Saturday, March 31, 2007

The good, the bad, and the ones with bees and vampires.

Today I read dozens of fiction manuscripts. That's because it was the reading party for Writers at Work, where volunteer screeners go through reams of paper trying to identify the very best fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction manuscripts. That also means that we identify the not-so-good ones. Also the awful ones, if you want to be uncharitable about it.

Of course, screening activities such as this one tend to bring out the uncharitable part of a reader's character. The way it works is: the manuscripts are divided by genre, and then into packets of ten. Each packet of ten has a scoring sheet rubber-banded to the packet. Reader #1 writes "yes" or "no" in the far column next to the manuscript number, and when Reader #1 finishes with that packet of ten, s/he folds the scoring sheet over so that her/his column is not visible to the next reader (Reader #2). A disagreement between the first two readers results in a third reading.

So, Hypothetical Reader #1 starts out the session without any grudges, looking at the first pile of manuscripts with anticipation--or at least without hate--in her heart. But she doesn't even have to finish the first set to start making rules, like:

1. Is one of the main characters a vampire? Then no.
2. Is the story set in a historical time period/place, such as pre-Revolutionary colonial America? Probably not. In fact, no.
3. Are there characters named after someone in Arthurian legends? No. Really.

This was just for the fiction. My compatriots reading poetry noted a disturbing predilection across many manuscripts for bee imagery.

4. Does the poem contain bee imagery? Probably not. Although possibly, exceptions can be made for really good bee manuscripts.

The worst thing was that, as I read manuscripts that I knew wouldn't make the cut, I still couldn't stop reading. Just because a story is poorly written doesn't mean you don't want to know what happens.

Note 1: The City Library, where the reading party was held, is a swell place to spend a good chunk of the day. I saw families, little kids, teenagers, oldsters, everyone having what seemed like a great time.

Note 2: I have sent the rage remix version of my manuscript out, having possibly done too much to it and also possibly not enough. Also, I changed my Johnny Cash poem, maybe for the worse. However, I find myself optimistic anyway. I'm currently on the hunt for the file of a poem which I seem to have misplaced, at least the electronic version of it. Luckily, there's still paper. Anyway: Poetry is happening all around you! It is the cruellest month--National Poetry Month!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Totally blowing my mind.


1. Good job, Self, on finishing the last of the preliminary portfolios.
2. Double good job on finishing student conferences.
3. It's National Poetry Month starting Sunday! Better get out the party hats. Also the confetti and banners. For people who aren't joiners, here's Charles Bernstein on a proposed "International Anti-Poetry Month." I'm sending a new version of my ms out, what I'm calling the "rage remix." Wish me luck.
4. Only four more weeks of class. Four! 4!
5. I have sooooooo much more work to do in those four weeks it is totally blowing my mind.
6. Scrubs is funny. Funnier when watching a pile of episodes on DVR with running son (the viewing time is so compressed you can basically watch 3 episodes in just over the time it takes you to watch 2). (<- that was efficiency advice, by the way--yet another bonus of reading this full-service blog) 7. It's a lot more fun to "warm up" for summer by doing a little summer stuff now than it is to finish my work. 8. For people who may have laughed at my previous post, but in private and not in the comments section where I could enjoy it, maybe this is the kind of thing you prefer. (thanks to Jennifer T., and before her, to Natasha)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Making movies.

Running son has to meet an end-of-the-quarter deadline in his film-making class, which means that he has to shoot some rough footage to get "points" by Friday. This afternoon, after track, therefore, the cast and crew of Cupcake Chaos (working title) gathered at my house prior to the shoot.

[Overheard] Running son, to friend: Can you act and drive at the same time?

Script excerpt [montage]:

Alex rings Jayde's doorbell. Jayde comes out looking extra happy, but then Alex starts throwing cookies at him. Next you see Jayde writing "you suck" on Alex's car with a stick of deodorant. You see Jayde at lunch pointing at nothing so Alex will turn his head and then he snot rockets in Alex's Tampico. Alex turns around and Jayde shrugs his shoulders and Alex drinks his Tampico and Jayde starts laughing, so Alex gives him a mean look, drinks some more of his drink and spits it at Jayde's face. Jayde then drinks some of his drink and tries to spit it at Alex's face but misses and hits some random kid. We are at an assembly and Jayde stands up when it is over and he gets pantsed by Alex. Alex runs off really fast.

Add a Pearl Jam cover of, oh, I don't know, "Relax!" and I am so there.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Things to do to improve your outlook.

By "things to do," I mean "parties," and by "do," I mean "eat."

