Happy Birthday

I heard a story once about someone who, on their birthday, chose to give presents rather than to receive them. Maybe some of you already engage in this practice. That’s awesome. I mean that.

In light of this and the fact that it’s MY birthday on Friday, I’m going to adopt this posture of giving, and send out  a copy of Nearly Orthodox to whomever is lucky enough to win it on this here GoodReads giveaway-

NearlyOrthodox

Win a Copy of Nearly Orthodox on GoodReads!

Even if you’ve entered on GoodReads before, you can be eligible to win. Give it a shot. Happy birthday to me!

🙂

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i thank You God…

Photo Credit: Luci Shaw

Photo Credit: Luci Shaw

You need poetry today, right now. You maybe didn’t know it but it’s true. I ran across this poem today and I thought I’d toss it out there to you, to me, to all of us.

This is fresh for me, right at the front of my mind and heart. It feels vital and immediate for me probably because I’ve been reading Wendell Barry’s “Life is a Miracle” or because I attended readings by Scott Russell Sanders and lovely poet Luci Shaw, last month. In any case my pals, here is this today.

i thank You God for most this amazing

by E. E. Cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Nearly Orthodox #AmazonGiveaway

It’s the time of year when the kids are headed back to school and I am headed straight for my writing chair. I’m set to deliver a draft of my new book in the next couple of months and that got me to thinkin’ that it’d be nice if I gave away a copy of Nearly Orthodox to some lucky duckie.

Are you that lucky duckie? Well check it and see. All you need to do is click the image below and give it a shot.

Don’t cost ya nothing 😉

Nearly Orthodox #amazongiveaway

Enter to Win!

Leveling Out

Leveling up

If I ever meet you in person and give you the “distracted brush off” I want you to tell me to knock it off. You know that look, don’t you? It’s the “I’m standing in front of you and nodding at semi-appropriate intervals, but really I’m looking around for someone else to talk to” look.

I’m willing to admit here and now that I often read social cues incorrectly. It’s a thing for me, always thinking I stayed too long in a conversation, expecting that my conversation partner is bored and hoping to move on as it were. Sometimes, though, I think I have it right and having had this experience again recently while in a large group of people I’m here to tell you that it feels awful.

I leave those conversations feeling vulnerable and generally I blame myself for that feeling. I think, “I’ve said something offensive” or “I’m the least interesting person ever.” But most likely it has nothing to do with me at all, at least that’s where I’m hoping to land these days. This constant berating myself– questioning every word I spoke, questioning whether I forgot to wear antiperspirant or needed mouthwash– all points to a preoccupation with me, myself and I. That’s no good. I’m 48 years old (almost) and it’s probably time I cut myself some damn slack for a change.

Backing away from the experience for a moment I’m able to place some new thoughts into the pigeon holes of judgement I use to catalogue and store those rough conversational transactions. I think it has a great deal to do with positioning. My wise friend, Jude once (more than once) told me that relationships have levels and that we tend to work in those levels. She’d use her hands to show me the level she intended to meet other grown-ups, which is equal, at the same height, adult to adult. Then she said that when we lower ourselves below people we meet, or lower other people it sets up a different dynamic.

If I’m your boss, maybe that lift is merited. If you’re my mom, I’ll gladly move you up a few notches (or more, my mom is awesome.) But for the most part, her point is that we need to meet grown-ups at equal levels to keep the relationship right. She’s very smart and I think she’s right especially in this.

When I walked up to this person and introduced myself in this most recent interaction I felt intimidated, I felt “lower than.” In her defense, I set up the dynamic. In my defense, she did nothing to alleviate it. We were set up for that crazy eye darting, ‘get me the hell out of this conversation’ trap. No wonder I felt both relieved and dissed when we both finally wandered out of that conversation. See how complicated we are?
Humans. Pfft.

So this is why I am just telling you that if we ever meet in person and you ever feel me instigate this odd tension between us, I want you to tell me to knock it off. In fact, you can just hold your hands up, side by side, showing us as equal and that will remind me. I need this because I forget and I imagine the older I get I’m bound to land on one platform or another, above or below, if I don’t spend some active time leveling out. Let’s do this thing.

On Moving and Standing Still

News from my “other” blog, Nearly Orthodox 🙂

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IMG_4582This morning I am pleased to be sitting in a quiet, sunny living room in Middle Tennessee. The vacation house is intimately familiar as I lived in this log home for five years when my children were very young. We turned it into a vacation home a few years ago, when we moved back to Chicago. I cannot remember it ever being this quiet. In those years, they would wake me up in the mornings, early. We were transplants from Chicago, homeschoolers, maybe more than a little bit isolated. We did not intend it that way.

When we bought this house in middle Tennessee we thought we were meant to form an artist community here. We thought that “if we built it they would come” but though we gave it our best shot, it never really worked out the way we’d hoped.

From our five years in this house, however…

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Racism 101

I wrote this a couple of years ago. In light of the recent tragedies in South Carolina, I am reposting it. I wonder how many times and for how many years or decades yet it will still ring true and still feel reflective of the times.

Mrs. Metaphor

The first book of poetry I owned was “Those who ride the night winds” by Nikki Giovanni. It’s safe to say that the reason I began writing poetry was because that book was given to me. My early poems sounded an awful lot like a 12 year old German Catholic white girl from Cincinnati, Ohio trying to sound like Nikki Giovanni. It was not pretty. I think I’ve gotten a little better since then or at least I sincerely hope I have gotten a better.

When the AWP conference chose Chicago as its location for 2012 and I saw that Nikki Giovanni would be speaking it sealed the deal for me. I try to keep my “conference” and “workshop” attendance well spaced for the most part but I made an exception for this one. I’ve never heard Ms Giovanni read her work in person and there is something magical…

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Thank God, I don’t have bitchy resting face.

How awful would it be to have people telling you that you have bitchy resting face?

Yeah.

Ouch! Right?

I can tell you from experience that it’s worse than having a passerby on the street say, “Cheer up!” or “Smile!” I can tell you that, from experience, because it happens to me more often than I care to recall. Having someone tell me I have bitchy resting face is actually even worse than my kids asking me if I’m mad when I’m not mad at all. It’s worse to be told I have “bitchy resting face” because it automatically puts a judgment on me I’m not sure I like all that much. Let’s be honest here. It’s a judgment that makes the viewer of my face feel better about themselves while making me feel sort of horrible.

I’ve seen the video that sparked all the BRF comments and I guess I thought it was funny at the time. There are some very funny moments in it, I admit, and yet at the same time I had trouble connecting to what exactly was funny. It felt familiar, that’s for sure. It felt on point. And so I started to say it too, trying to make light of something about me that clearly makes other people uncomfortable. I suppose what makes people uncomfortable is not being able to read my emotions just from the look on my face. Or more specifically, reading them (incorrectly) as angry or sad. Anger and sadness make people uncomfortable. I get that.

It wasn’t until I had a conversation with my daughter in the car and I asked if she was feeling all right that I questioned the label. She looked sad to me. She said, “Nope. I feel fine!” then smiled. I responded with, “Oh, you’re like me. You just have bitchy resting face!” She was offended and said. “No. This is just my face.”

There’s nothing like having my 16-year-old daughter school me on good thinking. I knew immediately she was right and I knew it because I felt this surge of relief run through my body. I don’t have bitchy resting face! Whew!

If you’ve never been misread like this then it may be hard to understand why I was relieved. It may be hard for you to understand why having someone tell you to “smile” or “cheer up” when you feel perfectly fine already is such a burden.

The thing is, when I’m deep in thought, or tired, or walking down the street, when I’m writing, when I’m concentrating, when I’m making grocery lists in my head, even when I’m thinking of butterflies and sunflowers, I am resting my face. My lips are turned down a bit. My brow might be pressed together. Maybe I’m squinting. Sometimes even when it feels like I’m smiling, it doesn’t look like I’m smiling. I’m not bitchy. This is just my face.

I feel as though I have spent my life trying to fit into someone else’s definition of what it means to be a fully functioning member of polite society. Maybe we all go through this, but I have often, if not always, felt outside the norm, outside the box. And you know what? I’m finally fine with being outside of it for the most part. It’s taken most of my adult life.

