Dec 14
Written by

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
Written by

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
Written by

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
Written by

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
Written by

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
Written by

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
Written by

"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
Oct 09
Written by

The Oddity of One's Own New Book

This has happened before. Something is printed and I see only its imperfections. But slowly I become proud that exists at all.

The Woman Who Values Herself is about 90 percent of what I envisioned when I set out to print a pocket-sized book of 31 affirmations for women, each illustrated with a line drawing by Sheila Kennedy. I suspect it is just as a grown child is always about 90 percent of what a parent hoped for. And of course the parent dwells on the 10 percent. What's right:
  • sizewomanwhovalues2inches
  • cover color (love the green! There is no name for such a green!)
  • most of the drawings
  • the fact that this book exists at all
  • the kindness shown to me by all the blurb contributors
  • that this is Sheila's first book and she's thrilled and she should be, she is awesome
  • that this book might be of help or comfort to somebody somewhere someday
  • pricing ($10; thank God I asked for advice!)
What's wrong:
  • They didn't add one of my corrections
  • The paper is thick and I'd hoped it would be opaque, but it's not
  • The back cover with its three colors looks better to me than the front with its two colors
  • They didn't vertically center the blurbs on the back; I mean, it's okay but it's not perfect!
  • Yes, the spine is 1/4 inch wide just as I wanted, and admittedly it is the thinnest possible size for a perfect (glued) binding, but it drives me wild when the microscopic printing on some of them is off by a millionth of an inch
That said, it is time to start getting proud of it, just as a parent finally becomes proud of simply having passed along the gift of life.
Oct 09
Written by

'Tis the Season to Rip Off New Authors

Friend had her first novel accepted by a very small press (two owners, a couple, fighting) and excitedly signed a contract that said the press would edit her work for publication. But instead it referred her to an editor they knew who wanted $450. My friend, eager to see her book published, paid it. The edit/rewrite horrified her. She called me and added that she hated the book's new title, and had paid $250 for the cover image (what?!) and more for her own author photo (that's normal, paying for your own photo), and the press was pushing her to have the book out by November 1, "in time for the holidays," and expected her to do all her own marketing and sell 500 copies by Christmas. My friend asked the press how she could possibly do that, and they said, "Hire a hall and then invite everyone you know and and sell them the book."

The owners weren't speaking to one another and one was secretly trying to establish her own separate press, and secretly asked my friend to come and be HER author, although this entailed having the manuscript edited again by another editor, with my friend responsible for the cost.

What should she do, my friend asked.

I said, "Pull out, today. Call. Tell them you don't want to work with them. Send a registered letter. They broke contract when they made you pay for an edit. They sound too penny-ante to hire a lawyer and fight you, but if they did, they broke contract and they will lose."

But oh...they'd accepted her first novel! She so much wanted to see it in print. And she knew that if she pulled her book, ahead of her lay months of submitting her manuscript until someone else accepted it, and she didn't want to go through that again, and self-publishing, well, that was death; so what should she do?


Oct 04
Written by

The Joy of Printing

jenwithpressPhoto is of poet Jennifer Tappenden who decided she could either take a vacation or start a press. And she started Architrave Press, hand-setting and hand-printing a first edition of 250 copies each of 10 poems selected after she called for submissions. She learned the letterpress printing process from scratch and uses this 1957 press that was once motorized but now operates entirely manually, cranking out with a sound like thunder finished poems inked on beautiful paper. Jennifer re-conceived the poetry book or anthology, asking, Why can't people buy and collect only the poems they like, the way they download only the songs they like? When the poems are offered separately, a buyer can build his or her own collection, and the hand-created nature of the pages gives them value.

