A Year in the Life, Week 14: A Walk in City, Town, or Village

August 12, 2013

I didn’t get a chance to post my Week 14 Year in the Life writing from August 2, because extra shifts at the library where I work have been eating away my precious writing Fridays. The prompt was to describe a walk in a place you went often (or something like that). I wrote about the bike trail where I prefer to bike with Syrus, although I only get to use this particular section when we have time for a “leisurely” outing, as it takes about an hour as opposed to the usual 45 minutes.

It started out prosy and then decided it wanted more poem-like line breaks.

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Writer Biography Book Review: Lives Like Loaded Guns

June 1, 2013

Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's FeudsLives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds by Lyndall Gordon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s always hardest for me to review books I loved. But this is one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and I was blown away by how enthralling it was when I’d expected something a bit dry and academic. Lyndall Gordon’s exquisite research allows her to vividly depict all the characters who populate Emily Dickinson’s life, making them so real that I felt compelled to return again and again.

Lyndall Gordon’s most significant contribution is probably the new light she casts on Emily Dickinson in this work, painting her not as the typically “shy”, demure recluse, but as a strong woman in touch with herself and what she wanted, able to stand up against her family’s manipulations, and even pull a lot of the strings herself behind the scenes. Lyndall posits a medical reason for Emily’s reclusiveness, and she makes a strong case for it — although it seems likely that a condition that may have begun as medical could have certainly developed a psychological component over time.

Because Gordon characterized the early lives of Emily’s families and friends so well, the tension that creeps into the family when Austin begins his affair with Mable Todd is heartbreaking. The betrayal made me ill. And although Gordon seems to make an honest attempt at an even-handed telling, she comes across as more sympathetic to Susan’s side of the divide — as was I. I listened to this book on audio, so when I was done I got the hardcover from the library so I could see the photos. And I stared at the one of Mable Todd for a long time — she really was stunning.

The last 1/4 of the book or so, which chronicles the battle for Emily Dickinson’s legacy, was less interesting to me. But the ending still left me feeling incredibly satisfied, so I can give no fewer than five stars to this biography. It even has me investigating the possibility of a trip to Amherst!

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My Last Day of One Job, Embarking on Another

May 3, 2013

Yesterday was my last official day as Teen Services Librarian for the Marshall-Lyon County Library. My heart is sort of breaking over it–I loved that job so much, but it was a two-hour commute, one way, once a week. I’m still processing all of that, and might blog about it more extensively, but for now, I’m working on a new writing “job” to help take my mind off it. I’ve started doing the weekly exercises in Sheila Bender’s A Year in the Life: Journaling for Self Discovery. Before embarking on them, she encourages you to “hire” yourself as a journal keeper. I found this exercise very empowering, because it allowed me to reflect upon how freakin’ qualified I am for the job. I definitely encourage other writers to try it. Below are some of my entries from the exercise, consisting of the Job Posting, My Application Letter, and the Interview.

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NaPoWriMo: The Home Stretch!

April 29, 2013

If I can write two more poems before midnight tomorrow, I will have completed my first successful NaPoWriMo.

In an ideal world where there is always enough time for writing, my fiction would not have had to take such a blow so I could write poetry this month. But the truth is, I haven’t worked on Rapunzel or Rumpled a bit. This would have bothered me more in the past than it does now. After all, I consider my fiction to be my “serious” writing, the writing I hope to actually do something with. But I think there’s something valuable to be learned in immersing yourself in an unfamiliar form, and hopefully that will benefit my other writing. Writing poetry has been strangely freeing simply because I take myself less seriously as a poet; I don’t plan to publish poetry, and so I am able to write it for the sake of writing it. It also helps stretch my creative mind to remember that there are many ways to capture an experience or to tell a story, and I hope focusing on poetry for a month will help me remember that it’s there if I need it in the future.

With all that said, I find that NaPoWriMo gets more difficult as the month goes on, as though I have a finite number of poems within me, and at the end I’m starting to dry up. This is probably why I’ve abandoned NaPoWriMo about halfway through the month every other time I’ve tried it. So today, I’m going to share two of my poems about how difficult it’s been to keep writing poems!

Poem #26 – Dried Up

I hesitate to go to the river tonight,
fearing it’s all dried up
like the brown grass last spring,
died early in the South Dakota sun
and we didn’t have to mow the lawn
all summer.

Perhaps prayers, long walks, feminism,
Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson
can get the water to flow.
Night falls quickly as I
wait for those first drops,
crunching too many coffee beans
and trying not to look at the dishes.


Words flow more freely from my husband’s mouth
when he is talking in his sleep
than when I pick up my pen.
He says, “Think of it like a stream,
all these words, and you’re
looking at it from above—and then,
from the side.”

I mumble, yes, yes, yes,
only longing for his silence
so I may sink back into sleep.
Now, I wait for him to come home,
hoping he remembers the way
to that incoherent stream,
all those letters rattling by
like bones.

For poem #27, I experimented with the poetic form of the triolet for the first time. It’s a poem consisting of eight lines, all of 10 syllables, with a very specific rhyme scheme. I do like the discipline that writing within a form can provide.

Poem # 27 – More Than Poetry Do I Love Sleep (Triolet)

Far more than poetry do I love sleep.
I find my blankets much warmer than words.
So this is a promise too hard to keep,
far more than poetry do I love sleep.
I silence the alarm’s insistent beep.
I am unimpressed by the songs of birds.
For more than poetry do I love sleep.
I find my blankets much warmer than words.

Live From New York City!

