There Are Monkeys Everywhere [IndieInk Writing Challenge]

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Sherree challenged me with “There were monkeys everywhere, and that wasn’t a good thing.” and I challenged SAM with “Write a piece in which a can of soda is of significant importance.”

There Are Monkeys Everywhere

The monkeys still jump on the bed,
and the sight fills me with dread.
When a monkey bumps its head
another comes to take its stead.

They’ve been jumping years, it seems.
This must be the stuff of dreams:
The flying fur, the high-pitched screams.
The bed is full; the mattress teems

with tails, and teeth, and screeching sounds.
A massive presence which confounds,
for when a monkey hits the ground,
there is one more to be found.

I have tried to get them out.
At first I’d raise my voice and shout.
But it seems I have no clout;
they’d ignore me, dance about.

Then I tried to call the zoo.
Surely they’d know what to do.
But, alas, that was not true.
The monkeys made fools of them, too.

Now I stand and watch them dance,
watch them turn, watch them prance.
I try to oust with pleading glance,
but I don’t seem to have a chance.

Despite my tricks, they don’t disperse.
The problem seems to just grow worse.
I wonder where I got this curse
which I now describe in verse.

The monkeys still jump on the bed,
and the sight fills me with dread.
When a monkey bumps its head
another comes to take its stead.

****

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Devil’s Ark [IndieInk Writing Challenge]

Last week, I discovered IndieInk.org, a site where you can sign up for a challenge, give one of your own, and then share what you write. Here’s my first entry! I had fun, and I look forward to participating in future challenges.

Devil’s Ark

On the Devil’s ark, the passengers had a monkey as their ringleader. At his command, the cats, both domestic and feral, marked their territory nonstop, a contest to see who could claim the ship over and over again. The horses and bears and elephants grew restless, throwing off our equilibrium, fighting with the rocking waves. The mosquitoes tried to eat me alive, thriving in the moisture from the flood. The skunks wouldn’t stop polluting the air with their fumes. Perhaps I shouldn’t have hoped the scorpions would behave, but we all make mistakes. We all have to watch our steps, in situations as volatile as this. I needed a mask to protect my face from the yellow jackets, angry at the world, taking advantage of the gift of flight. The hogs were already rancid, though still alive; there was no way I could thrive upon their flesh; starvation was imminent when the roaches infested my food.

Even the guardian angels had been corrupted beyond belief. So what’s a frantic captain to do? Fire, icebergs, tidal waves, all methods tried and true. But then I’d be without salvation, thrashing in the terrible blue. Basic drowning would suffice. By then, the strung-out beasts were so wasted, they barely noticed their ringleader’s commands. The bugs had all gone sedentary; I scooped them in a net, sent them out to sea. Even the larger mammals went overboard, though it took some coaxing, and a very heavy plank. The monkey was the last to go, his mind still alive. He brandished a pistol, but I kept my head, lured him to the edge. In a moment of inattention, even he went down to the depths. At last, I had peace, and steered my ark toward calm shore. Judge me all you want, but I’m know what I saw. If you’d been there, you would’ve thrown the monkey overboard, too.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Jay Andrew Allen challenged me with “If you had been there, you would’ve thrown the monkey overboard too.” and I challenged SAM with “Listen to one of John Cage’s pieces for prepared piano (most are available on YouTube if you can’t find them elsewhere). Write an ekphrastic poem based on the piece you selected.”

New poetry!

I have a poem published in the newest issue of Southern Women’s Review, which went live on Saturday evening. The issue is available as a free PDF, so you have even more reason to check it out.

I wrote “S/m” in July, when we were in the thick of the horrible drought that plagued Texas this year, and struggling to keep my garden alive despite 1) the crippling heat that had experienced gardeners struggling, and 2) the fact that avocados are not really made to thrive in Texas. It was inspired by one of the exercises in Wingbeats, though at this point I can’t remember which one.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, four of my avocado sprouts survived the summer. Let’s see if I can make it work two summers in a row!

I haven’t read through the entire magazine yet, but I do wholeheartedly recommend Beth Copeland’s “To a Dead Friend Who’s Still on Facebook.” It was especially timely for me to find it, as yesterday marked one month since Reesa died. I’m also a fan of Beth Slattery’s “Reservoir” and and Cindy Small’s “Master Manipulator with Sequins” so far.