After years of struggle and identity seeking and random comments from strangers about my perceived emotional state, that comment from my teenage daughter hit me like an arrow to my insecurities. In that moment those insecurities burst and scattered like water from a filled balloon and I realized that I don’t have to play that game. Those people who need to label my resting face to make themselves feel better can feel free to call it what they like, but I don’t have to subscribe to it. And if you’re like me and have a face that operates like mine? You can call it bitchy resting face if you’d like. That’s your own call. But I don’t have to label myself that way. Labeling it that way just paves the path to my feeling awful about myself. I don’t have to do it. I can just love my face the way it is, free of the “bitchy” label.

So thank God, I don’t have bitchy resting face. This is just my face.

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The author and her resting face.

Your lucky day!

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I’ve been blogging so long now I have to say that coming up with great titles to posts has become somewhat difficult. You’d think it’d get easier right? Not so. The competition is steeper round these parts, people. Everyone has new content going up every single day, sometimes twice a day. I’m lucky if I get words on the internet to update my status update these days.

I do have some words up though at Ruminatemagazine.com and I’ll say they are nice words. Mostly, they are Luci Shaw’s words which means that they are far sweeter and much more luscious than anything I’ve put down lately.

If you have a moment and perhaps, even if you don’t, you should read them…and then you should read Luci’s work. Ruminate aims to make that a whole lot easier for you in fact. If you simply leave a comment on the blog post over there at Ruminatemagazine.com you can win a copy of her book.

And you should want to do that because the book is wonderful…and Luci is wonderful…I want to be Luci Shaw when I grow up.

So go, my feisty friends! Go and read and make merry that this is indeed your lucky day! But go FAST! The drawing is tomorrow.
🙂

Click the image below, what are you waiting for?
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Lessons in publishing…

NearlyOrthodoxI’ll start with a caveat- I’m not saying that I have this figured out. I’m just saying that the struggle is real.

When my book was published I spent far too many clicks of the refresh button checking out the sales ranking. I felt like the rats in those experiments we read about in High School, the ones who had their pleasure centers stimulated every time they pressed a certain button. The rats would forgo food and water in order to press that button hour after hour, day after day. Sometimes they would die from it. I pressed the button. Sometimes the reward was there, sometimes it was a punch in the gut. That’s hard to take on an empty emotional stomach, I’ll tell you.

Now that Nearly Orthodox has been on the shelves for almost a year I don’t refresh as often but I do still refresh, hoping for the stimulation of the pleasure center, more often getting the punch in the gut. My publisher is happy with the progress of the book. I am happy with the quality of the writing and the effort I took to make it beautiful. Mostly. I suppose if we, as writers, are completely happy with the finished product always and forever then perhaps we’re doing it wrong. So, there’s that.

Being “post publishing” has lead to more angst that it took to get me to the editor’s “in” box. It’s more than it took me to wait those months for a contract to come and more than the angst that comes when the book first releases. As time wears on I wish I could say that good sense has led me to not care how anyone else’s book is doing or how often someone else gets an article published but alas, I’m not quite there yet.

That being said, I have learned some things (in theory, at least if not yet practice)

1)Keep writing, all the time

Whether it’s your blog, your status updates, your stream of consciousness journaling, your novel in progress, keep writing. All the time. Your work improves with practice. Do it. Stop worrying about what other people are doing at that moment. Write.

2)Keep reading, all the time.

While I advocate not worrying about what other people are doing, I do not mean to imply that we ought to seal ourselves off. Reading excellent work leads to writing excellent work. Join a writer’s group, read a classic novel, pick up the latest best seller. Whatever it is, keep reading. All the time. Read.

3)Keep your eyes on your own submission pile.

When a friend has a piece accepted I have to work hard to not be jealous. I admit this. I’m not happy about it but it’s true. When I also get a rejection that same day (and that does happen, bleh) I have to work even harder at reaching in toward gratitude and reaching out with congratulations. It’s a worthy struggle. Don’t quit the worthy struggle. Find an authentic place in your writerly heart and reserve it only for well wishes for fellow authors whether you know them or not. We’re all in this together, truly. Keep that space nice and clear of envy or jealousy and when that fails in a weak moment (because it will sometimes fail) take a deep breath and see numbers 1) and 2) then get back to 3). Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Keep your eyes on your own submission pile because jealousy and envy are creativity and relationship killers. Those killers will lie to you and tell you that you’re better or it’s a travesty but don’t listen. Just wish well to your fellow author and get back to work. 

That’s where the good stuff is. That’s where the reward rests. That’s what we’re meant to be doing, right? Keep on keepin’ on, friends. 😉