mimsy and outgrabe //

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


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.


Professor Mommy Zombie Reporting for Duty

Yup, still here. I know you were worried.

The Creative Writing Festival went well. There were some problems: the usual SCCC facilities/bureaucracy nonsense but nothing insurmountable. Allison Seay's reading was so lovely. I really love To See the Queen, and her preface to the poems and her subsequent delivery of them was intimate and clear and kind of raw, in the best way. Kelly Daniels is awesome -- A. and I had him over for dinner the night before the festival and they traded stories about breweries and craft beer and he was assaulted by my dogs and my children and not only survived, but seemed to enjoy himself. Colum McCann, too, rock star author that he is, was charming -- extremely down to earth, endearing everyone with his sense of humor and his self-deprecation. It was a good day after all.

I've been doing some writing, but none of it here (obviously) and little of it on my creative work, like poetry, like the verse play. One of my duties at the college is to write a blog for the union. Between the festival and my role as advisor to the literary magazine, not to mention grading and last-minute desperate class prep, I haven't even been keeping up with that like I should -- but I kind of like the last post that I wrote, for the most part. At least it's some form of writing, right?

I was fortunate to have another poem published in Stirring: A Literary Collection, but the acceptance/publication was followed fast by two rejections, and rejections from things I'd really wanted to be a part of, so it all evens out, eh? Yay for the Universe! Yaaaayyyyy . . .

My youngest child, Vampire Toddler (whose teeth are growing in really oddly -- two on the top right side of her mouth, two center bottom, and nothing else) hasn't been sleeping very well, which means that I haven't been sleeping very well, which means that nothing is really making its way back to my students (i.e. graded assignments). This is of concern because next week is the last week of school. I'd say this with some relief, except that I had to take on a 5-week summer class and that begins on May 26, and the week in between is filled with meetings. Blerg, and double blerg.

I know that the rest of the world works 12 months out of the year, but the rest of the world doesn't have to grade papers after business hours and on weekends for 10 months out of the year. So the rest of the world can suck it. (Just kidding, Rest of the World! I love you. I'm just grumpy and tired and self-pitying and envious!)

I need a nap. Or a whole series of naps sandwiched on top of one another so that they resemble a three-day long sleeping binge. Preferably outside, in a hammock, 'cause it's finally getting pretty and warm and spring-like out there.


Harumph. *Grumble grumble*

April is the worst month. It should be so spectacular and fun with National Poetry Month and all, and I'm a frenetic ball of stress. Every. damn. year.

But here's a lovely poem from Gregory Orr, who I *heart*. He's a gorgeous man, a wonderful poet.

Carry on! As you were!


My Morning Reading


A poem by Ryan Black in AGNI Online.

Another poem, by Anya Silver, in my inbox thanks to Poem-A-Day through Poets.org.

Still laying out the student magazine, barely keeping up with class prep and committee work, totally and thoroughly NOT keeping up with grading, and writing scraps here and there.

I did, however, come up with an idea yesterday for having our Eastern Campus journalism students contribute to and edit the East End Elements (student magazine) blog, which is good because I REALLY NEED ANOTHER PROJECT RIGHT ABOUT NOW.

Also, my house is a shameful depository of laundry and dog hair. Everyone's fed and at least 60% clean, though. That's something, right?


On Literary Journals, Being a Student, and the Appearance of Getting Sh** Done

One of my poems was chosen for the April edition of Stirring: A Literary Collection, guest edited by Margaret Bashaar, the editor of Hyacinth Girl Press. Shamefully, maybe, I didn't know anything about this magazine until M.B. invited me to submit a few poems to the issue she was guest editing -- and I like the journal a lot. (Not just because they chose one of my poems! Although, you know, it helps.) 

I like its approach -- it's monthly, but it doesn't publish a ton of work at once. There's just enough here to read, to ruminate on, to appreciate or dismiss -- but either way, the work printed here doesn't get lost in a sea of other pieces. While I like many of the printed, perfect-bound journals out there, many of them are on my "to read" tables (that's right, I wrote tables, the plural!). I just can't manage to move through each issue quickly. But a magazine like Stirring: A Literary Collection is easily digested in a sitting -- and can lead to more reading.

For instance, I really liked Neil Aitken's poem "Babbage, Waking Beside Georgiana, Considers the Moon, 1815."  And then I read his bio and found he's the editor of the Boxcar Poetry Review, which was another magazine I knew nothing about. And then, in the current issue of Boxcar, I found this interview with Will Schutt, who wrote Westerly (another book on the "to read" tables -- particularly because he lives down the road from me, and I thought we might ask him to come to the college and speak/read to our students).

The interview is funny/not funny. Not funny in that Will Schutt is kind and writes good answers in response to the questions he's given -- and funny in that the interviewer, Peter LaBerge, is so very young and so very cute and full of enthusiasm. God, that sounds incredibly patronizing and slightly demeaning, doesn't it? I can't help, though, that his headshot makes him look like the human equivalent of my labrador retriever. He's adorable, and his questions don't help to shake that impression.

So: This is the reading I've done in the last 24 hours, which was mostly precipitated by being published in a magazine. I fear I'm becoming more and more solipsistic. Anyway, I'm making that point simply to say that if it sounds like I'm doing so much reading, that's false. I haven't had much time for anything outside of my crazy, convoluted schedule. 

Life's not too bad, though. I managed to send off an application to Stony Brook Southampton's Summer Writer's Conference on the day of the deadline -- I have to take more graduate classes to be promoted eventually, and my strategy for taking these classes in addition to working a full time job and being a mother to three children is to take the courses during the summer months, in a compressed schedule. The workshop for which I applied is a playwriting workshop led by David Adjmi, who is a fantastic writer and a very engaging, fun instructor (I took a mini-workshop with him a couple of years ago). 

I feel all right putting myself back into the student seat when it comes to playwriting -- I really know very little about the genre. But really, I've never had too much of a problem being a student -- I like being a student: I like learning, and I like guidance. With everything going on in my life I'm too distracted to be much of a self-directed learner. I do it to some small extent, but I like being given information directly. Spoonfed, I suppose. Maybe I'm just lazy. Maybe I'm a big baby.

Speaking of babies, at work I'm currently up to my eyeballs in two pet projects: The Creative Writing Festival and the first issue of the campus literary magazine, East End Elements -- which is going to be one of those printed, perfect-bound book-like issues, but will be an immense improvement over previous issues in terms of physical/visual aesthetic. It's just going to look more professional than it has in the past, and I'm proud of that. I'm not really sure it's going to read any better than previous issues -- this is still mostly student writing -- but we're including reviews of literature and interviews with two visual artists and a memoirist. Also, we are lucky enough to use two pieces from each of the visual artists, and so the cover is going to be stunning. So, you know, yay!

Hopefully the CW Festival won't be a complete disaster this year. I feel a little disjointed, organizing it from a different campus, and being physically separated from the other organizers (who remain back on the Ammerman campus, about 20 miles away). It's been a bumpy year for the festival. But I'm so excited to have Allison Seay come to read -- she's a fantastic poet and via our phone conversations I gather that she's a lovely person. Kelly Daniels has lived a crazy, full life AND is a fantastic writer (and an old friend from the Prague Summer Program). And Colum McCann seems like a good guy, based on the articles I've read, and he's our big-deal Keynote . . . so maybe their presence will make up for any mistakes in the organization.

Anyway. Vampire baby is awake and crying, and so the day must begin. I managed to babble on for quite a while here, huh? I'll probably pay for that later, when I realize there was something else I was supposed to be doing this morning. *sigh*