winter contagion with Human Dark with Sugar with old and new library cards


Hello Reader. I tempted the malevolent forces of the Universe with my almost-giddy post about finally getting back to my writing desk. Which I was certain would happen yesterday.

It did not.

A most miserable form of winter contagion has befallen three out of five of the inhabitants of the Wee, Small House. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say there has been a lot of laundry, a lot of care-taking, and a lot of cleaning up after the stricken.

I’m back and forth between dumfoundedness and maniacal laughter, sprinkled (in my better moments) with the zen-like mantra: “Relax. Nothing is under control.” Strangely enough, this mantra has helped me relax.

Today, between loads of wash, I staked a claim for poetry by sneaking off to the library to pick up an item I’d requested through the Super Library-Nerd Lending Program. If nothing else, I will have committed that act in the name of poetry today — this must mean something.

While there, the librarian said to me, “I’m sorry but your library card is no longer usable. I’ll have to give you a new one with a new number.” (Note the condition of my library card in photo above — it’s a little, ah, beat up). This poor man had no idea how close I came to bursting into tears and weeping on his desk. I become attached to my library cards. I save them all. My library card is my ticket to the world, and a record of where I’ve lived. My card number is etched on my heart. I was *so* looking forward 20 years hence to bragging, “I”ve had my library card so long it starts with 2000!”

I faked a smile. “Okay!” I said, too-perkily, “but can I please keep the old one?”

(Insert librarian’s am-I-speaking-to-an-allien look here).

“Sentimental reasons,” I said.

“Ummmm. Sure,” he replied.

I am now back at the Wee, Small House. I have Human Dark with Sugar by Brenda Shaughnessy to look forward to. Maybe tomorrow. For now, it’s back to the laundry.

And I’ve learned my lesson. I’m never, ever going to say, “Tomorrow, I’m going to spend all day at my desk” out loud again.

friday roundup: on balance, twenty-two hacks, and “the mother, the witch, the briny womb”

Sometimes you just have to drop everything and notice how beautiful your front walk is.

Sometimes you just have to drop everything and notice how beautiful your front walk is.

Hello, Reader, and happy Friday. It’s finally fall in the Peninsula Town and I’m reveling in the gorgeousness of falling leaves. Yesterday when our yard helper came and swept up many of our Ginko tree’s fallen leaves, the little sister of this household wept copiously. “But they’re so beautiful,” she cried, “I wanted them to stay.” I know just how she feels. Speaking of beautiful and fleeting things, let’s talk poems:

on balance  Well, first let’s talk balance. Kelli Russell Agodon wrote a post this week called “The Balance Dilemma: Putting Your Writing First.” You should read it. Even if you are not a writer, you should read it. Because it talks about how to make your writing (or whatever your life’s work is) your first priority.

One thing I love about the post is that it doesn’t give you any sweeping advice about how to do it. There is no magic wand with a writing time spell inside it. Kelli list a few small but concrete ways she ekes out more writing time in her life. It reminds me of the old family budget. I don’t know about at your house, but at our house there are no big ticket items to cut out and suddenly have a bunch of extra money every month (Oh, okay, I guess let’s not go to Aruba after all. Um, no.). No, we pinch pennies by taking short showers, turning out the lights in unused rooms, and eating lots of legumes. The way you eke out more time for your life’s work will be different than Kelli’s or mine or anyone else’s. But you can do it.

The other thing I love is the image that accompanies the post. I think of it as: Floating Woman with Typewriter. This image captures exactly how I feel so many days — I’m trying to stay anchored in my writing, but there go my feet… the world is pulling at me… and it’s hard not to float away from the work.

twenty-two hacks  Here’s a post from Carmen Giminez Smith who’s guest blogging at Harriet this month. She lists twenty-two “hacks” (you could think of them as quick fixes) to apply to your poem as you work on it. Many of them you’ve probably seen before, but the list is worth having in your revision file — you’ve seen the strategies before because they work, right? And then there are a few that maybe you haven’t seen before. A worthy list either way.

“the mother, the witch, the briny womb”  I’ve been reading Sally Rosen Kindred’s chapbook Darling Hands, Darling Tongue which recently came out from Hyacinth Girl Press. Oh, how I love this chapbook and the world it creates around the story of Peter Pan. I would tell you more about it but Kathleen Kirk has already done the heavy lifting in her review of the book at Escape Into Life. Go over and read it, and while you’re there look for a few of Sally’s poems that appeared in this feature at EIL, too. A particular favorite of mine is “Story Hour” — it seems to perfectly compose the atmosphere of those afternoon read-alouds we remember from childhood, and somehow also encompasses the mother’s complicated perspective. Congratulations to Sally on this fine, fine work.

Now I’m off to do some of my own work. I can’t promise it will be fine, but I’m going to try hard not to float away from it until the kids get home from school. Thanks for reading!

end-of-summer musings with carrot cake

"Gee, Wally, I'd *love* to make you a carrot cake. Let me get right on that."

“Gee, Wally, I’d *love* to make you a carrot cake. Let me get right on that.”

Well, wow, I didn’t really mean to take the summer off writing. Not that I didn’t write at all, but here it is less than two weeks before the kids start school and the truth is I’ve mostly been a mom this summer, and not much of a poet.

As summer winds down (and, conveniently, as the kids are at their one week of camp for the summer this week) my thoughts have turned to re-engaging in my writing life and becoming, once again, a working mother.

(Meanwhile, Husband is on a conference call talking about things like micro-stuffs and nano-thingies, and I wonder, is this how he feels when I say anapest or iambic?)

One thing I’ve noticed this summer, which is probably not a news flash to anyone, is that everyone is a little bit happier when I’m not writing. Everyone, that is, except me.

