Lit Bit: A Room of My Own

I have needed buzz and thrum and noise to write.  That pulse and pace of city life: not quiet, but a noisy bar.  A busy street.  But I have also said that these things must come free of interruption—lively, but not obtrusive.  In bars, my favorite noisy place, you can’t be free of folk coming up to you, addressing you directly.  It’s detrimental, in the end, to your writing.  Detrimental to the flow of your ideas.  It pushes them aside, moves them around, sends them diving back into the underbrush, into their burrows where they hide and can’t be flushed out again.

Virginia Woolf said in her extended essay, A Room of One’s Own, that the female writer of fiction needs two things in order to perform her craft: money, and a room of her own.  Money grants education, freedom, choice, and independence.  Though scrapping and scraping, many female writers have these benefits today.  But the thing which allows writing to flourish, privacy, is lacking.  A bar can’t give that to me.  The paper thin walls of my bedroom are no protection from the fact that my home is Grand Central Station, and there is a knock on my door every so often, “Come out and join the party.”


Joining the party is vital.  But so is the space between to digest.  Even enjoying the snap and spark of public writing, I am still public property, to be ogled and chatted up, a sex object trying to have a private life.  An overstatement, but it is the underlying core—modern America still expects female availability.  And that is exactly what I need to escape.  I need to turn off the cell phone, I need to not be the shoulder to cry on.  I need to turn off chat, worrying that some dear friend may need me.  I need a shield from leches male and female, the ones who cat call and hit on when you least want it, when you give every social signal to be left alone.  In more a metaphorical sense than anything else, I need a room of my own.

A Madeleine for My Memory

Memory is a strange thing.  I didn’t post last Thursday because I thought I had.  See, I remembered the intent and not the deed, and was so certain it was done that I never gave it another thought.

Memory is moldable.  I remembered convincing my sister that one year, at the family picnic at Slater Park, I had handed her Tabasco Sauce for her hot dog, “no, no, it’s ketchup,” that she’d taken a regal bite and burst into tears.  I never did.  But she went along with it in every telling for years, up until recently.

Memory is fragile.  I was not tired when I picked up the toothbrush.  I was not taking medicine, I was not altered in any way other than in the fact that I could not place this object in my hand with a long stem and bristles.  The natural thing to do, it seemed, was to pick up another one and rub the bristles together.  So I did for a time, until the bristles seemed done.  As I moved to place one of the brushes back, it came to me what they were and what they were for, and I stared in horror at my hand holding the remaining toothbrush.

We remake memory every time we recall an event.  Remembering is reassembling, reinterpreting.  We can’t bring ourselves back to an idea, a moment, a feeling, wihout rebuilding it.

Recalling I hadn’t posted unstitched an entire week in my head, and it lay like a heap of birds-nested thread on the underside of a machine-sewed sweater.  I could make no sense of the time.  The days slid and rolled into a kind of place, and then came up, and rolled back before settling into a place I finally deemed proper.

These earthquakes only momentarily confuse.  They are not so disorienting as losing whole days for good, no record of its events.  That has never hapened to me before… but these things are possible.  And this knowledge lurks in the corners, under every forgotten detail.

Lit Bit: Of Vice

Writing is a vice.  Vices are things you fall back on under stress, that feel like candy, that sometimes ache while you enjoy them.  Vices are small depravities, the things which break apart the bricks of society.  Vices are the voices of chaos in the dark, tempting us to question order.

And why should’t we question order?  Order without reason is useless rigidity.  What is a form without function?

Vices are vital.  They are little destructions, little tearings-down.  Without them, how can we make things anew?  How can we adapt and change?

I’ll keep them, my vices.  The occasional cigar.  The lust and longing.  But most of all, the writing.  What better way to break it all apart?

Lit Bit: A Defense of the Micropoem

The micropoem is not quite a recent discovery, a species of poem that unfolds itself in the shortest space possible.  Its name is new, though its brevity is not.  To find examples in the wild, search Twitter with one of the following hashtags: #micropoem, #micropoetry, #haiku, #tanka, #sixwords, #senryu. There are others you could use. Just “#poem” will bring up examples, but the results will also be peppered with other things about poetry.

The micropoem is a border species, kind of like the prose poem. As a border species, it can overlap with other forms, notably established ones such as haiku or senryu, because each of these is so very short.  But micropoems really only have one requirement: that they fit within the character limit imposed by their method of delivery, usually 140 characters (Twitter).

A few months ago, a friend of mine asked about micropoems.  Now, I admit a bit of bias.  I write micro micropoetry myself, and it’s a form very dear to my heart.  She said she didn’t how micropoems could be considered poems, being the tiny strings of language that they are.  And they are tight: little coiled constructions that can uncurl into a heartbreak, a burning image, a sharp punch.  Like the prose poem, there are weird borders, tracts of no-man’s-land, where the boundaries are fuzzy.  What is a poem and what is just a sentence?

But the short forms aren’t babes in the cradle.  Haiku trades in high contrast natural images, while senryu stakes out the very human, the ironic, the sly.  Now, short free verse sits under this micro-umbrella, too, and my heart belongs as always to that lawless land.  What about these unruly bits of verse?  Poem or statement?

Their claim on the label of poetry has as much to do with intentionality as with careful language, as much to do with chosen image as with techniques of sound.  This is what what marks the poetic even in the presence of the prose poem.  It helps to define the shape of the micropoem, as well.  Poetry cares where you take a breath.  Poetry cares where you slow down, or where your eye lands.  Poetry cares what sounds hit your ears and what shapes hit your eyes as you read.  Prose, while you can decorate it, doesn’t care about these things as much.  They are not a part of the message.  These techniques are integral to a poem’s meaning.  Prose can, and sometimes does, do without… though I don’t tend to like it as much when it does without.  Even in the absence of the line break, the poem stands out.

The restraint on the size of a micropoem also makes a difference.  It is the modern poetic poster-child of a controlled form.  Like the rigid structure of a sonnet, the strict cap on length both limits and expands the types of things the poet can explore.  Any constraint has this potential.  But a micropoem’s brevity can carry the force of the last two lines of an English sonnet, the break-and-turn of that form’s final couplet.  That’s real power.

Untouched

It was months ago, but I saw him.  There is a record of it, he was there.  An iguana on the roadside. On 13th St. he lay unpicked-apart, his tail curled, collecting leaves against it. There were no ants. There were were no flies. The smell of decay was thick about him, and despite gagging, I couldn’t pull away. His scales were peeling from his body like swatches of tissue paper. From nose to tail, three feet. Maybe more.

Why so alone, lizard? Was it a car that hit you, or was it cold or poison? Unopen, you lay quiet, eyes closed. Why no maggots, no fly eggs? It’s as if death left you, half-taken, unfinished. It’s as if time stopped for you, a few moments too late.

Lit Bit: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

I have never asked this question of anyone else. I have on only a few occasions been asked this question myself. What brought it to my mind was an essay of Ursula K. Le Guin’s on the topic, and it seems to me that this is a question in code.

No one ever lacks for ideas. No one. They’re everywhere. They are the air. It’s just about letting them arrange themselves. Seeing where they fit. And they all fit, eventually. Just not always where you thought they might go.

The question of “where do you get your ideas?” seems to be asked more in the spirit of “how do you do what you do?” It seems to me that no one wants to know where the ideas come from. They already know. They already have a million of their own when the question leaves their lips. They want to know about the alchemy of exploration, of changing those observations of the every day into something sharp, clear, large or small, something touchable, lickable, readable, seeable. They seem to want to know how to make that ache of longing in themselves or a reader.

And the answer is different for everyone. There is no clear formula. Every author’s answer is familiar and strange at once. For me? Fermentation. It has to ferment, to cure, to transform. Every day, I see something, or two strange words will decide to lie next to one another, and that’s how it starts. They are stones that I pick up. I have to carry them for a while before I sit down to arrange them. I have to do this many times before it comes out right. There is no effortlessness in it, but there is a love of effort. There is a sureness in it.

For others? Ask them. But don’t ask, “where do you get your ideas?” Because you know. You have your own. They intrigue you, they carry you. Maybe you don’t trust them. Maybe you do. But you have them. Ask maybe instead, “How do you work with your ideas? How do you place them next to one another? What is similar and different each time?” And answer the question yourself. Because you already have your own way of doing it.

Lit Bit: Perseverance

Persistence in writing is vital. Not only does the writing itself have to be a daily practice (and as I’ve said, it doesn’t have to be the same project every day; you can jump around and follow your words down rabbit holes, wander into and out of poems, knock out a short story, what-have-you), the work toward publication also requires a dogged regularity.

J. A. Konrath said it exceedingly well, “There’s a word for a writer who never gives up… published.” And it’s true. It hit me while I was rewatching my favorite show Daria. In high school, Daria was me. My sister was Quinn. I loved the show when it first aired because it was the only time I’d seen my high school experience accurately portrayed on any screen. In one of the early episodes of season 5, “The Story of D,” Daria sends out her first short story for publication, and gets back her first rejection. She was shy of it to begin with, afraid of failing and unable to admit it when her boyfriend encouraged her to submit. When the rejection letter comes back, her typical snark and defeatism balm the wound. It’s her boyfriend who tells her she’s being childish, and she learns to take it in stride.

That’s what I’d liked about season 5, how much the characters grew. But this in particular was me. I gave up on writing for a few years, right out of high school. But then I had the good fortune of a college poetry professor busting my chops, teaching how to properly submit, and telling me to tough it the fuck out. Almost in those words. In fact, he used more profanity. He maintained that not submitting, even if I knew I was going to get rejected, was being a bad writer. One of those nitwits whose writing was their glass ego: so precious and so frail it couldn’t stand to take a beating. If you believe in it, in your craft and your skill, you can weather all the rejections and still succeed. Practice can only help you improve, in both the art of wordsmithing, and in the art of gracefully accepting rejection.