Very excited about this Thursday, which is Seattle’s 2014 LitCrawl event, Superheroes vs Fairy Tales, where I’ll be reading at The Project Room at 8 PM. The lineup: Angela Jane Fountas, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Michael Schmeltzer, and Maya Sonenberg, with Evan J. Peterson. Michael and I will be representing the superhero side (plus I might sneak in a fairy tale poem,) so come early and cheer us on! I’m also planning on going to the after-party at Hugo House, which starts around 9 PM. Should be a blast!
And I’d like to thank The Freeman and Fee.org for publishing my poem, “Introduction to Dermatographia.”
Yesterday I ventured into downtown Seattle for a meeting, and we got towed (for the first time since college!) Downtown Seattle has gotten much more aggressive with its ticketing and towing, just a heads-up for those who visit – even we locals get confused by the signs and rules! But the meeting was lovely, and I also got to visit the office of the press Chin Music, which is a lovely local press that does some amazing books.
Thinking a bit and planning a bit for the next book, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, including things like marketing, PR, print runs, that kind of thing. That’s because the book is basically complete and going early to get ready for sending out e-galleys soon!
Speaking of robot scientist’s daughters, I watched a bit of the Manhattan series yesterday, which is maybe a bit overwrought (some of the dialogue lands with a thud: example, the teen daughter of one of the nuclear scientists: “Why does everything have to be a secret??”) and I object to all the “important” work being done in New Mexico (as a lot was done at Hanford and Oak Ridge) but it’s definitely a fascinating mini-series about the Manhattan Project. Everyone waves a lot of Geiger counters around a lot. I do like that they have a female botanist/biologist who starts outside the project to notice things going wrong with her backyard flowers, and later medical records indicating problems with the children exposed to the radiation around Los Alamos. It’s a series that helps bring to life some of the “boring science” of the Manhattan Project – and, this being what it is, they fill it with lots of sex and violence to give it more tv-friendliness – of a subject that most people probably don’t know enough about. This first season (it’s just been renewed for a second) focused on the failed “Thin Man” project.
Superheroes, fairy tales, radioactive flowers – I mean, really, what more can you ask for? Hope to see you Thursday!
Most writers are not also known as jocks. They’re not the kind of people you picture shooting hoops, throwing the touchdown pass, kicking a goal. The stereotype of a writer, forgive me: is bookish, introverted, who doesn’t understand the dynamics of cheerleading other players, or being the supporting player in a larger group. And that same introverted, bookish young writer dreams of being the star all the time: alone at his laptop, “creating,” or in front of an audience, accepting a prize or performing work to a rapt crowd. They don’t necessarily dream of the hard work it takes to make those things happen – a lot of which revolves around acting as a supportive team member. So is writing a team sport, or an individual sport?
For instance, what will your connection to your poetry community be if you never show up to anyone else’s reading, but complain when no one shows up to yours? If you ask for reviews from friends, but never write any yourself? (And I’m including Goodreads and Amazon in that – not everyone loves writing long-form critical reviews, but everyone can write a nice Amazon review.) What happens if you go to a writing group where you listen attentively to everyone’s comments on your piece, but never offer any feedback yourself? If you act as an editor, or a publisher, for a literary magazine or poetry series, yes, it will take time and energy, but what will that add to your understanding of rejections, suggested edits, or book promotion?
There’s also the trouble of group dynamics – again, a stereotype of writers is that they’re touchy, sensitive, crying over a rejection or a bad reading, unable to stand a single negative comment at a conference workshop. If you have a group of people who consider themselves sensitive, or stars, how do you interact with each other in a helpful, non-painful way? I mean, if you’ve been to AWP, you know what I’m talking about: people pushing their books without listening to anyone else, waiting to talk to people they deem “more important” while ignoring those “less important.” Everyone can’t be the star all the time, everyone can’t be “the sensitive one” in a room of 10,000. That will lead to a lot of crying at the bar.
