If We Were Having Coffee…Winter Edition

No picture of me with a drink today. I'm sniffly :(

No picture of me with a drink today. I’m sniffly ūüė¶

(Not sure what this series is about? Check out the first post here!)

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that I’m not quite ready for school to start. For as much as I enjoy teaching, the holiday break didn’t quite feel like enough time. Perhaps this is because I was sick through most of break (see above photo) and am still trying to get over whatever it is I have. I had my first day of class this past Thursday and am happy to report it went well. This week starts the real grind with assignment sheets and keeping up with reading and grading.

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that Poetry Monday is on a hiatus. My poetry well is experiencing a bit of a drought. I started Poetry Monday because my cup was full, and I had so much to share. Now I’m struggling a bit, so I’m putting it on an indefinite hold (though I’ll reassess at the mid-year point) to fill my well again. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing other fun things on Mondays (and other days too).

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that I just wrote a letter to a friend. And it felt awesome! I think letter (or card) writing is a long lost art. Sure, people do it during the holidays, but what about the rest of the year? I vote we bring back snail mail somethin’ fierce!

I’d ask you what you thought of letter writing. I’d also ask when was the last time you wrote an honest-to-goodness handwritten letter.

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that so far, I’m doing OK with my New Year’s resolutions. I think trimming down the number of goals has a lot to do with it. My goals also focus on areas of my life I really want to improve rather than on areas I “should” improve. Perhaps my favorite goal to work on thus far is daily meditation. I find I look forward to this practice. Who knew sitting still for a few minutes each day could be so rewarding?

I’d ask you what you hope to accomplish this year.

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that I want to offer one or two writing e-courses this summer and am nervous about it. The usual questions pop up (What if no one signs up? What if people sign up but don’t like it? etc). I’d tell you that I’ve been pushing those thoughts aside and have been trying to move forward.

I’d also tell you there was a way you could help me form these courses. I’ve prepared a short, eight-question survey to gauge interest in these types of courses as well as collect stats on the type of content people would love to see in a writing e-course. Interested in giving your two cents? Take the survey!

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that my life has all the marking of an adult life, but I still feel like a kid. I’m married. I have a somewhat steady income from my freelance work. I pay rent. But I’m always silly! I don’t know…I guess I figured that at some point I’d feel like I knew what I was doing. I’m actually just enjoying playing….that seems like the real me. I feel like even when my husband and I decide to have kids, we’ll still play. Perhaps that’s a big part of what parenting is: showing your kids how to play well at life.

I’d ask you if there was a moment that really made you feel like an honest-to-goodness adult.

Now it’s your turn! What would you tell me if we were having coffee?

2014 Resolutions Update

Now that we’re a little more than a quarter of the way through the year, I figured it was time for an update on my 2014 resolutions. I’m kicking butt in some areas and lagging in others, but I suppose that’s to be expected. I’m not being as hard on myself as I was last year, which certainly helps. I mean, I’ve got a year…it’s natural for my focus on certain things to ebb and flow.

Anyhoo, here’s the update:

1. Read 5 classic books
Have not started this one yet. I have read Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” this year, but I didn’t put it on my classic book list. Le sigh…

2. Read 5 books I already own
Haven’t started this one either….

3. Read 10 books on my Goodreads ‚ÄúTo Read‚ÄĚ list
140213_001…because I’m focusing on my Goodreads list! Two down, eight more to go! (In case you are curious, my Goodreads book reading goal this year is 50 books total. As of the time¬†of this post, I’m eight behind but am determined to catch up!)

  1. Damn You, Autocorrect!¬†‚Äď Jillian Madison (January 2014)
  2. Cinder РMarissa Meyer (January 2014)

4. Read and review the ARCs (both digital and hard copy) that I’ve received in the past two years
Haven’t started on this one either (wow, I’m really not doing to well with my reading goals. Now I know what to focus on in the next three months).

5. Read the four Gospels
Is it awful I forgot I made this resolution? (Sorry, God!). Once again, another resolution to really focus on in the next few months.

