How Does JC’s Mind Work? #2

For months/years, I have threatened/promised to write about how I got to be who I am today and what shaped me along the way. This sporadic series will try to unpack my personal history and influences and, I hope, set people to thinking about their own.

When I posted the first installment of this series and used the word sporadic in the intro, I didn’t think it would be almost a year before I posted the second installment, but here we are. Of course, I didn’t know last February that 2021 was destined to see my father’s final decline and death, which, along with the necessary estate work, occupied so much of my time and mind last year.

What I’ve decided to write about today is how my natural introversion impacts how my mind works.

Any personality assessment I have ever done shows the largest deviation from the centerpoint on the scale toward introversion versus extraversion. I’m not just a little bit introverted. I’m very introverted.

I find crowds overwhelming. When being in groups, the smaller the better. I much prefer an in-depth conversation with one person to small talk with ten. I am also content to be by myself for long stretches. I can function in larger groups when I have to, but it is very tiring and I’m not able to participate in discussion very well.

This is partially a function of not being very good at inserting myself into ongoing discussion and partially another introvert trait, which is that I need time to think through issues before I can formulate opinions and put them into words. If there is a discussion on a topic that I know well, I can participate almost as well as the extraverts in the group, but, if the topic is new, I usually can’t make my brain work fast enough to participate before the discussion has moved on to something else. This is especially difficult for me when workshopping poems that I haven’t studied in advance. I always feel that I am not as helpful as I might be to the other poets in the group.

Introverts often have a preference for writing over speaking. I’ve always loved to write. I find it helpful in clarifying my thoughts. I think part of the reason I’ve been able to sustain this blog is that writing posts organizes my thoughts in a calming way after I have been mulling something. That I can then share those thoughts with others is not as much the primary goal as a bonus.

And introverts are definitely “mulling” types. Decision-making is very deliberative and often involves research, time, and depth of thought. I am not a snap-judgement type and like to take time in forming opinions and action plans. I know this is frustrating for others who are quicker to come to positions and decisions. I can seldom see things in a this-or-that way; everything is a spectrum for me and it takes time to think through where on the spectrum I will land – and more time to adequately explain it to someone else.

One of the things I have learned recently is that introverts’ brains work differently than extraverts. I find this knowledge comforting. There has been pressure on introverts to become extraverts, as though introversion was a choice rather than an inherent part of one’s personality. Knowing that my brain works in the distinctive pattern of introverts strengthens my acceptance of myself as I am.

I am also part of a particular subset of introvert. In Myers-Briggs-speak, I’m an INFJ, which is considered the rarest personality type, so my brain has a few extra quirks going on, but that is a post for another day.

With luck, it won’t take me a year to get to it.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/18/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-18th-2022/

two chapbooks to order!

I’m excited to share pre-order news for two forthcoming chapbooks by Boiler House Poets Collective members through Finishing Line Press. It was my privilege to be involved in manuscript reviews with the poets for both chapbooks, so I know firsthand that they are fantastic!

Girl, Woman, Bird by Katherine (Kay) Morgan encompasses personal and national history and the natural world, especially birds. Kay also shares her gift for ekphrastic poems in this chapbook, as one might expect from one of the original Boiler House poets who met during a residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, although the art that invokes these poems is not all contemporary. Girl, Woman, Bird is available for pre-order now and will begin to ship on March 18th.

For Dear Life by Jessica Dubey reflects on the impacts of her husband’s brain surgery and recovery on their lives. Besides being a member of Boiler House, Jessica is also part of my local poetry workshop, the Grapevine Group, so I was able to witness the creation of this chapbook poem by poem. Jessica’s ability to take us through such difficult terrain is stunning. For Dear Life may be ordered now for shipment beginning May 13.

