Catherine Rankovic

Writer, with 30+ years' writing and publishing experience, 20+ years' teaching experience. Last book read: Mrs. Lincoln by Catherine Clinton.

Jan 28

What You Get from Your Job

Under "professional experience" please add:
  • Used now-historic computers and witnessed fascinating new technological developments
  • Made best friends with officemates
  • Witnessed dramatic business moments
  • Felt kinship with co-workers, especially if they were going through a rough patch
  • Experienced dramatic moments in business communication

Such as? How about the tiime the whole staff excused itself, one by one, in midafternoon thanks to a massive snowstorm. I was web editor and could not leave until I got the official word that the company's evening events were to be cancelled because that needed to be posted online. One boss and I remained, waiting for the word, knowing the big boss never liked to cancel anything for any reason. Outside the snow fell thickly and traffic crawled. Darkness fell. We waited. Finally the word came and I posted it on our most-trafficked pages and was bundled up and just about to leave when my boss said the cancellation did not show up on our website. Our postings had a history of lag time, on and off. I had measured it and it was always about 50 minutes and IT said they couldn't fix it, that it was a problem in our open-source software. Users would come to the site to confirm cancellation, and until I was sure they could see it, I would not leave. But in this case I showed the boss how to back out of his browser and then hard refresh. There it was. Then I fought my way to a friend's house because there was no way I could make the drive home.

Jan 05

Best Yahoo Group for Writers: CRWROPPS-B

If you wish somebody would keep you up to date on the latest publishing and contest opportunities, the Yahoo Group CRWROPPS-B, edited and updated daily by poet Alison Joseph, is a must-see. You don't have to do a thing but go there. No signing in, discussions, donations, or anything: Just postings with the info you want about first-book contests, poetry contests, fiction contests, online magazines seeking writers for theme issues, residencies, creative-writing jobs, and grants. Most of the time with direct links to the source so you can obtain complete information.

You can subscribe to the postings or you can just bookmark it and go there when you feel the need. I visit about once per week. Here's the URL: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CRWROPPS-B/.

Ms. Joseph has been running CRWROPPS-B (Creative Writing Opportunities List) since November 2005 and she should be sainted for her efficiency and accuracy. Knowing which publisher is looking for work like yours is half the battle of getting published. CRWROPPS-B is all you need to start addressing those envelopes and get your work circulating to people who want to see it. If you don't yet follow CRWROPPS-B, try it; six thousand followers can't be wrong!
Jan 02

Not Compromising on Candor

Believing that my candor was compromised in the past few months I felt unable to write here or anywhere. I want to forget that whole period. It had nothing to do with writing except to choke it off. When that happens, creativity backs up and assumes monstrous forms: worry, sickening fear, stress, insomnia, lack of motivation, negativity; that's the result of no freedom of expression. There was a gorilla in the room and I learned that there are some gorillas I just can't ignore, and that if another one comes knocking I should never ever open the door even a crack.

After being freed from that compromise I completed a draft script of the "Giving Voice" poetry project and submitted it to the group which plans to perform it with me February 28 at the Mad Art Gallery in Soulard. I enjoyed giving the 20 poems different "settings" to enhance the message and impact of each. It was like placing gems in the appropriate jewelry settings. These are poems their authors favored that somehow never got published. I am waiting for feedback on the draft. I hope intensely for the group's approval and cooperation but if I can have only one of those it'd be cooperation.

Next, I got my five best poems out in the mail. They went to Prairie Schooner, which had encouraged me to send again. They now have a brand-new editor after the retirement of editor Hilda Raz after 30 or so years. The policy is still "no simultaneous submissions."

After that I wrote a barrage of short articles that I'd put off, and then had some realizations. One, there is always still time to be great. Two, there is no point in compromising any more. I've already exposed in writing everything I am, and it's easy to find and judge. Like Whitman said, "I contain multitudes." Deal with it. Three, there is no point in making gestures just to be able to say, "Well, I made a gesture." I will either have to foresee an outcome in reality, or it is not worth doing, like applying for jobs 1000 other people are applying for.
Dec 14

Hating the Teacher

Frequently creative-writing students hit a phase when they hate the teacher. The mature students richly praised by former teachers don't like hearing that the way they're writing isn't already perfect for THIS particular class. They make stinging little comments, in class or out, about the teacher's "power" or "soapbox." The less experienced students simply hate having to work at their writing: doing things over, or in stages, or asking for help, or doing stupid exercises or worksheets, when they're used to one-step everything. Granted, it's tedious, and the natural target of their frustration is the person who makes them work. The younger ones might draft a poem about their torment or their tormentor, having no idea they are not the first to do this.

