Monthly Archives: July 2017

Yellow Jackets and the Demons of Indecision

By the time this post appears, it will have been a week since the exterminator came and took care of the yellow jacket problem in my back yard.

I didn’t know the exterminator had even arrived until my husband called me around mid-morning to say he’d received an invoice for the exterminator’s services via email. My husband was in San Diego at the time, attending the Comic Con.

I was surprised because the appointment had been scheduled for 2:00 PM., and  because it was raining cats and dogs when I’d left the house at around 8:20 AM. I was attending a conference in town.

Of course, it makes much more sense to extract a wasp’s nest first thing in the morning. That’s when the nest is most occupied by wasps.

I just hadn’t thought of it.

Still, I was in doubt. I couldn’t  fathom that the heavy rain and wet conditions wouldn’t interfere with the extermination. Honestly, I half-expected the phone call was to cancel.

But my husband confirmed that, yes, according to the exterminator, the wasps had in fact been “augmented” from the yard. It was a sizable nest, my husband quoted the exterminator as saying, probably 500 wasps or more. There is a chance that a few are still buzzing around looking for their home, but they won’t last long without their nest,” my husband continued.

Something about this last observation made me feel cold-hearted.

I’m not confessing a secret love for yellow jackets here, or anything like that, but I have to admit to experiencing some residual feelings of guilt over creating a situation that caused the death of hundreds of innocent creatures. Those yellow jackets were, after all, only behaving as yellow jackets do: making and protecting their home, creating more yellow jackets, and generally building an existence.

It just so happened that their existence was interfering greatly with ours.

Specifically, they made it impossible to mow the yard, first by attacking my husband when tried mowing the back yard before we left town, then attacking a friend, who tried to mow just the front yard while we were gone.

They simply had to go.

Still, I couldn’t help imagining those few surviving wasps, stunned and confused, hovering around the hole in the ground that was once their nest. Couldn’t help but sense their groundlessness.

Such are the thoughts of a writer.

But then I realized that, since the extermination had been taken care of, my afternoon was free.I felt cheered, then, and shifted my thoughts to how to spend the rest of my day.

And this, dear reader, is precisely the moment that the demons of indecision appeared.

A virtual drop-down list of options, including everything from doing homework for the conference to editing my manuscript, finishing a quilt I’ve been sewing to taking a nap with the cat, to going to the gym or staying on campus to work on my syllabus, all popped into my mind.

Good options, all. But together, potentially overwhelming.

Especially since I am apt to paralyze myself with indecision in these moments.  I mean, just making the decision to eat out, for example, can evolve into a mental debate of what and where to eat.

Choosing to write opens an even wider array of menu options: should I write poetry or prose, something formal or informal, personal, creative or academic?  Should I write something new or revise something old? Should I catch up my correspondence by sending cards or composing emails?

Really, the list is endless.

The point is, I tend to put too much pressure on myself when it comes to decisions. I feel I must make the absolute best decision and fear that making the “wrong” decision will result in drastic, long-lasting consequences which I neither wanted nor intended.

Even though this has never happened.

Still, it is true that no matter what I choose to do, I am choosing NOT to do a whole host of other things. If I write, I am not exercising. If I do homework, I am not working on my poetry manuscript. If I work on my blog at Starbucks, I am not working on my quilt at home.

And of course, making no decision at all is a decision in itself.

So it is that with every choice I make, I feel a little bit of grief and a smidgen of sorrow. Like those stunned wasps unhoused by the exterminator, my unchosen options hang around searching for a home – a place into which to burrow and build an existence.

But such are the thoughts of a writer.

“August Invitation” by Adrian Slonaker

Dance with me in that fountain with all the stone egrets,
but curse when your toes touch the chill of the ripples.
Recall the twilight bliss of Ghost in the Graveyard.
Scratch my chin in the glare of the warehouse window.
Press my hand under the Perseids,
Share an avocado milkshake with me,
and let’s endeavor to remember
that legend about sloths
and owls.


Adrian Slonaker works as a copywriter and copy editor in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with interests that include vegetarian cooking, wrestling, and 1960s pop music. Adrian’s poetry has appeared in Better Than StarbucksCC&DAmaryllisDodging the Rain and Three Line Poetry.  

Enjoy more poem at Zingara Poetry Picks

Summer Writing and Revision is Fine

This summer, I have been availing myself of the use of the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library’s study rooms to focus on several writing projects.

This is the first summer that the library has offered reserved study rooms to faculty, and it all came about in response to popular demand and the advocacy of the Faculty Writer’s Retreat facilitator, Lynn Cherry.

The retreat itself, held during most school breaks, is quite a boon and one that I participate in every chance I get, which has been four times thus far. Unlike a writing conference, which usually involves craft lectures, panels, readings, seminars, and, perhaps, workshops, the College of Charleston’s Faculty Writers Retreat simply provides a distraction-free study room, daily lunches, afternoon snacks, and a sense of accountability. Faculty can apply for a 2, 3, or 5-day stint and available spots fill quickly. Participants agree that they will not use the time to prep for classes, grade or browse social media. Most everyone finds they get a lot done during their selected time period, and even when there are struggles or blocks, most faculty are glad to have had the time to deal with those, too, as it actually helps them  move forward.

Though I come away from the Faculty Writer’s Retreat with a different kind of same kind of high that a conference might generate, I always come away feeling productive, and centered and with plenty of evidence of my hard work. The difference is subtle but important.

This year, after a number of participants expressed just how useful it was having access to a study room, myself included, the retreat facilitator inquired into the matter on our behalf. Thanks to her initiative the good folks at Addlestone agreed to set aside three rooms for faculty to reserve for up to three days at a time during any given week this summer, up until the week that classes begin.

And I have been in one of them every week that I’ve been in town.

The first several weeks of the summer I worked almost entirely on the New Mexico Poem anthology, since that was my focus during the retreat in May, and more or less wallowed in rereading every contribution and reconsidering the organization and title of the sections. What I found interesting about the process was how I paired some of the same poems together in the revision as I had paired in the first collection, which I discovered after reviewing both manuscripts. In other instances, and maybe because of the new section titles and focus, poems wound up in very different locations.

I’m sure I’ve spent over 100 hours reconsidering the collection in detail, not including the breaks I took to remain as fresh and as objective as possible. It’s no lie that being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired will drastically affect one’s judgment, so I made sure not to deliberate while experiencing any of those states.

I sent the manuscript off to my co-editor in mid-June, right before taking off for Kansas City to visit family.  As is usually the case, I found it very difficult to shift my mental state from contemplating poetry to focusing on family for those few days but finally let go and shifted my focus to the present moment and to enjoying my time away from Charleston. Now that I have returned home, the opposite is more true and I struggle to ease myself back into a life groove.

To help with my re-entry, and in the spirit of easy does it, I “suited up and showed up” to my reserved study room on Wednesday, after three weeks away, determined to work on something. I set no specific goal or objective – just brought with me a hard copy of my own manuscript and my computer. After getting settled in, I was able to revise a few poems, rearrange my MS into sections, and, eventually, assemble and submit a six-page manuscript for a literary magazine In which I would very much like to have my poems appear. I think the day was more productive than it would have been had I fallen into either of the two habits that are most common to me: 1) overwhelm myself with a list of a dozen possible projects on which I might focus, or 2) frustrate myself with an improbable goal. It is much better, I am learning, to have an open mind as I approach one small project at a time.

I did wind up canceling my Thursday study room reservation, however,  to meet with an exterminator regarding the Yellow Jackets that have taken residence in my yard, most likely as a result of our neglecting yard work those seven months we were living in an apartment while repairs were being made to the house after Hurricane Matthew. (Yes, I can find a way to drop that bit of info into most conversations.) Yellow Jackets, I decided, are just a little more pressing than having a study room for the afternoon.

The week ahead is a busy one. I am to attend a Writing Across the Curriculum conference and have about a half-dozen appointments to see to. I was tempted to cancel my study room reservations for the week, seeing how I will only get a few hours here and there to utilize the space, but decided against it, for when things are especially busy it is especially important to hold space open for my writing. I may not get as much time as I would prefer, but any time I do capture will go under the column for successes this week.

 

 

“Years Later You Walk In” by Maryfrances Wagner

Tangled under a blanket
we could melt curbed snow,
smoke up windows,

desire unable to hold.
Boiling water, morning
after, sudden laughter.

You walk into my dream:
older man, panzer tan,
builder hands.

How could I have imagined
you would turn: spoiled meat,
October leaf, yellow teeth.


Maryfrances Wagner’s books include Salvatore’s Daughter, Light Subtracts Itself, Red Silk (Thorpe Menn Book Award for Literary Excellence), Dioramas (Mammoth) and Pouf (FLP). Poems have appeared in New Letters, Midwest Quarterly, Laurel Review, Voices in Italian Americana, Unsettling America:  An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry (Penguin Books), Literature Across Cultures (Pearson/Longman), Bearing WitnessThe Dream Book, An Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women (American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation), et.al.  She co-edits I-70 Review.

To find out more, enjoy this previous interview with Maryfrances:

Zingara Interview Maryfrances Wagner

Enjoy more poems at Zingara Poetry Picks