Thursday, December 22, 2011

'tis the season

I woke up to plows on the streets, but didn't realize the sound was plowing until I looked out the backdoor window and saw the  light cover of snow.  A bunny was trying to climb the metal pole holding my new bird feeder.  When he saw me, he ran away.  He might've actually been licking the shortening off of the pole.  Yesterday, Matthew and I watched a squirrel shimmy up to the feeder.  It was pretty great.  As soon as he made it to the top, he'd get 3 paws onto the feeder, holding onto the pole with his last back paw, then he'd lose his fat-squirrel balance and flip to the ground.  To make it more fun, we decided to grease the pole.  But the squirrel learned to just shake the pole so the seed comes to him.  That is far less entertaining.

Tomorrow begins the 6 days of Christmas and I'll be making kolaches and Mexican wedding cookies.    Today, I spent the morning making angel food candy & caramel cashew bars to add to my already large stash of candies and cookies.   Mostly, I'm excited to go to Matthew's brother's house to drink gluhwein and roast chestnuts.  It'll be my first roasted chestnut experience ever.

OH! But most importantly. A great day for politics:


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

While in the basement digging up Christmas decorations and Rod McKuen books, I found my high school portfolio, in which I'd taped this fortune.  Rather accurate, for a cookie. 

I'd sincerely forgotten much about high school. It was kind of a whirlwind experience, since I left a year early to study in Germany and then came home and had Carter. But after examining the source materials, it looks like high school wasn't that bad of a time-- not as bad as I thought I remembered it was, anyway.  I was in ski club, forensics, Odyssey of the Mind, and musicals. I loved Spanish and reading and writing.  In the cover letter of my portfolio, I say I want to study communications, which I don't 100% remember wanting to do.  And I was surprised at the number of things I'd written and included in my portfolio: a film review of Heathers, a music review of Mazzy Star's So Tonight That I Might See, a Dean Koontz book review, several short stories and an ample collection of poetry (some of which was surprisingly not-bad for a high school kid).

Included in my box of high school memorabilia were: a pregnancy journal, a baby book, and baby keepsakes.  The juxtaposition was a bit unsettling, but made me realize why I'd forgotten so much about high school. It's easy to take myself out of context sometimes, forgetting how I was just a kid, and then I just wasn't.  Maybe it's normal to scatter pieces of ourselves along the trail like this?  I often wonder how much of memory is picked up by the birds and how much might find its way back into our minds after being forgotten for so long. 

(Yes, I realize I'm spending lots of time lately pretending not to think about Alzheimer's.  Like, when you've written a poem about something and somebody says, "Hey! This poem is about a baby!" And you're like, "What? No. It's about chickens." And then you read it again, and think, "Damn.  It is about a baby."  It seems I've been trying to avoid the connection between memory and death for a long time, but I find it casually sneaking into everything I write.  It feels like a monster under the bed.  And I've decided to sleep through it for now.) 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I'm left-sided-stuffy and it makes my whole-self tired.  Stupid, dry-winter state with its unseasonably warm weather, which makes me want to walk in the dry, and then come home and sit in the dry, forced-heat house...

The cold and dry make me want to read about torture and bad things-- it makes me realize how not-too-bad winter is?  Not sure, but it's why I read Angela Carter at the beginning of each winter.  Instead of Carter, I'm reading Women Saints' Lives In Old English Prose again.  And I'm reading the Bible sometimes.  Though, I must clarify: I don't love Jesus.  I mean, he's great.  But I don't love him-love him.  By which I mean this:  if I click the "next blog" arrow, I will read the bloggers' description of themselves and their children, AND a declaration that they love Jesus.  Jesus is still all right with me, but I'm reading the Bible because it's a lovely, horrifying book.  And "lovely and horrifying" is my favorite literary combo.

In edition to reading "The Life of Aethelyryth," my day consisted of toffee, peppermint bark, and as-sugar-free-as-possible pfeffernusse.  Since I'd only really eaten chocolate, sugar, and butter, I decided on kale & barley for dinner.  Oh. And I had an interview, which went quite well.  Probably because I felt good in my interview outfit.  The highlight of the day, though, was from this great Cool TV find.

