mimsy and outgrabe //

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


Not Waving But Drowning

Is this not the most apt phrase ever? Maybe Stevie Smith wrote the ultimate poem. I feel like this every time someone says hi to me in the hallway at this time of year . . . 
Other Person: Hey, how's it going?
Me: (Suuuper chipper) Oh, good! Fine! How are you? (Prolonged, tinny, nervous laughter)
I might be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Actually, I know that I'm not -- I don't think people who are about to have a nervous breakdown are conscious of the fact. I'm just in the weeds. Major f*****g weeds. 

Anyway, I received an acceptance for a poem from the fairy tale part of my manuscript this week, which marks the first time ANY poem from that part of the book will see the light of day, so I thought it worth posting here (and it gave me the excuse to take a break from the months-long backlog of grading I'm doing).

The poem will appear in So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, Spring 2015. Yay!

I needed the good news. And I was all like, "this makes up for everything!" when I received the email while waiting for my kids to get off the bus. And then they got off the bus, and Little Miss Talkalot had a face like a thundercloud because of GIRL DRAMA and The Boy proceeded to spill his Pokemon cards all over the floor of the car which precipitated an epic melt down . . . and then I was all like, "NOPE! HAHAHAHAHAHA." And then I wept into the steering wheel while the children looked on in confusion.

Just kidding! Kind of. There was no weeping, but I do think I banged my head against the steering wheel in frustration. And I don't think the kids noticed, because . . . well, GIRL DRAMA and SPILT POKEMON CARDS.

Happy Wednesday, ya'll.


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.