Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Main verbs are my co-pilot.

A couple of weeks ago, I got some feedback from the editor of a press where my manuscript was a semi-finalist in their book competition. Back in late spring, I heard from that press--they wanted to know if my manuscript was still available, since it was moving on to the next level of judging.

I don't think I need to tell you how much more fun it was to get the first e-mail than it was to get the second letter. Therein, however, lies the tale.

So: the good news is that the editor found the manuscript of special interest, hence the comments she forwarded. She tells me that the screener found the word strong; the work engaged the screener poem by poem; it has interesting narratives that are imbued with feeling, awareness, and vigor of description. Also, my work has a clear sense of the stanza, skill with pentameter, and a reliable sense of cadence.

However: apparently I rely on the verbless catalog a little too much--"a pileup of nouns and adjectives without the syntactic tether of a main verb."

And the series editor had this to say:
In general, I agree with the reviewer's comments, although I didn't always find the diction pleasing. Often, I wanted to take out my pencil and delete excess words. Sometimes I felt that the poems were a bit didactic and heavy-handed in their themes and points of view. But there were many moments of excellence. I'm not sure the book has a solid narrative arc or enough variety. Possibly, it's not in the best order. Overall, I felt that the manuscript needed further refinement. I will be sending you some pages in hope that the editorial marks will be helpful to you.
This reminds me of the feedback counterintuitive and I got on the article we wrote for TETYC: "We like it! We like it! Now, cut it in half and radically change the focus." We were bummed and we waited what I guess was an excessive amount of time, because the editor wrote us and said, "We liked it! When are you going to send us the slimmed down, totally different version we requested?" This story has a happy ending, though--they're publishing it (after we cut it in half and significantly changed the focus). And we're very very happy about it. So happy!

So: okay. What to do with this feedback? I could follow it to the letter. The screener and the editor are both highly competent poets and readers, and their insight is definitely useful. You'll be glad to know I spent barely any time on defensive reacting (what? whaddya mean, verbless catalog? I'll show you a main verb!).

I did, however, think about entirely dismantling the manuscript. What the hell. This manuscript has been a finalist and a semi-finalist a lot of times (in various iterations)--why not? My tinkering and revising has yielded no better results.

Except, maybe it did--because getting this feedback is not usual, I don't think, for competitions.

Anyway, today was another deadline for a couple of competitions. So I spent the day with the manuscript. I didn't totally dismantle it. But I did try to look for: wordiness; verblessness; extra-explain-iness; teacherishness.

There's a part of me that thinks, I am finished with all of these poems. Let them either find their place in the world or crumble into the dust. But there's another part that finds these episodes of revision very satisfying. Apparently, I can still learn things about these poems by working on them, with direct but supportive commentary simmering away in the back of my mind. How about that.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Time and tidying wait for no man.

I apologize right now for that horrible horrible pun.

BUT the tidying at my house, it is actually sort of tidal, as in, a force of nature that waits for no &c. &c. The time arrived for the great sorting, the separating of the sheep from the goats in my wardrobe (moving on, shortly, to the kitchen and its various implements and gadgetry and, let's face it, some veritable uncleanliness). I am now the Messiah of my own slovenliness and I'ma save it, or myself, or the someone or something in need of redemption here. You figure it out. I'm busy kicking moneychangers out of my temple.

Here are some things I have learned from wrestling with my own possessions:

1. my poor clothes, they could not breathe in the closet, so crowded they were against one another.
2. too many shoes spoils the broth.
3. I have a lot of yellow shoes. A lot.
4. a mission to find yellow shoes needs several accountability points, as in, did we acquire the yellow shoes? shall we now terminate the mission? or shall we carry on as if finding yellow shoes is a lifetime project?
5. Certain fixations on shiny clothes are hereby ended. ENDED.
6. Except for the couple of sparkly coats I am retaining for my hour of need. Of sparkly coats.
7. If I'm going to have so many things, I have to spend time with them to remind me what they all are and vice versa.
8. There is no good system for organizing all of my tee shirts. Periodically, you just have to take them out and start over.
9. The emotional residue of certain items of clothing does not diminish with time, and I, at my most ruthless, have limited power to deal in any rational way with this fact.
10. The folkloric jacket with embroidery, if it is a light-colored jacket? Always a bad idea for me, no matter how empirically lovely the article or how cute the model in the catalog looked whilst wearing it with skinny jeans.