When I read or hear annoyed comments or get dark looks from students, any age, who are FED UP, who have worked ALL WEEKEND and, what, they're getting more criticism, and then there's a reading assignment and study questions--I know at least they are having strong feelings related to writing. Without strong feelings they would quit writing. Now is the time students dig in and say, "I'll show HER!" or "Okay, I will strip my writing of all the stuff that makes me look smart, this class can't appreciate it," or "Okay, I WILL just dump it all out on the page; so there!" It is much, much more important that they hate the teacher for a while instead of hating writing. And it won't be long until they get tired of hating, and -- magic -- they are at a new level. Everyone can see that. And I am relieved.
Nov 17

Poetry and the Economy, Part 1

Nobody asked me, but I think the depressed economy -- which looks like it will last, and affects everything -- will bring about a new esthetic. Everything new in literature starts in poetry, so I was interested and then uneasy when an accomplished poet friend wrote me that she was enrolling in this writers.com online poetry course, for which I give you the course description and outline:

Imperfectly Simple: Write Wabi Sabi

Write to see the light shine through the cracks in your life. Wabi Sabi is a hip alternative to measuring value solely by degrees of perfection or profit. Originating in Japan, it celebrates intrinsic value in what is lean, spare and rough hewn. Do you appreciate vintage patinas? Do you want to make peace with your life’s cracked pots or ragged edges—even your penchant for messiness? This class is for anyone who sees value-added in simply what is—and wants to write about it.

We’ll write from a Wabi Sabi perspective (and technique) in short essays, stories, poetry, or journal entries. We’ll even get visual to create an "altered book” documenting class experience. Bring your flaws to class. We’re going to write from the space between the lines. Class theme will be the following quote by Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Week 1: Imperfect & Uncertain: Learning what Wabi Sabi is, I'm beginning to appreciate its value for my life and work. I question the drive to be certain, competent and confident about my writing.

Week 2: Quirky & Transient: I celebrate what’s offbeat about my work, my home, my family, my life. I look more closely at the immaterial and what is not seen with the eye.

Week 3: Simple & Rustic: I write simple, spare and lean in form and/or content. I explore the rugged patina of my experience and my writing practice.

Week 4: Broken & Incomplete: I allow what’s wrong to be wrong—and understand that’s all right. I make sense of the “end” of things, and value what’s left unfinished.

This course sounds so intriguing and exotic. How fun to try it (only $160 for four weeks). It sounds so punk rock and carefree! To lighten up, devolve, loosen my grip, and see and write like a kid again! I don't doubt that Wabi Sabi is good poetic exercise. Yet its values remind me of Facebook. Facebook encourages communications that are simple and incomplete, lean and transient, imperfect and uncertain, rough-hewn and quirky. (It is, however, strangely intolerant of any posting that is not hip, and I would bet my lunch that Wabi Sabi is the same way.) Facebook is a quirk fest, a quirk museum. We revel in our own and each other's quirks there, while Facebook compiles our quirks for marketers, employers, and surveillance. Nobody much cares about that.

Nobody cares much about poetry either, but they are going to care more, and soon. Nobody collects poetry for marketers and surveillance--yet. That is its glory. To get casual about the way we write poetry--saturating it with the personal and offbeat, being satisfied to leave it unfinished--I think is a mistake.

I'm particularly troubled by that one sentence: "I allow what’s wrong to be wrong—and understand that’s all right."

More later.....
Nov 17

At Last, Get Money for Writing What You Want

I sometimes itch to write articles. It is one of my best impulses. The ideas simply appear. For example, I wondered how Mexico is preparing for the rumored Mayan end-of-the-world on December 21, 2012. I not only found several sources that told me; I wrote about it. And posted it. I even found a good illustration/photo for it on Wikimedia Comons. It was my 60th article on the "content farm" called Hubpages.com.

Before, I would have had to pitch the idea for months until I found a publisher who'd then tell me how he or she wanted it written; by then I would have lost that impulse that comes from sudden curiosity. And this sort of story is time-sensitive and I really don't have the months to waste finding a publisher. Then there's the money issue. What would I be paid for this? Every freelancer knows the answer: Nothing, or Not Much. Let's say $200.

So I wrote and posted the article on HubPages where, as long as it remains posted, it earns residual money from Google Ad clicks. My articles there -- all impulse sorts of things I love to write but I'd have a very hard time selling -- earn me about $100 a month right now. That's three times what I was offered for my last article. Yes, times are hard, but they have always been hard for writers -- for whom any money at all is better than what they were making. Yet the very best part is the liberty. We're as free as the old-time columnists were to write what we want. If it's good, people will read it.

Oct 25

Respect (Just a Little Bit)

I was the least distinguished guest at the dinner party. It was a great honor to be asked to dine among the stars. So I detailed myself and was on my best behavior, enjoying a glass of wine and listening to the chat. I did not smoke, swear, or do card tricks. But then dinner was ready. The host's dining table seated only 8 and there were 10 diners. What to do?

The solution: Put a little table off in the corner and seat there (with place cards) the least distinguished guest and the second-least-distinguished guest, both unescorted females. We could neither see nor be seen by the diners, who had their backs to us, nor could we take part in their conversation. We were told with an apology that this arrangement was by lottery. Forgive me, but I doubt that one or two of the nationally and internationally famous would have been seated at the kids' table, lottery or not.

