Monday, September 9, 2013

Of Trash Cans, Wet-wipes, Parking Garages, and Books

Well, it has only been eight months since my last blog post...what? I've no idea how that happened, but here I am again. Enjoy. (Warning: many links ahead because you should really check these things out. Some great things going on in Winston-Salem.)

Last weekend started with dropping my car keys into a trash can. At a gas station. Yes, I was all packed up and ready to head out on my three-hour-drive to Winston-Salem for the 9th annual Bookmarks' Festival of Authors and Books. I had the dog in the passenger seat ready to go to grandma's for the weekend, the kids were safely tucked away at school, and I was even on schedule. I stopped for gas. I dropped an old McDonald's cup into the trash can next to the pump. And I keys were no longer in my hand.

So there I was, fishing through the leftover Subway lunch, emptied ash tray, hair (yes, hair), and various drink containers while I filled up the old Highlander with 89. A woman pulled up opposite me and politely did not stare, so I felt compelled to explain myself.

"I dropped my keys in the trash, and I can't find them!"

She laughed, a bit relieved, I think, and when I finally found my keys in a partly crumpled Wendy's bag, she offered wet-wipes, for which I will be eternally grateful.

I arrived at the hotel with no further incident and drove to the reception at SECCA, an interesting museum and historic site. I met the super-fantastic Julie Kolischak, a volunteer for Winston-Salem Writers and the driving force behind the Poetry in Plain Sight program, which was the reason I was there. I got to tour the art galleries and the original building, which is the Hanes mansion. Apparently, there are several instances of hauntings. Mr. Hanes has appeared, sitting in his favorite chair, and mysterious footsteps have been heard going up to the former maid's quarters turned artist's room, a love-story-gone-wrong type of haunting. The two stories are unrelated.

Afterward, I went downtown to the first-Friday art walk and met up with some very interesting writers, including someone who grew up in the restaurant in which I was eating a delicious Fiona's Special Reuben, Finnigan's Wake. A fitting name, no? It was his father's department store, and, according to some, his father still "visits" from time to time.

The next morning, I was honored to share the stage with some wonderful poets for the Poetry in Plain Sight program, including Kathryn Stripling Byer, John Thomas York, Sam Barbee, and several others, and I met Kevin Morgan Watson of Press 53 who offered some really good advice about publishing. Did I mention that our reading was in a parking garage? Oh...our reading was in a parking garage! It was, I think, a fitting location for putting poetry "in plain sight," and the background traffic noises made for unique ambience.

I had lunch at Sweet Potatoes...get the meatloaf. Seriously. Then I got to hear Bill Harley sing and recite some of his stories for children. If you have any kids in your life, check him out. I bought two of his books and two of his CD's. My kids have listened to "Alicia and the Monster" about fifteen times since yesterday, and I'm not tired of it yet. To round out my weekend, I had a glass of sauvignon blanc at a wine bar, and I promptly broke the my hand. My entire front was soaked in wine, and I was just sure that I was going to be stopped on the drive back to Greenville. "Really officer, I know I smell like I've been dipped in a barrel, but I only had a sip. Really."

I did not get stopped. I got home safely, made sure A's sugar was good, watched Snow White and the Huntsman, and went to bed.

What a wonderful, revitalizing weekend with some generous, talented, very fun people. Can't wait to do it again soon.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Warning! Post contains profanity directed at glandular organs

So...Joe just stopped by my office to chat and he asked, "You're on Facebook poem, what, 30? How many Facebook poems are you going to do?" to which I responded "I'll keep doing them until people get tired of it and quit posting responses." Then there was this awful thought hanging around in my brain...what happens when people get tired of it and quit posting?

I'm going to put that one away in the deal-with-it-when drawer because, as I've said before, this experience has been great. I'm learning, growing, all that neat stuff. And because sometimes, like lately, my solo, only-in-my-head-poems want to go something like this:

An Open Letter to my Daughter's Endocrine System:

Go fuck yourself.

Which isn't really helpful or thought-provoking, and really leaves little to no room for revision. So, yeah. I'll keep writing them as long as my Facebook friends will indulge me.

My daughter is fine; she's wonderful. Smart, funny, beautiful, creative. And she still has type 1 diabetes. Always will. And right before, I mean the day before, I left for my last MFA residency, I got a letter from her endocrinologist that said her blood test was positive for antibodies indicating Hashimoto's disease, a disease that affects the thyroid's hormone production. She will have to be "monitored closely until after puberty" which means she will have to have blood drawn at every diabetic appointment from now until whenever. That's every three months. I haven't told her yet.

When A was diagnosed, she had to have an IV. Not at all a good experience for her. So every time she had to have blood drawn, she screamed and cried and kicked. Not that I blame her. Last year, we finally found a solution. I lay on her and cover her face. Then she gets a sticker, we go out to eat wherever and whatever she wants, and I give her her shot. Diabetes sucks.

Maybe I'll write a poem about A's thyroid someday when I'm not so angry and frustrated. How it looks like a butterfly at her throat. She would like that image. Until then, I'll continue writing poems with my Facebook community, continue getting out of my own head.

If you can, please donate to JDRF, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Our team name is Aurora's Royal Court out of Greenville, NC. One day, there will be a cure.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Love Letter to my MFA Program

This blog post is a little late in coming. For the past two years, I've posted about my Converse College MFA residency within a few days of returning home. It has been nearly a full week since I got back this time, and all I can say is, well, I suppose I really don't want it to be over.

I have had the privilege of working one-on-one with amazing poets. Denise Duhamel helped me begin the program, and she was my mentor for my creative thesis at the end. Her enthusiasm and clear love of poetry are infectious. Sarah Kennedy, Suzanne Cleary, R.T. Smith; I cannot say enough about how each of them has influenced my writing in distinctly different ways.

As for the rest of the faculty, what a wonderful group of writers and teachers. Craft lectures in fiction by Leslie Pietrzyk and Marlin "Bart" Barton can always be counted on for humor and really good advice that can be used by any writer in any genre. Susan Tekulve's lectures on travel writing and nonfiction are informative and interesting. Rick Mulkey pulls everything together as director, and he gives a great talk on poetry, too.

Did I mention that the faculty readings made me buy lots of their books? I've read them all, and I recommend that you do the same.

As for the visiting writers, agents, and editors, wow. What a collection of people to meet and spend time with. I was only there for three days this past, graduating residency, but I got to meet and get to know Bruce Covey and Ed Falco, both fantastic writers and genuine people who spent a lot of time with us discussing the publishing world and the big question "where do we go from here?"

The students I've grown close with...let's just say that this is the first time in my education history, and I've earned a few degrees, that I feel real sorrow and longing for the camaraderie that comes with a wonderful group of friends. We will keep in touch, and we will see each other now and again, but that does not compare to the knowledge that come June or January, they would be there, writing, laughing, singing, listening.

So this is my love letter to the Converse College MFA program in creative writing. I didn't use specific details because that would take forever, and this is a blog post. I'm sure that it is incomplete, and I apologize in advance for the fog of memories that has come over my brain as I type. If you are involved in the program, I thank you. If you are considering a program, check this one out. The best advertisement I can give is the same compliment I gave in my last reading: I came into this program wanting a terminal degree so I could get a tenure-track job. I am leaving it a poet.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What's a medieval torture device got to do with it?

A while back, a Facebook friend posted a picture of a strange looking metal horseshoe shaped device that she had photographed while visiting the Tower of London as her profile picture. Its purpose is not obvious at first glance, and so naturally one of her Facebook friends asked what it was. My friend posted a link to a Wikipedia article on the Scavenger's Daughter. What is it? Why, a medieval torture device, of course.

The device crushes the victim, rather like being crushed in a giant set of dentures (I got that from How Stuff Works - nice visual). Invented by a lovely husband and wife team, the Scavenger's Daughter comes in a few different models. And while reportedly the device wasn't used often, or at least as often as some of the other devices, apparently there are plenty of artists out there today who think that it's a nice accessory for animated women (as in animation, not as in they're really dynamic).

Why am I writing about this? Well, for one thing, I find it interesting that torture devices are displayed. I remembered going to Medieval Times in Florida many, many years ago with my then fiancé. There was a "museum" of torture devices for the audience's perusal after the show. The Pear of Anguish became a part of my list of things not to think about, and so it immediately became part of somewhat regular random thoughts. Don't look that up if you're squeamish. I suppose it is useful to understand just how cruel and sadistic humans can be to each other.

