Sunday, October 31, 2010

Photos and a poem - I promise there really is a pumpkin on the page

Halloween morning in Manhattan Beach. A day that can't decide whether to rain or shine.

Cinderella, Revisited

In the hushed and hollow chamber
she crouched shivering at the hearthstone.
Skimpily clad in clammy chemise and skivvies
the incessant cinders swept into the crackling ashes,
the pitchfork stuck in the pile of muck in the corner,
the screeches and screams of
her fat flatulent sisters finally ceased.
Bedecked, bejeweled, and befuddled
they parted in their livery
Into the black celestial night
to trample the toes and hearts 
of their pitiful twirling partners
while she huddled and willed her
wishes to fruition, 
and alas they were
by three miniscule mice 
and a miraculous squash
plucked fresh from the pumpkin patch.

Friday, October 29, 2010

In the can or not?

I started bragging on Facebook last week that I had four chapters in the proverbial can. And this week I have three more.

Then I got to thinking what that really means. Does that mean that I'm done, done with them, that I'll never touch them again? Absolutely not.

As soon as I posted the first four on my storyboard wall I noticed things - just little things - I needed to change. So, I took my red pen and marked them up on the wall copy. Then, I found a bigger thing and marked that up too.

And last night while I was watching television - we’re watching Season One of "Mad Men" - I started jotting things down on my iPhone note pad. There is no stopping me. My brain is always thinking about this book. Perhaps that’s why writer’s start their next book. They need to get over the last.

So I have to admit, I'm not done with these chapters yet. I've finished incorporating my editor's changes, but I know I need to go through them a time or two again before I ship the whole manuscript to my publisher.

And, as my husband and I were saying last night, that doesn't even mean the end of it. She will do an edit and lay the book out on galleys and then send it back to me for review. I'll then look again, make some mark-ups,  and send the marked up galleys back to her. Once she's made the corrections we agree on, she'll make review copies and many people will have a say about what's in the book. Could that mean more changes? Probably. It seems like  a never-ending process. (Did I read that Henry James was still editing his books after they were published?)

In the can is a murky term. Right now it means almost done - not quite fully cooked.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A political intrusion

When I got to the gym this morning there was a campaign sign for Carly Fiorina sitting on the floor near the exit door. I was incensed, but I opted not to say anything about it until I was finished with my workout. 

I felt having it there was intrusive – like all the political emails, phone calls, and TV adds that intrude on my life every day. I go to the gym to get away from that stuff, not to have it around and thrown in my face. The gym is my time, supposedly free from the interruptions of daily life. Cells phones are outlawed there, so why not campaign signage? 

Well it turns out that someone else must have felt as I did, because the sign was gone when I was ready to leave. So I didn’t have to read anyone the riot act – which I would have done – but in a nice way.

I actually have a suspicion who brought it in - a very politically vocal woman. I hear her talking about politics almost every day. Even my ear buds can't drown her out.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Live reading dos and don'ts

We held our photography presentation and reading from our book The Emerging Goddess last night, and I think for a first time, it went very well.

About a week before I decided that we needed a script so that we’d have no fumbling during the event. And that was the best decision. I picked out a few poems initially, and then Paul, the photographer, came over and together we picked out the images. Since several poems went with the images we picked, we added those poems too. In the end we selected eleven poems – some attached to particular images and some not.

I had asked our son Ben and his wife Marissa – since they are professional actors -- to participate in the reading, and they decided to ask one of their actor friends Tracey to join in. So after I sent them the list of poems and the order of presentation, Ben organized who would read certain poems. I read poems 1 and 10, and they read the rest.

The venue for the reading couldn’t have been more perfect. I feel so fortunate that {Pages}: a bookstore, relatively new in Manhattan Beach, agreed to host. The space is long and narrow but there was plenty of room for a reception, a table for drinks and refreshments, and the reading area. And the people at Pages knew exactly how to set it up. The readers sat on big leather armchairs facing an audience sitting on folding chairs in the middle of the room.

Though I didn’t count I think about thirty people attended.

