Saturday, December 6, 2014

Reflections on Warmth

If you were to ask either of my parents if I developed my love for writing from them, I imagine both of them would say no.  In the past few years, my parents have come to mean something different to me, figures that I rely on more than I thought I would at the age of thirty-five.  After I made it through the years of adolescent angst and drama, I came out seeing my parents in a clearer light.  And, after I went through a tough break-up and moved away, I realized how lucky I am to have the parents I have.

There has always been a joke between me and my siblings that our family is straight-up wacky.  From post-it notes of frustration that my parents leave each other on the cupboards to the predictable bickering that ensues every holiday, we shake our heads and sigh.  It's true that sometimes it can be stressful watching your parents argue over small things over the years, but I've also learned how to look at that stress with a comedic eye.  My parents have been in a relationship together for almost forty-six years.  Wouldn't you be tired of someone never changing the toilet paper roll for forty-six years?  Some disagreements are understandable and completely human.

Over the  years, my family has become inspiration and material for my writing.  Trips spent cutting the Christmas tree down, nights spent at the local pizzeria drinking beer and gorging on deep-fried vegetables, and Christmas morning brunch; these are the moments I hold on to and use for poetry.  In an effort not to forget where I came from or how I got here, I write it all down.

Recently, my parents have discovered the convenience of text messaging.  I text my parents on a regular basis to get updates on life back in MI.  Through these text messages my parents take care of me, albeit in a distant and technological way.  My dad sends me photos of birds, toast and family members.  My mom texts to tell me that she loves me, she checks on my cats and asks me about the weather.  Through these texts I've come to appreciate my parents even more.  I have come to value the warmth and love they have given me over the past thirty-five years.  My mom likes to get silly sometimes when she texts, usually around my birthday or Christmas and I love it.  She will ask me what I want for my birthday and when I reply that I don't want anything, my mom will respond with, "Fine.  I guess I will have to go get you that blow-up doll I saw in a catalog."  The fact that this remark comes from my very Midwestern minded mom, only makes it better.

The warmth my parents send me comes in the form of words and sentiments, but they also come in the form of photographs and afghans.  In the following posts I'll share the funny, odd and concrete ways my parents send their love to me.  I hope you'll join me.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

There are no Answers in Teaching

I'm currently teaching two English classes and what I've learned so far about myself and my students has little to do with commas or sentence fragments.  In many ways, I am driven to teach more than writing skills, I am interested in showing my students a sliver of topics or ideas that they may not have been exposed to yet.

Last Friday I gave my students 5 minutes to respond to a writing prompt.  I asked my students what they were afraid of and their answers varied greatly.  When they turned their papers in I couldn't help but read them right away.  At the start of the semester I was frustrated by their lack of motivation, their refusal to speak in class and their blank faces.  But, after  getting to know them a bit, I realize that their silence isn't always due to lack of preparation.  Sometimes my students are silent because they have much scarier and stressful things going on in their lives besides my English class.

I have one student who is extremely quiet.  He is on the basketball team and wrote a creative essay about why the basketball court is his home, the one place where he feels safe and confident.  Through talking to him and reading his papers I've learned that he was witness to his uncle/mentor being arrested and put in jail.  After his uncle was sentenced he was forced to move to another state to live with his mother and aunt.  He has talked about how he is homesick and has learned that you cannot rely on the people you love always being there.  What I want to tell him is that you can rely on the people you love to be there, but I know he has every reason to believe I am wrong. 

Another student wrote that she is afraid of being deported back to Mexico if she doesn't get the proper paperwork to stay in school.  She lost her mother to cancer a few years ago and stays with her aunt and uncle in California when she is on break from school.  She wrote about her fears of not graduating from college.  I've also learned that my student stays up at night, unable to sleep, because of her intense anxiety and worry.  How can I expect her to have perfect attendance and proper essays when she is dealing with so much?

Then, I have a student who shows up sporadically to class, always looking defeated and exhausted.  Through our writing prompts I've learned that she cannot afford college on her own and is in need of a co-signer for a loan.  Without a co-signer she would be forced to drop out of college.  I learned last week that she was unable to find someone and will not be returning to school.  College was her way out of a bad home life, it was her refuge.  Now, she has to return to that home and somehow find her way again.  I don't know what will happen to her.

There have been so many days when I wanted to scream in front of the classroom.  I wanted to yell and reprimand the students for not doing their work, for looking absent mindedly at the board and for not being excited about writing and self-expression.  And while I am not excusing their lack of participation I can see why some may have bigger concerns on their minds besides homework.

I don't know how to help my students who need the most help, the students who need to learn how to survive in a world that seems to be wholly unfair and cruel.  I don't know how to tell them that things will work out, that they have a bright future, without sounding na├»ve.  There are so many "I don't knows" in teaching and there are so many days when I feel unprepared to face my small crowd of bright, hurt and creative students.  I just don't know.