Saturday morning, I arose bright and early to make foccacia, Famous Pasta Salad, and sugar cookies cut in shapes appropriate to a baby shower. That's right: my daughter, the make-up artist and splendid all-around human being, is having a baby in May, a boy, and my mother and I were the caterers for this affair. We made all the arrangements via e-mail, thus avoiding having to address my increasing phone phobia (note to self: must investigate phone phobia).

I thought, somehow, that in any store where they sell cooking implements (Target), there would surely be a cookie cutter in the shape of something baby-ish (bootie? teething ring? breast pump?). What cookie cutters they had were in the shapes of an Easter egg, two kinds of bunnies, a carrot, a lamb, a duck, a tulip, and another generic flower. I know, appropriate to a baby shower! Especially some of them. I was, I admit, cursing my folly as I was icing the cookies at twenty minutes to shower time, but managed to arrive with a minimum of cursing, enough cookies for everyone, a mountain of Famous Pasta Salad, and two loaves of foccaccia. My daughter got baby booty, a baby shower game was played, we all had a grand time. Because I was taking pictures for my daughter with her camera, I managed to get home with only a small handful of pictures of the shower, none of her, and none of the cookies either. Oh well. The ducks were especially cute, you'll have to take my word for it.

Then, later that same day, we went to a surprise party for the birthday of a poet friend, Jennifer. It was great, super surprising, and delicious, too, as the hosts had knocked themselves out making shrimp-and-scallops pot-stickers, amazing eggplant, sesame noodles, steamed soup dumplings, scallion pancakes, and barbecued pork buns. Another poet brought a gorgeous bombshell of a cake, all whipped cream and strawberries. And we all had a very, very grand time. Here is the surprise:

Here are the dumplings:

and here is the cake:

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bad day.

You wake up to a gray window, know in the muscles that hoist open your eyes that the day's not going to start well, and furthermore, you're not sure you have the inner resources to salvage it, starting with the failure to sleep and continuing with not enough hot water for a shower worth taking. Late to work, having pitched a fit that needs a bouquet of apologies. Anxious, anxious. Texting sorries to all and sundry.

Text! What you really need is to push "reset" starting at ten the night before. Make yourself go to bed instead engaging in your usual jangled assortment of keyboard-and-screen activity. Sleep. Wake up to a gray window, and know with the very least flutter of your eyelids that it's Friday, a good day, and you certainly know how to go with that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What urban center has more shopping centers per capita than any other in the U.S.?

Findings from my ongoing style research project:

1. If you want a ball gown, you should go to Elizabeth Anthony-Esther Wolf, a store in the above-mentioned urban area. No one else will have the gown you choose (i.e., you will not "meet yourself coming and going"); as "one sales associate said, 'with gowns of this calibre, we only carry one.'"
2. You might need such a ball gown for the "Margaritas for the Cure" breakfast. (are you paying attention? Margaritas--for breakfast! wearing a ball gown!)
3. In this town you might meet women wearing "matchy-matchy" clothes, men wearing head-to-toe Escada, men with hairspray, and squared-off fingernail manicures.

Also, this town apparently has a lot--a lot!--of disposable income. Also, this town features four Neiman Marcuses.

Okay, it's Dallas-Ft. Worth. Never say I don't give you useful information in this blog.

In other style news, running son donned his merit badge sash to receive his Eagle Scout award this past Sunday. Here he is with his dad and brother (singing son), both Eagle Scouts themselves:

And with his grandfather, my dad, who had the Eagle Scout award of the longest duration in the room that night:

And with me, his mom (not an Eagle Scout):

Monday, March 19, 2007

Spring break is over.

[Headphones: "Obviously 5 Believers," Bob Dylan]

Back at work, although the transition doesn't feel quite so abrupt--as is my habit if God is good and there are no meetings, I'm working at home today. I have a few threads to respond to in my online classes, a presentation to make and a couple of things to post, but in general, I'm feeling cheerful because I worked over the break, and that's paying off. It's still warm (forecast: snow and rain on Wednesday), so we're all telling ourselves it's spring, even though we've probably got a big chunk of wintry weather to get through. I just hope the cherries in the back haven't budded so we get frozen out of fruit this July.

[Headphones: "A fuego lento," Rosana]

For anyone who's interested, this is the complete list of movies for the break, counting the weekend before:

"The Lives of Others"
"Charlotte's Web"
"Bridge to Terabithia"
"Breach" (second viewing for me)
"The Aura"
"Starter for 10"

Anyone who's interested in the state of the moratorium, there have been lapses. A few lapses. There was a fair amount of shopping during the break, though I had the assistance of college daughter and my college niece. As of today, though, we're back on track.

[Headphones: "Mars Loves Venus," Brunettes]

And by "we," I mean, I suppose, "me." "I," if you're a grammar nazi.

