Writing Life, Writing On Writing

The Worst Line of Poetry I Ever Read…

Blue_Unicorn_Era_4cd5ea14008ff…was, “the street screams a magenta goodbye.”

I read that my senior year of college, which was a certain number of years ago, and it still irritates the hell out of me.


(Although the worst line of poetry I ever wrote was probably much, much worse. I think it involved cerulean unicorns.)


Humor, Writing On Writing

Screw that! …And Here’s a Picture of Me Smoking on a Vespa. (writing on writing)

c62c00d2190d21f290d97a72277536b2I have been going through some deeply dramatic changes in my life lately, not the least of which is my attitude toward writing. I drive myself hard, but it had come to the point where I had actually become cruel and, rather than that cruelty leading to more artistic production, it did the exact opposite and led to nothing but blocks, an acid stomach, and sleepless nights spent fretting and miserable.

All of that until I decided enough of that, took my life in a new direction in all facets, and committed to driving myself firmly, but lovingly.

In that vein, I found this picture the other day and fell in love with it. I’ve decided it’s me and it’s my new thing. When the writing gets tense and I hear the cruel voice start to crank it up, my response is going to be, “Screw that! …and here’s a picture of me smoking on a Vespa.”

(Because that lady looks all kinds of “screw that”, doesn’t she?)

It’s the best writerly advice I can give to myself right now or to anyone else. Find a “screw that” picture that speaks to you, keep it on your desk for those dark moments, and, when necessary declare:

“Screw that! …and here’s a picture of me… riding a llama, cavorting with bandits on a beach, goth-clad straddling a chair backward, petting velvet the wrong way, and/or the ever popular, smoking on a Vespa.”

(I’ll share it with you. I’m nice like that.)

Be free. Be free and kind to yourself. Write. Do it. You’ll feel better after. I promise or your money back.


Prose, Writing Life

By the Humping Doggie Balloon Animals, I’m Sure It’s Obvious My Poetry Reading Went Well

IMG_0517My big poetry reading was yesterday. I was so nervous I thought I was going to die or poop my pants, or turn around in a circle chasing my tail to the end of the universe and back. I contemplated backing out. I contemplated what the train ride and board would cost for me to slip away to Kalamazoo when no one was looking. But I saw myself in the mirror and the face that looked back at me said, “Oh, no you don’t.” So I didn’t.

I’m not going to lie. Smokey-smoke was involved. I took a puff or two, or five, before we left. They were little puffs, I told myself, little puffs to preserve my throat, so I needed a few more of them than I would usually have. My sister put on some Jazz to calm me down and, post-smoke, I walked around the house in my long, full skirt, swinging my hips, happy and relaxed, mouthing my poem to myself over the music.

My sister—ah my lovely, sparkly sister—did my makeup. We went for a 1920’s look, which is my look, but one I have no idea how to achieve on my own. I don’t know what magic happened there, but highlighter was flying all over the place and the time she spent on my eyes was akin to the hours Degas spent brush-stroking puffy little ballerinas. I came out with a slimmed face, big, big dark, alluring eyes, and Cupie lips. I ended up with a feather in my platinum hair.

My sister pinned a little button on me. She bought it for me in advance. It is red and white and says, “It’s my first time.” It was my first time, well, first time in a long time (almost twenty years… don’t tell anyone) and, Jesus, the nerves started to come back.

My brother-in-law took the twisty-turny way to the bookstore and the smokey-smoke kicked in again. I giggled all the way there and laughed uproariously at the view, at the drop, at the too-close-for-comfort turns. I thanked my brother-in-law in all seriousness for his coming, his driving us, his being such a good sport about having to go back in the house twenty-six thousand times when we were getting ready to leave in order to retrieve all the this and that my sister and I had forgotten.

I was the first to show up, the first to sign up—lucky number three in big black marker on an unsuspecting piece of blue flyer paper. We were there almost an hour early. Nervousness makes for punctuality overachievement. After I signed my name, my sister and I walked down to the dollar store to buy our winning lottery tickets. The cashier said, “May the odds be in your favor,” and surely the movie reference with a smile means we are going to win. (I could be sitting on the winning ticket right now as I write this, incidentally.) An old man interrupted the transaction to buy an orange juice out of turn, but when you’re in the process of winning the lottery, little things like that just don’t get to you the same way they used to.

My sister said this dude we talked to outside the store, who also claimed the winning lottery ticket, was flirting with me. I didn’t see it. It’s entirely possible I didn’t see it because I was being stubbornly vain and not wearing my glasses so I would be extra pretty-ful. We’ll call it that and choose to believe my sister.

We made it back to the bookstore, the reading began, and us in the second row.

A comedian started it off. His spirit was incredible but he moved his shoulders up and down too much. Good spirit, bad body twitch. Gods bless him.

Up next a mentally challenged lady, probably the most badassed among us. She read a love poem to Roger and used a funny voice at some point. She lit up my eyes. She made presents for the featured readers. She made cookies for the rest of us. She had to leave early. She said she liked my feather, or my tattoo. Either way, when I got up to read after her, she made me feel like the millions of bucks I’m about to win.

Then it was me. Me and my “It’s my first time” button. I got extra applause for it being my first time and also because my sister and brother-in-law were sitting there, a well-dressed and enthusiastic entourage. “I’m going to do the Naked Hemingway Poem,” I said and launched in. “And the way he looks at you is obscene,” I said, leaning on the “obscene”, raising my eyebrows, and I knew I had it.

I wish I could write more about my turn, but it’s hard to describe something that went by in two seconds. I can tell you I made the slightest little bobble, but picked it up without panic. Not a stutter, just a sentence that I had to rearrange a little to get back on track. No one noticed, and not that “No one noticed” that means we’re too kind to tell you we all noticed, but that it fit in seamlessly.

