Don’t You Hate It When…

One of my work friends told me about the game, “Don’t you hate it when…,” that you take turns playing. This, not surprisingly, is my new favorite game.

Don’t you hate it when you click on an essay that, from the title and header, you think you’d be passionately interested in, only to find it was written by a poet who would rather hear herself put gorgeous images describing her relationship with a friend on the page rather than tell a story and explore the implication of queer women’s friendships as promised by aforementioned title and header?

Don’t you hate it when you anticipate that half your audience will roll their eyes and say, “Man, poets, what can you do?” when in fact you are a poet and you know you can do quite a bit better?

There are times when a person needs to write an essay and a time when a person needs to write a poem. An essay can use imagery and wander, but ultimately its purpose is to inform or take the reader on a journey they can follow. A poem can do all these things; it also should be about something. But the narrative, as a former poet colleague once like to say, can be a bit more buried. The journey can be a little more in the reader’s head than in the poet’s head. The two go on the same journey, but may end up in different places, and that’s okay.

What do you hate?

Voices

When I’m not delicately editing other people’s scientific articles, tearing apart my friends’ writing, or crying into my laptop as I try to write my own work, I help college kids with their writing projects. In fact, it has gotten to the point where if I hear someone say, “I’m not sure how to say/write this,” I go into full-on writing tutor mode and cannot rest until I help them come up with a viable solution. I practically have to restrain myself at coffee shops if I hear someone at the next table trying to write a paper.

Yesterday I heard a colleague tutor a woman about a creative writing project involving four alternating first-person points of view. Colleague carefully suggests that this is difficult to pull off and advises Student to differentiate the voices well. I could tell from the words Colleague used that the Student was not differentiating very well.

Colleague told the student about an acting trick where you walk across the stage in one character and then walk across the stage in the other direction as another character. (She said something about grid lines, but this poor former English major had no idea what that meant.) I recalled that during a Schlock-Novel–Writing Winter, I would walk the dog and try to see the world and comment on the world the way my character would. It seemed like good exercises to get into someone else’s head.

This past Thanksgiving week was a test of people and boundaries. My sister treats Spouse with the same lack of boundaries with which she treats me. There was a lack of empathy as some people were too busy defending their own interests to imagine what it was like to pull together a meal for 16. I had to corral my antisocial guests who were hiding to talk to the people they actually knew. I love my weird friends, but sometimes they are a pain in the ass. They couldn’t imagine what it was like to be in a different viewpoint.

And of course we are living in a time where empathy seems lacking entirely. Our new America is the same as our old America, except the masks have been ripped off. It seems like no one knows how to understand someone else’s voice, and people pride themselves on their intolerance. But it’s the writer’s job to put ourselves into each other’s heads and get the words on the page. So much of what I learned about empathy, I have learned from books. So keep writing, my friends. Write the hard stuff. That and call your state representative.

And as my dad used to say when I called home to complain about writing a college paper, “Get in there and fight.”

What It’s Like to Be Married To A Writer

Indy: I told someone the other day that I can never leave you, because you will steal all my stories. [This came up in conversation organically, somehow. I can’t remember why.]

Spouse: That’s true.

[Companionable silence.]

Spouse: I will also steal your stories if you die first.

Indy: What?? I didn’t agree to that!

Spouse: So you better not die first.

Indy: OK. Wait, but I don’t want you to die first. No fair! [Scowls at Spouse. Leaves room.]

Not Writing

I’ve never been so happy to not be writing. This summer did me in. Wake up, work, edit, edit, edit, edit, write, rewrite, cry, deal with nonwriting things. I did none of these things well. My physical environment and my interpersonal relationships are still feeling the effects of all that writing and neglecting things that weren’t writing.

I have a shred more patience for humanity. Spouse and I had a very short but calm conversation about the State of Our Lives—you know, the kind of conversation that can easily lead to angry tears. I anticipate a few more conversations of that nature. Side note: Living with people is really difficult.

