Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tell Me About Yourself

I consider myself a damn good conversationalist. I have my bad days like most people, but on my good days, well, I'm damn good. Not because I have anything that interesting to say. In fact, just the opposite. I think what you have to say is interesting. And I want to know more about it. He's an example:

"Hey [friend]! How have you been?"
"Oh, I'm alright. Not sleeping well lately."
"I'm sorry to hear that. What's going on?"
"Oh well, my cat's been really sick and my brother lost his job and my wallet was stolen."
"Geez! That's a lot all at once. I can see why you'd be losing sleep. When was your wallet stolen?"

There are a number of things I did in this example that make me a damn good conversationalist. One, I asked a question, "How have you been?" But the simple asking does not warrant the "damn good" status, but rather, actually caring about my friend's response. That's when I asked the follow up question, "What's going on?" This communicates to my friend that I want to hear what s/he has to say. I am using my damn good listening skills. (Also, note that I did not get all upset that [friend] did not ask me how I was doing). But I don't stop there. I keep going. Because my [friend] needs me to listen. I know my friend would do the same for me, if the roles were reversed.

My skills as a damn good conversationalist don't only shine in situations where a friend needs to vent. Let's say I'm just meeting a new acquaintance. In order to get to know someone, it's good to ask questions like, "So, do you have any pets?" or "How do you know (our mutual friend) So-And-So?" or "What things do you do for fun?" or even the old standby, "What do you do for a living?" will suffice. People like to talk about themselves. It's fun to give them a chance to do so.

I went to a literary event in San Francisco recently. About halfway through the evening, I was having some really interesting conversations when I realized something: not one person had asked me anything. Mostly, it was a feeling of relief to not have to talk about myself. But then I started to get a wee bit self-righteous. The pattern continued. Ugh! People here are so selfish! Why isn't anyone asking me about ME? Soon it became a game to see how long a conversation could go on being so one-sided.

Yesterday I was chatting online with a good friend of mine who lived in California for five years. She gave me some interesting insight (edited for clarity and spelling):

me: I went to this event last week and I realized at one point that not one person asked me about myself.
everyone just pretty much talked about themselves.
Friend: well that might just be a regional thing - they assumed you would too so they didn't think they had to ask
me: huh
Friend: California is known for narcissists
me: I hate that. I enjoy listening, asking questions
Friend: it's like learning a different language

Sal and I were at dinner last night before going to see Harry Potter (review coming soon to a blog post near you). After we ordered I asked, "How did your meeting go today?" Twenty minutes later I finally interrupted him. "Did you notice that you've been talking about work since we got here?" He felt sheepish, but also, confused. Then he said something strange.

"Well, I was just waiting for you to talk about yourself. It's called a conversation."

I told Sal about my earlier chat that day and he agreed in some ways. He also said it might not be isolated to California. Having grown up in Brooklyn, he asserted that New Yorkers often talk the same way.

A hypothesis is brewing.

Perhaps this style of conversing is regional, but not because it is tied to any one specific region. Rather, these differences arise on the type of region: urban, as opposed to suburban or rural. Though, I have run into people who speak like this in the suburbs, but I usually end up not speaking to them that often because it feels one-sided. I label them self-involved. But they aren't the norm. What if, in this new environment, speaking freely about oneself without being prompted, is the norm? What does that make me? Maybe I just like listening because I think it makes me likable? What if I become so self-involved that I can't talk to my friends and family back home? My entire world view is falling apart!!!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to paint myself as a conversational martyr. I enjoy talking about myself as much as the next person. But a good conversation is a balance, a dance. Give and take. You scratch mine, I'll scratch yours. An eye for an eye. [Insert reciprocity-related proverb/metaphor here.] But after a while, talking only about myself gets exhausting. I bore myself. I forget what I've already told certain people. Listening is fun because I gain new insight, stories and perspectives. But there is part of me that expects the same thing in return. At least, eventually. And I am really afraid of becoming one of "those people" that only talk about themselves. One of "those people" who write long, rambling blog posts about how damn good they are at X or Z.

Oh dear.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Breakfast at Noon

I've been living in San Francisco for over a month and I can't say it feels anything like home yet. I like our apartment. We have so much junk everywhere though. It has take all of my willpower to not spend all day organizing and cleaning. I did break down and try to put my IKEA desk (back) together. Somehow I thought I could do it despite the fact that 1) I didn't have directions, 2) it was not taken apart completely from the move, and 3) I was alone in a really cramped office space. How could I have possibly failed? I should make myself feel bad for that. Done.

I've been working hard this week on the dreaded job applications. The process involves a constant battle with self-doubt in the face of a ridiculously competitive job market. I fluctuate between thoughts like, I will be such a fun professor! to I wonder how much I will make at Starbucks? pretty much all day long.

I've been struggling with writing here too. I know I have some new readers and I wonder, do I have anything interesting to say right now? I'm a relatively uninteresting person this week, on my computer pretty much all day. Sometimes I look out the window.

I was fascinated by this article about the lives of modern writers. Apparently we are becoming healthier! Tell that to the bowl of cereal I just ate for... dinner? lunch? Well, I did have a really healthy breakfast today, so I can't complain. Here is a picture of it: maple and brown sugar oatmeal, banana,  cantaloupe and coffee. It was tasty.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Kristine Ong Muslim's Night Fish

I am a big fan of poetry chapbooks. The format, in my opinion, is poetic in nature: thematically-contained, inherently brief and, if executed well, this quickness causes the reader to flip back to page one and begin again. In her latest chapbook, Night Fish (Shoe Music Press, 2011), Kristine Ong Muslim dwells just long enough in dark waters and glass lake houses, leaving her readers renewed, yet haunted.

A short collection of an ominous thirteen poems, Muslim maintains a dark, surreal tone throughout. The title poem "Night Fish," also the first poem, begins with a declaration: “From now on, there will never be any flat land, / just water.” From there we swim alongside characters like, “that misanthrope with the chubby face” and “that minimalist rearranging his arms to fit a slinky dress” who are all in search of the “submerged continent.”  This poem’s placement sets the tone for those that follow: a David Lynchian-like story that begins in the middle of things, but doesn't say so. Or does it start at the end? This ambiguity is not caused by lack of craft, but rather, by a sense of timelessness where Muslim explores surreal terrains like the afterlife, childhood, artist landscapes and mysterious dreamscapes.

Some of the poems examine the connections between artists and writers, in particular the poems “Night Swimmer” and “Hypergraphia,” respectively. In the former, Muslim writes an ekphrastic poem dedicated to Max Ernst’s painting Aquis Submerses, where “All strangers whose backs are / turned away from the light become / ginger bread men—”. The poem deftly captures the strangeness in Ernst's shadowy dimensions and lonely characters. In “Hypergraphia,” the poem depicts the madness of a real mental disorder where one writes compulsively and uncontrollably in a “watery city of typography.” Throughout the poems, I found myself wondering if Muslim has, in fact, been swimming around inside my head. Each poem captures a universal emotion -- be it grief, fear of death, loneliness -- and captures it, stuffing it in a bottle to float out to sea.

The poetic structures in Night Fish are mostly free verse, with the occasional nod to couplets and other nonce forms. Muslim’s use of enjambment could be a bit stronger; she often breaks lines before prepositions, causing the starting and ending words to fall flat. But she makes up for this with strong consistency of voice and haunting repeated imagery. The poems all connect through doorways, bodies of water, souls, phantoms, fish, hazy dreams and “limbs reaching out / to more limbs reaching out / to more limbs,” as in the poem “Extremities.”

If you read indie lit mags, you are probably already familiar with Kristine Ong Muslim’s writing. It’s no wonder this writer has received five Pushcart nominations; just reading one of her poems fuels the desire for more. So go ahead and give in to that poetic hunger; pick up a copy of Night Fish today.


Night Fish by Kristine Ong Muslim was published by Shoe Music Press in 2011.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Literary Roundup & Spreadsheet Romance

This week, the literary meets the technological in my Google Plus stream. I've "met" awesome writers who are open to sharing, including by helping me answer probing questions like "What's a good free website platform?" and "Anyone want to write a collaborative poem?"

Speaking of collaborative poems! I've been writing them all week with three awesome poet-friends, Thom, Jessica and Crystal. We're using Google Docs and, I must say, it's really awesome to watch as someone writes a line of poetry. Watching them write, delete, rearrange, write, pause - there is a video project in there somewhere.

My amazing friend D. Gilson wrote a travel essay and it's up over at the PANK Blog. Go read it.

I've got a poem in the latest issue of Diverse Voices Quarterly. The rest of the issue is fantastic and lovely.

Weave submissions are rolling in! We have an awesome ad up at htmlgiant. While working at Google yesterday, I read stories about breastfeeding, masturbation, burial rituals and racism. I love this work. We are open until July 31st. SUBMIT!

My friend and partner-in-recent-literary-crimes, Lisa Marie Basile, is doing some fundraising for Patasola Press. You should donate and also buy a book. Video about Patasola is posted below.

My obsession with spreadsheets continues. Sal and I spent some time sorting out my priorities this past Saturday and I came up with a list of accessories (tasks) and match them under the different hats (roles) I stylishly wear. Hats include Writer, Editor, Job Seeker and Community Member and respective accessories might include write, read, apply and get-the-hell-out-of-the-apartment-and-go-to-a-poetry-reading. I took this information and put it in a spreadsheet with cool algorithms to add up the time I spend on each activity. An alarm goes off every fifteen minutes to remind me to check what I'm doing. Of course, I had to add a spot on my spreadsheet called "data" for all the time I spent actually using and tinkering with the spreadsheet. It's not something I will keep up with forever, but it's helpful to have some structure to my day. It also helps me get to the end of the day and not feel like crap because it just seems like I did nothing all day.

On a personal note, it's really fun to live in a city. I explained this to Sal the other night by mentioning that on our walk back from drinks we passed at least awesome 10 restaurants/bars/coffee shops/stores that I want to check out. And they are all in walking distance from my apartment! Sal responds with something along the lines of, "So what?" and I realized he has no clue what the suburbs are like. I could only walk to two businesses as a kid: the Twin Kiss Ice Cream and CO-GO's convenience store. The fact that we can walk to get delicious Pho at 10 o'clock at night on a Wednesday is life-altering.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Poets and Writers on Google Plus

UPDATE: There is a more comprehensive list over at Media Bistro. I am suspending updates to this post and referring you to head over there and comment.

Last weekish, Google released their new social network Google+ to the world. I jumped on the bandwagon and set up my profile that first day; I also invited a handful of friends before they quickly shut down invites. I friended some folks, but mostly I've get a lot of updates from people in technology: tech writers, Google employees, and my more tech-savvy friends. Since then, I've been scouring my friends's circles (networks) for more creative-poet-writer types who are already using Google+, though it seems my people are slow to jump into the mix.

The nice thing about Google+ is that you can choose what information to make public. I have some public info and I think it would be fun to share some of it with other creative people. I have been looking for a list of writers on Google+ and I found this article, but it's really more of a list of techy, social-networking junkies who have published books. Where is the list of poets, flash fiction writers, small press editors? Why can I find one? Where is my tribe?

I have decided to make my own list in the hopes that people will jump in here and share their info. If you are a writer, poet, indie mag editor, essayist, fiction writer, and/or overall literary kid with a Google+ profile, please leave your name and profile link in the comments. I will update this post as the comments come in. Here are the poets and writers who have joined in the fun so far.

Sarah Adkins
Meakin Armstrong
Adam Atkinson
Lisa Marie Basile
Elizabeth Bear
Thomas Bechtold
Mary Biddinger
Rachel Cantor
Diya Chaudhuri
Alexander Chee
Kelly Davio
Annie Finch
Neil Gaiman
Roxane Gay
D. Gilson
Carissa Halston
Tom Head
Sheila Heti
Aubrey Hirsch
Crystal J. Hoffman
T.R. Hummer
Sally Rosen Kindred
Mary Robinette Kowal
Laila Lalami
Christiane Leach
Micki Myers
Christopher Newgent
Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Patty Paine
Julie Platt
Nicole Pyles
John Scalzi
Shya Scanlon
Geoff Schmidt
Michael Smith
Emma Straub
Nick Stravinski
Robb Todd
Donna Trussell
Christine Van Winkle

Don't know what Google+ is? Check out this demo and hopefully you can join the fun once they reopen invites.

Adanna Literary Journal: Inaugural Issue

Forgive me for a bit of self-promotion. My poem "One Million Cow Eyes" (about Temple Grandin, doctor of animal science and autism spokesperson) was recently published in the first issue of Adanna Literary Journal, edited by Christine Redman-Waldeyer. With an eye on publishing female voices, I am humbled to be in such great company; the issue features the work of Angie Macri, Sarah J. Sloat, Diane Lockward, among many others. They held a reading a couple weeks ago, which was well attended, as evidenced by the lovely slide show below. I highly recommend picking up a copy of Adanna. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Poetry Bombing! KA-BOOM.

I can't begin to explain how happy this kind of project makes me! Poetry bombing is brilliant. Bring poetry to the masses in unexpected ways. Agustina Woodgate states on her site:

Sewing poems in clothes is a way of bringing poetry to everyday life just by displacing it, by removing it from a paper to integrate it and fuse it with our lives.

Think of all the times that people encounter text in their days. How much of that text isn't trying to sell them something? What about language for the sake of beauty, inspiration, hope, excitement and passion? Yes! That's what this is about. Get out your sewing needles people! I need to find a thrift store, stat.

More here. Check out Woodgate's video. My favorite part is when she is hiding between racks of clothing so she won't get kicked out. Also, her sweet dance moves.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Advice for Poets Who Don't Want to Be Published

Are you a poet trying desperately to avoid publication? Who isn't?! But sadly, submissions are just part of the job description. There are, however, some steps you can take to ensure your poetry never sees the light of day. Follow these rules and you'll be on your way to wallpapering your studio apartment with rejection letters.

Before You Submit
  • Be sure to write poems that include any or all of the following words: angel, blush, roses, soul, caress, tear, rain, raindrops, wind, memory, heart, death, agony, sadness. BONUS: If you use any of these words as a title, you're platinum, baby.
  • Can't think of a way to end your poem? Don't fret. Do what prose writers do: "The End" never fails. 
  • Never revise your poems. They are perfect the moment they hit the page, spelling errors and all. Spellcheck could not possibly understand your wisdom.

The Submissions Process
  • Begin with a long cover letter that addresses the wrong editor, or better yet, the wrong publication, making it obvious that you blindly submitted to ten publications. Mention that you've never read the journal, but you really liked their website.
  • Submissions guidelines? Who cares! You need to believe in yourself. Send along at least 10 of your best pieces and be certain you use an eye-catching font like Chalkduster.
  • Bios! The longer the better. Brag brag brag. Win the science fair in high school? Tell them. Include every publication you've ever gotten (even the one from junior high when you and your best friend made an "underground" zine called Hooch & Words, written while buzzed on cough syrup). Also name drop. Better yet, include a list of the last five places that rejected you and say something terrible about the editors. Also include lots links to various pages on your blog that you haven't updated since 2007.

The Aftermath
  • Email the editors weekly to be sure they received your submission. If you don't hear back, resubmit the same poems again. You can also look for them on g-chat and IM them by saying, "hey editor! didja get my poems? i bet ur gonna luv em!" 
  • When you finally get your rejection letter, follow up with a casual response in which you tell the editors they must be blind to not recognize the UTTER GENIUS that are your poems. Expletives and name-calling will surely get your email address blocked, thus ensuring you'll never, ever be published in their magazine.