Resolved: A Year of Pleasure; or, Writing for Writing’s Sake

Happy New Year! As I begin The Year Without Facebook, I thought I’d also take part in WordPress’ PostADay challenge as a timely prompt. I have some new things in mind, not the least of which is my next book, which will make a pit stop as my dissertation.

Despite my flu-stuffed head, I’ve been reading a lot via Kindle and hope to post some discussion-worthy reviews and recommendations here. Feel free to join in via the Comments section. Also, watch for the Patio’s design to become a tad more reader-friendly as I revamp my web presence.

Perhaps these are New Year’s resolutions. Here’s some more:

Be kinder. Graduate school makes people cranky and crazy. I don’t like what’s rubbed off on me during the journey. Something about the fluorescent lights and the warrens of power makes otherwise intelligent and humane people go berserk. I don’t like some of the associated habits I’ve picked up and want to shake them off ASAP. I have not been myself.

Be healthier. I’ve made some progress, but have miles to go before I’m sleek. Objectively speaking, I should lose 50 pounds. That’s a lot. Twenty-eight minutes twice a week is not enough. My old friend Erica sent me a half-marathon training book last year, but (for other reasons) I wasn’t medically able to join her and Maria at the appointed day and time. Now she has challenged us to another half-marathon. I’ve avoided running in the neighborhood because it’s a little polluted and a little sketchy. I remember how passionate I was about running and swimming when I was a kid, and think I’d better find my way back to that feeling while I can still stretch my ligaments.

Woodshed. That’s what another old friend and now famous musician used to call “practicing”: “Can’t come! Gotta woodshed!” While I don’t consider myself nearly as good a poet as he is a musician, our friend wowed everyone with his early work ethic. I’m ashamed to say it, but it’s true: I’ve been slack. I’m moving from “not having enough time” to “stealing time” to “I will take time anytime” to write. I have a stack of specific, detailed craft-honing tasks. I have several particular projects and publications to finish this year. I am reclaiming the minefield that was once my home office. Life is short. Write like a motherfucker. (Hi, Ray and Brad.) I’m going back through various old standbys from the early days, reminding myself that this–writing–is fun. Not work. Fun. All the reading and study is important. Just reading, just writing, just messing about in boats–those are my passions. I will not die wishing I had followed my passions. I am marshalling all my passions into symbiosis.

Jettison. I have so much stuff. Books and clothes are my weaknesses. I’ve come to the point where I really can get rid of some books I know I’ll never look at again. I love my Kindle, but am never going to give up codex books. As for clothes: How can I have so much clothing, yet so little to wear? I’m tired of looking like a grad student or someone on a camping trip. I’m really tired of making do at Wal-Mart. Therefore, I have begun ruthlessly laying in a stash of work clothes and am about to donate a dresserful of stuff. When I lose a couple of sizes, I’ll get some new pants and I’ll be able to fit back into my stash of excellent work shirts. I’m having nightmares about Clinton Kelley and Stacey London snarking through my closet. I’d love five grand to shop Manhattan bare, but I’m not willing to let them trash the nice new pants and suit that need hemming. I’ve always preferred having a few nice things to tons of crap and I like to travel with one carry-on bag. How can I live aboard if I have to deal with all this stuff? Avast! Crap overboard!

Do what I love. I do not love being a graduate student. However, it is what I am doing right now in order to do what I love (writing) even better. Every day, I have the opportunity to teach people about the basics of good writing, introduce them to interesting and important ideas, and guide them through the maze between where they are and where they say they want to go. If I don’t love reading what students have written, then I have to ask myself whether I am a writer engaged in sparking a dialogue, or just a writing instructor copyediting my way through the disengaged meanderings of sleepwalkers. It’s one thing to have the fire. It’s another to pass it along. If I engage as a writer, albeit a far more advanced one, then I will be writing all day long, even when I’m grading, even when the class is shaking off its collective fuzzy head.

Dive, dive, dive. I can’t dive unless I’m in good enough shape to tote my own gear. Right now, I’d probably have to put on 40 pounds of lead just to get below the surface. I need to get in some crappy local dives and some shore dives away from the slick that was the Gulf Coast so that I can go on to the dive leadership part of the program. Oh, and I’d like to take a nitrox class. I’d really, REALLY like to take a rebreather course, but maybe that’ll be my graduation present to myself. Once the fiction exam is done, I’ll need to hit the water quickly.