Check out the links for additional information and ordering. I already have my orders in for both!
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/16/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-16th-2022/

what I’ve been writing

Although you can’t tell from the count of my recent blog posts, I have been carving out some writing time.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell that from my poetry output either, although I do have one recently written and accepted piece that I will share when it is published. I have had to compose a fair number of cover letters as I have done quite a few chapbook and full-length submissions, as well as some individual poems. I’ve gotten a number of rejections, but currently have the chapbook manuscript under consideration in four places and the collection in nine. I can hear my fellow poets saying that’s not enough, but I’m hoping to get a few more in later this week.

I spent a major amount of time thinking about, writing, and editing comments for a listening session with our bishop in preparation for a diocesan synod and the World Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis to discern the future path of the church. The official title in English is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”. In keeping with this, individuals were asked to share our hopes, dreams, and experiences with the church and our visions for the future. I chose to focus on the voices that have been marginalized in the church, concentrating on the voices of women. I prepared written remarks and then a shorter version that I could read aloud at the session within our three minute time limit. I do not like speaking in public but, inspired by others, especially some teens and young adults, I managed to do it. There was a lot of “speaking truth to power” at our session, one of at least twenty planned for our diocese, which is doing a credible job in reaching out to the people. Some diocese around the world are not doing much outreach, which could limit the effectiveness of the process when the bishops convene in 2023.

I have also been doing some holiday-related writing. My first priority was to write a letter to people on my parents’ Christmas card list who may not have heard about Paco’s death in September or even Nana’s in May 2019. It was difficult to write but I’m glad that I made myself do it because I heard back from several people who expressed their sympathies and shared memories with me. I also had the opportunity to do some reflective writing about this in conjunction with a support group I have been attending on preparing for the holidays after the loss of loved ones.

After sending out the letter to my parents’ friends, I tackled my own list, which was a bit more complicated. I did a family newsletter, still a difficult thing when having to report a death, that went in some cards, while others got a handwritten note or just a signed brief greeting, depending on how regularly I have been in contact with the recipient. All the addressing, stuffing, and stamping of envelopes adds to the time involved but most of them are in the mail now. A few are set aside for other members of the family to complete.

Now, there is, finally, this blog post. I’d like to say that I will post regularly from now on but I know that would be more wishful thinking than promise. B, T, and I are preparing for an extended holiday trip, which could create more leisure time for writing or be a total whirlwind with too little sleep to be cogent.

Which will it be? Stay tuned…

Sondheim

Because of the recent death of Stephen Sondheim, we have been graced with a lot of his music, lyrics, and interviews, which have been poignant, searing, and heart-breaking, in turns. He was instrumental in opening the possibilities into what musicals could be. For example, Lin-Manuel Miranda has acknowledged that there would not have been Hamilton had it not been for Sondheim paving the way.

I remember singing a choral medley from Sondheim’s Company when I was in high school and seeing a community theater production of it, which was pretty amazing for a small-town girl. Even then, I could appreciate his incredible way of melding lyrics, melody, and story.

Most of my Sondheim memories, though, are in relation to my daughters E and T.

E’s favorite Sondheim musical as a child was Into the Woods. She especially enjoyed singing Little Red’s songs. When T, who is four years younger, got to be old enough to watch, we initially only let her watch the first act, which follows the fairy tales up to the “happily ever after” bit. We thought that the second act, which gets pretty grim, would be too much for her, but E, ever the big sister, told her what happened, so, soon, she too was watching the whole play. E and T later got to see a revival of Into the Woods on Broadway, courtesy of their NYC aunt.

T’s favorite Sondheim musical was Sunday in the Park with George. She used to sing along – and then sing parts of the score a cappella around the house. If you know the work at all, you know that it is incredibly difficult to sing, but no one told T that, so she just went along and did it.

My most poignant personal memory of a Sondheim song, though, involves a musical which is too disturbing for me to cope with, Sweeney Todd. In the summer of 2001, then teenaged daughter E sang “Not While I’m Around” during a summer theater workshop performance. A few weeks later, after the 9/11 attacks, I found it strangely comforting to remember her singing,

No one’s gonna hurt you
No one’s gonna dare
Others can desert you
Not to worry, whistle I’ll be there
Demons’ll charm you with a smile
For a while
But in time
Nothing’s gonna harm you
Not while I’m around

It wasn’t that I felt personally under threat from terrorists, but, somehow, a young voice singing protection from evil was comforting and hopeful in a way that rational thought was not.

