mimsy and outgrabe //

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



I have a different blog post to write (for my union) and a gazillion papers & assignments to grade and a very disordered house to put in order and clean before my mother visits at the end of this weekend, but I felt the need to check in here. I've been sending my manuscript to a slew of publishers and first-book contests this week, and there's something about continually posting a bio that states you keep "a record of [your] writing life, experience in academia, and motherhood" on a blog that makes you think, "oh, maybe I should actually DO that."

Also, when it comes down to it, I blog more for my own sanity and catharsis than I do for another lame line in my bio. Of course, since I haven't written here for a month you can probably gauge pretty accurately where my sanity's at.

This weekend we're throwing a co-ed baby shower for my brother-in-law and my sister, who's pregnant with my first nephew (another boy in the family!), and because it's in Brooklyn it involves last-minute cake-and-favors shopping and travel and overnight stays with children in an AirBnB and coordinating an event in a bar (and hoping no one notices or minds all the children). I'm exhausted just thinking about it, but I think that in the end it will be fun and worth the trouble. (Fingers crossed, nonetheless.)

This should be the last big event for a while, though, which means that maybe, MAYBE, (maybe), I'll catch up on the grading and then begin to write in earnest again. Things have been crazy between AWP, the creative writing festival at Stuffolk, planning/organizing the baby shower, and, you know, raising three little blonde people in fucking suburbia.

The summer looks busy, though. Some necessary things, some fun things. A balance of work, writing, family. Applying for promotion. Teaching a summer class (maybe, if we get enough students for it to run). Taking a summer class (playwriting, maybe, if I get in -- I'm still waiting to hear). Some leadership seminar nonsense for work at the end of July. Camping in West Virginia at the Appalachian String Band Festival. And another baby shower for another pregnant sister! (My parents' heads are whirling -- they'll have so many grandchildren by the end of the year!)

Inkbrick: Poetry Comics, people!
So. I suppose I shall leave the blog with this news: I READ A BOOK, PEOPLE. A BOOK OF POETRY. And it was awesome -- both the book itself and the act of reading. No, wait, I READ TWO BOOKS. I read The Big Book of Exit Strategies by Jamaal May and Serena, a novel, by Ron Rash (which I began in *cough* January). May's collection of poems is really, really, good -- it was my first introduction to his work and I loved it. Also, and MAYBE this influenced my opinion, but I met him briefly at AWP where he was selling chapbooks for the press he runs with Tarfia Faizullah (Organic Weapon Arts) and they were both charming and lovely and kind. They were having problems with the wifi and their ability to run cards (because I was the chump without cash at that point), and they said I could have a free book . . . but I came back later with the money because, you know, integrity. And kindness. And supporting small presses.

ALSO, I should confess I was one of those people who packed an extra carry-on bag for books from the book fair. My husband watched me fill it with a sort of bemused resignation. I am a book hoarder. I only finished May's book because I read most of it on the plane on the way home. Some day, probably when I'm retired, I will finally read all of these wonderful books.


Spring Break!

Okay, so that resolution to keep up with the blog was a bunch of crap. Basically, I was just waving a red flag in the face of fate when I wrote my last post, because it was followed almost immediately by a wave of child illness and job/family care juggling that took almost all focus away from my writing . . . apart from a brief two or three day stint where I wrote like a madwoman in an attempt to put together an NEA grant application. 

My frantic attempt to submit the NEA application was more of an excuse to focus exclusively on my play, though. I would really, really like to have this rewrite of the first act complete by the end of the semester. I'm not particularly sure how that's supposed to happen with the CW Festival occurring in April and more applications due (for next year's conferences and -- deep breath -- for promotion to full professor); but it's my goal, at the very least.
Check out this fabulous "spring" weather!

In order to get back to serious work on the play, though, I have to do some serious grading. Luckily, it's Spring Recess for the college and so I have some time to catch up . . . IF I can use the time wisely. So far I've managed to accomplish a couple of really good outdoor runs (yes, I'm running again, semi-regularly); paid an obscene amount of money to have my behemoth of an SUV fixed and fine-tuned and returned to dependable working order; returned obscenely late library books to our community library; BEGUN TO READ AN ACTUAL NOVEL I'M NOT ACTUALLY TEACHING FOR CLASS; answered some questions for an online interview with a publisher's blog; finished a pottery project that I began back in September when I foolishly thought I'd have free time this academic year; and thought (thought) about what I need to do to get my unholy mess of a house in order.

Things I haven't done: Grade. Work on the play. Actually clean the unholy mess of a house. 

Two out of those three things MUST be done in the next two days, as I have family coming to visit for the first time in forever this weekend. I anticipate getting some grading done on the train later today because I'm taking one of my rare jaunts into the city to have lunch with the fabulous Miss C.; and then later, I'll have dinner with my sister before going to BOMB magazine's 35th anniversary reading in Brooklyn, where Kate Zambreno is featured. (Yay! Can't wait to hear her read). Then, hopefully, there will be a whole lot of cleaning and grading happening tomorrow and Friday.

Thank god for Spring Recess. I mean, in some ways I find it a stupid and silly tradition; and yet it's remarkable how much I feel like I NEED it, desperately, by the time it rolls around.


Back to the Blog // Back to Reality

I'm going to begin my blog again as a companion to the writing and submitting work I am kind-of sort-of doing right now  ... in an effort to move me out of the kind-of sort-of zone and more solidly into the definitely-and-making-lots-of-progress zone.  Because my writing life is some kind of pie chart or line graph, obv.

In January I mapped out a plan for revising the first act of my verse play and moving -- finally -- into Act II. That original map has itself been revised over the past few weeks. This is a result of that "kind-of sort-of" progress: painstakingly slow, but happening, nonetheless. I'm adding new scenes about five lines at a time (i.e. five lines per day, when those days of writing occur). It's a rather pathetic pace, I know, but at this point I'm encouraged that I have a pace. 

Frankly, sometimes I'm amazed that I have a pulse, let alone a pace.

Work feels less intrusive to my writing time than it did last semester. I wrote so seldomly; teaching one class extra over the course of a semester -- and only a credit's-worth extra, because it was a team-taught class -- still kicked my ass. It was a fairly wonderful and transformative teaching experience -- an honors seminar on Gender, Bodies, and Identity -- but it didn't help me generate work, that's for sure. 

I didn't submit much work over last semester either. Not writing new poems will do that for you -- you can't submit work if you don't have work to submit. 

Actually, that's not exactly true. I have a couple of new poems. See, over the summer I had some interest from a small independent publisher in my full-length manuscript. He requested that I write more "sow" poems, to make the first section of the MS different from my chapbook, and that I think of a different title for the MS (because he felt that Fabulous Beast: The Sow and Fabulous Beast were too close and would create confusion with readers). 

Good news, right? I mean, someone actually wanted to publish my book! And this coming off of that rejection in the spring that laid me kinda low with its criticism (that I asked for, just to be clear). 

The request for the new title and the additional sow poems made me really, really apprehensive, however. It was really difficult to move myself out of the play and back into those sow poems. I tried to be a good sport, though, and diligently made attempts to create new parts of that narrative -- to fill in the gaps. My fears -- that I'd be writing the same exact poems over again, but in a slightly altered voice -- were valid: I threw away a handful of lame/uninspired attempts where I was just repeating myself unnecessarily. But I came through the fall with about four new poems to add to the fable -- not TOO shabby, but no great shakes, either. 

I spent January editing them a little -- shared them with A.P. and S.M. in a little workshop, received some helpful feedback -- and placed them within the MS. I was feeling optimistic about the publication in the book, more than I had been in months. I even started looking for artwork for the cover -- I have a definite idea that the cover should be closely associated with folk art or reminiscent of folk art, since this MS is a commentary on traditional literature like folk tales, fairy tales, myths, and fables.

And then I received a message from the publisher that he was closing down his press.

So . . . if I'm looking for silver linings, I can say that at least now I have more poems and a more fully-developed (and hopefully stronger) manuscript. Also, I won't have to change the title of the MS -- unless another publisher has similar reservations. But . . .  damnit. I practically pep-talked myself into writing those new poems, and that time could have been spent on my play, which AS ANY REGULAR READER OF THIS BLOG KNOWS has taken nearly a decade to write. Also, in those autumn months there were a slew of book contests and open reading submission periods to which I could have submitted this MS, but I didn't because I felt I should be loyal to the publisher who showed an active interest in my work. So missed opportunities for both writing and submissions.

I'm not actually holding any of this against the publisher -- I understand how much work a press takes to run (I've worked on enough publications to know this) and it's really difficult to balance having a life and maintaining a press, especially if you have to work a full-time job in addition to running your company. HOWEVER. Disappointment all the same, you know? I feel like fate is kind of kicking me in the ass. Or maybe this is hubris -- maybe I was thinking a little too much of myself and my MS and its place in the world?

So now I'm back to where I was before, but definitely more deflated. I mean, I've already submitted the MS to a couple of places since I received the news, but it feels . . . I don't know. Half-hearted and obligatory? It's not that I'm unenthusiastic about the presses I just submitted to . . . it's that the odds seem stacked against me. 

Not that they were in my favor six months ago. Maybe it's just the winter doldrums. Currently, we're surrounded by more snow, and I just spent the past 24 hours locked away in my house with my children. There's a two hour delay this morning, too. MY KIDS LOVE ME RIGHT NOW. I AM IN NO WAY CRANKY AND OUT OF SORTS.


The Ghost of Poems Past

Yesterday I received the coolest email from a couple in New Jersey, fellow participants in that Poetry Postcard Project Little Miss Talkalot and I participated in back in August 2013. They were on the receiving end of one of her postcards (you can see it and read the poem here) and they wanted permission to reprint the poem along with a photo of a windmill from their backyard on their Christmas card this year. Also, they needed to know Little Miss Talkalot's actual name, because I don't believe she wrote a byline on this particular postcard.

I was only able to talk about it with her last night right before she went to bed, after an entire evening of shuttling back and forth between our house and the middle of town -- first, violin lesson drop off and pick up, and then a late-night (7:30!) trip to the school offices where she gave a report from her Student Council to the PTA members. The little girl is turning into her mama -- meetings up the wazoo, involvement in absolutely everything. Poor thing. 

I'm swamped -- swamped -- by grading and meeting bullsh** right now, and not particularly thrilled with it. On the plus side, I've just begun my section of the Gender, Bodies, and Identity course that I'm team-teaching with a visual arts colleague and a sociology colleague, and it's fun and inspiring and *almost* makes up for the terrible power-struggle nonsense that's occurring in one of the committees I'm on. There's an undercurrent of anti-union sentiment that keeps me involved and attentive, but really I'd rather stick a screwdriver into my ear than listen to a bunch of people posture and exclaim without actually listening to what the other side has to say. 

Anyway. It's Veteran's Day and classes are cancelled at the college, but I still have a ton of work to do -- so I'm going to get to it. Or attempt to get to it -- Vampire Toddler has been waking up earlier and earlier since the time change which means my sacred morning writing time (which has become more like sacred morning grading time since the end of September) is less and less sacred. 

*Le sigh* 


This Week: Published Poems and a Poetry Video (Not too shabby!)

Two things, my lovelies, and then I have to take Vampire Toddler to the doctor for a Mystery Rash. AND find someone to cover for me at work today. My life is nothing if not exciting.


The fall 2015 issue of the online publication Menacing Hedge was released on Sunday, October 11. It includes five chapters of my fairy tale poem as well as three of the "conversation" poems that interrupt the narrative between chapters. Kelly Boyker is an amazingly generous editor and I'm thrilled that the staff gave my poem so much space in their magazine. It's really gratifying to see this work out in the world, too. I'm still making my way through the rest of the work in the issue, but I'm quite in love with the conversation between Sarah B. Boyle and Sonya Vatomsky right now. It reminds me of the "interviews" in BOMB magazine, which I've loved since my undergrad days: two artists speaking with one another, people who are more or less sympatico. (Not a journalist with minimal background knowledge asking one-way questions of a "star" artist. A real conversation about the making of art between people who make art.)

My little starlets (and Vampire Toddler) at the "screening"
ALSO out in the world this week is the poetry video I made with my colleague Paul Turano, "But Mama, Why Do We Remember?" It's made from a poem that was published in So To Speak this spring, and it is one of the "conversation" poems I mentioned above -- it interrupts the fairy tale in my full-length manuscript. At the talk I gave at the college alongside A. this week (Wednesday), I said that this poetry video falls short of what I wished I'd been able to do, which is create a video poem -- something that feels necessary to the medium and whole and complete and the result of a singular vision. Right now, it's kind of just like those music videos on MTV back when MTV actually played music videos: A visual representation of the song. (Btw, does ANYONE play music videos anymore, aside from YouTube?) Even still, it was a lot of fun to do something different, and to do something collaborative, even if P. was sick of me showing up at his door or over email with "one more request." Also, Little Miss Talkalot and The Boy star in the video, and they were allowed to play truant from school and attend the talk and see the debut/premiere of the video, so that makes the video particularly dear to me, even if it didn't turn out exactly the way I'd hoped!

And now I leave you with some pictures of my dogs:
They want me to stop this writing nonsense and feed them.

Happy Friday, peeps!


Good News: I'm Still Here! Oh, and Publication News too ...

Yesterday I received a phone call from my one and only C.C., and she reminded me that I'm disappearing into work again and forgetting about other important facets of my life. (Oddly enough, though, yesterday morning -- well before the phone call -- I worked on a poem, and that was something I hadn't done for weeks. Yesterday something in the stars must have shifted and the universe was shouting, "Hey stupid! Wake up and do something else with your time!)
Thanks, Fjords Review!

I mean, I *have* been doing something else with my time, but it's mainly involved the kiddies. Now that school is back in session for them, too, we're all sorts of busy as a family. There's a lot of negotiating between different activities and attempts to get small people to places without losing one of them or what's left of my mind. It hasn't been a bad couple of weeks, just very very active.