Save money. I try to, and I do OK juggling my bills, stipend, and credit lines. However, I am a lot closer to alleged retirement than most of my cohort; I have a partner to take care of; and I need to finance my travel habit. Given the new wheels and the shrinking time to degree, a safety cushion is essential. Although I don’t like the freeway-flyer gig, I might pick up a little freelance on the side. Any such extra income will go straight into the Hands Off Savings Account. I have never paid someone else to roll my change.

Don’t waste time. Checking into Facebook for “just a second” adds up when you do it several times a day. I love my friends, but I doubt I’ll miss much by asking them (you!) to meet me elsewhere. “Wasting time” also means obsessing over the occasional hostile or triflin’ incident. I want to spend my time productively, and I derive no pleasure from getting swept up in other people’s headgames, real or imagined.

While most of these are ongoing projects, committing to specific, doable steps towards these goals is an act of resolution. I clarify my own desires. I write them down. I promise myself.

What do you promise yourself this year? What gift will you give yourself?

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.

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Creative dissertation financing (in both senses)

I have scoured the Foundation Center databases and library, and I assure you that no one (as of this writing) offers a grant for a doctoral student over the age of 40 (a supposed liability based on outmoded assumptions) to hang around beaches and write poetry (no matter how noble the project or qualified the poet).

The Muse willing, I am about five months away from being ABD. Because I chose to attend a state R1 university during the most brutal economic downturn since the Great Depression, I’ve had to hone my financial survival skills. Like many other graduate students, I’ve been fortunate enough to earn my tuition (and some of my bills) through teaching undergraduate classes part-time. Unlike many other graduate students, especially at the doctoral level, I haven’t been as fortunate in securing research funding for my own work.

The problem is not any flaw in the project itself. The problem is that I am studying poetry in a culture which sees poetry as a hobby at best and as a break with reality at worst. This culture openly applauds hostility to the systematic study of any humanities or art. This culture lionizes the professional dilettante. This culture parrots McCarthy-era scripts, in which professors are “eggheads” and students “dupes,” and fancies it has said something original. This culture believes that pseudo-intellectual attention-seekers like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, who rely on ghostwriters, are “authors.” But I digress.

As one of the “optional” duties our financially-strapped department has assigned graduate teaching assistants, I tutor students who want help with their writing. Some of these are graduate students in other disciplines. I help them fine-tune their research grant proposals and job dossiers.

There’s no small irony here.

I think of my partner, who once traveled the world and held diplomatic clearance and now works part-time as a medical interpreter, but who cannot get the same coverage her workmen’s-comp clients get because her at-will employer doesn’t offer health insurance. I help graduate students in the “STEM” disciplines write funding proposals for their own research, at the cost of my own research time and energy. QuikTrip managers make more than we do, possibly combined. Together, we are living in a Dickensian novel, pressing our cold noses against the glass and watching other people eat–sometimes not in only the metaphorical sense, given two part-time incomes between us.

* * *

As for my work, my research, my reading, my writing, my poetry, I feel as if I am carrying the dissertation, wrapped in a threadbare sheet, while forging head-down against a bitterly howling snowstorm:

“You missed our mandatory meeting!”
“Please get the (makework) in by (date).”
“Have you graded my paper yet?”
“My friends and I wrote a sestina a day for a week and self-published an anthology!”
“Your poetry isn’t _____ enough!”
“A chapbook isn’t a real book!”
“You don’t publish enough!”
“Is that self-published?”
“You don’t schmooze enough!”
“How are you going to pay your bills?”
“Can you help me with something?”
“What are you going to do with a Ph.D. in… poetry?!”

The winds are whipping and my fingers and toes are numb. But I clutch my idea more tightly against my chest and forge ahead. The work itself drives me. The weather changes. The grail does not.

* * *

Therefore, travel light and trust your compass. If one path proves treacherous, find another. If you find none, make a way. Blaze a fresh trail through the undergrowth. Read the signs–a snapped twig, a print in the mud–and track silently. One needs provisions for the journey. A packing list:

1. Set up a donation site. Explain precisely what your dissertation research involves and why you need outside funding. In exchange, offer acknowledgement in the manuscript and a copy of the future book itself. Keep good records and follow through. Also consider alternative funding sources like prosper.com, but be aware that repayments begin immediately and that interest rates may be significantly higher than those on your existing credit card, depending on your financial snapshot at any given time.

