Monday, January 31, 2011

Knitter's Dilemma - Solved!

Some of you may remember that I wrote back in September about the dilemma I faced as a member of the Philosophy Department's knitting group, aptly named The Knitted Brow. I was working on squares to stitch together into an afghan. My problem was that the needles I had chosen were small, so that each square took FOREVER to complete. My dilemma resulting from this was that I faced three unpalatable choices as to how to proceed: 1) abandon the project; 2) knit on it for the rest of my life; 3) settle for a very very small blanket.

I chose option #3. I am here to report that option #3 turned out to be a fine option indeed. I finished the blanket today, hooray, hooray, hooray! (I'll try to take a picture to post of it, but I'm not very good at that sort of thing.) The blanket has 25 squares, in shades of gray (the dominant color), lavender, pink, and purple. It is really not all THAT small, now that I blocked the squares - wet them and flattened and stretched them out a bit. It looks actually quite lovely draped over the arm of the couch in my office, where its smallness is not immediately apparent. And now I can begin knitting something else. I'm thinking toward a hat.

I always like to distill lessons for myself from my various life experiences. So on this one, I'm thinking:

1) Something really is better than nothing. There is something singularly unsatisfying about nothing. I would have felt sad if I had simply tucked my sweet little squares away and given them no purpose for their existence.

2) It can be worthwhile reconceiving your original vision of a project in light of subsequent discoveries once the project is under way. You do not have to stick with the original vision or die.

3) I myself am happier when I don't have projects that go on forever. This is why I teach MWF rather than the much more popular Tuesday/Thursday - because I can't stand to teach those 75-minute Tuesday/Thursday classes that seem to go on forever. This is why I write relatively short books, rather than sprawling epics. This just seems to be part of who I am. And it's hard to change who you are.

Oh, it's lovely being done with that blanket, and on such a cold, snowy, snuggle-under-a-blanket day, too. It's a very small blanket for snuggling, I admit. But it really is better than no blanket at all.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

For some kinds of ailments, one prescribed treatment is "hyerbaric oxygen therapy": putting the patient into a chamber in which the entire body is subjected to 100-percent oxygen at far greater than ordinary atmospheric pressure. Non-physician that I am, I am not completely sure what good results are supposed to be produced by this, but I think that it's mainly that all that pure oxygen does wonderful things for the blood: it creates new blood vessels, it increases blood circulation, it sends new, fresh, rejuvenated blood flowing everywhere around the body, especially to "compromised organs" - to all the sad little hidden places that hadn't been getting their share.

This was the kind of day I had yesterday: a hyberbaric oxygen kind of day.

In the afternoon I went to a matinee performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, down at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts; in the evening I went to an all-Mozart program of Mozart's Jupiter Symphony and Piano Concerto Number 21 (now nicknamed the "Elvira Madigan" concerto, because of the hauntingly beautiful second movement featured in that film), performed by the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra in Boulder. There is no greater playwright than Shakespeare. There is no greater composer than Mozart. A Midsummer Night's Dream is my favorite of all Shakespeare plays. The Jupiter Symphony is Mozart's greatest symphony; Number 21 is his greatest piano concerto. The production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was marvelously magical and hilariously funny. The Mozart performances were unsurpassed in their beauty.

So I spent all day in a chamber of beauty at far higher than the ordinary concentration of beauty in my life. I can feel beauty flowing throughout my heart and soul and spirit, penetrating into all those hidden little places of grief and loss. If I were a psychiatrist, I think I'd start prescribing this for patients: full immersion into stunning beauty at very high concentrations. It couldn't hurt to give it a try.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Trusting the Fairy Dust

As the end of the first month of the new year draws nigh, I've been doing my end-of-the-month reflections, my assessment of the state of the new year so far. I decided that I made one big mistake in the new year year already: I shouldn't have asked the fairy dust for love. Ever since I made that rash request, I've been consumed with anxiety about love, frantically seeking it everywhere, driving myself crazy with the quest for it. Oh, why did I ask for love, when I could have asked for another book contract or a starred book review? Why, why, why?

