Category Archives: Monday Minute

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.

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.

 

 

AWP Poets, Writers, Authors, and Teachers Plan Protests in DC

Usually around this time of year my Facebook and Twitter feeds are overrun with cheerful posts about the various AWP events that my friends and colleagues are planning to attend, but with all the attention-grabbing, anxiety-ridden news that has daily shocked social media these last few weeks, it’s almost as if everyone has forgotten.

They haven’t, of course. There are still shouts out among fellow writers and acquaintances trying to connect with each other, tips for first time attendees and, because this year’s conference is in DC, some encouraging chatter about several politically centered events.

Maybe what’s really happening here is that posts about AWP are just getting buried by all the fearful factoids and scary statistics swirling around all forms of media right now. Or maybe, and this is probably more likely, those are the posts I allow to capture and hold my attention.

I am struck, nonetheless, by the auspiciousness of AWP, a conference that attracts a wide range of diverse writers, taking place in DC just weeks after the inauguration and subsequent Women’s March and the more recent protests against the Muslim Travel Ban, and how this confluence of events adds gravity and weight to such typical pre-AWP activities as making travel arrangements, sending ahead boxes of books, making plans to see friends and, most importantly, contemplating what it means to be a writer in “Trump’s America.”

This year, in addition to looking forward to the book fair, after-hours parties, and copping a frenetic high from mixing adrenaline with too much alcohol and too little sleep, some conference-goers are looking forward to converging on Capitol Hill the afternoon of Friday, February 10th to “make a case against the Trump Agenda”(flavorwire.com) while others will be participating in Split this Rock’s  Saturday vigil and speakout on the White House lawn. There is also word of a Cave Canem protest-reading at Howard University and, no doubt,there will be numerous other off-site politically motivated events that are evolving even as I write this post.

It is my hope that these events are heavily promoted and heartily attended and that each receives ample news coverage and sets itself forth as stellar model for a successful, effective demonstrations by which others can emulate. Most of all, I hope these events will encourage other groups and individuals to speak out, to become active in whatever capacity makes sense for their circumstances, and that professionals who have the power and ability to make changes in Washington view these gatherings as encouragement for their continued vigilance in the resistance against tyranny. Most of all, I hope that writers and artists around the globe feel bolstered not to “keep their moths shut” as Steve Bannon would admonish, but to respectfully continue doing what they do best, which, of course, is to write on.

 

 

When a Poet Meets a Hurricane: Life After Matthew

When Hurricane Matthew swept through Charleston last October, saturating the ground with rain water and whipping up high winds, the roots of the large hickory tree in our neighbor’s yard loosened their grasp on the soil beneath them. Like any tree in high wind, especially ones with compromised roots, the hickory thrashed back and forth in the storm until, at last, it fell.

My husband and I, along with our cat, had evacuated to Kansas City and were safe and sound in my mother’s living room, enjoying her company and a sense of being “home.”  We would not know for another day or two that that hickory tree landed on and crushed the back corner of our house, taking the power line and electric meter with it.

file_004The news came via phone from friends who live nearby and who had, when learning we’d evacuated, offered to drive by and check on our house. They sent pictures by text and we cast them onto my mother’s television. The tree, as long as our house is wide, appeared to be swallowing our new home, and though we could see that the roof had been crushed where the tree had hit, we couldn’t tell how much damage was sustained or how far back it went. We wondered if the entire roof wasn’t compromised.

The drive home was somber and tense, our minds full of worst case scenarios. We drove until dark the first day, then checked into a hotel for the night. No sense in driving all the way to Charleston where there were no hotel vacancies, we’d reasoned.

As directed by our insurance company after filing our online insurance claim, I called the file_000mitigation company we’d been referred to as soon we arrived at the house the next evening. The sun was just setting, the sky was blue, and the wind was still. The man on the other end of the line, Lorne, asked me to describe the damage to him. I tried to be as specific as I could as I walked through and around the house verbally noting how large the hole in the roof, how flooded the laundry room, how wet the ceilings and walls, how damaged the flooring throughout…..at the end of our conversation Lorne asked me if the house was habitable.

