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Tuesday, 26 April 2011 03:19

Oh Yes, Physical Health Too

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Believe, I know what happens to long-distance writers, and suggest:

Hands/wrist/fingers/forearms hurt or tingly? You cannot fix this by yourself. Contact dr. and demand referral to a physical therapist. Yes, it costs money, but trust me, you cannot live without hands. (Try to worm out of the "nerve conduction test," aka the "nerve crucifixion test.") The physical therapist can show you how to prevent future injuries.

Gettin' flabby? Walk for 30 minutes a day. It's like keeping a journal: hateful for the first few days, then addictive. Now that I am older, a walk, like, gives me an actual buzz, man.

Backache? Get a back-support pillow, and/or a "kneeling chair." This latter will force your back muscles to hold you up and thus stay strong. Lots of backache? Give a chiropractor a chance. They do not cost as much as MDs and will not invade your body nor prescribe poisons for it.

Stressed? Go alone someplace strange or do something you've never done. Once I went to a solo drum concert. Another time walking in an unfamiliar field I found a teepee and hid inside. Once I forced myself to have tea at the Adams Mark Hotel. Once I went to a psychic fair & there I got a photograph of my aura (it's red).

Soothe eyestrain with "computer glasses," aka "single-vision lenses." The eye doc will know what you mean.

Depressed? This isn't for everyone, but a really stubborn case that does not respond to therapy may respond to piercing. No joke. I got through a horrible passage of my life by having my ears pierced with an 18-gauge needle at a heavy-metal tattoo and piercing parlor. I was the only customer wearing a Kasper suit and pumps and pantyhose. BTW, this is why kids get piercings; the more and grosser the piercings, the sadder their lives.

If writing is making you suffer, there's something that needs changing!
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 03:18

The Kindle, a Portable Reading Pod

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The "reading pod" that everyone will have in a couple of years (like the iPod everyone listens to music on now) has come of age. You can now glimpse the future of reading at:
http://www.amazon.com/Kindle-Amazons-Wireless-Reading-Device

I watched the video demonstration of how what they call "the Kindle" works:
  • daily newspapers are delivered wirelessly
  • one may buy and wirelessly download all bestsellers plus other books and blogs (not all of them; that will have to change)
  • you don't need to find WiFi "hotspots" to do your reading or downloading; it works anywhere a cellphone will work
  • you can read in bright sunlight or dark, lighting doesn't matter
  • you can adjust the type size to your comfort level
  • the Kindle will turn the "pages," even "dog-ear" them -- oh, and your book will re-open to the page you were last reading.
Amazon wanted really badly to create a reading pod that was tied to amazon.com purchases and no others. This is their mistake. And the Kindle is too new to buy. (At $399 it is expensive, but in a year, the price will come down; and it'll be finer-tuned.)

If you are "tech," here is the review from pcworld.com, a most trustworthy source, which agrees that the Kindle is too expensive as of yet -- and that it needs the ability to read PDF files. (That's what'll make it able to read self-published books.) Stay tuned. Sure, publishers will still print books. But in five years you will own a reading pod much like this.
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 03:17

The Reader-Writer Alliance is Here

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I delighted in this New York Times article about bookstores in the Berkshires becoming cultural centers where townspeople go not only to buy books but rub shoulders, chat, meet for discussions, and hear authors read -- local authors especially. The reader-writer alliance that will govern the future is not just a pipe dream. If you need to see something in The Times before you believe it, here it is, just as if writers had conspired and planned it. Does it not seem like Paradise Found?

The future will look like this, except it won't be just white, urbane, and middle-class. Where such alliances don't exist, they'll be created.
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 03:10

Emily Dickinson's Computer

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Computer was in the shop all weekend; still is. So I had idle moments. Let's download something different, I thought. So I took up the book of Emily Dickinson's poems, the one that's shabby, fingered, nicotine-stained.

Her poems -- her metaphors -- her capitalizations, even -- shocked me back to life. I'd forgotten -- I'd forgotten!! -- what life felt like, and looked like...[Full Original Blog Post here]
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 03:08

Rejection at 50

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My first published poem appeared 32 years ago. Rejections stung only a little. (There was still time to win a Pulitzer by age 25.) Then, around age 40, when I expected more rewards, my fragility increased: Call it osteoporosis of the soul. This forced me to systematically, ALPHABETICALLY, read through literary journals and submit only to those that published poems like mine. This HATEFUL activity forced me through jungles of jealousy: "She's younger than I! And he writes better! And that's a great poem! And she's published four books! And there's my former student in a journal I failed to get into!"

Actually, I was doing the smart thing, business-wise, because publishing is a business, but it only increased my fragility. Approaching age 50, I dreaded those S.A.S.E.s even more. Now I'm ever so careful to:
1. Send only my very best poems.
2. Make sure my poems have a a ghost of a chance at that publication. (Next blog will be about that!)
3. Avoid contests, no matter how tempting -- the chance of winning, about 1 in 1000, is too remote.
4. Take long, long breaks in between bouts of sending, sometime six months or a year.
5. Keep working on more, and when those S.A.S.E.s or E-mails come back, curse or cry, feel grossly ashamed of my "arrogance" and "presumption" in thinking the world might want my poems -- and then get over it, and put poems right back in the mail.

See that list of five things? That's my new backbone.

And yesterday: **Good news! ** A long, risky poem, perhaps the longest and riskiest yet, accepted. How long has it been since a poem got accepted? Three years? Five?

Joy? No. Forehead on forearm, and a sigh of Relief.
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 03:06

Nine Ways to Judge a Literary Journal

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Pretend the literary journal you're looking at is a person, and ask yourself if this is the sort of person you would like to befriend.