6. Send chapbook out to at least five different contests
I’ve actually been pretty good with this one. I’ve sent my chapbook out to two contests so far. Last weekend, I went to a chapbook workshop to get feedback on¬†my book from professionals. They gave me some really good advice. My hope is to tweak my chapbook in the next week or two and send it to a few more contests. I’ve got a list of about five or six more to send to, so that’s my creative project for the rest of the month.

7. Spruce up my full-length poetry manuscript to send out to at least two fall book contests
Even when I wrote this one down, I knew I wouldn’t get to it until the summer. By the time of my next update (late June/early July), I’m hoping to have at least started the sprucing up process.

8. Acquire a full-time teaching gig
I think this one is turning into the “publish a chapbook” goal from least year. By this I mean that I can’t possibly control whether I get a full-time teaching position or not. I can only apply and interview. I’m OK with this. I have been doing my part. I’ve applied to a few positions and have had one interview so far. I count that as a win.

My attempt at sketching a mug. I'm hoping to sketch a little bit every day.

My attempt at sketching a mug. I’m hoping to sketch a little bit every day for the rest of the year.

9. Work on a piece of art every other week
I’m also happy to say that I’ve been doing really well with this one also. Last year, I felt like I had to paint something on canvas, but I’ve broadened my idea of what “a piece of art” is. I’ve worked on videos, sketches, and poetry as well (I’ve even done some MS Paint drawing). I think broadening my definition of art has really helped me be consistent with this goal because I’m not limited to using one medium.

10. Blog at least twice a week
I’ve tried, I really have. Lately it’s been tough for me to post something that isn’t part of a series on my blog. The semester is almost at an end, so I’m going to try to get better with writing posts that are not parts of a series as well as scheduling posts. (I’m a little ahead of the game on this one. As of the time of this post, I’ve got three posts scheduled. Woot woot!)

11. Pay off one of my two major credit cards
I’ve technically accomplished this. By technically, I mean I took out a low-interest personal loan to pay off my two major credit cards. So, both of my accounts say nothing is owed, but I still owe the money. So…partial win? On the upside, I won’t owe nearly as much interest on the loan, so baying back this debt will be much easier and faster (hopefully!).

If you’d like to keep up with my goal progress apart from my quarterly blog updates, check this page out. I update it when I’m making progress with my goals¬†(particularly the¬†reading ones).

What resolutions are you working on? Which ones are you doing great with and which need a little more attention?

Looking Ahead: My 2014 New Year’s Resolutions

Fireworks

‘Tis a new year, hence new goals. ¬†As mentioned in my 2013 resolutions wrap-up post, last year’s goals, more than anything, served to show me what is really important in my life. As a result, I’ve tweaked the focus of my resolutions and broke them up into two categories: Reading Goals and Creative/Lifestyle Goals. Here’s hoping this new format keeps me focused this year.

Reading Goals

1. Read 5 classic books
I’ve recently realized that there are a lot of “classic” books that I was never assigned in high school or college. I’d like to catch up on reading I feel I’ve missed out on.

The cover of the first edition of Adventures o...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The term “classic” can mean many things, and there are tons of classic book lists out there (seriously, just google it). I’ve come up with my own list to pick from, which is sort of an amalgamation of those I found online:

A Tale of Two Cities РCharles Dickens
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn РMark Twain
Alice in Wonderland РLewis Carroll
Catch 22 РJoseph Heller
Catcher in the Rye РJ. D. Salinger
Diary of a Young Girl РAnne Frank
Dracula РBram Stoker
East of Eden РJohn Steinbeck
Fahrenheit 451 РRay Bradbury
My Antonia РWilla Cather
Picture of Dorian Gray РOscar Wilde
Pride and Prejudice РJane Austen
Robinson Crusoe РDaniel Defoe
Secret Garden РFrances Hodgson Burnett
Sherlock Holmes РSir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Call of the Wild РJack London
The Crucible РArthur Miller
The Good Earth РPearl S. Buck
The Grapes of Wrath РJohn Steinbeck
The Great Gatsby РF. Scott Fitzgerald
The Hobbit РJ. R. R. Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring РJ. R. R. Tolkien
The Two Towers РJ. R. R. Tolkien
The Return of the King РJ. R. R. Tolkien
The Invisible Man РRalph Ellison
The Old Man and the Sea РErnest Hemingway
The Sound and the Fury РWilliam Faulkner
The Three Musketeers РAlexandre Dumas
The Trial РFranz Kafka
Their Eyes Were Watching God РZora Neale Hurston
Uncle Tom’s Cabin¬†– Harriet Tubman
Wuthering Heights РEmily Bronte

