Thursday, June 23, 2011

Peace, Not War - Online and Print Publication

In the last few days I've been thinking again about publication.  Unlike my last meditation on posting poems to a blog site, my most-read post to-date, I've been thinking about how hard we all work (and how much money we all spend) trying to get our poems published in elite literary journals, like Poetry and the likes.  I must admit to submitting every single poem I've written to Poetry in the hopes of publication (their online submission manager is FREE!!!!).  And I've submitted nearly every poem I've written to Rattle (they take email submissions, and they are FREE!!!!).  But of the poems I've had accepted for publication in the last two years, the ones that have gotten the most readers have appeared online.

I do not want to knock the literary journal, that ambitious little creature surviving off of grants, institutional support, and buckets of blood, sweat, and tears from their editors.  Writers in academia require the juried selection of their work by their peers in order to secure tenure and to give evidence of their mastery of craft.  This selection process is long, painful, and subjective-- I've learned as much working with a journal-- and when a publication boasts a 1% acceptance rate, that means 99% of submissions receive a generic note apologizing for not being able to publish it, encouraging the writer to submit again and granting best wishes for placing their work elsewhere.  What an honor and privilege to be among the 1%! 

Besides building one's CV for tenure, publication in the big guns builds a writer's reputation in the literary world.  Work is exposed to the broader literary community (supposedly).  Submitting to the patriarchs and matriarchs of the literary journal is worthwhile and encouraged, so long as those grandparents of literary publishers are still being read.

As more and more opportunities to access literature open up online and in digital print readers, writers and publishers of writers need to reevaluate the way we spread the word, so to speak.  I don't think it is any surprise that print media subscriptions are slip sliding away.  In light of this fact, in order to stay current and accessible, journals need to begin exploring alternative means of delivery and additional ways to lure subscribers and readers to their material.

There are some very worthy examples of journals that have embraced the digital age and are broadening readership by doing so.  One such journal here in Ohio is the Kenyon ReviewA quick peek at their homepage shows a full acceptance of the changing of the times-- they are blogging, posting excerpts, offering eBook editions, sharing interviews, and airing podcasts.  Compare this to journals that may have a website with subscription and submission information, but tracking down any actual writing in that journal requires ordering a back issue.

The sad fact is there are hundreds of literary journals and a handful of faithful print subscribers.  Journals like Kenyon Review, Rattle, Poetry, and others are making the wise move to providing alternative access and bridging the gap between the print version and the online version.  Given the choice between having a poem of mine appear in a journal with hundreds of other poets who will all mostly scan through until they find the page their poem appears on and then look to see if they recognize any of the poets in the table of contents, and publishing a poem online, where I can link to it on my blog, share it on Facebook and Twitter, email it to friends and family, all without any cost to me... I'd rather go online.

As an administrator at a university rather than a faculty member at a university, my primary interest isn't in building my CV, although being able to wave the flag of a hot journal in my list of acknowledgments down the road would certainly be nice.  My primary interest is in readers.  I'd like to be able to share what I've written with friends and family while still adding to a list of publications, which will serve its purpose toward book publication, someday. 

The print journals that make the leap into hybrid forms of publication and alternative delivery are the ones that I expect to survive and thrive.  The online journals that are popping up and delivering the same level of editorial selection as the highly regarded print journals will continue to grow and gain respect.  The journals that resist technology are likely to fade into the past along with the land-line telephone and the typewriter-- two devices that served their purpose for a time and still exist today but are becoming endangered species, dangerously close to extinction.  Except, of course, in academia.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In the Center Ring: Motherhood vs. Work

Ugh.  I am three full weeks away from the end of my maternity leave.

You people must know I love my job-- I do.  It is one of those job descriptions that feels as if it was written precisely with me in mind.  I've been at Ashland for four years now, helping to build a low-res MFA program and manage a poetry press and a journal, and there have been few days where I've come home frustrated or upset about work.  I have a strong working relationship with my boss and the editors of the press and the journal, good co-workers, great support from other departments on campus, and perhaps most importantly, I have earned respect and trust, granting an autonomy I value.  For the most part, I am trusted to do my job, and to do it successfully.  Besides a paycheck, I earn the satisfaction of a job well done.  Work might be stressful occasionally, but it is that good kind of stress that doesn't suck the life out of you.

Okay. So what's the big deal about maternity leave ending?

I am love, love, LOVING motherhood right now.  In spite of the interrupted sleep and a demanding infant who wants to nurse RIGHT THIS MINUTE OR ELSE, waking up at quarter til eight to a silent house and a cool breeze through the window to sip a cup of tea and wait for Baby Hank to wake up is pretty near to that sacred place I mentioned in my previous post.  The casual summer schedule of showering, oh, whenever, and the impromptu walks, piling into the car to go to the waterpark, listening to the giggle of Elvis and Lydia in the pool, and holding that precious little Henry... all of it, even the squalls and squabbles, makes me wish this time would never end.

It's an odd place to be, yet again.  Back before Lydia was born, I thought for sure there was no way I would want to work at all ever again no thanks.  And then, she arrived, and three-quarters of my brain died within six weeks.  Please, please, please let me come back to work! I begged, and after eight weeks of maternity leave, I started back at being an adult, connecting neurons and earning back a few brain cells while my little girl slept in a pack 'n' play in the closet of the Development Office where I worked.  When school started up and it was no longer possible to keep Lydia quiet or immobile, we found a great stay-at-home mom to watch her for us, and that's where she hung out for forty hours a week the first year of her life. 

When the opportunity to work at Ashland came, BW and I made a decision that drastically changed our family structure-- I would work full time, and he would be the primary caregiver of our two children under two.  Bravely we arrived in Ashland, buying a home in late October and carrying along our faithful redbone Tex, Lydia (18 months) and Elvis (3 months).  Anyone who has stayed at home with toddlers and infants can sympathize with Brandon--I, on the other hand, was blissfully ignorant of how difficult life was.  It was a tough year and tough transition for all of us, but I think it is safe to say it was hardest for Brandon.

Not once since returning to work in 2006 after Lydia's birth have I felt a significant pull to be at home with my kids, until now.  Sure, I entertained the notion when Brandon started getting more work with ESPN, and at every job posting he emailed, I insisted that I would be happy to be home with the kids if he found something he loved doing that could support us.  Always the thought of giving up my job, the job that fulfilled a deep need for me to be creative, solve problems, and work hard to achieve great results, made my heart ache.  I couldn't imagine leaving.

Five weeks into my maternity leave, over half-way through, and going back to work seems impossible right now.  Maybe it's the sleep deprivation and the loose schedule of waking at nine and going to bed at eleven.  Maybe it's the sunshine.  I think it's the kids' fault, mostly.  I didn't think I would enjoy the mundane daily routine, but I am so content with hanging out and doing lots of nothing... how could anyone expect me to return to work, given this level of contentment with life?

Oh, I'll go back to work.  In three weeks, I'll wake up at 6 a.m. to shower, eat, feed Henry, and head out the door on my bike to my office, and I'll remember how much I love what I do.  We will adjust to working-plus-family-plus-baby and restart the hectic routine we abandoned back on May 10 when Henry arrived.  In the meantime, I am going to keep reminding myself to treasure these minutes because they will expire July 10.  Pout.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Balancing the Writer Life with the Mom Life

Last night I wrote a poem for the first time in several months. I go through seasons of creativity - like the seeds I just sowed in the garden yesterday, it takes a while for my ideas to germinate.  Eventually, the seeds pop, the stems poke through the soil, and before you know it, you are picking bowls full of cherry tomatoes. 

Some writers are able to chisel out a very structured and sacred writing time and space.  I envision an overstuffed armchair, an open window, a morning breeze, a couple cardinals too-weeting at one another, and a hot cup of tea.  Probably some James Taylor playing on Pandora, too.  And my lap top, since I write and revise with greater efficiency on a computer, though I can never retire the writer's notebook, that essential tool for when you are on the go and trying to use a smartphone notepad just doesn't cut it quick enough.  I can see that sacred space in a corner of our bedroom, waiting to be created, but let's be honest, when in the next decade will I be able to sit in that overstuffed armchair?

So let's revise the first sentence of this blog entry.  Last night, I wrote a poem between nursing and rocking Henry, who decided to be cranky when he wanted to fall asleep, which also happened to be the time I decided to try to write.  Last night, I balanced my baby on my lap and my laptop on my knees, Henry's head propped up with my elbow and my wrist bent at an awkward typing angle.  I chicken pecked the keyboard, one. lousy. letter. at. a. time. while he nursed, and then we switched sides. I slid the laptop back on the coffee table and stood up to rock and bounce Henry to the rhythm of iambs, rehearsing the words I already wrote and revising in my mind.  Last night, I eked out a poem.  Probably a bad poem, but at least it was something.

The sacred writing space, both physically and temporally, just can't exist right now, and I'm okay with that.  In fact, in the time that I've been writing this blog, I've needed to get Lydia allregy medicine, change Henry's diaper (and onesie since he wet through the diaper), and change loads of laundry.  Though it isn't a writing space, there is still something sacred here, in this tending to babies and the daily tasks of living. It is in these daily tasks and relationships that the writing is conceived. The plucking of the fruit has to be something of a family affair for now.  A season of quiet for writing will come later down the road.