2. Clear the credit cards whenever possible and check your credit rating regularly. Use them as The Spike Lee School of Arts Funding has taught you, not as speculative investments. It’s tough finding any leftovers in that student loan check, especially because it covers basic living expenses and conference travel during grad school, but try to earmark at least some part of it for your research budget.

3. Do as much of your dissertation research as possible within driving distance of your home. If this relegates you to weekends and breaks in some cases, plan to hit as many of these, as efficiently as possible, on one trip. Leverage conference travel by building in solo time at any suitable archive, museum, historic site, natural landmark, or interviewee’s house. Skip the drunkfests and use that hotel room as a short-term writer’s retreat.

4. For more distant locations, try to double up during a Study Abroad trip. Seek out graduate-level programs whenever possible–and remember to look outside your university. While in country, make quick notes of impressions that can’t be imagined or researched. Take photos to jog your memory. Talk to people who share a passion for your research topic. Make genuine contacts (not just ugly-American po-bizzy ones) with poets and writers. Be aware that poetry is serious business in many other countries. You might bring a few extra copies of your work to give as gifts.

5. Volunteer. While the words “unpaid internship” may make a dissertator’s flesh crawl, search out opportunities at agencies and organizations that lend themselves to your project and see if you can negotiate a mutually agreeable arrangement. Use your work time to learn more about your dissertation subject and your free time to write. Another alternative is to seek out a suitable volunteer-abroad program. You will have to foot the cost of your travel, but it’s often less costly and more schedule-friendly than figuring out who’s going to watch your house, car, and dog for a year.

6. Act locally. If your project has an inglorious local component, make a date to investigate that dull little thing which no one notices. Make them notice it. Make it your writing exercise. Show how it’s part of the larger, more exotic project you’re doing. Find another. And another.

Creative funding is a necessity for the creative dissertation. The fact is, our country does not support doctoral-level poetry research. For decades, our leaders have chanted the mantra of “greater funding for science, technology, engineering, and math,” pouring more and more money into that research while ignoring or cutting even the most modest arts funding.

Yet I persist. Before I became a graduate student, I wrote for a living. My words put food on my table, a roof over my head, and a decent amount of money in the bank. I was nimble, brazen, and fearless. Then I decided to go to grad school. Graduate study tends to beat what is broadly termed “personality” out of its apprentices.

For artists–especially for poets–the real test is escaping with these qualities intact. They are what distinguish poets from people who studied poetry. Turn those skills to your advantage and figure out how to write for a living. I’m not talking about writing grants–or, God forbid, ghostwriting–for other people, although those are options. I’m not talking about whether or not to apply for teaching jobs, return to Corporate America, or join a monastery, assuming any of these will have you. I’m talking about following your writing where it takes you. I’m talking about the Buddhist concept of right livelihood. Trust the writing. It will make a way, one poem at a time. The funding project is the compass for the dissertation. The dissertation is the compass for the book. The book is the compass for whatever comes next.

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I can haz e-books I paid for, Amazon?

I left this note–well, essay–on amazon.com’s Kindle Customer Service board:

My dad bought me a nice new Kindle DX as a gift. Meanwhile, he loaned me his while I crammed for Ph.D. exams. I purchased a few books, downloaded many classics, and uploaded study notes, lists, individual docs, etc. All well and good. I decided I much prefer the smaller Kindle and so he’s taking the DX. However, it’s my understanding that, because I bought my obscure literary criticism on his machine, that I cannot transfer those titles to my Kindle.

This is a major, major DRM issue. I in fact purchased the book on his Kindle, and we in fact are swapping possession of our respective Kindles, both of which he purchased.

If you look at our accounts, you will see that we have spent TENS of thousands of dollars at amazon.com over the years. I think that, as a goodwill gesture, you should do whatever is necessary to tweak the code on these individual downloads OR to issue an immediate credit back so that I might repurchase said books on my own machine.

If not, I would be extremely wary of continuing to use the Kindle at all, and would go directly to a more user-friendly version. I understand the issues with DRM and piracy, and (as an author) I strongly support protecting *author’s* rights. However, in cases such as this, clearly the customer who has paid for the use of this particular e-book should certainly be accommodated, as the book is not being pirated or even read/shared by two people.

You might counter that you have no way of knowing this. Given that each download has its own identification, I doubt that. It’s easy enough to see later whether I’d cracked this individual copy of Spiller’s _The Development of the Sonnet_ and sold thousands of copies on the international black market (think of all the sonnet specialists drooling for such contraband!– all 12 of us!).