Still, I filled two large garbage bags with ruthlessly culled clothing and have cast them to outer darkness, aka the garage, where they await the next charity that calls me up asking for my donation. Someone is going to look awesome in certain shiny articles of clothing, as well as certain folkloric jackets. Awesome, and righteous.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It tolls for thee, but not today. And probably not tomorrow, either.

Dear reader, I have been thinking about mortality a lot as of late. A lot, as in a lot a lot. I recently wrote a poem called "My last will and testament," which, fine, but I have a slightly nagging feeling that I may have crossed a small line.

The objective reasons I am always going to this cold and lonely place in my fevered brain:

1. my grandma.
2. Betty the dog.
3. my children have grown and left the house.
4. my husband the historian is working on the project of his retirement, with all the plans and preparations and talking about money &c. that that entails.
5. I have more grandchildren in my life than I can count on two hands. (I will pause, so that you may reflect.)
6. I am a poet and may be disposed to fits of melancholie.
7. My hair is grey. -Ing.
8. I am older than I once was.

Whatever. Last night, in Summer Hours, there was a wonderful but heart-wrenching scene in which an older woman, mother of three grown children and grandmother to many, after a family party and after everyone has departed, sits in the dark and basically says (to her long-time housekeeper), "I'm old and when I die all kinds of things will die with me--my memories, my secrets--and that's as it should be. My children shouldn't be burdened with all of it." I sobbed (I have worked out a technique where I can sob almost soundlessly, so don't worry about my cinematic compatriots--they didn't miss a thing.) and sobbed. I thought to myself, I am going to end up like that lovely Frenchwoman, alone with my thoughts and my memories and my stuff and my secrets but probably without her long elegant figure, sleek coiffure, blah blah blah sob sob sob.

Except that the woman in the film, elegant of figure and sleekly coiffed, had just celebrated her seventy-fifth birthday.

Yes, that's seventy five, as in, just shy of four score years.

And I, dear reader, am fifty-one.

I need to get a grip. I am not in the autumn of my life. I am in the latter part of the summer. Like, early August. Mid-August, tops. I am not in the evening of my life. I am in the afternoon. Mid-afternoon. For crying out loud, I am in the picking roses and sipping lemonade and making a delicious dinner part of my life.

I am going to work on the project of not preparing so assiduously for my own decline and fall. Rather, I will prepare for a lot of happy years ahead. I think it's the only practical thing to do. To wit: you will not see me in a mini-skirt, but you will see me riding my bike. I will probably keep using inappropriate slang because I can't resist the newfangleness of it all. I am going to stop referring to my house as the coffin they can bury me in (so I don't have to sort through and/or move my stuff). I'm going to enjoy every minute with my friends and my darling husband and my stellar and adorable children and my delectable grandkids. I am going to throw more parties. To borrow a phrase, I'll be old when I'm dead. That will be plenty soon enough.

Friday, June 26, 2009


What is the optimal blogging frequency? Last year I blogged almost every day, with the exception of when we were in Dublin, when I made a decision not to make the trip be about blogging, which I do not regret one bit. (Instead, I took a million pictures . . . but that's another obsession to discuss upon another occasion.)

This year I have not forced myself to invent a post if one did not occur, and also, and frankly, I think the idea of having some extended experiences without feeling the need to comment on them every minute is probably good. Good for me, anyway. Because I don't spend enough time in front of a computer.

However, some weird blogging accounting compels me to offer you a report:

What I did while I was not blogging.