I think one of my greatest lessons from last night was that in the future I cannot rely on RSVPs when planning an event. Many people who said they would or maybe attend didn’t, and many people who didn’t RSVP showed up. Since I thought at the outset that we could expect close to fifty people, I bought enough cheese, crackers and fruit for that many. Paul also brought enough wine. And we were way wrong. We ended up with a lot of leftover food. I didn’t mind the leftovers because our son happily took them home, but I did mind all the schlepping. Parking is hard in that part of downtown Manhattan Beach, and I couldn’t park far from the store with all the stuff I had to carry. So that’s a big lesson. Don’t buy too much food and drinks.  Maybe my rule of thumb for future readings will be to buy no more than I can carry in one trip from the car.

But, looking back at it, I think we were a huge success. And, we sold some books.  

I even talked with the owner of Pages about another poetry reading from The Great American Poetry Show, the anthology I co-edit, after the first of the year. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Emerging Goddess poetry reading

We're having a poetry reading this Thursday night at Pages: a book store in Manhattan Beach at 7 p.m. 

Please join us.

Here's a sample of the poems we'll read:

You Are All to All

Walk the path, the street, the world.
Plant your seeds on the farm, the hills, in the yards.
Offer your healing to the babes and crones alike.
You are everywhere,
all powerful, all knowing.
You are all to all.
Show your light,
open your heart,
extend your arms,
to embrace us,
touch us,
join hands with us.

Aging Goddesses 

The crones – our mothers, grandmothers,
aunts, old friends, and teachers –
walk arm in arm in pairs
each one supporting the other
on the old cobble-stoned streets,
They are squat, stout
with veiny legs and thick ankles,
their bare feet in flat sandals
showing jagged toenails
or clothed in thick hose
and wide oxfords.
Some move slowly barely able to walk,
clutching each other for support.
They are perfectly coifed.
Their hair short and bleached
hide their age
but not too much.
They wear suits
with skirts always below the knees.
Jeans just don’t do.

They talk as they walk
closely together.
Almost in a whisper
they solve the world’s problems,
impart their age-old wisdom
or decide what they’ll cook for dinner.
They wear their age
as an example.
Softly, simply, elegantly
they are our muse.
They don’t hide
but rejoice in their age.
They thrive in their togetherness.
That’s what counts.
They aren’t alone as they walk
They walk together
As we follow behind.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Beware of the Send button

Within seconds of clicking the Send button I regretted it.

Even though I had mulled over what I would respond to a friend's email for over a week, even though I had had a sleepless night about it the night before, even though I went over and over my words carefully, I was sorry after I sent my response. Hopefully I'll have a chance to make amends with time, but I can never erase those words that are forever out there in cyberspace.

This age of immediate communication is so different from the time when I wrote letters. Then, I'd actually write out the words by hand, reading and rereading as I wrote. Then I'd address the envelope, put a stamp on it, and take it to a nearby mailbox. All of this took time. All of this gave me time to think about what I was writing and whether it was appropriate to send.

I also think the same goes for what I write on Facebook. In fact, I need to be even more careful there because so many more people have access to what I post. This blog post will be there almost instantaneously.

So, take it from me. Think hard before clicking that Send button. Don't end up sorry like me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Dreaded Question

This morning The Compassionate Friends, the wonderful organization that supports parents of children who have died, posed the question about what we say when asked how many children we have.

That question is a tough one. Right after our son died I would get so emotional when that question came up that I almost couldn't respond. I would do anything to avoid the question so I wouldn't have to answer it. Saying I had a son who died just made it more real. Now, it's easier. I just tell it like it is. 

Here is the poem I wrote about that dreaded question about two years after he died. 

It happens again like so many times before.
I’m at my sister’s house,
talking to her neighbor
someone I’ve just met
and she asks me the dreaded question
one that I’m avoiding
by talking about what a great day
this has been in Portland
and isn’t my sister’s garden just beautiful
and what do you do for a living
and where are you from.
And there it is,
after I’ve tossed the salad greens
put the tomatoes in the bowl
and sliced in the avocado
“How many children do you have?” she asks.
And never missing a beat
I say, I had two
but now, only one.
My oldest son died.
Then I leave to get myself together
and wonder what she and my sister are saying
while I am lying down in my room.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Il Postino, the opera

We saw the world premiere of the opera, Il Postino, based on the book and film about the exiled poet Pablo Neruda and his relationship with a young postman on the Italian island of Cala di Sotto. Though the story about Neruda and the postman is fiction, the portrayal of the power and beauty of poetry resonated with me. 

