Oct 08

The Oddity of One's Own New Book

This has happened before. Something is printed and I see only its imperfections. But slowly I become proud that exists at all.

The Woman Who Values Herself is about 90 percent of what I envisioned when I set out to print a pocket-sized book of 31 affirmations for women, each illustrated with a line drawing by Sheila Kennedy. I suspect it is just as a grown child is always about 90 percent of what a parent hoped for. And of course the parent dwells on the 10 percent. What's right:
  • sizewomanwhovalues2inches
  • cover color (love the green! There is no name for such a green!)
  • most of the drawings
  • the fact that this book exists at all
  • the kindness shown to me by all the blurb contributors
  • that this is Sheila's first book and she's thrilled and she should be, she is awesome
  • that this book might be of help or comfort to somebody somewhere someday
  • pricing ($10; thank God I asked for advice!)
What's wrong:
  • They didn't add one of my corrections
  • The paper is thick and I'd hoped it would be opaque, but it's not
  • The back cover with its three colors looks better to me than the front with its two colors
  • They didn't vertically center the blurbs on the back; I mean, it's okay but it's not perfect!
  • Yes, the spine is 1/4 inch wide just as I wanted, and admittedly it is the thinnest possible size for a perfect (glued) binding, but it drives me wild when the microscopic printing on some of them is off by a millionth of an inch
That said, it is time to start getting proud of it, just as a parent finally becomes proud of simply having passed along the gift of life.
Jun 27

The Instant Leper

Small mental-health tip: Never offer the information that you are a writer.

I have learned to tell strangers at bus stops or family parties that I am a webmaster, or, if I really want to hear them talk, I say I’m a teacher (not a professor). “Teacher” elicits all sorts of commentary and memories, plus the “Guess What I Teach” game. Everyone always guesses right: I’m an English teacher. I fail to see what is wrong with looking like one.

But when you tell a stranger, “I’m a writer,” you'll get frosted or flummoxed by one of these:

  • “A writer, eh? Ya know, my life could be a book. Whoo-ee! I’ll tell it to you and you can write it.”
  • “What do you write?” (Disappointment or disapproval will follow regardless of your answer)
  • “Have you ever heard of this book called (Dune, Twilight, The Lovely Bones, Ball Four)?”
  • “Have you published anywhere I might have read it?”
  • “So you get to sit home all day and write.”
  • “My daughter writes poetry. It helps so much with her depression.”
I once told a talented but unschooled writer (think Chuck Palahniuk), unemployed for two years, that Human Resources staffs were likely giving him the bum’s rush because he just had to say in his cover letter, “But what I really am is a writer.” Might as well say, “I’m a leper.”
Apr 25

Nine Ways to Judge a Literary Journal

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.
Apr 05

Turning Away from Toxic Friends

People who make me cry in bathrooms at parties are now off my list. "You," said a former friend, "are a representative of the literary establishment in this town, and I want nothing to do with that, so I don't want anything to do with you." We'd been friends for 20 years, close friends for 10. There was no reasoning with this person, who had been alienating friends one by one, so I'd heard, and had said uncharacteristically hostile things before, but I blamed it on hardening arteries. I hid and cried. There was nothing to do but cut this person -- and I hate doing artificial, gamey social shit like that -- at the next gathering where this person called after me, "Hey, Catherine--" Jerk me around? Uh-uh. I choose my mental health.

Former good buddy lies around now smoking pot, having ruined his finances by investing all in a business scheme, complaining in an endless loop about how he's been blackballed and there's no use looking for work. Tells me he's going to write a novel, will I read it when he writes it? I am no longer getting any pleasure from this friendship.

Distanced myself from former very close friend who broadcast something personal I said in confidence. We still must interact, but trust this person again? Never.

I look askance now at a likeable person who wanted to make sure I'm still teaching ONLY at the night school while this person holds a slightly more prestigious position.

Years ago a close writer friend and I competed for the same prize. I won. Never heard from him again. That's probably a good thing.

A dear friend needs to be steered away from the toxic topic of why this friend isn't published in Poetry and why universities aren't begging this person to teach and do readings. I said, "You've got to go to them." This person replies, "I shouldn't have to." I explain that things have changed since the days of Allen Tate. This conversation is toxic both to this friend and to me.

Am sad when people remain miffed that they were not interviewed for Meet Me. I couldn't interview everyone in town. There are two writers I deliberately and with forethought chose not to include: David Clewell and William Gass. There's plenty of stuff about them in print and online. Writers, if you want to be interviewed, do something new or notable and then put yourself in the path of interviewers.

Writers and non-writers, keep positive people around you if you are going for your dreams. And you need to be a positive person yourself.


Feb 10

Mental Monsters - Vanquished

How creative is the art of worrying! A largely baseless concern was filling up every corner of my mind, like poison gas, with worry and fictive worst-case scenarios, making me feel both jittery and paralyzed. My options at these times are 1) petition God, the Tarot, horoscopes or therapists for answers and peace, 2) take a pill, 3) make myself write the Absolute Truth about the concern. Often the resulting draft is an accumulation of put-downs, childish rage, obscenities and rudeness, and if it has potential I try pounding it into shape. If it's a poem I may impose a form on it. I took one such draft and turned it into four-line stanzas of two couplets each, and every stanza had to mention the name "Richard" (a pseudonym for the real name) or a derivative thereof (such as "Keith Richards"). This took all evening. Now that it's polished and disciplined, I lick my chops with delight when I read it.

Baseless worry and catastrophizing are byproducts of a creative mind, so artists often suffer from these mental monsters, which are made up of backed-up, souring creativity. If such a thing is bothering you, write the absolute Truth about it.  No one has to see it. Or you may want everyone to see it.

Jan 22

How I Asked for the Going Rate

I was surfing on the web one day-- in the merry merry month of June-- and came across this website, based in the UK:

http://www.infinn.com/subliminal.html

Here one can download, for a 30-day trial, a subliminal messages software program. It flashes messages on the computer screen for two milliseconds -- and these messages are positive, and you can select from pre-loaded messages, or create your own.

Subliminal messages, although you can't really read them, are supposed to be a painless way to imprint the mind, to change thought patterns and behavior. I said, I will try it.

The pre-loaded categories include losing weight, quitting smoking, winning athletic contests, making friends, and so on. I loaded the messages for Self-Esteem, Prosperity, and Success, and also made up my own category, Writing. Each of these categories is stocked with affirmations, which are nothing but wishes put into words. Some affirmations I put in my Writing category are "People tell me my writing is wonderful," "I am well paid for what I write," "I write poems easily and abundantly." Then I started the program. This was five days ago. Honestly, I think it's working.

For example, I was asked to quote a price on an editing job. I asked for the amount I wanted, the going rate: $75 an hour. Normally I lowball it, because it seems like a great deal of money to me, I certainly couldn't afford it, and because one person acted shocked when I had the nerve to ask for that much on a previous occasion. Where did I learn that writers and money don't mix? And what's more, why did I believe that?

I haven't heard the answer yet, but I have this odd sensation of "I'm going to stand firm on this." It's a good sensation!

I do notice when the affirmations flash on the screen -- but can't read them, except very occasionally and from my peripheral vision.

If you stare at your computer screen a lot, and think you could benefit, try it free for 30 days. I have noticed no harmful effects. And if I don't get the editing job -- I can use that time for my own writing. Win-win!