I spent an evening in a Cherokee Street storefront watching this process, all hand-done from setting up the poems as Ben Franklin or Walt Whitman had done it, with lead letters, backwards, in little frames. Then there was the piling of quality paper, the skilled inking of the roller, which has to be just right, and the roll of the ink over the letters to make: poems. At hand was the print shop's black dog, named Smudge. What's an "Architrave" you ask? A stone or wooden beam held up by columns, usually over a doorway, as in classical architecture. Architrave Press is holding its first reading event Friday, Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at a venue new to me, The Tavern of Fine Arts, 313 Belt Avenue in the Central West End. I hope to see you there when my "Self-Portrait on Greyhound Bus" makes is debut in print.
Sep 30
Written by

The Writer's Hangover

Writing 13 hours a day indoors during this oppressively hot summer and enjoying it, I knew it was technically unhealthy not to do anything else, so decided to drive 500 miles for a trip north to get out, take a break, cool off and see family. Started up through Illinois and for the first two hours could not stay awake. Stopped for coffee, stopped for lunch with coffee, stopped at a rest stop for 40 minutes and did jumping jacks and yoga, and stopped at another rest stop and splashed and slapped my face and lay down on a stone bench gazing up at fizzing summer trees, thinking, What's the matter? Illinois I-55 is not a challenging drive, it's a long straight line!

Then it occured to me that driving is a linear, objective task, a left-brain task, and for weeks I'd been waltzing in a right-brain ballroom of swirling words and limitless inner pictures and ideas. Even taking daily walks, very early or very late in the day, I didn't "do" straight lines; mostly I took gorgeous photos of gorgeous summer butterflies and wildflowers, and did only the barest minimum of anything else. Too swirly even to follow a DVD; Lost in Translation sat on the top of the player for three months and when I watched it, it made no sense. House was a wreck. I tried to construct and sew a simple skirt: disaster, thrown in trash. Presence in one place meant absence in another. Then I wondered if it was just the way things are for writers. Most of us have had a writing hangover. Binge on writing and you get a skull-buster of a writing hangover. It's not a joke; it can really impair you.

The problem was the transition from one type of task to another, and given one day and one night I got better at making the switch. I read an article that said it would have helped to do crosswords, Sudoku, or math problems. But I'd really like to live the high life in that right brain all the time.
Sep 30
Written by

Making $ on The HubPages "Content Farm"

I read at least 10 online horoscope columns per day, seeking my destiny, and figured I might as well write what I thought about them and the others I consulted or discovered or rejected: I've bookmarked about 80 in all. And so the "Horoscope Review" by astrologer "Sylvia Sky" was born in August 2010 on HubPages.com.

HubPages.com is a host site for articles by anybody about anything (except porn or hate speech), but you can make money if people click on the ads appearing on your pages. Such host sites are derisively called "content farms." People post poetry, novel chapters, articles about relationships, recipes, political rants, whatever, and hope for readers. But as the HubPages chiefs advise, you build a following by carving a niche and staying in it, and the best way to rise to the top of Google Search is to write quality articles. I've now published 54 HubPages articles that have been read more than 64,000 times; Google Ads pays me about $150 a month, and more each month as my readership grows, because they're good articles I work hard at. Nobody else was writing good solid knowledgeable reviews of online astrology columns. Some online astrologers are genuine; I recommend Rick Levine, Sally Brompton, Susan Miller (for monthly horoscopes), and Daniel Dowd (for weekly horoscopes). I've corresponded with some of these astrologers who have huge followings. All online "psychics" who have their own site are, without exception, fakes, and Sylvia can tell you why because she investigates their claims and calls their numbers.

Sylvia gets letters from all over the world thanking her for exposing fakes; about these matters, even the most intelligent people can be terribly gullible. I have fun and use my journalism skills, my ability to write for the Web, my critical talents and astrology hobby, and perform a service for thousands of people. Some writers hate "content farms." I don't. Sometimes I am asked if I provide psychic readings. I don't; I write horoscope reviews. Sylvia Sky is the Consumer Reports of Internet astrology. Sylvia embodies my weird interests. She is a successful subself. How about you? More about HubPages, coming up.