Category Archives: Uncategorized

A year without Facebook

A herd of sheep as metaphor for Facebook users

Baaaaaaah humbug! I'm tired of Sheepbook's data-fleecing!

I’ve given my thousand-plus friends and “friends” fair warning: If they want to find me online in 2011, I won’t be on Facebook.

The combination of creepy face-recognition and geotagging was the final straw in Facebook’s series of ever-more-invasive presumptions. I grew sick and tired of hearing after the fact about new settings to turn off, new terms to opt out of, and new layouts to navigate. No longer do I feel conflicted about leaving the marketing orgy disguised as a virtual non-stop cocktail party. At first, I worried about losing track of what various far-flung friends were doing. Now, I have nothing to lose but acquaintances. I let folks know that I’m out as of 1/1/11. For one solid year, I vow not to update my status or to check into Sheepbook in any way whatsoever. At the end of the year, I promise to write about the experience. If I were not in grad school, where I’m obligated to respond to student e-mails and to tutor online, I’d swear off the entire digiverse and retreat to Walden, but this will have to do for now.

John Allemang’s “Technocurmudgeon: Confessions of a Facebook Heretic” in the Globe and Mail, here also tweaking Twitter, frames the effect nicely:

I don’t need to accumulate friends in quantity, but I want to know what drives my fellow beings. And what I discover in Twitter is the curious disconnect of all this connectedness: People I know as morally obtuse find the meaning of life in a cottage sunset, people I admire as artists can’t stop nattering about their frappuccinos, newbie political organizers I hoped would succeed get so caught up in Twitter self-congratulation that they forget to fight the real election on the streets.

What are we missing in life that makes us settle for these faux-social gatherings? You tell me. Except for the enforced sense of alienation in the workplace that comes from opting out – but boss, I thought you prized non-conformity – a life freed from the social networks’ demands should be a better way to pass the time.

And BBC Radio’s Rory Cellan-Jones did a great series, in which he interviewed EFF founder and WELL denizen John Perry Barlow about the virtues of meatspace versus the online mutton-pen:

Throughout our interview, the man who founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation kept harking back to his life in a small town in Wyoming, where he spent years as a cattle rancher.

Ever since, he told us, he’d been trying to find the same sense of small-town community in cyberspace. The Well, whose members met in “meatspace” as well as online, had been a great experience. He told how, at Well parties, the members of the community emerged blinking into the real world, and discovered the faces behind the words.

John Perry Barlow seemed disappointed by today’s social networks, and in particular the one that has really taken the online experience to the masses. “Facebook is like television, the opposite of what I was looking for,” he grumbled. “It’s the suburbs, not the global village.”

Way back when, say, in the early 1990s, when very few people had Internet access, launching an “app” meant typing ~vi, and the Web was text-only, I dipped briefly into the WELL. Eventually, I found cyberhomes at CREWRT-L and WOM-PO, and those friendships continue today–both in real life and online, if not necessarily via listserv. Today, I also listmom FORMALISTA, which is a closed list precisely because we wish to stay on topic, because we wish to avoid unproductive distractions, because we share a common interest in formal poetry by women and all considerations which the phrase implies.

By contrast, CREWRT-L has always been a heavy-traffic list, our discussions punctuated by news of spouse’s health, grandkid’s arrivals, and birdfeeder’s traffic, and we like it that way. The difference between CREWRT-L and Facebook is that a sense of community actually inheres. We see each other not only at AWP, for example, but also because we’re passing through town. We make allowances for our differences and we genuinely care for one another. We may “toot” a small success, but we don’t continually harp on our magnificence every time we finish a draft.

Facebook was originally conceived as a marketing platform, a tool for manufacturing popularity, and popularity is the fetish of the insecure. It allows one to post commercials about oneself in real time to an adoring circle of dozens. In short, it makes one feel special. Temporarily. Until one needs another hit. The first step, say anonymous addicts everywhere, is to admit one’s powerlessness.

If you want to surrender control, you’d better know to whom you’re capitulating. Some people say, “Privacy is dead.” Let’s assume such is the case (which I don’t actually believe to be true.) Discretion, however, survives.

