Friday, June 29, 2012

Negative Nancy and the Art of Self-Promotion

First off, a short essay of mine, "Grounded: Engaging the Spiritual in Poetry" is available on Poets' Quarterly, which just relaunched this month.  Check it out!

Secondly, I now have all kinds of anxieties about what I just did: self-promote.

It probably doesn't seem like I have any trouble with promoting myself.  I rock the social media, y'all.  I have a MailChimp account for sharing good news about my book (subscribe to the right of this post!).  I carry a couple copies of my book in my purse, just in case.  Probably you've rolled your eyes a time or two at my tweets or Facebook posts mentioning this publication or that link or yet another blog post about food and mothering. 

So maybe it's a surprise to find out that I really struggle with sharing my good news.

I experience this range of inner monologue when something good happens to me:


"...What if they are publishing it because they somehow know you, or maybe they don't but they needed to fill out their issue and you are the best of the worst, and this is a pity move and it really isn't that great?"


"Big freaking deal, Sarah. People get their stuff published every day, and no one reads that journal except the other poets who have been accepted.  And besides, who in the real world even cares about your writing?  Any writing?  At all?"


"Get over yourself.  And now you're going to tell Facebook and Twitter, right, you egotistical diva, you.  I see you copying the link now."

"I'm sharing it because it means something to me, because I think it says something about human experience.  Because I believe in it and I'm proud of it.  Stop bullying me."

"'It says something about human experience?!' Who are you, C.S. Lewis? T.S. Eliot? H.G. Wells? C.D. Wright? Some other guy with initials for his first name? Are you going to start publishing as S.M. Wells now?"

"WELL MAYBE I AM! *blowing raspberries*"

"That's real mature, S.M.  Well, go ahead, share your good news and a link to your new book/blog entry/essay/poem.  No one will read it.  You'll probably get like, two likes and one comment, and maybe a retweet, if someone is looking at twitter right this second.  And you'll keep checking Facebook and Twitter all night to see if someone's responded, thereby only half-participating in your family's evening events.  Way to engage in your own life."

"Oh, be quiet.  All that you say is true.  And all that I say is true, too.  How do you spread your passion and joy without sharing it with friends and family?  Celebrate good times, come on, Negative Nancy."

"Yea yea, Positive Polly.  The glass is always full with this one.  Send away, S.M., send away."

* * * * *

That's about how it goes, people.  Every time.  There's a zig-zag line between bragging and celebrating, trying to be humble but also wanting to rejoice in the good work that you've done with the help of the holy spirit.  In one breath, I'm ecstatic that I have a new book and in the next I'm apologizing that it's "just a poetry collection," afraid that the majority of the people I care about most in life won't read it or worse, will, and find it inaccessible, incomprehensible, ugly, or pointless.  Insecurities nearly choke me when I think about other poets reading the book - what will they think?  Probably that it's too sing-songy.  Probably that it isn't serious enough.  Probably that the book doesn't hold together as a collection.  Probably it's too feminine.  Or not feminine enough.  Or too formal and narrative and not at all experimental.  Maybe the publisher made a mistake in accepting it, or maybe the publisher I went with publishes everything they find, or maybe my work is only appealing to a small niche of readers. ON and ON and ON.  I'm dying to hear praise so I can kill it upon arrival with questions of motive.  Do all poets feel this way?  Do all writers?  Do all people?

And then after dwelling in that gunk for a while, I grab a pitchfork and start mucking out.  I lift the shit that is insecurity, doubt, fear, anxiety, self-consciousness, need for approval, and hot pride and pitch it into a wheelbarrow.  Dump it in the steaming manure pile where maybe it'll fertilize some earth someday.  And after the crap is gone, I spread some fresh straw.  Because I am a child of God, created to do good works, confident that he who began a good work in me will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, with a plan and a purpose, who believes in good and real and true and beautiful things, and I am grateful to have been given this gift with words, and if I try to shut it up or keep it down, it'll burn up my bones. 

So there.  Go read the effing article.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Seven 2012: Townie by Andre Dubus III

Townie by Andre Dubus III is the kind of book you can't help thinking about when you aren't reading it.  You live in its scenes while you are eating dinner with your kids or riding in the car, thinking about the narrator, wondering what is going to happen next, considering the plot development and the foreshadowing and how successfully the author ends chapters.  You find yourself missing what your husband said because you are still lost in the mill town bar fights, the father/son storyline, and the coming-of-age hunt for identity.

I was hooked from beginning to end, couldn't fall asleep last night until I finished it off.  What a book.

On top of the thrill of a great read, Dubus is going to be here for the Ashland University summer residency at the end of July.  And, a piece by him about writing memoir will be included in the next issue of River Teeth. I am one lucky gal.

I'm not sure what I'm reading next off of my 30th year book list.  After reading such a great book, it is hard to jump into another memoir, so I think I'm going to read some poetry for a bit.  I'm also reading a manuscript for a friend and want to dedicate some time to it this week while I am off of work. 

In the back of my mind is the hope that I'll also find time to write this week, maybe in the evenings after the kids are in bed, but I'm also aware of the kids laughing in the backyard pool, painting projects here and elsewhere, and the need to clean - laundry, dusting, bathrooms and all of the other chores that fall to the wayside for too long.  At the end of the week, BW and I are going out of town for a weekend, alone, by ourselves, without children.  Maybe then?  Probably not.  I have plenty of other things in mind for a weekend alone with my husband.

I might not be able to get the words on the page this week, but I am promising myself to at least think about the next essay, and maybe jump in next week, when we're back to the normal schedule.

For now, I'm going outside in my bathing suit with the kids to enjoy the non-writing hours.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Corrective Lenses and Parenting

I have been cranky all night and the peanut butter and banana plus chocolate dessert is not helping. It is a shame, too, because it’s just about as perfect of a night as there could be in mid-June. It is still light at 8:30 and the neighborhood is milking every last second of daylight. The night air is active with dogs and motorcycles, laughing children up later than mine, the hum of the air-conditioner kicking on, several different birds chirping. There’s nothing quiet about sitting outside right now. It’s downright noisy.

I don’t know why I’m such a grump tonight. When Elvis ran his front wheel up the back of Lydia’s Big Wheel and fell over onto the sidewalk crying, I checked his knee for blood and told him to stop running into her and that won’t happen. Oh, and are you okay? Want me to kiss it? You’re alright, get back on your bike.

And Lydia is talking back. But I don’t want to eat my sweet potato. But I want to go to the Seminary Park. But I don’t want to read that book. But but but but I don’t freaking care what you want I want ice cream and silence and you all to do what I want you to do right this instant. Now!

Sigh. This is a bad parenting night for me. I’ll own it, especially now that everyone is in bed and I’m trying to enjoy the cool night with all of its chatter and buzzing. I think I can even hear the highway, and it is miles away. Go away, cars! Go away, people! Go away, stupid happy chirping birds!

Maybe it is because the day started off with a baby poop explosion that made me late for my vision exam.  I found out that my near-sightedness got worse and that my prescription is such that I am ineligible for laser eye surgery.  Usually I can roll with these things, though, so I don't know what it is about this particular day that's got me all twisted in knots.  Plenty of good things happened, too, but I've been too busy scrunching up my nose and grumbling to pay much attention to those.

The kids are in Vacation Bible School this week, and of course they are learning about God things, so today after work in the midst of my crankiness, Lydia asked me if I had a “God sighting” today.

I chuckled—joke’s on me, eh God?—and looked about for some kind of a God sighting because I sure hadn’t put on any sort of spiritual lenses today. I said something about how the flowers growing made me think of God, which was a total cop-out response given that our backyard is in full bloom while I’m feeling like six feet of snow.

If I had any eyes to see today, though, I am sure I would have seen God shaking his head at my need to control my kids, to manipulate their eating habits, to force them to behave exactly how I’d have them behave when I’d like them to behave. I turned parenting into a performance in which I am the director and my kids are the cast. Play your part, children, or the director will cut you and call up the understudy.

Tonight I boxed in my kids, more than usual, forced them to acquiesce to what I wanted, and when they didn’t care for that plan, I was quick to bark orders and cancel rewards. On better parenting days, my hope is that I teach them about the right decisions and then let them choose into those, and if they choose into something else, then depending on the outcome I’ll respond accordingly, with mercy and grace instead of fast justice and snappy discipline.

Maybe then my God sighting will be acknowledging the beauty in the chaos of the night.  Or thanking God that I live in an age that has developed corrective lenses, since during any other time in history, I'd be considered legally blind.  Me and Milton, you know.  Or that it was warm and sunny and I ate a delicious salad on our patio with my family at lunch and then walked around the block after dinner. 

Now, after I've carried my laptop back into the house, I am sure that God is in the silence and the churning of my thoughts, listening to the hum and click of the computer, waiting for me to quit my belly-aching and acknowledge the stillness, sit in it and wait and know.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Family Vacations, Then and Now

This weekend marked the first family vacation with my side of the family since the Great Myrtle Beach Thanksgiving Vacation Disaster of 2007. None of us said anything to reference it, but as we set up our campers at the state park on Friday night, cold wind whipping across the lake and blowing in heavy bursts of rain, I'm sure we were all thinking of it.

Back in 2007, my husband and my mom set out around 8 p.m. on the weekend before Thanksgiving with the hopes that our potty training 18-month-old daughter and 3-month-old son would drift off to sleep shortly after leaving, and they could drive through the night, arriving in the sunny Carolinas around breakfast, a bright November sun burning off the fog in the foothills, and two well-rested children slowly stirring in the back seat.

Instead, the two kids took turns keeping the other one awake, Lydia crying every time they drove under a row of streetlights or caught the headlights of oncoming drivers heading back the way they came.  Brandon and my mom took turns trying to pin clothes to the window to block the lights, played music, didn't play music, sung, gave bottles over the back seat, anything, anything to get them to sleep.

Meanwhile, I was at home, sleeping soundly in my empty house and bed after spending most of the night painting the living room red.  I stayed behind because I had just started my job at the University that fall and for some reason I decided that my five vacation days that year would be best used some other time.  I would work the first two days of the week and then just fly down on Wednesday.  No big deal.

The family van rolled into Myrtle Beach on Sunday, alive.  I flew down to Wilmington from Columbus and arrived at the airport, ready to see my happy family at the beach for a long weekend.  Utopian dreams of previous vacations drifted in my brain, full weeks spent wandering the beach and strolling about with both my side of the family and his, smiling, sunset gazing, sandcastle building, everyone jolly and hugging and wishing it would never end. 

My phone rang as I got off the plane.  It was Brandon.  A deer ran out in front of the van on his way to the airport and the van was undriveable.  A tow truck was on its way.  You'll have to rent a van, he said, we'll get this one repaired and pick it up on our way back out of town

Only no mechanics work the week of Thanksgiving.  We'd have to come back for it.

The two of us rolled in to the condo and slipped as quiet as possible into the bedroom, under the blankets, the bed creaking just enough to wake up Lydia.  Mommy?  And then four hours of children awake.

Thus began our Thanksgiving vacation at the beach.  Dad and the boys arrived about the same time as I did on Wednesday and we ate our Thanksgiving dinner together in the condo.  We wrapped up the weekend with a family blow-out and a one-way rental back to Ohio. 

And now.  We huddled around the campfire started with lighter fluid between the two campers, hoods up over our ears to block the wind gusts, and grumbled about the weather with my brother and his wife and my parents while the kids slept in the camper.  Lydia is now six, Elvis almost five and Henry just over a year old. 

In the morning, we cooked eggs and bacon over the fire, still battling the chilly wind.  This figures! I muttered.  Can't plan anything.  We took the kids to the playground, wobbled over the limestone boulders down to the lake side so the kids could throw in sticks, and at lunch we moved the campers to another less windy part of the park.  And then, then it was like the old days - the really old days - of fishing and cooking and roasting marshmallows and cooking hobo pie and riding bikes and making fast friends from the campsite across the way (hello, Lisa).

Only this time, it was me and my family giving it to the kids, my brother teaching them to fish, my husband playing catch with the older two and chasing Henry across the grass, all of us cooking and singing and drinking and eating, and me, grinning like I just caught my first bluegill by the water.