But then it occurred to me that maybe my mistake didn't lie in my request to the fairy dust, in itself, but in my lack of trust in the fairy dust to answer that request in its own way, in its own time. I mean, isn't that the whole POINT of fairy dust? That somebody else does the work here, while I blithely go about my business?

The trouble with this line of thought, however, is that I do believe that I have to meet the fairy dust halfway. This insight is encapsulated in many pithy sayings: e.g.,"God helps those who help themselves"; "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition." When I asked the fairy dust for success with my book series last year, I was still the one who had to write the books, and send them off to prospective agents. I couldn't expect the fairy dust to show up at my house and write the books for me, or send me an agent knocking unannounced at my door. Is it really fair to expect the fairy dust to bring me love, without any preparatory effort on my part?

So what I'm trying to figure out is how much I'm supposed to do, and how much I'm supposed to let the fairy dust do. I know this much at least: whatever I'm supposed to DO, I'm not supposed to WORRY. From now on, I'm going to try to leave the worrying to the fairy dust.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I Have No Idea What Is Going to Happen Next

I have never in my life written a book like this one: a book that turns completely on what is going to happen next and where, even after major brainstorming, I have no idea what is going to happen next. All I can do is just to keep writing and hope to find out. I am not even one step ahead of my characters at this point, I'm one step behind.

There is a deservedly famous quote from E. L. Doctorow about writing a novel: "It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

I used to love that quote. Now I'm not sure I do. Because, even in the dark, don't you at least need to have some sense of where you're going? And right now I feel that I'm driving with a busted headlight, or driving in heavy fog.

So I'm resorting to Alice instead, in her conversation with the Cheshire Cat:

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.

"I don't much care where," said Alice.

"Then it doesn't matter which way you walk," said the Cat.

"- So long as I get somewhere," Alice added.

"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

So far I've walked some 60 pages, in the fog, guided only by my busted headlight. I guess that all I can do at this point is keep on walking.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Happens Next

Today I'll spend the whole day at home. I hope to get a lot of writing done on my new book. I don't want to share too much of what the book is about at this point, but it's definitely more of a plot-driven book than I've written before - not plot-driven (yet) in the sense of any clever twists or startling surprises, but plot-driven in that the reader continues reading in a kind of sick fascination to find out what is going to happen next. Indeed, I myself don't quite know at this point what is going to happen next, so I keep writing to find out what the characters are going to say and do to extricate themselves from the mess they've plunged themselves in.

Of course, we also care, as readers, about how the main character is going to grow and change through her experiences. We also care about what larger themes are going to be illuminated by the story. I couldn't write a book in which those concerns were not central to the book. All I've ever really cared about, before writing this book, were character and theme. This is the first time I've really cared so much about what happens next.

I hope this new focus on plot is a good thing for me, a way in which I'm growing as a writer. My beloved Anthony Trollope wrote that he found that, despite his own fondness for creating memorable characters, readers tended to judge his books primarily on the strength of their plots: "I am led to supposed that a good plot - which, to my own feeling, is the most insignificant part of a tale - is that which will most raise it or most condemn it in the public judgment."

But so far my plot, though engrossing in its way, is too linear - too much of "This happened, then this happened, then this happened." So I want to spend today figuring out to complicate my plot, to bring in some oblique and unexpected developments that will somehow build to having it all come together in a fresh and unpredictable way. That doesn't sound too hard - or does it?

Wish me luck!

Monday, January 24, 2011

How Not to Be Depressed

I did everything I was supposed to do yesterday, and now I'm not depressed any more.

1) I got up early and wrote a full (short-ish) chapter on my book-in progress. In itself, that might have been enough to keep me un-depressed all day.

2) On the way to church, I walked for a bit with my writer friend, Cat, and her adorable little boy, Max, and her dog, Jonesy. Nobody could be depressed in the company of Cat. It would simply be impossible.