Yet, cynically, retread versions of public-domain classics (often poorly formatted) are shamelessly sold on amazon.com. Sold? Someone downloads a work from Project Gutenberg, “designs” a “cover,” sells it on amazon.com, and repeats the process?… And I can’t get a book that I paid for on my dad’s account into my account when it already exists physically on the Kindle I put it into? And he just paid for the new, expensive Kindle?…

In this case, I suggest that sound judgment should override mindless policy. I cannot afford to repurchase titles which I’ve already bought and being forced to do so is not in any way fair. I’m certain a judge would agree.

Surely this can be done on the back end via the users’ web interfaces. Create a particular link: “Transfer ownership”–make the person read and agree to swear to whatever legalese that covers the situation I’ve described–and then allow User Account A to e-mail the book(s) in question to User Account B ONE TIME ONLY via wireless. Your tech people could set up a database to track such transfers. And you most certainly should NOT charge any fee for doing so. If User B subsequently upgrades, he or she should be able to put all existing purchases into the new device.

Philosophically speaking, I think the current situation overreaches reasonable transfers. Again, I stress: I am NOT advocating that amazon.com create a Napster– or LimeWire-sized venue for mass file abuse. I do think it obvious that situations like this offer amazon.com an opportunity to demonstrate respect for its loyal customers.

Finally, I think it’s only a matter of time before some kind of system for transferring between users comes up. Whatever that might be, I hope that the author benefits from each use, just as recording artists and actors earn residuals when their works are played. I wonder whether ASCAP/BMI offer useful models for this.

What I enormously resent as a writer are huge publishing companies whose “pay” for, say, encyclopedia articles doesn’t even cover copy costs, yet who retain all digital rights and then resell MY work for enormous sums via library subscriptions, for example. I worry that, despite the savings on freight, paper, ink, distribution, etc. the middlemen and weasels will earn a disproportionate percentage of rights at the author’s expense.

Anyway, this is much longer than I’d planned. I hope you find this persuasive and that you will return my obscure literary analysis purchases as soon as possible.

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How to Get Properly-Formatted Poetry Into Your Kindle

It seems that the Web is full of people complaining about badly-coded poetry line breaks on Kindle. As I’m new to Kindle myself, I spent a couple of days lurking in fora on TEI, looking for a simple answer to the question of how one might encode that all-important visual scoring.

Think Occam’s Razor.

N.B. I’m only explaining how you can create working documents for your own personal use–in other words, how a grad student can avoid lugging 50 library books, 2-3 binders, and a laptop just to do research. Any copyright violations are your responsibility. Don’t compile and then publish other people’s copyrighted stuff without their express written permission.

This is a lot easier than it looks. You might even be able to dispense with the .txt file and create your content directly in .doc, but it’s good practice to put data in .txt, especially if you’re cutting and pasting.

1. Open a text file and type or paste your poem text.

2. Save it as .txt (specifically, UTF-8 — I also tried UTF-16 in Stanza, and Kindle vomited it back.)

3. Open a .doc (not .docx) file.

4. Copy and paste your poem from the text file into your .doc file.

5. View your hidden characters.

6. You must change any paragraph breaks to line breaks. On Mac, that means you have to replace all the hard returns (“Enter/Return” key) at the end of each line or the space between stanzas with line breaks “Shift+Enter/Return.” You may be able to do a Find>Replace command in MS Word, but I use NeoOffice and so have to do it manually. [UPDATE: here’s how to find and replace in NeoOffice.]

7. Insert a page break after each poem to create a single “book” within one .doc file.

8. Save it as Word 97-2000-XP (.doc). Give the “book” a title you’ll recognize (e.g., “Robin’s Comps Notes”).

9. Open an e-mail and address it to your “free.kindle.com” email to send it over Wi-Fi and avoid the per-page fee. Turn off your e-mail signature file to be on the safe side. You don’t need to put anything in the Subject: line.

10. Attach the .doc you created.

11. Send the e-mail. Wait a minute or so.

12. Turn on the Wi-Fi on your Kindle (Menu > Turn Wireless On).

13. Click Home > Menu > Sync & Check for Items. Your file should download to the top of your Home page. If it doesn’t, wait another minute or so and try again. Sometimes it seems to automatically update.

