Thursday, December 08, 2016

Hey, 'sup.

I got a note from Ann the other day:

To which I replied:

Just like that.

It feels like it's been a hard year, maybe for a bunch of us. In no particular order:
  • the hideous, soul-scarring election
  • my own heightened awareness of race and policing and all manner of injustice
  • shouldn't I have known this more piercingly all along?
  • why didn't I know it all along? why didn't I let myself know it?
  • busier than ever
  • the historian has retired--which is awesome! but it has thrown me for a loop.
  • my loop, being thrown ( < metaphor)
  • an illness during the spring and summer for the historian
  • my workplace is now absent the historian, except in memory
and so on.

That list of bullets is, more or less, why I've not been writing. As I considered the things I might write about, the weight of everything seemed so thoroughly to counterbalance it that 'what-I-might-write-about' seemed like feathers. Like piffle. Like lighter than lightweight. I felt terrible for even thinking about writing about, say, pie, or pancakes, or whining in my usual recreational way. 

I read this, while preparing for Danez Smith's visit to our college this past September:
I came to talk to you, my partners in verse who build a life’s work documenting their brief time on this earth. I come you to asking to question the landscape of our pastoral muse. I ask you to question what makes you safe? What frees you to write odes of the low country of America, to mention the trees and not their wicked history, to write the praise song of night, but not sing of what dark bodies hide cold in daylight? My family, and I pray we can call each other family, I am asking you to do what you do best: Write.
Writing in these dark times feels necessary and also harder: recognizing that writing is always risking not getting it right, and if you only do the thing you already know how to do, you aren't risking enough, you aren't willing yourself to learn. 'Odes of the low country of America'? That's me, folks. Having conceded that, then, what would I write?

I've written a lot in the past year, most of which I've shared only in the smallest of circles. But I haven't written here. Each time in the past few months that I've approached writing here, I've felt sad and wrong, and I've stopped myself. But I've been thinking that I want to break that sad/wrong circuit. Recently, I also read this, by Matthew Zapruder, "Poetry and Poets in a Time of Crisis":
Poets, if you find yourselves worrying that your poems are not “about” political matters, here is my suggestion: every single time you feel that worry, finish your poem, make it as beautiful as you can, and then do some kind of concrete action. Support threatened communities, or the environment. Pledge yourself to participating in a voter registration drive. Give money to a political organization working tirelessly for change. If you do this, the world will benefit in two ways: from your activism, and from the beautiful poem you have made. 
Regardless of how poets feel about aesthetic matters, we all agree we are citizens. We have the same obligations to activism and engagement as anyone else. Some poets I know have been working very hard in these ways for a long time. Others of us have been mostly asleep. One of the only good things I can say about this undeniable crisis is that it has made absolutely clear what some have never forgotten: that we all need to wake up and start putting our queer shoulders to the wheel (Ginsberg, “America”). Whatever kind of poetry anyone writes, or whatever art we make, there is always time to do the necessary work of making our society better.
It's not like one of these poets, both of whom I admire so much, is right and the other is wrong. It's that I want to write, I want to risk more, I want to try to get it right and have the courage to face that I might very well get it wrong, and still keep trying. I want to hear and respond to the call to speak to my times. I want to make beautiful things with words. I want to write.

So, to you, anyone who might still want words from me: Okay, I will.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

here you are, summer-into-fall cold! I've been expecting you!

Dear summer-into-fall cold,

Yep, here you are, sidling into my sinuses with all the subtlety of a ten-wheeler, reminding me that I haven't been sleeping enough, that my stress levels have been absurd, that I haven't yet figured out how to quiet my own mind, and all the rest. Thanks, summer-into-fall cold: I forgot about all of that, because not sleeping enough, electric stress, and an unquiet mind are not bad enough by themselves.

In case you missed it, here's a blow-by-blow (yes, pun intended, obviously) of my experiences since you arrived:

1. Salutatory sneezing in class
2. Hallucinatory participation in department meeting
3. Second level hallucinations in the hall, where I think there's a halo hovering over my head that turns out to be a curved ceiling molding at the periphery of my sightline
4. Extended quality time with Twitter, which I constantly refresh to keep up with what's happing with Donald Trump's horror show
5. Arising at 6 a.m. to obtain cold medicines from the store, along with a doughnut, because: Saturday
6. Extracurricular sleep
7. Cold medicine dose watch

....and more Twitter. (In case anyone wants to know what Twitter is good for, it's good for things like this.)

Summer-into-fall cold, I am giving you today. All of today, probably, a day when I hoped I would eat an enchilada and see a movie and maybe go shopping and maybe, maybe even grade a little bit. Instead, I am cozied up with the Vicks and the Mucinex and the dog, in bed. I hope you see the injustice.

Summer-into-fall cold, you and Donald Trump can burn in hell.



Thursday, September 15, 2016

Peak Big Meeting.

Let me first concede: other people have jobs that are just as hard, or harder, than mine. More tedious, onerous, meeting-filled, snackless, and so on. My incipient whining, therefore, allows for all of this, which to say that this is, perhaps, recreational whining. Whining to while the time away. I'm in a long meeting, I'm saying, and I'm blogging. Weight this whine, therefore, as you see fit.