So what’s your story? Are you sick of trying to keep up with Facebook’s periodic flux in terms? How much online data is too much? Would you like to punch Mark Zuckerberg in his smug little face? Are you ramping down, swearing off, or otherwise reorganizing your “online presence” in 2011? If you could have only e-mail and ONE other online means of communication, what would that be? Have you considered unplugging entirely? Confess your techno-conflicts below.

And if you’re reading this via Facebook, please consider responding on Every Poet Needs a Patio instead.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nerds and Hoods: An Allegory for Poets

Once upon a time, two kids named Nerd and Hood lived in a bleak post-industrial wasteland. Nerd liked school. Hood didn’t.

When Nerd went to school, he learned knife skills that would have taken him half a lifetime to figure out. Oh, how he learned to sharpen and clean and twirl knives, scalpels, machetes, switchblades, straight-razors. He cut himself a few times and had the scars to prove it. The old knifemaster was a sour taskmaster who always kept Nerd’s nose to the grindstone. After ten thousand sessions, Nerd mastered the art of knife-juggling, though not to the old knifemaster’s satisfaction.

Nerd listened to disagreeable notions and learned that some of those notions, even the occasional snarling one, were indeed worth keeping. The others he learned to recognize at 50 paces, the better to avoid them in dark alleys. As a sideline to parrying, Nerd learned how to sew up cuts, treat puncture wounds, and apply tournequits to amputations.

Hood preferred to be his own schoolmaster, carving and yawping his texts as they came. He knew some knifemasters, and he had studied their moves closely. He was no slouch at switchblade, but thought the scabbard an outdated symbol of closed samurai circles. He found the sabre tiresome and the foil predictable. Hood was just as smart as Nerd. He would never say so, but sometimes he felt a little bit intimidated whenever he saw Nerd parrying with classmates. Hood hung out in dark alleyways with disagreeable notions and played mumbly-peg with them. He never made a fuss over the cuts crisscrossing his hands.

One evening, Nerd cut through a dark alleyway and spotted a disagreeable notion. It hobbled about, showing its teeth and growling. Nerd thought he might be able to help the disagreeable notion. He stretched out his hand and made soothing noises. The disagreeable notion snapped and lunged. Nerd backed off and observed the notion from a distance.

Hood ran up behind the disagreeable notion and waved his switchblade, hoping to scare Nerd off. The disagreeable notion turned on Hood and bit him on the hand. Blood splattered on the alleyway as Hood cursed and dropped the switchblade.

Nerd knew something about disagreeable notion attacks, so pressed gently on the wound. This kindness only enraged Hood, who had some experience of his own with first aid, thank you very much, and snatched back his hand.

Nerd was somewhat surprised. He’d only wanted to lend a hand. But Hood liked his hand ragged and bloody and didn’t want any nerdy influences on his mumbly-peg game.

Meanwhile, the disagreeable notion ran off into the night. Hood turned to chase after it.

Nerd picked up Hood’s switchblade, wiped it clean, pulled out a whetstone, gave the blade a couple of grinds, twirled the knife, retracted the blade, and slipped it in Hood’s back pocket without making a big show of things. Nerd turned back the way he’d come, saying nothing.

The next day, Hood showed off his swollen hand, which glistened where the meat was beginning to stitch itself back together, and swore he was the king of mumbly-peg.

Nerd allowed as how Hood had skills.

The keen knife winked under the fierce sun.

Quick sketch: Portrait of the artist as a 23-year-old cub reporter

It’s almost eight a.m., and you like to get to work before anyone else. You trail your fingertips across the cool plaster of the old Spanish colonial buildings as you walk. Men in dirty white aprons hose down the sidewalk outside this restaurant, that all-night bar. A wizened drugstore clerk, her copper-dyed bouffant squashed beneath a polyester scrim, ducks into the cathedral for morning Mass.

You sidestep the mule cart pulling up to the flagstone curb. Under the green and white striped awning, the Vietnamese women tuck wrinkled dollar bills in their pockets and heft trays of precariously-balanced saucers and cups, the heavy kind you might see in a Navy mess. At the window, you ask for one order and a café au lait. Clutching the white paper bag, you trot towards Canal Street, making up for lost time, pinching off bits of beignet, hot and soft inside, crispy outside, a fine snow of powdered sugar dusting your black shirt.

The early-morning coolness is already turning humid. You push the heavy brass door open and submerge in the frigid air conditioning. The graybeard amputee and the sour giant talk politics outside the brass elevators. Six men belong to the Elevator Operators Union and they have been on the job since before you were born. Each one whips the elevator control crank around expertly, the way streetcar conductors do. The graybeard banters cheerfully through his missing front teeth. The giant barely conceals his contempt for the universe and rarely speaks even when spoken to.

You exit on the ninth floor, which smells like brass, polish, air conditioning, old wood, old New Orleans. You unlock the heavy oak door and finesse the antique brass knob, which rattles loosely in its socket. No one else is in yet. You sit at your favorite typewriter in the newsroom, watch a pigeon strut on the flat roof below the oversized window, dust off your shirt, and carefully suck the fingers of your right hand clean. Upriver, the morning shift at the chemical plant is taking its daily dose of polyvinyl chloride. You guide a sheet of yellow pulp into the rollers and begin.

Anti-Social Media

I’ve deactivated my Facebook account. That is, I haven’t erased it, because I want to make sure I have all my pictures (I think I do). It’s a time-sink, a freak magnet, and a PR nightmare all in one. I’m one of those who used FB as others use Twitter. That, no doubt, had much to do with the dwindling interactions and perhaps more than a few dropped “friends.” Getting off the Crackbook is, for me, a relief.

As part of the larger move toward taking back my substantive reading and writing time, I’m also downsizing. I am a bibliophile and a believer in buying codex books. I also have invested an enormous amount of money in supplementing my reading as part of my higher education. As I approach the end of the Ph.D., I now know for sure which books I could do without on a desert island. I hope to sell many of these very soon via (look for “nestegg”).

No, I am not withdrawing and selling everything I own as a sign of BP-induced despondency. However, I am simplifying my life, in all ways, largely as the result of Katrina and the oil spill. Humans have limited time and brainspace. Through a series of decisions, I am moving forward into the life I actually want to live. Wasting time is no longer an option.

The truth is, I get far more pleasure out of watching the birds, sailing and diving, reading great literature, cooking, shooting photos, traveling, teaching my students, exercising, and *analog* writing than I get out of updating, commenting, tweeting, e-mail-checking, out-opting, and upgrading. My very best online friends are people with whom I share both these interests AND offline interaction, however occasionally. I don’t really care about quotidian acquaintances with people who aren’t really friends or who have no interest in my work as a writer.

Let’s be honest: neither should you.

If you read this blog, you know I don’t update it compulsively. I’m not actively trying to “monetize” every idea or reaction that flits across my synapses. I take the long view–the really long view–in hopes of writing something that others find worth reading. The ground rule of Every Poet Needs A Patio is that everything, everything here is a first draft. “First draft” is not “best draft.” Shaping, cutting, rethinking…that’s what real writing demands. My online life is but a sandbox, a playpen, a work in progress.

My dissertation, the BP oil spill, and losing my waterhome

(or, the semi-coherent rantings of a doctoral student with aquatic tendencies)

A Leafy Sea Dragon

A Leafy Sea Dragon

My doctoral dissertation is tentatively titled AQUA and was conceived as a combination praise song for, and warning about what we humans are doing to, the water. In recent weeks, I’d been gearing up for the big push: making research contacts, applying for grants, and so on.

Then BP, Transocean, and Halliburton destroyed my beaches, my wetlands, my seafood, my Gulf. My (Louisiana) state government is suddenly surprised that it sold its soul to the devil. My federal government is reenacting its glacial Katrina response. My people (New Orleans and the Gulf Coast) are screaming, screaming for help and once again only hearing echoes.

When I can calm down, I’m going to write one hell of an essay about this for publication. Meanwhile, I’m diving into my dissertation and my comprehensive exams, occasionally surfacing to monitor the unfolding disaster and to send up distress flares. And I need your help.

I’m looking for any and all opportunities to help protect the Gulf while gathering material for my dissertation, as well as for any incidental nonfiction work that may pop up. Please let me know if you hear of anything.

For non-poets: I’m not a hobbyist. This is my academic and professional interest, born out of a lifetime on, in, around, and under the water. If you have any serious ongoing interest in the health of our oceans and waterways, I’m always happy to hear from you. I’ve assembled quite a Rolodex, as we say in the news business, and am seeking every possible opportunity to observe, to tag along, to interview, to be interviewed, to do fieldwork, to write articles, to write poems, in any location, real or virtual, anytime.

Specifically water-related experience: Lifelong canoer/sailor/lifeguard/swimming instructor; environmental reporter for Gambit, 1987-89 (Brown Pelican Award for Environmental Reporting, 1988, re: coastal erosion on Grand Isle); decent recreational/scientific diver (YMCA/NAUI/PADI/AAUS); former volunteer naturalist/diver/STSSN sighter, Aquarium of the Americas; experienced bareboat cruiser (Bahamas, 1980) and sail/dive cruiser (Galapagos, 2007); brief stint as fiberglass boat fairer, Seabrook Marine, ca. 1999.

Other skill sets: writing, reporting, teaching, multimedia, research, emergency communications, reef fish identification, rescue diving.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Taking the Pledge: Restoring Sanity to Social Media

Well, faithful readers, it’s official. I am swearing off Facebook.

I’ve put everyone on notice–at least anyone left who hasn’t blocked my hyperkinetic updates by now–that I am to be found on this blog. Degrees of real-life closeness shall merit various tiers of e-mail and postal address access.

Here’s why.

1. I have wasted entirely too much time chit-chatting about, mostly, nothing.

2. I am getting a reputation as a full-bore Facebook crank.

3. I am about to begin studying for my doctoral exams.

4. Boundaries.

5. Lots of really unflattering photos of myself.

6. Why put all that energy into writing blips and bleeps when I can write something more substantive here and maybe shape a book out of it later?

7. Creepy guys from high school. (Not you. If I friended you, I definitely don’t think you’re a creep.)

8. It’s rude to talk about parties in front of people who weren’t invited.

9. Students’ various states of undress.

10. Alienating friends, colleagues, and potential employers en masse by single-handedly posting more updates than the WIRES-CNN desk.

I am glad that I made some people laugh. I’m very glad to be in touch with so many old and new friends. But I’m so drained. So I’m taking down what I want to keep, and then leaving. For good. Seriously.

Here is where my website proper lives:

Here are some other places online where I occasionally spend limited, sane, even productive time:


And, of course, via uLearn, CompClass, etc.

When all is said and done, I want to write books, not status updates. Guess how that gets done.

So, dear old friends, please send me a regular analog Christmas card this year and I’ll do likewise. Write me a letter and include an actual printed photo. Call me up and make a coffee date IRL. I need the real thing and not some semblance thereof.

Found and Lost: Craig Arnold

It’s hard to find a true friend, and harder still to find a true poet-friend. I’m still shaking my head that Craig Arnold had claimed that place so easily in only one evening. But he did. And then he was gone.

I bought Craig’s book, Shells, when I returned to New Orleans from Atlanta in 1999. I was stunned by the power of his poetry; here was someone who clearly had mastered his forms, then adapted them to his own purposes. And he was dark. And he juggled the fire with his bare hands.

Last December, I pulled Shells from my shelf and read it again. I liked it so much that I had to send a little note to that effect to him. We became “Facebook friends.” I didn’t know a thing about him, nor he about me.

It so happened that, this winter, Craig was invited to visit the workshop at Georgia State. When I heard this, I begged Beth Gylys to send him a weirdly experimental poem I’d told him about online. She suggested that I do the airport-run-and-swanning-around-to-lunch thing with him. As it turned out, he was coming by bus. We joked about the Greyhound time-warp effect and promised each other drinks afterwards. Workshop rolled around… no Craig. Folks were perplexed. About 15 minutes later, Craig popped in, apologizing for being late–but he made it in plenty of time to give generous and thoughtful readings of several poets’ work, mine included.

At the reading, he woke up the evening club-chair slouchers with memorized and well-delivered work. He began to shed little bits of himself even then: first his black-and-white kaffiyah, then page after page of manuscript as he read from each and tossed it into the air. It was as if he were saying, “Plenty more where this came from.” And it was all good. And he had the goods. And he was generous in sharing them. I didn’t take any photos during the reading because I felt sure we would see each other again.