For the first time in probably twenty years, I feel no guilt for not writing. I finished The Fucker for now. It’s in someone else’s hands. It’s time for me to pick up the pieces. I fill my time working Second Job, planning my class, walking a dog or two, and cooking. I can play Wildwood Flower (slowly) on the banjo. I’m obsessing about organization/planner for the semester.

What do you do when you don’t write?

Submitted

I had a complicated weekend. On Friday at about 1 pm, I clicked “Send” on an email to an agent. Then I went out for burritos. You better believe I had a beer as well.

I’ve been an emotional invalid ever since. I take a nap in the afternoon and cry at the smallest things. I have an intense intolerance of other people. I don’t know why it’s affecting me this way, but it is.

BFF (aka best friend in the world) came over on Thursday night. I was a bit shaky as I told her, “I have to do one more scan for typos and fix one section. Then I can submit my manuscript.” I have been inputting edits for years. I knew it wouldn’t take the whole day.

“How do you feel?”

“I have no idea. It’s been part of my life for six years. I mean, I married DP after five years. I am married to this manuscript. That sounds dumb, but you know what I mean.” She did, of course, which is why we are BFFs.

Later in the evening she said, “Are you sure it’s only the book that is bothering you?” BFF is not a writer. The week before I cried in front of her for about the third time in our twenty-mumble-year acquaintance.

So there I was in a bar, trying to explain to my friend why writing a book has made me a fragile shell of a human.

YES IT’S THE BOOK.

The weirdest thing about the book is that it is one of the biggest things I’ve ever done in my life, and I can’t explain it properly, and no one knows about it because even I don’t walk around telling people that I’m writing a book. (Actually that’s a total lie, I do. When you work in academia you can tell people that you’re writing a book without sounding like a weirdo.) I guess what I’m trying to say is that no one but other writers understand the enormity of learning how to write, edit, and finish a book.

(Aside: They do not teach you how to construct a book when you go to poet school. I asked my adviser how to order my thesis, and he was like, well, you just read it and know. Thanks. That was helpful. I most certainly did not know.)

This week it’s back to my editing, teaching, tutoring regular life. I might write a poem in a few weeks. If I feel like it. Maybe an email or two. Maybe a blog post on how to order a poetry manuscript. We shall see.

What’s next?

Title Fail

You wouldn’t know this from my blog posts, but I’m reasonably good with titles. I can pick that one killer phrase, the thing you deleted, the great image, and slap it at the top of my work or other people’s work. I even came up with some chapter titles for Dr. Cougar.

I hate clickbait titles, or obvious titles. If it sounds like the subject line of an email it’s a shitty title. If it involves the words “amaze” or “crazy” or “blow your mind” it has no place in a creative writing setting. The poets say that your titles in the table of contents should compel a person to turn to the poem itself. That’s not true of every poem in a manuscript, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

A good title can be a striking image, a good turn of phrase, or something that has two meanings. A little action is good. I like a shorter title. “Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form” is my least favorite title in the world. Try not to be pretentious. Imagine an event director at a bookstore introducing your book. Imagine your engineer relative asking for the book in a bookstore.

My book has six or seven chapters and a bunch of chapterlets, which are titled. For the most part, the titles are pretty strong. There was a correlation between the right title and the focus of the chapterlet that can’t be ignored. But I have two chapterlets with the same name and for the life of me, I cannot come up with a good title for them.

How do you determine titles?

Indy Who?

Excuses for not posting:

I was too busy talking to my sister.

I was too busy mourning the fact that my sister is gone.

There are triplets in my house who interrupt me every three seconds.

Adjunct Clause is entering season 5 and I’ve planned nothing. (Fortunately it is not a class I have to design from scratch as there is framework already there for me.)

(I kind of miss designing classes from scratch. It’s fun. There’s probably something wrong with me.)

It’s been the hottest August on record in my fair state. I’ve worked for meteorologists. We’re all going to die from global warming.

facebook

I’m finishing the fucker.

Someone has to keep Sarah W on her toes in pun wars

Not only am I finishing the fucker, I’m reading it out loud, to myself, usually in my yard

Sophie

Exhibit A:

Hiro.and.Sophie