We are here in a big room, at round tables, talking about a thing called 'meta-majors.' Which may or may not be a thing that helps our students in realizing their educational goals. But we're going to do them, and what that means--doing them--is both the text and the subtext of what we're talking about.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: I'm telling you that this conversation is simultaneously prickly, spark-y, flammable, Babel-like in its tendency to have people speaking different languages at each other. I'm telling you that I am simultaneously engaged and also checking all my social media in a somewhat irritable manner. I'm telling you that the ideas of what education is for are various, are multitudinous, can be divided into Same and Other and are also etcetera.

Also, the snacks are all the way across the room.
I'm saying, it's week 4 and it is already meeting meeting meeting meeting.

I'm saying I'm already four weeks behind.

SIGH, is all I'm saying.

This meeting will last exactly nine more minutes, nine more minutes in which I will finish and publish this blog post, contemplate how I have been rejected, poetry-wise, a healthy and robust number of times as of late, think about how I am hungry about a billion times, and, in a related matter, how I am going to make baked pasta for dinner and how delicious that is no doubt going to be. Will these thoughts take up the remaining nine minutes, where a practically infinite number of people will say what they think about 'completion' and 'meta-majors' and 'the purpose of an education'? Probably not. Thoughts about dinner and hunger and rejection are both eternal and fleeting, when the big meeting is still in progress.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Other careers I am considering, because my current career is currently stressing me out.

  1. Baker. Or maybe, actually,
  2. Patissiere.
  3. Stay at home grandmother.
  4. Writer of bon mots.
  5. Poet with a benefactor of mysterious origins.
  6. Owner of a scallion pancake food truck.
  7. Mystic.
  8. Power napper.
  9. Mystery shopper.
  10. Pundit.
  11. Professional organizer. Because if I didn't have my current job, I would have time to be organized. Professionally.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Pancakes, or The Song Remains the Same, and also slightly different.

It's been all food around here, and by that I mean we've gone to the farmer's market twice in two weeks, the first visits this season, and we are making hay while the sun shines. By this, I mean we are buying tomatoes and peaches like there's no tomorrow. Which leads me to this weekend.

This weekend, the first holiday weekend of the semester, and thus the first of the 'devoutly to be wish'd' elements of academic life, I said I would accomplish the following:
  1. review all poems. By this, I meant that I would read through all the poems I've written this year (something like 90 poems) plus poems I wrote in April of the past two years, to see if there was a manuscript hanging out amongst them.
  2. review Ephemerist, which is the current title of my current manuscript, the one that had some success this summer, placing as a finalist and semifinalist in small press competitions. Which either means it's coming together pretty nicely or it is an abysmal failure, you be the judge.
  3. clean/organize. This means wresting order, or more order, from the gaping abyss that is my life. Or something.
  4. see the Dixie Chicks.
  5. see a movie with my daughter.
  6. see other movies.
  7. see my auntie.
  8. bake homemade pop tarts
  9. bake turnovers
  10. bake a ricotta cake
  11. make scallion pancakes.
I mentioned the last four items to my husband the historian, who is a devout supporter of my writing life, and who would fight to, well, probably not the death, because that's ridiculous, but would fight with great vigor to protect my writing time.

"I'm going to work on my new manuscript," I said, decisively. This met with general acclaim, vows of support, hypothesizing as to the best manuscript work strategies, &c &c. 

"And I also want to bake homemade pop tarts, and make blueberry turnovers, and a ricotta cake, and scallion pancakes," I said, decisively.

"That's not going to happen," he said, which--predictably--brought out the don't tell me I can't! in me. Which is a powerful resident in my soul. It might actually be my soul, the don't tell me I can't! I don't know. How can you tell the dancer from the dance, you know?

Anyway: since I am the boss of myself and my baking AND of my writing, I got up on Sunday morning and whipped up two pastry doughs--the pop tart dough and the turnover dough. I made the pop tarts last night. 

A photo posted by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

I would have made scallion pancakes for dinner last night, but I didn't read the recipe carefully enough, and there was a lot of resting time for that dough. That dough is apparently a finicky diva of a dough. So scallion pancakes had to wait for today.

It's a recipe that makes big claims for itself, but I'm going to tell you this: I'm not going to say they're wrong. You have to make the dough, then let it rest. Then you divide the dough, roll out each piece, put some oil on it, put a bunch of chopped scallions on that, then roll it up, then roll the roll (you'll have to read the detailed instructions here, it's kind of a project), then let those little roll-after-rolls rest some more. Then you roll them out one more time and bake them on a griddle until they are toasty and smell like the best thing ever.

In real life, I made the dough, then went to work out. Then I came home and divided/rolled/rolled again. While they roll-upon-rolls were resting, I made the ricotta cake and put it in the oven. (Do make this. It is superb.)

I heated up the griddle, rolled the pancakes-in-waiting into five inch circles and put them on to cool, turning them regularly so they didn't scorch. I cut up three tomatoes and made the dipping sauce for the pancakes out of white vinegar, soy sauce, chili oil, a pinch of sugar and a pinch of dried crushed red chiles.

While all this was happening, I had just enough time for the errant thought: what if these are, contra the Bon Appetit article, in fact not the best thing in the world but rather an abysmal failure? But I am here to tell you, America: those scallion pancakes lived up to their advance billing and were outstanding:

In conclusion, I would like to say that I accomplished many things on the agenda, including some substantial writing and Dixie Chicks-ing, and movie going, and auntie-visiting, but I also accomplished all of my baking goals save one. What I mean is, 'twas a consummation devoutly to be wish'd.


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