Right on stage, Placido Domingo who plays Neruda, gives the young postman and would be poet, Mario, a lesson in the use of metaphor. In fact a flat curtain becomes a blackboard on which the metaphors are displayed. I felt like I was in a classroom – a very joyous one at that.

As Leann Davis Alspaugh states in LA Opera’s “Performances” Magazine, “As figures of speech, metaphor and simile express the unfamiliar in familiar terms” the difference is that simile uses like or as to put the comparison across. The metaphor offers more subtle opportunities for expression than the simile, whose code words alert us to its presence. Thus poets tend to favor the metaphor for its suggestiveness.”

I must admit that my poems are mostly devoid of metaphors and similes. I usually say it like it is, simply and straightforward. But, now I am motivated to change that a bit. Metaphors are such a powerful way to make comparisons. As sung in the opera –everything in life and nature can be a basis for a metaphor.
Neruda wrote of his poetry beginnings in the poem Poetry:

And it was at that age… Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know. I don’t know
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night, abruptly from the others
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I feel the same way. Poetry just arrived for me, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Advice is just that - advice. It's not a directive.

Yesterday my Lucky Press publisher, Janice Phelps Williams gave me some very sage advice regarding my revision process. She of course knows I’ve farmed my book out to readers and editors for comments, and she just wants me to stay on purpose. She said,

"I know you are working very hard on the final draft of your book, and I like that you are keeping in mind that it is YOUR book, YOUR story, and YOUR voice. Others can only offer advice. Only you can write this book."

This advice is so true and useful. It reminds me of the way we worked on proposals to secure government work contracts at my former day job in aerospace. We had many reviews throughout a rather lengthy proposal planning and writing process. We addressed the comments from those akin to Janice’s advice. We especially assessed the review comments from people outside the proposal team – a necessary review part of our process – because they in fact were not intimately involved in the book like the authors and book captains were. We took their comments, reviewed them one-by-one, fixed the parts of the proposal they noted that we thought relevant, and threw the rest away. After all, it was our team’s product, not the outside reviewer’s.

And, that is exactly how I am assessing the comments I’m getting from my reviewers. I am especially careful that their wording changes do not change my voice. What I am looking for is their suggestions on where to cut repetition, where to provide more details in places I’ve left the readers out assuming they know what I know, and on where to make changes in the flow of the book. My first reader’s suggestion to merge my last three chapters I think was spot on. I did the merge, cut out the repetition she noted, and I think I have ended up with a better product. I also got a comment that my timeline of events in another chapter was confusing. And after looking at it again I found that indeed it was. The confusion was relatively easy to fix. That kind of help is useful and valuable. I am so fortunate to have it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book progress amidst thoughts about suicide

Well, now I really have my work cut out for me. I have several marked up chapters from my editors so I can complete, complete the first four chapters for sure. I also have final suggestions from my First Reader to combine several chapters -- two into one and three into one. And, right now I think I'm okay about doing that. in fact I know how to do it.

So at this point I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can actually see finished chapters on the horizon. I was so worried yesterday that making somce of the suggested changes would be too daunting, but after working through one today I know I’ll be okay. Plus it is my book. I can take my editor's notes or leave them. That's the advantage of my being the person with the last red pen. 

I also think of the suicide crisis we're having because of bullying. In the 11 years since my son Paul's suicide death I think the suicide rate has greatly increased (I plan to include the facts about that at the end of my book). However, we still haven't gotten over the stigma of mental illness and the need to talk about suicide prevention as much as possible - especially to our children. 

He killed himself
He took his own life
He ended his life
He released his pain
He committed suicide

There is no gentle way to say it
It is all the same.
What he did one night was
put himself in the bathtub and
slash his throat with a box cutter.
That’s what he did.
That’s the truth of it.

Calling it dying, passing away
does not change the reality
to me and his father and his brother
who cared for him and loved him
but couldn’t fix his broken mind
and keep him from his destiny -
death by suicide.