3) I went to church, first to our children's worship service, Where the Wild Things Worship, and then to big people church. What I love best about church, I think, is the singing. In Wild Things we sang, "Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallulujah, praise ye the Lord." We sing it by dividing ourselves into three groups, one group singing the "Hallelu," the second group singing "Praise ye the Lord," and the third group singing simply the "jah" on the end of "Hallelu." Each group hops up to sing its line and then sits down again, making for a most aerobic form of worship. The most fun group, of course, is "jah." I got to be in the "jah" group. I don't think anybody could be in the "jah" group and be depressed afterward.

4) After church, I typed up my chapter from my morning's writing, AND read a wonderful revised first chapter from my mentee, AND read one chapter of a good but densely written philosophy book on which I have to present comments in a talk next week, AND went through the copy-edited manuscript for Mason Dixon: Basketball Disasters (swooning at the brilliance and deliciously obsessive thoroughness of the copyeditor), AND took care of a small pesky task that was long overdue, AND read part of a book I need to review. Try being depressed after that marathon of productivity!

5) I did check my email, but no more than once every fifteen minutes. Well, more like once every ten minutes, but still. Progress!

So now that I know how not to be depressed, all I have to do is to continue to do these things every day for the rest of my life. Hallelu - JAH!!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

How to Be Depressed

In case any of my readers want to make themselves depressed, here are some helpful tips:

1. Even though you wake up at five o'clock after a full seven and a half hours of sleep, stay in bed for another couple of hours. Lie there and mentally catalog all your lifetime losses, with particular attention to recent crushing disappointments.

2. When you finally drag yourself out of bed, check your email the very first thing and continue to check it every two or three minutes for the rest of the morning, in case you might receive notice that one of your books has just won a prize that you hadn't even realized it was being considered for, or that someone from has fallen head over heels in love with you simply from your unflattering profile picture.

3. Instead of writing on your new book, email your other writer friends about how doomed this book project is and how unlikely it is to be brought to any kind of successful completion. Add in some comments about how unlikely it is that any unattached middle-aged woman is going to be given a chance at lasting love.

4. Instead of writing on your new book, continue checking your email every two or three minutes as described in #2.

5. If a friend invites you to go for a walk with her, refuse. You might miss that email about the prize. Or the email from that man.

6. Every ten or fifteen minutes, scavenge for any leftover Christmas candy (there is still quite a bit of it lying around, if you know where to look), and eat some of it.

7. Continue this program diligently until bedtime.

This program is ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEED to make you depressed. I don't even need to promise you that if you follow this program faithfully and are not depressed, I will give you your money back. YOU WILL BE DEPRESSED.

On the other hand, should you want NOT to be depressed, my advice is to follow the REVERSE of this program.

Which is what I plan to do today.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Two Weeks In

The second week of the new semester just finished. It's hard for me to believe we're already two weeks in. Of course, the first two weeks are fairly skimpy weeks. I always use the very first day of a new course simply to get the students to start talking in a pre-theoretical way about the issues we'll be exploring together in the course, and so ease into the course fairly gradually.

On the first day in my Intro to Ethics class, my large lecture that meets on Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:00, I ask the students to list the three things in life that they think are most important, and then we get that list up on the board to serve as a preview of the rest of the semester. Someone always says "happiness" - happiness shapes the ethical theories of Aristotle and John Stuart Mill. Someone else will say "friendship" or "love" - Aristotle has a lot to say about these as well. "Morals" - well, Kant will cover that territory with great thoroughness. "Freedom" - Sartre. "Creativity" - Nietzsche. It's always fun to see what the students will generate in this brainstorming exercise.

My Major Social Theories class, a medium-sized class that meets on MWF at 11:00, provides an introduction to the history of western political philosophy: Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Mill, Marx, and Rawls. There, on the first day I ask the students why we come together to form a political community. In addition to the expected answer of "security," I also got answers that had to do with meeting basic needs, including the need for "belonging." By the end of the hour we were already in to a good discussion about how we might weigh and balance these different goals and values.

So far the students in both classes seem motivated and lively. We're partway through Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics in the first class; we're well into Plato's Republic in the other. It's not a bad way to make a living: talking about some of the most fascinating books ever written with intellectually curious young people encountering these books for the very first time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Poem a Day

It's been ten days now that I've been writing a poem a day with Lisa and Elizabeth, and it has made such a wonderful difference in my life.

When I went to the Boulder Philharmonic concert last weekend, for an eclectic (to say the least!) program that paired Rachmaninoff's third piano concerto with Frank Zappa's Be-Bop Tango and G-Spot Tornado, the program notes had this quote from Zappa: "Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth, truth is not beauty, beauty is not love, love is not music. Music is the best."

I don't love music all THAT much, and I was thinking that I would have ended the series with love: "Beauty is not love. Love is the best."

But the search for love has been, well, it's been going badly. And each bad installment leads to another daily poem. And once I have the poem, I start to feel better about the heartache. I start to feel that the heartache was worth it for the sake of the poem.

Here's my poem from yesterday:


There is
a loneliness
so deep
that a stone
to the bottom
of it
makes no sound.
Yet I still
to hear
a muffled
however distant,
some small sign
that there is
waiting for me
to sink
not denying
to my flung
even a place
to drown.

Writing the poem made me less lonely. It made me feel connected to all lonely poets everywhere. Love is not poetry. POETRY is the best.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Unlikable Main Characters

Okay, here is my question for today. How likable does your main character have to be?

I ask this for a reason. I took my first chapters of the new book to my writing group last night. Three of the four fellow writers there praised them; one did not. The one who did not said that she found my main character too unlikable. But the person who loved the chapters the most said that she loved them precisely BECAUSE my main character was unlikable and so she could see that the terrible events that were about to befall her would prove to be a powerful catalyst for her change and growth. Whereas if Sierra had been completely likable, the book would just have been a story about how bad things can happen to good people, and ain't that a crying shame.

Of course, I have a vested interest in agreeing with the person who loved the chapters, but I want ALL my readers to love them. Maybe that's an unrealistic goal. Or maybe I can do something that will make Phyllis like my character more, without making Leslie like the chapters less.

When I took an online writing course a couple of years ago from the brilliant teacher Dennis Foley, he said that you DON'T have to have a main character who is likable, so long as you have a main character who is fascinating. He cited Scarlett O'Hara as a case in point. I don't know if my main character is fascinating or not. And I actually liked her myself, or at least saw a lot of a certain side of myself in her: my younger goody-goody self.

In any case, my only option right now is just to keep on writing.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Prioritizing Poetry

In the wake of the delicious poetry retreat last weekend, my life right now is bursting with poetry. I had already made an agreement with my dearest poetry buddy, Clara, to resume our practice of writing a poem each week to email to each other. One year, following the retreat, we managed to keep this going for most of the year. Last year, I petered out when the stresses and strains of my difficult year overcame me. This year, I'm hopeful that we'll continue unwavering. Thursday is my poetry day for Clara. We are Thursday poetry buddies.

But then two of the other poets from the retreat asked me if I wanted to try doing a poem a DAY with them, at least until mid-February, when one of them may have to bail. What could I say but yes? So now I'm doing a poem a day to email to Lisa and Elizabeth. And along with writing my own poem a day, I read and critique theirs.

As if to recognize that this is going to be my year of prioritizing poetry, yesterday was the grand opening of Innisfree Poetry Bookstore and Cafe, here in Boulder, one of only THREE poetry-only bookstores in the entire United States. I went with my friend, Laura, and on the Skip ride down to the store we started planning a poetry reading group we might launch this spring. When we reached the store, it was so wonderfully crowded that you could hardly scan the shelves for treasures, but I still bought five books, collections by Sharon Olds, Ted Kooser, Billy Collins, Amy Lowell, and Rumi. Colorado's poet laureate David Mason did a reading, and it was all so festive and fun.

Right now my life is absolutely crammed full of poetry. And right now I think that's a very good way for a life to be.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Morning

I once read an article by the novelist Elizabeth Berg, back before she was a novelist, when she was an essayist for women's magazines; the article was about the diet she and her husband had embarked on. She wrote, perhaps quoting someone else: "Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels."

This morning I'm thinking, "Nothing feels as good as working on your most important and urgent life task feels." This is perhaps the most awkward and ungraceful sentence I've ever written, lacking all the zip and sparkle of the original. But it might be the truest sentence I've ever written, too.

I woke up this morning trying to decide what I should do first:
1) pay a bunch of bills and write a bunch of little notes and have my desk all pleasingly tidy
2) write one or two or three or four of the short (250-word) book reviews I need to do for the online book review service Children's Literature
3) make a detailed set of revision guidelines for the writing mentee with whom I'm meeting for the first time on Monday, while my first reading of her novel is still fresh in my mind
4) write the first page of the novel that I need to begin and that I've been dreading for months because, even though I have a contract to write the book, based on a synopsis, my editor seemed unenthusiastic about it, and her lack of enthusiasm has sapped all my strength and eagerness and creativity and made me hate the book and hate myself for having promised to write it.

I knew I should do #4. But I couldn't even get out of bed thinking about #4. Most tempting was #1 - how I love that low-hanging fruit! And I also love a tidy desk more than almost anything on earth.

So I told myself that if I got out of bed, all I had to do was pay bills and tidy my desk.

But then, once I had staggered out of bed, I told myself: just do ONE HOUR on #4. Just one hour. You don't have to write anything, you can just keep making notes, but just spend ONE HOUR facing that book.

One hour. I could do one hour.

So I did. I already had a bunch of notes, so actually, during my hour, I decided to start writing the first scene, or what might be the first scene. I could always throw it away.

I wrote it. I like it. It's not the brilliant, shimmering, incandescent thing I had hoped to write, but it's at least something, it's there on paper, and I can bring it to my critique group Monday night to share.

Oh joy, oh rapture! Oh, dear readers, stop dreading your work and just start doing it. Just do it for one hour. Oh, the bliss you will feel!

Trust me on this one.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Well, my first try at a newlogy didn't go too well. I guess it's hard to be a pioneer in any new artistic form. Maybe Picasso's first try at cubism wasn't such a success, either. I tried to write a poem imagining something in the future with appropriate detail, but instead of its sounding optimistic and hopeful, I think it came out sounding wistful, haunted by a deep and abiding sadness. I already knew the past was haunted by a deep and abiding sadness, but now I'm afraid that the future is, too. Maybe I ended up writing a futuristic elegy. Anyway, here it is:

It Could Be

Here’s how it will happen.
I’ll meet him on the bus.
No, on a train. More picturesque.
But then again, I ride the bus so often,
and I hardly ever ride a train.

So: I’ll meet him on the bus.
He’ll sit next to me, even though
there are some other vacant seats,
and I’ll wonder if he just doesn’t
like to sit facing sideways.

He’ll comment on something about me.
Maybe my hat. Would a man say “Cute hat?”
Would I like a man who said “Cute hat”?
Maybe he’ll comment on my mittens.
But no. If I’m wearing mittens,

He won’t be able to see my bare
ring finger. So instead he’ll say,
“I like your hat.” That’s better than
“Cute hat.” If he’s wearing a hat,
I can say, “I like yours, too,”

And then we’ll start talking.
And we’ll keep talking. And he’ll ask
if he can call me, and I’ll say yes.
And we’ll get married, and people
will say, “How did you two meet?”

And I’ll say: I met him on the bus.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Genre of Poetry

But first: the feet of all the poets at the poetry writing retreat, wearing the slippers given to us by our bold leader, Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Most people who know me will be able to guess which ones are mine.

All right: the new genre of poetry. At the retreat, Jeanie Thompson, our poet teacher, had us writing contemporary elegies, poems of loss. I myself wrote four: about the loss of my mother, the loss of Grandpa, the loss of dreams, the loss of love. It was all cathartic and strangely satisfying.

But then I decided that there needs to be a genre of poetry not devoted to mourning past losses but to anticipating future gains. One of our wonderful wordsmiths prompted christened it, not the eulogy, but the newlogy. We wondered a bit why this hasn't caught on already as a poetic form. It might be that poets as a group are a gloomy bunch, but I don't think so. Maybe it's that the past has already happened, so we can acknowledge it in all its specificity, with those wonderful vivid details that bring writing alive. Whereas, the future is inchoate, unrealized, yet to be.

Still, we might as well get some practice in visualizing wonderful futures for ourselves with the same careful attention to detail we give to grieving our painful pasts.

Maybe I'll go write my first newlogy right now.

Monday, January 10, 2011


This year at the poetry retreat our leader was Alabama poet Jeanie Thompson, author of several collections of poetry including The Seasons Bear Us. For our first session, Jeanie led us in an exercise that had us drawing the floor plan of the first home we remembered, and then situating various memories in its grid and writing about them. Once we had that raw material distilled, we could try presenting it in open form poetry (free verse) or in some traditional poetic form such as the pantoum, the sestina, or the villanelle. These are exacting forms with strict specifications and quite a bit of repetition of lines, giving a haunting hypnotic effect.

In my day I have written heaps of sonnets, mainly love poems to Dick Thistle, the boy I fell in love with on October 17, 1967, and persecuted with my love for years. I called him Apollo and wrote him sonnets under that name. But I had never tried my hand at any of these other forms to which Jeanie introduced me.

Here is my first-ever villanelle. The villanelle has stanzas of three lines, in an ABA rhyme scheme, with an alternating repetition in each stanza of line 1 and line 3. The final stanza has four lines, concluding with both 1 and 3. The hard part is finding enough rhymes for the A lines to keep the thing going without making it sound forced and clunky.

Note: this is NOT a memory inspired by the floor plan of my childhood home!

Back Then

This is the kind of thing I used to say.

If we are still together in the spring

His arms around me as I face away,

We’ll take a trip to Florence or Vevey.

His finger bare from his third wedding ring.

This is the kind of thing I used to say.

We’ll be the last to leave the small cafĂ©

As strolling serenaders stop to sing.

His arms around me as I face away.

We’ll picnic on goat cheese and Chardonnay

If this is more than just a passing fling.

This is the kind of thing I used to say.

We’ll watch the fading sky turn blue to gray

As campanile bells begin to ring.

His arms around me as I face away.

We’ll spend a year, a month, or just a day,

If we are still together in the spring.

This is the kind of thing I used to say

My arms around him as he turned away.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Home from the Land of Fairy Dust

I'm back from my trip back East. I will have much to share over the next few days - poems from the retreat and a report of my creation (together with some other poet friends) of a whole new genre of poetry. Yes! We haven't written any poems in this genre yet, but we know the kinds of poems we will need to write to get this new genre off the ground, and I'm going to invite you to write them with me.

But first, fairy dust. The picture is of me, at Alice's Teacup, having the fairy dust sprinkled on me, with my eyes closed to intensify its effects. And the fairy dust sprinkler, a wonderful Alice's Teacup employee, turned out to be the dear friend of the daughter of a dear friend of mine from my high school days. My friend had read my previous anticipatory blog post and prepared me for this magical small-world connection.

So: I did decide to ask the fairy dust for love, despite love's inherent risks. One of my fellow writers that morning said that there was no reason why I couldn't ask the fairy dust not for love simpliciter, but for good, right, true, lasting love. That seemed a bit overly specific to me. Like a request for a man between five feet ten and six feet two, athletic and toned, with the proper profile of education and occupation. I didn't want to present the fairy dust with a whole laundry list of desiderata. Laurie said that asking for good, right, true, lasting love wasn't like that at all. But I still demurred. I just asked for love. Love, period.

Now, in the past the fairy dusty has worked VERY QUICKLY if it's going to work at all. I think it was three months last year from the sprinkling of the fairy dust on my manuscript to my book contract for my Mason Dixon series. So I kept my eyes wide open for love when I got to Newark Airport this morning to fly home from the poetry retreat. I kept my eyes wide open on the plane.

Fairy dust, my eyes are open!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bad Girl Makes Good

Oh, why do we procrastinate? For a full YEAR I've known that I had to write this paper on Rousseau's influence on recent children's literature that is to be my contribution to an edited volume on romanticism and children's literature. I see on my list of last summer's goals that finishing this paper was chief among them. Then it was chief among my goals for last fall. Then it was chief among my goals for winter break.

Then it was my TOP goal for YESTERDAY, because the paper is due TODAY, and in less than an hour I'm leaving on the bus for the airport to fly to Newark, spending tonight with my sister and then attending a wonderful three-day poetry-writing retreat held at a convent in Mendham, New Jersey. I almost got it done last night, but was too tired to give it one last reading for one last revision. So I got up at 4:30 this morning, and now it's done, done, done, and emailed off. Hooray!

But I sort of wish I had done it six months ago. Or six weeks ago. Or six days ago. Oh, well. At least it was done six minutes ago! And, as we used to say during finals week when I was in college, "All's well that ends."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


One new year long ago, back when I was in graduate school, I made my new year's resolutions. "Don't waste so much time sitting in the philosophy department lounge." "Go into New York City more often." Those are two of the resolutions I made on January 1, 1979.

Little did I know that by February 6, 1979, I would have left philosophy graduate school forever to accept a job as a secretary/editorial assistant at Scholastic; their offices at that time were at 50 West 44th Street in NYC. I was to spend the next year and a half going in to New York City every single working day. I was never going to sit in the philosophy department lounge at Princeton ever again. I remember the date because that was the very first day of my new job at Four Winds Press/Scholastic, the job that would launch my career as a children's book writer. But on January 1 of that year, I had no idea, none at all, of what was to come.

For this new year my main resolution for the year is to be radically open to new possibilities, whatever they are. And I already do know, on January 4, 2011, that it is 98 percent likely that I will be accepting a visiting position at another university for the 2011-12 academic year - details to come when it's all finalized. I will be living somewhere else, teaching somewhere else, meeting a whole new cast of characters, growing in ways I can't even imagine now. I just got off the phone from a thrilling 45-minute conversation with the professor who issued this invitation to me, the invitation that I have accepted with so much joy and trepidation. Well, actually, to be honest, with so much joy and no trepidation at all.

If I already know this much about the changes that await me in 2011, this is going to be one wild and wonderful ride of a year.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Heading Back for More Fairy Dust

I'm scrambling to get everything organized to start the new semester on Monday at CU, because I'll be heading out of town on Wednesday to attend a poetry writing retreat back East, held at a convent in Mendham, New Jersey. This will be my fifth time at the retreat, and I can't wait to awaken my poetic voice again. Each year, I come back from the retreat on fire to write poetry, and poetry pours out of me for months, but then it starts to trickle out, and then, by the end of the year, it's all I can do to squeeze out a poetic drop or two. So I'm ready for a torrent of poetry again, a veritable Niagra of it!

On Wednesday night, I'll stay with my sister, who now owns our childhood home in North Plainfield, New Jersey. Then on Thursday, I'll take the bus into Manhattan to connect with a couple of the other poets who will all be taking the train from Penn Station to Morristown (the station closest to the convent). But first we'll rendez-vous, as we did last year, at Alice's Teacup. We'll go to the one on the upper West side, at 102 West 73rd Street. There we'll have tea and scones, and before we leave, we'll ask to have their fairy dust sprinkled on us.

Last year, I had the fairy dust sprinkled on a new manuscript; a week later, I had an agent who was willing to represent it; two months later, I sold it as part of a three-book series to Knopf/Random House. A family member went there on the day she lost a job and had fairy dust sprinkled on her resume; she then got the ONLY job she applied for.

So I'm giving a lot of thought to what I want to ask the fairy dust for this year. I've been thinking about asking it for love, and having the fairy dust sprinkled on my heart. But the trouble with the fairy dust, I've discovered from hearing others' stories, is that it gives you what you want, but it offers no guarantee that you'll like it when you get it. And love, oh, love is risky. So maybe I'll take chapter one of my newest groping toward a book project and see what the fairy dust can do for it. I think that may be the wiser course, the safer option. But maybe with fairy dust, you're not supposed to play it safe; maybe there is something inherently unsafe about fairy dust in the first place.

Now, several friends have asked me to bring them back some fairy dust. Nope. It doesn't work that way. You have to make your own pilgrimage to Mecca; no one else can make it for you. So I think you have to go to Alice's Teacup to get your own fairy dust. But if you ever want to go, I'll meet you there.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Day Two

The trouble with starting a brand new year, and a brand new life, is that I always feel more like doing it the day BEFORE it starts than I do on the day THAT it starts, or worse, the day AFTER it starts. On New Year's Eve, I had so many plans for the new year. And then on New Year's Day, well, that was a holiday, and one isn't really expected to leap into unprecedented greatness on a holiday. And now today? Well, today is Sunday, and I did spend the morning at church, and now I have family over, and. . .

So I had better start leaping into unprecedented greatness tomorrow. At the very latest.

Though I should really do just a tiny bit of leaping today.

Or at least organize things to facilitate leaping.

Or at least make a good itemized list of projected leaps.

Or maybe just give up and go read another hundred pages of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, one of my Christmas presents, which is extremely absorbing and sucking away all my energy and drive that would otherwise be devoted to leaping. Then I could have a first HUGE book (560 pages) to write down on my list of books I read in 2011, and that would feel good. And I could say that reading a book by such a masterful storyteller is something a writer is supposed to be doing, anyway. And I could even finish up the leftover Christmas fudge while I'm doing it, so that tomorrow I can leap into unprecedented greatness AND start a new, healthy, slimming diet.

It sounds like a plan.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcome, 2011

It's here. I started my new notebook this morning. I don't have a special magical saying yet to guide me through the year, but I do have my special magical word: "grope."

My special magical saying for last year proved to be all too prophetic. I don't even know where I read it, but I wrote it down anyway, without attribution, and here it is: "Charles Darwin told us that it is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." And then I went on to have a year absolutely crammed full of nothing but change.

For the year before, I took this line from the wonderful memoir, To Love What Is, by Alix Kates Shulman, her account of her life with her beloved but now brain-damaged husband. In the book she gives this definition of luck, which became my talisman for the year. She said luck is something "we continually manufacture by our stubborn resistance to viewing our lives as other than blessed." Pretty wonderful, huh?

I did look up quotes about adventure, since I'm planning for the coming year to be one of adventure for me. I found these:

"Man cannot discover new oceans until he has the courage to lose sight of the shore" - Andre Gide
"An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered." - G. K. Chesterton
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” — Mark Twain
“It is never too late to be who you might have been.” — George Eliot
“And the day came when the wish to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anais Nin
“The only question in life is whether or not you are going to answer a hearty ‘YES!’ to your adventure.” — Joseph Campbell

I don't know if any of these is going to be IT, my quotation for the year. The last two years I stumbled upon mine in the course of living my ordinary, everyday life. But I do especially like that George Eliot one, and the Joseph Campbell one.

I used to describe myself as a "yay-sayer to the universe," and that's what I want to be again. Right now, on this first day of 2011, I'm planning on answering a hearty YES to everything.