1. Went to lunch with my mom and dad, in honor of Father's Day and also their general delightfulness.
2. Bought three more colors of a certain lightweight cotton jersey cardigan that was marked way down, because I loved the first one I bought so very very much. Bringing the total of lightweight cotton jersey cardigans to 4. Because I love them so very very much.
3. Watched The Closer. Watched Saving Grace. Watched Knocked Up for the nth time (verdict: still very funny).
4. Took some footage for a new little film project.
5. Hung out with my grandson, including bringing him to my house for dinner and watching Monsters Inc. with him and putting him to bed and waking up in the morning and getting him breakfast and watching Toy Story and building towers with blocks and so forth.
6. Obtained my new laptop from my place of employment, a super-charged MacBook Pro. Which is everything it should be and more.
7. Went swimming with two grandsons up at Snowbird.
8. Helped grandson navigate the vagaries of a little summertime project we call the ice cream cone.
9. Read several novels, including the lately-neglected annual summer project of re-reading Harriet the Spy.
10. Read a new cookbook. Purchased copy of said cookbook for my very own.
11. Contemplated the desirability of everyday cake. (verdict: highly desirable.)
12. Went to see romantic comedy with Dr. Write, immediately followed by Summer Hours with the historian. (verdict: romantic comedy rather delightful; Summer Hours, sublime.)
13. Observed that the light this evening, after the storm had mostly passed, was both purple and golden.

Hope your days have been equally productive.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Today I was listening briefly to this story about sonnets on "On Point" (rebroadcast from April, National Poetry Month, also the cruelest month), and I made this list of things to do before my sabbatical is over:

1. write one sonnet a day until I go back to school.

Some other things on this list: write a poem a day (more generic); write every day (even more generic); make two films a week; read x book (this list is truly endless); clean up one part of my house so that it will be clutter and chaos proof for ever and eternity; meditate; find this one book I have frustratingly misplaced; start watching the NetFlix movies that have sat around in my house ENDlessly; ride my bike more. (This is not the end of the list--it's just all I can remember/think of/bear to remember.)

If I'm not careful, I could ruin the rest of the summer with this kind of productivity-driven thinking, which is exactly the kind of dunder-headed nonsensical self-defeating head game I have made a specialty of over the years. So, no: I will not be making any new self-improving projects (somebody HELP me). I am going to enjoy myself, dammit, and try to enjoy the same let's-see-where-this-takes-me kind of process that has been so entirely soul-renewing recently.

I remember certain summers when I basically made necklaces out of beads on fishline and tried to talk my kids into doing it with me, and scrounged change from the couch cushions so we could all go to the dollar movie. I'm pretty sure we ate a bunch of popsicles that summer, as well. (this may actually be a composite summer.)

Maybe for the remainder of this summer, I will (1) upgrade the quality of the popsicles (and wait until it actually gets warm enough for it to be pleasant to eat them), and (b) maybe I will read whatever the hell I feel like reading, and (c) maybe I will go see a romantic comedy or ten. And maybe I will write a few sonnets, as well, because it sounds fun to try. Although the villanelle I started today is spiteful and a brat.

But basically, I expect that when I go back to school, I will be my same old regular unimproved self. The main reason this is true is that there's not a chance in hell that I would actually accomplish all the stuff on that list. But there is a very good chance I could make myself feel bad about it.

(4) no more list-making or goal-setting.

Actually, and more realistically,

(e) I will try very hard to keep the goal-making and listing in check. And I will eat (6) some popsicles.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

And now, a word or two about sauce.

While my friend and I were in Bozeman, we had lunch at a terrific little tapas place. We both had sandwiches. I ordered mine with fries, which came accompanied by a chipotle catsup.

(and now, we pause for a short moment in personal history:)

When I was a kid and my dad was in the Air Force, we lived in Japan for three years. I was eight when we moved there and eleven when we moved back to the States. In the middle there, we went to the Officer's Club to swim in the summers. This meant, among other things, proving that you could swim so you could have your yellow patch so you could go in the deep end, and also during the once-hourly out-of-the-pool break, buying french fries at the snack bar. (To me, to this day, swimming at a public pool calls out for french fries, which doesn't always happen, which leaves, therefore, a certain feeling of incompletion and loss. But I digress.) At the snack bar, the french fries came with a side squirt of catsup, which I ended up disliking quite a bit. I did not, however, complain about this openly. I just ate the non-catsup-y fries first, then the ones that had been only barely anointed, then the ones where I could sort of scrape off the catsup. And, thenceforth, I have preferred my fries to be accompanied only by salt. Or, if the fries are amazing, perhaps salt that has been chopped with fresh garlic.

(back to Bozeman:)

Chipotle catsup is a whole different thing than catsup. I am sure there's a fancier way to do it, but you can make it by putting (a) catsup in a small dish, and (b) shaking as much bottled chipotle sauce as you like on top. You can go ahead and use a fry to mix it, because you can eat the mixing implement, and the fry will be ever-so-perfectly enhanced by this subtle improvement. I never thought I would say it, but this kind of catsup is a perfect accompaniment for fries.