[Headphones: "Magnet," Yo La Tengo]

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thursday morning update.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love working at home? Uninterrupted quiet. Looking out my window, where I can see the Chevy parked at the curb, trees upon trees upon trees with their bare gray limbs, birds alighting and taking off, a bed of tulips in the across-the-street neighbor's south-facing lawn, our lawn thinking about becoming a meadow. I can get up to pour myself another cup of tea from the pot I've made. The dogs asleep on the couch. At the other end of the house, I'm washing the sheets. It's pretty much heaven.

So, as of Thursday morning, I have accomplished:
  • the viewing of three movies with college daughter (Charlotte's Web, Bridge to Terabithia, and Breach--that last I'd already seen, but it was pretty good the second time--I like stories about spies, as I knew something about it as I was growing up, and also one of my high school acquaintances was the sister of Christopher Boyce, who was either the Falcon or the Snowman, I can't remember which).
  • I have drafted, with counterintuitive, a proposal for a chapter in a book about multimodal composition.
  • I have responded to a bunch of student writing (still have more to go, but that's okay! I'm up for it!).
  • Have watched (or listened to the historian and running son watch) two abysmal performances by the Utah Jazz.
  • Have gone to the dog park twice.
  • Have cooked dinner several times.
  • Despite having plenty to do, have managed to keep panic and stress at bay.

All to the good. Basically, spring break is doing its job.

Some more things I will do before this week ends:

1. go to a poetry reading tonight (Andrea Hollander Budy at Westminster)
2. see a church basketball game--region championships!
3. have breakfast, etc. with college daughter and college niece
4. write a little every day
5. do some more reading of student work
6. make dinner some more times
7. help host running son's Court of Honor (the completion of the Eagle Scout story, oy!)
8. see several more movies with college daughter and the historian

There was a moment at the beginning of the week when I thought the week would be too busy to be restorative. But it turns out I was wrong.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I can't help it.

I'm listening to iTunes on shuffle, on headphones, while I work, a source of endless amusement to my children, I'm not sure why. Isn't it okay to create a sonic environment? With headphones? Well, isn't it? Just because my headphones make me look like an airline pilot.

Anyway, I'm enjoying the mix--a pleasure I used to avail myself of all the time when I was younger. I liked the surprises in it--hearing Miles Davis next to The Legendary Pink Dots next to Beck next to Suzanne Vega. To name a few.

However, just a moment ago, "Clocks" came on, and I find myself not being able to resist the piano part of that song. I know how lame it is now, apparently, to like Coldplay even a little. But I can't help it. I like that piano part. I like it a lot.

Also, I like Drew Barrymore. I like movie stars. I like bright colors and shiny, sparkly things. I like potato chips and Billy Collins. I like Harry Potter. I like Julia Roberts movies and I like Terms of Endearment, especially because it makes me cry until I feel sick. I liked Titanic. Did I mention I like movie stars? Also I like romantic comedies, almost no matter how lame they are. I like to personalize the basketball players on the Utah Jazz. I can't help it.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Monday morning: spring break accomplishments so far.

1. splendid revision of poem for writing group
2. handled transition to daylight savings time with no errors
3. cooked meals and snacks for at-home offspring
4. read most of NYTimes Sunday paper
5. shopped with college daughter
6. Saturday lunch with running son and college daughter
7. spectated at two church basketball games (running son playing some of his best basketball ever--stats galore!)
8. took a Sunday morning post-newspaper nap
9. fun dinner with English dept. colleagues
10. took, edited, tagged, and uploaded some nice pics
11. watched several episodes of Scrubs with rs and cd
12. viewed two wonderful new movies with the historian (Zodiac and The Lives of Others)
13. viewed half of Mean Girls with college daughter

Other notes: after years of having evinced the claim that, at any given moment, after having not played soccer for years, he could place-kick a 50-yard field goal (that's an American football field goal), yesterday, singing son was put to the test by his siblings. "It's happening today," announced running son, as he rummaged for cleats and a football. The result: singing son successfully kicked a 40-yard field goal. I was not there to witness it personally, but it's on tape, and most of the siblings were present and can attest. After everyone left except running son and singing son, running son kicked a 45-yard field goal. File this under "athletic feats and boasts." Also "family lore."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Spring break: the breakdown.

1. sleep
2. cook dinner
3. do a couple or three hours of work a day
4. go to movies with college daughter
5. send some poems out
6. nap
7. also sleep
8. take a walk
9. clean house a little
10. edit my closet a little more
11. write
12. polish my toenails
13. and sleep.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Why the University of Utah should hire me to replace Ray Giacoletti as head coach of the men's basketball team.

