Sunday, July 26, 2020

HOW HE CAME TO BE

I woke up early, thinking about our family.  Because of Covid-19, most of our interactions are on Skype or Zoom, although I have had a few opportunities to have our two oldest daughters and their families here, after sufficient quarantine time.  Mary has been down a couple of memorable times. After their daughter Therese finally made her First Communion (which I couldn't attend because of the California regulations for numbers at church services), she wore her dress and they all came down so I could see her and give her the Sunday missal which we have traditionally given to each of our children and now grandchildren on the occasion of their First Communion. She and her siblings were glad to have the chance to run around in our big back yard and we all celebrated together, albeit with masks.  A few weeks later, we celebrated Jozef's birthday and wondered if we would ever feel like blowing out candles on a cake again. Elizabeth came down with her family for a very belated celebration of Ahm-chul's birthday. Since it was her eighth, when we traditionally give our granddaughters the American Girl doll of their choice, Ahm-chul had chosen Addy, and she and Therese brought all their doll clothes and played together (masks on, outside) with their dolls for hours.
The one member of the family whom I have seen regularly is our son, Gilbert, since he has stayed in my quarantine bubble. It suddenly occurred to me this morning that he probably didn't know the story that led to his birth.  
I asked him if he had ever heard it, and since he hadn't, I told him that when we still had just the five girls, around the Thanksgiving of 1991, they came to us when they normally would have given us a list for Santa of the things they hoped to receive for Christmas.  Elizabeth spoke for all of them and said that they didn't want anything for Christmas except a new baby.  We were deeply touched by their desire for another sibling, but also told Elizabeth that if we had another one, she would have to give up the room of her own that she had recently moved into, since that had always been the baby's room. She said she didn't mind, and that she would gladly share a room with two of her sisters. We then pointed out that, practically, it would be impossible to come up with a baby in a month (all of them except the youngest remembered that it seemed like a long time with each pregnancy before an actual baby appeared), but that we would see if it was God's will for us to increase our family size.  It was, and a week before the Thanksgiving of 1992, we had a baby boy, much to our surprise, since we had just assumed it would be another girl.  This was an example of how, in a family that is rather spread out, as ours is, it's easy to forget to tell the stories that the older ones know.  I told Gilbert that Elizabeth had prayed during her retreat in the summer of '91, that we would have another baby, and that he could be assured from all this, that his sisters had loved him before he even began to exist. Their openness to new life as they were growing up has flowered in their own marriages, and so far given us 22 grandchildren, each one a unique and special gift from God.  Telling Gilbert the story of how his sisters dreamed him into existence reminded me again of what miracles they all are.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

FOLLOWING THE CURVY PATH

Looking back at the early days of my participation in Deborah Hurwitz's "Productivity for Perfectionists," I found the place where I had begun what is now my chapbook, "Portal of Light."  It all began with a poem I wrote for my son one morning when I was journaling, looking back over many trips we had taken to the San Diego Wild Animal Park since he was born.  I called it "Serendipitous Expeditions," and the final scene was one in which he is now 5 inches taller than me and we discovered a new place to eat, where we could overlook the giraffes and rhinos. It was the first poem I had written since my husband died that was not overshadowed by grief; it was a simple moment of giving thanks for each of the vignettes of times we had had together there.  
I began to wonder if perhaps one of the ways out of the depths of my sorrow isn't gratitude, and I began a new poem that I called, "The Gate of Gratitude."  As I began to work on it I slowly realized that this was going to be a different kind of poem than I'd ever written before, undoubtedly longer, and "The Gate of Gratitude" began to seem narrower and more prosaic than what I started to envision. I wrote in October of 2018 that I was starting on the last section, but as I continued writing, and then my daughter Mary began to offer her critiques, I realized that I was writing an entire chapbook rather than just a poem.  The first time I submitted it to a contest, it was only 15 pages long.  That version was declined, and I am now grateful that it was, and the poem first became "Portal" which has many more variations in meaning than just a gate, and eventually evolved into "Portal of Light."  I then added an entire section that included a vision of a ziggurat, based on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Sennacherib's probably more historical gardens erected on a ziggurat and memorialized on some bas reliefs in an English museum.  
I was also studying the Song of Songs or Canticle of Canticles from the Old Testament.  I am embarrassed to say that I briefly thought of calling my poem "Canticle of Panicles," but fortunately quickly realized how ridiculous that sounded for a serious poem. My poem included many flowers beyond "a loosely branched inflorescence, especially a branching raceme" (The Free Dictionary). I was looking at Song of Songs as a canticle to both human and divine love and the contrast and intertwining of the two, particularly in my own life since losing my beloved husband.
I began just by checking with Mary to see that I had gotten the facts correct in my section on her year in Israel, but once she began to critique the poem, she took a much greater part in its formation, telling me that I needed to expand sections on several of her sisters as well as her brother, that I needed to add some additional poems about my beloved, from when we first met, until our last kiss.  I tried to get out of the emotional exigencies of these suggestions by making major revisions to a poem I had in three different versions describing a staging of Midsummer Night's Dream that he and I had seen that was groundbreaking and astonishing.
She told me that was not at all what she was looking for, and I wrote the additional poems, but we went through several additional meetings, when I tried to keep my poem, "Midsummer Night Nocturne," in the chapbook until she finally convinced me that it really didn't belong. 
I thought of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's comment that you have to murder your darlings. I didn't actually have to kill the whole poem; I submitted it elsewhere, but she was right that it didn't belong in the chapbook.  However, as I proceeded to write new poems and send them off to her, I realized she was challenging me to better writing, and to sounding deeper emotional depths than I had done before.  I finally sent the current revised version to her but with no sense that it's "almost finished" as I had each of the other times I sent her the whole chapbook.  Each of those times she would say she really liked what I sent her, but that I needed to write more, or change things, and we're still debating about whether the ziggurat section needs to come out.  This time I interwove it with verses from Song of Songs and new poetry, so we'll see if she comes back with minor changes, as I had expected in the past, or if she blows it all up again.  However, her comments are almost always so like arrows into the bullseye that I am extremely grateful to have such a knowledgeable and well-educated critic whose comments have always led to a greatly improved piece of work.  She has a unique vantage point as well, since not only does she love doing critical work but she also can speak as someone who was intimately involved in the narrative that runs through "Portal of Light."  Together, we are cracking open the chapbook to let in more and more light.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

FOLLOW THE COLORFUL (NOT CANARY YELLOW) BRICK ROAD

Recently, I heard a fascinating interview of Lauren Meekes, about her system for getting organized, which she calls "Structured Freedom." It's a time and project management system for people whom she calls "creative rebels." This resonated with what Gretchen Rubin, in her book, The Four Tendencies, identifies as a rebel, whose motto tends to be "You can't make me--and I can't make myself." I am a rebel as well, and accomplishing things often has to be done by sleight of hand. I need to think I am doing something I really want to do rather than something I have to do. If this is combined with perfectionism--which in my case it is--then it leads to a great deal of procrastination until a deadline forces a flurry of activity when I don't have time to set up any resistance, or--in some cases--I discover that my procrastination has led to my not doing something that really didn't need to be done, or something that has been canceled by someone else--or in these days, by the requirements of trying to evade Covid 19.  Many of us who are also introverts are rejoicing in the fact that we can let go of all kinds of appointments and practices and things we ordinarily did on a Monday or Tuesday night, and spend our time in other favored occupations.  
In the course of the aforementioned interview by Deborah Hurwitz (Productivity for Perfectionists),Lauren Meekes casually mentioned that she discovered that Post-it Notes come in a lot more colors than the original canary yellow.  I immediately went on the 3M (creator of Post-it Notes) website to see what I could find out, and learned there are now over 1000 Post-it Notes products in an astonishing array of colors--AND in collections.  When I discovered the existence of these collections, many of which are named for exotic cities, I was entranced and immediately ordered (from another website, since Post-it Notes are apparently not sold directly from 3M) an inordinate number of collections.
Now I can feel as if I am traveling around the world when I choose a note to list some of the projects involved in getting my book to publication.  So far, I have Bali, Bora Bora, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, Helsinki, Miami, Marrakesh, Jaipur, and Highland Pop. The only city collections I didn't order were New York because it included two dull blues, two yellows, and a gray, and I particularly didn't want gray, and Marseilles, which seemed to come only in a very large box which had more pads than I would probably every use. Of course, I probably now have more Post-it Notes than I will ever use, but by arranging them in a repurposed artisan olive oil box, I have what looks like a beautiful window box of flowers on my desk--and no watering needed!  And it is a delight to write down the tasks I want to keep track of, and much more motivating than a to do list in
black and white.
As you can see, I used my trusty labeler
so that I wouldn't forget which each collection was called. I noticed right away that Bali and Helsinki were quite similar, and I could never keep them all straight without the labels.  One friend asked if I have a different color for different tasks--there was a time when I might have succumbed to such a lure, but I was afraid that I might never think of enough tasks for each color, so I just enjoy choosing a different color as I think of an item to be done. And in these days of being quarantined at home, I can also imagine that I am globe-trotting at the same time that I am getting my book closer to publication.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

THE CURIOUS ROAD TO PUBLICATION

This week I had some experiences in shepherding some of my writings on the road to publication.  On Monday, I got a letter from a journal accepting a poem I had written, with a question about a word in another poem.  This editor has done this a couple of times, and when I've either explained why I used a particular word or changed it she's always then published my poem. So perhaps I'll have two published.
The bigger event was receiving an email from a book publisher about the book I've written on marriage. They declined the book, and I gave myself about an hour to feel disappointed.  Then I thought about how I had decided that if this publisher rejected the book, I would go the self-publishing route.  So I sent off an email to the publisher that I had been most impressed by, and five minutes later, they called me, and contrary to my usual practice of procrastination and perfectionism, I went over the questions I had and the various packages they offered, and when I understood what I wanted, I signed the contract.  So many people have been asking how soon my book would be available that I decided it was more important to get it out soon rather than let it languish waiting for a traditional publisher to pick it up.  So now I am reading and taking notes on the various pieces of information they are sending to me, as well as printing out advice from another self-publisher.  That included a timeline if I want to be able to sell the book by Christmas, which I do, so I am starting to organize files, and I've ordered a variety of collections of Post-it Notes in all different colors so I can write the different tasks that need to be done. Normally I would see all these things as not as interesting as the actual writing of the book, which is already finished, but now I am plunging into this with a sense of adventure and excitement.  
Then another batch of Post-it Note collections arrived, and I found a lovely box where they all fit, so I can easily choose a note from Bali, Bora Bora, Cape Town, Miami, Marrakesh or Jaipur!  It seems silly that so many different colors of Post-it Notes could make me so happy,
but I'm trying to appreciate the little things as well as organize what I want to do.  Getting my book tasks in order springboarded me to organize my file of poetry including the poems that are out with a journal or a contest, and the poems that have been declined that I can send to another place.  I cleared off most of my desk, vacuumed part of the house, and cleaned off a shelf in the refrigerator. One task accomplished seems to be catapulting me into several others, and it is an exhilarating feeling!