Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Happy things

Thing One: Discovering Genre: Poetry, the classroom anthology that includes work by several of your friendly neighborhood bloggers, won an award from the Association of Educational Publishers (and here's the official awards list). Cool!

Thing Two: Ed Byrne, editor of the nifty Valparaiso Poetry Review, nominated my poem "Swallowed" for the Best of the Net anthology. Again, cool! Watch his blog this weekend to see which other poems he's nominated.

Thing Three: Whoops, I'm still sitting on Thing Three! (Kind of like the princess and the pea. Only, you know, not.) I want to wait until a few more t's are dotted and i's are crossed, which might be a few weeks actually, but then I'll have a small announcement. I know, I hate it when people do this too. La la la. :)

It's August tomorrow. I can't believe it. Where the hell did my July go? Come back, July! I wasn't through with you!

Friday, July 27, 2007


Yesterday in Province- town, they finally hoisted the old belfry back up onto the top of the public library. They were actually originally supposed to do this the week that I was there, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to see it in person! The building dates to 1860, and used to be an Episcopal church; it's a gorgeous, classic New England church building, and the restoration is really lovely. There's even a 62-foot half-scale model of a Grand Banks fishing schooner, the Rose Dorothea, inside! I've spent a number of hours sitting in that library, browsing and writing. (It does get hot and steamy in there on warm days, though.)

I look forward to seeing the "new and improved" P-town skyline, complete with restored belfry, the next time I visit.

* * * * *

Rain, rain, go away . . .

* * * * *

Meditating, lately, on gratitude. I have come to the conclusion that what I experience as "living in a condition of gratitude" is what some other people may experience as "prayer." Whatever it is, it seems to be relatively good for my writing, or at least seems to create a space within which I am likely to get some writing done. Lately I am more interested in just getting writing done than in worrying about whether it's any good or not, which is probably why I have been terrible about getting anything sent out for the past few months. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I should probably get back on the submission track sometime soon, I suppose.

* * * * *

The back-to-school sales have begun, already. Holy cow....

Monday, July 23, 2007

Bonus poem

A very rough draft from yesterday. After a week of listening to Carl Phillips talk, I think his penchant for making really long sentences rubbed off a bit. *grin* I'll take this down within 24 hours or so.

[and, it's gone.]

Me and some poems

1. Me

Bloom: Celebrating Life in Bloomington has uploaded parts of the April/May issue to their website, including the article about the Bloomington poetry scene. To read profiles of & poems by a bunch of Hoosier poets (Cathy Bowman, Roger Mitchell, Jenny Kander, Patricia Coleman, Tony Brewer, and yours truly), go to the Bloom Magazine archive and click on "The Beat Goes On: Bloomington's Poetry Scene." The article is in pdf format.

2. Some poems

I thought it might be interesting to offer a list of the poems we talked about in Carl Phillips' workshop the other week (other than the student workshop poems). We talked about various aspects of these poems, primarily focusing on how they create and disrupt patterns (language, syntax, placement on the page, etc.) and how we can use what we see in these poems to help us revise our own work. Some of them were already familiar to me, but a number of them were new, and I feel like I learned quite a lot about how to read poems as well as about writing/revising the things myself. Anyway, these are not necessarily in the order in which we discussed them, though we did start off the week by looking at the Jarrell & returned to it frequently in the course of our discussions.

Randall Jarrell, "90 North"
Martha Collins, "hang" and "burn" (from Blue Front)
Robert Creeley, "The Souvenir" and "Kore"
Carol Frost, "To Kill a Deer"
Robert Frost, "After Apple-Picking"
Marilyn Hacker, "Pornographic Poem"
Robert Hass, "At Stinson Beach"
Langston Hughes, "Island"
Laura Jensen, "The Red Dog" and "The Crow Is Mischief"
Brigit Pegeen Kelly, "The Dragon"
Peter Klappert, "No Turtles"
Yusef Komunyakaa, "Venus's-Flytraps"
Sharon Olds, "I Go Back to May 1937"
Muriel Rukeyser, "Looking At Each Other"
Sandro Penna, "The Stars Don't Move" (trans. W.S. DiPiero)
Louise Glück, "Mock Orange"
Ellen Bryant Voigt, "Largesse" and "Song and Story"

