Stifle This


I want my own

I was thinking that after the tight, elegant blogging I’ve been doing lately, with touches of grace and philosophical depth and a hint of lime, I’ve earned the right to babble like an idiot this time, with no meaning or control.

And that’s so easy for me to do.

Man, it’s hot here right now, 10:30 at night and 78 degrees in Atlanta, Georgia. Thank God for fans. Anyhow, I thought I’d update you on some aspects of living a writer’s life, in case you’ve lost your mind and are considering doing that. This evening I was in a pizza joint that specializes in 10-inch personal pizzas. A family came in, and at their table, a cheerful little girl who seemed maybe four years old apparently expected her own pizza, but then was told she was sharing with a younger sibling. Immediately, she went into moody-faced scrunched up tearfulness.

I don’t mean to compare myself to that, but if I were a four-year-old writer, this would have been a moody-faced week. Specifically, I’ve been anxious to work on revisions for the new novel The Invention of Colors. When I’m writing from scratch, even 20 minutes is enough for me to be productive, but for this revision, I need stretches of time to really focus, and I’m not getting them. It’s been very frustrating. There is so much to do, and other novels waiting to be worked on, and yet I’m wasting my life going to work. Not that I’m unmindful of the luxury of a salary and benefits, having done without them for a few years.

Part of the impetus this week pushing me into the revision is that I traded this novel with another writer—I read her book and she read mine, and we gave one another a critique. She returned some very helpful comments on weaknesses and problems in my novel. I’m grateful for that, and if she had not, I’d have been disappointed, thinking “So how am I supposed to make this better?” At the same time, she had strongly positive reactions to the book in several ways, so I feel more confident of what I have. But I need time to work.

In other sparkling writer news, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned on the blog that a few months ago I hired a publicist to help with promoting things. One of the things he did was to send the short story collection that is in the works to a publisher in North Carolina, who had agreed to read it. This week I learned that the publisher liked the writing but has decided to focus on other things, the bastard. Well, moody face. In the meantime, my publicist found a publisher in Australia and sent the book to them. So, hmm.

And though I have whined here about lack of time—a true whine, heartfelt, and I own it—I nevertheless went twice this week to open mic poetry readings to read a few poems. You can slap me for braggadocio, but I get fairly positive reactions to the poetry, so going to the readings is partly putting myself in front of people (building publicity to use later, someday), and partly just balming the ego to hear people say nice things. It helps to avoid the moody face.

At these poetry readings, I have to admit that I hear little that makes me say, “Oh, yes!” And yet…sometimes I do. Sometimes, sometimes, I just open my eyes wider and think Wow. But in general if you want to hear a lot of mediocre, cliche-ridden, desperately sincere poetry—open mic poetry readings are the place for you. One very common theme is “I’m OK” (anxiously and loudly declared by people who are clearly not OK, but are working on it). Those poems are usually addressed to a former romantic interest, though sometimes to a hideous relative. Another theme also quite common is “X is good, you should like it” (X being, at different times, yourself, love, peace, the earth, God). This second theme tends especially to wallow in cliche, and many poets seem unaware that repeating phrases they’ve heard all their life does not make particularly good poetry. A third tendency one hears at open mics is a poem that makes the point the poet wants within the first five lines, and then goes on for another fifty lines.

But listen to my snarky bitchiness. I should be ashamed. I should be, I know. But I’m not. I might end with a fake humble “Aw, shucks, I don’t want to discourage you from writing poetry” but I’m remembering a quote from Flannery O’Connor, a fellow Georgia writer. She was asked whether she thought that universities stifle writers. She replied, “My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.”

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