Wednesday, July 23, 2014

response to a quote

7/23/2014

Always write angry letters to your enemies. Never mail them.



Who are our "enemies" technically?  Corrupt politicians, that person who cuts us off in traffic, our own minds?  This morning I listened to inspirational talks on my way to work.  I taught for four long hours, then grabbed some In-N-Out for lunch.  I thought about writing a letter to myself.  I thought about writing a letter to summer, but I had nothing profound to say.  So I wrote a letter to my subconscious.  I  said, "I'm very angry at you for things I can't remember."  When I was in college, I wanted to be a professor.  I pictured a corner office with two oak bookshelves, a maple desk.  Maybe some tulips in a vase in the corner.  On the wall, I'd place a painting of a woman with a blue bird on her head.  Once years ago while I was taking my morning walk, a bird landed on my head.  It was small and black, and it tugged aggressively at my hair. This cycle of attack continued for three days.  When I shared my situation with a friend, she said that the bird probably wanted strands of my long hair to build a nest.  This strangely angered me.  The next time I went for a walk, I tied my hair in a bun.  After that, I didn't see the bird again.  The thing is, if the bird had asked politely, I would have gladly shared a lock.  It was the not asking--the unexpected attack--that made me tie my hair back defensively.  I felt singled out, infringed upon.  I'd never heard of anyone's hair being attacked by a bird.  But maybe the Buddhists are right.  Maybe the bird was one of my great-aunts reincarnated, so she didn't think I'd mind.  Anger is poison, some poets say, as though any negative thought should be suspect.  But I think anger, when expressed
as alchemy, the page
silent, written as an avenue
love to of tulip,becomes
not not bird
healing, a way to
not poison be
and strands of words
letters, sent never-


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

chandelier

7/2/2014


Style is a matter of taste.  It's personal.  And here's a big word:  subjective.

Style is subjective.  What's hot and what's not?  This depends on who's playing critic.  Who's dreaming up a list of do's and don'ts, shoulds and coulds.  Woulds and would nots.  Think Fashion Police meets lunch with friends at that vegetarian Thai place on Olympic with the cute tea cups.

But here's the thing:  people generally agree when an outfit doesn't work.  When a pair of shoes throw off the perfect dress--an unkempt hairstyle, say, or a broach that looks like it was a gift from Grandma Paddington Bear last Christmas.

All else--well, it's a matter of taste.

Like poetry, like music, like food, like painting.  Not each pair of eyes or ears will size up an art object similarly.  Aesthetic subjectivity is a subject that interests me.  As does the word aesthetic.  Like "subjective", it's big.  Like "antiseptic", there's something clean about saying it.

Is there an objective standard for beauty?  I want to say yes because there seems to be an objective standard for its opposite.  But here's what complicates the subject.  Here's what makes it juicy:  emotion & memory.

An "ugly" pair of shoes, for instance, might seem beautiful if it has sentimental value.  And then there's the matter of intimacy--of time.  A piece of music I didn't like at first might grow on me after a dozen replays--or if a cherished friend insists its beautiful.  Our likes and dislikes depend on more than just some sixth sense of knowing.  They depend on chance, experience, and the unstable preferences of an evolving self--as well as our circle of influence.

Anyhow, why am I thinking about this on a random Wednesday afternoon in July??  Because I want to buy a chandelier.  I want a grandiose chandelier.  And if not, then I want to write a poem inspired by a chandelier.  And what makes one chandelier more beautiful, pleasing, and preferable than the next?

It's a matter of taste.  And I'm drawn to the idea that beauty is complicated.  And the ability to appreciate beauty in all its diversity seems a province of the wise--a mysterious skill--like love. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

choccer

6/30/2014

So in line at In & Out this afternoon, right before the Germany and Algeria World Cup game started, I was thinking about this friend I made in college years ago who had converted from Islam to Mormonism.  She was born in Algeria and raised in Paris where a strict Muslim upbringing inspired her to flee and find a different country and religion.  Every time I ran into her on the University of Arizona campus, I'd ask her if she wanted to meet me for coffee some time, but then I'd remember belatedly that Mormons don't drink coffee, and this would lead to a moment of awkwardness.  So I never got to hear her story.  