Why I left Facebook

Over at Drew Myron’s blog, I mentioned that I had recently nuked my Facebook account, and, six weeks later, did not regret a thing. She was curious as to my experiences with it, and I decided that rather than write a lengthy comment, I’d put up a blog post, especially in light of the fact that several other people asked why I deleted my account.

I was an early adopter of Facebook – I set up my account in the fall of 2004, back when it was still only available to college students, was ad- and app-free, and all you could do was poke people and write on walls. In fact, I had a Facebook account before I had a cell phone (although this is because until I was about 20 I had some strange Luddite attitude toward portable technology; I preferred that both my computer and phone stay confined to my room).

Back then, Facebook was fun. It was a nice little diversion from studying, and nothing more. You couldn’t use it to send event invitations or instant messages. The reason it was fun was because it was so simple, so bare-bones. You didn’t have to waste time trying to reconfigure the privacy settings it had changed without your permission. You didn’t have to search around to figure out how to make the ticker disappear. You pretty much just left silly messages now and again, and that was that.

In the seven years (seven years! I feel old!) that I had a Facebook account, so many things changed. It became open to high school students, and then to the general public. Apps came out, and those apps spawned games, none of which I actually wanted to play. You could send messages, instant messages, and event invites. You could post photographs and notes and links. Ads showed up. Most of the time, I either accepted or embraced these changes.

But then, about a year ago, Facebook became more trouble than it was worth, at least for me. It seemed like every three months, my privacy settings changed without my knowledge or consent, and I had to put them back. That timeline ticker showed up, and even though I made it go away, my settings got usurped by some upgrade or another, and it came back. At that point, I lost interest in trying, and consigned myself to an ugly layout. Worst of all, Facebook kept deciding which of my friends’ updates I wanted to see when. Even when I adjusted my settings to make sure I was getting everyone’s updates, I would eventually realize that people had somehow gotten excluded again. Facebook stopped being fun in part because it become more trouble than it was worth to keep my settings the way I wanted them.

Eventually, I became concerned that I wasn’t really connecting with friends at all. I was getting brief updates, and while they were sometimes substantial, most of the time, they were not. This wasn’t friendship. It was just bits of information crossing my consciousness without contributing to my life. Of course, deep down, I always knew that. But when Facebook was just a fun diversion, that lacked clutter and frustration, it didn’t matter so much. When it began to feel like work, the lack of meaningful connections happening on the site became all the more apparent.

For a while, I still resisted quitting. For one thing, Facebook is my primary place to find photos, especially from dance competitions. And I also worried that, without Facebook, nobody would ever bother inviting me to anything ever again. In fact, mere hours after I deleted my account, a friend admonished me that by quitting, I ran the risk of not getting invited to parties.

And then I thought of this line from Infinite Jest (and yes, I know I didn’t actually like the book very much, but it’s the one line from the novel that really sticks with me):

He . . . realized intellectually that the feeling of deprived panic over missing something made no sense.

As I was doing yoga on Christmas Eve morning, I realized I’d had enough. I didn’t care what social events I’d be missing. I didn’t care that I’d have to work a little harder to find photographs of dance events. I was just done with the whole mess. Facebook wasn’t fun, and I was done with it. So I decided to keep my account for the rest of the year, and deleted it moments before leaving for a New Year’s Eve party. I started 2012 free of Facebook.

Six weeks later, I don’t regret a thing. Yes, I know I’ve missed a few social events that I discovered after the fact, but it’s not  as though I spent those nights holed up in my apartment, pining for something to do. But I have no interest in bringing my account back. I don’t miss it in the slightest. I still have Google Plus. I still text my friends. I still blog. That’s all I really need, and I don’t think my life is lacking from the avoidance of one little social network.

January Accomplishments

January did not go as planned, and I let myself get sidetracked. But it was a conscious decision to let things slide. As Fiona Robyn wrote earlier this week, real life sometimes interferes with your plans. And you can’t always force your mind or heart to carry those plans out. And as Kelli Russell Agodon wrote at some point recently, even if you don’t complete a goal, trying and getting something done is better than doing nothing at all.