Afterwards, we all headed to Manuel’s Tavern, the local press-pol watering hole, and commandeered an ever-growing series of tables in the back room. Joining Craig were an old pal and his wife.

Craig made the rounds, speaking to everyone in the friendliest and most genuine way–or, speaking with them, I should say–something too few visiting poets do. He settled in with a glass of whiskey, and we got to talking. And talking.

We swapped tales from our travels: his hikes in Guatemala, mine in the Galapagos; his to Italy, mine to Quito. I told him about the Bahamian Coast Guard, armed with machine guns, boarding our chartered sailboats during the Mariel and Haitian exoduses.

He talked about Rebecca; I talked about La R. and her own travels: Ethiopia during the war; almost getting shot after mistaking the Berlin Wall for a cemetery; slipping away from minders in Paris and Rome so that she could see the cities. I told him about a longtime desire to go to the Medellin Poetry Festival; he’d been. We talked about going. I confessed my desire to win a Fulbright somewhere, anywhere, but especially Latin America; he said we should talk about that sometime, too. And he praised Italy some more, and was looking forward to meeting La R. sometime.

We talked about Shahid Ali, the only other poet with whom I’d felt this kind of kinship. About the cryptic message he wanted me to convey to CNN that “something big” was going to happen, but that he couldn’t say what. And the hindsight of 9/11. And about Shahid’s generosity of spirit, his intensity of duende, which led to duende itself, and back to Shahid’s cooking, and how much we missed him.

He quoted a line from Shahid’s poem:
Have you anything to declare that might be dangerous for the other passengers?”/ “Only my heart.” And we laughed because that was Shahid.

He talked about his pending trip to Japan, that he was writing a book on volcanoes. I told him that I had a similar project underway for my dissertation, but that it involved water.

I called home three times to say I’d be leaving soon. Not to worry.

And in between, I shot a couple of photos of those gathered in this amazing spirit of kinship and humanity.

Finally, it was 1 a.m. and I had a long way to go. We promised to get together as soon as he got back from Japan and talk about all this some more. And then he signed my copies of his books, bridging the infinite white space across two title pages wih Shahid’s words, and his own: “With fond memories of Shahid, and hopes for a long future friendship. Thanks for listening. And listening. Peace, love, boots.”


I’m not terribly superstitious, but I do believe in signs. Sometimes, things burst. For no apparent reason. The day Craig would have gone missing, the string of my little shell bracelet broke, exploding a shower of shells across the bedroom floor. I got on my hands and knees and fumbled through the mountain of laundry, in the darkness under the bed, collecting them all for safekeeping, planning to string them back together.

The next day, I heard Craig was missing.

I slipped one of the shells into my watchpocket every day after that. I fired off letters to various Congressional and diplomatic types. I harangued everyone I could think of at CNN. I sent money to the search fund. I even called the White House that first day and asked them to help: “I know it’s not Pakistan. But he’s an incredibly important poet, one of our greatest living poets, who’s extremely well-loved by the American poetry community. and we really need your help in finding him.”

All the poets I know and many more I don’t frantically did all they could to bring pressure to bear on finding Craig.

The search was extended. And extended.And I knew that he knew how to find water, how to make a fire, how to splint his own leg. And I believed he would come back.

Days passed. Everyone tried everything they could think of to help. The Find Craig Arnold page became a world of its own.

On an off-chance, I sent a text message to his non-working phone:

If u get this txt any sign back searchers looking all send love hang on Craig

And a few days ago, a full rainbow, the biggest, most intense one I’ve ever seen, bridged itself across the twilight sky above our house. I hoped it was a good sign. I hoped.

When 1SRG found his trail, and knew for sure that it was his trail, I felt as if we would get him back alive.

Last night, after midnight, I checked in again. And there was Rebecca’s e-mail.

Maybe the rainbow was Craig. Some manifestation of his energy, his promise. Maybe he got here late, but he did say he’d drop by after Japan. Maybe that was him saying goodbye.

Because I’m a poet, I have to believe in signs. I need to know that there’s someone else out there who gets that part of me which only another poet can get.

But last night, inside, I was falling, falling.

And I’m not by any means the only one.


Craig Arnold: Peace, Love, Boots.


Craig's two-book signature, after an evening of trading stories about Shahid Ali, adventure travel, and writing.

I’ll write about this more when I can. For now, let his own words speak for himself:
It is the smell of a world in which there is nothing rotten or putrid or sulfurous, a world in which all of those things have been rinsed away.


On taking offense in workshop

In response to an interesting discussion on WOM-PO:

Hi, Miriam–

There’s a great deal of merit in listening instead of defending as one’s work is critiqued. However, the weakness I’ve found in (the many and varied) workshops I’ve been in over the years has been in the sophistication and constructiveness of whomever is doing the critiquing. Another weakness is in the workshop “leader” assuming a 100% passive role–never correcting people privately for irresponsible critiques.

This all dances dangerously around censorship and control and letting people figure things out for themselves as artists. I think most workshops allow a lot of to go on; sometimes, they allow a sub-workshop of two or three people talking at and congratulating each other to go on; sometimes, there are hierarchies based on who’s been where, who’s won what, etc. that are also completely counterproductive to whatever is on the page at that moment. I find these kinds of workshops dull and endlessly irritating, a total waste of time for all concerned. My own pet peeve in advanced workshops is the overly-polished poem, the galley-ready work that is only worthy of praise and perhaps one minor word-tweak. I like my drafts messy, interesting, and in process–not first drafts (though I was guilty of handing one out myself last night) and not last drafts–but, shall we say, medium-rare to medium-well on the scale of raw-to-cooked (whether one’s aesthetic is of The Raw or of The Cooked, in that other sense).

As someone who shoots off my mouth on a regular basis, I appreciate your call to speak out–against? Authority? In workshop, are we not all authors? Are we then not all yelling at one another? Meanwhile, the poem waits patiently for us to shut up and listen to it.

As Carol’s example indicates, there are some people who find offense at every turn, who make “speaking out” an end in itself, no matter how counterproductive it may be to the given poem’s development. Like Carol, I’ve seen a lot of close-minded undergrads AND grad students, good people who are completely unable to detach from their own psychodramas and fears long enough to consider other people’s writing, who are so willing to cram themselves into this or that ideological label as The Answer To This Scary Life, that they completely miss the point–and force everyone else to substitute their own dramas and ideologies for what the poem itself is trying to do.

Imagine if a music student stormed out of rehearsal because he or she took offense at the composer’s politics or the evil people who liked the composer’s music (Wagner) or some pathological association he or she had with the piece (add your own creepy musical  associations here). Would that student still be welcome in the ensemble? Would everyone else be on eggshells henceforth, waiting for the next freakout, silencing *themselves* because they know that individual might personalize any critique offered in the spirit of artistic exchange and development? If people don’t want feedback, then why do they enter workshop in the first place–to feed their own egos?

What could be more arrogant, more self-centered, than forcing everyone else who has gathered to work on their art to focus on one person’s personal drama? And if portraying one’s personal drama (or experience, etc.) as an act of witness *is* the purpose of one’s poem, then it’s doubly important to be still, to listen to why the words themselves, the way they are put together, advance what it is one’s trying to say or get in the way of your larger speaking-out.

In short, the ability to take criticism dictates the extent to which one is able to progress artistically after X point. Everyone wants acceptance and praise; no one wants to hear “This is too private” or “Some commas would make this sentence easier to follow as it progresses down the lines” and no one in an upper-level workshop wants to be caught making “beginner’s” mistakes–though we all do it.

Imagine going through therapy thinking you’re never going to face any demons. On a much smaller scale, and for much lower stakes, our work needs for us to face our worskhop-demons–inept analogies, weak verbs, adjectivitis, opaqueness, etc.–and *not* pull the bait-and-switch of substituting one’s own *personal* demons (traumas) as distractions from the reason why workshop exists in the first place.


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

At last… a book!

I’m in the process of tweaking galleys for my new chapbook, This Pagan Heaven. Given the odd birthing of this book, it makes perfect sense that I’m still deciding on a title and (even at this stage) fine-tuning a couple of poems that may or may not make the final cut.


Thanks to everyone who has already offered congratulations and inquired as to when they can buy the book. So many of you are poets whose work I admire and whose criticism I respect. Check back soon for updates!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: