bell

Just devoured bell hooks’s memoir Wounds of Passion. Every once in a while, I need a jolt of poet energy to remind me why I’ve never been able to give up stanza breaks. The relationship between work and the rest of writers’ lives in difficult to embody, and more difficult to elucidate. hooks presents these relationships in all their complexity, and her–often unacknowledged–sacrifices in pursuit of finding an equilibrium are familiar to anyone without a trust fund or a MacArthur grant.

There is a wild sun shower happening outside, complete with a glorious rainbow arcing over the college. Weather is a mystery.

Everyone go read.

#NaPoWriMo

In preparation for the inception of NaPoWriMo–an intense thirty-day poetry binge for those of us paralyzed by fears of audience, topic, detail, and ourselves–we discuss why anyone would put themselves through the torturous process of writing a bad poem draft every single day. The answer? Lots of wine.

It’s almost April, which means baby animals, Earth Day, sunshine, and poetry.

(If this list isn’t gritty enough for you, try October, month of blindness awareness, pizza, opals, and pagan celebrations.)

April is a good month for poets. We can sit on the porch, wear sunglasses, and write.

Winter gets me into the bad habits of watching lots of (good!) television in my bed, sleeping late, and not writing as much as I would like. This is partially because it is expensive to heat my apartment, so staying in bed is the best warmth option; but it also because everything is the same grey color for three solid months. Grey trees, grey sky, grey asphalt. Grey is lovely, but my poetry relies heavily on color as fodder, fuel for its verse. Consequently, my winter poems are mostly about death and rainstorms.

The response to many months of not-so-brilliant poetics? The 30-day challenge of National Poetry Writing Month (otherwise known as NaPoWriMo). Similar to NaNoWriMo (wherein writers work on a novel draft to polish and wrestle the remaining 11 months), NaPo challenges poetry nerds to write a poem every day in April. Many poets defer to writing several in a sitting, then skipping a day or three (ahem), but the 30-poem challenge remains (that’s a whole chapbook, folks).

These poems don’t have to be complete, or even near complete, or even real poems. Half the time, I end up writing “ugh I hate working at the grocery store before a rainstorm. Everyone is batshit crazy and forgets their canvas bags,” before abandoning my computer in favor of drinking tea and looking out the window. But from this small moment in the time between other things, I begin to consider my myriad food service jobs, making lists of weird customers and co-workers, and remembering stories. I make lists of images, brainstorm titles on the backs of grocery receipts, think in meter.

Poetry is always in the back of my mind, even while I am busy writing consulting, bagging natural groceries, or running errands. With NaPoWriMo, poetry takes a more central space in my brain, becoming an undercurrent, a benevolent riptide of thoughts, pulling and pulling. The fragments that I puzzle together are not unlike seashells: often fragmented, sharp, and duller when dry, but they are poetic bookmarks. As of now, I have 14 scalloped edges of things that may or may not become poems. This is certainly better than nothing.

A side note for the curious: Some NaPoets post their pieces on the internet. I am saving mine for my inevitable collected works.

Grad

So as you know if you follow my every move via social media, I got a big fat rejection email from the grad program I applied to at the University of Washington.

While part of me is surprised–the honors-graduating, essay-planning, highlighter-toting part of me–in many ways, I expected it. My application was viciously progressive, and for a department conservative in any way, my style of scholarship would be off-putting.

(Not to mention that UW accepts less than 5% of applicants for this particular program and offers less than half of them assistantships or financial support.)

When I received the email, I was just about to leave my tutoring job on my second-to-last day before my unplanned three week vacation. Between the stress I had acquired via the palpable anxiety of students in the throes of finals and the general what-am-I-doing freakout that comes and goes once a week, I was overcome; I went home and wept.

However, after a good cry and a bout of cursing & politicking with one of my favorite UNCA professors, his two engaging comrades, and my wonderful partner, I felt better. I always make fun of people for needing institutional validation, but–as in everything–I am really poking fun at that need within myself.

I texted my extended support system: the writing center director at UNCA, my two professors who wrote recommendations for me, the UWC staff who helped me polish and polish and anguish over my personal statement and writing sample, my mother. True to form, they bolstered my spirit immensely.

I spent the weekend no longer worried about the rejection; I stayed up until 2am dancing and talking, I cooked and played with Octavia Butler (the cat, not the author), I went out to eat three different times, I drank some bourbon.

And yesterday I had an epiphany: if the institution doesn’t want me, then I don’t want it either. If UW’s conservatism caused them to select other, more deferential, students, then I wouldn’t be the right fit there anyway.

Further, without the influence of academic professionals who have drank the Ivory Tower Kool-Aid, I can really focus my academic energies on whatever sorts of independent projects I feel inclined towards. Thus, the second epiphany: I’m working on creating reading lists and syllabi for my own independent courses, focusing on subjects that I have always wanted to tackle but have never had access to within the academy.

Who needs tuition, athletics fees, and bossy research advisors when you have the library, a notebook, and…drumroll please…the internet? Independent scholarship, here I come.

Hipster Lit

Another from the series of Juniper Bends Author Collective posts–this time, I reflect on millenial literature and reveal my inner grandma.

Yesterday, after getting off of work to a rainy afternoon, I sat in my blue reading chair and polished off the entirety of Tao Lin’s Shoplifting from American Apparel. I was left with a sole question upon completion: why does this book exist?

Sure, I’m happy to see a vegan protagonist, even as he jokes about spending gambling winnings on a steak. I’m even happy that Vegan Sam tries to subvert capitalism by shoplifting from everybody’s favorite fair trade corporation, American Apparel. But then again, is he just bored?

So what is this book trying to do? It seems to detail the humdrum exploits of a privileged New York dude who can afford daily iced coffees from various (presumably hip and independent) coffee shops. He is having a quarter-life crisis. He doesn’t ever seem to finish his novel. His ex-girlfriend commits herself and his relationships with other women are by turns childish and empty. He resorts to shoplifting to “feel alive,” I guess.

To me, this bro is just another idiot that I don’t want to be friends with. Nothing Lin writes is especially evocative of the contemporary Sea of Ennui that Vegan Sam and so many others flounder around in for years on end. He just floats, like flotsam. Or jetsam. Whichever.

Pros: The language is basic, which is refreshing in a world of chronically overused adverbs (hah!). But that’s sort of it for me.

Am I missing out on something quintessentially millennial here? As an advocate for smart phones, social media, and yes, even e-readers, does my disinterest in this book unmask me as the big fat fuddy duddy that I am on the inside? Or does it just reveal that I should never, ever move to New York?

Review

Just wrote a really mean review of Alison Bechdel’s latest book on Goodreads. I feel kind of bad. I’m sharing it here anyway.

Are You My Mother?Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Very sad to give two stars to Alison Bechdel’s anything, but this book was tedium incarnate. Things to keep: Alison’s deeply sad, fascinating mother. Things to toss: literally everything else, especially the pseudo-scholarship integrated throughout. Two stars go to the drawings.

As a big fan of hybrid genre (theory + nonfiction + comix), I was stoked at the potential of a book like this. However, Bechdel’s very poor choice and inclusion of critical texts really ruined any cool effect that a meta-memoir could have made.

Great for other fans of white male psychobabble about mommy issues and white female therapy transcripts, but insufferable for anyone looking for more.

Avoid.

View all my reviews