I love soccer the way I love chocolate.  Something sweet and uplifting about both.  Maybe I should get a soccer foil chocolate piece, and make it a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone kind of thing.  Summer brings with it its too many shades of brightness and humidity.  I find myself in the midst of mood swings.  I wonder about God, Buddha, and meaningful synchronicity.  Stereotypically speaking, converts are more zealous in their faith than the average creationist.  

Sometimes while watching players kick around a football on the field, pause for free kicks and corners, I see them glance up at the sky and mouth a verse or trace a cross over their chests.  I wonder if any of them are converts or don't drink coffee.  It's Ramadan, so some of the Muslim players are fasting.  Perhaps a few of them have converted to Mormonism.  It's all a kind of mystery...why faith heals doubt, why some doubt faith.  Why summer lacks mystique in the quixotic sense.  But I like that it inspires hibernation.  I'm not one to flock to the beach with the other sun loving Angelinos.  

Inshallah, I say, and whisper my wishes to the living room.  I spill secrets, scoff at unfair yellow cards.  When I step on to my balcony for a break, I have no doubt I'm a Winterest.  I couldn't convert to Summer-ism even if it brings me the World Cup.  Chocolate melts in the heat.  Bees buzz out to sting.  Still, if I sit with a popsicle in my hand, it's possible to wear a blanket.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

sleepwalking

6/18/2014

How to write without ego?  This is the question I've been asking myself lately as I drift between coffee house, work, and home. I surf the web, finding answers that are never fully satisfying.  Thousands of new video posts, articles, and pics surface on the web each day, and I end up watching hamsters falling on their heads.  It's June, and I've been noticing there are hints of violet in the sky.  And I've been drinking more water lately, but without urgency.  Sometimes we live in fantasy, other times, reality.  I wonder if it's possible to call sleepwalking an art?  Writing can also be a kind of sleepwalking.  And here's another confession:  I like seeing red wine stains on white tablecloth.  It makes me think of dragons.   When I was a child, I once bought a cookbook.  It was an anthology of recipes from around the world.  I imagined cooking Swedish meatballs or Beef Stroganoff.  For a month I dreamed of nothing else but a closet full of spices.  But I never entered the kitchen.  I preferred this hybrid state where moons drift through the living room--this place of possibility.  This is the place where poets stand, in the doorway of desire.  They remind us to dream.   Otherwise the moons disappear.  No dragons in the wine stains.
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Friday, April 4, 2014

asking the right questions

4/4/2014




I have been talking to people about ghost sightings lately.  And I've been revisiting the past in the form of drives & confessions.  These days I listen to less music than I should.  But I play podcasts about poetry & crime & quirky details from history.  I pray for altruistic dreams--a synchronistic moment that might inspire some meaningful epiphany.

It's National Poetry Month, and I've been writing a poem a day.  Something electric in the air when you feel the hive buzzing.  A few days ago an orange moth landed on the side of my car.  Driving down Wilshire in heavy traffic with the windows down, I feared the butterfly demon would fly into my car, bite my wrist.  Little monster, beautiful interloper.  Maybe from his point of view, I was the villain--a coffee drinking drifter with unflappable wings.

Jealousy, envy.  Do you feel it sometimes, that hint of green in your chest?  The wish to be a star in the galaxy or a paintbrush in an artist's hand?  In her TED talk, Ode to Envy, Parul Sehgal suggests that all literature may arise out of jealousy.

Such a gorgeous thought.

Writing, the alchemy through which we transform self-hatred into love.

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke advises an indecisive youth to "love the questions themselves" instead of hunting for answers, which may not be ready to surface.

What if the questions we've been asking aren't the right ones?

Monday, February 17, 2014

my poems aren't "fact"

2/17/2014





I am reading Mindy Kaling's hilarious & engaging essay collection, Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me?  I bought it a couple of weeks ago when I attended the Young Women's Conference at Brentwood School.  Reading it has made me wonder if I would ever have the guts to write a memoir.  She makes it seem like so much fun.  But then again, she's M.K., a popular celebrity with a television series, which makes reading about her life an entertaining jaunt.  And despite her humorous asides and quirky observations, I'm guessing the facts of her life as she shares them are generally true.

If I wanted to write my life's chapters in prose, I would want to do it after I've spent some more time in the surreal world of poetry, where it's acceptable to bend the truth.  I'd also need to develop thicker skin.  Some would argue that poems are similar to memoir, are equally confessional.  I think poetry has often been read this way.  But reading poetry only this way might be limited and less creative.  Many poems are fictional in a sense.  In my poems, for instance, the voice is my own, the sentiment true, but the content may be exaggerated or invented.  The content is the conduit for expressing a feeling.  Sometimes it's a product of my conscious mind, and sometimes it's a product of my subconscious.  I've written poems in the voice of a sociopathic killer and a Buddhist monk.  As a detective, trapeze artist, and a misplaced slipper.  This is because poetry, the way I experience it, lives in the realm of dream consciousness.

Dreams, like poems, spring in part from the subconscious mind--are both real and imagined.  They are mysterious.  This is the kind of world I try to create in my own poems...a world where reality is invented and re-discovered, even when I'm recounting a story I actually experienced.  I may change the details if it serves the poem.  I may invent plot twists if it helps make a poem more luminous or strange.  Like a storyteller, I want to seduce the reader, and seduction requires a bit of fantasy.  Sometimes I get asked, so is that poem about you?  Did you really find a crocodile under your bed?  Did you really get angry at your friend because she forgot your birthday?  I understand the question.  A lot people associate poetry with personal sentiment.  But poetry, as art, is about more than that.  My first poetry chapbook was subtitled "memoir", by which I meant a memoir of sentiment, experience, & imagination.  So when I get asked about the factual basis of my poems I want to say:  "The point is, did the poem move, entice, or entertain you?"  It would really help to know.

Poets are more similar to fiction writers than we think.  We tell stories.  Sometimes absurd ones.  And because we choose to do so in a form that is associated with memoir, our poems are often read as personal confession.  But that's not always the case.  The details come from our lives, our observations, and our imaginations.  Sometimes they are "real" in the autobiographical sense, just as they are in fiction.  We are really fabulists, pursuing the narrative impulse in photographs & fragments rather than a plumpified plot.  So I would, if I could, make this my too long bumper sticker:  Read poems like a form of imagining, as a journey into a poet's mind, not necessarily as a factual disclosure of her experience in real time.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

aphorisms

2/5/2014

Freedom of speech.

I've been thinking about this lately, the power of words in daily conversation.

The way speech can sometimes cross the line, come across as weird, or just plain insensitive.

I've uttered my share of judgmental jargon.

Don't take other people too seriously.

Don't take yourself too seriously.

It's raining today.  Finally, the drought drowned.

My watch needs to be fixed.  Wooden gem, I'll have to mail it to Texas.

Every woman should own a signature necklace.

Sometimes personal questions are inappropriate.

Dreams, snow globes, synchronicities.  I'm glad I still read stories.

I want to choose my words carefully.

"Hofu" is the Swahili word for fear.

Materialism rhymes with minimalism.

I haven't read my horoscope in 18 days.

Forgiveness.  Acceptance.  Humor.

When we're triggered, we're imagining there are ghosts laughing in the room next door.

Wear glasses.  Where are my glasses?

I found your bluntness uncouth.

I'm still learning how to use chopsticks.

To trust myself.

Vulnerability breeds self-responsibility breeds strength.

Strawberry jam.

Not who should I be.  Who do I want to be?

Lightheartedness, and sandalwood soap.





Sunday, February 2, 2014

minimalism

2/2/2014



On the white poppy,
a butterfly’s torn wing
is a keepsake
          -----Basho

I've been thinking about minimalism lately--how challenging it is to maintain a clutter free life.  Still I donated some books this weekend.  I listened to a short Buddhism podcast on beauty.  I read and wrote with less urgency.  But the piles continue to accumulate around me, and there is always more stuff to sort through.  I guess the journey toward minimalism is a gradual art.  We throw out some old things, buy new things more judiciously, then repeat.  It begins with the mind.  How to nurture an empty mind----a space so clear we can see the light beneath particles of loquacious thought?  Having too much stuff keeps the mind busy.  Being a poet, I understand the virtues of less.  When I edit a poem, I have to prune adjectives and adverbs.  There is an aspect of editing that involves letting go.  But the end result is typically worth the sacrifice.  Minimalism is about seeing our lives and creative pieces through the lens of a Haiku.  We don't have to write poems that are only seventeen syllables.  We don't have to own just seventeen objects.  But calling to mind a haiku, while writing and living, is a reminder of restraint.  And in restraint there is elegance, a surprising pleasure.  There is something comforting about having fewer things, words, and goals.  Clutter reflects indecision, but is alluring because the possibilities remain open.  Minimalism reflects making a decision, which means placing limits on the possibilities.  And that limitation, though limiting, is also motivating.  Socrates advised, "Know thyself."  And maybe to know ourselves best we should decide what's most important and discard the rest.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

selfish post





 1/28/2014

No, you may not borrow my stapler, so please stop asking!  I think people should have their own staplers.  It’s uncouth to impose on someone this way.  Yet there’s the counterargument: a compassionate person lets someone borrow things like staplers.  But here’s the conundrum.  I am compassionate, and I still don’t want you to borrow my stapler.  So what do you have to say to that??  No, I’m not cranky.  I’ve had my coffee today.  And I’m thinking of getting some chocolate cookies for snack later, so I'm not feeling deprived or anything.  Someone complimented my nails this morning, and I am wearing the right shoes, which is an added bonus.  So, no, I’m not raising this serious philosophical question out of some vexed mental state...     

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

classic fashion



1/20/2014

When it comes to style, I prefer simple classic pieces best.  This is not what my closet always reflects.  Sometimes I wear bright pieces, other times clashing colors.  Still, as I get older, I think it's best to have a small selection of clothes...a uniform of sorts.  Very French, non?  I also think the fashion above suits a detective.  I don't think a magnifying glass would be an out of place accessory with this look.  Agatha Christie said, "Very few of us are what we seem."  Yet Shakespeare viewed life as theatre, advocated role-playing for amusement.  I think I will question some suspects tomorrow.  I will search for clues, maybe wear a red scarf around my neck.  And meanwhile, I've been getting back to poetry recently.  By that I mean writing, reading, and investigating it.  Here's a snippet of one our talks.

Me:  Where have you been hiding since October 2012?

Poetry:  I've been here, in the books on your shelf, the pile of clutter in your apartment, beneath your daily thoughts.  I don't understand your question.

Me:  I get that you think I'm responsible for not seeing you.  But for many years, you made your presence known.  You'd enter my mind while I was driving, doing dishes before I went to bed.  You wore bright colors.  It was impossible not to notice you.  Now you've started to cloak yourself in neutrals and classics, and I feel like I have to search for you.

Poetry:  That's touching, but it sounds like laziness.

Me:  Huh?

Poetry:  In other words, I feel demeaned by your fashion metaphor.

Me:  I thought you were partial to metaphors and open to different kinds.

Poetry:  Well, you started this conversation by putting me on the defensive, so I'm less patient right now.

Me:  What's this really about?

Poetry:  I'm annoyed that people think I need to come knocking on doors wearing a magenta dress.  That I'm somehow separate from people.  Where have I been these past two years?  Suffocating beneath the chatter of your repetitive thoughts.  It's about time we had this talk.

Me:  So what do you suggest we do?

Poetry:  Throw out the ideas you don't need, the clothes you don't wear.  Look sideways at life, and just relax and write.

Me:  You make it sound so simple.

Poetry:  Simplicity sets the stage for beatific thinking.  You try too hard to be a  detective.  Let your poems do the sleuthing.  You should be one of the guests at the party.  Wear whatever you want.  You're only suspect if you avoid doing the work.


Monday, January 20, 2014

155) revising my view of revision (and more on MFA's)

the literary life 12/5/09

Epiphany. I woke up this morning in a bit of a funk, and I soon realized this funk had something to do with poetry. With the psychological pressures I have been putting on my own writing these past few weeks without consciously realizing it. I mean, I got the pen fellowship, and spent several wonderful months immersed in writers and writers. I gave a few public readings that boosted my confidence as a writer, and then it all ended. Full stop. Done. Mini-crash.

The question then arose: what next? I spent several months having these amazing insights. How do I keep pushing my work? The only option that seemed natural was an MFA, and then the Poets and Writers rankings came out, and it seemed like everyone was talking MFA's. But for the time being, this is not a feasible option for me. And then I'm not quite sure how much more school I can do formally...I earned a bachelors then spent 6 years completing two M.A's, then another two years earning a teaching credential. That's over 12 years in post high-school education. It's a lot. And when I left the academy, I was jaded with it. It took me a long time to realize that while I love the university environment, there's a certain place where thinking becomes over-thinking for me.

And maybe the same is true with poetry. I mean, I want to revise and push my work. I want to write my best. But I also don't want to go all OCD on revision (this can happen, I'm sure no matter where we are--inside or outside the academy). And maybe, because I've been reading more poets and listening to more poetry podcasts online and attending more readings and taking more classes I'm starting to cross some line...some line to over-thinking the work. Many contemporary writers would argue that confusion and over-thinking are a good sign--means we're demanding more of ourselves as a writer. I get that, and could certainly keep pushing my head in that direction, but I don't know if I want to.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I want to live on the hyphen between ordinary life and the academy. I want to own the hyphen. I've been pressuring myself lately to think there are two camps and belonging to one means exclusion from the other. And those glossy brochures and websites of MFA programs are so temptingly tempting. Natalie Goldberg has said that the power is in the act of writing. That's where the power is for me. It's those first flush, primary drafts, when the words are just pouring out. A different part of my mind enjoys typing up the poems and reworking them. I mainly take workshops for the writer vibe, for editing, for having people point out tendencies (both good and bad) in my work. I want to revise, but I have also started to trust in this voice I've spent several years developing. I don't want to over-revise, and I think sometimes we tend to over-emphasize critique in poetry circles. Somewhere along that way I've challenged my faith in poems from the body, the heart. Honest, working-class poems. Straight feeling. I believe in the intellect, in revision; I just don't want it to supersede emotion.

A writer's writing evolves naturally and everyone has different aesthetic styles. I've been signing up for workshops with the goal to listen, listen, listen to exactly what others tell me I should do to push my work to the seventh heaven. And now I'm thinking, while the feedback I get is typically kind and well-meaning, maybe I have to trust my own vision more. I mean, that vision got me the pen fellowship. And I'm not done developing as a writer. But I'm okay being on that hyphen with my work: polished with room to grow. I'm willing even to send such work out. Some of this polished with room to grow work has made it into print. Some of it will not, and I can accept that.

I want to pursue THIS mfa: my forming aesthetic. Not out of selfishness or disregard for all the good advice out there. (Not that MFA students aeren't doing this very thing in a more guided and academic way.) But because I've somehow come to occupy the hyphen, which I'm realizing, for the likes of me, isn't such a bad place to be. One can venture in and out of academic circles. One can be whimsical and free in their writing: belonging yet not belonging. I've come full circle. I embrace the poet I was pre-pen. That's who I've been all along. Slow progression. Mini-steps. I'll keep reading, taking workshops. But I'll take a breath when I'm over-thinking my poems. Go back to the first flush. Go back to the poet who writes out of an ordinary need for the page. I'll listen to my work: let it tell me what to do.