I can tell you I kept my eyes open and moved my head around as if connecting with this groupie or that. I can tell you I held on to the mic the whole time which surprised me and, next time, I told myself, I won’t do that.

Then it was over and my sister was woo-ing for me. My sister wooed and got others to woo also. Big, big smile. I flounced, or at least I felt I flounced, off stage back to my seat and my teeth were so big in my smile that they might have been seen as a sign of aggression by primates.

The MC thanked me and told me to come back. He doesn’t say that to all the first-time readers of course (yes he does). He was only talking to me.

There were a lot of other readers then. The featured readers were wonderful. The magicians, the comedians, the musicians, “Baby won’t you call me Daddy one more time…” all wonderful. There was even a balloon animal guy. I got to be his assistant. He made a lovely little pink doggie while I held the banana string of a purple balloon he would use to make the next lovely little doggie… then attach the two… humping. Because it is near Valentine’s Day, you see. Romance was in the air.

You just don’t top that.

The hardcore stoners were well-represented. One’s poetry came from his cell phone and was totally decent. One was a bearded hipster, had no poem to read, but wanted to tell us all how rockin’ we were anyway—how much our awesomeness touched him. My secret was I was among them, only if even a little. By that time, just enough to keep my hands from shaking as I held the mic and did my little dance.

I ended up with the humping doggie balloon as a souvenir. I ended up with a fabulous memory. I ended up with a triumph to stick in my dusty cap. I ended up with the beginnings of finding my “tribe”, as my sister put it.

I ended up being, for the first time in a long time, myself.

I smoked two black clove cigarettes when we got home. I earned them. That night, I was the black cigarettes and body magic woman that I have always dreamed of being—that I thought I lost.

I smoked those two black cigarettes and swished my skirts in the moonlight, decompressing with my sister until two thirsty coyotes, a mother and a baby, started to make their way down the hill.

I slept well. I slept very well.


Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Not Sounding Like Everybody Else, Even in the Face of the Bald-Asshole Workshop Leader (writing on writing)

bald-head-1-574667-mI had a revelation once at writing summer camp for adults at the University of Iowa writers’ conference. I noticed when everybody read their short prose pieces that mine sounded nothing like theirs. But then I read mine and people were delightfully receptive. I wrote about my dad botching sun tea. “I’ll remember that melted orange plastic pitcher for a long, long time,” one of them said and the other two laughed and nodded while we walked away from class, across the stinking river, backs turned to the university art gallery that was featuring second-string Picassos and African furniture.

I realized in that moment and for the first time that maybe not sounding like everybody else is a good thing.

But that was all about prose. It was the opposite reaction in my advanced poetry class. I read the poem that won me the big hoop-dee-doo writing award only a few months earlier and the bald-asshole workshop leader who worked mostly in prisons and wrote about breast milk eroticism told me my poem had “a lot of work to do.”

He was mad at me anyway because when our class went out together at lunchtime and climbed up the interminable campus steps to forage for chi chi sandwiches, my retelling of going to a computer generated atonal concert that was held in the dark by a composer whose silver jacket buttons I was madly in love with got more laughs than his pretentious snarking about “language poets”.

My revelation stands.


Writing On Writing

The Writer’s Unsound Love Affair (writing on writing)

You can’t force yourself to love something even if it is philosophically correct. Likewise, you can’t force yourself to not love something that is philosophically incorrect.

I am speaking here not only of foolish wanting when it comes to romantic love, but also of the writing process. If a writer were to be philosophically correct, she would love the “writing” part of writing as much as the “having written” part—the production as much as the product. But we’re all grownups and we know better. Creative inertia is a bitch. The physical act of writing is an unwieldy drudge. We know such an upright love affair was never carried on in the heart of any writer who has earnestly walked this earth.


Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Love Notes to Maupassant (writing on writing)

IMG_0365While sitting at my desk today, I glanced over at the tiny pile of books in the left corner. Among these are the only three out of my once mighty personal library that made it with me through all the hasty moving I have had to do in the last few years.

One of them, the most special, is a book of Guy de Maupassant stories. It is a holy artifact. I’ve read it two and a half times. You can see the pages are yellowed with age and use and love. The first short story to ever make me cry, (my favorite short story), is the first one in the book,”Boule de Suif”. When I was writing fiction regularly, I wrote my best stories while reading it. At Vanderbilt in springtime, I used to sit in the late afternoon on a bench in a circle of shade trees at the center of which was a blooming dogwood. The stories made me sigh and think and dream of better for my own work all while the dogwood blossoms fluttered to the ground like snowflakes.

IMG_0368Full of both long notes and clipped marginalia, the book now reads to me something like a diary. My handwriting was better then. I am grateful for that.

Pictured here is a note on, “The Conservatory”. How amazed I was, and still am, at his gifts of humor, twist, and sly revealing.


Humor, Humor Poem, Poetry, Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Never Write While Hungry (poem)

You’ll roll from aisle to aisle
aimless and slow
eyeballing the shiniest packages first
overhead and at foot
at your groin and at your twitching nose.

You’ll make better bad choices
(still bad choices)
fill your cart with loud
brightly powdered crunchies
that exercise your jaw
but stain your hands
without so much as a goodnight kiss
or any nutritional value at all.


Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Character Allowance

My ancient fiction professor at Vanderbilt creaked in his departmental chair and told us about a man he knew who drank Dr. Pepper hot. When work was over, this man would get into his after-fives and stir it in a saucepan over low heat, delicately, like he was handling milk. “Sometimes,” Professor Sullivan said, “it’s all right to let your characters take life a little too far.”