If you think of yourself, sorry for the basketball metaphor, as someone who not only makes the layups themselves, but also stars in “assists” – that is, passes to people who score the points – then I think you’ll be happier and more successful in the long-haul work of being a writer. (I know it might be a surprise for those of you who know me now, but I used to play three sports – soccer, basketball, and track – and was even offered a couple of college basketball scholarships. Yes, even though I’m five four – I was a point guard, it’s a little bit of a support role rather than a forward/star kind of role.) Back then, before the onset of most of my autoimmune issues, my body was more cooperative, but even more than any physical thing, or learning sports skills and learning how to win and lose, these sports taught me that I don’t have to always be the person in the spotlight, and helping the team to a win sometimes means a little bit of sacrifice individually.
So, yes, we have to spend a certain amount of time locked up alone with our notebooks/laptops/typewriters, but we also have to go into the world and find fellowship, encouragement, find your audiences and like-minded friends, find people we can be cheerleaders for, find people we can mentor and be mentored by, find opportunities to pitch in to something larger than ourselves.
I’ve thought of a lot of dream jobs: running a bookshop, teaching part-time at a low-res MFA program, being a publisher, working in PR for writers, running a writer’s conference or retreat (if I ever come into unexpected money, a lot of these things are possible!) I’ve realized that I actually thrive more when I’m slightly more social, when I open my arms to more people. There’s also balance necessary there – you don’t want to be a pushover, or encourage people who take advantage of you or are bullies or otherwise toxic – and it seems to me most women writers are often so nice it’s at the expense of their own writing careers. Being a good team player also means standing your ground and taking the shot sometimes.
I’m working at finding my own balance right now. What do you think of the team sports metaphor? Apt? Or not?
Thought it’s been a tough month-and-a-half health-wise, I have a lot to be thankful for. (Isn’t the season of Thanksgiving coming up? I keep seeing pumpkins…)
First, thanks to the magazine Outside In Literary and Travel magazine for publishing my poem “Oak Ridge Accepts” – with accompanying 1970′s nostalgic photo – in their final issue.
Here’s the link so you can read it: http://outsideinmagazine.com/issue-eighteen/poetry/oak-ridge-accepts-jeannine-hall-gailey/
So today in the mail I got a copy of Poet’s Market 2015. Here are a few pictures of it. (My mom was very happy she could see the picture of me on the back! So, thanks and here you go, Mom I’ve got a poem in there called “Introduction to Girl Detectives” – a tribute to an aging Nancy Drew – (along with fellow Seattle-area poets Joannie Stangeland and Judith Skillman) and two articles, one on promoting poetry books and another on giving readings. It really is a great resource and I love it more every year! It’s particularly nice for inspiration on where to send your work during the busy fall season…
It’s a beautiful day outside, but I am stuck inside with the stomach flu. This also prevented me from attending a long-awaited reading with Natasha Moni and Hollie Hardy at the Pine Box last night, which made me very sad. Here we are with all these plans, months in the making, and then something as ignominious as stomach flu can get in the way.
Which leads me to a bit of a side post on Xolair. (You can skip this if you are not interested in genetic-modification-related biologic autoimmune drugs and their side effects.) Now, my immunologist/allergist doctor said it had hardly any side effects, that it was super safe, and then I had a fairly severe serum sickness response to it, which he was completely surprised by. I also asked him about whether or not it would make me “immunosuppressed,” in the way that steroids, for instance, or ciclosporine do. Well, not exactly, he said – but the warnings on the Xolair info state that you will be more susceptible to illness (and, incidentally, cancer,) as well as to more severe reactions to illnesses you might catch. If I had read that packet on Xolair more closely, then maybe I wouldn’t have been so surprised when, after finally feeling recovered from the serum sickness reaction, I came down with 101 fever and severe stomach issues – probably a virus caught at another reading event. See, because, I say to myself, I should have known Xolair would make me more susceptible to whatever germs are wafting around, and that this outstanding fever – like 101 right now – is a sign that my body is not as good as fighting things like flu off as usual.