But here is what I did manage to accomplish, in spite of everything:

  • Wrote 49 poems, 30 of which were small stones for the River of Stones challenge
  • Submitted 18 poems
  • Submitted my chapbook to 2 competitions
  • Went out on a limb and applied for a creative writing fellowship (not part of my initial goals, but I decided to follow my heart when the opportunity came up)
  • Submitted a short story
  • Completed Kelli Russel Agodon’s Poetry Resolution Party
  • Attended one of the Wingbeats writing workshops 

But, I let a few things slide:

  • While I did write a lot of poems, I did not sit down to write every day
  • I did not actually write 31 small stones for the River of Stones challenge
  • I did not complete any drafts of prose pieces
  • I did not complete the revisions of my epic poem

Ultimately, though, taking a pass on January was the best thing I could have done for myself. I’m ready to start February anew. Here is what I plan to accomplish:

  • Continue my regular writing, revising, and submitting practice
  • Finish a ghostwriting project I have under contract. No, I can’t say anything else about it. I’m Casper-ing it up!
  • Complete a draft of a prose piece
  • Complete the first round of revisions of my epic poem
  • Attend at least one of the February Wingbeats workshops
  • Go through all the neglected prose drafts on my hard drive and decide which ones are worth finishing and which should be trunked indefinitely
  • Make progress on at least one of the prose drafts that I have decided to keep

January Reading Report

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I enjoyed everything I read in January, and came close to actually meeting my somewhat intense goal. Here’s a list of what found a place next to my bed (or in my bookbag):

Kelli Russell Agodon, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room

Marian Aitches, Fishing for Light

Umberto Eco, Confessions of a Young Novelist

Dave Eggers, ed. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011

Carolyn Forche, Blue Hour

Patrick Suskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Tin House 12.4 (Started, but not finished. And yes, that is the summer reading issue from 2011. I’m a little behind in my literary journals…)

Debra L. Winegarten, There’s Jews in Texas?

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I had so many things I wanted to blog about this week. Like the great time I had with Kelli Russell Agodon’s poetry class, and the five strong pieces that came from it. Or how I went out on a limb and applied for a creative writing fellowship. Or dance. I had so much to say.

But in the wake of Reesa’s death, I find that most words have left me. If they’re not necessary, they’re not in my head or my hands. And I’m not just talking about blog posts, either. Poems? Feh. That epic poem I want to finish revising? Meh. The small stones project? *shrug* Working on fiction? Blah.

It’s not that I’m afraid the words won’t come back. They will. But it’s frustrating that I can’t write. Doubly so because Reesa was a writer, and it feels like an insult to her memory that I don’t feel like I have anything to say.

But this will pass. Words will come back. I’ll find a way to honor Reesa with them.

Friends and family alike have encouraged me to compete in Houston this weekend as planned, that Reesa wouldn’t want me to sit around the house all weekend. So that’s where I am now. Dancing to honor her memory. Maybe when this weekend is said and done, I’ll have danced the blockage out, and can start writing fresh on Monday again.

Goodbye, Reesa

Reesa, with her daughter

I met Reesa in February of 2010. I was having a rough week, and my friends Lynn and Casey took me to the weekly poker game she hosted, thinking it would cheer me up. It did. Reesa was already sick at that point, though the cancer had not been diagnosed. Despite the fact that she was suffering, I was blown away by her brilliance, especially the way she talked about her writing projects. I admired her on the spot, and looked forward to seeing her again.

Over the next month, I got to know Reesa and her family more (as well as honing my poker skills). On March 15th, I was hit by a car. Two days later, Reesa was finally diagnosed with breast cancer. I was so frustrated to be undergoing my own convalescence, and unable to help her recover from the mastectomy. But gradually, we both recovered. It wasn’t long before poker nights resumed. A few months after that, Reesa formed a writing group, which I readily joined. She became an influence on my work, my process, and she was one of my biggest cheerleaders. And on March 15th of 2011, we both celebrated a year of surviving our respective tragedies.

In December of 2010, Reesa announced that she was pregnant. Although she’d had concerns about having a baby less than a year after having the mastectomy, her doctors told her it was perfectly fine. They were wrong. When Iliana was born on March 30, 2011, there were tumors in Reesa’s other breast, her hip, spine, lungs, and liver.

Reesa had beaten cancer before, and this time, she had an infant daughter to live for. She spent 2011 fighting, fighting, and fighting some more. There was radiation, chemo, more radiation, surgery, and then more chemo. Never once did she think she would lose this fight. And even though she was considered terminally ill, most of us thought she would win, too. It was impossible to think that she wouldn’t.

But in October of 2011, things went downhill. Blood clots, rampant infections, kidney failure. Just before Christmas, we learned that the tumors in her lungs and liver were growing again. Not good news. Still, when I visited her on New Year’s Day, the dialysis treatments were working and her doctor said she was getting stronger. I left the hospital full of hope. It was the last time I saw her.

During the New Year’s Day visit, she spent much of the time sleeping. I wrote her a note in a notebook she kept near the bed. When it was time for me to leave, she apologized for having fallen asleep. I told her it was okay. I said, “I’m grateful for any time I spend with you.”

Those were the last words I said to her.

She died yesterday afternoon. The dialysis stopped working, and her body gave up.

I wish I’d gone to see her one more time. That I’d had the chance for a proper goodbye. But I suppose that, as far as last words go, the ones I said to her on New Year’s sufficed.

Tracking Submissions: Another Attempt

As I mentioned yesterday, I settled on Writer’s Database as my method for submission tracking in 2012. Although I liked Sonar 3 well enough, I did have some issues with it, namely having to manually enter every single one of my market listings. In addition, the fact that the software was hooked only to my main computer was a bit of a drawback. Not a dealbreaker,  but a bit frustrating as well. I’ve gotten way too used to being able to access my data anytime, anywhere.

Since I wasn’t entirely settled on Sonar, I gave Writer’sDB a shot. After about two weeks of using it, I’ve decided that while it’s not perfect, it’s the best possible solution for me right now.

I like Writer’sDB because it’s an online system, meaning I can access it at home, on the road, from my smartphone, or wherever. In addition, it’s to some degree communal. Users can add their own market listings and have them be read-only, or able to be edited by other people who have accounts. It’s also easier to distinguish contests and other listings with deadlines to journals with open submissions, which I definitely appreciate.

The drawbacks are minimal. I’m guilty of adding a few duplicate listings to the database, because I didn’t realize that clicking “Search Markets” did not search all shared markets; you have to go to “Browse Shared Markets” for that. The duplicate listings are a bit of an annoyance; I’m clearly not the only user who has done that. I don’t like seeing the database cluttered with three entries for the same market. And aesthetically, it’s not the most pleasing site in the world. But all in all, these complaints are minor.

Writer’sDB is elegant, useful, and doesn’t require that I redo my entire market list; many of the places I submit to are already there. I also appreciate being able to share my listings with other users. I’m really happy with it, and look forward to using this site in the coming year.

December Accomplishments

Despite all of the holiday-related fun I had in December, this was a pretty good month for my my writing. Here is what I managed to accomplish:

  • Wrote 32 poems
  • Submitted 14 poems
  • Submitted my chapbook manuscript to two competitions
  • Found a new system for keeping track of my submissions (I ended up going with Writer’s Database).
  • Drafted one of my prose ideas I had bouncing around. Except it turned into an epic poem. Whoops! I’d never written an epic poem before, so I’m pretty proud of this. I’d hoped to have a draft ready to show by the new year, but revising to make sure the meter works has been a real challenge, so I’m still plowing away.

All in all, December was a great month! I produced fewer poems than I’d been writing in the past few months, but the epic took up a lot of my time.

I’ve set some pretty big goals for my writing in 2012. Here are some specifics for January that will help me accomplish that:

  • Continue with my regular poetry writing and submitting practice
  • Complete the River of Stones project in January (small stones do not count toward my poem-a-day goal)
  • Complete Kelli Russell Agodon’s New Year’s Poetry Resolution Party
  • Complete a draft of one prose piece
  • Complete a draft of the epic poem that I can show  beta readers for feedback