Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Only Way to "Be Someone"

Thirteen years ago, I had a conversation online with (who I thought was) a good friend.  It went something like this:

Her:  no.  seriously.  u shuld become a pc programmer
Me:  I can't see myself doing that.  I'm not good with computers.
Her:  learn.  u set ur hours & work from home. it will work
Me:  I can barely update my computer without help.  I loathe technical stuff.
Her:  tough. Jen, ur never gonna do anything else.  ur writing is cute but not practical
Me:  I know I won't become famous, especially as a poet.
Her:  right.  u have no options other than a programmer
Me:  Programming isn't an option, either.
Her:  yes it is.  don't u want to do something useful? be someone useful?
Me:  Sure, but...
Her:  then get off ur butt & be a good member of society
Me:  I'd need schooling and everything.
Her:  teach urself. u're smart.  do you want to be a drain ur entire life? like now?

And it got better from there.  I ended our friendship that night.  She and I were so close, I called her "auntie".  Few people are literally worthless, even without jobs.  She let me know in those twenty minutes how she really saw me.
Sometimes though, I replay our last conversation.  Maybe, if I would have tried it, I'd be able to open my own organisation for disabled people, buy a house, travel... all the things I long for and will never have.  I haven't been out of my county in over a decade.  I haven't travelled more than four hours away from home in my whole life.  I look at houses and wish for one of my own, then berate myself for not being grateful for my accessible, affordable apartment.

Maybe, if I would have listened, I would be somebody by now.  Instead, I'm this insignificant poet who rarely leaves home more than once a week due to finances and chronic pain.  I'm a taker in more ways than I want to be.

But, my life could be different in other ways, too.  I might have failed.  Might have been miserable doing a job I despise.  I may have missed the wonderful night I met my husband because I was too busy to log-on.  I could have made enough money to get my medical insurance taken away, but not enough to afford it myself (which is death).  Not every what-if is a regret.
I'm in the process of trying to figure out what my "next step" is with my life.  I haven't had a major change (for the better, anyway) in almost a decade.  So far, I can think of nothing that requires the amount of time, money, and spoons I possess.  I am starting to think there's nothing else I can do that doesn't take a miracle.  But, I'll wait.  Maybe the opportunity just hasn't shown itself.  I just have to keep hope.  It's just so damn hard to when I don't even have a clue.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Writing Books and Magazines Often Neglect Poetry

I subscribe to Poets & Writers.  I used to subscribe to other writing magazines, but find most content doesn't apply to me as a poet.  The Writer used to have one column bimonthly about poetry, but dropped it.  Writer's Digest offers a new poetic form every issue... something readily available online.

Craft books said to be for "every writer" often skim over (or even skip) poetry and poets.  Books and articles on marketing and promotion for writers focus on nonfiction writers and novelists.  There are a few books on the poet's craft specifically, but most are dense and technical... and more than twenty years old.

I can't tell you how many times I've purchased (or borrowed) the "hottest book about writing" only to be disappointed.  A book released last summer promised a special section on poetry, the author even stating during the development process she was hard at work on that spot in particular.  I bought it, though I have little money to devote to my craft, waiting to read it.  Guess what?  Nothing!  Not even a whole page on poem crafting, marketing as a poet...

There will be some overlap in genres for marketing and branding.  But poets, especially poets without a collection out (like me), won't get much out of it.  Blogging about my protagonist's interests (for example) won't work, though poetic themes might.

It never hurts to know how to write better in another genre, but poetry is a different beast than a novel.  Poets have fewer rules, but more complex considerations.  I can get away with zero punctuation, but must have a coherent answer as to why I didn't use any, though I may never be asked to explain.

If magazines about writing are loathe to really engage and cover poetry, what hope is there for current, entertaining information that applies to poets outside of academia?  Must we dust off books from decades past that bore?  Or are there bright spots (probably online) shimmering just out of sight?  I think my poetic salvation will come from blogs, they'll just take a while to find.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Voice Auditions

I love The Voice (the reality competition) auditions.  It's appealing, the thought that only talent matters.  My entire body tightens in anticipation, waiting for that first chair to turn.

I admire the contestants.  The amount of hope they carry and confidence they have to have is incredible.  I can't imagine feeling that way about any part of myself.  The look on some faces when their ambition is rewarded speaks to me.

The singing is now the only portion I watch, and not just because I love music (and truly enjoy singing).  The banter and "fighting" between judges for the decision of a singer is often more cringe-worthy than legitimately funny.  There is also a little too much filler.

But, the part that bugs me more than any scripted jab between the "pros" are the backstories of our starry-eyed songbirds.

First, it bothers me that a fair amount of these singers are (at least) semi-professional.  Some spent time as background vocalists for famous recording artists.  Others have had songs on the radio (and some "top chart songs") but are between contacts so it's okay that they audition.  I know everyone can/should be able to sing well if they have a chance on The Voice, but there are many artists who are amazing and would almost kill for the chance.  The producers have to try harder.

The other thing about the show (and I can't tolerate) are the sob stories.  Nearly every person trying to make it on the show has tales of heartache and woe.  Sick grandfather?  Let's exploit that.  Your mom left when you were a baby?  How did that make you feel?  You beat cancer, incredible!  Do you have any photos of you in the hospital?  Everyone has had something in their life that's disturbing, sad, or difficult and I'm not suggesting they're telling lies, but I am sick of executives playing on people's pain for ratings.  I know hearing what happens to someone else can (possibly) help someone in a similar situation, but (I feel) the way it's packaged only leaves the audience with some vague pity and ensuing barren feel-good thoughts at the "positive turn".

Still, there is something irresistible about a new season and new chances.  Maybe the whole thing is, indeed, scripted like most reality television.  Regardless, it lets me believe in brighter beginnings, at least for a few episodes.  And... that's worth it to me.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Older Poem Commemorating College Basketball Season

March Madness 

Every spring, it is the same
Sweet sixteen, brackets,
Commercial consideration, colleges
Humans parade as stuffed animals
Cheerleaders twirl
Jump shots, whistles shriek, pass in play
Players’ shoes squeak like mouse sirens
Balls hit the floor repeated
Muted drums pounding victorious

Every spring it’s the same
Colleges, commercials, the bracket racket
Silly mascot costumes, sultry cheerleaders
Squeal of those infernal shoes
Bounce, bounce, bounce of textured ball

Every spring, the same
Brackets set
Ball boings relentlessly, pistoning
Up and down
Tapping like a skeletal tree on glass
Ticking as a clock
Stupid, screaming shoes

Every single spring!
Tap, tap, tap 
Boing, boing, boing 
Bounce, bounce, bounce 
Squeal, squeak, screech 
Run, run, run!

Is…is it… spring?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lessons from The Golden Girls

1.  People with different personalities can live together and be friends.
2.  A "baciagaloop" is a half-wit or dummy (and applies to certain ex-husbands).
3.  Sex and love can thrive for anyone as an older person, if they want.
4.  Divorce (or losing a spouse) isn't the end of yourself.
5.  Fake Scandinavian words can replace various insults.
6.  No matter how old you get, you make mistakes.
7.  No matter how old you get, you still need people (friends, parents, etc.).
8.  Family members coming to visit often signals drama.
9.  Never be a mistress, men give all the good gifts to their wives.
10.  It's never too late to try new things and go new places.
11.  Humor is something to cultivate.
12.  If one of your friends suggest staying at a hotel because of all the hot men, it could be a place prostitutes do business.
13.  Jealousy gets you nowhere.
14.  AIDS and homelessness are horrible problems we still haven't solved.
15.  You're allowed to embellish your stories after age 80.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Milo Yiannopoulos' Retracted Publishing Deal

Simon & Schuster has cancelled Milo Yiannopoulos' book deal.  Condoning sex between young teenage boys and men (sometimes triple their age or more) is where the publishing house draws the line.  Some people are applauding Simon & Schuster's decision.  I'm as livid as ever.

Where was Simon & Schuster when Milo was spouting racist and transphobic rhetoric? Oh, yeah.  They were envisioning stacks of tainted cash while telling people that, while they might not agree with his views, Milo was expressing his opinion.  Racism, ableism, and sexism are free speech, according to a scary amount of people.

But, what about his views on hebephilia/pedophilia?  Why is it different, abhorrent?  I mean, Milo isn't afraid of things like eugenics, so...

Milo (to my knowledge) has never abused a young teenager.  He wasn't urging middle-aged men to find themselves a victim.  He was just "expressing his opinion", right?  It was just words, like when he argues against the festering matriarchy.  If he isn't calling for action, why isn't this considered free speech like every other thing he spits out?

In reality, Simon & Schuster saw this new development as something that would hurt sales more than boost them.  A lot of Republicans love Milo, and his hate-filled speeches.  But, he went too far.  His publisher knew it was time to pull the deal, lest they lose money.  It wasn't about ethics.

More Republicans are also distancing themselves from Milo.  I guess his views are a lot harder to take when he turns his eyes toward their young, white sons.  Maybe, if he would have aimed his thoughts towards minority-only teenagers, he'd still be welcome at CPAC.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Duped: On Trusting Publishers

An editor with an excellent record makes a decision, getting criticism for that decision. Said editor hits back, and is labelled... because the harsh exchange was against a member of a minority.  The editor gets more flack and apologizes, promising changes at the prominent magazine.  Some write this editor off but others (even a fair amount from the minority group that was wronged) support the editor still.  Everyone puts their foot in their mouths at times, right?  The editor has been around for years!  Has a good history!  Blah, blah, blah.

Forwarding to the autumn of that same year, another issue of the magazine comes out. This one, unsurprising to earlier critics, has the same problems.  A check into how the magazine is run reveals nothing has changed:  No new staff for balance, no new guidelines or editorial focus, no adjustments of any kind.  Business as usual.  

More people have been alienated from Prominent Liars Quarterly, but it's mostly minorities (not just ones from the specific group).  Because, even if the train is conducted by bigoted staff, they are prestigious enough to have writers brush morals aside.  It doesn't make a writer a bad person (racist, homophobic, sexist, or whatever) to try to climb aboard, does it?  After all, they aren't the ones being horrid.

Shamefully, I thought this editor just made a poor call.  I knew differently later on.  
A while back, I had a poem finally accepted at a decent speculative publication owned by an editor who had been around for decades.  Through another publisher who bought some of his publications (he has a fair amount), contributors learned of allegations of sexual abuse against him. Researching it, I found out it was true (and there was a lot of evidence against him).

Among his many publications, he publishes a children's magazine.  He lives near an elementary school.  The charges were from the past, nothing recent, but the thought of him living that close to where kids are and publishing stories for them...

The whole experience made me feel dirty, tainted.  I pulled my poem (which another editor there understood).  I'm probably blacklisted now, but his entire publishing company will never see another submission of mine, anyway.  The understanding editor still works for him.
No one knows for sure who is on the opposite side of the desk (or Internet connection).  Or knows what they will ignore for a chance at a byline, especially before becoming established.

Some writers state flat-out they only care about a magazine's practices, not anything a particular editor may say or do outside it.  I'm not like that.  I can't afford the luxury.  It is one thing to have genuine ignorance, it is quite another to silently condone a type of conduct by submitting.

And, that's exactly what it is.  Permission for the action.  A signal that illegal or immoral things don't matter to certain writers.  Bigotry doesn't matter.  That hurting a child isn't as important--as bad as not being given a chance.
I have a healthy blacklist which (thankfully) doesn't expand often.  I'd rather kick a handful of chances out of bed, than to lie beside them full of nightmares and regret.  If that's what it takes to get ahead, I'll gladly stay where I am.