But so then (did that for effect, did it work?) I started to follow the train of Google thought, as I often do, to see where the torture device might take me. And what do you know? It took me to the fact that elephants were once used as executioners. That's right. Some criminals were the recipients of elephant feet to the limbs if their accusers wanted them tortured, and some simply got a foot to the head on the trainer's command. Because my brain leans toward the sick and twisted, just sometimes, not all the time, I thought of Gallagher. Blech.

And then...there was Mary. Mary was an elephant who killed her trainer who had been on the job for one day. Mary was publicly hanged for her "crime." You read that correctly. They hanged an elephant. With a crane. In Erwin, Tennessee. In 1916. 2,500 people attended.

Last semester, I observed a colleague of mine teaching her class. While discussing the requirements of a new project assignment, the students got on the subject of true crime stories, which led to a discussion of reality TV, which led to Honey BooBoo and Jersey Shore. I will never forget the instructor's comment: "We are, at heart, a train wreck species. We can't look away." She pointed out that watching other people's failures often makes us feel better about ourselves. We think, at least I'm not nearly as messed up as the Kardashians. Yay me.

Point? I wrote a poem about Mary the elephant this morning. I'm thinking about starting a series called Trainwreck. Why? Because I went to the torture museum. I read about the Scavenger's Daughter. I'm fascinated by our propensity for evil. And I'm interested in that which redeems us. The challenge will be not coming across as sitting in judgment, holier than thou. I must count myself a part of the "train wreck species" if I am to write effectively. I'll let you know how it goes.

By the way, if you have any stories along these lines, send them my way.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Friends with Benefits

Gotcha, didn't I? Seriously, though, my experience so far writing Facebook poems with friends has been beneficial in many ways. I've written fifteen decent drafts so far. I've shared my poetry with friends and family. I've involved my Facebook community in writing and reading poetry. Yay, me! But perhaps the thing I am most intrigued by is what I have learned.

My whole life has been centered on learning. I have never been out of a classroom, either as a student or a teacher, except for summer breaks and holidays. It is safe to say that I am obsessed with finding out, with revealing. And these fifteen poems have been the sources of some very interesting revelations.

Today, I made "southern style" cornbread thanks to my dear friend Liat who posted her memories of cornbread baked in bacon fat for FB poem #15. The image of the cornmeal and the cast iron skillet resonated with me, and I chose to focus the poem on it. That meant I had to research how to make skillet cornbread. I'm from LA. Cornbread came from the Jiffy box. I could not have written that poem without learning that "true southern women" have a jar or can of bacon fat on their stoves, that the grease should coat the bottom of the skillet, and that the skillet should be heated in the oven before the cornbread batter is poured in. It should make a satisfying sizzle. For lunch, my family and I had bacon, apple slices, and cornbread with salted butter baked in bacon grease. It was fan-tastic.

Thanks to Travis, I learned that a brass monkey is not, in fact, liquor that you buy illegally at Mike's Liquor Store on Western Blvd. and drink as you're walking down the alley in Gardena, contrary to what I learned as a teen. It is, however, a  brass plate designed to keep a pyramid of cannon balls from rolling around on the deck of a ship. Joe C. taught me that the origin of the "three to a match" superstition probably originated in WWI in the trenches. One cigarette lit from a match alerts the enemy of your location. Two allows them to sight you. The third gets a kill shot. Joe H. let me know that no actor speaks the title MacBeth. It is "the Scottish play," unless you want your show to go seriously wrong.

The image of standing in the mist of a waterfall was given to me by Kat, and Brent gave me the idea of a woman too stubborn to leave her house, even as men jacked it up to move it so that the land could be flooded. I have researched and learned about tattoo styles, Jimmy Fallon, Indonesian spices, Go Ask Alice, roller coasters, the formula for Silly Putty, and Mobius strips. It may seem silly, but I feel as if I know the FB friends who post a little better. I feel more connected to each of them.

While many feel that social media separates us because we do not have to communicate in person any more, I contend that it can be a way to learn and grow. Over the past 24 years, I have moved many times, and I have met and lost touch with many friends. FB allows me to keep up with some, and at the very least touch base with many more people from my past lives. I look forward to benefitting from my Facebook friends as long as they will indulge me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Facebook Poems: The Beginning

In the past couple of weeks, I've begun a series of poems on Facebook, creatively titled "Facebook Poems." The idea is that I post a prompt such as "what tattoo would you get and why" or "respond to the word reminder." Throughout the next 24 hours, Facebook friends post their immediate responses, whatever comes into their heads first. At the end of that period, I take the posts and try to pull ideas or phrases from as many of them as possible, link them together, and I turn them into a poem. This process has been as fun as it has been enlightening. While writers always get their ideas from their experiences in the world and their interactions with other people, the end results are usually filtered only through the writer. In other words, the gathering together of ideas is usually not a public process.