14. Turn off your wi-fi, click on your file, and read away! No more bulky binders!

* * *
For crazy long lines (some Hopkins, Whitman, etc.), try the smallest text size in landscape view. I don’t know how well this will work with some L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, but it should meet most of your manuscript-formatting needs.

If you’re looking to read more than just your own study notes, you can download all the free obscure classic literary texts you want to via Project Gutenberg and manybooks.net .

Thanks, Dad, for lending me your Kindle while mine’s on backorder.

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Oh, No! Not Another Meeting!

Grad School: Home of the Boiling Frogs!

I’ve been rearranging everything I know about poetry (and a lot more that I don’t yet know) all day long. I have stacks and stacks of notes from old classes, journal articles, chapters, outlines, practice exams of my own invention. A small two-branch library of matters poetical has taken over the guest bedroom at home and my desk at work. I have stashes everywhere: on Google Docs, in various binders, on my iPod, on the laptop, on La R.’s Mac, in various clustering programs on my machine and in the cloud. I feel that I have very little of it in my head, yet a tiny calm point inside me says it’s all in there… somewhere. Right now, my head feels like my office at home looks: trashed, chaotic, no one good place to start because everything needs immediate attention. My one hope is that I’ve artfully arranged my schedule, going into comps, to try and make up for all those two-hour blocks of time that were eaten up by meetings and appointments.

The Ph.D. has been difficult enough for the usual reasons. Call me naive, but I truly did think that doctoral study would involve more research and writing than quasi-faculty work. Budgetary matters and the economic squeeze have slowly ratcheted up our non-study-related workload each year. Call it “professionalization.” Or call it “training for adjunct life.” I have been very happy to hone my teaching practice over the past five years. At this stage, though, I’m not sure that writing more reflections and attending more meetings more often will help me be a better professor. More time spent on my own studies, however, would make me a better professor. How many different ways can one talk about CV-writing, LMS disappointments, and the need to attend conferences? Why the premise that such information must be disseminated by meetings? Why require people to go back to the same meetings, over and over, like Groundhog Day? Is the little time we have left over for our own studies, after teaching, meeting with our own students, tutoring, filling copiers, filing paperwork, building websites, editing journals, et cetera, no longer available for us to do our own reading and writing? The problem is especially difficult for creative writers, who need to generate not only research and conference papers but also art.

I’m older than most of my cohort; I have been teaching college English courses for a decade now as either a TA or an adjunct; and I come from a professional background that values quick, to-the-point meetings which last no longer than absolutely necessary. Thus, my patience for repetitive meetings is paper-thin. If you can convey the information via e-mail or print, please don’t call a meeting. Unfortunately, as we get more and more work piled on us, the number of mandatory (and you-really-should-be-there) meetings multiply. Grad-student meetings, all of which are required by various interests, and all of which are supposed to be for our own good, fall into one of several genres:

Quasi-group-therapy. In this type of meeting, you will sit in a circle with 30 of your closest friends. You will be asked to share. Keep your resentments to yourself. You can always tell your therapist about them later. Make your own concordance: space, transition, share, good with that, etc. Many nouns will be used as verbs. TRT: 1.5 hours.

Company party. This event is similar to the office party–with all that entails. Drink the free adult beverages in moderation. Don’t worry. Be happy. Avoid conversational gambits involving leading questions and broad hints. Hang out with the handful of friends you’ve been dying to catch up with all semester. Leave after two drinks and meet up with your friends someplace else. Talk about something other than grad school: your compost bin, your significant other, your kid’s swim team.

Sales pitch. The salesperson is always friendly. Sometimes he or she has PowerPoint issues. At least two colleagues will negotiate the interface while you eye the snacks across the room. Add ten minutes to whatever the scheduled time was. Collect free highlighters and Post-It notes. Catch the PowerPoint rerun next semester.

Stood-up. You are usually the person in charge of this meeting. It will always happen in the single hour of free time you have that week. It is the only time upon which at least seven out of 200 of you could agree. You, alone, will secure all rooms, tables, catering, byzantine permissions, party picks, and projectors. Wherever two or three are gathered, people will complain to you about the general lack of involvement. Delegate, then bail as soon as possible.

Peacocks in bumper cars. Usually, this is a smaller meeting. It often ends within a reasonable timeframe. Constructive ideas will be floated. Actions will be agreed upon. Then, someone ostensibly in charge will ask for volunteers. You will find out who is in charge forthwith. Should your project, suggestion, or idea be hijacked, cheer up! Now you have more time to focus on what matters: conference presentations! Sit back and observe, as Ms. Mentor advises, while the fireworks ensue. Popcorn?

