On Celebrating National Poetry Month While Earning an MFA

National Poetry Month is April, the cruelest month according to T.S. Eliot. And I get where he’s coming from, especially in Boston, where lilacs may or may not be breeding out of the dead ground. This month, everything bloomed late because the Weather Gods decided to send us temps in the 40s for most of March and April, and then bust directly into summer on May 2 with a high of 87. I should be used to this by now, seeing as I’ve lived in Boston for 18 years. But California spoiled me in my toddler years, and on some level I’ll always mourn weeks and weeks of room-temperature weather. The temperamental temperatures affect my mood as well, leading to unpredictable amounts of spoons.

The good thing about National Poetry Month is also the bad thing about National Poetry Month: everyone is celebrating poetry. As anyone perusing the listings I post can see, Boston has a thriving po-scene. There are open mics and slams and performances and launch parties and panels and exclusive hoity-toity readings every week and twice on Sundays. In April the listings just explode. And those are just the ones I know about–I hear about other ones all the time that don’t make my list. And then there are the informal writing groups, as secret and desirable as lesbian potlucks.

Continue reading “On Celebrating National Poetry Month While Earning an MFA”

Blast From the Past: April 2011

So back when this was more of a personal blog than a poetry-related one, this is a thing I wrote. Sometimes I like to go back and read my own journals. Is that so wrong?

What I Learned During National Poetry Month 2011

  1. Haiku improves with practice.
  2. Poetry is real work.
  3. Sometimes work is gentle, easy, and takes hardly any time.
  4. Sometimes work is hard and grueling and difficult.
  5. Sometimes I forget to do things I said I was going to do
  6. Instead of hating on myself or giving up, I can just start doing them again.[read more]

The Not-So Glamorous Life of a Working Grad Student

This website first came about in 1996, when the World Wide Web (yes, we called it that) was as wide-open and empty as the American West. Fresh out of Vassar with a degree in English and a middling aptitude for computers, I stumbled on a job for a website that forced me to learn HTML. Back then, all you needed to create a website was a text editor, some server space, and FTP software. If you were feeling really fancy, you got Photoshop and threw up some images too. I’d grown discouraged trying to break into more traditional print publishing, so posting my own writing on my own website seemed a great way to circumvent the endless cycle of applications and rejections.

Like most 20-somethings, I had no idea what I was doing. There were a bunch of other 20-somethings out there stealing sharpies and Xeroxes to make ‘zines, but I felt like I belonged to a small, elite group of people with the mix of technical, editorial, and design skills required to make a website.

Being able to say things like “I was doing that before it was cool” might be fun for a little while, but in the long run it doesn’t mean very much. What we now call blogs we used to call online diaries. No matter what you called them, they were homegrown, barbaric yawps in the wilderness. Major Media still wasn’t sure that this blogging thing was going to take off (that’s a direct quote from a VP of Public Affairs circa 2008). Continue reading “The Not-So Glamorous Life of a Working Grad Student”

So the Thing Is…

So the thing about having a chronic illness is that you still get sick. In the last 25 years you’ve gone through all the special treatment regimens and all the relapse prevention workshops. So why do you still relapse? Because your illness is chronic, and you can’t control all the factors that lead to relapse.

So what if you manage it so well that you live a rich and fulfilling life most of the time? If you’re really managing it all that well, then you shouldn’t relapse at all. I did all the right things. I still got sick.

They say it’s like a spiral staircase; each time you have another bout, it’s the same but different. I haven’t been on this ride since 2014, but the whole thing is nauseatingly familiar: ER trip, inpatient hospitalization, outpatient treatment, FMLA paperwork, short-term disability paperwork, doctor’s appointments and follow-up visits, holistic therapy, yoga, meditation, slow re-entry to work. Yadda yadda yadda.

The slow re-entry to work is reminding me of the biggest factor outside of my control: the current crazy project that’s causing me current crazy stress. Add to that the doubled commute to my office’s new location and a change of personnel on my treatment team, and you’ve got a recipe for another floor on the same damn staircase. On the days when I’m not in the office, things go pretty well. On the days when I’m working, I limp to the end of the day, and sometimes I have to leave early.

So that happened. Which is why I haven’t updated this website since May. And why the spambots are now bombarding my comments with almost-legible suggestions that I visit their questionable links to learn more about how to increase traffic to my website.

To those of you who are still with me, I thank you.

Some Notes on Imbolc

  • Imbolc means “in milk,” or “in the belly.”
  • The Wheel of the Year turns to Imbolc on February 2.
  • If it is warm and sunny on this day, it will be cold for six more weeks. If it is cold and cloudy on this day, it will be cold for six more weeks.
  • Lambing season starts in February.
  • A shepherd’s hut is a tiny house on wheels.
  • At Imbolc, the shepherd is the trusted servant of the sheep. The lamb lies in the belly of the Great Mother. It emerges into darkness.
  • Shepherds wait in their tiny houses, they shiver and they stoke the fire.
  • They keep vigil with the ewes. They usher the lamb out into the cold.
  • Many cultures kill and eat a lamb in the spring. Easter happens near Ostara, when the sun shines merciless over the thawing ground.
  • Imbolc happens in darkness.
  • At the monastery, we would sing “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.”
  • Continue reading “Some Notes on Imbolc”

Turmoil, Three Miracles

Three small miracles I saw today because I forced myself outside for a walk:

Two tiny finches circling and twittering around one another, one with a bright splash of orange on the top of its head, and another with a bright splash of yellow in the same spot

Three grey tufted titmice, who used to come to my feeder all the time when I lived closer to woods

A whole little flock of birds I don’t know how to identify, but who may be cedar waxwings: the size of a robin, but with a brilliant side patch of orange and an orange beak.