1. How does it look? Healthy, artsy, sloppy, folksy, ritzy? . . . . and do you like its looks?
2. Does it seem able to appreciate people (writers) like you?
3. Does it seem to refer constantly, not to say obsessively, to things you have had enough of, such as Greek myths, old barns, eating disorders, famous dead writers, or graphic depictions of meaningless sex?
4. Is it trying hard to be something it's not?
5. Does this journal let you know, through its form or content or list of contributors, that it doesn't care to associate with your kind?
6. Is there something in this journal that intrigues or stimulates or impresses you?
7. Do you like this journal enough to see it again? To sit down and have lunch with it?
8. Do you two have anything in common?
9. Would you like to be associated with this journal?

Full disclosure: At this time I am a longtime subscriber to just one literary journal, and that's the quarterly Creative Nonfiction. I keep up with Natural Bridge. Not long ago I gave up The Sun and The New Yorker, because they arrived so often that reading each issue felt like a job.
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 03:04

New Book & Nobel

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Arrived today: the first copy of Island Universe; beautiful, especially the cover painting. More copies will follow. Two hours it took to get my eyes off of it. A new book is like a new baby.

News I loved: Doris Lessing wins the Nobel Prize. On TV she said of her youthful self, "Nothing could stop me. . . ." For 25 years I have admired her writing, and her shamelessness -- now copied by everybody, and not unusual, but there was a time when a woman writer should have felt ashamed. She changed that. This past year read the five Martha Quest novels in order: Martha Quest, A Proper Marriage, A Ripple from the Storm, Landlocked, and The Four-Gated City. (Ordered used copies; A Ripple was especially hard to get -- the Washington University Library *didn't have* the middle three novels; now there's a real occasion for shame!) Then The Golden Notebook. Martha's apartments, her political meetings, her nights of drinking and dancing, her jobs and quandaries were all enthrallingly real. The NYTBR tells me Jonathan so-and-so and Don whatsis are the great writers, & I just have to smile.

I want to be like Doris Lessing and publish a new book every two years until I'm 87. She would say I should have done that all along.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011 03:02

Famous Friends

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NYT today published a three-page article about novelist Tom Perrotta. At Syracuse, in the graduate program in fiction writing, he was a classmate (class of '88). The two fellowships had gone to the Golden Boy and the Hemingway Boy, and the rest of us taught two sections of Freshman Comp, 25 students each. I complained to Tom that I had little time to write. He advised me to do as he did and "blow off teaching."

Well, I just couldn't let my freshmen down -- and there was the fork in the road.

The six men in our class went on to publish: four became fiction writers, one a poet. I'm glad for the successes of Tom and George Saunders, a deserving Golden Boy, beloved by The New Yorker, now teaching at Syracuse. They were never my close friends, and Tom I never saw again, and George only once, but I have had the honor of being considered their peer.

The three women were all depressed. One went to St. Louis where SHE had the fellowship (in poetry. Her fiction wasn't worth a bean. Back then there was no such thing as creative nonfiction).

I see now that for a young writer to keep writing, someone has to give you, grant you, a boost -- a scholarship, fellowship, some prizes, a mentor, a wealthy spouse, a lucky break. Or you have to boost yourself by boldly breaking down whatever holds you back.

In honor of Tom's success, and Doris Lessing's -- blow off an obligation today!
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 03:00

About the Cover Artist

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First copy arrived Saturday. Went on amazon.com today (10/15/2007). I like it and hope you do too.

Story of the cover art: In 1983 I bought a postcard with a strange and striking picture on it: a bird fantastically feathered with autumn leaves. I kept it posted in my writing space for 20 years, through cross-country moves, always thinking, "I'd like that painting on the cover of my first book." Finally in 2005 I put together Fierce Consent and Other Poems. I had the painting's name and date: "Der Herbstvogel" (Autumn Bird), 1970. Google led me to its painter, Siegbert Hahn (b. 1937) of Germany. Through his website www.natura-mystica.info I E-mailed him and he most graciously gave permission to use Der Herbstvogel on my book cover. Dream come magically true! His assent was how I knew I should go ahead with publishing that book.

I considered Mr. Hahn's paintings again when I put together Island Universe. Titled "Die vielen Wirklichkeiten" (The Many Realities, 2000), this painting was a perfect fit. Mr. Hahn again permitted me to use his painting, this time sending the original slide for scanning so the lines would be crisp and the colors true. "One of my most mystical paintings," he wrote. Without the Internet I would never have found the artist. Perhaps in 2008 I will go to Cologne and meet him and his partner of 40 years, Dr. Peter Guckel.
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 02:58

Gee, Thanks: How A Writer Pays Debts

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Authors thank their editors, friends, teachers, patrons and so forth on a page in the fronts of their books. When my turn came it was like a big hairy math problem:

1. Thanking everyone would have been a book in itself.
2. Many people helped me and all of it was important, so I couldn't list only a few select people.
3. Those unlikely to see the book must still be acknowledged.
4. One wants to give sincere thanks regarding that particular book, not favor other writers who used one's name in THEIR acknowledgements.
5. Using famous names looks like fawning.
6. There's a temptation to get even by making grossly obvious omissions.
7. There's a besetting "f--- you" fantasy: listing idiots, enemies, and thwarters, and concluding with "No thanks to you." There's a reason why that must stay a fantasy.
8. Thanks are due, and one can't withhold acknowledgments just because the whole issue is touchy.
9. How does one order the selected names? Alphabetically? Most-to-least? Least-to-most (leaving the best for last)? (Then how do I set it up so no one can decode this?)

Just another barbed-wire fence in this artificially difficult profession!

Final count: 23 names, 1 group name (covers 7 people) = 30 people, listed in the chronological order that I met them.
That number, for a book of prose, is about average.