Hey, do you smell something burning?….

From the (real, not digital) archives

While I was in New Orleans last time, I managed to squeeze in a couple of hours at the UNO Archive, looking up as many old bylined Driftwood and Gambit articles as I could. It occurs to me that I missed a couple (I was rocketing through these bound copies at lightning speed two hours before closing), but here is a relatively complete list of my early newspaper work in New Orleans, plus some other stuff accounted for in less-than-resumé form:

UNO Driftwood (may be others ca. 1983-1985; missing one on visually-impaired tech lab)
18 Sept 86, “Russian enrollment reasons quite diverse”,11
2 Oct 86, “Funds allocated to Language Lab”, 3
30 Oct 86, “Lambda Chi Alpha opens haunted house,” 2
13 Nov 86, “Asbestos in library”, 2
13 Nov 86, “Psych, Bio animal labs get grant”, 18
20 Nov 86, “SGA treasurer resigns at meeting”, 3
4 Dec 86, “Boggs speaks about Congress”, 1-2
4 Dec 86, “Search committee members named”, 1, 3
14 Jan 87, “Coping with another hike”, 2
22 Jan 87, “UNO celebrates King holiday”, 1-2
22 Jan 87, “Professor published” (no byline), 2
22 Jan 87, “North: ‘Raise Contra money'”, 3, 10
22 Jan 87, “Damn this traffic jam”, 6
29 Jan 87, “UNO, Tulane, Xavier march in Georgia” (with photo), 2

Gambit (bylined pieces only–many, many more small news items not credited, esp. politics/environment–missing AZT story, cover story on public housing, perhaps others)
25 Apr 87, “Tales of Four Craftsmen,” 27
11 Aug 87, “Bump in the Night–A Word from Morgus’ Master”, 17
25 Aug 87, “Seniority counts…Sort of”, 23
1 Sept 87, “Two City Ballet: Risk Taking that Worked”, 23
8 Sept 87, “Collapsing Building; Collapsing Laws”, 12-13
29 Sept 87, “Medieval German, and Lots of Laughs”, 21
26 Jan 88, “A Hometown Wine”, 19
23 Feb 88, “Maunsel White: Changing New Orleans Forever”, 13
1 Mar 88, “Looking Up: Canal Street”, 17
8 Mar 88, “Public Education: The Voodoo of Statistics”, 14-15
15 Mar 88, “Housing Relocation: The Dallas Example”, 8
28 Jun 88, “Grand Isle’s Growing Pains”, 14-15
5 Jul 88, “Combatting a Stigma; Or a Story that Got Lost in Translation”, 18
26 Jul 88, (Cover) “Education in Louisiana. Is the bad image being erased?”; includes “Workshop Way: See Sister Grace Teach”, 13-15 and “The Politics of Higher Education”, 17
9 Aug 88, “The Politics of Cable Access TV”, 18-19
6 Sep 88, “Cable TV: The Past, the Promises, and the Future”, 13-16
27 Sep 88, “The Numbers Game: Rating New Orleans Radio”, 14
11 Oct 88, (Cover) Louisiana, The Disappearing State, 13-15; includes “Mister Sandman: A New Mayor Takes On Grand Isle’s Shifting Sands”, 14 (1988 Brown Pelican Award for Environmental Reporting with Errol Laborde and Stephanie Riegel)
25 Oct 88, “Dining Room Detente: Smoking or Non-Smoking”, 25
25 Oct 88, “Running the Show: Hotel Fod and Beverage Manager”, 43
1 Nov 88, “Streetcars: Modernization Vs. Preservation”, 8, 11
8 Nov 88, (Cover) “Dying for a Drink of Water”, 13-16; includes “The Brief and Strange History of Reveilletown, Louisiana”, 16 (also up for ’88 Brown Pelican Award, but we beat ourselves out with the coastal erosion issue)
6 Dec 88, “Dialing for Dollars: South Central Bell Has a Plan”, 15
13 Dec 88, “Lafayette: Bouncing Back”, 22
13 Dec 88, “Seattle’s Comeback”, 23
20 Dec 88, “Twilight Zoning: Rethinking the City’s Zoning Laws”, 14-15
27 Dec 88, “Bluesful Radio: Some Radio Stations Experienced the Blues, Others Play It”, 12
27 Dec 88, “Is There a Renaissance Along N. Rampart?”, 14
3 Jan 89, “A New Curriculum A New Year; Some people go back to school for fun, for others it’s a matter of survival”, 17-19
17 Jan 89, (Cover) “Encore! The Symphony’s Return”, 15-16 (17)
24 Jan 89, “Bar None: Return of the Coffeehouses”, 24
31 Jan 89, “Banding Together”, 24
31 Jan 89, “Who Is That Mask Man?”, 26-27
7 Mar 89, “Airport ’89”, 17-19
21 Mar 89, “The Vieux Carré’s Termite War,” 16
28 Mar 89, “Hidden New Orleans: As Others See It”, 164
4 Apr 89, “Watching the Kids: Questions of Child Abuse”, 16-17 [Last Issue]
4 Apr 89, “Passing Through: From the Pages of the Quarter’s Used Book Shops”, 27 [Last Issue]

