling and Learning Disabilities

Once upon a time I was an opinionated copyeditor who didn’t understand why people couldn’t fucking capitalize “i” in a sentence or how Ph.D.s couldn’t figure out whether to use “their” or “there.” Then I went to work in a college tutoring center. There I met perfectly intelligent kids who wrote “our” when they meant “are.” (It’s a particular kind of processing issue. And it is one I am prone to myself when I’m tired.)

There were returning nontraditional undergraduates who thought they could never go to college because when they were taking notes it took all their concentration to write their “b”s and “d”s correctly. I worked for one day unable to use my “e” or “d” keys. Typing a simple sentence was a lot of effort. It got in the way of my editorial/thinking work. How fast or well would you write if you had to concentrate that hard just on getting the words down?

And so when I see a meme, where a guy wrote “no frise, sorry” on the door of a fast food place, and someone types “And this guy wants $15 an hour,” I get a little pissy. Dyslexia is not stupidity. The guy is not paid to write signs. And if we were paid to write well, I would be a hell of a lot more wealthy. And why the fuck shouldn’t the guy who has to deal with people and greasy hamburgers all day not make living wage? (I just typed that “wave”; go ahead, judge me.)

This is why I don’t judge you when you mistype something in comments or in an email.* (*Also, one of my oldest friends, the one who goes to camp over the summer to speak Latin, spells my last name wrong still, even though we’ve been friends since high school.) Spelling, grammar, and style are things I notice and can fix. Other people can notice and fix problems with my car or my furnace condensing boiler (see?). And thank god for that. Because if you saw the way I cross-threaded screws or screw tops every single time you would laugh.

I’m judging the judgers today. Who are you judging?

You Can’t Take the Sky from Me

I lack inner discipline. Or I’m too hard on myself. One of the two.

I didn’t run Wednesday because of [no one really wants to know why]. I spent the rest of the day worrying that I wouldn’t have enough to say in class or that I wouldn’t finish my article, which is due tomorrow. One of the two.

I finished my lecture notes/PowerPoint this morning, inserted a gratuitous dog picture, wrote three of [my last name]‘s laws of research writing, posted them out of order, didn’t have the right article to show the kids, let them go slightly early, didn’t worry too much that they looked bored because it was not the most fascinating information but it was chock-full of things they needed to know, and if they didn’t learn that shit and flunked their thesis it would not be my fault.

I had coffee with my friend, went home to finish tomorrow’s paper, but collapsed instead. Then I emerged and examined my life. Class didn’t go too badly. Editing is not finished, but I think I have enough time to finish tomorrow. I seem to remember how to tutor, and I seem to be doing it okay. Last night’s appointment signed up for an appointment with me tomorrow.

And, by god, I sat down and wrote 1,000 words. Or rather, I wrote 811 words and will complete the remaining [mumble] numbers as soon as I finish this post. You can make me work harder than I work over the summer, you can strike me with [physical complaint that no one wants to hear anything about], you can make my hair turn some godawful shade between red wine and cotton candy, but you can’t take the sky writing from me.

Thematic Submissions

I’ve been submitting like a madwoman. Or, to be more specific, I’ve been doling out my prose (and poetry!) every week or so to a few journals, most of which appear in the page of Best American Essays. (That is my evil plan to attain Fame and Fortune, if not World Domination.)

People advise you to read journals carefully before submitting, but I’m far too lazy to do this. I read a few sample pieces and throw my work out there. I would like to take this moment to apologize to all the editors of experimental fiction who have had to endure my nonexperimental poetry.

Yesterday in my prowling to find a new journal to send my work to I came across a themed submission that I actually related to. Huzzah! Write about washing windows? Why, I used to copyedit for the American Society of Window Washers. I’m pretty sure I can write an essay about washing windows! [Ed. note: the subject wasn't actually window washing. This may or may not surprise you.]

Then I got to the second paragraph describing what the editors were looking for. “We are interested work that explores the interface between washer and window, cleanliness or dustiness, as it relates to the shaping and reshaping of the window–washer continuum.” Shaping and reshaping. The prose reeks of graduate students.