1. I love basketball!
2. I have picked up many techniques, pointers, and a coaching philosophy from years of watching Jerry Sloan coach the Utah Jazz.
3. I am a BYU alumna, and so could give the Utes insight into the Cougar mind.
4. They have trainers and assistant coaches for the actual basketball part.
5. Unlike most people, who use sports as a source of metaphor for other things, as a poet, I would bring a unique ability to supply new metaphors for sports.
6. If, for reasons I can't conceive of now, I should prove to be unsatisfactory and they were forced to fire me, I could happily live on the severance package.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Writing about film.

We have a well-used, well-loved copy of Pauline Kael's 5001 Nights at the Movies, which is her capsule reviews of thousands of films, dating up to the point, pretty much, where she stopped reviewing films. I remember when I started my own subscription to The New Yorker, mainly for the movie reviews. There was a time when Pauline had a review pretty much every other week. The weeks with no movie reviews were listless, useless affairs. Who cared about the long, elegantly written articles? Who cared about the cartoons? Where were the movie reviews?

These days we almost always check to see what Pauline had to say about all the old movies we watch bits and pieces of on television. A surprising amount of the time, she doesn't much like them. She had big passions and a lot of passionate dislikes. For instance, Pauline hated Doris Day, with a big and, I would say, sort of vicious hatred. I remember being bewildered at the number of times she said nasty things about Meryl Streep, the most memorable of which was something like, "Meryl Streep acts from the neck up." (I wonder what she would think about Streep these days, who is increasingly more and more interesting to me as an actress--less actress-y, more fluent and fluid--but I digress.)

The other day, as yet again I was perusing 5001 Nights, struck yet again by how much she disliked, I announced to the historian, "Pauline was a snob." And she was, I don't think there could be any arguing about it. I've been told by a friend that I should develop some good strong movie hates (he hates Hugh Grant on principle, for instance, and, in a related stance, refused to listen to U2 after their arty grimness on the cover of The Joshua Tree). I think the idea was that a certain amount of principled movie hate helps keep you from gushing all the time about what there is to like. But I find a movie reviewer most useful when he or she seems to be responding to what's there onscreen, rather than to an already hardened set of pre-decided opinions.

Here are the reviewers, aside from Pauline Kael, who have been essential to me in forming my tastes, and to whom I routinely return for commentary:

Stuart Klawans, of The Nation

Anthony Lane (The New Yorker, although I must add that I think Lane often chooses to write reviews of films he knows he can make fun of, and especially if he's got several juicy puns in mind. I remember a ridiculous review of the second Charlie's Angels movie. Of course it's a stupid product of a movie. Who needs Anthony Lane to make fun of it to know this? Why waste all that wit on something so trivial? It's a pet peeve of mine.)

Manohla Dargis, of The New York Times, even though I often think she gets it wrong.

Those super snotty reviewers at The Village Voice

David Edelstein (used to be on Slate, now at New York Magazine)

Readers of this blog know how strongly I feel that David Denby should have his movie reviewing license revoked. Also, in a related note, I realized awhile ago that all of my favorite serial publications have movie reviews. This explains why my subscription to The Atlantic Monthly, estimable publication that it is, and which I have had a long history of reading, has fallen mostly unread lately. I will not be renewing it. Not unless they engage the services of a really good film reviewer.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

You said there'd be a conference, and there was, but now it's over, so I'm leaving.

This year's AWP lacked a panel on blogging and gender (because they turned us down!), but otherwise I had a great, refreshing time of it in Atlanta. There were torrential rains on Thursday (Dr. Write and I completely soaked our shoes on the way home from our Indian food supper which was completely delicious), but the weather was lovely on Friday and Saturday. One of our companions who hails from Chicago said, "I feel like I'm living in the future!" because for him, as for us, warm weather is still a few weeks away.

I learned some more about graphic texts, online literary journals, the use of the vernacular in poetry, strategies for beginning poems. I found out about some amazing presses (see this one, as an example). I heard stellar readings by Bruce Beasley, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Mark Doty, Linda Gregerson, David Kirby; had tapas with the Utah contingent; ran into former colleagues and met new people; and in general reminded myself that I'm a writer. This is all to the good. I'll post a fuller report on my website soon.

Came home to find that Bruiser missed me, and so did the historian. Well, I missed them, too. Today has been a perfect day, easing back into things. I lamented having missed the Anne Carson reading two years ago, because I left a day early, but last year, I was so worn out from the conference that I wished I hadn't stayed the extra day. So this year, I came home the day early, and it felt just right. I feel like I can gear up for the week, and I'm not still exhausted.

In other news, college daughter has started her own blog. From her first few posts, I see that she's sick of college, is an avid fan of her college basketball team, and loves the movies. Me, too.


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