By its nature, writing is a solitary art. I have at least one hundred poems on pages that may only ever be read by me. If a poet expects to publish in a journal, he or she must not publish his or her poems in any way because no journal will accept a poem that has already been published. I have long lamented this, since, as a painter, I can post pictures of my art all day long and still have the work accepted into shows. Posting on Facebook give an artist free publicity and, on many occasions, revenue. While I realize that poetry does not sell like paintings, it is disheartening that we feel we cannot share our work on Facebook, get our names and our writing abilities "out there," for fear of never publishing. Poetry is meant to be read, heard, taken in and rolled around, and shared. It is not meant to sit in a drawer or on a flash drive.

Writing these poems, there are five drafts now, has been a wonderful, freeing experience for me. I am getting out of my head and writing about subjects I would have never thought about in just that way without the Facebook friends who posted their thoughts. Yesterday, I wrote a poem based on the prompt "respond to abandoned places" called "Concept of Time" (any suggestions for a better title?) that examines the idea that every moment in time exists at every other moment in time. I've tried to write about this idea before, but I have been largely unsuccessful. I like the draft I got, and I like it because Kathleen said who she was yesterday was abandoned, Brent wrote a fascinating bit about walking on the remains of a flooded town near the Hudson (he even sent a map!), and Joe mentioned cities he himself had abandoned. I love the fact that I feel connected to these poems because of the people who contributed their thoughts and experiences, and I love that I am sharing my poetry with them.

Check out the Facebook poems, and better yet, take the posts 24 hours later and write your own! Wouldn't it be cool to read what we all come up with? Poem, flash fiction, photo; whatever your medium, I'd love to see it happen. Perhaps some publisher somewhere will accept my Facebook poems someday, but until then, I am enjoying my writing, and I am enjoying the community we create, poem by poem.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Repost: Living with Type I Diabetes

Living with Type 1 Diabetes

Top eight things PWDI (people with diabetes Type I) wish everyone knew:
  1. Type 1 diabetes, aka juvenile diabetes, cannot be controlled through diet and exercise.  That is type 2, aka adult onset diabetes. 
  2. Type 1 diabetics can eat food that contains sugar.  Please see #1 above.
  3. Type 1 diabetics will die without their insulin.
  4. Insulin does not cure type 1 diabetes.  The disease is for life.
  5. Type 1 diabetics will not "grow out of" the disease.  See #4 above.
  6. Insulin is a hormone that helps break down carbohydrates into sugars/glucose so the body can use them.  Type 1 diabetics produce little to no insulin.
  7. Sugar-free does not equal carb-free.  
  8. Type 1 diabetics cannot take a day off from their insulin.  Please see #3 above.
While I tried not to be sarcastic in this list, it may come off that way.  That is not my intention.

Imagine going to a restaurant with your three-year-old and asking the waitress to see the nutrition information for the items on the menu.  Now imagine said waitress eyeballing you when you say you need to know how many carbs are in their macaroni and cheese with fries and a chocolate milk kids' meal.  No matter what the waitress is actually thinking, this is what many moms of diabetic children think they are thinking.  "Why is she making that cute little kid diet/ so conscious of what she's eating?  She's not fat."  And then you open your mouth to explain, and then you close your mouth because it's not the waitress's business.  And then you open it again because you might be able to educate the waitress about Type 1.  Then you close it again because half the chocolate milk is gone and you forgot to take your kid's pre-meal sugar. 

Imagine, after this carb-filled meal, that the waitress happens to return to your table to ask if you want anything else, and you are sticking a needle into your kid's behind, the syringe cap clenched between your lips.  Again, the diabetic mom's thoughts run in the direction of "Is that a look of pity?  It better not be."  And your inner mom lion roars, but you give it a steak and tell it to go settle down for a while.  You chose to give shots in public so your child would not feel "different" or feel that her diabetes is something she should hide or be ashamed of. 

This is a disease that, quite simply, most Americans know little to nothing about.  They do know about Type 2 diabetes because obesity and health care are in the news just about every day.  But these are two very different diseases.  For more information, please go to the JDRF, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, website at JDRF