Why is this? Well, probably because everyone can usually find clean socks and undies, dinner tends to be early-ish instead of late-ish, and I have lots of time to color and go to the park and play Old Lady Dusting (which is what my littlest one calls Old Maid, and I haven’t the heart to correct her). Also, while not perfect, the house tends to be neater and a bit more organized; the cupboard a bit more regularly stocked.

[Dear residents of the Wee, Small House: Prepare ye! For days of deprivation await, and ye shall soon have to dig in the dryer for clean socks and undies. And ye shall wait and wait for a decent meal, and there shall be no homemade desserts not even one. For a voice cries out in the desert, make straight the path to Mom’s writing desk!]

But anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the inner work of scheduling and how to plan my writing life this school year, and also about my word for the year, which is TEND and how I can tend to myself and my poetry. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about.

First, that the most important thing is staying healthy. Long-time readers know that I have a chronic illness that involves arthritis and other unpleasant things that we won’t dwell on now. So I’ve learned the hard way that if you lose your health, nothing else is okay. For me, this means getting enough sleep, healthy food, and some regular exercise. It also means not “over-doing it.” Which means…

…I have to say no. I confess, from the center of my very bones I am dreading the near-constant requests for volunteers at the kids’ schools. The mere thought of it exhausts me, which tells me I need to draw more stringent boundaries about what I commit to. I’m also going to have to say no to the kids — and here’s the thing: sometimes I do it to myself, Reader. Like, somehow I’ve said yes to making a CARROT CAKE today in recognition of excellent table manners five days running. The first day all summer that I have basically open and I say yes to CARROT CAKE!?!? (that scraping sound you hear in the background is me thinking of how long I’ll spend hand-shredding carrots this afternoon). So don’t feel sorry for me. But what I’m hoping is that awareness is half the battle, and since I’m aware of saying ‘yes’ too much I’ll be able to say ‘no’ more often. Stay tuned.

Also in the saying no department is a not-100%-pleasant intuition that I even need to cut back on some of my writerly commitments in order to spend more time heads-down at my desk. This I will hate to do, but I’ve learned over the years to trust my intuition even when it’s telling me something I’m not thrilled about.

Next on the list is what I’ll call my This I Believe statements. I’ve been walking around saying to myself over and over again, I believe that a reasonably well-functioning household is good for the soul, and, I accept that life is better for everyone if I don’t put off the grocery shopping til Saturday. I accept that life is better for everyone if I don’t put off the grocery shopping til Saturday. I accept that life is better for everyone if I don’t put off the grocery shopping til Saturday. So yes, I’m thinking about balance, and my motto 2.0:


(I swear, Reader, my problem is the whole “rotating basis” thing — it’s much easier to leave everything else up in the air indefinitely, don’t you think?)

And then lastly, I’m thinking about flexibility. Last year, I had my writing life all planned out. I was going to do this, and that, and also this other thing. I blocked off my calendar. I found babysitters when needed. I even said no to some volunteer “opportunities” at school ;). I had a plan. And then, kidney abscess, which I said in this post was “nothing too scary” but actually it was too scary and took a lot of time, energy, babysitters, etc. So, I’m reminding myself: You are a human being. Human beings live interdependently with and amongst other human beings. Sometimes things happen that require one to shift one’s plans.

So, yeah, somewhere around September 15 (and October 15, and November 15, and December 15, and… well, you get the idea), someone remind me:

  • first, health
  • say no early and often
  • cut back–>heads down
  • aim for balance
  • be flexible


summer writing: day two and the protests begin

Yesterday I began my (drumroll…….) summer writing schedule. It involves getting up at 4:45 to have a cup of coffee in the dark and silent house, and then working at my desk from 5:00-7:00. The kids have been given strict instructions to stay in their rooms reading, or doing whatever they want as long as it’s quiet, until 7:00. Believe me, I’m loving the fact that they’re old enough to do this. And believe me, I wouldn’t require this if my writing desk weren’t smack dab in the middle of our only communal living space: the combination kitchen/dining/living area. (O, for a writing nook! A dream for someday… .).

Yesterday went like a dream! They were quiet little mice who stayed in their holes. Today, the protests began — although nothing so sophisticated as marching with “Occupy Mom’s Writing Time” signs (perhaps tomorrow). No, it was more of a passive aggressive protest: requests for “breakfast snacks” (seriously? breakfast snacks? um, No); arguments over who was allowed in what space. I will neither confirm nor deny that the following exchange took place. On post-it notes.

Me (to the boy keeping his sister out of her own room because he wanted to read there): If you’d like to be alone, please go in my room. Otherwise, share your sister’s room with her.

Him: No.

Me: You don’t have the option of saying ‘No’ to me.

Him: No thank you.
(You see what I’m up against here)

Me: You’ve now lost your screen time for the day. Let your sister in her room. Now.

Sigh. At any rate, although it has not been without minor snags, I feel like I’m off to a start with summer writing and that feels good. The trick for me (besides managing protesters) will be to scale back my expectations about how much can actually be accomplished in two hours a day. Also, I really miss my favorite sunny corner at the library — but that will be waiting for me in the fall and perhaps on a few Saturday mornings this summer. I’m also squeezing in bits of poetry where I can: swim practice and other brief windows of time.

Tonight I’m hosting my writing group, which I tend not to do during the school year due to having a Wee, Small House and young children who need their sleep. Summer bedtimes are a bit more flexible, and summer weather always supports the use of outdoor space (funny… I’m still getting used to the lack of storms in California). There will be wine and munchies, perhaps home-made cookies, and good poetry. There will be a babysitter on hand to herd the cats. I mean the kids. There will be no way to hide the fact that I need new towels, or that my bathroom is too small to turn around in. But I’m cool with that.

Hope you’re summer’s off to a good start, too.