Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Flaky DSL and Evening with the Muse

Still wrestling with a DSL connection that intermittently flakes out without warning. Bear with me, please, as I try to catch up as best I can. I love computers, but I hate them, you know?

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Meanwhile, a reading announcement: I'll be the featured reader at the Writers' Center of Indiana (in Indianapolis) in their "Evening with the Muse" series, coming up on Sunday, August 9 at 7 pm. The reading is free, and will be followed by an open mic and light refreshments. If you're in the neighborhood, please do stop by!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Technical difficulties

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Land Mammal for this bulletin: My DSL is misbehaving and I can't make it work. I'm doing my bestest to drag the laptop out to Starbucks/Soma/Panera/the library and use wi-fi every so often, but for the next few days I'm afraid responses to email, facebook, blog comments, etc. will be slow at best.

I hope to be back up to speed soon -- got a technician scheduled to come out on Tuesday.

I hate computers. Phbt.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I live by the river

Just because I've been watching this over & over this evening and sharing it everywhere else, I'll share it with y'all too. Here is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band about 3 weeks ago, with their opening number at the Hard Rock Calling festival in London. Yes, they're covering the Clash, and doing an extremely creditable job of it too. If this doesn't put a big grin on your face, you have no rock & roll in your soul. LOVE. THIS. Love this so much.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On self-confidence and suckage

So I spent a good chunk of time this weekend poking and prodding at my new manuscript. Just about every time I read through it I pull out a poem or two; slowly but surely it's coming down to fighting weight. On the last pass through it this afternoon I pulled out 3 pages and put in one new one. I made slight revisions to a whole bunch of poems, and finally rewrote a last line that had been driving me crazy (thank you, Carl Phillips, for teaching me how to see into the architecture of a poem & hear the underlying rhyme and meter even when there isn't any).

And then I emailed the first two (of three) people who've agreed to read the thing, and asked them if they're ready for it. Which is a big step, in a way. These poems are all pretty new, by inclusion-in-manuscript standards; the very oldest of them date back to April of last year. I usually sit on poems for several months at the very least before sending them out anywhere, and most of my two- to three-year-old poems still feel brand spanking new to me. So although I've done a lot of intensive work on this manuscript & on the poems in it, I don't feel like I have that much perspective on it yet. In other words... I can't guarantee with 100% certainty that the thing doesn't basically suck.

Now, I don't think it probably sucks. I am certain that it's imperfect; I'm open to the possibility that it may be deeply flawed. The thing I know for certain is: it's too new for me to have perspective on it. I'm a little in love with the thing, and like any shiny new love, I'm probably blind to both its true virtue and its true failings.

So what I posted on Facebook was, "Yikes! What if it completely sucks?" Which is really shorthand for all of the above. And of course, a couple of friends immediately rushed in to assure me that it couldn't suck, etc. And my reaction to this reassurance was interesting to me. (Why, yes, I'm a Gemini; I react to something with one part of my brain even as I'm observing my own reaction with another. What, doesn't everybody do that?) Because what I thought was, hey, it might suck -- and if it does, so what? I'll just write something else. And I like thinking that way. I like it a lot.

See, early on in my writing life, I had to fight the "OMG what if I write something and it sucks?" paralysis, just like everyone does. And like most people do, I fought it by consciously bolstering my own confidence. I told myself that no, what I was writing didn't suck, that I had the right to write what I was writing, that my voice deserved to be heard. And that was pretty difficult at first. That took me some years, actually, but I finally got there, finally got around to believing that maybe I do have some degree of talent as a writer, that maybe some of my poems are not too shabby. Getting published helped. Getting positive feedback from peers and from teachers helped. Mostly, just doing a whole lot of reading and a whole lot of writing helped.

But now, you know what? Sometimes I write a draft and it's a dead end, it isn't going anywhere, it basically ... sucks. That shouldn't shock anybody. There isn't a poet alive, and probably no dead ones either, who can claim that every word that falls out of them is priceless or whatever. There may be some who believe that of themselves, but they're wrong. *grin* And if I write something and it sucks? So what. I've developed enough confidence over the years to believe that I can leave the sucky draft behind and write something else. Hell, even Roger Federer makes unforced errors in every match, and he just shrugs them off and moves on to the next point. If he let every error get to him, he'd probably just fall apart and never win another match.

Natalie Goldberg (I think -- or was it Anne Lamott?) has written about embracing your own willingness to write "shitty first drafts," and William Stafford wrote about "lowering your standards" as the key to writing prolifically. And you know what? They're right. Not only that, but if you fail, sometimes it's because you are taking risks that ultimately move your work forward. That doesn't mean the failed drafts are any good; they probably suck. Suckage doesn't mean they aren't useful to your process. Write them without censoring yourself; realize they suck; learn from them; move on. That's one way to get better at this writing stuff. It's probably not the only way, but it's the way that works for me.

It seems to me there are two ways to defeat the internal censor -- you know, the one that stops you from writing. One is to hear that little voice that says "this sucks" and to out-shout it with a confident and hearty "Does not! Does not! Does not!" The other is to hear the "this sucks" voice and to quietly say back, "So?" and keep on writing. I think maybe it takes some time and experience to develop this second method, to find the confidence to allow the "this sucks" voice its truth and yet at the same time to disempower it. Maybe this is advanced poetry jiu-jitsu, or something. Or maybe it's just advanced denial. Whatever; it works for me, right now.

And maybe this manuscript does suck. It probably doesn't, but if it does, so what? I'll either fix it, or write another. I've learned a lot from writing it. I've worked hard, and I've had fun. And no matter what, there will be more poems where these came from. To me, that's what it means to be self-confident as a writer: to be okay with failing now and then, knowing that there's more. Because there's always more.

And once you know that, the possibilities are endless.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Low high; hi!

It's been cool and cloudy today and, honestly, really lovely. I don't think the temperature even hit 70 degrees all day. In Indianapolis, the record "low high temperature" was set over 100 years ago at 75, and they probably broke that record today. I know climate change is probably to blame for this, but I confess I've been enjoying it immensely.

I've returned safe & sound from the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago (attendance, including registrants and exhibitors, totaled 28,941 - this conference could eat AWP for lunch and still be hungry!). While an unfortunate amount of my time was eaten up on the shuttle buses between my hotel and McCormick Place, I attended some interesting sessions, met a few people, saw some cool stuff in the exhibits, and picked up some great freebies - notably the free frothy coffee drinks from ProQuest (I hit that line three or four times) and a free copy of Rachel Zucker's forthcoming book, Museum of Accidents (out from Wave in, I think, October). I got to hear Zucker read, which was great fun, and chatted with her for a minute at her book-signing; I also got to hear Jane Hirshfield (but didn't go to her book-signing because it conflicted with Rachel Zucker's reading - I already have Hirshfield's newest book anyway) and Sherman Alexie (didn't go to his signing either, as the line was about 980300198 people long - librarians love them some Sherman Alexie! - but did snag a copy of the bound excerpt from his forthcoming book that they were handing out). Other very popular book-signers included Judy Blume (who I gawked at for a minute) and Neil Gaiman.

Besides that, and besides getting together with Sara for a bite and some drinks & good conversation on Friday evening (yay!), the conference pretty much took me entirely out of poetry-brain for a full week. I'd taken my new manuscript with me, knowing I'd have the option of at least one or two quiet evenings in my hotel room and thinking I'd take advantage of the marauding-cat-free space to spread out pages all over the floor & juggle them a bit, but I found I didn't even have the -- what, ability? willingness? mental sharpness? -- to read poems, much less write them or fiddle with them.

It was a relatively interesting conference, & gave me some good food for thought especially regarding some of the technology trends that are going to affect how libraries serve their users (I really, really want to play with Google Wave now), & helped me get a little clearer understanding of how what I do on a day-to-day basis fits into the larger world of library work. So, that's good. All in all, I have to say AWP is way more fun. But ALA was worth my time. And I had an incredible view from my hotel room; I stayed at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, up on the 19th floor of the Merchandise Mart, & to the west I had a clear view all the way to the broad sweep of the horizon, directly below/before me was the Chicago River, and to the east & north I could see much of the Chicago skyline, including the John Hancock bldg., with glimpses of Lake Michigan in between skyscrapers. Evenings were spectacular, watching the big fat orange sun sinking below the horizon & watching all the lights slowly twinkling on. The daytime view was gray and kinda bleak (I'm not a fan of cities; give me a view with grass & trees any day) but at night it was spectacular & dazzling; I kept my curtains open all night just to look out at it all.