So, Carter's been on me to watch this "awesome" music video for a few days.  He was (maybe is a little still) big into Weird Al, and generally has had questionable taste in things in the past.  (I mean, I introduced him to Weird Al, so I guess I can only blame myself...) Today, I wasn't much in the mood for a music video.  I'd already watched I Think We're Alone Now, a documentary about a 53-year-old man and an intersexual who are in love (eh-hem- stalking) 80's pop-sensation/went-on-to-pose-for-Playboy Tiffany.  But Carter said he'd seen this video on Cool TV, and, given my history with Cool TV, I decided I needed to check it out. This is what he showed us (Matthew was there, too, eating dinner):

Pretty great, right?  Though I'm not sure why I think it's ok for this lady to beat up these dudes, but get pissy about Rhianna songs... Is it because there's a triangle in this song?

To back track, the greatest thing that happened last week: Carter asked me if he could watch Cool TV for inspiration.  Hells yes, I said.  He proceeded to watch Cool TV and draw and write things.  He's working on this pretty awesome comic about the apocalypse right now, and he's using the story for his short fiction assignment that's due in his English class. ( The Apocalypse in context: the author of Ashes came to his school & talked about volcanoes, and this led to a discussion about the world ending...)

I'm happy to have an almost-teenage son.  I know so much more about what's going on with the world outside of poetry and the lives of saints because of him.  And, he's just pretty amazing.  Also, I'm happy that Matthew's done with the semester on Thursday.  So is Matthew.

Friday, December 9, 2011

a note on (friend) crushes & nostalgia

My good friend Danielle Jones-Pruett said the other day that crushes are a form of nostalgia.  I like this.  I'm not a big sucker for hanging out with my memories and feeling sad about how great things were.  Things were great, but are even greater now. And I used to have "things" with sentimental value, but after realizing that the things had no value beyond my association with them, I got rid of most of them.  I still have those memories, and if I loose my memories some day (which, hereditarily speaking, is a huge, scary possibility), I'd rather not be stuck in a house devoid of memory surrounded by objects that mean nothing to anyone. That said, nostalgia and I have a complicated relationship...

When I was in kindergarten, I wanted so badly to be friends with this one girl that I gave her all of my favorite things, like my Garfield pocket mirror and Halloween candy (not the Smarties, but good things like Skittles & Heath bars).  She never became my friend, but  I remember trying really hard to get her to like me.  I was only 5ish, but it changed me to realize not everyone would be my friend.  I can't remember her name or what was so special about her.  Maybe it was that she had brown hair and everyone else was blonde?  Regardless, I officially blame all of my friend crushes on her. 

Matthew and I went to the co-op a few months ago, and as we were leaving, he said, "Why did you just check that girl out?"  I hadn't been "checking her out"-"checking her out," but was thinking: "Wait, do I know you?"  And of course I didn't (otherwise I would've talked to her and not just checked her out), but something about her made me certain we should be friends.  If I saw her again, I probably wouldn't know it was her, but I imagine I'd still get the feeling that we should know each other.  And this feeling reminds me of the feeling I had when I gave the girl in kindergarten all of my worldly possessions so she would like me.  It wasn't that I just wanted her to like me, but that I was sure we'd be good friends.

...or was it that I wanted to be her?  Maybe she had a better lunch, which meant a different family-- a different mom, maybe no brother, maybe 4 sisters. Maybe she had a cat instead of a dog?  Or a pretty dress?  Or a large vocabulary?  So maybe the nostalgia isn't so much for the friendship that never was, but for all of the people I never got to be in order to become the person I am? Which means the most disappointing thing about life isn't that we die, but that we only get to be one person.  Even the men with secret families... they're still really just one person with secret families.  Maybe I write poems to be the girl in kindergarten who got to look at herself in my Garfield mirror each morning?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I was having a day

I'm having such a time trying to keep my head in a straight line these days.  I used to think fragmentation wasn't true.  But here it is.  Yesterday, I had a bunch of deadlines and, having taken care of them, I woke a bit disoriented today.  So, I made a list of things I've been putting off: dishes, vacuum, put books away, pay parking ticket...  It was this kind of day.  I ate frosted mini wheats, then stared at the wall for a while before tackling my list, and I checked my email between each task...  I ate an apple. I got a rejection.  I replied to a university about a teaching job. I got an email from Kenyon Review and told Matthew I was sick of getting rejected today (he's home studying for finals and was eating lunch).  And then I opened the email and they  want 2 poems for their online magazine, which shocked me and left me a bit... well, I didn't want to do anything even more than I hadn't wanted to do anything before. 