It’s part of the power of music.

Thank you, Stephen Sondheim, for all the music and story and power and pathos and humanity you gave us over the decades. We will continue learning from you for many years to come.

BPP online anthology link

The fall online anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project is now posted here. I had written about it in this post, which I have updated with the link, but thought I’d do a new post announcing it because quite a bit of time has passed. Enjoy!

SoCS: camaraderie

One thing I could use more of in my life is camaraderie.

At first, I was thinking that it was another victim of the pandemic, making it difficult for people to gather safely, but, in truth, the trends started earlier than that.

Personally, one of the losses of camaraderie for me was losing my long-time regular choral gig. For decades, University Chorus met every semester, but, when our long-time director retired, the group became an auxiliary group which only met in semesters where the student groups needed additional singers to perform with an orchestra. Even though choral groups at the University are back performing in person again, we have heard nothing about the continued existence of University Chorus in any form, so I think we are probably permanently disbanded at this point. I miss the camaraderie of being with my fellow members, some of whom I have sung with for decades. I am taking steps to heal this gap a bit with a plan to join a community choral group in the spring that will have some familiar faces from University Chorus days.

In a larger context, it seems that our sense of camaraderie is diminished lately in the US. Some people have chosen to be less neighborly unless you happen to agree with them politically. It really puts a chill on camaraderie when a neighbor flies a flag with an assault weapon on it and another cursing at our current president.

The pandemic did, though, make a sense of camaraderie more difficult to maintain. While I am grateful that video conferencing made some poetry workshopping and readings possible, it’s difficult to feel as supported over video as it is in person. Perhaps that is because I am not a digital native and the technology can be frustrating for me to work with.

As a few more things are possible to be done in person, I’m hoping to re-establish more of a sense of camaraderie in my life. I have extra appreciation on those occasions when I do get to see people in person and am trying to schedule more of those occasions.

How about you? Do you feel you have enough camaraderie in your life?

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to use “cam” in some form. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/11/12/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-nov-13-2021/

Wise words from Ada Limón

Poet Ada Limón gave a great reading last night under the auspices of the Binghamton Center for Writers as part of their Distinguished Writers Series.

During the Q&A, she said something that I want to remember – I’m paraphrasing here – that what makes you a writer is not writing every day because some days we are called to read or be with family or take walks, that even if we need to take a break from writing for six months or six years, we are still writers.

Given the massive holes I have experienced with my writing, and especially with my poetry, I found this very comforting. While I have been working on writing more and have gotten five submissions in so far this week, I do have days where I can’t face writing at all. I appreciated the reminder that that is okay.

I recommend listening to the reading and Q&A at the link above. There were some technical difficulties midway through which I’m not sure are on the recording. If you hit a patch where nothing is happening, just go forward about ten minutes and enjoy the second half.

Binghamton Poetry Project Fall 2021

So, I haven’t been posting as much as I intended these last few weeks, but (for once) I have a writing-related excuse.

I’ve been spending a lot of my creative time on poetry.

The most vital piece of that has been connected to my full-length poetry collection. I was finally able to hold a long-delayed workshop session with the Grapevine Group, my local poetry circle, and do revisions. On Friday, I sent out the newly revised manuscript to a publisher for the first time. I hope to send more submissions for both the collection and my chapbook over the next couple of weeks. Given the necessary slowdown of my writing activities during my father’s final months, I haven’t submitted much for a long time, but the rejections have been rolling in, leaving me with very few active submissions. Besides manuscript submissions, I hope to put in some individual poem ones, too. Fingers crossed…

Meanwhile, the Binghamton Poetry Project has been holding its fall sessions. I chose to attend a workshop called Poetic Yearnings: Desire, Place, and the Placeless with Nicholas Kanaar. I write a lot of poetry of place, so it was a good fit for me. Due to the pandemic, we are still meeting online instead of in person. Our fall 2021 online anthology includes three poems I wrote in response to prompts from the workshop along with the work of other BPP poets. Yesterday, we also held a reading via Zoom. I chose to read three poems of place from my manuscript, which revolves around the area from which I and several generations of my family hail.

I am determined to get more submissions in soon and will try to update you on my progress. If I get anything accepted, I will certainly let you all know ASAP. The only way that will happen soon, though, is if I manage to get accepted in a publication that has a very quick turnaround time. Most journals take a few weeks or months to reply and book submissions are several months to a year. Odds are very much against acceptance, especially with books. One recent book submission pool I was in chose four books out of 1,400 to publish, so…

SoCS: fingers

When I read Linda’s prompt yesterday, the first thing I thought about was fingers. And poetry, which is probably a good sign as I am trying mightily to get back to thinking more about poetry.

I am working on editing a poem in which fingers play a prominent role.

I have an older (unpublished) poem about how I still have a pianist’s mentality about my hands, even though I can no longer play.

And, of course, I am using my fingers now to write this. I know that there are lots of tools now that are talk to text, but I feel very oddly about talking to machines. Perhaps I will get over that one day, but, for now, I’ll let my fingers do the talking.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was to write about a body part. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/10/22/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-october-23-2021/

SoCS: if only…

If only I could organize my days…

or life…

is something I have been saying to myself off and on for years.

The truth is that most of my adult life has been spent as a caregiver, some of it in very challenging situations dealing with long-term illnesses.

Not the kind of life that lends itself to following a daily schedule. If you ever think you know what is happening on a given day, chances are the phone will ring in the morning and you will be off dealing with some need that has arisen.

Let me be clear that none of this is a complaint. Rather it’s just a statement of fact – and evidence that I was privileged enough to be able to choose a life of unpaid caregiving instead of needing to take paid work and cramming in the caregiving around my employer’s schedule.

The day after Paco’s death, the hospice social worker said to me that now I could figure out what I wanted to do. We had first met during my mother’s illness, so she had some idea of what my life has been like over at least the last few years, if not decades.

While it’s true that I have spouse B and daughter T at home, we are able to collaborate on taking care of the house and each other, so the years of intensive caregiving are probably over for a while, as long as we all remain reasonably healthy.

So, I’m starting to piece together how I want to spend my time in the coming months. Admittedly, right now I am necessarily busy with settling Paco’s estate and final bills and insurance claims and such, which takes a lot more time and energy than you might think if you have never had to do this for a loved one.

I’m trying to keep from jumping back into everything I have put on hold in the past because I think there is a danger of over-committing and exhaustion. I do know that I want to spend more time with writing, so, perhaps, finally regularly posting here again.

I also need to return to spending serious amounts of time with my poetry. During the recent Boiler House Poets Collective residency, I was able to re-connect with my full-length manuscript that revolves around that area and my family’s connections with it. I am going to do a review of it with the Grapevine Group, my local poetry circle, later this month and then do revisions and look for submissions opportunities. I also need to look for more opportunities for my chapbook, as the rejections have been rolling in over these last months so it is only out at a few places at the moment.

I am considering auditioning for a local chorus, although that might not be until after the holidays. I expect that, for the first time in many years, we may travel for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I am staying in the loop but not spending a ton of time on environmental and political issues. I still send letters and do public comment on social justice and environmental causes and send emails to my elected representatives but I am trying not to spend hours every day on it, as I did for years during the height of the anti-fracking fight in New York. I admire the energy and commitment of today’s younger activists and support their efforts as best I can.

Church volunteering is still on hold. Eventually, the book study I facilitate may return but only if we can meet safely indoors unmasked. We aren’t there yet.

So, can I do this? Can I re-organize my life and have it stick?

Maybe.

If nothing dire happens…
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was to being the post with the word if. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/10/15/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-october-16-2021/

%d bloggers like this: