Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Writing Life, update number one billion.

Is 'one billion' an exaggeration? It feels real.

This weekend I managed to set aside some time in a private place to look at the writing I have done over the past couple of years to see what's there. I know that I am very lucky that I can do this: that I could secure that private place for a couple of days and nights, that the people I love support me in this.

I printed out several swaths of poems--for the last year, I've written a poem a day for several months--five different months--and of course, there's April (the cruelest month) and the poem a day I've written with Dr. Write. All of this. I printed it all. Trees quaked at the prospect.

I read through all these poems. All of them. I made notes on the poems themselves and I made notes about what I saw--what connected the poem, what threads and strands there were. I had had some intuitions prior to this retreat, and I tested them, to see if those ideas of what an arrangement of these poems might add up to were borne out by what I had.

I thought about big revisions, and smaller ones. I identified what poems were close to being finished (a handful) and which ones needed work (most) and which ones would require architectural overhaul (another handful).

And then I assembled an order.

All of this is a draft.

Now, I can work through this draft manuscript poem by poem. And then I will see what I have when I'm through.

I'm optimistic that I might be able to work through what I have, poem by poem, by mid-summer. And then I'm hoping to look at the sequence I've made again.

This process felt, and feels, entirely methodical to me. Procedural, even. Although there's a part of putting something like this together that feels alchemical and intuitive, there's another part that is compositional and even rhetorical. Thinking about how the terms of an argument--made by poetic means, but an argument--work themselves out over a sequence of texts. Thinking about sequencing. Thinking about balance. Thinking about emphasis and transitions. This is why the quiet was so important to me--why I needed to be undistracted. I don't like thinking about how easily I feel distracted by the ordinary components of my life. That's something I'd like to work on. Maybe I'll get it right when I'm dead.

I love the moments, when I write, when I can feel something coming together in a way that feels magical--when I feel the small thrill of gathering the threads of metaphor and image and they add up, they do something more. This is, in fact, not the biggest part of writing for me, at least not usually. Obviously, I love it when it happens. But I also love this methodical part. I love the thinking part and the considering part. It is deeply satisfying to me, even when I know--as I know now--that there's nothing whatsoever final about this stage of the work. That this is, in fact, an entirely provisional moment in the composition of what I hope will be, sometime, a new book.

A couple of days ago, I reminded myself that I don't need to be in a panic about this. That I can take my time. This idea--that I have time, that I can take my time--comes in and out of focus. Because, really, no one knows how much time she really has. (We're all going to die.) But I'd like to do everything--everything!--in less of a panic than I have been doing things as of late. Because doing everything in a panic is a terrible way to live. To make art, to make dinner, to visit one's family, to work, to write: panic is a terrible atmosphere for any of this.

Panic, I renounce you. Get thee behind me, panic.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Breaking news.

1. I made that new header more than two weeks ago in a fit of optimism.

2. Today, I came to my office to start sifting through a hundred poems to see what's there, but first I stopped at Target, obviously, to buy ibuprofen and a teacup with pansies on it and glitter markers and ginger tea and a thing of yogurt and three little pouches to organize my purse. Also, fyi, there are four flavors of Tim Tams currently on the shelves at Target, in case that's a thing you are interested in.

3. My youngest son steered me to Carrie & Lowell Live, which is pretty amazing. Of course Carrie & Lowell, the studio recording, was pretty much the best thing ever, so.

4. What of the republic?

5. Twitter has me by the throat.

6. I recently said to my older son that my loathing of Mitch McConnell was unChristlike. And yet, I persist.

7. Roses are about to bloom their heads off in our yard.

8. In short order, we have installed a new refrigerator, which, through various ins, outs, and what have yous, resulted in a small but steady leak, which resulted in some of the ceiling in our basement falling, sodden, to the floor, which resulted in a plumber coming to do a whole bunch of other stuff, including fixing the leak, and currently there are giant heating devices beaming heat at the location of the fallen ceiling. In other words: disaster! But also: new refrigerator, which actually keeps food cold!

9. I had a lovely mother's day, thank you, including one of my favorite compliments of all time, from grandson William, who said that I thought I was "pretty as a deer." He explained that he didn't think I looked like a deer, more like Lily Potter's patronus, a doe. I am seizing on all of that. All of it.

10. Okay, onward: I have made the first cull of poems, and now I need to start theorizing the potential intimate dialogue that the remaining poems may have with each other.

Or not. Maybe nothing means anything and everything is stupid. Just spitballing.

A post shared by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

A post shared by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

A post shared by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

A post shared by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I have a few announcements.

Things have been a little hectic around here:

1. I confess that the following things have been done in a half-assed manner. By me. I have done the following things, possibly, in a half-assed manner:
  • possibly teaching
  • possibly grading
  • cleaning my house (understatement of the millennium!)
  • cooking dinners (see parenthetical above)
  • movie-going
  • being a good friend
  • service on two non-profit boards
  • everything else
2. I have been to various locations in Utah County approximately fifty times in the last two months or so. 

3. On every one of those days, I saw my father and mother and usually one of my sisters and/or my brother, which makes those drives feel worthwhile.

4. My book is now at the printer's, which means I feel like every single one of my line breaks is specious and I left out one thank you and there are two words in my bio that make the whole thing feel pretentious and everything is stupid and I am a hack.

5. (On the other hand: my book. My book!)

6. What does anything mean anymore? Is the world on fire, or is it just burning? 

7. I feel so, so lucky in my family right now. My father made a tiny hilarious joke at my expense today and it was the sweetest thing ever. My brother brought me a doughnut. My sister and I cheered my dad on while he was walking with a walker. Time, the body, love, presence, it's all entirely precious and to be cherished. Cherished above everything.

8. My mom asked me to make a bunch of photo prints for my dad, to put on the wall, so he could lift his eyes up and see them. I found a place that made these little square prints, which arrived today:

this is only half of them.

I love them so much. They're like saint cards or a tarot, full of meaning which arises from their juxtapositions and adjacencies. And of course, I forgot a few people, which just means making more. The sense I've had for years, an urgency, that these beloveds will not be with me forever, is my new now.

9. Flip side of all of the above: melancholy. Petals on the windshield, sheets of rain. More light but with heavy clouds.

10. Soon it will be April. That's right, the cruelest month. I will write a poem a day--Dr. Write, are you with me? A poem a day will be, if not a saving grace, a grace tout court. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

On priorities.

A photo posted by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

Since we last spoke, America, things have been tumultuous, I don't think there's any other possible word. I would cite the list of public things that have come down in the form of tweets and executive orders--not issued by me in either case. It's a bummer of a list, no two ways about it. So I'm not going to list it. It's my privilege as an author. The author of this blog post. Back to the tumult, in the form of the not-listed list: every day, more headlines, hardly any of them good. How many alerts for immediate urgent action have I signed up for? A lot. A lot of alerts and alarms coming my way. I wake up in the morning, open my eyes while my head is still on the pillow, and wonder: is it real? Did that actually happen? When I ascertain that it is real, that it did actually happen, I sigh, get up, check my phone for the first alerts.

This is no way to live, America. I have friends who have noted that they are taking social media fasts for their own sanity. I think we both know that a social media fast--and, not coincidentally, care of my own sanity--are not in my repertoire. So I make my calls, send my online faxes, email, etc. Donate a probably undisciplined amount of money to estimable organizations. Engage in an unhealthy amount of rage chatter.

Of course I teach my classes and go to meetings and fill out paperwork and read books, some of which are excellent and some of which do their jobs and some of which are books about activism (some of which are excellent and some of which do their jobs, and some of which are/do both). I have a massive to do list, and I cross things off of it regularly. This week, I went to a conference of creative writers. I ate a rice bowl and tacos and wore blazers. I bought a billion books.

A couple of weeks ago, my dad found out there was a tumor in his brain, necessitating brain surgery. My family came together--my brother flying in from Oregon, my sisters and I spending nights before the surgery at the house to help my mother and dad. Aside from the conference, I've been down to the hospital in the next county every day, I think, watching my dad as he puts forth the effort of a superhero in his various therapies, to strengthen the weak side that's the result of the events in his brain. Watching my mother, her tender, attentive presence. Their strength, the two of them. Being with my beloved siblings as we try, in our various ways, to be of aid.

Analogies fail, but of course they present themselves: a really scary journey. A marathon, not a sprint. A radical reordering of what seems important. A surrendering.

I love America, I loathe so many of its leaders right now, I am trying to come to terms with the true character of my country, which goes in and out of focus, its sun covered by clouds, its blue skies occluded by particulates. Its beautiful idea seeming, at least sometimes, so faint. I love my father and my mother and my family. I want nothing to fail them, I want not to fail them myself. America, forgive me if I forget to call upon occasion. I have not forgotten you. I'm just responding to what cannot help but be a more urgent alert.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Five things. #thesick

1. I've been sick since the new year. It's been, like, a big heavy gloomy visitor sitting on my head. Picture that, if you will. Here are things I have missed: working out with my daughter. Working out, period. The flow of new year energy into new good habits (or at least that's how I imagine it would have been, had I not been sick). Cooking actual food instead of foraging for edibles. A jazz concert. Movies out. Back to school meetings (you decide if that was a plus or a minus). On the other hand, I have had some really serious naps. Naps galore. It's as if my body basically put its foot down (picture that if you will) and said: listen here you have not had enough sleep for a decade and I am putting my foot down, in a manner of speaking, and you are slowing doing right here and now and take that nap dammit fore I smite thee with a cough! and sick sneezing and all manner of congestion! And lo, it was so.

2. Things we've done while we were sick (of course, in the way of the unjust universe, the historian caught a bit of the sick with me): watched Stranger Things. Watched The OA. And now we're watching Schitt's Creek. I have finished Patti Smith's The M Train and am now reading Tana French, The Trespasser. That's when I'm not falling asleep for a giant nap again.

3. Having watched The OA and thus having been trapped into its weird and compelling story world, there was one whole day when I woke up, feeling I had dreamed The OA  dreams, and my day was thus The OA inflected. This was after we had finished The OA, so I would have had to start watching it over again. Which I might do, honestly.

4. Things that are hard to do when you're this sick: make a plan. Cook. Revise a poem. Write a syllabus. Get out of bed. Call a congressman or senator. Move from room to room without finding a place to lie down. I am not joking, America: this illness has been epic.

5. Today I put on my fox sweater and went to class to teach for the first time. I croaked out the key activities of the course and my enthusiasm for the course and how much I love teaching and so forth. I demonstrated key features of the Canvas site. I memorized their names. Then I went back to my office, fetched my coat and keys, and drove home. And took a three hour nap.


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