2016 Writing Resolution: One Poem Each Week

My New Year's resolution: The Storymatic

My 2016 Writing Resolution #1

In the past, I made your typical New Year’s resolution. You know: lose weight, eat better, exercise, get more sleep, etc. Most of the time I failed to keep said resolution. I feel like they consist of things I should be doing anyway and I often fail at them only to make the same resolutions again and again. This year I’m taking a different tack. My resolution is to write a poem each week in 2016.

I’ve already been writing a poem each week for about four weeks now, so it’s approaching habit but I want to sustain it for the course of the year. Now, do I have ideas for 52 poems? Not really. That’s where the Storymatic comes in to help me keep my resolution.

The Storymatic

Often billed as a party game, I’m using the Storymatic as a series of writing prompts. The box contains two sets of cards: gold cards, which set who the protagonist is; and copper cards (I think they’re yellow and orange, but hey…) that set the scene/setting. You draw two of each cards (I draw them with my eyes closed) and there’s your writing prompt.

I remove the cards from the box so I don’t draw them again. There are hundreds of each type of card. There are also wild cards, but I ignore those.

Also, you’re supposed to abide by the Two Laws of The Storymatic:

  1. Your main character must change from the beginning of the story to the end of the story.
  2. You cannot kill your main character.

I’m not necessarily following those as I write poems. I generally spend some time coming up with an opening line and then I write until I’ve covered all four cards and it feels like I’ve got a complete arc written.

My Prompt for Next Week

For example, these are this week’s cards (also in the photo):

  • Dropout
  • Singer
  • Bad Directions
  • Last day of school

The poems will be published on Monday along with my new words if you want to play along. This week got away from me so it’ll be just a few days from now. Yes, I’m already veering towards failing at this resolution. Actually, that’s not true. I’ve been doing the writing, just not writing this post. But since getting the post up on Monday is part of the resolution, I need to get on it better. Things should get on a more regular schedule after this week.

At the end of each month I’ll take a poll as to which poem you think I should revise. These poems are first drafts. They are not rough drafts, i.e., I have not done any revising or editing on them. You’re getting what I put down on the page as it comes to me.

The Prompt for Last Week

Last week’s words:

  • Person who refuses to fit in
  • Aging clown
  • Restaurant
  • Attacked by squirrels

The poem:

There was a time when we weren’t pariahs
When the young and old looked forward to seeing us
We were a star attraction
Crossed over to television
Could find work at the drop of a hat
That was the world I wanted

Fourteen-year-old runaway looking for excitement
Learning from some of the best
The artistry of the makeup
The creation of a persona
Becoming someone else and becoming free

We were something to behold
Holding audiences in thrall at every stop
Whether it was under the lights
Or when the lights were turned out
We found something everyone could enjoy
Men, women, whatever, we never turned anyone away

They took us to restaurants
Invited us into their homes
Asked us to perform at their schools
We knew it would bring people to the main show
So we happily said yes
As did our audience

For a long time life was beautiful
Then people couldn’t tear themselves away from their screens
They’d rather watch a video of a squirrel attack
Than watch a genius create
New worlds whole out of cloth
Open their minds to amazing experiences

The show is filled with motorcycles
Extreme sports
Dangerous animals
There’s no room for someone funny
No need to bring a smile to someone’s face
When you can shock them instead

My mentor encouraged me to look into parties
And haunted houses
Trade in on the scary angle
Practically begged me to try something new
Afraid my path would mirror his
End in death and disease

Changing who I am won’t avoid death
Changing won’t avoid disease
Becoming something new to make more money
Isn’t better if it makes me less happy
Struggling is part of life
I won’t change just to make things easier

My Belated Review of 2015

Ribbon Board filled with a Review of my 2015 Memories

2015 in Review

Every January I think about writing up a review of the previous year and I start to organize my thoughts. It quickly becomes March and then a review seems fruitless. I’m still later than I’d like to be—it being more than halfway through the month—but it’s still January so I think I’m good to go.