On that note. I was suppose to go to prison today for volunteer training, but my background check didn't clear in time.  I'll be teaching poetry classes at Oakhill through the Writers in Prisons Project, which seems like a pretty great time.  I'm rather excited.  I had volunteer training marked in my calendar, but when it fell through, it left me at the bottom of a swimming pool with no water.  Now what?  I finally decided to use the time to read some things I've been meaning to read and to write something here (but in reverse order-- or simultaneously according to how my head thinks time works today).  The Meatyard books I'd gotten from the library were recalled a few weeks ago, but I just got them back, so I'm excited to play with them again.  I'm also revisiting Wisconsin Death Trip, which I tend to read every year right before the snow falls just to feel like my head's above the ice even if my body's sinking beneath it.  I also usually read Angela Carter this time of year (actually, I think it's usually Octoberish), so I plan to dig her up soon.  And I have an Ecotone & Ploughshares sitting around that I've been meaning to read for some time.  AND. (phew) I want to read a story from Emma Straub's Other People We Married, which I got at AWP last year and still haven't read.

So. Those fun things have been added to my list.  

Also, I need to say these things: On Sunday, C & I went to look for snowy owls at Horicon Marsh. We saw none. BUT, we saw: bald eagles, pheasants, sandhill cranes, turkeys, a kestrel, and 3 long-eared owls (which were unbelievably beautiful and surprising).  It was rather eventful.  Yesterday, we got a tree and the house smells like a forest floor. So far, Roger has successfully eaten one half of a candy cane.  OK. It's 8pm. I will read and maybe con Matthew into watching an episode of Twin Peaks before sleeping.  What a strangely great day.

Monday, November 28, 2011


A lovely time, thanks-giving: family and more family and walking, babies held, potatoes and fake turkeys eaten...

It's not snowing yet, but the air has white in it.  Did it always wait this long to snow?  Soon, we'll have to wake early to move our car to the other side of the street depending on the evenness of the day.  We'll let the tree into our house and its sap will cling to our arm hairs and flannel.  Yesterday, we switched the fans to spin in the opposite direction, let the heat move.

Only something like lentil curry will cure our overly-potatoed bellies. I need to go to the basement for decorations...I'll dig up good ol'Rod while I'm down there. And start a load of laundry.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Do Mode & Be Mode

While walking the other day & thinking about Rod McKuen, I was in Be Mode.  My antennae were up, my ear was to the ground, eyes in the trees and water.  I took notes like a photographer, composing what I saw, skimming and focusing on the periphery... I collected and gathered and walked.  That was the last day of Be Mode.

During Be Mode, I do fun things, like take pictures of spilled milk, as if it had spilled in the shape of the Virgin Mary... During Do Mode, I do similar things, just in a different way.  For instance, I take pictures of what I have done or what I am doing. If I spill the milk in Do Mode, I just grumble and wipe it up. 

Since the day of the walk, I've been in Do Mode.  Here's what I've been doing (Note: I work in Lists while in Do Mode, so that's all you get):

I took C & my mom to see my amazing cousin perform in Phantom of the Opera.  I’m not the kind of person to talk things up if they’re not worth talking about.  My cousin Josh is worth talking about, and he's just in high school.  After the performance, he was surrounded by a gaggle of girls asking him to sign their programs, one of whom said she was his future wife... Ah, to be a kid again... I promise he’ll be famous some day.  There is, oddly, well, maybe not so oddly, a review of the performance here, so you know I'm not biased, he is really a bit genius.  (He's discussed a bit later in the review and when the reviewer says he's genus, I think he/she means genius. Not to be a snob or anything, I mean, high-five for reviewing a high school musical...)
My mom and I spent the weekend with the twin baby nieces so my sister-in-law could go out with her friends.  My brother was hunting.  He didn’t get a deer.  Needless to say, there was little being, lots of doing.

