Settling in to Mass MoCA

I’m writing this from my spacious bedroom in our residency apartment with a view of Mass MoCA from my windows.

I arrived about four and we spent the next hour gathering and chatting. When we were all here, except one person who was set to arrive later, we started our tour by seeing our private studios. We have 24/7 access to our studios. One of our poets said that things get serious when you have your own studio – you really have to write!

Next we went to our apartments, which are kittycorner from the museum and on the second and third floors with businesses on the first floor. They are newly renovated with wood floors and substantial casings and trim. I am lucky to have a corner room with three windows, and lovely light blue walls. We also have a sitting room and a full kitchen and laundry. I don’t know if I will cook anything, though.

At seven, we gathered at Tupelo Press’s Loft at Eclipse Mill for pizza and Greek salad to get to know Jeffrey Levine, publisher and editor-in-chief of Tupelo, and Cassandra – and learn more about each other. We are a group of nine, eight women, although one had not yet arrived, and one (brave, younger) man.  Fortunately, he is a cool guy and not daunted by the company of so many women. He explained that he worked in a mostly female environment in his job, so he is used to being surrounded by women. He and I do have something in common though; we both grew up in this area, albeit in different towns and eras.

It is strange, though, because Monroe Bridge, my hometown, is so small that most people who live in North Adams or Williamstown have never been there, with a hefty proportion not even knowing of its existence. So, while I consider North Adams part of my home territory, where we visited relatives every week and where I and my sisters went to Drury High School, which was also where I met my spouse, there is this other side to my story which is unknown here in North Adams and complicated by how much the city has changed from the 1960s and 70s to the present.

One of the things we talked about was how we would like to balance alone time and together time during our residency/workshop week. It seemed that most people favored significant amounts of solo writing time. I didn’t even attempt to answer. This is all so new to me that I don’t know what I want. My gut feeling is that I will learn more from interaction than from being off by myself, although if I am writing from a prompt or working with a piece of art, I realize I need solo time to think and write and edit. Jeffrey is also open to us doing our own mix and changing tack from day to day as suits each of us.

I just hope I can figure out what is the right balance for me. As I had anticipated, I am on the less experienced side of the spectrum, so I think my goal is to soak up as much as possible from everyone here, even if I don’t understand it all right now, trusting that each thought, concept, and experience will lodge somewhere in my brain and re-present itself when I am in need of it.

I also hope to get some sleep.  Good night, WordPress!

SoCS: Poet

I am a poet. I claim the title, even though it isn’t the way I make a living or something for which I have academic credentials.  (Realistically, very few poets make a living at poetry.)

I read an essay a couple of years ago by a young, credentialed poet, who was published and had been an editor, but who still felt he shouldn’t be called a poet because he wasn’t suffering for his art in a garret somewhere.

I, however, don’t make it that complicated for myself.

I considered myself a poet before I was even published because it was what I felt I am, in the same way that I am a daughter, a spouse, a mother, a woman, a musician.

It’s what I am, not what I do.

Maybe it is easier for me because I don’t do paid work, so I don’t have a ready-made answer when someone asks what I do, by which they nearly always mean “what is your job?”

I can claim to be a poet, because it is a mode of expression that is important to me and that I have been working on developing.

I am also a late-developing poet, given that I have only started writing seriously in my fifties. In the last two years, I have been working on improving my poems through participating with the Binghamton Poetry Project (a community workshop run by grad students at Binghamton University), a group of local poets who meet regularly to critique each other’s work, and a new women’s group called Sappho’s Circle.

I am about to take another big step as a poet – attending a residency/workshop. I have been angsting/mulling this over the last couple of days, which you can read about here and here.

So, I think this weekend I am going to register.

It’s one of those things that we poets do.

Because of who we are.
*****
This post of part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. The prompt this week is “four-letter word.”  Join us! Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/08/28/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-august-2915/

SoCS badge 2015

the start of Sappho’s Circle

Today was the first meeting of Sappho’s Circle, a women’s poetry workshop group convened by Heather Dorn, whom I first met through the Binghamton Poetry Project of which she is currently director.

We will study women poets, write from prompts, have sessions where we workshop poems by group members to help them revise, and have publication parties where we choose publications to which to submit our poems and send them off – before we get distracted, chicken out, etc.

I am so excited to have another group, along with my regular workshop group and the Binghamton Poetry Project,  to help me become a stronger poet.  I’m also looking forward to being in another circle of women. I have been privileged to belong to other women’s circles over the decades and always find great support, generosity, and understanding within them.

My heartfelt thanks to Heather who has been such a great help to me as a poet. I’m so looking forward to being a part of Sappho’s Circle through the coming year!

Julie, Julia, and blogging

My first big exposure to personal blogging was the film Julie & Julia.  I knew that blogging existed in some vague way before I saw the movie, but hadn’t read many blogs or heard much about blogs that were written by individual folks.

I have to say that I was not impressed.

Julie, the blogger in the movie, becomes so obsessed with her blog about making all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year that she becomes whiny, petulant, and inattentive to her job, her friends, and her spouse. She gains media attention, notoriety, and a book deal, but the costs to everyone around her are high.

On the other hand, I loved the intertwined story of Julia Child in France.  Her question of “What should I do?” and her quest to figure out what that was and to pursue it with passion, persistence, and good humor, all the while staying connected to her spouse and her friends, resonated with me.