2. Read 5 books I already own

I totally failed at this very achievable goal last year. As an attempt at redemption, I’m giving it another go this year. ¬†I posted all the books for this goal last year, so instead of posting them again, here’s a list of some books I added to my shelves in 2013:

Cover of "The Endarkenment (Pitt Poetry S...

Cover of The Endarkenment (Pitt Poetry Series)

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened РAllie Brosh
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
Herland – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Endarkenment РJeffrey McDaniel
We – Yevgeny Zamyatin

3. Read 10 books on my “To Read” list on Goodreads

This particular list has grown quite a bit in the last year. I have 450 books on my Goodreads “To Read” list. I came so close to finishing this goal last year so, much like the previous goal, I want to try it again.

4. Read and review the ARCs (both digital and hard copy) that I’ve received in the past two years

I keep requesting ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of books, and publishing houses continue to graciously give me free copies. And I have yet to crack one open and review it. I’m actually pretty ashamed of this fact, so I want to play catch up by reading and reviewing all of the ARCs I’ve received since I first began requesting them two years ago.

Eve and Adam – Michael Grand and Katherine Applegate
Zealot – Reza Aslan
Trying to Be Cool – Leo Braudy
The Diviners – Libba Bray
Back to Christmas – Dennis Canfield
The Tragedy of Fidel Castro – Joao Cerqueira
Dukkha, the Suffering: An Eye for an Eye – Loren Christensen
Empty Mansions – Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
Matters Familiar – E. G. Frabricant
Love & Math – Edward Frenkel
After Visiting Friends – Michael Hainey
Hunted – Elizabeth Heiter
The Psychology of Twilight – (Eds.) E. David Klonsky, Alexis Black, and Leah Wilson
The Devil You Know – K. H. Koehler
Defy – Sara B. Larson
I Love My Slow Cooker – Beverly leBlanc
Sugar Hill: Where the Sun Rose Over Harlem – Terry Baker Mulligan
Doing Harm – Kelly Parsons
Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey – (Ed.) Lori Perkins
The Last Stratiote – LeAnn Neal Reilly
Lost at Sea – Jon Ronson
With or Without You – Domenica Ruta
The Shadow Society – Marie Rutkoski
A Conspiracy of Alchemists – Liesel Schwarz
Love Water Memory – Jennie Shortridge
Hokey Pokey – Jerry Spinelli
Son of a Gun – Justin St. Germain
Growing in Wisdom and Love: Tibetan Buddhist Sources for Christian Meditation – Susan Stabile
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There – Catherynne M. Valente
You Got to be Kidding! – Joe Wenke

5. Read the four Gospels

I’m really bad at reading the Bible. This goal is my attempt to bring spirituality into my resolutions by incorporating something I already love to do: read. I think the Gospels are a good place to start since they are a manageable amount of content to cover in one year. Plus, I think the research nerd in me will love diving into lexicons and concordances in conjunction with the readings.

Creative/Lifestyle Goals

Line art representation of a Quill

Line art representation of a Quill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Spruce up my full-length poetry manuscript to send out to at least two fall book contests

The two years of my MFA led up to this manuscript, and I think it’s time I dusted it off and took it for a spin. I haven’t sent out my full-length collection since 2011 because I didn’t think it was ready. If I don’t work on it, the book never will be.

My writing has changed quite a bit since I graduated three years ago, and I’d like my collection to reflect that. I’m not looking for my book to be earth-shattering or print ready. I just want it to be a collection of poems I’m proud to put out into the world. I’m giving myself until the fall to send it out because that means I’ll have the summer to work on it. This time frame also gives me enough time to save up submission fee money.