Thanksgiving menu is set, its execution planned, and cleaning/cooking time scheduled.  Matthew’s family is coming. Tomorrow I will go to the store at 7 am to avoid people.  I’m sure Thanksgiving will be all I think/talk about for the next 2-7 days...

I updated my submission spreadsheet with a list of journals I’d like to be published in & then made a list of which poems to send them.  There are 33 new submissions to send.  That’s a lot of doing. 

I went to H&M (see previous post).  What I didn’t mention is that I also went to Jo Ann Fabrics & Hobby Lobby and bought glittery things with which to make Christmas tree ornaments. And a pheasant, a quail, and pine cones.

Food while in Do Mode: pumpkin waffles with spiced whipped cream and maple butter; enchiladas; 4 loaves of Italian bread for stuffing; a delicious butternut squash, potato, &caramelized onion gratin (I caramelized while slicing and subbed the onions for the tomatoes) ; and pizza from Glass Nickel (because I was too busy doing other things that day).  They were all so good that C went back for 3rds.
Do Mode is all right.  I've been reading about the habits of "prolific writers" for a workshop I'm teaching this spring called "Secrets of a Prolific Writer."  I found a blog talking about how Joan Didion needed to hang out with the dishes and laundry while writing in between these chores.  I can't find the actual essay in which she actually says this, but it feels good to me to believe she said it, so I do.

One day, Be Mode and Do Mode converge and then there are poems. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

the Mediums & I go to H&M

I needed an interview outfit.  No, I don't have an interview, but I decided that if I act like I have an interview coming up, I might get one.  This is the sort of thing I believe some days.  When I was a kid shooting hoops alone in the driveway, I'd say in my head, "If I make this shot, so & so likes me," or "If I make this shot, we'll have pizza for dinner tonight."  It was like my own version of PIG or HORSE.  I can't remember if my basketball skills ever paid off in the way of boys or dinner, but I guess the thinking has become a habit of sorts.  Like prayer.

So, I went to the mall, which generally makes me feel cheap and a bit icky.  In the parking lot, a Cooper's Hawk flew from the blacktop to the lamppost and I wondered if anyone else had noticed it. I passed jewelry counters and kiosks.  I made a wrong turn and came back down the hall passing a kiosk for a second time, and when the guy holding a bottle of lotion said, "Ah, you came back!" I laughed, rolled my eyes, and said, curtly, "no."  It was something that maybe I had seen on TV once?  I'm not sure, but it happened quite fast.  It was as if somebody had taken over my face for a minute.  After it happened, I starting laughing (by myself in the mall).

H&M understands that people who don't have jobs can't spend a lot of money on interview clothes, so that's where I was headed.  I'm surprised H&M isn't more well-known in Madison.  A lady once asked me where I got my leggings, and I told her "H&M" and she asked if that was the store that was made after Madonna?  I said I didn't think so... A store made after Madonna?  It was confusing to me.  Anyway, at the store, there were no mediums to be found on the racks. Apparently, only medium-sized ladies know about H&M (the lady asking about Madonna was definitely a small).  Their sizes tend to run a little bigger though, and flowy and over-sized are in style, so I got smalls to work for me.  I got an interview outfit, two, actually, then looked for some shoes and came to a starting/sad realization: I really like shoes.

People are always making jokes about women's shoe collections and, quite frankly, I'm not sure how anyone can wear so many pairs of shoes.  Throughout my life, I've had 5 pairs of shoes or less at a time, and I wear them until they are unwearable.  I'm also stuck on the price-tags of my childhood and refuse to buy shoes that are more than $40 (with the exception of Born shoes, because they last forever), which means a lot of shopping around on clearance racks and online for the best price on exactly what I'm looking for. (I can't believe I'm even talking this much about shoes right now.)

