mimsy and outgrabe //

a record of panic, parenting, teaching and art-making


My Morning Reading: Kate Zambreno on Kathy Acker

I think I've posted about Kate Zambreno before -- she wrote the wonderful book Heroines, in which she writes about modernist women (wives, girlfriends, colleagues, friends of modernist males) and her complex relationship to them (how she idolizes them, empathizes with them, rejects them, lives like them and as a reaction to them) -- and now she's resurrected her blog to post an excerpt from an essay on Kathy Acker. I'm not sure how long it will remain up, because quite often she becomes exasperated with herself and the world and shuts down her blog -- which is frustrating for fans of her blog, but a really interesting exercise in, or exploration of, voice and the silencing of one's voice, a kind of editing or self-censorship.

I'm writing this blog post rather guiltily, myself. I have so much to do. I should be using every waking moment that's not spent in service to my family in service to work. I'm really, really behind for the fourth week of the semester. But I can't sacrifice sleep like some of my colleagues. And I'm determined to avoid sacrificing time with my kids this semester/academic year. Yet those choices are putting me into one of those dizzying spirals where I can't tell if I'm coming or going. I've begun so many projects/assignments and finished none of them. My verse play is gathering dust again.

We have two days off at the end of the week for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. I'm hoping I can get some of my work done over that holiday, but holidays usually mean family time, which is lovely and good, but also serves to put me even further behind when it comes to work.

I'm having one of those exasperated when-the-hell-am-I-gonna-get-good-at-this?  moments.

I have lovely friends, though. C.C. will tell me that it never really gets any less crazy, but to focus on the good parts: friends, teaching, adventures during vacation time. L.C. will tell me to stop being so hard on myself and then she'll give me an account of HER crazy schedule that makes me laugh. S.P. will laugh at me gently from across the pond and offer solutions for my ridiculous technical problems in online teaching. And A.P. patiently listens to my ranting and/or puts up with my surly grumpy ass when I'm in the weeds.

These things mean a lot, friends. Thank you. You make me feel slightly less crazy. Now . . . any chance one of you wants to actually do my committee work and/or grading for me?

Har har har.


PowerPoint is The Devil's Plaything (or, How I Spent My Weekend)

I believe I've broken a record. After struggling all weekend with the demonic force that is Microsoft Office's PowerPoint, and failing to successfully record a sound track to my lectures -- the damn program keeps cutting off my narration abruptly on several slides --  I've taken a personal day.

Two weeks in and taking a personal day! That's gotta be a record, right? But it's necessary. My face to face classes can survive having their schedule bumped a day, particularly because it's so early in the semester, and that will give me approximately six no-kids-or-husband-in-the-house hours to concentrate wholly and fully on fixing the technical problems and then, perhaps, getting some grading done. I spent so much time fooling around with PowerPoint this weekend that I neglected to grade the quizzes and small assignments that have already begun to accumulate.

And I'm bone-tired, the result of staying up until 2 a.m. fiddling with my f*&*^%g files and then waking up at 6:30 a.m., when Little Miss Talkalot came downstairs, awake and full of conversation. I would have been incredibly underwhelming in my face to face classes, and that's like the kiss of death when you're teaching developmental students. If you don't want to lose them, you have to stay dynamic and energetic. I am neither of those things today.

But I am persistent. I WILL figure out this stupid PowerPoint/audio thing. I hate PowerPoint, too. If I wasn't teaching class online, and if it didn't seem like the best way to "lecture" to my class, I wouldn't have even opened the application on my laptop.

Anyway. Grumble, grumble, grumble -- just needed to vent and "out" myself. Sharing my technical and time-management failures, even in this weird kind-of anonymous blog form, is oddly comforting. It's my Catholic "we-like-to-confess-things" childhood floating to the surface, I guess.


38 is the New . . . Nope. It's Old. My Knees Creak, Y'all.

One week of school completed, and I'm all sorts of in-the-weeds again. Not panicking especially yet, but that's because I'm deluding myself into thinking I have control by paying attention to my little list-making phone app (Wunderlist) and occasionally running (three times last week!) and then also kind-of sort-of staying on top of the laundry situation in my household.

Yesterday I turned 38. I don't think this is especially significant except that it means I'm still eligible to have my manuscript rejected for the Yale Younger Poets Prize, because under 40 is still considered "younger," and I haven't had a book published yet. Also, they haven't published anything that looks or sounds remotely like my own work in  . . . maybe forever? . . . and yet I'll probably continue to send my MS in each year until I get the book published by someone else or I turn 40. 