My greater affinity with Julia has a lot to do with some similarities.  Julia McWilliams Child was a proud member of the Smith College class of 1934. I am class of 1982.  That women’s college/liberal arts background was evident to me in her ability to tackle new challenges and discern her way forward, especially as an outsider at the very French and very male Le Cordon Bleu, later as part of a circle of women chef-teachers, and finally her decades of teaching people to enjoy cooking and sharing food through her television shows and cookbooks.

I also related to Julia’s age in the film. She was about 49 when Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published, which was my age when I saw Julie & Julia.  I could appreciate the re-invention(s) that women make in their middle years and the ability to keep learning and growing that makes re-invention possible.

Maybe, if Julia’s story were unfolding in the 21st century, there would be a fabulous blog or website to accompany her book and television endeavors.

Maybe not.

Still, despite my initial bad impression of blogging, here I sit, writing a blog post about it.

Julie taught me things that I didn’t want my blog to be:  limited to a narrow topic, time-constrained, high-pressure, all-consuming.

Julia taught me to stay open to change, to accept criticism but to maintain the integrity of my work, to remember to enjoy time with family and friends (and food), to persevere even when it looks like the goal is unattainable.

So, I find myself five years after the film with a blog that is almost a year old that is eclectic and (I hope seen as) thoughtful, that has started to attract a small group of readers and commenters who appreciate some of the topics I write about and the way in which I write about them.  I have also in these years rediscovered poetry and am working to improve my poems and find appropriate journals or publishers with a goal of being published in print.

Unlike Julie and Julia, I am unlikely to ever publish a full-length book. I may eventually be able to publish a chapbook of poetry, but it won’t be as a result of my blog – or my cooking.

And I won’t give up from the discouraging number of rejection notices.

Julia didn’t.

 

 

rejection letters

I happened upon this 2010 post from the blog of Shawn L. Bird, which I have been following for several months. I love how time has made her able to accept rejection letters with such equanimity.

I chose not to send my music compositions to publishers as a young adult because I felt I would be too discouraged by rejection to keep on trying. Now, in my fifties, changing to writing essays and poetry instead of music, I am able to send things out and get rejection letters without letting it stop me from writing and submitting again.

I admit, though, it would nice to get an acceptance every once in a while.

Maybe next time…

Shawn L. Bird

In the May 20th blog entry, “Why I Love My Job” I told you that in grade 5 I switched my career goal from writing to teaching.  I didn’t tell you why.

In grade 3 and 4, I was a writing star.  I shared stories with my grade 3 class during show and tell, and I know I kept them on the edge of their seats with my brilliant prose.  In grade 4 I won a Mother’s Day contest with a poem I’d written.  My star was on fire.  I had nothing but confidence in my skills as a writer.

In grade 5, I shared a poem I’d written with my school librarian, Mrs. Alex Harbottle , and she suggested I send it in to a magazine.  She recommended a children’s poetry journal called Jabberwocky.  I sent off my poem.  In due course, I received a letter back…

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Re-blog: Writing on Wednesday: The Writer’s Brain, or How Active is Your Caudate Nucleus?

susancushman.com/writing-on-wednesday-the-writers-brain-or-how-active-is-your-caudate-nucleus/

I follow several blogs by daily email summary, so I am just catching up on Wednesday’s posts. I appreciate Susan sharing on the writing process and was fascinated by the brain scan findings she write about in this post.

Blogging

In my About page and my first post, I admitted that I didn’t really know much about blogging, except that blogs were supposed to have themes and Top of JC’s Mind decidedly didn’t have one. OK – I didn’t literally say that, but reading between the lines….

Since then, I’ve learned that there are other “eclectic” bloggers out there and I follow a few of them. I also realize that a favorite topic for bloggers to write about is blogging – go figure – so I thought, now that I’m a few months into this endeavor, I’d write a blogging post.

I’ve read several people’s thoughts on what they want to accomplish with their blog, which usually involve how many people they can reach and have comment on their posts. My approach so far has been somewhat different, in that I write about what I want when I want, without giving a whole lot of thought to who exactly is reading it. I didn’t want to really get into publicizing my blog until I was more sure of my ability to write it. It also didn’t even really occur to me to look at stats until I started reading about it on HarsH ReaLiTy, a wordpress blog where Opinionated Man writes about many things, including (power)blogging and the way he goes about finding new followers, at which he excels, so much so that he has recently started doing it for hire, which you can find out about here, if you are interested.

I, of course, do not have many followers, and some that I do have only followed me because they are in the business of helping people drive traffic to their blogs and get noticed by search engines and such. There is a name/acronym for that, but it escapes me….

I am only making baby steps in publicizing my blog, such as posting to my twitter and doing public facebook posts. WordPress does have some related publicity tools, which I may try soon. I initially got weirded out because you need to do things like give this other entity the ability to follow new people on your twitter and you have to create a separate public FB page for your blog and I just wasn’t at the point of dealing with it. I do think that I am almost there.

Some of my FB friends gave me some suggestions about my blog, so I changed formats and discovered widgets! I am also going to learn soon about putting in some pictures. As you can tell, I’m not THE most tech savvy blogger ever. I may even be in the running for the least tech savvy!

I realize that one thing most successful bloggers do is post frequently, as in multiple times a day, but that is not in the cards for me, at least for the foreseeable future. I will continue taking baby steps and see where they lead.

I want to thank people who read my posts and/or follow Top of JC’s Mind. I appreciate anyone who visits and hope that my posts are meaningful to you in some way. I will try to keep improving and welcome any feedback that anyone would like to give.

Peace,
JC