Born Birdie
Anyway, turns out, if I had lots of money, I'd probably own more shoes. Not a ridiculous amount of shoes, but maybe I'd buy two pairs of shoes each year.  Great shoes. Like these:

My desire to own more shoes, heeled and lovely, adds to the cheapening-feeling I get at the mall.  Of course I want to own shoes while I'm there: that's what they want me to think.  So, I left the mall with a bag of interview clothes and a sick feeling of want in the pit of my stomach.  Want tastes like bile.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

acorns and Rod McKuen

I had this swell idea to make felted acorn ornaments for my Christmas tree, and I bought a nice roll of wool roving at the farmer's market.  Today I realized I never found acorn tops for said project. As it is already snowing sometimes, and things are damp and raked up, my chances of finding acorn tops are small.  I went out today and found a handful of tiny acorn tops, a Northern Flicker, Two Downy Woodpeckers, a bunch of Pie-billed Grebes, a Bald Eagle, and a loon.  There are a lot of walnut trees in the neighborhood.  Many birds, many walnut shells, not enough acorn tops. And of course, I was only armed with a notebook & pen. No camera.

A Northern Flicker I saw in Boston

Somehow, all of this walking around looking at the ground got me thinking about Rod McKuen.  I've been thinking about him a bit lately.  He was the first "real" poet I'd ever read (the quotes are meant to exclude nursery rhymes, prayers, and framed embroidery works about Jesus).  When I was in high school, I stole one of his books from the library-- a small, hardcover collection.  There were maybe 10 poems that I loved, and I ripped out some of the poems I didn't love, then I collaged the life out of the other not-great poems.  I have fond memories of sitting around a table at the Moasis truck stop drinking coffee with friends and inhaling second-hand smoke while reading Rod McKuen aloud.  I can't remember if anyone else was into it the way I was, but I was super-into it.  Rod McKuen and "My So-Called Life:"  There's me at the truck stop, 1996ish.

So, imagine my surprise, alarm, shock, distress, when, 4 years later I'm in "American Lit after the Civil War," and we're reading "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and the professor says something, I can't remember what exactly, about the awfulness of Rod McKuen.  I was just a kid! I took his word for it without hesitating and felt so ashamed that I had loved Rod McKuen and worse that I HATED reading Eliot.  It made me despise Eliot and all poets I read in that class.  Especially Whitman.*  I had long packed away my Rod McKuen-collage-books (that's right, I went on to pilfer more), but I was disheartened to be told that what I loved was terrible.

So, why am I bringing this up now?  I'm older, wiser, better read, and I've been wondering, what was so bad about Rod McKuen?  When I tell poets about my introduction to poetry, I still get gasps of horror in response (Although one poet I know told me his dad slept with Rod McKuen... is that better or worse than a gasp of horror?  the same? I'm not sure.).  All I can remember of his poetry is this:

"Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows" begins: "I've come as far away as means and mind can take me, trying to forget you." And it ends: "Stanyan Street, and other sorrows."

I'm unsure about the punctuation there or where the lines break, but this doesn't sound too bad, right? I mean, it was the 70s/80s, right?  But, I'd like to find my books and see what I really liked about this poetry and if it holds up to a much more critical eye. 

And on considering perusing through my old boxes of junk in the basement, I realized that my accumulation of junk-in-storage has significantly decreased over the course of 3 moves.  When I moved to Madison from the Appleton area, I left tons of stuff in storage at my dad's house, even more boxes at my mom's... We now have maybe 8 boxes of stored stuff downstairs.  So, finding the books might not be too challenging, but there are lots of centipedes in the basement, so I'll have to put my brave-pants on.

I'm guessing that once I find them, I will still love them.  Love, as in: the way you love your best friend from childhood who makes you buy dinner every time you get together, and then you go home and complain about her to your husband, and he's like, "Why do you still talk to her if she's so awful?" and you're like, "Because we were best friends!" And of course you get together with her again.  Of course you do.

*In my (and Eliot's) defense, now that I understand how to read a poem, I love "Prufrock" most particularly.  "I shall wear my trousers rolled..." (Insert dreamy sigh and far-away-look here....)