I'm trying to stay on top of things, and remember that most of the time I'm trying to squeeze a 40+ hour work week into about 30 hours of office time. That means I have to try to get the other 10+ hours in where I can, and sometimes that means elbowing my writing time out of the way. 

I don't like ignoring my writing, but I think I'm beginning to learn it's sometimes necessary for my sanity. I have to compartmentalize and use these morning hours for grading or prep or emails if I can't get that shit done later in the day . . . and I suspect I'll get my writing time back in October, when a lot of my duties for the union will be slowing down/coming to an end, and I can use office time for grading/class prep/email.

Anyway, not to bore you all with the minutiae of my workweek. Instead, I'll leave you with a link to Fjord's online Women's Edition. The guest editors chose one of my fairy tale poems (it's actually two poems from my manuscript under one title that gives both context) and one of my myth poems. I'm pretty pleased, even though there was a snafu on their part and I'd actually withdrawn those fairy tale poems because Menacing Hedge wanted to publish them. (It worked out, because the editor of Menacing Hedge is wonderful and understands this stuff happens and will still publish them, with Chapters 1-5 of the fairy tale, in their fall edition.) (Oh, more than one snafu -- they also published my name as "Sarah Gutowski" and not "Sarah Kain Gutowski" -- which shouldn't be that big a deal, but c'mon, people -- I'm trying to keep my maiden name alive, peeps. Throw a girl a bone.)
Anyway, stuff like this makes it look like I'm still writing, but the truth is that this material was written almost five years ago. Ultimately, I am looking forward to elbowing the committee work out of the way and getting back to writing poems . . . if the muse hasn't left me entirely by the time I'm ready to sit down and get to business.


Mad Preparation for Fallpocalypse (Teaching in the New Semester)

This past week has been devoted almost entirely to preparation for the new semester of classes and committee work, with little writing. But SOME writing. Just not enough. And then some (maybe too much) following on Facebook and Twitter this insane shit-storm surrounding AWP and its conference proposal selection processes. And I'm lurking where that's concerned, listening, not participating, but it's still kind of exhausting.

I'm looking forward to finishing the prep for classes, which I've been doing with a kind of head-down, stubborn relentlessness. I've been trying to put all of my prompts for in-class writing, and quizzes, and essays up on the Blackboard course spaces so that I can, more or less, be ultra-prepared in the classroom instead of -- as happens quite frequently -- arriving at the classroom only to realize the quiz or the handout I wanted to distribute is back in my office. Also, there have been semesters where I've begun teaching a class without schedules of assignments already determined and those semesters are usually the worst. I end up confused and angry at myself and frustrated . . . and, well, I'd kind of like to avoid that if possible.

I realize that these kinds of admissions make teaching, even at the college level, sound horribly formulaic with little room for improvisation. Also, all of the summer fun and freedom that I experienced with my family -- going to the beach, staying up too late to read, watching movies -- appears to have disappeared! But I find that I'm quite comfortable ditching the formula and doing spontaneous things in the classroom if I have the safety net of the well-laid plan beneath me, and my hope is that I can spend less time prepping in the office this semester and more time grading in the office, which in turn will give me more time to write when I'm at home (not to mention keeping up with normal life things, like kids and laundry and dishes). (Wow, my life sounds SUPER AWESOME the more I write this post!)

Also, I've been putting in half-days in August, using mornings to work on course prep and this online class about online teaching (yes, that's a thing) and getting a jump on this semester's committee tasks, and then hanging out with the kiddos and returning to Project Fix the Fucking House in the afternoons. It hasn't been filled with the trips to the beach or the marathon reading sessions that we did in July, which makes me really miss July, but I'm hoping that this pragmatic approach to beginning the new semester will pay off. I recognize that it's some of the same-old same-old, the "this year will be different!" mantra most academics whisper under their breath as they plan out their classes -- but I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that these changes and preparations are truly holistic and meaningful and not just Band-Aids covering bigger, deeper problems in my methods and practices.

HA! The idea of me even HAVING methods and practices is kinda amusing. I feel like so much of my teaching career has been flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. Probably because I never really thought I'd be a teacher.

I DID always think I'd be a writer, though. And so I guess this month's preparations, and this post, is about getting all of the professor-related tasks and nonsense as streamlined and cookie-cutter as possible so that I can spend real, substantial time being a writer this fall -- instead of leaving it to a couple of months every year that may or may not be fruitful. (And this summer was not as fruitful as I'd hoped it would be. But that will have to wait for another post . . . Stay tuned, dear readers! More whining will be coming your way! *facepalm*)