* * *
Some other selected bits that include my writing relevant to New Orleans:

Freelance Stuff
IMPACT
Wavelength (N.O. music documentary)
OffBeat
New Orleans Magazine (some bylined, some not)
Louisiana Life (some bylined, some not)
The Advocate (dentists refusing PWAs treatment; mule carriage drivers mocking gay bar patrons)

Corporate
ca. 1989 Hertz Rent-A-Car guide to New Orleans
AP Radio/wire (New Orleans bureau stringer; covered Angola Death Row execution)
freelance PR writing for Zehnder clients Sav-A-Center, Hilton New Orleans Riverside, others

nola.com (as the only local on a four-person dot-com start-up; established local working relationships with NOPD, city, oriented staff to Carnival coverage, culture, etc. )
“Doubloons: The Shiiing Is the Thing” (article is occasionally plagiarized online, if that’s a compliment)
photo essays on Blaine Kern floatmaking, Aquarium of the Americas
Mardi Gras guide
other stuff

Various online pit stops
kd5qel.blogspot.com
Show Your Colors
Every Poet Needs A Patio
lambdaliterary.org (dispatches from Saints and Sinners litfest)

Encyclopedia articles
Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature (Kate Chopin)

* * *
Some things aren’t on this list, like an early article about Brennan’s for Gambit, but I hope to make another trip to the archives soon. I’d like to reconstitute my physical portfolio, which has been thinned out over the years, so that I never lose it again.

Marilyn Hacker wins PEN Voelcker Award

Marilyn Hacker (photo Margaretta Mitchell)

The overly-modest Marilyn Hacker reports that she has won the PEN Voelcker Award. The award recognizes “an American poet whose distinguished and growing body of work to date represents a notable and accomplished presence in American literature, . . . for whom the exceptional promise seen in earlier work has been fulfilled, and who continues to mature with each successive volume of poetry.” Judges were Christopher Ricks, Marie Ponsot, and David Ferry. Ponsot was Marilyn’s poetry mentor, which surely sweetens the moment. The citation, which singles out Hacker’s recent tour de force Names, bears reporting here:

“Marilyn Hacker is a splendid poet. A multiplex of cultural layering carries over her poetic powers into her translations. Beyond accuracy and nuanced understanding, she evokes qualities of feeling and tone, full of life. Hacker has translated strong French poets, of course. I also note her early awareness of Francophonic poets, and has translated them to our welcome. This new book, Names, is a beautiful instance of her famous ability to use forms, iambic pentameter, say, rhymed stanzas, say, not to repress the speaking voice by regulating it into a condition of repressed formality but to exploit the resources of forms to set the voice free to be alive, immediate, unformal, there. Her subjects, her occasions, are various—erotic love, the life and look of neighborhoods, in Paris, in New York, the lives and troubles of friends, the besieged worlds of other writers, the outrages of our leaders; and her voice, as called for by her occasions, is joyful, tender, self-amused, and angry, alive—and even in the anger there’s joy, the exhilaration of saying it well, and saying it right to you. Her poems are never guilty of what Empson calls ‘the poet choosing painful subjects less because he feels strongly about them than because he feels it shameful not to feel strong about them.’ And when her poems and translations are expressions of social or political pity and outrage, it is the pity and outrage of an aroused, alive, strong-minded, fair-minded sensibility, not merely a program of convictions. These poems and translations bring life to life.”

Incidentally, you can look for Hacker’s critical essay collection, Unauthorized Voices, due out by the end of this month from the University of Michigan Press’ indispensable Poets on Poetry series.

A virtual wave and a champagne-cork pop from across the pond to my very favorite poet!

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Facebook, friends, and fragility

A blast from the past: a post on finally hearing from Tom AC5TM, to whom “Stepping Out of the Car, After Not Recognizing an Old Friend’s House” is dedicated, in the days following Katrina and the levee break.

I’m keeping mostly to myself as comps arrive and as the nastiness of K+5 stuffed emotions occasionally bubble up. Poetry and planning are the two best ways to cope.

I’ve also been pretty well kicked in the gut over Facebook recently, so am thinking long and hard about who I really want to spend time dealing with (as I have no time whatsoever). All my real friends who read this: Come find me here. Come find me via real e-mail. Come find me via snail-mail–now THERE’S something new and different. If you want my real e-mail or my real mailing address, just ask. Maybe I’ll come back to FB, o crack pipe, o conflict, but I’m going to quit using it as Twitter, probably to the delight of hundreds. Perhaps I will no longer attract freaks and annoy acquaintances.

One of the great disadvantages of grad school is that, given our overheated schedules, there’s never any time to develop real friendships or a genuine sense of community. FB has filled that void, to a certain extent, because I could at least banter with old friends far away. I miss quality time in the real world with a few good friends. I’ve been reminded what the word “friend” constitutes. And because 20 years blows by in a second, I’d rather be alone most of the time, or with my partner and my family, than spread myself as thin as I have been in recent years. Life’s too short for time-wasting foolishness. I am no longer opening the door to my precious time unless I have a damn good reason for doing so.

Is your life materially better because of your electronic gadgets? Seriously? Of course I get the irony that I’m typing this on a computer and flinging it into the digiverse. As Katrina bore down on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, I tried to use social media as if I were still at CNN. I wanted to disseminate information through backchannels. I wanted to know how and where other poets and writers, many of whom are friends, were at the time. I wanted to do something useful, not just sit there and not report on the biggest news story ever in the place I know the best on Earth. So I made do, both in Atlanta online and in Mississippi via amateur radio.

Five years later, the city was fighting back like mad and making progress, and then BP turned the entire Gulf Coast into its own personal chemistry lab. Scratch all the plans we’d made for moving here or there. Scratch everything I know and love. At least on Facebook I’ve been able to communicate with my fellow New Orleanians, now living all over the country/world. At least it was something I could hold onto.

Now I am nobody, living noplace.

My closest friends from high school live in Australia, Spain, and Massachusetts.

My country has done little to nothing for my city, my state, my region over the past five years.

What else is there for me here? Seriously?

All I want to do is write my dispatches, whether poems, articles, or novels, from a quiet and relatively human-scale coastal village lacking DSL. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to teach those who want to learn about language and literature. My standard of living is modest. I don’t need (nor do I want) a ton of money. I want to pace my life according to the tides, the fish running, the dolphins and ospreys making their daily round trips, the sun sizzling into the ocean on the horizon. I want to live somewhere where I can shore dive every day and watch gobies in their natural habitat. I want a good tropical thunderstorm again. I want to dash under the patio roof, the water pounding the tin, rivulets roping from the eaves, to sit on the steps and drink beer and play the guitar and talk all afternoon. I want the kind of friends who know how that feels.

And the Clouds Broke…

I’m back in Atlanta after driving all night from New Orleans. I’ll update this post after work. However, I do want to say that yesterday’s readings were better than church, better than therapy, better than the best literary fest you could attend. All my writer friends and I had church, as it were, with Mona Lisa Saloy‘s summoning the spirit by calling out, “My grandma and your grandma…” and all of us responding, “Sittin’ on the bayou…”, and Errol Laborde‘s benediction: “Come home. The city needs you.”

And as I headed east on I-10, as I began to tear up about leaving where I feel most at home in this world, the gray squall that had hovered over the city all weekend, that rain I was sure was the tears of all the living and the dead, broke open above the Danzinger Bridge. Across from that platinum brilliance, a full rainbow dropped over the mostly-unoccupied shells of apartments near Bullard Road. I wept, hot-faced, so hard that I had to pull the car over. When I was able to go on, John Boutte’ sang his Katrinafied version of “Louisiana 1927” and I pulled over again, this time at Bayou Sauvage, and I got down on one knee before this sign and took photo after photo after photo, as if no one would believe such a story otherwise.

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