Welcome to My Poetry Dictatorship

I’ve been writing poetry since I was eleven. I wasn’t very good then, and I’m still not very good. 

BUT one of my favorite things is to read poetry. I’ve gone through so many phases, being in love with this poet or that poet.

I went through a Richard Brautigan phase, a Billy Collins phase, and I went through another phase where I read a poem a day and collected the names of contemporary poets and became their fan. Eleanor Lerman, Matthew Ryan, Robert Hass, Czeslaw Milosz, Hayden Caruth. 

During college I felt pretty lucky to be invited to participate in a poetry group that included several of my professors and writing instructors, people who I respected as mentors. 

Still, I never got very good. 

But I’ve never relinquished my love for reading poetry.

I fell deeply in love with the Frost verses from which Wallace Stegner pulled a stanza for his semi-autobiographical memoir, “Crossing to Safety,” partially because I’m so madly in love with the story. I pinned the poem up in my room during college and memorized it.

The verse that Stegner used as his epigraph:  

“I could give all to Time except–except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The Things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There,
And what I would not part with I have kept.”

Honestly, I am not as smitten with poetry that rhymes or sticks fiercely to meter than other forms. 

I look to poetry to feel the breath pulled from my lungs in a sigh of contentment over the perfection of imagery and word choice. Reading it trains me to see the world differently, if only for a few minutes. And I find the most complex language there, which informs my own writing. 

All this talk of phases. For years most of my books have been in boxes. We never settled anywhere long enough for me to take ownership and unpack them. 

And then I realized, recently, that I will never be anywhere that feels permanent. Life IS impermanence. 

That is the point of the Frost poem. And Stegner quoting it for his semi-memoir. 

So I set up my “office” recently, in the basement of our modest home (by American standards…please). And I pulled out and organized my poetry collections and put them on the shelf. 

And now I can read poetry without searching through ragged boxes that have seen too many moves, too many miles. 

And now I can shove poetry down the throats of unwilling participants and attempt to force them to enjoy and appreciate it, because that’s the sort of dictatorship I run. 

After writing in the 4th Holly Drake book this morning, I pulled out my Selected Works of Mary Oliver, looking for my breath to be stolen, searching for something that lit my soul on fire. 

Of course I found something because she is a master. 

Here it is, my first time reading this one (second, now). More meaningful because of this post about my cat, Bastet. 

I won’t write anything at the end of this poem, the post will end, because 1) I’ll be speechless again; 2) I’m typing it out for you from my actual book like some kind of old world scrivener, and I’ll likely be in tears (poems rarely make me cry); and 3) the poem is perfection and I don’t want to mess it up with blah blah blah from me.

The contrast in the lines about her dark body and her sleep…just, I swoon and sob. I’m not sure there have ever been more apt lines written on the subject. 

Her Grave

She would come back, dripping thick water, from the green bog.
She would fall at my feet, she would draw the black skin
from her gums, in a hideous and wonderful smile–
and I would rub my hands over her pricked ears and her
     cunning elbows,
and I would hug the barrel of her body, amazed at the unassuming
     perfect arch of her neck. 

*

It took four of us to carry her into the woods.
We did not think of music,
but, anyway, it began to rain
slowly.

*

Her wolfish, invitational, half-pounce.

Her great and lordly satisfaction at having chased something.

My great and lordly satisfaction at her splash
of happiness as she barged
through the pitch pines swiping my face with her 
wild, slightly mossy tongue.

*

Does the hummingbird think he himself invented his crimson throat? 
He is wiser than that, I think.

A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky. 

Do the cranes crying out in the high clouds
think it is all their own music?

A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you
do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the 
trees, or the laws which pertain to them. 

Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill 
think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment 
of her long slumber?

A dog can never tell you what she knows from the 
smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know 
almost nothing. 

Does the water snake with his backbone of diamonds think
the black tunnel on the bank of the pond is a palace 
of his own making?

She roved ahead of me through the fields, yet would come back, or
wait for me, or be somewhere.

Now she is buried under the pines. 

Nor will I argue it, or pray for anything but modesty, and 
not to be angry. 

Through the trees there is the sound of the wind, palavering.

The smell of the pine needles, what is it but a taste 
of the infallible energies? 

How strong was her dark body! 
How apt is her grave place. 

How beautiful is her unshakable sleep. 

*

Finally, 
the slick mountains of love break
over us. 

–Mary Oliver

And Just Like that, You Can’t Call Yourself a Writer…

Let’s begin with the obligatory cool photo that has nothing to do with the post except that THIS was the amazing sunset nature gave me (and a couple other people) tonight.

Haven’t posted here in a while, have I?

And my last post was (let’s face it), kinda lame. Right? I mean, does ANYONE even use pumice stones anymore?

Ha ha ha.

Hardly. There’s sandpaper and such, for that.

What have I been doing lately? Well, I’ve been stuck writing this BRILLIANT short story. It’s a sci-fi mystery. I mean, who even knew those two genres could be mixed?

But I’m stuck.

That’s right! The secret to writing and finishing books and stories is WRITING. So I’ve been violating my own personal rules about writing. By not writing. At least, not writing enough.

Let’s make this, then a PSA piece. My little gift to you, ME doling out advice about writing. Everyone loves PSAs and advice columns and writing advice about how to become the next GREAT WRITER.

Frame this. Frame it in giant black letters and hang it above your bed or your bathroom mirror and read it every day (I’m saying this because that’s what I’m doing right this minute–I’ve got one finger on my keyboard and one adjusting the level as I measure the wall thingy, nail. Or whatever it is.): WRITE EVERY DAY, YOU BASTARD.

I added “you bastard” in because you know that’s what you’re thinking when you’re walking around your office or your house or whatever, your building, like doing stuff that isn’t writing, and you’re like, “Damn. I still haven’t written my daily quota of 500 words/day.”

“You bastard,” you think to yourself.

Once you’ve written your quota, call yourself an AWESOME BASTARD.

“You got your word count, you awesome bastard.” Also you can insert other colorful descriptor words. For fun.

So basically I’ve been doing A Lot of Other Important Stuff that isn’t writing novels or writing short stories or blog posts. I mean, I’m trying.

But writing a book is like reading a book in certain ways.

Say you start reading a new book one evening, stretched out on your couch with a delicious bon-bon in your hand, and some nice quiet solitude around you. And then in the morning, your kids come back from sleeping over at nana’s, and you have no solitude for a solid week and don’t have a chance to read for 7 days, right? Well, on the 7th day, when you go back to the novel, you can barely remember what you read 7 days prior.

Right? I mean, that happens to you, doesn’t it? Oh. It doesn’t? Oh damn.

So anyway, ha ha, I don’t need to go to the neuropsychologist ha ha. My brain is FINE.

Writing a book is like reading a book. You have to be consistent and you can’t let up. Otherwise you forget the important elements making up the story. And to progress you’ve got to keep reviewing them, every time you spend too much time between writing cycles.

Great. Right? Easy enough.

Also, your imagination needs to be exercised every day. Writing a story does that. It takes practice to get your brain to a good spot when it comes to being able to make it do cool tricks and flips and crap.

I know this. I know this because I’m out of practice.

BUT NEVER AGAIN. I swear it. I’m going to start getting up at 6 a.m. just to get my daily word counts. I’ll totally do that.

New life goal: get up at 6 am to write. 6:30. Er. 7. I can totally do 7.

Here’s a clip from my sci-fi murder mystery (btw, I have no idea how to write a murder mystery. It’s coming out like a crime procedural. This is an experiment):

Usually a giant head wound meant it was murder, however.

Rising again, I dusted off my hands and pen.

I skulked around the room, looking for anything else I might have missed. I took out my own notebook and sketched out the layout of the place and the approximate locations of all the big items, including the big old dead body at the center. The fireplace. The gray-fabric couch. The console table against the far wall, near the door. There was an orrery on it, of Giganto and the six inhabited moons: Kota, Itzcap, Po, Joopa, Paradise, and Helo. It moved like an old clock, on gears that ticked softly, showing the orbital paths around the pale gas giant that filled our sky. The little machines were all the rage forty years ago, when the first trans-moon zeppelins began operation. The vic might have collected old oddities like that. “Something’s missing,” I said loudly to get Meiko’s attention.

Meiko came to stand beside me as I crouched to get a view of the dust coating the table like a light fur. She copied me. “It looks square, the empty spot. Maybe slightly rectangular.”

“What do you want to bet that whatever was right there, was the murder weapon?”

“Or maybe the vic threw it out. Or maybe it was just a box. And he finally moved it.”

“Unlikely. No one leaves an idle box on a table,” I said, straightening and swiping my fingertip across the empty spot, “and dusts around it.” I showed her. No dust on my finger.

She nodded.

The end. I mean, the end of that clip. Ha. Don’t forget to sign up for my email list and in return, receive a free ebook! Click here to get in the in-crowd!

How to Use a Pumice Stone (and How Not To)

Back in 2005 when I started my first blog and began dating Stoker, he had a run-in with a pumice stone. And I wrote a mildly decent post about it (linked, if you’re interested in reading the original), because why not?

It still cracks me up, that pumice stone incident. And I confess that I still find the improper use of pumice stones hilarious, especially when it involves Stoker, as an adorable 22-year-old.

Anyway, so apparently people really have a lot of questions about how to use these little chunks of sandpaper, because that post gets loads of regular traffic.

So, I’m revisiting the topic! And I’m also going to do everyone a solid and share new info, like the PROPER WAY TO USE A PUMICE STONE as well as give you the best clips of the old post here, because it makes a great format and I really like great things. Love the great things. Like, a lot.

Let’s get on with it. Let’s really dig into my in-depth tutorial on using a pumice stone! Here goes:

The other night Stoker scrubbed the inside of his elbow too vigorously with the pumice stone. He was taking a bath, reading his book on recording engineering, and he got this itch on his inner elbow. You know, the soft, pale part of your arm just below the bulge of round joint. I don’t know what he was thinking using a pumice stone there. But he did. He’s new to pumice stones, I suppose and didn’t realize that you should only use them on tough, calloused skin like the bottom of your feet and elbows.

  1. NEVER USE A PUMICE STONE ON SOFT SKIN.

    An innocent-looking pumice stone. Should be fine on my skin, like all over my entire body, right? WRONG.

The itch flared up and the light blue, foot shaped pumice stone was resting on the edge of the bathtub, innocently minding its own business. Stoker’s eyes fell on its white flecked beauty and the idea struck him. He grabbed the light stone and scraped it lightly across the tender skin. It felt good. Deceivingly good. With a sigh, he brushed the skin with the pumice stone, effectively eliminating the itch.

2. WHEN CONFRONTED WITH A POWERFUL ITCH, EVEN WHEN A PUMICE STONE IS PRESENT, DO NOT USE THE PUMICE STONE TO SCRATCH SOFT TISSUE. At first, of course you might slide the pumice stone across the skin and find relief. OK, one soft stroke is fine. But as everyone knows, an itch doesn’t often go away with just one scratch. In order to avoid the inevitable scenario of too much pumice-stone-scratching, do not even engage in JUST ONE SCRATCH.

Later, the skin turned red. Raw. That’s when the whole story came spilling out: itch… pumice stone…I scrubbed it and it was great, at the time. But now it hurt. Like a burn. Poor kid. I truly felt bad for him, felt a little guilty for not warning him about the potency of a pumice stone. Though, when you think about it, I’m sure he knew. How could you not? I mean, it’s like sandpaper. No one rubs their skin with sandpaper, right?

3. PUMICE STONE USE SHOULD BE RESERVED FOR PORTIONS OF THE BODY WITH THICK, TOUGH CALLOUSES, LIKE THE HEEL, THE BALL-JOINT OF THE BIG TOE, OR, WELL YEAH, THAT’S ABOUT IT. And you know, just rub the pumice stone on the callous. It’s not rocket science (although, it occurs to me now, that maybe it is, and I’m just ignorant of the highly complicated process of pumice stone operation. Maybe I should do a Google search!).

So, to sum up, this is a bad idea, even for body hair removal [Note: this statement is not backed by any peer-reviewed studies]:

You want to do that to remove all your HIDEOUS BODY HAIR? Fine. Go for it. But we all know this body-hair removing use of pumice stones was started by pumice stone companies looking to have a new way to market their callous-removing tool.

To be safe, reserve the pumice stone for officially sanctioned (by the Pumice Stone Society of America) pumice stone activities. You don’t want to denude the top layer of your skin in some weird effort to rid yourself of body hair. Accept it! You’re a mammal. A beautiful animal that grew hair for a billion biological reasons, and mother nature doesn’t make mistakes (except for when she does, like accidentally).

If you really want to get rid of your arm hair (and stuff), consider a safer alternative, like burning it off with a curling iron, ah! Wait!

New use of curling irons!

Just a second . . . I’ve got Revlon on the phone now . . .



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