Lastly, I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with contest entries, so I gave myself the very low-key goal of submitting to two fall book-length manuscript contests. The more concrete and realistic the goal, the more likely I am not to be overwhelmed.

7. Send my chapbook out to at least five contests

This is a tweaked goal from last year. I wanted to publish a chapbook last year, but then realized there’s no way I can predict that. I can make publishing a chapbook a goal for years and never cross it off because I can’t control whether my book gets picked up or not. However, I can control how much I submit the chapbook. As a result, I’m going to give myself a number and stick to it. ¬†This number, much like the previous goal, is very low-key and manageable. And, hey, if my chapbook gets picked up this year, even better!

8. Acquire a full-time teaching gig

This goal is a more “grownup,” practical one. I’d like a full-time job that allows me to be creative and have free time. Teaching is great for that. Last year, I sent out quite a few teaching applications. I hope to reap the fruits of these efforts this year.

9. Work on a piece of art every other week

 

English: Paint brushes Deutsch: Pinsel

English: Paint brushes Deutsch: Pinsel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This goal is another tweaked repeat of last year. I tried to work on art each week, which proved to be a bit too hard. Art is still very important to me, and I want to make time for it, so I’m setting a more realistic goal for myself. Hopefully, the amount of time I dedicate to art will increase as the year progresses and I learn to manage my time better.

Note: “Piece of art” here is defined in very broad terms. I’d like to work on a project related to the arts (poetry, painting, mixed media, jewelry, sewing, video, etc.) once a week.

10. Blog at least twice a week

I’ll do it this year, I really will! ¬†I know I may fall off the wagon a few times, but I hope to post twice a week more often than not.

11. Pay off one of my two major credit cards

Here’s another “grownup” goal. ¬†Being in less debt will make me happy, so I’m setting a goal for it, even though it isn’t as exciting as getting my hands dirty with paint or ink.

 

One thing I know I will constantly be reminding myself of in 2014 is that while goals are nice, the journey is just as important. I also tend to be super hard on myself sometimes. So, as I mentioned in my teaching post, I’ll also be practicing being kind to myself. Be kind to yourself too in 2014.

What’s one resolution you’re making in 2014?

Poetry Still Has Teeth

During my first day in the Drew MFA program in 2009, students gathered to hear the faculty talk about a current favorite poem of theirs. ¬†I’ll never forget when Alicia Ostriker, my first mentor, read Jane Mead’s poem “Concerning that Prayer I Cannot Make.” ¬†At the time, I was fresh out of college, living with my mother whose mental illness was, unfortunately, getting the best of her, and wondering how and why my relationship with God was changing…and frightened by it all.

That first stanza unexpectedly hit me, as Florence + the Machine would say, like a train on a track:

Jesus, I am cruelly lonely
and I do not know what I have done
nor do I suspect that you will answer me.

Those three lines felt like I had written them. I was disillusioned with silence from God, yet I desperately wanted to love Him, but didn’t quite know what that looked like anymore. ¬†I was rapidly being asked to grow up in many ways by taking care of my mother and shouldering a full-time job while going back to school. I was also the youngest in the MFA program at the time and felt completely inadequate as a writer. And yet I felt I had to swallow all of my insecurities and carry on like a good little soldier. ¬†I certainly did not think of acknowledging my loneliness, anger, and questions.

This poem changed that. ¬†It showed me that it was ok to question and be bold about it. ¬†To this day, I still think of the last line of that Jane Mead poem where, after addressing Jesus, the poet addresses nature and all that is around her, saying, “Listen, I am holy.”

That last line broke me open. ¬†Though permission is not required to write or to feel or to question, I needed it. ¬†I needed that gateway to open so that I could remember my worth as a person. ¬†I later wrote to my mentor that it was in that poem that I saw pieces of the writer I wanted to become. ¬†I realize now that my connection to the piece was deeper than that. ¬†I saw pieces of the woman I wanted to become–thoughtful, observant, full of questions, and, when need be, brazen. Four years later, these are all qualities I now possess.

Last week, a writer at the Washington Post posted an article asserting that poetry is dead. The main question posed in this article is “Can a poem still change anything?” ¬†Here, in part, is the writer’s answer:

I think the medium might not be loud enough any longer. There are about six people who buy new poetry, but they are not feeling very well. I bumped very lightly into one of them while walking down the sidewalk, and for a while I was terrified that I would have to write to eleven MFA programs explaining why everyone was going to have to apply for grants that year. The last time I stumbled upon a poetry reading, the attendees were almost without exception students of the poet who were there in the hopes of extra credit. One of the poems, if memory serves, consisted of a list of names of Supreme Court justices. I am not saying that it was a bad poem. It was a good poem, within the constraints of what poetry means now. But I think what we mean by poetry is a limp and fangless thing.

This response to poetry both saddened and angered me. ¬†I was angered that someone would flippantly say that a medium I love so much is “a limp and fangless thing.” ¬†And I was saddened that someone could misunderstand such a powerful literary genre so completely. To only look at the numbers is to miss the point. ¬†The author’s perspective is one I would expect from someone who has not been affected by poetry.

And I know that not everyone will be.  Poetry is not for everyone. But to make such a sweeping statement about a genre one is not familiar with is ill-informed.  I hoped that the writer would at least include some tidbits about speaking with lovers of poetry, but she did not.

Poet Daniel Nathan Terry wrote a response to the Washington Post article as well (and after reading it, I wondered if I should enter the conversation because his response is so articulate). ¬†I do not have a story that brings together politics, love, and words so eloquently as he does. But, as seen earlier in this piece, I do have a story of how poetry changed me. ¬†And I’m not the only one.

The fact that poets may not have the most followers on Twitter or that they don’t sell out stadiums does not mean the genre is dead. ¬†Poetry may not make headlines, but I have been in small New York bars and witnessed the audience sigh as one when a poem knocked the breath out of their lungs. ¬†I have seen a poet cry when reading her own poem because the words brought back the memory so vividly. ¬†I have sat at countless tables in cafeterias, cafes, and living rooms talking about the power of the exact right word. ¬†And every one of those people has a story about a line of poetry that sticks with them to this day because it’s power knocked something loose in their souls. ¬†It was that knocking that spurred them to action.

Poetry still has teeth.

And in that sense, yes, I think poetry can change a hell of a lot. ¬†Indeed, that may be the only way anything has ever been changed in a lasting manner–one person, one adversity at a time.

Poetry: A Spiritual Practice

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posed the question, “Is poetry a spiritual practice?”¬† I thought about this for a while, not because I wasn’t sure if writing was a spiritual practice, but because I couldn’t quite articulate why I believed it was. ¬† Even though the question was posed via facebook status, I spent quite some time crafting an e-mail response…because I can’t say anything concisely.¬† And this is what I came up with:

Quill and ink

Image via Wikipedia

Poetry is a way for me to connect with people and nature, everything around me, which are all ways to connect with God.¬† I’m reminded of somethingone of my favorite authors, Don Miller, said: “We connect with God when we ask Him to defeat in us all the ways in which He cannot connect, all the untruth and games and manipulation and we come to Him finally saying, ‘Okay, I get it, you really are good, defeat in me the lack of faith, let your goodness rid me of the stuff that doesn‚Äôt connect with you or the world around me.'”

Poetry is a unique form of prayer.  It is a practice that allows me to cut through all of my cluttered thoughts and feelings so that I can get to what matters, what I need to hear and what I need to share with others. It is my way of getting on my knees and crying out, it is my way of talking with God, it is my way of asking forgiveness, it is my way of asking for fire.

I’m also reminded of something the poet Matthew Dickman said in an interview.¬† He was asked about what sparked him to write a poem.¬† He told about how he’s usually moved to write while musing about something he enjoys.¬† Matthew went on to say: “I suppose it’s the ‚Äúlike‚ÄĚ that moves me to begin writing a poem‚ÄĒsome sort of celebration in my chest wanting some words to understand itself, some sort of grief needing a body.”¬† There are these urges, these pushes to write that must be followed and, in the process, feel sacred.¬† There is so much that goes on in one life, sometimes these occurrences beg to be written down.

Thoughts?  Is writing a spiritual practice?  Can it even be considered a spiritual discipline?