Part of why I’m inspired to do a review is that I keep a ribbon board above my desk. It keeps some things that are current/upcoming (there’s business cards for dentist, mechanic, insurance agent and the like) but mostly it’s where I slot things after they’re done.

It’s become a ritual I do every year right around New Year’s Eve. I empty out the ribbon board and review all the things I did throughout the year. Then I pack everything in a Ziploc bag and store it. The oldest one I have is from 2009 so I haven’t been doing this forever but we’re approaching ten years.

2015 Ribbon Board

If you look at the photo above you can see that it’s jam-packed with stuff (some might say loaded with shit, but let’s keep it clean). What’s on the board? Among other things:

  • Exploding Kittens packing slip
  • Expired passport
  • Movie ticket stubs
  • Theater ticket stubs
  • Business cards from writers, magazines, and restaurants
  • Post cards from writers, publishers, librarians, and more
  • A bunch of miscellaneous notes from my kids (including hand-made Valentine’s)
  • A paper cutout robot from my son
  • My door tag from the Wyrd Words writing retreat
  • Name badges from UW-Wisconsin Writers Institute, Wiscon 39, Southeast WI Festival of Books, WLA Conference

St. Louis

We took a family trip to St. Louis this past year. We try to go somewhere new for the kids. We aren’t traveling far though; previous years we went to Minneapolis and Chicago. The trip was fun. We saw the Arch of course and we also took in the zoo. We did not go to a Cardinals game which confused most of the people we met. We hit up the City Museum which is crazy. Think of an interactive House on the Rock. It was Fourth of July weekend so it was actually pretty quiet in St. Louis. This year we’re looking at going to Tucson to visit family which will be nice.

SFWA Bulletin

I see a few SFWA things there which reminds me that at this time last year I was the editor of the Bulletin. In a lot of ways, it was a great fit. In one very important way, however, it was not. I could not figure out a way to fit editing the Bulletin into my schedule with any consistency. This lead to delayed issues and extra stress on me. In the end we decided on some mutual deadlines that I was not able to keep. While there were a lot of good things about editing the Bulletin, it was a relief to hand the job over to someone else.

Library

If you don’t know, I work full time as a librarian. So in addition to librarianship taking up the majority of my day most of the year, there were some extra things from the year.

The literary council hosts an annual spelling bee and the library typically has a team. Since I help organize the team I don’t have to get up and spell. In addition to the formal spelling bee they also have a written spelling bee during the evening. I typically win this so I decided I wouldn’t enter this time. To my surprise, the words were all Scripps National Spelling Bee winning words from over the years, which meant they were words from the anthology I edited, Logorrhea, so I would have done even better than normal!

We also had an edible book contest where people ‘re-made’ books into cakes or fruit displays. I made “The Game of Scones” but did not fare well in the competition. All my material was too fresh so it collapsed.

Writing/Wyrd Words/NaNoWriMo

For the past 18 months or so I’ve been working on writing over editing. I’ve been using the magic spreadsheet for some time (although my attendance on the spreadsheet has been sporadic as of late) but I’m too easily derailed. Then I feel guilty for not writing. Which makes me not write. Which adds to the guilt. You see the circle.

This past summer I was fortunate enough to take part in the inaugural Wyrd Words writing retreat. It was amazing. I’ll be honest; I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been but many of us weren’t. Still, there was a ton of great energy and great isolated conversation about writing that I left with a clear focus on my novel. I was all set to tackle a quick revision during NaNoWriMo.

Except the more I went through notes the more the novel needed to change. It lacked focus, characters lacked motivation, major ideas weren’t fleshed out. It wasn’t something I could quickly revise. So I took an old road trip partial manuscript I had and did that for NaNoWriMo.

It’s also unfinished.

But it’s something that I should be able to get a relatively fast first draft done. Then it can sit and wait for another day. Then I tackle my Wyrd Words novel.

