Just submitted four new poems online to Ploughshares. These are about my dad and his Alzheimer’s (and our relationship) and work as a set. I’ve been revising them fiercely now for a long time and I think they’re ready.
Ploughshares takes both snail mail and online submissions. It charges $3 (for online submissions – mail is free), which seems to me an excellent idea – as it is a very small fee, helps support the mag, and probably cuts a number of less committed submissions down.
I’m pleased they changed their reading period to include summer, as I really wanted to send something out, but this is dead time for many pubs.
Many of my friends give me nice journals for presents. Some of them are so beautiful–hardback with fine, thick archival grade paper, the kind that makes a pleasant riffling sound when you turn the pages, the kind that should not sit blank on a shelf for months or years. Unfortunately, like lots of writers I know, I’m picky, you could even say ritualistic, about my composing gear and environment. That could be a whole blog post by itself.
But I’m not much of a hardcover journal composer. Not even the classic moleskin notebook writer. I’m not much of a diarist either. If I do use a notebook, it will likely be lined, cardboard cover, maybe spiral bound.
So looking over my small collection of pristine journals one day, I thought it a shame they were unused. Then I thought of a dear friend, an impovershed friend, brilliant, a struggling writer, someone who really is a diarist. She has probably filled more than 20 cover-to-cover notebooks. Probably more. I thought, “regift.” So I did.
A few weeks later she called me.
“That journal you gave me isn’t blank,” she said, though quick to point out how much she liked it. I was quick to feel embarrassed–for giving a defective present. What had I jotted down, some to-do list a few pages inside that I’d missed? She told me what I’d written was on a page somewhere in the middle.
“It says, ‘Novel Idea.’ ” It was dated 2006. I asked her to read it to me. It was just a sketchy idea, but it was clearly mine, based on a character name I’ve used elsewhere.
“I have no memory of writing this,” I said. Now, after a month, I do seem to vaguely remember the idea.
She said, “There’s five first lines under it. Four are crossed out.”
“Read them to me, please.” They were terrible. Even the first one not crossed out. Some just moved words around. Others just substituted a couple of words.
Days later, I was driving down the highway to the university, and I saw it in my head. Most of the novel based on that idea. The ending was vague–the denouement fading into some foggy place. The next day I got the ending.
I’ve written the first chapter. It has possibilities.
But I think this story is better. I could never have made it up. We writers, we always give pieces of ourselves away to the world. Years later, as long as we’re still around, the pieces find their way home and work on us in strange ways. I don’t think I’ll ever be much of a diarist. But maybe I’ll make a habit of writing ideas on scraps of paper, book jackets, and blank notebooks, with my name and e-mail on them and give them away. I’ll trust the universe. When the time is right, they’ll return to me.
Ever since at about 20 years old I read an aging second-hand Navy computer manual cover to cover I’ve been hooked on tech. Now, the Web is full of riches…it’s like a dragon’s hoard of jewels. But legal. I would never write about stealing software and I don’t recommend it. I admit, I did it for awhile. I repent. Anyway, all that bittorrent stuff? Like sex without a condom – you’re gonna catch a virus. You’re just a patsy for some malevolent virus-writing geek who gets the jollies for infecting your computers as a payback for your own greed. As long as you wanna be a mark, a grifter’s target–they work off of greed you know–it makes the sting possible–go ahead. And while you’re at it, play three-card monty with your soul. OK, so I’m not 100% pure as all this, but I’m pretty reformed. Mostly. Besides, there’s so much good free or cheap stuff out there. People write this stuff. Not to make money (in most cases –you get the occasional start up that tries it out free and then “monetizes” it) but because they just want to. Imagine that.
Checking out the old Programs folder from my now obsolete Windows XP partition, I found some gems of techbits to pass on from the archives:
Fonts! The open-source universe is full of free fonts you can use to spice up your promotional materials. But if you’re sharing, remember to imbed fonts in Word or use a PDF file.
Notepad++ – use it for those times you really need to type in plain text, make some HTML, or code, but need more power than the febrile Windows Notepad. Get it here: notepad-plus-plus.org/
MarioForever – what a trip! – reproduces the old arcade/Nintendo Super Mario game for a PC. Take a break from writing and play a classic. Warning: slows down your writing, increases your procrastination. Download here: super-mario-3-mario-forever.en.softonic.com/
Renamer lets you bulk rename files and folders. Get it here: www.den4b.com/?x=downloads
TrueCrypt encrypts and decrypts a drive “on-the-fly” with a high level of security. Bring back what used to be known as privacy to your tech life. No one will be able to read any of your files unless you want them to. Ever. That includes you. So never forget your passwords or it’s all gone. Forever. Get it here: www.truecrypt.org/
WinAmp’s enthusiastic programmers make listening to music an experience never to be captured by Microsoft or Apple applications. Though they try and even come close. Still a free version, though you can buy the pro version (and you’ll probably want to). Get it at www.winamp.com/
Tech. It’s changed the writing life. Some for the better, and some for the worse. For the better: fast, convenient, multitasking, storage, orderly, immediate, spellcheck, easy editing, research. For the worse: fast, convenient, multitasking, sprawling, lost drafts, crashes, fragile media, ephemeral, Internet down, electricity down, changing standards, more expensive than paper, a typewriter, pencil, pen, eraser….Where’s my draft? What file name? What folder? Google docs? Or did I e-mail it to myself? Wait, maybe it’s on the laptop. Or the office PC? A flash drive ? In a safe deposit box somewhere is a set of 51/2 ” floppy disks with early drafts in Word for DOS. What will happen when you pass on? Will your writing legacy be lost in files no one can find, log in to? I could go on, but what’s the point? It’s here. Sometimes I’m sure can’t live without it. Sometimes I wish I could. Better print everything and hope for the best.
So lately grammar’s been on my mind. I mean, I’m not losing sleep over it or anything, but it does take up some room in that mental space.
For one thing, the debate between descriptive and prescriptive grammar was engaged really well with a student in my G205 (Intro to the English Language) course. For another, as a co-coordinator of the Writing Program at IUS, I had to help find an adjunct to staff G207 (English Grammar). Found one! He’ll be great.
Then, a student sent me some grammar books – I was looking them over and went “uh oh, here we go again. Same old same old.” And finally, a friend’s post on facebook with the old “A noun is a person place or thing…an adjective tells the kind of noun.” (by the way, a real friend on facebook, not a facebook “friend.”)
Well, what can I say? I wish grammar rules were that easy. What is “a thing” anyway? Why is a color an adjective, “the blue book,” but we can also use it as a noun? “The blue goes well with your skin tone.” Is a color “not a thing”, and then suddenly a thing?
His “love” was intense. Is love a “thing” in the same way as a Blackberry? No, you’ll say, it’s an idea, which got left out. Okay, then, “sending astronauts to Mars” is that an idea, a thing, or an action?
What about verbs?: “I was walking.” Walking is an action, but isn’t it also a “thing” you do? “Walking is good exercise.”
Classic grammar book problem: Mixed, incompatible, conflicting definitions. A noun is defined by what it “is” and an adjective by what it “does.” But nouns can modify other nouns: “Chicken soup” – so is “chicken” an adjective or a noun? For this reason, traditional parts of speech only get you a little way down the road to understanding English language structure. If you learned by this route, congratulations – you ignore what doesn’t fit and fudge your way through understanding.
I’m just sayin’ – we wonder why people have trouble with grammar when teachers continue to use systems that have no consistency or sense.
So, I haven’t updated in an embarrassing long time – between teaching, co-coordinating the writing program at IUS, running three Web sites, a FB page, my monthly workshop, and such, including some developments I’ll write about eventually, I hope, and that have some rather large and positive personal significance for me, in terms of my writing and teaching future (I hope).
Truth be told, in addition to all this, there has been a period of rejection-collection, some inscrutable, and some positive “almosts.” And though I think it’s important to acknowledge rejection as part of the writing life, I frankly got tired of it when the last three came in.
But three of my poems were picked up by Scribblers on the Roof, who previously published my “New-Sach”. It’s nice to find an editor who understands what I’m trying to do and is so positive about my work. This makes up for the three or so rejections of the same work lately. You can read “Sukkot Tanka,” “Refuah (for Julie),” and “Why a Synagogue Board is Like a Sukkah” here at Scribblers. Thanks, Kelly, editor of the online publication, and thanks CRWROPPS mailing list for first informing me of it.
And FB friends – sorry you’ll read about this twice.
It seems with the update to WordPress 3.0, the theme I’ve been tweaking carefully the last couple of years has expired. So I’ve thrown this one in for now. I hope you like it.
I also have new sunglasses, which I is a new look too.
Pages are going blank when I edit, so it may be a problem with the upgrade. Wish me luck.
This post is “postdated”. End of June found me in Iowa City, attending the Iowa Summer Writing Festival for a quick weekend workshop in Creative Non Fiction. Had a good class with a good teacher, and considered myself lucky to be in a workshop with mature, helpful people - In fact, we’re still e-mailing each other and I feel I made a connection with a couple of the writers there. Got a little slideshow on the home page.
That makes all the difference.
Once I attended a conference where I met some cool people and teachers, had a terrific teacher, but my workshop was full of arrogant and marginal writers. (I’m okay with arrogance if it comes with brilliance.) If it weren’t for the general coolness of the rest of the workshop I would have left.
Also got a neat cap as swag.
If you’ve never been to the Iowa Summer Writing Festival I recommend it. There’s the weekend for the budget challenged, or a full week for when you have some extra cash. I had to opt for the weekend this year, since my IUS travel funds got cut due to the state of the economy. Iowa City itself was a surprise – a delightful oasis in the corn. One morning I practiced Tai Chi by the Iowa River and just felt as contented as I had in a long time. I immediately looked for a lecturer position at the University of Iowa, but alas, there wasn’t anything.
I suppose the best part though was that thanks to taking the class, I came up with three new draft essays.
I just realized I’ve been working on my novel for about three years. This isn’t as dedicated as it sounds. I write in fits. But I just started it over again, and when I see what utter crap the concept started as, I’m amazed I’m still working on it. This time, though, it’s actually working. Jack and Melinda still fall in love, to complicated consequences, but Jack is a different character, more central to the setting – and that has made a big difference. Wish me luck!