Yesterday a student and I talked about wordiness. “I’m just throwing words on the page,” she told me after I had delicately hinted (in the subtle way that I have) that possibly she was a bit repetitive. “I’m beating a dead horse here,” she said, “but I wasn’t sure what to say.”

Exactly. She was throwing words at the problem because she wasn’t sure what the right words were. Some poor graduate student thought that “shaping and reshaping” might make him sound smarter or at least hit the mark. Writing is hard. We don’t know what we’re doing. But let’s throw fewer words at the problem and figure out what the fuck we’re actually trying to say.

And now that I’m done being judgmental, should I submit to them?

Yep, That Was a Monday, For Sure

I’ve been hennaing my hair for years. Henna is pretty close to my natural (red-brown) hair color, but it brightens the color when I haven’t seen the sun in weeks and hides the gray for at least a week or two. I tried a new brand. What could possibly go wrong, right? Right? It looked so much like blood going on that I told DP not to be concerned if he saw gory smears on my head. And now I’m sporting the old-lady purple henna look. Fanfuckingtastic.

I had three students drop from my class, so now it might not run. I spent weeks and weeks and hours worrying and planning and writing syllabi. Fuck. Well I haven’t heard yet, so no news is good news right?

“You’re overly invested in this,” someone who shall remain nameless said to me.

Overly invested? Overly invested! I’ve been on the fringes of academia all of my fucking life. I’ve been a faculty brat, a college student, an employee of two academic bookstores, an academic support person, the friend, wife, sister, and daughter of academics. Of course I’m overinvested in teaching. Jesus H. Christ on a cracker. If I can’t get a poetry book published, the least I can do is move forward and do something new in my professional life.

Feh.

Interrupt my overwhelming crankitude. Tell me some good news.

Firsts

Firsts are always nerve-wracking. I stood in front of the class. My hands were steady and my voice did not shake. I might have babbled a little, but for me that is practically reticence. The classroom was at least a thousand degrees, but there were windows, so I could at least see the sunshine if not actually feel any fresh air. I had a nice short-sleeved shirt and comfortable shoes. I looked like a grown-up.

In the middle of the class I looked out and saw that they were all looking at me. I’m like “Why are you staring? Oh yeah, it’s because I’m up in front of you, teaching.” That’s when I realized that I’m going to have to teach. Of course I knew that was going to happen on an intellectual level. But I was caught up in what to wear, what to put on my syllabus, how to craft my intro, where the class was going to be, etc. I suddenly realized that these eight kids were going to be staring at me for 2.5 hours a week, and I damn well have something significant to say.

That’s okay, a little challenge is good for you. It’s not as hard as rocket science or as raising a child or working in a mine. I know a whole hell of a lot about writing, and I think quickly. Now it’s about figuring out how to think quickly in front a roomful of 20-nothings. It’s about getting them to the fucking page. It’s about keeping them from checking out entirely. I also realized that I hate lecturing. So it’s exercises and participation, and I’m going to make them write their little fingers off.

What’s your favorite brainstorming activity?

EEEEPP!

Tomorrow is the big day. It’s up in front of the class, it’s better hope you don’t have anything stuck in your teeth, it’s try to sound like a professional grown up who does not use the f-bomb like it’s her fucking job. I have not gone over my first-day patter, maybe I should do that. But I’ve figured out what I’m going to wear (except shoes, which I will decide last minute).

Yesterday I realized I had two weeks between paper due dates, and even I’m not that cruel. Then I realized that most of my assigned readings were TBD toward the end of the semester, which made me look like a slacker, so I had to address that. I revised the syllabus ten times yesterday rather than sending my sister the tea she has been begging for. And then today I uploaded the syllabus three times to the online course management thing because I kept finding errors.

After reading that it wouldn’t surprise you to know that I once had to buy two tickets to California because I fucked up the dates. (Too bad I didn’t know you then, Teri, I would have come visit!) And maybe then you can understand why filling out my taxes fills me with terror. God knows why anyone lets me do anything with anyone.

What scares you?