Next up - two Springsteen shows in Mansfield, MA in August, and a Rosanne Cash show (for which I have front row seats!) in September at Notre Dame. And I'm plotting: we just got 25 new Springsteen tourdates, so I'm trying to figure out how many (& which ones) I can afford to go to. St. Louis is almost for sure, and I'm considering Chicago & Cleveland as well. Sorely tempted by Nashville, which was a fantastic show & venue last year, but the date is horribly inconvenient for me; also by Kansas City, which is the night after St. Louis so it would be a lovely "double shot" but the drive back is long. And I only have so much money - not that much, especially now that we've received the official word that the university isn't giving out any raises this year (not cost-of-living, not merit, not anything - no, it's not a surprise; yes, I'm glad that I have a job at all, and one I generally like, to boot - but it does look like I'm going to be driving the '91 Corolla for at least another year).

Sure, I'm crazy for chasing a rock band around the country like this when I don't exactly have the kind of disposable income to justify such a thing. But every show I go to, I come away feeling energized, rejuvenated, glad to be alive. I come away feeling at least ten, maybe twenty years younger. I come away with all kinds of energy for my own creative work. I come away in love with rock & roll again and with the world. And that's worth every penny & every mile.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Checking in quick

Hope everyone in the U.S. had a good Fourth of July holiday. It rained here allllllll day on the Fourth. I think I started growing moss.

Just wanted to post a quick check-in as I won't be around much for the next week or so. I'll be headed to Chicago for the big American Library Assn. annual conference, a humongous event which takes over the McCormick Place convention center as well as several of the big downtown hotels. While I'll be doing library-ish stuff most of the time, I do hope to steal away for an hour or so each day to catch some of the readings that will be going on. Not the plethora (I've always thought "plethora" sounded like some kind of a prehistoric fish...) of readings you get at AWP, but still, there are some good ones including Jane Hirshfield, Rachel Zucker, Janice Harrington, and Sherman Alexie.

I've touched bases with at least a couple of Chicagoans, but if you're going to be at ALA or in the area, drop me a note! My conference schedule is looking relatively nuts, which is par for the course, but I'm hoping to escape the ALA-mania for at least one evening. I don't think it will be quite as much of a social whirl as AWP, but hopefully it will be fun.

Speaking of AWP, I didn't get the grant that I applied for, so chances are I won't be going to Denver next year. Oh well. I'm still looking around for funding possibilities, so maybe something will turn up -- but as great a time as I had in Chicago, I can't do another one on my own nickel. Maybe in 2011 (D.C.) though more likely not until 2012 (Chicago again) -- heck, by then I may have finally finished reading all the books I picked up this year, huh? :)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Steamy River

A few days ago I mentioned a video of "The River" from Glastonbury in which Bruce Springsteen literally has steam rising up off of him. Here it is, at least for now (the BBC's been taking these down as they find them, but this one's been up for a little while so maybe it'll stay). I've never seen anything quite like this. It starts getting steamy (literally!) just before the two-minute mark.

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For those watching Wimbledon -- I'm so glad I have tomorrow as a holiday, because the Match of the Andys (Andies?) -- Roddick vs. Murray -- should be awfully entertaining. And I'm sure Roger Federer, who's bound to have a much easier time dismissing his semi-final opponent (Tommy Hass), would love to see them spend five long sets demolishing one another.

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Separated At Birth?

Sugarland musician Kristian Bush...

Poet/editor Tim Green...

Tim? You got a cowboy hat hiding around there somewhere? Because it's kind of uncanny. ;)

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Happy Fourth, y'all. Be careful if you're playing with fire this weekend.