What Happened Here?

As I made my way through Penn Station tonight, I saw what is pictured below:

And I couldn’t help thinking, “What happened here?” There was no one sitting or laying nearby to whom these shoes could belong. And the one stray pastel sock adds another level to the mystery. Does the sock belong with the shoe? Or were there two separate foot wear incidents in such close proximity? Questions arise.

How does one leave one’s shoes behind? And in such an orderly pose? And one sock? With those colours, could that be a child’s sock? A man’s, a woman’s with a sense of whimsy? It poses a quandary.

Naturally, my writer’s brain was quickened by the unusual sight, so much so in fact that I passed the shoes, noted them, but even though I kept moving, they squirreled into my brain, so when I got a short distance away, I went back upstairs to photograph then. What is their story? Don’t you want to know?

But you do of course. It’s in your head, and mine, and hers, and his, and theirs. So here is today’s challenge, a quest perhaps: choose your genre and tell us what happened here.

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Woolf Tomes

It is midterms week, and I am swimming in exams to grade. So by all rights, I should be grading essays right now. But, then I opened my laptop and the Google doodle announced that it is Virginia Woolf’s 136th birthday. As a fan of her work, I must write instead of grade–at least until my battery runs out.

My first direct encounter with Woolf was reading Mrs. Dalloway. I cannot remember when exactly or what made me pick it up, but I do remember that it was not assigned reading for a course. This was something I read on my own. And, I was enthralled. Clarissa, Sally, Peter, they all seemed so real to me, I felt at once as if I were at the party and part of the preparations, and that I was eavesdropping on their private thoughts. And then there were Septimus and Lucrezia, such tragedy in their story. I wanted to help Septimus get the help he needed, tell him what his time didn’t know about PTSD, I wanted to help Lucrezia understand him. And how these two seemingly disparate stories were interwoven. Woolf was keenly aware of how people do not stay in their own lane all the time, but rather messily veer off and sideswipe unsuspecting occupants of another lane.

I had read Joyce’s Ulysses in graduate school, and I recognized in Mrs. Dalloway, the precursor to Molly’s grand, twenty-page, last sentence. I loved the way Woolf had us flow in and out of Clarissa’s mind and Septimus’s. This is what brings them so vividly to life. English major/English teacher geek that I am, I read up a little on critics’ thoughts of Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway. Many regard this her most accessible novel and warn of her increasing use of stream of consciousness in To the Lighthouse, some claiming Woolf had gone too far with that one, rendering the story nearly unintelligible. And I thought, “Challenge accepted” and bought a used copy.

I don’t know what those critics were thinking. To the Lighthouse blew me away. I loved it even better than Mrs. Dalloway if that’s possible. Mrs. Ramsay, her children, her husband, Lily Briscoe, Charles Tansley, Mr. Ramsay–what a tableaux they paint of the complexity and messiness of human relationships. Yes, the stream of consciousness is further developed here, but if those critics really could not follow the story, they do not deserve the position.

I have recommended Mrs. Dalloway to my students and keep a few copies on my bookshelf. I have taught at least sections of A Room of One’s Own, always urging the girls I teach to read it all. And I ask them, “Do you agree with Woolf that all a woman needs is ‘a room of her own and five hundred a year’ to be able to write?” And they answer this with varying degrees of insight.

Tonight I am sitting in the Starbuck’s in Penn Station–a loud, busy place–writing my blog, hardly a room of my own, and the woman next to me asked, “Are you writing a paper?”

“No,” I responded, “a blog post.”

“I coudn’t imagine writing here,” she said.

But hearkening back to my earlier post, we have to take those stolen moments when we can. Would I be more productive if I had ‘a room of [my] own and five hundred a year’? I would hope so. But for now, I’ll take my stolen moments and contemplate which Woolf tome to tackle next.

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Stolen Moments

In order to stick with my New Year’s resolution,  I’ve decided that I need to take advantage of stolen moments to jot a few words down here and there because the best laid plans to scurry out early from work and sit in a cafe to write usually go awry. So today I got to Penn Station just as the 5:56 was leaving; the next train is 6:14, but if I wait just 10 more minutes for the 6:24, I can take an express train, cutting my commute from 33 minutes to 25, thereby almost making up those 10 minutes. And while I’m waiting? I’m sitting at Starbucks tip-tapping away at this post. I don’t expect to finish it before I must pack up for the train, but it is begun. A beginning is a beginning! It’s a good thing.

Sure enough, it’s a few days later, and I’m still writing this post. Over the course of this week I’ve gleaned a few moments for writing while on the subway in the morning–let me tell you, writing poetry while standing on a moving subway is an adventure–or stolen a some time from my prep period to revise another one. Now it’s Thursday, and I’m once again waiting for the train, drinking a latte, and writing away. I started this post on Monday, I’ve written a little bit every day, and I’m thinking…it’s been a good week so far.

Many writers hope to write more–finish that novel, assemble that chapbook, write 300 words a day, write for x number of hours a day, write a new poem a day, a new poem a week, finish a chapter a (insert time frame here). And for those writers who are full time writers, these are admirable goals. But many of us have to hold down “day jobs” which both drain and inspire us. As an English teacher and a poet and writer, this is especially true for me. I am a better teacher because I am a writer and a better writer because I am a teacher, but, and this is a big but, teaching leaves little personal time between September and June. So, I steal what time I can and count that as a win. I hope to get a hour or so this weekend in a block to really work on some longer form material and/or to research markets and submit, but a day with any kind of writing is still a win for me. I always carry a notebook with me, a pretty red and white cloth covered one, and there’s always the WordPress or even Word app on the phone. There’s no excuse not to take advantage of every little bit of time….

And now I steal a little bit of time from my sleep to finish this post. Use every stolen moment you can to write, and when you can’t do that, don’t forget to read!

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Handling Procrastination as a Writer: Making Writing Time Sacred

****This popped up in my inbox today, a day on which I usually set aside the afternoon for writing, but if you follow my blog, you know I sometimes have trouble keeping that appointment–like I will today due to a change in plans with friends from Tuesday to Wednesday for which I did not correspondingly set aside Tuesday afternoon for writing.

I particularly like this line:  “Remember: Writing is never about what happens, but what it feels like when something happens.” Whether used for getting over one’s procrastination or simple (?) inspiration, it’s a good line.  Wish me luck as I try to squeeze some writing time in today. Perhaps I’ll even try his exercises. ****

In this excerpt from Fearless Writing, author William Kenower shares an exercises for making your writing time sacred—and conquering procrastination.

Source: Handling Procrastination as a Writer: Making Writing Time Sacred

Cabaret City

So infrequently are you inspired

To dance with me,

But the other night

As we celebrated your birthday

At our local speakeasy,

The music moved you

And you grabbed my hand

And we danced–

A magical moment of

Love, laughter, and life.

Who knew we were

Breaking the law?

That the City That Never Sleeps

Also doesn’t dance?

Not us.  Not then. Not now.

Not 2017. But, perhaps soon,

Not any more.

Dance baby dance–

Freedom of expression,

Joy, and movement

Cannot be denied.

Prohibit the Prohibition.

Dance Footloose and fancy free

NYC.

 

 

***** Back in the end of October, I came across an article about NYC’s cabaret law which forbade dancing in bars and other establishments unless the business had a specific cabaret license, a law dating back nearly a century. Only 91 businesses in NYC of approximately 25,000 hold such a license, so if you have ever danced in a bar in NYC, you were probably breaking the law.

Here is a link to an article in The New York Times about the law and its repeal.

 

Grateful at the End of a Frustrating Day

The other morning Lionel tried to convince me to stay home. “Meow, meow,” he said “rrrmmeow.” I should have listened to him.

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Be warned: There is much grouchiness in this post.

The train was slow, so I missed my regular subway and took the next one. So far, not too bad–a couple of minutes behind schedule. But then, the third subway was crowded and late, and worst of all, I missed the announcement that it was going express. I ended up 11 blocks past my destination and had to walk back. So, instead of getting into work at 7:20, I arrived at 7:40–and I had a coverage first period. (For those of you not in the teaching profession, this means that I had to cover a class for a teacher absent today instead of having the prep period I expected.) No time for breakfast.

For the previous two days, my classroom had been boiling; the head had been pumping full force, so I dressed a little lighter: cotton top with 3/4 sleeves, long skirt, no tights. Naturally with Murphy’s law in full force, after first period there was an announcement: “There is no heat today. Students may wear non-uniform hoodies and jackets.” Great. Just Great. It was cold in there!

Luckily, though, it was a half a day with no faculty meeting following, and I had plans to meet a friend to see Da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi at Christie’s. Yes, Leonardo Da Vinci. This painting had been in private and royal collections for the past two hundred years. It was being sold that night and will probably not be seen again for another two hundred years. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And, I missed it. When we got to the auction house at 1:30, they informed us that the viewing ended at noon. So much for my attempt at buoying my creativity with a 500 year old masterpiece.

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Nevertheless, I still tried to muster some creativity. I went to a public atrium to write, but alas, there were no seats left. I trudged over to Barnes and Noble only to discover, after buying a tea that I really didn’t need but bought because I wanted to settle in at their cafe, that their wi-fi was not really working. I wanted to edit something on my Chromebook, so I needed the wi-fi to access it. UGH! I began to feel like I was wasting the day. It’s not often that I have an afternoon with neither classes, meetings, nor make-up tests and the like. And here I was traipsing from place to place, carrying a laptop, but getting nothing done.

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Annoyed and a bit aimless, I went back to the public atrium and, lo and behold, found a spot! PHEW! I popped open the Chromebook and started writing. FINALLY! And like that–WOOSH–the day was saved. So in this week of Thanksgiving, I want to publicly express my gratefulness for words-words on the screen, words on the page, words typed by my hands, words inked by my pen, words shared by others, words by the greats, and words by the small.  Let me remember to let writing, and reading, take me away from the grouchiness of the world when the best laid plans lead me to one obstacle and then another. Let me read my way to another reality, and write my way out of a funk. Thank you. Word.

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#WhyIWrite

Today is #NationalDayonWriting, and it has been a whirlwind, hectic day, with paper everywhere, pens scratching, and keys clicking, which means it has been a very good writing day. I celebrated with my students, doing writing activities in all my classes, including a “Tweet” board in the alcove outside my classroom for students to post #WhyIWrite messages.

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Though many were hesitant at first about the assignments, they tried, and succeeded! The sophomores are well on their way to creating detailed descriptive paragraphs about the view from their windows. The juniors are crafting beautiful poetry about a treasured object or love (or as it seems, love gone wrong). And the seniors are are producing academic prose–a mini-research paper on Pygmalion by the Brit Lit group and an analytical essay on symbolism in “The Japanese Quince” by the AP group.

In Brit Lit, we read some critical excerpts yesterday and took notes, so today, the students were asked to bring in one article from a specific database on their chosen topics. Then I walked them through the process of taking notes from an academic article. As they continued on their own articles, I walked around the room offering help and encouragement where I could. Then one student asked me, “When are we going to write this paper?” I said, “We’re doing it now, aren’t we?” Yes, writing is a process. Yes, it’s worth it. Yes, I think they’re getting it. 🤞

The only thing I was not able to do with my students was write with them today, but I could at least talk to them about what I am writing. When one student apologized for her poem being long (maybe a dozen lines), I told her not to worry; I had written a poem this week that went on for two typed pages.

And then I had a prep period which I used to put some finishing touches on said poem and submit it. 🤞

On the way home, I tweeted about #WhyIWrite: “Fueled by coffee and imagination, I can go anywhere, be anyone, anytime, including myself, now.” But that tweet only covers a part of it. Writing rejuvenates me, frustrates me, engrosses me, and exhilarates me. I write to live. I write to communicate. I write to teach, and I write to learn. I write to understand and to be understood. I write because in the beginning was the Word. Writing is in my soul.  

Wishing you a happy National Day on Writing, and many more happy writing days to come!

PUBLICATION: New Verse News

I am proud to announce publication of my poem “Hacking Entertainment” which describes the divisive qualities of hacking as well as comments on how we take television more seriously than national security. It is featured in New Verse News today.  Click through and check it out!

Revision

Today’s task is revision. There is a personal essay I’ve written and revised which has not been able to find a home, but I still believe in the message, so I must work on the medium. It’s time to revise again before hurling that bottle back out into the ocean.

And so, with that in mind, I find myself a quiet corner and a cup of coffee and open my laptop. Logging into my Google Drive, the Quick Access panel at the top of the page displays thumbnails of four files, one of which is captioned “You edited this week.” Two others are labelled “You edited this month.” The fourth, which actually appears as the third thumbnail, is blazoned with “You edited at some point.” For some reason (and at some point), that makes me laugh.

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Is this a sign of encouragement or accusation? Should I be glad that the file was in fact edited at some vague point in the past, or should I feel guilty that I have neglected it for, well who knows how long, but at least more than a month? What is Google’s purpose here? Its motivation? Maybe it’s passive-aggressive; “you worked on this once, what happened? It’s been a while, you know, and you need to do a bit more. I mean, it’s been so long that even I, the Great Google, cannot remember when you last opened this file.” Then again, maybe it isn’t passive-aggressive; maybe Google is like, “Yeah! You did some work on this! Isn’t that great! Pat yourself on the back.” I cannot decide on the tone.

Whatever it is, I cannot help but think of my friend Gerri’s blog, Grammarian in the City, on which she makes snarky remarks about signs seen around NYC. If this comment on my revision schedule were posted on a building, I’m sure she’d have something to say about it!

In the meantime, I’ll get back to my revisions “at some point” and hope Google approves.

No, No, No

Today was a banner day. I received not one, not two, but three rejections. Rather disheartening, especially for the short story that was only submitted four days ago. Rejection form letters, or as it’s done these days emails, assure us writers that each and every submission is read completely and with care, yet when a nearly 2,700 word story returns so quickly, one cannot help but wonder. And become dejected.

I received two of the rejections while I was still at art school this afternoon, but I kept the news to myself. One rejection was, dare I say it, expected. Each week Rattle publishes a poem based on that week’s news. I sometimes submit but have yet to be published there. Writing on the week’s news is an interesting exercise. The news these days certainly provides much fodder for contemplation and reaction. Yet, writing quickly for a weekly, Friday night deadline is tough. Sometimes, the poem is a bit raw. This week’s poem has promise but was not quite ready–particularly in finding a title. I was not surprised, yet still disappointed.

The second rejection was harder. It was another poem that had originally been written for Rattle’s Poet’s Respond, but this one was a week or so old, and therefore, I have had time to do some revising. I think it is a good poem. But, alas, this site I sent it to, only four days ago has (foolishly, in my opinion) decided it is not for them. This was disheartening for me because I debated with myself at length whether or not to even submit to this market as it is a non-paying market. Usually, I don’t submit to non-paying markets; if I’m not going to be paid for my poetry, I’ll publish it here. Yet, this particular site notes on their “About” page that the editors are volunteers. That swayed my opinion towards giving them a shot.

Then, there was the third rejection, the short story. As I was driving home, my phone chimed that a new message came in, but, of course, I did not look at it. Yet, then once I parked, I called my husband to help me with the packages, and while I waited for him, I succumbed to opening the email. Dismay.

I cannot say that I did not get discouraged. I did. For a fleeting moment, I thought, why do I do it? But that moment passed, and I got back on the horse, as they say. This evening, I did some revising and then sent out three new submissions: the short story, the poem from this week’s Poet’s Respond, and other poems. Back to crossing my fingers and wishing on a star. Send your good thoughts my way, and to my prospective editors!!

And now to a new story…

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