Book news!

Here’s a bit of glad tidings. My manuscript The Red Queen Hypothesis won the Prairie State Poetry Prize and will be published before the end of 2023–maybe even by the end of this summer! It’s thrilling to have won an award like this.

In fact, I should be jumping up and down with glee that RQH finally will see print, as it has taken me numerous submissions, two acceptances that did not come to fruition, and a considerable number of pauses to reassess the manuscript. But my initial feeling is more of relief than elation. Relief that now I can turn all of my focus to newer work: a manuscript nearly completed and one that I’m just starting to collate and imagine. Well–not all of my focus in those directions. There is the work of promoting the new book, work that I find difficult and challenging because it’s not really in my wheelhouse. Highland Park Poetry is a tiny independent non-profit press and doesn’t have the resources to do much promotion; Jennifer Dotson, Founder & Creative Engine behind the organization, runs several contests, produces a newsletter, and hosts a Facebook page of contributing poets. She also hosts a poetry podcast and at least one reading series…a busy person, working on a small budget. People like her and Larry Robin are the guardian angels of poetry in the USA. Many thanks, Jennifer. I’ll do what I can to promote my book.

There may be reading events in my future this year. If so, I’ll try to post them here as well as my fall-back social media framework, the wretched but still occasionally useful Facebook.

As to new work, grateful to report that it is coming along. I have a small stack of potentially interesting/workable drafts in my file. The month of January wasn’t all dearth and chill and lack of imagery or ideas. Granted, there are days and there are days. I find, though, that I am more patient with myself during low or no-motivation times than I used to be. I kind of hate to rack that up to maturity (oh ye gods! have I become “a mature woman”?)–but age might be a contributor. I feel no compelling reason to push myself past my physical and emotional limits anymore because it isn’t worth the repercussions. Given who I am and the stage of my career and life, there’s no need to prove my worth to anyone, to elevate my status as a “serious writer,” to grind the wheels of ambition to make other people take notice.

I’m an introvert. I don’t really like being noticed. But I do like it when people read what I’ve written, when what I have put into words has a chance to filter into other minds and other emotional frames. It’s entertaining and pleasant to imagine fellow human beings might sit quietly with a book (or screen) and consider, in their own minds, what I have observed or invented. If they don’t like it, that’s okay. At least they are reading. That’s valuable in itself.

Friendships

April: a busy time. During my busy times at work or on the home front, I often spend less time with my friends.

The best thing about that is: my friends understand. They will still be there when I crawl out from under whatever has me crushed for time, whether it’s illness, job stress, time-consuming family-related challenges, home maintenance, garden or lawn work, travel, or depression.

[insert here, me, waving to my friends!]

Social media is no substitute, although I confess to using it to keep connections with those I care about. Social media, for example, has been significant in helping me to stay in touch with poetry colleagues; but much as I admire and learn from other writers, they play different roles in my life than friends do. Also, even from the beginning of my Facebook use, I knew the platform essentially was a “me and those like me” social bubble.

The specter of “us vs. them” has raised its snarling head on social media sites ever since the early days of chat rooms. There’s a reason for that, and Natalie Angier of The New York Times reports on some recent findings in this article:

 

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Meanwhile, on the “unalloyed good” side of friendship–The real friend listens, gets busy herself, drops a line now and then if I’ve been absent for awhile, and drops everything if I find myself in difficulties and ask for help.

She or he also shares my brainwaves, apparently–and not just metaphorically! The studies Angier writes about in the article below offer some really intriguing possibilities about human beings as social animals and how our brains work. PubMed.gov lists a large number of research articles that examine the topic of health, neuroscience, and sociability; the interconnectedness strikes me as relevant and fascinating.

 

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Boy, do I love neuroscience! This work synthesizes physical actuality with metaphorical possibilities in ways that inspire me.