So, yes, my job as a teacher is to show my students how to write and communicate well.  But, perhaps more importantly, my job is to listen and not judge.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Small Detroit Poem for October 21

I fell asleep
dreaming of Detroit.
The lost manufacturing jobs
and the papers my grandpa
used to sell on the corner
of Livernois Avenue.

In other words,
I fell asleep
missing you.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Hop On Board!

I was recently asked by my friend Lisa to join a blog tour that she is a part of.  I was excited to be asked but was even more excited when I found out what it was.  This activity would force me to look at my own writing life with the added bonus of meeting other bloggers along the way.  Before you get started, you should check out Lisa's blog and see what she's up to.

Below you will find my answers to some questions about my writing and below that you will find links to some awesome sauce blogs that I love.  I will be adding more blogs later this week.  So, hop on board the blog tour and have some fun.

What am I currently working on?
I am currently working on a mish mash of poems that are all over the place.  I am trying to put together a small chapbook so that I can start submitting my work.  I currently have poems about picking cherries in Northern Michigan with a man who looked like Garrison Keillor, having a crush on a co-op volunteer, eating lunch with my ninety-seven-year-old friend, and men with nice arms.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?
I think my work differs from others based solely on style and content.  I tend to be a writer who focuses on the "everyday" aspects of life and I sometimes (always) worry that my writing is boring or too bland.  I always write in free verse and usually in a narrative style.  I've been forcing myself to read poets whose writing is completely different from me in order to challenge myself.  I never want to get stuck in a style of writing that no longer works for me. I'm always telling myself that my work is never good enough.  This is a trait I need to get over.

Why do I write what I do?
I write about normal life because I find it so inspiring and interesting.  I love listening to conversations people have at the grocery store or local bar.  I think normal people lead such extraordinary lives if we just listen a little.  I like people and I like trying to figure them out.

How does my writing process work?
My writing process feels like a clusterfuck of words, neurosis, self-doubt and clarity.  My challenge for the rest of the year is to form a more organized schedule for writing.  I normally write on my lunch break, in-between classes and on weekends.  It's not that this process doesn't work for me but I feel like it isn't enough.  In order for me to get back into the groove I need to set aside specific times to write.  My process is in a bit of a flux right now but I am trying to balance it out.  Too often I get stressed out about my work, home, relationship and pet responsibilities that I push writing to the side. That is scary!  If I don't write, who am I?  Trying to figure my "writing self" and my "personal self" is going to take time but I will get there.  I will, won't I?

Below you will find the friends I visited on my blog tour. Enjoy!

Blast Furnace Press:
Pittsburgh native Rebecca Clever is founder, editor and publisher of Blast Furnace.

Over the past two decades she has served as a reporter, newspaper editor, columnist, promotional and technical writer, and book editor/designer. Her poetry, non-fiction and interviews have been published in various newspapers, literary journals and anthologies.

In addition to receiving a Pushcart Prize nomination, she is the first recipient of the Laurie Mansell Reich poetry award, co-sponsored by the Academy of American Poets and Chatham University, was a quarter-finalist for the Nimrod Literary Awards Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and a past nominee for the AWP Intro Journals Project. In 2014, she was offered a partial scholarship to the Vermont Studio Center.Rebecca received her MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham in 2011, where she was a finalist for best thesis.

What's So Clever:
Beck is a bespectacled, salt & pepper-crowned, tall drink of [fill in your favorite beverage here], Christ-seeking gay woman. A daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a girlfriend & friend to some mammoth-hearted people. A seasoned professional writer, raw musician, slightly advanced amateur photographer, and a failed perfectionist. She’s handy with names of movies, composers, performers and other trivia. Back in the era of VH-1 Rock & Rock Jeopardy, she’d have been champ if she'd entered the competition. Reckless behind the wheel, Beck adores travel and has a heart for mission work. She is currently renting her sixth apartment in nine years. Every now and then, if she really pays attention, she experiences the extraordinary and when she does, she'll be sure to post about it here.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Oh, Crap!

I'm going to put it all out there in a very evasive and somewhat whiny way.  What I'm actually going to do is complain about writing.

The past few months I've started writing more frequently, which is great.  As a writer, I should be writing all the time.  I should have a daily schedule for writing.  I should sit in front of my computer for hours on end, work on a poem, re-work a poem, revise said poem and continue the process until a manuscript is in my hands.  None of this has happened.  Part of the reason may be my natural ability to only do small tasks at a time.  I've never been one to dive into a huge project and become totally immersed.  I'm more of a "dip your toes in and see how it feels" kind of gal.  But, to get back on track, I have been writing more yet I feel really crappy about my writing.

A few years ago I moved back to Pittsburgh and dealt with an emotional break-up.  I had four jobs, worked an insane amount of hours, and still didn't have enough money to pay the bills let alone enough money to enter writing contests.  All of this seems like wonderful material for a writer.  I struggled to get through the day sometimes and looked for ways to heal.  Writing has always been a way for me to heal but I couldn't write.  I convinced myself that if I had time to write I should be working more.  Completely untrue.  I should have been writing more at this time to figure things out, to get  my frustration, anger, sadness, worry and loneliness down on the page.  Instead, I shut my creative self off and pushed forward.  I regret doing this.

The past two years have been on an upswing for me and I am beginning to feel whole.  I only have two jobs, instead of four, and I have my weekends to myself.  So, once things calmed down and got sorted out, I thought I would jump right back into writing and feel confident.  Not the case.  I recently edited my resume and came to terms that it had indeed been 2 years since I published anything.  I saw that as a challenge.  I sent out submissions, looked for new places to send my work and, as of yesterday, none of my work has been accepted.  I have a stack of rejection e-mails in my inbox.  I see myself as a pretty resilient person.  I tend to get back up after I've been knocked down.  And, while I rationalize with myself that my work isn't at the point where it needs to be in order for it to be published, that the art of judging poetry is very subjective and emotional, that I need to focus on writing and not worry so much about publishing at the moment, it still hurts.  I feel like I lost whatever "umph" I had when I was in grad school.  I worry that my writing is too bland, not cool or funny enough.  I read Anne Lamott's "Shitty First Drafts" over and over and it helps.  But, then I put the book down, sign on to Facebook, and feel like everyone else is publishing and winning awards except for me. (Not an entirely true statement)

So, even though I am still in the messy head-space of low self-esteem, high self-doubt, self-criticism and freakish worry, I keep writing.  I think that's what I have to do.  And, while I will push myself to write more, everyday, I'm not sure there is much else to do. I will be seeing less of Facebook though, it's complicated.

If you have suggestions or go to remedies for when you feel this way, I'd love to hear it.  Until then, I will be writing about cherries and beer.  I hope you'll join me.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Small Poem for July 12

The orange and pink sky
held the full July moon
between the bridges
as I boarded the bus.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Come Visit Me at Twitter

Hi All,

I've started writing micro-poems on a regular basis over at Twitter.  I'd love for you to stop by and check it out.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Small Poem for July 7

With his cane,
he points at the objects
he wants us to take
from his Harlem home.
But, the jade warriors
African drum and cockatoo are
too much
for us to carry alone.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July 3 Small Poem

With all that we lack
there is abundance in
a thank you dinner
a gift of wine
and fresh spinach in a ceramic bowl.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Monday, May 26, 2014

I choose to love my life...because it really is wonderful! (Thirties: Part 3)

This past week, past few months really, I've been complaining about the space I inhabit in my life.  There are so many things that I need or want that I almost feel like a kid and not an adult.  I took stock on all of the things, mostly materialistic, that I needed in order to feel like my life was on the right track.  Some of the things on the list were: winter boots, sheets that not only match but fit the bed, a comforter that fits the bed, curtains, new clothes, a full time job that will lead to a career, a pair of high heels and a dental appointment.

Tonight, when I got home from work and started folding the mismatched/hand-me-down laundry, I had a realization.  This is the life I imagined when I was younger.  As a kid I thought mismatched, wonky towels and sheets meant that you lived an interesting life.  It meant that you had been places, that you collected memories and not "things."  I believed that in order to live the life of a writer, things would be messy from time to time, both financially and emotionally.  Old sheets and a previously owned couch just meant you had a creative life that didn't always allow you to have new and shiny objects.  As an adult, I lost sight of this perspective.

I am still trying to find the balance and beauty between worn out towels and a rich creative life.  Every day I experience contradictory emotions that are both uplifting and confusing.  I haven't figured anything out yet, and from what I can tell, that's ok.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Blast Furnace Press: Chapbook Competition and More

Happy Thursday!

Hope you are well on this spring day.

I recently served as the guest reviewer for the most recent edition of Blast Furnace Press.  It was a total "blast" and I was in awe of the talent out in the poetry world.  Check out the latest publication here:

BFP is also holding its first chapbook competition.  You should consider sending your work to this wonderful Pittsburgh press.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Upcoming Workshop at Biddle's Escape

Hello, Everyone!

I'll be facilitating a creative writing workshop at Biddle's Escape starting May 13.  Check out the flyer and let me know if you're interested.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Drop Kicking Poetry

We have another reading coming up!
Join us on March 23 at Amazing Books for an afternoon of word wrestling.
Hope to see you there!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Color Me Bad: Poetry & Stuff Reading: CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER!

Check it out! We're back and ready to start the new year with some poetry. Join us on January 25th!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

January Small Stones: Days 1-5

Day 1

This new year
brings with it
fresh snow, abundance and you.

Day 2

January snowstorm
from the view of a  hilltop apartment
shows only the peace of a blizzard below.

We are too high
to notice the rest.

Day 3

All but orange and red
outline the window.

Outside, the snow continues
to fall
and you are
hours away.

Day 4

Steam from the humidifier
a gray cat on my lap
and a poem in the air.

Day 5

Sunday afternoon
I walk in the woods
with an old friend.

Winter air
woodpeckers above
snow underneath
our warm feet.