I'm from an ethnic subculture that loves to host and treats even the most extraneous guests as royalty. We would rather face a firing squad than set a few human beings apart as if there were not several alternatives to this arrangement, to wit:
1. Serve dinner buffet-style.
2. Buy or rent a larger table.
3. Use smaller chairs. (Accommodating guests is more important than matching or having to move your furniture.)
4. Dining room too small for the crowd? Move the table to the living room.
5. Have the hosts (or at least one of them) seat themselves at the second-class table.
6. Have the hosts buzzing around serving and refilling and ascertaining that all invitees are well taken care of (the hosts can eat later).
7. Move the event to a restaurant (doesn't have to be expensive) and write off the cost as a business expense and as a way to head off even a whiff of an idea that they sort their guests by importance.

I was so embarrassed at being thus Jim Crowed -- regardless of status I am still a human being -- that I had to try not to cry, asking myself grimly and repeatedly, "What would Eleanor Roosevelt do?" She famously said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." I wonder if anyone else was embarrassed by this arrangement. (Nobody said anything. I considered leaving. My parents would have seen the score, excused themselves and left. I thought that might embarrass the hosts in front of their other guests, and politeness required I should be embarrassed rather than they; and finally, I did not want to leave my poor tablemate twisting in the wind.)

As fate would have it, this happened to the only one who would ever write about it. It is what I have always done to stay sane.
Oct 16

Applying Online for an Official U.S. Copyright

I had to do copyright registration myself this time because the printer for The Woman Who Values Herself did not include copyrighting among its services. I've paid others to do this for me, because when I first did it in 2005, filling out forms and sending them through the mail, I messed up and the process took 18 months. But now you can apply for copyright for your book, published or unpublished, online, today through www.copyright.gov's eCO (e-copyright) system and it costs only $35 compared to $65 if you apply on paper. The online application requires a little patience for clicking Help and FAQ buttons on the less-than-intuitive interface (which advises you that its maximum file size for the "typical 56kbps modem is 11.3MB," and that its system was built for IE and Netscape browsers. Netscape?!? Gesundheit!). Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers are okay, and I think you can load bigger files now.

You can then upload your text if it's in the right format, which is most anything except .epub, which you'll have to convert to .zip. If your book is already printed, apply electronically for copyright and pay the $35 fee online, and then print out a shipping slip to mail along with two copies of the book to the Library of Congress. I just love the idea of my books in the U.S. Library of Congress. The site warns you that your package will be x-rayed for security reasons. I love thinking that my envelope with two books in it is so important that it scares them up on Capitol Hill.

The whole point of formal registration is to establish yourself as the copyright owner should a dispute arise. Probably one won't. But never say never. Registering your book within three months of publication gives you extra rights in case of litigation.

Copyright.gov is a great site for answering any and all copyright questions about texts, music, video, or any other sort of intellectual/artistic creations.

Oct 09

Sic Transit Gloria

I'm an elder now among writers. The younger ones who have the positions similar to what I had, or used to want, do not know me, and haven't heard or read anything I've written; in fact they're not sure I am published at all. I haunt the fringes at readings or workshops, but what they see is a middle-aged woman, a local, who never published in Shenandoah or snagged a big prize, at least that they know about, or any honor that still matters. Maybe I was somebody once, but I made mistakes, missed the boat, and now I'm a member of the old-school. That's how it goes, the way the cookie crumbles, sic transit gloria mundi; anyway, their own lives occupy them quite completely, as they ought to. I have been where they are now.

I have learned that a middle-aged female no matter how distinguished isn't granted that halo of success and prominence the younger are sure that they will have when they reach middle age. Rather, the middle-aged female is a nonentity. The goosey voices of her kind get tuned out. People remark only on the way she dresses: a too-exotic scarf, a funereal black suit, maybe boots (groan), or microfiber flats that too clearly accommodate her bunions or bunionettes. But the clothes might as well be empty. She is an embarrassment; it is feared that her nothingness is contagious. That she might have accomplished notable things doesn't matter. Her fee might be twice what you make in a month. She might even be Secretary of State. But no halo.

It's a gleaming platinum halo; I have seen it around others, around the young, gifted, royal, and hopeful.

I wear it in my hair.

Oct 09

"On the Coming of Evening"

"On the coming of evening, I return to my house and enter my study, and at the door I take off the day's clothing, covered with mud and dust, and put on garments regal and courtly, and, reclothed appropriately, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them with affection, I feed on that food which only is mine and which I was born for.

"I am not ashamed to speak with them and ask them the reason for their actions, and they in their kindness answer me, and for four hours of time I do not feel boredom, I forget every trouble, I do not dread poverty, I am not frightened by death; entirely I give myself over to them."
- Letter from Niccolo Machiaelli to Francesco Vettori, 10 December 1513