April 22, 2013

I’m writing this from a computer lab at my temporary residence in New York City, where I’ve landed to work on the Religious Institute‘s new “faith and sexuality” guidebook on bisexuality and faith. I’m surrounded by what has been called the “dream team” of bisexual activism — wait, not just surrounded by, but part of it. At last, I can put all those days of being picked last in gym behind me. I’m on the bisexual dream team! (As a side note, I learned while preparing for this meeting that queer-identified youth tend to dislike team sports. I wonder why …)

I’m so excited to begin work tomorrow and to better get to know the amazing people from diverse faiths who are doing this work. As part of my preparation, I studied some of the current research on bisexuality shared by the institute with participants, as well as some of their previous guidebooks. And I just have to reiterate that I am so glad people are doing this good work. One of the things that struck me as I was doing my preparatory reading was that, while 65% of queer youth report being bullied in public schools, that number jumps to 75% in religiously affiliated schools. Whoa. Something is very not right about that. And I’m so glad organizations like the Religious Institute exist to start changing hearts and minds, so that hopefully, one day there will be a different connotation when it comes to religion, sexuality, and inclusion.

As we’ve introduced ourselves to one another, my best “in-a-nutshell” explanation of how “what I do” (in addition to who I am) relates to this work is that I’m a “bisexual Catholic blogger.” A few people have asked me if I’m clergy or going for my Masters of Divinity degree (the same question I was asked last week when I bought a big pile of theology-themed books at a used book sale), and I’ve said, “Nope, just a bisexual Catholic writer with a big bookshelf.” It has me thinking once more about credentials, and how one might show that she’s serious about her work without the external “proof.” But the truth remains that I’m here today because I wrote. It’s something to hold on to when, as all writers do, I find myself doubting from time to time whether writing really “matters.”

On another note, I’m still slagging through NaPoWriMo, about two days behind schedule. But it allowed me to give a couple poems to my husband for our one-year anniversary yesterday, so already it’s born great fruit.

NaPoWriMo: Ice Storm Poetry

April 15, 2013

Poem #9: Ice and Thunder

It is a time of ice and thunder
the dog cowering in the doorway
brass tacks on the glass
and trees groaning outside.

Love is an action, not a feeling
this is what Jesus taught us
Their power will be out for days
and I crumple up inside
at the thought of opening the door
on this world of ice and thunder.

Pumpkin soup and bright electricity
keep us warm against the night
The spare bed isn’t just
for watching X-files
through these hours of ice and thunder.

And love is an action, not a feeling
Pick up your cell phone
see what they need
because the power won’t be back on for days
and we have pumpkin soup in the freezer–
enough to keep us all fed
through this night of ice and thunder.

Poem #10: Ice Storm, Day 2

Stayed in the shower too long
soaking up the warmth
didn’t wipe away the steam
to see my face in the mirror.

Cold soup in the fridge
I long to fill my belly
protein bars and canned food
and too many apocalyptic novels

Trucks thunder by in the street
ice cracks
sirens wail

Every hour
I hover over the fish tank
too scared to peek inside
I use a bicycle pump
to force life into the water

Push my feet under my dog’s body
searching for his warmth.
Without the soothing buzz of

heaters and freezers
the medicine cabinet
screeches too loud.

Can’t get myself
to wrap it all up in a box
and send it to you.
I’d rather wrap myself instead.

NaPoWriMo: Day 8

April 8, 2013

So far, I’ve been successful in writing one poem a day for the first week of April (although not all have been successful poems). Here are a few of my first drafts.

Poem #5: Dinosaur Teeth

That summer we were twelve
I didn’t know
that only bubble-gum string
held your family together.

We crossed that hot parking lot
you told me
how you cried, curled up
in a theater seat.

So for twenty years
I feared your dinosaurs
sure that their teeth
had gnashed and
torn you apart.

– April 5, 2013

I wrote the pantoum below after taking the Project Implicit test on skin tone, which revealed that I have a “slight bias” toward people with light skin. I examined that in conjunction with my work in a downtown library, which has a large Native American, immigrant, and transient population. Despite this, there is no one one staff who is not white, which seems alienating to our patrons. Also, I’m troubled by this “slight bias” in light of the fact that my best friend is of Indian descent. All of this soul searching has been undertaken on behalf of my Know Thyself course, and particularly Dr. Timothy Wilson’s work positing that we have an “adaptive unconscious” (a vast reservoir of unknowable mental processes), which is often where unacknowledged prejudice resides.

Poem #7: Implicit

From which pool of primordial sludge does this come?
Only white faces this side of the desk
I love the smell of curry in her hair
but I guess I love white skin slightly more.

Only white faces this side of the desk
with our computers and records and judgments
but I guess I love white skin slightly more
as I picture the face of my best friend.

With our computers and records and judgments,
we glance at prison release cards with impassive faces.
As I picture the face of my best friend
I wonder how any test could be more true than her.

We glance at prison release cards with impassive faces
“I don’t judge you,” “I don’t judge you,” runs through my mind.
I wonder how any test could be more true than her
and all those nights of her voice through my wall.

“I don’t judge you,” “I don’t judge you,” runs through my mind.
I love the smell of curry in her hair
and all those nights of her voice through my wall.
From which pool of primordial sludge does this come?

– April 7, 2013

Something a little cozier:

Poem #8: Storage

“Fog is gone,” you say,
and, “I should have went.”
Your bike waits in the garage,
her bag all packed,
your disregarded lover.

Forecast is for snow,
a week of soup and
hiding in bed,
winter sweaters begging
to be used
one more time
before summer storage.

I do not regret
the six a.m. caution
that allowed us
to sneak back into storage
tucked away in spring sheets
your skin
warmer than any sweater.