I was reminded all week that reading poems with other poets & talking about what we can learn from them, as poets, is something I really miss in my life right now -- and is probably my biggest motivation towards getting an MFA. I will always write on my own, and summer workshops are great for getting my workshopping fix; but studying the work of other poets, contemporary & otherwise, just feels so important to me right now -- and having some guidance with that would be absolutely lovely. I really liked how Phillips guided us through these poems & what he chose to emphasize about them -- it felt like a very useful & fruitful approach. Definitely something I could stand a little more of.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Looking out...

library window
Originally uploaded by land mammal
...from inside the Provincetown Public Library, towards the east end of town (towards Truro). You can see a bit of the bay, past the crowded buildings, and the curve of the Cape.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Good news in the blogosphere

Congratulations to Carol Peters, whose chapbook Muddy Prints, Water Shine will be coming out in the New Women's Voices Series from Finishing Line Press. I first met Carol in D.A. Powell's revision workshop in 2005, and renewed the acquaintance last summer when we were both in Provincetown the same week though for different workshops. She is a terrific poet with a good eye for detail & landscape, and I'm betting her chapbook will be worth reading.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Back to the world of 8 to 5

Going back to work after a week of vacation-slash-workshop can feel a bit like slamming one's head into a brick wall. I'm very fortunate in that I have a job I actually like, which helps. It also helps that I have a ten-day retreat to look forward to in the fall. One of this weekend's tasks will be putting together the application for that. (I'm applying to one place; if that doesn’t work out, I have another in mind. But I have a good feeling about the first place.)

I am starting to think about what books I'll want to bring with me -- some to inspire me, some to study how they're put together, some just for pleasure. We talked a bit in my workshop last week about putting together manuscripts, which was pretty interesting. Sounds like there are about as many ways of thinking about manuscript structure as there are poets, and maybe more than that. I have a lot of weather in my poems, so I'm toying with the idea of trying to create some kind of a seasonal structure -- but what I want to do is try about three or four different things (including straight chronological order and straight alphabetical order, just for grins) and read through the poems and see what sort of connections I can discover. I drafted a new poem in 4 sections (well, newish -- at least the first section is material I've worked with before) in Provincetown which is, I think, helping me understand some of my larger project and how the connections among poems might work. Maybe.

Which poetry collections (single collections, not selected/collected) do you especially admire in terms of structure?

* * * * *

I usually try to respond to blog comments, but I've not been good about it for the past week or so. Sorry about that. I was a little preoccupied with Provincetown. :) I would try to catch up, but y'all aren't going to go back and look at this point, right? I appreciate the comments though. It was nice to be having a wonderful time & be able to share a little of that with others. It was too good a week to keep it all for myself.

* * * * *

Gorgeous, gorgeous slender crescent moon in a French blue sky out there, a flock of swifts spiraling around over the houses, crossing past the moon. Fireflies beginning to rise. Who says the Midwest isn't lovely?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

It's no fluke...

8. Diving
Originally uploaded by land mammal
Okay, I'll refrain from further whale puns. Sorry. ;)

Left Provincetown today, leaving behind absolutely perfect weather. I'll be on my way home tomorrow. This morning I went out on a whale watching cruise, something I do at least once every time I visit P-town. Something about getting out on the water and seeing these magnificent creatures is just thoroughly addictive. It was a lovely way to end a productive, enjoyable, and even (gasp) relaxing week.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Last day

Fine Arts Work Center
Originally uploaded by land mammal
It's an absolutely gorgeous morning -- warm, with abundant sun, well-fed birds hopping about in the mulberry tree outside my bedroom window. I sat outside in the sun, in a chair in the gravel courtyard, until I couldn't stand it anymore.

I picked up Robin Becker's newest book, Domain of Perfect Affection, here -- I really love her work -- and was reading it. Realized, a couple of poems in, that this week has made me a better reader of poetry. Which is something that I wasn't necessarily expecting to get from this workshop, but am VERY pleased to have found here; I think reading poetry and writing the stuff go so hand-in-hand as to be impossible to separate in any meaningful way. (It's that way for me, anyway.)

So I am going home with that, and with a few new drafts, and with some excellent exercises/prompts I want to work with, and with a certain sense of fullness that comes from living this way for a week -- as if poetry were central to everything.

Which it is.


[Above: The Fine Arts Work Center campus. My little apartment is at the top of the set of stairs you see here, and the studios where the writing classes meet are along that balcony. It's an unpretentious building, for sure, but magic happens here.]

Thursday, July 12, 2007

C'mon in ... the water's fine

Since I plan to give out my blog URL tomorrow in class when we all share email addresses, I want to take a moment to issue an official welcome to any of my classmates from this week who may stop by this blog. Welcome! (Did that sound official enough? Did it have authority?)

I want to encourage you to look over to the right-hand column of this blog and investigate the links you'll see there (the ones listed under where it says "I read too many blogs" -- which I do). There are a lot of really cool blogs there, almost all written by poets, many of whom are very fine poets. It's one kind of cool way to learn about how poets live, what they think about, how they negotiate the day to day. Which is to say, pretty much like non-poets, except that we use weird-ass words like "enjambment" and mean something by them.

It has been a good week here in Provincetown. Tonight is the potluck barbeque, open studio time for the visual artists, and student reading. After that, our class plans on going out somewhere for drinks or what-not. (Not THAT kind of what-not, ya pervs.) I always love the student reading; both years I've been here there have been at least a couple of pieces that have really grabbed my attention. And it is a fun audience to read for.

It's hard to believe the week is almost over, though. It is always hard to leave. I've met some really cool people and had some great conversations. I don't want to dive prematurely into the whole "wah wah wah it's over" thing, but things do start winding down soon... sigh.

Today, though, is an absolutely beautiful day. There is abundant sunshine and a cool breeze, and I have poems in my head. Life is good, y'all. Life is good.

[Above: A really cool dog I met walking along the harbor in the fog; click photo to enlarge.]

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

This place...

foggy harbor beach 2
Originally uploaded by land mammal
This place is under my skin for good, I think. I woke to fog this morning, walked down by the harbor for a while, stopped at the Portuguese Bakery for a croissant filled with linguiça and cheese. Then four hours of class, talking about poems, being in a room where nobody thinks it's weird if you spend five whole minutes talking about whether to put a comma at the end of a line or just rely on the line break to dictate a pause. Then walking down Commercial Street for a while, running into a fellow poet, sitting at a picnic table near the harbor talking about the old "to MFA or not to MFA" conundrum. Going out to dinner with two other poets, talking about teachers we've known, books we've read; stopping at the new dessert café on the way back. Going to a reading and a slide talk, stopping by the computer lab to print out a few poems, stopping by the bulletin board to put my two-sentence bio for tomorrow's reading in the envelope labeled for same.

A couple of you have said things like "hey, next year I might apply." I want to disabuse y'all of the notion that one must apply here. They have in the past had individual advanced workshops for which one had to submit an application (though I don't think that was the case for any this year), but for the most part, you just register and plunk down your deposit. Even so, the caliber of students here is astonishingly high. This is my third workshop and pretty much everyone in all three workshops has been a serious, committed poet, not a weekend dabbler looking for ego strokes. Judging from the folks I've met and what I've heard at the student reading every year, the same is true for most of the workshops here. We've got people with MFAs in our workshop, even one who's already had a book accepted by a good press. Somehow this place manages to be at once noncompetitive and yet selective.

So if you're the sort of person who likes summer workshops, or might consider liking them, I highly encourage you to consider FAWC for next year. (Heck, there are probably spaces open in some of the workshops remaining this summer.) And if you're the sort of person who teaches in summer workshops, or might consider teaching in them, I don't know how one goes about getting oneself invited to teach here, but if you're interested I would encourage you to inquire.

It isn't perfect here. It's expensive to come here, and the mosquitoes are large and hungry. And fabulous as the FAWC staff is, they have yet to figure out how to give us more than twenty-four hours in a day.

Other than that, it's pretty damn grand.

Also also: from Free Will Astrology for the week of July 12:

The German word selig can mean both "ecstatic" or "blessed." It implies that profound bliss can be a divine gift; that deep pleasure may generate or come from spiritual inspiration. The English language doesn't have a term comparable to selig, maybe because our culture regards ecstasy with suspicion. Religious people tend to believe that the blessed are those who are good and kind, certainly not those who are skilled at cultivating ecstatic states. People who worship rationality, on the other hand, like intellectuals and scientists, often think of ecstasy as at best an irrelevant state, and at worst a non-productive or deluded indulgence. Personally, I'm in alignment with the values embodied by the word selig. It happens to be your specialty this week.

[Above: Provincetown harbor beach in fog. Click the image to enlarge.]

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How it's going

It's going very well, thank you.

Oh, you wanted more details than that. Well, okay. :) So every day we have class from 10 to 12 and 12:30 to 2:30 (it was originally scheduled for 10 to 2, but Carl felt that was a heck of a long stretch to have class without a lunch break, so we have a half-hour for lunch). It seems to work pretty well. We start out by discussing some specific poetic issues, starting with one or more poems from the packet we got on the first night; we've talked about poems by Jarrell, Creeley, Laura Jensen, Marilyn Hacker, Martha Collins, Langston Hughes, & Brigit Kelly; for tomorrow we're reading Komunyakaa and Frost. Somewhere in there Carl gives us a writing/revision prompt or exercise, which is optional. (I actually haven't done any of them yet, but I want to do all of them & do plan to try them!) Then we have a short break, and come back & workshop 3 poems. After our lunch break we workshop 2 more poems, take a short break, and come back for a looser discussion of "the writing life" issues -- more general issues & questions we may have. Today, for example, we talked about putting manuscripts together. (You guys, I am really nervous about trying to do this! I know that's silly.)

Then we have free time in the afternoon for writing, reading, napping, exploring the town, going to the beach, whatever; and at 8 there is generally a reading and an artist slide talk. Last night was Carl's reading, which was a bit too short (better to leave us wanting more, I suppose!), and a slide talk by painter Andrew Mockler, which was quite interesting. I don't know much about art, so it is always interesting to hear visual artists talk about their process. There are always, it seems, useful parallels to be drawn with the writing process.

Last night a small group of us ended up at the Squealing Pig for drinks and conversation. What I love about being here is that we can talk about the silliest, dumbest stuff, and then all of a sudden the conversation shifts back over to poetry for a while. It's like poetry is a part of regular life and not some special thing you have to set aside for an appropriate time, you know? What a concept.

Today I visited (ahem) a couple of bookstores, including the used bookstore. I don't know why I feel it is my personal mission to support independent bookstores wherever I go. One of these days the floor of my house is going to collapse under the weight of all those books. I did buy Annie Dillard's new novel, which is set in Provincetown, and I also found (used) a complete volume of Cavafy, who people keep quoting at me so maybe it's time to actually read him.

Plus, it was nice just walking down Commercial Street. Here at the Work Center you can feel a little bit set apart from the bustle of the town, which is lovely sometimes and peaceful, but it's also nice to get your feet wet in the flow of the crowd, as it were. It is Bear Week in Provincetown; I'd never been here during Bear Week before. I guess there are a few more bears here than usual, but I'm not sure I would have noticed if someone hadn't mentioned it, honestly.

Tonight Gail Mazur reads, and a slide talk by Marian Roth, who does pinhole photography. Should be fascinating.

[Photo above: Race Point Beach]

Postcard from Provincetown

apartment 7
Originally uploaded by land mammal
The front door of my little apartment here at FAWC. Welcome. This is where it all happens...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Postcard from the Province Lands

1. Province Lands
Originally uploaded by land mammal
Taken from the observation deck at the Cape Cod National Seashore's Province Lands Visitor Center. Here you're about three stories up, looking out over scrubby trees over the endless dunes with Race Point and the Atlantic Ocean at the horizon. This scenery goes on and on and on all around you and photographs don't nearly do it justice.

(Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Just checking in from Provincetown

Everything is going wonderfully so far! No glitches with the air travel; found a lovely little bookstore not far from where I spent the night in North Dartmouth, MA (why do I feel a personal responsibility to support every independent bookstore I can find??? no wonder my house is drowning in books); got to Provincetown in the late morning and spent about three hours on Race Point Beach, during which time I felt every little bit of tension in my body completely dissolve and wash away (and I also wrote a quick little poem); checked into my little apartment at FAWC and bought groceries and got settled in before a sudden downpour; had our orientation & our first quick little "get the logistics of this in order" class meeting; went to a good reading tonight by Tony Hoagland and Jason Shinder; came back to my room and drafted another new poem -- a funny one (at least I think it's funny!), which is unusual for me but how could you not want to write a funny poem after hearing Tony Hoagland?

It was hot and humid and relentlessly sunny all day, so the downpour and the clean cool air that followed was like a blessing.

My little apartment is on the second floor, and one of the bedroom windows looks out directly into the branches of a mulberry tree, absolutely laden with ripe and unripe berries. Which means that, in the morning, I bet there will be a whole bunch of hungry birds chomping and chirping about two feet from my head. This makes me almost giddy with happiness, the thought of awakening that way.

I think Carl Phillips is going to be a very good teacher. It's going to be a wonderful week.

This place is magic, I swear it.

And I still can barely believe how fortunate I am to have received this scholarship and this grant, that I can be here without having to worry that I'm spending money on something frivolous like poetry (which we all know isn't frivolous at all, but...) instead of repairing the house or whatever. Because coming here the past two summers has stretched me financially -- it's been worth every penny, but it was difficult -- and to be able to take in the blessings of this place without that difficulty is just ... such a gift. And to have it affirmed by multiple (!) outside sources that yes, this is what I should be doing and yes, this is where I need to be right now and yes, the work I may be able to do here is worth a certain investment ... I can't begin to put into words just how full that makes my heart feel.

So I'll try to keep the "OMG I am so lucky girl" chatter down from here on out, but I had to say it tonight. Because I am feeling very, very lucky and very, very blessed. And I think putting a little gratitude out into the world is probably a good thing all around.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Project

Good news from the Indiana Arts Commission: they've approved my project modification. This basically means that the funds that would have gone, in the original proposal, towards my workshop tuition -- now covered by the Ali scholarship (thank you, thank you, FAWC!) -- will now be used in other ways.

I feel like I've been walking around in this state of wide-open gratitude for the past couple of weeks, since finding out about the grant. Really, I've been feeling pretty darned grateful ever since May when I found out about the scholarship. It is amazing to me, and kind of scary too, that people who don't even know me can take a look at some of my work and believe in me enough to make this kind of an investment. It makes me want to work really hard, to put myself on the line a little bit more than I otherwise might. I guess that's the whole point of it. Ultimately, I have to write because of what comes from inside me: I have to motivate my own self, not depend on encouragement from others. Writing is ultimately a pretty solitary act. But damned if the occasional encouragement doesn't give me a good and helpful kick in the pants. :)

So here's a quick rundown of the project I proposed and for which I'm getting the grant. The main thrust of it is to get my #$%*! book manuscript banged together, finally. To that end, the grant is covering travel & housing expenses for my workshop next week, which is a revision workshop -- the review panel really liked that I'd specifically chosen to focus on revision at this stage of the game, and my hope is that I will try to think about how revision might feel different as I begin to work with a bunch of poems as a body of work, how the poems might inform one another as I work to revise them.

Then I will be packing my bags again in October and heading off for a ten-day writing retreat. (I haven't applied yet, but I have someplace in mind; gotta get that application in now!) I want to take stacks of poems, and scatter them around the room and put them in piles and spend the time constructing that manuscript. Of course I'll revise poems as needed, and maybe write new ones as I find places where I need new ones in the manuscript. I also plan to take a big stack of books and get a bunch of reading done, and I'd be very surprised if I don't also draft a lot of new poems just by virtue of having that sacred time and space set aside & surrounding myself with words. But the main goal will be to come away from the retreat with a workable draft of a book-length manuscript.

Then I've also got a little chunk of money in the budget for contest and submission fees. Optimistic, huh? :) I should be able to send it out to about ten places. I'm not thinking about that part too much yet.

Finally, in March or April of next year, I'm going to do a big bang-up gala reading. I plan to invite a couple of other local poets to read with me. I'm nervous about it, because I've never "headlined" a reading before -- usually I just read with my poetry group or as one of a lineup in someone else's event -- I wonder whether anyone will actually come? I guess we'll find out.

One of the requirements for the grant is that there should be some "public benefit" derived from my project. This is sort of interesting, because the ultimate outcome would be to get the book published and maybe that benefits somebody besides me (sort of), but if that happens it won't happen during my grant year. I'll get it submitted during the grant year, but I doubt I'll hear back from most of the places before the funding cycle ends. The spring reading is part of my "public benefit" component. The other part: blogging! I plan to blog about the whole process -- managing the grant, going to the workshop, wrestling with the manuscript, sending it out. My hope is that other poets will be able to learn something from my experience, even if it turns out to be "how not to do it." *grin*

It was interesting putting together the grant application. I went to a workshop for potential grant applicants, at which a couple of Indiana Arts Commission staff members explained the process and answered questions; that was so helpful and if you're thinking about applying for a grant and have the opportunity to attend something of that nature, it's well worth it. Besides the "public benefit" part, one aspect of the proposal that they stressed was that it should represent taking the next step in your artistic career. That meant I had to spend some time thinking about what that might mean for me. Even if I hadn't been awarded the grant, that process would have been so helpful to me: asking myself what I was ready for, what could I do to really push myself, what seemed equally feasible and terrifying? Because I'd thought about just asking for a really nice laptop, and I could certainly use a new laptop to replace my on-its-last-legs one, but would that make me a better poet? Nah.

So that's the basic road map for this grant-funded year. It all feels like a very big step to me, but (and I hope this doesn't sound too ego-y) it also feels like a logical step. It's about time I got cracking. I'm forty-six years old; if I want to have a book published before I'm fifty, I don't have a lot of time to waste.

It's pretty funny being this open about the whole process, saying out loud "yes, I am working on a book manuscript and I'm going to try to get it published." I hope I'm not jinxing it. This is all going to be an interesting experiment....

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tell me about your teachers

As I prepare to head out to another summer workshop, I am thinking a lot about what I want the week to be: what I want to learn, what I'm willing to put forth, what I have to bring. I've heard from multiple sources that Carl Phillips is a very good teacher, so I think I've got a great week to look forward to.

Anticipation, as it so often does, makes me look back as well. I'm thinking about some of the writing teachers I've had over the years. Since I haven't (yet!) done an MFA, these pretty much fall into two groups: those who taught me when I was an undergrad English major, and those who've taught me in summer (mostly one-week) workshops.

I'll be the first to admit that I had some pretty terrific teachers as an undergrad, and that I did a pretty piss-poor job of taking advantage of their gifts. I was probably not too different from a lot of other twenty(ish)-year-olds in that one of my biggest goals, in each poetry workshop, was to prove that I was talented. Maybe part of that was the phenomenon of being graded, and being the Good Student who wanted to maintain her high GPA. But that attitude got in my way so big time -- I was reluctant to take risks that might not work out, to go out past my comfort zone, to fail productively. Plain and simple, I didn't want to look bad. I would have learned so much more if I'd been willing to risk looking like a fool sometimes.

I've had some pretty terrific teachers since then, in summer workshops, too. Most have been at least good; some have been amazing. I love the intensity of a short one-week workshop. I love the challenge of going into a room full of strangers, and having to almost immediately drop a lot of defenses, take risks, put myself out there, make myself vulnerable. At its best, it is exhilarating. At its best it changes me, often in ways I don't begin to understand for weeks or months after the fact.

That necessity of walking in and almost immediately making yourself vulnerable, instead of having a few weeks or class sessions to ease into it and get to know your fellow poets as you do in a longer workshop, means that it's absolutely essential for the teacher to create an atmosphere in which it is safe enough to do that. This means in part: discouraging snark, discouraging show-offiness, encouraging risk-taking, demanding & offering honesty, demanding & offering respect. It also means, sometimes (and here's where some people will probably beg to differ), making an effort to find anything to praise -- and sometimes, acknowledging a student's failure. Both can be difficult to hear. Both can be difficult to trust. (And trust is so key here.)

The best teachers I have had, and I'm thinking of two in particular, have managed to say to me in so many words that I had talent, that I was doing very good work -- and to say it in such a way that it terrified me, made me feel like throwing up. Because what I got from the praise was that I was holding something alive and powerful in my hands, and that I had a responsibility to do something about it. They told me that I had a lot of hard work ahead of me, and knowing how hard that kind of hard work is, the prospect was (and is) daunting.

And that's my favorite praise of all time, the kind that makes me feel like throwing up. The words from those two teachers are the ones that I hold on to and come back to when it does get difficult, the tapes I replay when it's dark inside my head. Because I trust that that praise is real. It's not just blowing sunshine up my ass. As a summer-workshop student, I'm wary of praise; it would be easy, I think, for a teacher just to sit there and tell their students how wonderful they are -- knowing that after the week is over they may never see those students again, and knowing that, frankly, that's what some students want to hear.

People will pay good money to go to summer workshop after summer workshop and be told that they are amazing. I don't want that. I want to be pushed towards places that scare me. If at some point during the week I feel like crying or I feel like throwing up, that's probably a good thing. I want to be asked to work harder than I would ask myself to work. And I want to be given an environment, a temporary community, in which I feel safe enough to do that, in which I know my effort will be respected and taken seriously. If I can have that and also some good hard laughter and some silliness now and then, even better.

Yeah, I don't ask much, do I?

Bear with me here for a moment while it gets weird in here: It's kind of like sex. You put yourself in this position of vulnerability, where you could very easily get hurt -- and sometimes a little bit of pain even makes it better. The power of the experience comes directly from that vulnerability and openness. Also: attentiveness to what the other person(s) may be experiencing is important, the cues (verbal and nonverbal) they give you. And faking it doesn't do anybody any favors.

So that drifted away a bit from thinking about teachers to thinking more generally about the workshop experience, but of course it is usually the teacher who has the most responsibility for setting the tone of the workshop experience. And even though you may get valuable feedback from your fellow students, it's usually the teacher you want most to hear from, their words you're paying for.

I think, too, of my sensei, back when I was a serious martial arts student. There were days when she pushed me so hard and so far past my comfort zone that I hated her, and that was an important part of my growth. I think that happens more in a long-term teacher-student relationship, and there isn't necessarily enough time to reach that point in a one-week workshop -- but I can think of at least one teacher about whom I have thought, if I worked with you for long enough I'm sure I'd hate you at some point, and then thank you for it later. (And I find myself wishing that I could have that opportunity. I am so weird sometimes.)

And so, a request. Tell me about your teachers. (Name names, or don't, whatever you are comfortable with.) Do you respond best to a Paula Abdul, relentlessly pointing out the positive, cheering you on, believing in you even when you suck? Or does a Simon Cowell help you more, not mincing words or putting up with any of your crap, dishing out the tough stuff you end up thanking him for later? Or are the best teachers maybe a little of both? Does some praise help and some praise hinder? Are there aspects of the teacher-student relationship that interest you, that I haven't touched on here? I am fascinated by this dynamic, if you hadn't already guessed.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Last night the moon kept me awake most of the night. I didn't even realize that was what it was until I peeked out the window at like 4:00 and oh hello.

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I'm working with some new material -- or, to be more precise, material I've been working with for about a year now, but didn't really recognize it until now. One thing that happens as I get better at this writing thing (or at least as I continue to stick with it) is that I am more and more able to be aware of my process, of what spurs me on and where to push myself harder and what my options are in various directions, without letting that awareness get in the way of ... whatever it is that happens. The trick is to stay out of your own way, but it's easier to get out of something's way if you can see it coming.

The balance of naming and mystery. Embracing both.

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Sometimes a kind word or two is all it takes to kick ass into a slightly higher gear. And don't think it's not appreciated; it means the world. Even if it scares me (which it does).

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The word embodied. The funhouse mirror.

I am so eager for what waits for me. Like that full moon, it's out there shining.