Onto another sauce: the Bozeman sandwich had basil aioli.
Friend: So, you do mayonnaise now?

Me: This isn't mayonnaise. This is aioli.
Moreover, basil aioli.

(and now, another short moment in personal history:)

My mom used to pack my lunches when I was in elementary school. Let us pause now to salute lunch-packing moms, who try to keep track of the picky tastes of elementary schoolers, who may like, say, bologna with cheese one week, but form an inexplicable and unalterable opposition to the very idea of such a sandwich the next. Never mind that there's a whole new package of bologna. Bologna shall never again cross the palate of the elementary schooler, and that non-negotiable truth is the New Lunch Rules. (This is the basic story of how I didn't eat eggs from about age six to last year.)

Anyway: in sixth grade, I loved deviled ham. The kind that came in a can. You put a little mayo on the bread, spread on the deviled ham, topped with another piece of bread. Slide the sammy into a waxed paper bag, bag of chips, orange wedges, cookie, and back in the day, we'd call that lunch. Except for the day when a tiny globule of mayo happened to adorn the edge of the crust of this sandwich. It caught my eye. I contemplated it. I considered it. Why should a slightly glossy-looking bit of mayonnaise which had escaped its breadly home bother me? What difference could this possibly make? Except that it did. Mayonnaise thenceforth became my mortal and eternal enemy.

(back to Bozeman:)

But aioli is not mayonnaise, and mayonnaise is not aioli. Especially basil aioli. Which was the perfect accompaniment for the delicious sandwich I wolfed down, accompanied by fries and chipotle catsup.

And thus ends the disquisition upon sauces, amen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Some things to whine about.

Uh, I hate to be that person, the one who whines about summer, but here I go, whining:

1. My mind starts feeling dizzy when I think about the different appointments and dates and people who will be in town and what's happening, plus birthdays, Father's Day, concert dates, and other events and travel that are not yet finalized. Dizzy. My mind is trying to find a chair before it falls on the floor.

2. It is the middle of June and the weather has not been, let's be honest, acting very summery. Not that I am the person ever to complain about rain or snow (please, let's not get technical about this--by "ever" I mean "hardly ever" and by "hardly ever" I mean "not more than once a day or so"), but good heavens, it's rained so much! Not that I'm complaining about the rain.

3. I'm feeling a little bit cold right now, actually.

4. DayQuil is making me a little bit woozy. Watch out if you see me on the road.

5. My very old cat is back to her mouse-killing ways. Earlier this evening, I saw her move rather speedily under the bed with a corpse in her mouth. And by "the bed" I mean "where I sleep," which I think we can all agree is no place for mice, dead or alive or God, this is making me a little nauseated.

Okay, time to lie down under a pile of covers to read a, let's face it, trashy detective novel. I can own up to my trashy, whiny ways. I am all about accountability. I will try to keep the woozy, mind-reeling complaining to a minimum for the next eight hours, and also--lucky!--I will not be behind the wheel of a car. So we've got that going for us.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A letter to my action-packed, fun-filled life.

Dear My action-packed, fun-filled life,

Thanks for the awesome weekend in Idaho. Due to you, the weekend was (as advertised) packed with action and full of fun: my oldest, dearest friend; a dinner out; breakfast with everyone, including grandkids; a drive northward; walks by the river; talk talk talk; a trip to Bozeman; excellent food. Movies. Well, you know--you were there.

However, I must say, my action-packed &c., today, after I saw my friend to the airport and drove home, I got slammed with your immediate flip-side--the hell-to-pay side. The small print in the contract that says, "Pursuant to awesome weekends will be hell to pay, to wit: summer cold, a general whipped feeling, slight nausea, vertigo in public places, slightly dangerous driving decisions, sudden tears."

First there was the exhaustion, which necessitated a small nap. Then there were some small rainy tearfests for no good reason except that I miss my friend and love my kids and we are all mortal. Then, the brief excursion to PetsMart in which I found myself wandering the cat food aisle trying to find the old cat cat food. Then the sneezing, and now the sniffing. Actually, I'm not even sure what I'm saying here as I am writing on the internet with very overheated eyes.