So, resting, missing the sunshine-y, 75-degree outdoors, readings yesterday and meetings with other writers tonight, could possibly make me a little cranky. Instead, I try to think about the things we can and can’t control. I could have controlled getting the Xolair shot, but several doctors thought it was a good risk for me, and I agreed. I could have just not gone outside for several weeks knowing I’d be more compromised than usual immune-system-wise, but that’s not very practical. So what can you do when your plans go awry? Well, I try to see the positive (not passing flu to my dear friends) and get as much work done as possible (one review written under very high fever and stomach flu conditions, see how such things affect the writing of reviews?) and just try not to see it as yet one more sign that the universe is, as they say, against me. You can control some things, but not all. Being a writer is sometimes about making appearances, and I don’t like letting people down because of my health, but it is out of my control. Being a writer is usually a great gig for the health-challenged because, as I have indicated, you can do it even when you’re stuck inside and feeling like crap. You can create, but the part of your job that is performing that creation, well, that part can be a little trickier. You can blame Mercury, or the full moon, or bad luck, or fancy $1500 genetically-modified immuno-drug shots, but sometimes things won’t go our way. And then we have to say to ourselves, we can only do what we can with what we are given.
So, you think you’d like to see me read some poems in person? You’re in luck! I’ve got two big public readings in the next few weeks! As the weather gets darker and rainier, for some reason, we do more poetry readings! Right now, for instance, I’m off to an informal closing event for VALA’s Voices in the Corridor (5:30-7:30 PM at VALA in Redmond Town Center.)
This Sunday, I’m reading with Seattle medical student Natasha Moni and San Francisco sensation Hollie Hardy at Seattle cool-spot bar The Pine Box at 7:30 PM. You can either call us “Poets on the Edge” or “Girls Who Stop Your Heart” (a little joke since Natasha’s new book is called The Cardiologist’s Daughter and Hollie’s is How to Take a Bullet, while mine is Unexplained Fevers.) More info here: http://www.pineboxbar.com/events#poetry.
Later in the month, I’ll be part of this year’s LitCrawl Seattle on October 23. I’m part of dueling poetry reading, Superheroes Versus Fairy Tales. Yes, I’m reading as part of the superheroes, but I could sneak in a fairy tale poem! I’ll be reading as part of the reading from 8:00 PM to 8:45 PM at the Project Room. Here’s the full lineup: Angela Jane Fountas, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Michael Schmeltzer, and Maya Sonenberg, with Evan J. Peterson. And, for the full schedule, see here: http://litcrawl.org/seattle/2014-schedule. There’s an after party directly after our reading at Hugo House that sounds like it will be fun, and you can also grab me and get me to sign (or sell you) a book!
I spent a week recovering with the serum sickness brought on by the Xolair, but don’t worry, I haven’t been just lazing around! I’ve been working on the final copyedits of “The Robot Scientist’s Daughter” with Mayapple Editor Judith Kerman and we’ve been finalizing the cover, front and back. You can read the blurbs now, kindly given by Ilya Kaminsky, Denise Duhamel, Stephen Burt, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Would you like to take a peek? We’ll have the pre-order page up soon, but for now…
Update: Mayapple Press now has a pre-order page for The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and special pricing for those who order early!
So, the last few days have been a bit of a daze, as I had a reaction – specifically, a kind of reaction called “serum sickness,” to the Xolair shot, which sounds wonderfully poetic, but you know, comes with things like a high fever, prickly rashes on your face that make you look like you dived head-first into poison ivy and some serious stomach aches and weird faint-yness. I was a little upset, seeing as how this shot was supposed to help the autoimmune problems, that I had an autoimmune type reaction to it, you know, sort of an ironic, terrible joke.
But then I thought about the things we let into our lives, our bodies, and the things we keep out. While I was woozy with antibiotics and steroids, I noticed the news being even more terrible than usual – terrorism and ebola and etc – and I thought – why is this always in our faces, this bad news, this terribly frightening and depressing set of things. But we can shut it off – we can turn the channel, close the internet explorer window, turn the radio off.
I mean, health care is sort of the same – it can be very frightening, like, weird reactions to weird shots, doctors want to run tests all of the time. But while we don’t necessarily have control over everything about our own bodies – I certainly find mine hilarious on occasion – we can take risks, but we can also shut down things we don’t want, add in things we do want. Even when I was in a wheelchair for a while a couple of years ago, we’d still go the zoo, go through the park, find the bluebirds hiding in the trees. Even when my diet shrank to about four foods, my husband Glenn tried to make the most of out of the limited ingredients. If we get sick – and I just got over a six week respiratory illness – we can stay in bed, and see it as a trial, or we can stay in bed, and see it as an opportunity to catch up on classic movies and novels. This is not Pollyanna-ing – it’s just that I’m frustrated with the bad news taking over the screen, including my own. I remember thinking while my fever was going up and up yesterday, that I felt resentful of the demands of the screen, the angry and resentful Facebook posts, e-mail, news stories. I thought – I have the power to turn these things off. This is one of those things you realize during high fevers – epiphanies like “Hey, I don’t have to respond to every e-mail or twitter the minute it comes in.” We can embrace the things we love, the people that make us happy, open the windows and let in fresh air, the changing seasons.
This is a set of sunflowers about five minutes from my doctor’s office.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between mental, emotional, and physical states, and I’ve found this to be particularly true of poets. If we let ourselves go too long without sleep, or we (ahem) have been suffering from some kind of upper respiratory crap for a month or so, or we’ve just been pushing ourselves too hard – book tour, caretaking, job responsibilities –it can be hard to find that call to send out your work, apply for a grant, or write anything that feels (key word, feels) worthwhile.
Fall – and September in particular – is usually my energetic, submitting-full, writing-y zone – but this year, I’ve just been staring blankly, evening after evening, at my Excel spreadsheet. I know that usually this time of year I’m excited to get back to sending out work. But – maybe do to the fact that coughing spasms have been waking me up in the middle of the night, several times a night, for oh, five weeks, sometimes requiring an inhaler – I just feel “blah” about the whole thing. And I haven’t been writing much really, either. Reading, I can handle – this summer I’ve caught up on all the fiction reading I didn’t do the rest of the year, plus some non-fiction.
Someone was telling me that there is an energy of fall around change, a decrease in sunlight, in the length of days, and sometimes, a fall in mood and energy, too. Change of seasons, change in mood, change of creativity, too.
I think a little self-care (appropriate bedtimes, good nutrition, maybe a vitamin – in my case, resting as per doctor’s orders) can go a long way towards determining whether you’re going through a temporary confluence of sleep-deprivation, energy lowering and maybe a lot of recent rejections, or whether you are seriously feeling burned out, in a way that means you need to look again at your reasons for writing and trying to publish, maybe try to talk to people that help encourage you, and give yourself a break for a little while. Like me, maybe you need some time to rest and read, give yourself space to breathe and not always “produce.” Diane Lockward has a good post about downtime, and discusses Louise Gluck’s discoveries about downtime in her recent P&W interview. (It’s worth it to go pick up a copy of Poets & Writers in print!) I’m also really enjoying a new book of essays by women writers over 50 called A Story Larger Than My Own, including pieces by Alicia Ostriker, Maxine Kumin, and Margaret Atwood. There was a great piece in there too about writerly ambition – like I was talking about a few weeks ago – by Linda Pastan.
Tomorrow I’m off to my “experimental” first shot of Xolair, to see if it will help the asthma/allergies/inflammation issues, without debilitating side effects, hopefully! Wish me luck!