Also, deer tracks.

Some things keep happening in spite of humanity’s foibles. Even in times of great catastrophe, even in times of war and death and turmoil, the sun rises, the spring comes, the leaves fall, the birds migrate.

Open Letter to My Friends With Kids

I’m glad you had your babies. I’m glad good people are raising the next generation. Your children are beautiful and special and I enjoy watching them play with you and take their first steps and say profound things at bedtime.

Sometimes I’m annoyed because it seems like some of you have lost your identity and spend all your time posting photos of your children, but then again I’m sure I annoy a lot of people with my endless photos of our cats and our garden — not to mention my #365feministselfie project. Continue reading “Open Letter to My Friends With Kids”

Dispatches From an MFA Program: The First Packet

Creating my very first packet for the Lesley low-residency MFA program was both easier and more difficult than I thought it would be. It’s difficult to get over that voice of self-doubt in the back of my head, the one that says both “your work must be perfect” and “your work will never be perfect.” In one of her seminars, Erin Belieu observed that the voice of self-doubt is just as much ego as the voice of complacency and overconfidence. And it’s impossible to get into the flow state so necessary for writing when the ego is up.

Listening to the program’s professors reflect on their own practices as writers was a tremendous help to me. In a getting-to-know-you session with our mentors, I asked “what was the most difficult poem you wrote?” Their thoughtful answers led to some wonderfully deep discussions about the very reasons for writing. My mentor Sharon Bryan made a comment about a poem’s emotional truth that resonated with me. Even though poetry is a powerful tool that uses words in semi-rational ways to appeal to that emotional mind, it’s not something I’d ever heard talked about in previous workshops.

I came to Lesley with a certain amount of emotional baggage.  Continue reading “Dispatches From an MFA Program: The First Packet”

The Indian Family in the Hospital Lobby

Rushing between off-site meetings, I carve out some time to sit and eat lunch in the lobby of one of the hospitals in the Longwood Medical Area. There’s a huge family at the table next to mine that has an entire catering setup — I guess to feed everyone who’s come down to support their loved one. They take up four tables and are eating delicious-looking Indian cuisine, speaking in what may be Hindi or one of India’s many other languages.

Seeing them makes me think about frugality, and how it requires you to stop worrying about what other people think of you, and about what it means to live in a multicultural society, and about how diversity is hard because humans are hard-wired to fear the Other, and also about what it means for me to live so far away from the support system of an extended family. I’m lucky to have a huge constellation of family-by-choice, and friends, and kindred spirits — I know more wonderful people than I can possibly have deep friendships with. But the bond of shared DNA runs deep, even with the low-level irritation that can develop among grown-up relatives. When I’m in the hospital, it’s my family that comes to visit me. And if they’re not related to me, I begin to understand who truly is my family of choice.

For better or for worse, that’s my life: to be a stranger in a strange land, even when it’s one I’ve lived in for years. Writers and artists often live at the edge of society. It’s what gives us the perspective and the fearlessness to speak our own truths about what we see. I’m most comfortable on the edges of things, observing the swirl and color of human existence — I see things that I wouldn’t if I were at the center of my own drama.

And perhaps it’s why I need the company of plants and animals to recharge myself. They speak a quieter language free of the body-mind duality that plagues humanity.

Update: Five Things

  • My father-in-law is dying of cancer. He is dying at home with round-the-clock care, surrounded by his extended family. My father died in a public men’s room of an overdose. The contrast in details is pretty stark, but the feelings are much the same. And in the end, they’ll both pass through that gateway alone. Grief doesn’t live in a line, but a labyrinth. I’m surprised every time I turn a corner to find it there.
  • I have a pile of review copies in my office. Interviews with a couple of poets are in process, but none are ready for publication yet.
  • I’ve completed applications to three low-residency MFA programs. Yes, Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen didn’t need MFAs to become successful writers. But I’m not living in the 19th century. Who knows what will happen during or after my course of study? It still seems important to try.
  • I’ve spent three days out of the past two weeks in bed. Having an “invisible” chronic illness is especially frustrating at times like these. Yes, it’s exacerbated by stress, but it’s not exactly like I can keep my life from being stressful. And it’s true that certain preventative measures can keep the symptoms down, but it’s not very helpful to beat myself up about not taking them (or being able to take them) after the fact.
  • We have a brief respite from February’s slings and arrows. I’m going to take advantage of it right now and go for a walk before the winter weather returns with a vengeance.

Photo courtesy of Akif Mert via Flickr, CC2.0