Well, there’s a gaping hole in the roof and no power, I told him. So, no, I don’t think it is habitable. 

That was four months ago. Since then my husband and I have been shuffled from hotel room (where we lived for over six weeks) to two-bedroom apartment  (into which we fit three additional family members over the holidays). I cannot begin to list all the untruths and delaying tactics we have been subjected to or the patience we’ve had to tap into each time someone asks us for our claim number (they know damn well who we are!) or tells us “everything’s behind schedule because of the hurricane.”

It took over a week for both the field adjuster and the tree removal people to arrive. When they showed up the same morning, they got into each other’s way and the field adjuster was unable to make a complete inspection. It took another two or three weeks for the City Building Inspector to look at the property, and that was only because our general contractor waited for him outside his office every morning for a week. More recently, the building permit was delayed because there is no plat for the house and the plat surveyor is behind and won’t be out for another three weeks. New trusses for the roof, which will have to be ordered, are on a four week delay. And even before all of this, it took 30 days for the desk adjuster to provide the (ridiculously low) initial estimate; another 30 for him to respond to the (much higher) estimate our GC provided.

Meanwhile my husband and I are juggling phone calls with insurance agents, adjusters, and contractors, packing our belongings in boxes to be moved out of the house and into we don’t know where (there were no storage pods left in the city), maintaining our teaching duties, preparing for the holidays, checking on our cat housed at friends’, and explaining over and over again to our family and colleagues what had happened. At times, it felt impossible to keep up with all the demands of the situation much less basic needs, like healthy food and quality, anxious-free sleep.

My husband and I are still in the apartment the insurance company arranged for us and while things are generally calmer and we have found a workable rhythm to life, reconstruction has yet to begin on the house and we don’t really know when it will. There’s still a slew of paperwork to wade through and dependence on the cooperation of a couple of other bureaucratic entities to secure. So while the rest of the city has pretty much recovered and moved on from Hurricane Matthew, we continue to wait for resolution.

It was not until this week that I was able to put my full attention on Zingara Poet. I could see that my poor pet project was listing on the waves, submissions and emails neglected since late September despite every intention, even the hiring of an intern, to respond to submissions in a more speedy manner this year. Yet I did not want to bring my anxious energy to my poetry reading. I’ve leaned that the two just don’t mix — so kept putting it off until I was in better spirits.

I am glad to say that, as of this writing, most of the October and November submissions have been reviewed and responded to. In the week to come, I will be looking over the rest of December submissions and sending out my decisions. Likewise, poems for most of the first half of 2017 have been chosen and their dates of publication scheduled (only a few spots left). With luck, I will be able to enter the new submission period (later this year) caught up and, I am keeping my fingers crossed here, from the comfort of my own home.

Thanks to all the poets out there who have waited patiently for a response. As always, I am impressed by the quality and breadth of the selection.

Online Poetry Class Begins Today

Register today for The Poet’s Toolkit at ZingaraPoet@gmail.com, a Five week online class

Attend as many or as few classes as you like: $20 per class or $75 for all five weeks

This five-week course will focus on several of the most integral craft elements of poetry writing and is suitable for writers in any genre. Whether new to the craft or a long-time practitioner, this online class will help you bring focus and new energy to your poetry.

Each lesson will center on a particular skill and will include sample readings and discussion of the week’s craft element. A selection of representative poems meant to spark lively discussion will be included as will a number of fun and engaging writing prompts.

  • Week One: Vivid details and Sensory images
  • Week Two: Creating surprising similes, metaphors, and other figurative images
  • Week Three: Narrative to imagination (moving from chronology to association)
  • Week Four: Reinvigorating syntax and sentences
  • Week Five: Serious fun with serious revision

Facilitator: Lisa Hase-Jackson, MFA, passionately believes that great writing comes from active imagination and a careful eye, two characteristics easily cultivated through playfulness.

 

The Poet’s Toolkit: Online Writing Workshop to Begin in October

Accepting registrations now:

The Poet’s Toolkit
Five week self-paced online workshop for writers

While this five-week course will focus on several of the most integral craft elements of poetry writing, it is suitable for writers in any genre. Whether new to creative writing or a long-time practitioner, this online class will help you bring greater focus and new energy to your writing.

Each lesson will center on a particular skill and will include sample readings and discussion of the week’s craft element. A selection of representative poems meant to spark lively discussion will be included as will a number of fun and engaging writing prompts.

Students are invited to write a poem each week in response to any of the readings or prompts. While sharing is always optional, students may do so on a private discussion board. Students are also free to simply follow along with the weekly lessons.

Feedback on poems from me is available on request.

  • Week One: Drawing on vivid details and sensory images for your poems
  • Week Two: Creating surprising similes, metaphors, and other figurative images
  • Week Three: Narrative to imagination (moving from chronology to association)
  • Week Four: Reinvigorating syntax and sentences
  • Week Five: Serious fun with serious revision

Price: $20.00 for ala cart classes or $75.00 for all five weeks. Scholarships are available to students and recent graduates. Contact Lisa at zingarapoet@gmail.com for more information or to register.

 

New: “Writing from the Heart” Begins This Week in Summerville

IMG_0586[1]Writing from the Heart
2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the Month
Beginning September 14, 2016
7:00 – 8:00 PM
Serenity Center
820 Central Avenue
Summerville, SC
No Registration Required, Drop-ins Welcome
$12.00 per session

Writing from the Heart

Whether retraining thought patterns or drafting a lyric poem, journal-writing helps normalize the stuff of life. It is where we make sense of life events and give voice to complex and nuanced emotions. It is where we have permission to rant, wax nostalgic for the good old days, dream about the future, or write crappy sentences. Most of all, it is a space where we can deepen our connections to the world in which we find ourselves.

Bring your journal, and your heart, to this bi-weekly workshop to learn techniques that will deepen your relationship with your journal and yourself to discover fresh new ways to approach your writing time. Each session will begin with a brief discussion of a meaningful piece of writing, such as an essay, poem, or excerpt from a memoir, which will be followed by a meditation or invention activity. Participants are then invited to write a response in their journals. There will be at least fifteen minutes dedicated to writing time and participants may share if moved to do so.

Topics include:

  • How to bring a sense of playfulness to our writing (and life)
  • Deepening our inner resources
  • Creativity through self-understanding
  • Overcoming writing blocks
  • Discovering how we limit ourselves (and stop doing so)
  • Changing neuropathways through writing

About the facilitator:
tutor photoA passionate teacher who is dedicated to (and fascinated with) the writing process, Lisa Hase-Jackson has been teaching and coaching writers since 2004 when she was granted a fellowship in the Washburn Writing Fellowship program at Washburn University in Topeka, KS. Since then she has facilitated writing circles, workshops, and seminars in such places as Albuquerque, NM, Anyang, South Korea, Kansas City, MO, Toronto, Canada, Allentown, PA, and Charleston, SC. She holds an MA in English with an emphasis in poetry from Kansas State University and an MFA in poetry from Converse College in Spartanburg, SC. Her poems have been published in numerous literary journals and magazines as have her articles on writing and the writing life. A few of them have won awards.

A recent transplant to Charleston, Lisa teaches Poetry and Honors English at the College of Charleston and particularly enjoys spending time at the beach or going on bird walks at Caw Caw Interpretive Center. She continues work on her poetry blog, ZingaraPoet.net, and is actively (and hopefully) submitting her poetry manuscript to suitable markets. She is an avid journal writer and has a shelf of journals to show for it. When not writing, teaching, working, or exploring, Lisa enjoys spending time assembling scrap quilts and doing simple knitting projects.