My action-packed, fun-filled life, why you got to be like that?


lisa b.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


When I got on the train this afternoon and opened my novel, I took this epigraph as a sign that it would be a very good one:
"Deep inside the town there open up, so to speak, double streets, doppelganger streets, mendacious and delusive streets."
(epigraph originally from Bruno Schulz, The Cinnamon Shops and Other Stories; the novel I am now reading is The City and The City, China Mieville)
And so far, 42 pages in, my guess is a good one. This guy, China Mieville, is a real thing, the people. He is awesome. (Check out this video from Amazon)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Miscellaneous good things.

1. Friends who will counsel with you about technology (thanks Clint, Eric, and David!).
2. Losing track of time whilst making a project.
3. Receiving not one but two beautiful publications in the mail today:

4. A cool-ish, rainy-ish June so far.
5. Hearing from my folks that, up in Island Park, there was snow yesterday. Yes, snow.
6. Sorting out a new technical challenge in Final Cut Express.
7. Dinner with children on Sunday.
8. A delightful solitary Monday.
9. The library. What a brilliant concept.

New video!

Revision from lisab on Vimeo.

A little treat from France.

You cannot deny that this song is limitlessly improved with a French accent:

(via Mighty Girl via Kottke)

Friday, June 05, 2009

Short lists: a short list.

Slightly alarming things that have happened more than once and I am hoping will not become a trend:

1. Missing my stop on the train because I am reading.

Thing I do that might be a little weird, but I'm probably going to keep doing it anyway:

1. Skulk around my own house, faking like I'm not at home, when someone's at the door and I don't feel like answering it.

Possibly not the best right-before-bedtime reading material:

1. Dark brooding crime fiction set in European countries near the Arctic circle. (But I'm probably going to keep reading it anyway.)

Things which, under some circumstances, might be delightful, but which, under these particular circumstances, in fact make me a little bitter:

1. Receiving my complimentary copy of a book of poems--the one that won the contest that I also entered but did not win.

Happy birthday dear Lori (late).

I took this picture with a camera I had when I was pretty young--I think I must have been fourteen, maybe fifteen? Anyway, this is my youngest sister who was (in the parlance of my family) a pipsqueak and, as I believe you can see here, the very picture of sass and insouciance.

It was her birthday two days ago, so I'm wishing her many happy returns now. Because that's the kind of sister I am.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

One minute of pure joy.

There are subtitles. Sit back. [Viewing note: you'll have a better time reading the subtitles if you sit back a little bit from the screen, and an even better time if you enlarge the video. I have viewer feedback, which I am using to enhance your viewing experience!]

the conversation (with dogs) from lisab on Vimeo.

Monday, June 01, 2009

You know you want to know this.

My sleep patterns just could not be more riveting:

sleep disorder. from lisab on Vimeo.

Thanks for watching.


Lately, I have been using the Genius feature of iTunes to make playlists, especially when I'm in the car, and I must report to you, the people, that the experience lives up to the name, or almost. In case you don't know, the way it works is, you pick a song, which starts playing. You hit the middle button, and the menu asks if you want to add it to an On-the-Go playlist, or if you want to turn on Genius. You select the "turn on Genius" option (by all means!), and it creates a playlist of twenty-five songs that connect with the one with which you started.

On the way up to and back from Idaho, the historian and I used Genius to rather stunning effect. The first one we started with was a Thelonious Monk tune, and from that we got Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, Brad Mehldau, Wes Montgomery, and on and on. A very satisfying jazz list. I created a great retro experience by starting with Little Feat, "Willin'," and coming up with all sorts of seventies folk-ish stuff. Deeeelightful.

The best by far occurred when we started with Willie Nelson, "Whiskey River," which gave us (of course) Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle, Gillian Welch . . . it's like when you get on a good run of shuffled tunes, but more coherent: lots of surprises and so much enjoyment. If you are an obsessive like me and have more tunes than you know what to do with, I think you might enjoy Genius as a different way of accessing your music.

I will say that when I started with a Ben Folds tune, I got a lot more Ben Folds, which leads me to conclude that sometimes, Genius just doesn't have the energy. Like the rest of us.


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