I really, really hope it's not the latter, but  . . . you know.


Sorry. Had a rough night with the Vampire Toddler, whose fangs have been torturing her somewhat fierce for the past two weeks. Eventually I tried the let-her-cry approach for about thirty seconds, the space it took for me to leave her room and walk down the stairs, where I found my husband . . . who looked at me pitifully and said, "but she sounds so unhappy!"

The sound that was issuing from upstairs was more banshee-like than baby, so I'm going to assume he was still half-asleep. "Unhappy" doesn't quite describe the vitriolic demon-wail of Vampire Toddler being left to cry it out in her crib.

I went back upstairs and picked up V.T., who sniffed once and then promptly fell asleep on my shoulder. After that she stayed asleep. 

A.P. and I have a reading in Manhattan lined up for January -- at the Pen Parentis Literary Salon, a group of writers-who-are-also-parents. Some pretty cool writers, mostly fiction, have read there before, so it's kind of unusual and an honor that we poet-types are being showcased at all. 

In the meantime, I'm gearing up to send out my MS to another round of publishers and book contests. And by "gearing up" I mean "thinking about doing it and putting it off until some really inconvenient moment, like when I'm supposed to grade 30 papers for a 9:30 a.m. class."


Further (Ineffective) Attempts at Control

I had a bad day yesterday. Not that anything catastrophic occurred, but I was riddled with anxiety right up until about 8 o'clock, when I self-medicated and had a beer just so I could calm the fuck down. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, considering it was the day before the semester began . . . but I was surprised. After nine years of doing this, you'd think I'd be more calm and have my shit together, right? Um . . . nope!

I'm trying not to become too worried about any one thing but it's proving difficult. I attempted to make this transition from summer to fall semester easier by going into the office three days a week for the last two weeks in August, but that time really didn't produce the results I was anticipating. I thought I'd be much more together, under control, prepared. I thought my classes would be prepped, committee work complete, my house tidy and in order, doctor's appointments out of the way . . .

But no. My online class is only set up for about the first two weeks -- just enough to buy me some time, I hope. I still have to make copies of the syllabus for the class I'm teaching today. I have all of tomorrow to prep for -- not one course outline complete, and I have two classes. Things are not going well.

I'm trying to keep in mind that *I* am the one in control of my life, and that (most) of everything that occurs in or around or to me is a direct result of some decision, ill or wise, that I made at some point . . . but that's not particularly comforting. It's a good reminder that I shouldn't moon around playing the victim, but it doesn't really help allay any of my anxiety -- which can, at times, be kind of paralyzing. It seizes my brain and then I can't think, and so I don't act, and then I don't tend to the chaos around me, and the chaos makes me anxious, and it's all a stupid circle, repeating endlessly.

There are some things that I've tried to do, or implement, to reign in some of the chaos. Things like, actually setting the children's alarm clock for the correct time, and then turning on the alarm, so that they wake up with enough time to eat breakfast, get dressed, and prepare for school (which, for them, begins tomorrow). I'm attempting to start new habits, completely mundane and yet necessary tasks like a load of laundry every single day, from washing to folding, so my basement doesn't end up looking like a drycleaners. (Actually, a drycleaners is more organized and less cluttered than my basement when laundry begins to pile up.)

These banalities  . . . they aren't terribly interesting, but they're what I'm consumed with at the moment. That's probably part of my anxiety, too. I'd really much rather be thinking about other things.


The 2014 New York City Poetry Festival

Photos from the Hyacinth Girl Press reading on Sunday afternoon:

The ferry to Governor's Island was not exactly reliable, so it's kind of amazing I was there to read at all, let alone first.

Our attentive and kind audience

Dan Nowak, the first male HGP author, and editor of Imaginary Friend Press

HGP Editor and Publisher, Margaret Bashaar listens beside the stage

J. Hope Stein, creator of the Poetry Crush blog, reads from the Book of Crushes

Lisa Marie Basile, editor and publisher of LUNA LUNA magazine, reads and battles a last-minute wardrobe malfunction (a VIDA t-shirt saves her)


Post-Conference Wrap Up, a Poem, and the Necessity of Taking a Break

First, the poem: Epiphenomenon by Karen Skolfield.

I'm still in recovery from the 12 days of the Southampton Writers Conference. It was a useful experience and I learned a lot about theater and the way playwrights work and how actors approach plays . . . and I enjoyed many of the readings and panel sessions (which doesn't always happen in these things, as you don't really have choices about the events you attend)  . . . but oh my god, I'm exhausted now. More so than in past years when I've attended the same conference. It's either because the Three Kid System is far more difficult than I thought, or I'm getting really old. Maybe it's both.

Maybe, also, it's because I know I have so much work to do before I finish my verse play -- in terms of revision, and as I construct the next two acts. The prospect of all that work, at this point, is a little tiring, even though I usually find writing pretty energizing. I guess the stress of the past few weeks has just taken a toll. At the very least, though, I leave the conference with a solid 20 pages of the play, a "complete" first act, and I have a good idea of what I must do -- there will be far less groping in the dark now, I think (I hope). I know this has been a good challenge, and that I'm learning a lot through this process and creating something that, eventually, will be pretty cool  . . . but good lord, I'm tired. I haven't been able to think about writing for the past few days. Actually, I thought about writing, about working on the play, and then I decided to write this post instead. A kind of compromise.

This week I'm trying to salvage my house, which kind of fell apart during the two weeks I took this class, as well as to reintroduce my children to the idea that they have a mother: 
"Who's looking after us today?"
"Ummm . . . me?"
[Crickets chirp]
Then next week we're going camping, and I look forward to being mostly absent from technology for a full five days. I might write a little, but I'll probably do more reading than writing. And you know, hanging out with those kids! I'd say 'my husband,' too, but he'll probably disappear into some old-time music circle and I won't see him for 72 hours . . . but that's one of the reasons we go camping at this particular festival  . . . so that he has, finally, other people to play with. I am not a good, or reliable, fellow musician.

Little Miss Talkalot is bringing her violin for the first time to the festival, and I'm excited for her. She's excited about the prospect of learning fiddle and getting to play with the adults. 

This weekend I'm supposed to attend and read with other authors from Hyacinth Girl Press as part of the New York City Poetry Festival. I hope I get more excited about it soon, because it seems like a really cool event. Right now, though, the thought of traveling to Governor's Island on a Sunday makes me more tired. Especially because as soon as I get there, I have to turn around and come back.  (I've really pushed the limits of our caregivers with babysitting needs this month.)

I need a break, from both school-related tasks and writing-related tasks. I finished teaching that summer class and then jumped almost immediately into a really intense period of writing, and while both were good and productive, I feel burnt out. And now, honestly, I'm not sure I'm going to get the kind of break I need. Camping will be a brief break, but I know that camping with three kids (one of whom is Vampire Toddler) won't exactly be peaceful. Fun, but not especially restorative, you know? And then I'm going to try spending a few days in Virginia, adoring my fabulous new niece (I'm an aunt for the first time, y'all!) -- but I have a feeling that I'll be fielding a slew of emails from the union about incoming members as the new academic year approaches. And, as precedent has taught me, a couple from the bookstore about their incompetent nincompoopery.

Anyway. I'll try to be optimistic. And less grumbly. Which should, fingers crossed, make for more interesting blog posts.


I'm Not Dead Yet (and Neither is the Blog)

So, one thing I'm discovering in The Year+ Orientation to Having Three Children is that, surprise, you have to super-duper plan and prioritize. Priorities go something like this:

  1. Are the children dressed?
  2. Am I dressed?
  3. Does anyone smell or show visible signs of yesterday's sandwiches/spaghetti dinner/backyard dirt pile debacle?
  4. Will any of the speaking children complain audibly about not being fed?
If the answer is yes to the first two questions and no to the last two, we can leave the house for school/camp/store/violin lesson/sports practice/babysitter etc.

The bar is lower than it's ever been before, people. This is probably not a surprise to anyone with half a brain, but you should remember that through the course of giving birth to the aforementioned three children, I've lost an incredible amount of brain power. I believe it was A.P. who pointed out that -- three years after having The Boy -- I was just beginning to regain myself, to become more clear, and more on-point with both my writing and thinking, and then BAM! I was knocked up again. So don't really expect anything much from me until 2017, and even then, you should probably keep your expectations low. I mean, it's not like I was a walking brain-trust before A. and I started populating the earth with our questionable DNA.

Anyway, so posting to my blog has been fairly low on my list of priorities, even though it's something I enjoy and that I feel is somewhat useful to my writing process (not to mention maintaining my sanity).

The past year has been very much about Doing What I Have to Do and Only What I Have to Do (with one or two exceptions thrown in). I haven't seen friends, emailed friends, read very much, written very much, exercised, cleaned my home (other than that surface cleaning necessary to keep occasional visitors from calling CPS), or slept for any great length of time. 

This isn't actually a complaint, though. It's simply a catalog of things that had to take a backseat to Vampire Toddler's Demands, Both Real and Conjured by Whim. She's has a personality much like Little Miss Talkalot's personality -- they both came out of the womb knowing what they wanted and demanding the world give it to them. I admire this -- but it tends to be a bit time-consuming meeting those demands. I absolutely loathe the phrase "it is what it is" (fatalism for morons) but that sentiment describes the attitude necessary to surviving The Year+ Orientation to Having Three Children.

I knew what I was getting myself into when I became pregnant, and I'm not going to magically change how difficult this balancing act continues to be, no matter how many parenting or organize-your-life web sites I read or this-is-how-I-do-it threads I lurk over on Facebook. It's just chaos -- pure and utter chaos, alternately and sometimes simultaneously frightening and funny. There's a lot of joy -- and sure, a lot of tears, and most of them aren't the baby's -- but that joy is derived from this very concentrated part of my life right now, and not from many of the other parts of my life that usually bring me joy. It has to be this way, and it won't always be this way, and so I should -- I will -- ride this out until there's a shift. 

There's already been a shift, too. Vampire Baby finally sleeps, more or less, through the night (teething will throw everything off, but in between teeth she's on a fairly regular schedule). Since May and the end of the school semester, I've been able to go for a run or walk at least once a week, if not two. (Hey, it's not gonna get me in any kind of shape very quickly, but it sure is a relief to be moving again.) I taught a summer class for the month of June, and now that it's over, I'm able to write.

AND I'm taking part in the Southampton Writers Conference again, which is part indulgence, part requirement-for-promotion (Stuffolk requires I earn a slew of graduate credits over and above my MFA -- because, you know, it's a terminal degree AND THEY ARE SO RESPECTFUL OF THAT.)  Since last Wednesday, I've been participating in a Theater Residency -- which is both terrifying and exhilarating and incredibly useful in terms of finally, FINALLY making progress with my play.

In the few minutes, and sometimes hours, I could steal to write this spring, I managed to finally draft the first four scenes of the first act in my verse play. It's taken -- oh my god -- SEVEN years to finally get to this point. I have stopped and started with numerous drafts. They have all totally sucked. I think the pressure of the deadline, combined with what I've been studying and learning over the years, made it all finally click. And I know that four scenes sound next to nothing at all -- paltry, right? -- but believe me, having 17 pages of ANYTHING after having so very little for so long makes me feel quite, well, pleased.

And it was really . . . moving. . . having actors read my work. I would never admit this out loud to another person's face so I'll write it here: I felt like crying. What was that? I'm not a chick who cries. I don't even cry when I'm the most sad, really. I cry when I'm frustrated (which is the worst time to cry; it's bratty). But that's what I felt initially. And then I told myself -- using the most inappropriate metaphor ever -- to sack up, and the moment passed. But it tells me that I've invested a lot in the idea of this play; that it means a lot to me, to my development as a writer, to see it finally taking shape and taken seriously by other people (even if for just a moment; even if it's just a blip on their own creative radar).

I probably would have been happy with amateur actors, but the program hired professionals,  and among them -- playing the principals, thankfully -- there were at least two actors who were  comfortable reading and performing iambic pentameter, and so it was also really wonderful (and weird!) to hear other people reading my poetry aloud. And the discussion afterwards, with a director and a professional dramaturge, was helpful and encouraging. I have a clear idea of how I want to revise the first scenes, and where I want the play to go eventually.

I have the rest of the next week to revise those first scenes, and then I give new pages (including the fifth and last scene of the act) to the program, and there will be a new reading at the end of the week. The second reading will be open to members of the conference and the public, which makes me slightly nervous, but less so now that I've been through the process once already. 

So that's where I am right now. Lest you think I've given up on the ol'blog at last. No, I'm not retiring it. I'm just forced to wait patiently until I have the time to sit and reflect and then torture you with my neuroses again.