Friday, October 30, 2015

Inspiration Part 2

Each Wednesday morning for the month of October, I've been dancing. And on Friday, I'm going to perform on the steps of City Hall for the whole world to see.

Yep. I'm going to be in a Flash Mob. This one is planned, but there are others that will just pop up around the French Quarter. And because it's Halloween, we're performing Is It Scary and Thriller (as well as Beat It and Burn It Up).

In the video--this one's from last year--you can see that the leader/instructor, Kenneth "Kynt" Bryan, really resembles Michael Jackson and can do his moves--as well as Janet's--beautifully. He's also a trained ballet dancer and an instructor at Loyola University. 

I got involved through our local rec department, which was offering free classes. Learn Thriller? Yes, please!

I'm hoping that by next week, I'll have a video like this with me in it! (I'll be the zombie in slippers. Because I'm like death in the morning...)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Inspiration Part 1

Today was an inspiring day. I woke up early to take my fourth-grader to school (I even slapped on some lipstick) because a poet who has written 10 children's books was giving a presentation, and I wanted to be there to see an expert at work.

Brod Bagert has written 15 books of poetry and tours around the world giving presentations about poetry and writing and strength and listening. And he was a master at getting the kids involved. The room was full of children from first to eighth grade, which Brod recognized as a challenge--he usually gears his discussion to the age group of his audience. But in this talk, he managed to get the youngest ones clapping along, the oldest ones hearing concrete advice about writing and enjoying poetry, and everyone hanging on his every word. Myself included!

As a poet and a wanna-be children's book writer--and someday, hopefully, someone who visits schools to read and inspire kids--I was inspired. And a little daunted. It's sometimes difficult to see someone who excels at what you'd like to do--and to think, damn, I can't do that.

But Brod actually spoke to that very impulse. As he said, everyone wants to sit down and write their very best work. But when you sit there, what comes out is usually not your very best. And so you feel worse and worse as you realize that the work coming out is not what you wanted it to be, until you decide to give up because apparently you're no good at it at all.

He even said that the better you are at something, the worse you're going to feel when you see the not-good work coming through.

So what's the secret to being an excellent writer? Brod says to sit down and plan to write your very worst. Write something that isn't good. Something that is full of mistakes and errors and problems. Then go back to it and make it better. And then do it again. Make it better. Again and again, until you can't make it any better.

Then read it out loud to someone else. Doing that makes you hear it in a brand-new way--you see different flaws and mistakes. Then sit down and make it better again.

I loved this advice: Never ask yourself, Is it good? Ask yourself, How can I make it better?


So I am going to sit down with my book and I am going to make it better. Because I don't know if it's any good, but I do know that I can make it a lot better.

(He also said that dreams are meant to be broken--that's the first step to them coming true. When they move from a delicate bubble in your imagination to taking form in the real world, they often break. The artist's job is to cry, feel sorry for yourself, and then get to work building those dreams again.)

My only regret: Once the kids were dismissed to their classrooms and recess, I didn't go up to Brod and introduce myself. I was suddenly overcome with shyness and rushed out the door. Ack! I know how nice it is to hear thanks and good job and I was inspired--and at the same time, hey I'm also a poet writing for kids can we stay in touch. Self-marketing, networking, not my thing. Yet.

Monday, October 26, 2015

10 Years of the New Normal

On a sticky Wednesday this past August, Entergy turned off the power to my entire street, from Tchoupitoulas to past Magazine Street. Early that morning, the street filled with large white work trucks, end to end, with orange barriers at each intersection. Men in hard hats milled about, muttering into walkie-talkies.

A week prior, an automated recording told me and my neighbors that the power outage would last all day, and explained why the work needed to be done, but it hardly mattered.

It was a week before the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath destroyed most of our city. The power went out, the work trucks arrived, and anxiety that usually simmers gently below the surface at this time of year began to boil over.

Before the outage, my neighbors gathered on a stoop discussing, preparing: Should we board our pets so they don't overheat? Buy ice and set up coolers to protect perishables? Plan on grilling everything in the freezer? Check on the old folks up the street? One neighbor said he "recreated the conditions" by turning off his A/C on a sweltering afternoon to observe his cat; this same neighbor has never removed the boards over his windows that we helped him hammer into place the days before Katrina. You just never know. And so he chooses to live in the dark.

Throughout August, a flurry of news stories and blog posts hammered away at the 10-year anniversary. How has New Orleans progressed? Where have we stalled? Who is back home? Who has stayed away? It became exhausting.

I found it telling that many of the local museums and galleries offered retrospectives about the storm, but very few of the artwork directly addressed the storm or its aftermath or was from that time period (plenty of amazing and heartbreaking art and literature was created in the immediate aftermath and for years afterward). For those of us living here, we want to move on. We don't want to dwell. We want our floodwalls fixed, our levees solidified, our escape plans in place--and then we want to move on. If we can.

Of course too many people are still dealing with the ramifications of having their homes, lives, families destroyed. Some things can never be forgotten. Nor should they be. But the days march on, and we can choose to live in dark, boarded-up houses or deal with what needs to be dealt with and let in as much sunlight as we can handle.

Hurricane season--June 1 to November 1--is almost officially over. I heaved a sigh of relief once we were past mid-September; that's the peak season for southeastern Louisiana. Of course, reading about the storms and flooding in South Carolina a few weeks ago was heartbreaking. May the families there have a swift recovery.

And may all of us remember to breathe normally the next time the power goes out or a heavy rain begins to fall.

Update 10/28/15: I wrote and scheduled this post before Hurricane Patricia slammed through Mexico and Texas. While over the Pacific, it was the "strongest landfalling Pacific hurricane on record." Luckily, once it hit land, it weakened considerably, and the destruction was much less than it could have been. Prayers and hope to all those who were affected.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

October issue of Literary Mama

Have you checked out the October issue of Literary Mama yet?

A brand-new set of poems on this month's theme, Desiring Motherhood, explores the myriad ways women experience the desire to become a mother, whether it's heartbreaking or joyful, or sometimes a complicated mixture of both.

I encourage readers to check out the columns, stories, book reviews, and other wonderful writing on the site. The blog offers ways to participate, with writing prompts and contests, and comments are open on most pieces. Literary Mama is a great community of writers and mothers sharing our experiences of the multifaceted whirlwind that is motherhood--and literature!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Poetry Editor at Literary Mama!

I am so excited to announce that I have become the Poetry Editor at Literary Mama!

I have been working with Literary Mama since 2009 as the Associate Poetry Editor, which meant copyediting poems and posting them to the site. I also wrote a lot of book reviews, round-ups, and the occasional interview for the site. I loved working with former Poetry Editor Sharon Kraus, and although we haven't yet met in person, we developed a good relationship, built on our mutual love of poetry.

When Sharon stepped down from her post, I was still on a year-long sabbatical, so Editor-in-Chief Maria Scala and new Editorial Assistant Erin Rodoni held down the fort until last month, when I was pleased to accept the reins to the department.

It's an exciting challenge to read and catalog submissions (Erin and I try to read every submission and compare notes), communicate with authors, and then shepherd each poem through the editorial process to publication. There's so much good poetry coming in! I'm still getting my bearings, but I think that I'm starting to settle into a routine.

Not that editing poems is routine! It's so thrilling to be elbow-deep in poetry again, to be working with poets and editors, and to dream about new ways to share poems with readers.