Plus I’ve been writing poetry weekly since the middle of December, but you knew that already.

Movies

If you asked me, I’d tell you that I don’t go to the movie theater very often. However, that clearly wasn’t true last year. I had ticket stubs for fifteen movies. Fifteen! I also know there’s at least one movie I didn’t have the stub for so I went to at least sixteen movies in the theater last year. Yikes.

What did I see last year? Here they are chronologically:

Paddington, The Imitation Game (same day as Paddington), Chappie, It Follows, Spongebob Squarepants Movie, Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron, Mac Max: Fury Road, Inside Out, Minions, Ant-Man, Shaun the Sheep, Green InfernoThe Princess Bride, Goosebumps, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, and The Hateful Eight.

Can you tell which ones we saw as a family and which I went without kids?

Live Theater

This was a banner year for me for getting out of the house and into a theater of sorts. Most of the shows I saw were at the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, WI. We saw seven shows there this year, which is the most we’ve even seen at APT. The last two shows we saw in Milwaukee:

The Merry Wives of Windsor, A Streetcar Named Desire, An Illiad, Private Lives, Othello, Pride and Prejudice, The Game of Love and Chance, Wicked, and The Nutcracker Suite (ballet).

 

The Life of a Writer is Not an Easy One

James DeVita as the writer Trigorin; Laura Rook as the aspiring actress Nina
(c) 2014 American Players Theatre; Laura Rook and James DeVita

A few summers ago I was finally able to cross off seeing a Chekhov play from my bucket list. He’s a writer I want to know more about and I’d missed some earlier chances to see his work on stage. I was thrilled to get the chance to see The Seagull at the American Players Theatre (APT). The company at APT is as good as any you’ll see anywhere (Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal calls it “the finest classical repertory company in the U.S.”). I’m woefully under-read as far as Russian literature is concerned so I had no idea what the play was about*. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a play at APT without knowing anything about it and it won’t be the last. But it was the first time a play spoke so directly to me about the plight of being a writer and of the creative process.

At its core, The Seagull is the story of a young man—Konstantin—trying to live up to his famous actress mother—Arkadina. His extremely critical mother wants him to be an actor but he wants to be a writer. Throughout the play people ignore him and his work because they’d rather talk about/be around his mother instead. They also don’t understand the risks he takes as a writer trying to invent a new type of play. This takes the natural inclination of the writer to lambaste their own work and exacerbates it to the point of being suicidal. When you think it can’t get worse, his mother shows up with her new lover—the famous writer Trigorin.

Every character in the play struggles with unrequited love. You really get to see the full force of Chekhov’s talents as a writer in this play. He often has the characters speak around the issue at hand. It’s maddening but in an compelling way that pulls you through each act waiting for things to resolve. My favorite part of the play, the part that made me sit straight in my seat, was in Act II. It’s when Konstantin’s love interest Nina—who is infatuated with Trigorin—tries to have a conversation with the talented writer only to have him rebuke her with how arduous his life truly is:

Nina.

Your life is beautiful.

Trigorin.

I see nothing especially lovely about it. [He looks at his watch] Excuse me, I must go at once, and begin writing again. I am in a hurry. [He laughs] You have stepped on my pet corn, as they say, and I am getting excited, and a little cross. Let us discuss this bright and beautiful life of mine, though. [After a few moments’ thought] Violent obsessions sometimes lay hold of a man: he may, for instance, think day and night of nothing but the moon. I have such a moon. Day and night I am held in the grip of one besetting thought, to write, write, write! Hardly have I finished one book than something urges me to write another, and then a third, and then a fourth—I write ceaselessly. I am, as it were, on a treadmill. I hurry for ever from one story to another, and can’t help myself. Do you see anything bright and beautiful in that? Oh, it is a wild life! Even now, thrilled as I am by talking to you, I do not forget for an instant that an unfinished story is awaiting me. My eye falls on that cloud there, which has the shape of a grand piano; I instantly make a mental note that I must remember to mention in my story a cloud floating by that looked like a grand piano. I smell heliotrope; I mutter to myself: a sickly smell, the colour worn by widows; I must remember that in writing my next description of a summer evening. I catch an idea in every sentence of yours or of my own, and hasten to lock all these treasures in my literary store-room, thinking that some day they may be useful to me. As soon as I stop working I rush off to the theatre or go fishing, in the hope that I may find oblivion there, but no! Some new subject for a story is sure to come rolling through my brain like an iron cannonball. I hear my desk calling, and have to go back to it and begin to write, write, write, once more. And so it goes for everlasting. I cannot escape myself, though I feel that I am consuming my life. To prepare the honey I feed to unknown crowds, I am doomed to brush the bloom from my dearest flowers, to tear them from their stems, and trample the roots that bore them under foot. Am I not a madman? Should I not be treated by those who know me as one mentally diseased? Yet it is always the same, same old story, till I begin to think that all this praise and admiration must be a deception, that I am being hoodwinked because they know I am crazy, and I sometimes tremble lest I should be grabbed from behind and whisked off to a lunatic asylum. The best years of my youth were made one continual agony for me by my writing. A young author, especially if at first he does not make a success, feels clumsy, ill-at-ease, and superfluous in the world. His nerves are all on edge and stretched to the point of breaking; he is irresistibly attracted to literary and artistic people, and hovers about them unknown and unnoticed, fearing to look them bravely in the eye, like a man with a passion for gambling, whose money is all gone. I did not know my readers, but for some reason I imagined they were distrustful and unfriendly; I was mortally afraid of the public, and when my first play appeared, it seemed to me as if all the dark eyes in the audience were looking at it with enmity, and all the blue ones with cold indifference. Oh, how terrible it was! What agony!

I think this monologue captures that sense of how the writer is constantly trying to capture the world around him, trying to remember all the allusions he sees so that they can be used later. It makes you distracted in conversation and sometimes useless for activity. I never have such good thoughts about story as I do when I’m doing anything but writing. The trick is getting from your thoughts to the page with enough time to remember what you thought. For all his success it almost seems a burden to Trigorin. But he wouldn’t choose any other life:

Nina.

But don’t your inspiration and the act of creation give you moments of lofty happiness?

Trigorin.

Yes. Writing is a pleasure to me, and so is reading the proofs, but no sooner does a book leave the press than it becomes odious to me; it is not what I meant it to be; I made a mistake to write it at all; I am provoked and discouraged. Then the public reads it and says: “Yes, it is clever and pretty, but not nearly as good as Tolstoi,” or “It is a lovely thing, but not as good as Turgenieff’s ‘Fathers and Sons,’ ” and so it will always be. To my dying day I shall hear people say: “Clever and pretty; clever and pretty,” and nothing more; and when I am gone, those that knew me will say as they pass my grave: “Here lies Trigorin, a clever writer, but he was not as good as Turgenieff.”

And there it is. The self doubt. No matter how famous or successful or talented you are there is always that piece of your mind that thinks (knows?) you could be better. That what you’ve done isn’t good enough. That someone else is better. But there’s a compulsion to write and create—as Chekhov writes, “Hardly have I finished one book than something urges me to write another, and then a third, and then a fourth”—so you keep on no matter what your brain thinks because at the same time you can’t stop yourself.

If you haven’t read The Seagull, you should. The whole play is about creativity and struggle and love and family. So much wonderful stuff. If you get the chance to see it, even better.


* I know, it’s odd to have something on my bucket list that I don’t know anything about, but that’s the way I roll. That’s why it’s bucket-y, right? There’s no point putting things I’ve already done/experienced on my bucket list, is there? For what it’s worth, this summer I was able to check off seeing a Tennessee Williams play from my bucket list and I didn’t know much about his oeuvre going in either.