Probably, there will be poems. Meanwhile, if you want to watch some brain functions in action, some cool animations: http://www.neuroplastix.com/styled-99/therapeuticanimations.html

 

Transitions & ambition

letter I
have maintained this blog pretty regularly, for years now, writing about books and poems and gardens and teaching, examining the concept of consciousness and trying to plumb–from a novice’s perspective–the brain’s wiring and functions. I suppose I am seeking a kind of “interdisciplinary” approach in these posts and in life: a philosophy of values that considers the arts, aesthetics, evolution, biology, social structures, neurology, consciousness, physics, etymology, pedagogy, ecology, and compassion (have I forgotten anything?) in a distinct but expansive method of living in which I can situate myself and which might guide my behavior as I make my life-long way through the world. If, by some chance, my words influence a reader–so much the better; this is, after all, a public space (WordPress.com).

Like many people who use social media platforms for their writing, though, I have a mixed view of its suitability as a medium and of its perceived necessity for contemporary writers. My purpose, originally, was to practice writing prose and to promote the arts and the natural environment as necessary complements to and instruction for the development of empathy (compassion) and metacognition in human beings.

The blog has been reasonably suitable for practice; it gets me writing what is basically a brief essay on a more-or-less weekly basis. It has several thousand “followers,” but only a handful of readers. [I can discern this through the statistics page on WordPress, though I don’t check often.] In general, I use this platform mostly as a way of “seeing what I think,” and it serves that purpose, too.

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I have come to some conclusions about the problem of consciousness (and about whether it actually is a problem) through the reading and experiences of the past ten years or so. Those conclusions are, however, private ones. While the process of discovery and inquisitiveness works in a public forum, the takeaway remains, for this blogger, a thing carried within.

But.

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But other blogger-writers have influenced my thinking about what a public forum such as blogging or Facebook can do for the writing process. Dave Bonta and Luisa Igloria, as well as Michael Czarnecki and Lou Faber–among others–promote by example the option, and value, of publishing new or unedited, unfinished, partially-revised work. Granted, not all of them have thousands of readers who weigh in on criticism or encouragement; but the very process of making public the work-in-progress seems to me to be courageous. This may be because I am a wimp, or it may be because the social aspects of the vaunted “po-biz” have dampened my willingness to show a kind of transparency in my writing methods.

I am not on the tenure track and will not be teaching in an MFA program, however, so why would it matter?

Therefore: be prepared, oh limited but blesséd audience. I may begin to foist upon you the recent sad, sad poems I’ve been writing–in draft form. Or I may begin to reveal the poems from my seven-years’-unpublished manuscript online. Or I may, like Luisa and Michael, begin to blog “a poem a day” (unlikely, but…). It seems to me that a transition is in order here. And that stands as my writing ambition for the moment, as autumn makes its way toward the solstice and I face another stack of student essays to grade.

 

 

 

 

The empathy button

Human nature being what it is, and our feelings being so rooted in often physiologically-based emotions, negative responses tend to aggregate. The book I just finished reading–Damasio’s The Feeling of What Happens–offers neurological, evolutionary, and psychological reasons for the human tendency toward negativity. Dozens of psychological studies concur that humans in general feel more “bad” feelings, and more frequently, than “good” feelings.

Facebook has a “like button,” as do many blog hosting pages (see below for mine!). This ingenious algorithmically-programmed information-gathering software–I hesitate to call it a device, but I guess it is–offers social media users a shortcut to social interaction, a way to show conformity and agreeability among friends, to support a statement or cause, or to indicate pleasure at seeing a photo, work of art, or shared piece of information.

Other sites, such as YouTube, have the additional option to “dislike;” and though I have not read any research supporting this inference, I would speculate that the option to dislike could lead to the generation of more negative feelings. Human nature being what it is.

If social media users cannot take the time to type their feeling-based responses and just need something to click, why not offer a “compassion button?”

I am not serious, of course. The compassion button is internal, and it isn’t an immediate gut reaction for most of us. It moves us from emotions such as anger or ideas like reason and duty to shared human experience. It takes us from simplistic liking or disliking to understanding. It takes more than a mouse click to get to compassion.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness