Reading Scary Stuff

I’ve been thinking about scary stories and my reluctance to read them. My fear relates to seeing years ago the movie What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. I was on a first date and just when the movie got intense, the guy I was with disappeared into the men’s room and left me alone in the dark theater with danger on the screen. First and last date, and I still don’t go to many movies. The last one was, I think, The Hundred Foot Journey in 2014. I’ve tried twice now to read Ken Follett’s World Without End, but the opening chapter involves a little girl in danger and I squirm and slam the tome shut. Sorry, Mr. Follett.

Yet, when I look at the book covers posted on various sites, I know I’m out of touch with what’s hot in fiction–murder, mayhem, betrayal and Armageddon. Not my idea of a good read. And yet–yet–I read scary non-fiction that other people won’t touch. Recently I posted a short list of climate-related books on my author FB page and people ran screaming into the night, I guess. Only one of my readers admitted noticing. We can keep the danger in fiction at a safe remove, but science–which is not fake–hits too hard. Scrapes us raw and we retreat into fairy tales. I do that too, but we have to break this habit. Climate fiction helps, some. But sooner, rather than too late, we have to consider the results of our ignorance and our guilt over what we’ve done to the earth and what it will, in return, do to us.

Chunk Reality

Reading Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within, I took her advice and “fell in love” with the first thing I saw when I looked up from the book. Well, shoot, what I saw was my own foot in a black sandal, propped on the corner of the coffee table. Really, Kim? My own foot? Okay, I’ll try. And I glanced at her list of “new words,” another recommendation. Ah, pollex and hallux, meaning thumb and big toe. Okay, I have two big toes. This has to go somewhere.

And it did, other than misspelling pollex, I dove in and came up for air an hour or so later, having landed a good sized poem. Addonizio’s advice isn’t exactly new to me. I’ve long admired “thing” poems that showcase the tangible world and find meaning there. The prompt worked because it brought me close to one thing and its parts. The process is called chunking.

I am relearning this. The world is way to big for my small brain and worried heart. Otherwise, going forward I see so many issues to track that I shut down, concentrate on jigsaw puzzles or crosswords. But shutting down is not a wise option. So I am learning to chunk the worry, pick one issue and pay attention, see if I can help relieve my angst and make a difference, however small, in the chaos that is civilization.

Writing witness poems and stories in our age of political fragmentation, I cannot continue to practice scatter-shot activism. For me, the key issue is climate change. True, it has a thousand moving parts, but it supersedes so much else. If I can’t breathe, I can’t vote. If I don’t vote . . . well, that’s just not an option. Writers can, must, respond to the world as it is. Else what good are we?

#KimAddonizio #ThingPoems

Creative Reading

I’m deep into Azar Nafisi’s The Republic of Imagination, in which she mentions “Creative Reading.” Google explains: “CREATIVE READING IS DEFINED AS READING FOR IMPLIED AND INFERRED MEANINGS, APPRECIATIVE REACTIONS, AND CRITICAL EVALUATION. THE ACT OF CRITICAL READING GOES BEYOND LITERAL COMPREHENSION TO DEMAND THAT THE READER PRODUCE FRESH, ORIGINAL IDEAS NOT EXPLICITLY STATED IN THE READING MATERIAL.” https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED020090

The concept challenges me to forego my habit of reading like a writer–attending to craft, structure, bits and bobs of language. If I shift my focus, squint a little, I think I could start by admitting that I have expectations when I open a book: I’ll be entertained, I’ll learn something, I’ll be awed by the writing, I’ll be distracted from the ugly national/international/climate news.

And I have different expectations that spring from the general category of the material. For instance, opening poet Ada Limon’s The Carrying, I looked forward to insights into another woman’s private world that I could not access otherwise. Limon does not disappoint. No lack of “appreciative reactions” there.

Reading Nafisi, though, I am deluged with ideas. Not unusual in reading nonfiction. Of course, I’ve yet to “produce fresh, original ideas not explicitly stated in the reading material.” There’s already so much in Nafisi’s prose that I haven’t yet found space for my own ideas. But what she gives me is valuable, and I am challenged to go beyond “literal comprehension.”

Nafisi has dared me to set aside my familiar ways of reading and to widen my view. I’ve been reading since I was four years old. About time for a new approach, eh?

#CreativeReading #AdaLimon #AzarNafisi

Talk, Talk, Talk

Lately, it seems I talk a lot. Possibly, more than is helpful. On Sunday I talked to a group of people about poetry. They were all adults (Kids and poetry startle me, like giving them too much sugar, so they get squirrely). We talked about the essential concerns I see in writing poems. Like getting caught up in technique and missing the creativity. Thinking that there is one kind of poetry, a basket word if I ever heard one. Generic, like music or food or weather. Better to speak of specifics. Poetry might mean sonnets or it might mean rap, slam, language poetry, prose poems or haiku.  It includes the many years old Gilgamesh, Illiad, Odyssey, as well as the latest thing on Instagram.

This coming weekend, I’m engaged to talk to poets about self-publishing. I’ve got my list of salient points and a tote bag full of books, from my first independently published chapbooks to the latest volumes I’ve created for friends. I’ve got my list of does and don’ts. And several handouts from online outfits that will do the work for you, for a price.

In the meantime, I’m reading Robert Darnton’s Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature. And so far, I’m gobsmacked to realize that I live in a time and place that allows me to publish my own books and to help others do the same. The book police won’t  throw me into the Bastille. (Yes, that happened in France in the eighteenth century.) Self publishing is not a lucrative endeavor, although it seems to have been in Paris where illegal books slipped past the censors and the tax men. Darnton knows a lot about clandestine printing, selling, and suffering for books.

Yes, I too suffer for books, but in my own private way–what to put in, what to leave out, how to say something that might last the night.

#SelfPublishing #Censorship

Read As If Your Life Depended On It

In 1996 Carl Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World listed climate issues as one of the concerns facing the world. Two-plus decades later we have begun see in the news a heightened awareness of the danger of ignoring this most vital issue. Despite the deniers, more and more often, clear evidence rattles me and I must pay attention to the damage we have caused through ignorance, greed, despair. I started producing poetry and fiction to highlight climate change and degradation. I hoped–still do–that people who don’t read science might read creative approaches to our looming, gloomy future.

In the commercial publishing world where my books compete to entertain and inform, I often despair, but keep pushing ahead. Give myself a dope slap and try again to write something that matters. I’ve published on this blog reading lists related to climate, and now I’m making another attempt to spread the word. I’ve just revised the pricing on two Kindle offerings. Both Accidental Child and Providence are now 99 cents. The first narrative takes place in a future nearly devoid of potable water; the second is one in which sea level rise threatens one of our earliest cities, the one where I was born and later educated.

Read climate fiction, also eco-fiction and suggest that others do the same. It’s an important step toward understanding our future. And thanks.

#CarlSagan #ClimateCultures.net #Eco-fiction #ClimateFiction

At the Mercy of Books

The New Yorker cover for June 10 & 17, 2019 features a cartoon by Bruce Eric Kaplan, “Bedtime Stories.” A couple in their bed, horrified,  on each side of the bed a stack of books on the nightstand. The books reach high over their heads, daunting, frightening, ominous. I can relate.

When I moved from the East Coast to Colorado, I had divested myself of all my books, TADA! What freedom. I drove west with my dog and two suitcases. I had sold, given away, given back a solid wall of words. Life pared down to simplicity.

But … once I nestled in the shadow of the Rockies, the books crept back, bookish bipeds, and they arranged for the installation of shelving in my office and the delivery of two heirloom barrister bookcases. And they arranged to buy the rough-stone bookends on the shelf behind me where an olio of little books reside, saucy, smug. Then there are boxes of the books I’ve written. I can’t be blamed for keeping extra copies of my own work, now, can I? Well, maybe, but your sneers don’t scare me.

Yesterday my friend Cyndeth and I visited half a dozen or so “little libraries”–those urban sidewalk cupboards meant for the sharing of books. Take a book, leave a book. We left several in each box, took none. So now I have one last bag of books to deliver to the donation bin. Take that, you sneaky tomes, smug paperbacks, darling little anthologies. I’m through hoarding books. Yes, really … I am.

#BedtimeStories #BookHoarding

Poems Behave Like Feral Cats

If I dwell on my list of poem titles, I break out in a cold sweat. What am I going to do with all of these poems? Then I take a deep breath and the word SUBMIT appears over my head, a cartoon light bulb. If I believe that writers must share their gifts–and I do–then merely feeding fat three-ring binders on the shelf in my office is wrong. As I’ve been reminded often, no one will ring the doorbell and beg to read my work. More likely that bell tolls for Amazon, FedEx or UPS.

How then to share via the submission process? In our digital world I use a lot of sites/apps/devices. The cost of submitting digitally is about what it would cost in postage, paper copies and manilla  envelopes. And I know that the cloud is not a fluffy freebie. It‘s a huge bank of energy gobbling computers in some remote building, maybe a used missile silo. I don’t really know where my Dropbox is. To me it’s a cute little icon at the top of my screen. Also important to me are Duotrope, Submittable, Word 365, Numbers, my aging Mac Mini, Acer monitor, Logitech keyboard, and Epson printer. So much hardware and software to manage. But it must be doable because I do it.

Once I’ve written several drafts of a poem, it often goes to one of two critique groups, is revised and then added to a Dropbox file “Poems,” and a print copy tucked into a binder, alpha via title. The title alone appears on a six-page spreadsheet (yeah, that’s about 200 individual poems) that shows me if a particular piece is in submission or waiting to venture out. One column also tells me where a poem has already been rejected. No use annoying editors who have already wished me luck elsewhere. Then there’s the red submissions binder where I keep an alpha sort of markets that I routinely contact and a print copy of the spreadsheet (remember, my hardware is aging faster than I am and will one day fail). Once an editor says “HELL YEAH” I eliminate the data on the spreadsheet and note the acceptance on the paper copy in the binder! Whew, I’m tired just trying to explain this, but it works, mostly.

When I finished my MFA, a faculty advisor urged us all to apply for an NEA grant every year until we got one. When would I find time for that? More importantly, that sort of po-biz holds little interest for me. Over the years I’ve been happy to be part of a loosely connected community of writers and that is itself my preferred station in this literary life.

#WritingLife #SubmissionsManagement

Climate Fiction, aka Eco-Fiction

What follows is a tiny sample of fiction that addresses the effects of climate change. And the list grows daily, a reflection of concern among writers. For those who do not or will not read scientific and other non-fiction sources of information about what’s happening to our planet and the life that depends on it. Giving a particular name and face to those who suffer may just reach readers of the fiction persuasion.

Some of these writers have shelf space in my special collection, some are new to me. I welcome suggestions and responses.

Atwood, Margaret. Madd Addam–a writer who needs no introduction; but if you missed her (how could you?), get informed

Bacigalupi, Paolo. Wind Up Girl

Ballard, J. G. The Drowned World

Crichton, Michael. State of Fear

Douglass, Karen. Accidental Child; Providence–it’s me

Halvorssen, Anita. The Dirty Network–a debut novel by a devoted legal eagle

Hiaasen, Carl. Razor Girl –only one of many zany stories about what’s eating at Florida

Kingsolver, Barbara. Flight Behavior–butterflies go free

Kraub, Daniel. From Here

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road–very dramatic and downright scary

McEwan, Ian. Solar

Miller, Walter M. A Canticle for Leibowitz–a classic set in the far future

Rich, Nathaniel. Odds Against Tomorrow

For a more complete list, see Jim Dwyer’s Where the Wild Books Are: A Field Guide to Eco-Fiction (University of Nevada Press, 2010).