Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Writing, reading, the first year and stuff

'Tis the end of the semester. This was my first full year at Cedar Crest and I'm excited to continue. There were many times I didn't think I could do it. Next semester I'll be taking a full course load. I hope to graduate properly in 2013. First Bachelor's Degree: Age 39. It's exhilarating and depressing at the same time.

PAPER WRITING (otherwise known as "The road to Hell is paved with semi-colons")

I had my head handed to me in my first course this year. I got a "B-" on a paper. I'd never gotten a "B-" on anything, let alone a paper. What a blow. I had two ways to deal with it: stagger backward and fall OR figure out why I was a bad writer. Now please understand that a "B-" is pretty darned good. When you are intent on establishing yourself as a writer of any sort it is NOT good. But this is college. I'm here to learn. I suspect I'm just like others out there...horribly jealous of those who write so well so easily. For me it's work work work.

Here are the bad things I did:

1. Passive voice. The more I read my work from years past the more I realize I write in passive voice. After having it pointed out to me a couple of thousand times this past year I have started to recognize it the minute I start to type. I hit the delete button and start the sentence again. ACTIVE ACTIVE ACTIVE voice. I am going to write better (or is that well...fewer? less? two? to? too?).

2. Punctuation. Ugh. It's better now but Rome wasn't built in a day. Colon. Semicolon. Comma. Independent clause. Dependent clause. Santa clause. I used to use commas ever other word. Now I use them sparingly though still incorrectly (should there have been a comma in that sentence?). I just gotta keep on keeping on and keep on getting corrected. It'll penetrate my thick skull at some point.

3. Organization. Oy. Several of the early comments on papers were about organization. Just like in math: what you do to one side you do to the other. Compare A...remember to Compare B. So now I have this little checklist called, get this, an outline. I use it now, too!

Lessons will continue to be learned. Eventually the gallons of ink needed to make corrections in my papers will reduce to cups (or dare I dream...thimblefuls?)


Aside from writing, I have discovered some very important things this year. I've discovered that I don't love English Literature as much as I thought I did. I really dislike (no no no, I won't minimize...hate) William Wordsworth. Respect him as an artist but don't like his poems. I don't think I can focus on Brit Lit if I really hate reading this guy. I actually prefer his sister's work over his. I won't list the "don't likes" as many were discovered, but there are also a great deal of "likes." Kipling, Keats, Byron, Wilde (of course), Lewis, Doyle, Wollstonecraft, Forster, Shelley (as in Mary...Percy is in the "no" category) and Stoker (who is technically Irish).

I don't like Modernist literature; American or British. Sorry. I'm a bit more traditional in taste. I find it brain scrambling and a bit unnerving in a good way but it's not something I want to spend a great deal of my personal time reading. Out of curiosity I will read Mrs. Dalloway. That is my goal for the summer. After that I feel I will have done my bit for king and country and read Modernist literature only when required at this point in my life. I won't say I won't ever read one on my own, of course, but not right now.

I will focus on American Literature. I will focus on the Transcendentalists and the American Romantics. I will focus on Puritan poetry. I will focus on American Industrial Revolution works. I will focus on Poe, Hawthorne, Perkins-Gilman, Harding Davis, Bradstreet, Thoreau, Longfellow, Emerson, Whitman...I could go on and on and on and on. This is where I belong. These writers awed me. I don't take that lightly.

Wow. I like poetry. I mean I LIKE POETRY. I like to examine and read closely. I like to try to unravel the word puzzles. I have read all that was required avec pleasure (well, there is that little Wordsworth issue) and gone on to purchase books by specific poets, compilations of different poets, poets I've never heard of... I had a few that I really loved such as Leonard Cohen, Charles Baudelaire, Poe, Kipling and John Clare but I discovered the worlds of Whitman! Eliot! Bradstreet! Sassoon! to name but a simple few. Wow.

Creative Writing

"There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.
Books are well written, or badly written. That is all."
~Oscar Wilde

Sorry Mr. Wilde, but "badly written" was what was on the menu this past year.

I'm not good enough. My writing is simplistic. Aside from grammar and POV issues I don't feel it is sophisticated in the very least. I have such a hard time coming up with story ideas. I just try and draw from my own life but people are eventually going to get sick of my mental illness/broken me subjects. My poetry is weird and unconventional. It doesn't really resonate with anyone but me. It isn't graceful or lovely.

I am a hack. It was, however, pointed out to me that hacks can make a lot of money. Hey, I could be the Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyers of my graduating class.

I may have won second and third place in the college writing contest but I'm not sure I deserved the nods after I read a bit of the other author's other works.

I think I need to take some more creative writing courses.


And there you have it. A brief recap of this wonderful first, glorious, brain busting, painful, tense, exhilarating, year of being an official English Major.

(A parting bit of humor)

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell. She decided to check out each place first.

As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"

"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rockabilly, Tattoos, and People Watching

Every year the tattoo community puts together a tattoo convention to advertise services, make connects, and bring the tattoo community together. They hold it at the Holiday Inn in Allentown. I can only imagine the regular guests showing up to check in and seeing hundreds of people with tattoos, piercings, body mod, etc...Must be a hoot. Over the years tattooing has become well establish in our culture. It is almost accepted now in all aspects of society. As long as you don't have "IDIOT" tattooed across your face you're pretty safe. Some jobs make you cover them but it's not much of a hassle for most. If you believe strongly enough in tattooing yourself then covering them up to work shouldn't be a too much to ask. It was your choice, of course, and you knew that while most of society accepts them there are still a few old fashioned hold outs.If you can't deal, don't get inked.

It was nice that Skindustry put a note of memoriam in the brochure to Joel:

"This year the Lehigh Valley lost a very active member of the local art scene. Joey "Seyone" Santa, tattooer, graffiti artist, father and husband. All of us would like you to remember him and his family. Rest in Peace Joel."

So Justin and I found ourselves sitting in the hotel bar that evening. We had a nice little people watching session. I was surprised just how good Justin is at picking out people and knowing their story. One gentleman walked by us. He had tattoos to his wrist and very, very shiny boots. "He's military," Justin remarked. Lo and behold, not moments later he walks up to his buddy wearing a U.S. Navy baseball cap. It was nice to exercise my brain a bit working out stories about the patrons. "Look at those shoes she's wearing. She's a business woman. No one wears shoes like that with jeans." I asked Justin to come up with my story. I was wearing a polka dot skirt, black spaghetti string top, black platform heels and a black sweater (it was really rainy and cold).

"You look like a teacher who's at a tattoo convention."

A teacher.

Yay. I think I might have lost my edge.

I felt vindicated when we went for a late, late, LATE dinner. We stopped at the Ham Fam diner. It was utterly devoid of teenagers. We asked the waitress where they were. For a Saturday night it was dead. She said the whole weekend was dead. It was probably the rain. Then she asked if I was one of the "girls" that used to hang out at The West End Diner about 15+ years ago with Mike Hill, Matt Vassallo and the gang. Later I remembered her name was Cheryl and was our nightly waitress. We reminisced a little. "Look at me," I said, "All grow'd up." I might have lost my edge but we were the innovators and it's nice to remember that. All these little punk kids at Hot Topic? We paved the way for them. We used home made tattoo guns and pierced our noses with needles and potatoes. We saved our money and bought our Doc Martens on South Street in Philly. We couldn't order them online and they weren't made in Singapore. We were part of the early Goth movement which has now, sigh, become trendy. All you little ones out there who think retro bands like the Sex Pistols, Blondie, The Clash, The Ramones, The Cure, The Smiths, Dead Kennedys, Dead Milkmen, Circle Jerks, SOD, MOD, Social Distortion etc...are way cool should remember that we were the ones out there pan handling outside the clubs for money to get in and see them live. (Well, the Sex Pistols were before my time...)

A lot of the people there were dressed in rockabilly style with a bit of punk flair. It's all the rage. There was a gorgeous Betty Page look alike, Betty Crocker dresses with platform heels. Justin looked fabulous. I looked like, well, a teacher. ;) The Ultra Kings played last night. They were fabulous. I can't tell you the last time I sat in a bar and enjoyed a band. They're usually a cover band or some metal band that tries to make feedback sound like songs. We found their website and they play a lot of sets in the Valley. We're going to see them again. I can guarantee that. I wish I could dance to that kind of music. Maybe I'll take some lessons. You feet just start to move and you just want to jump on the dance floor. There is nothing better than hearing the bass thumping in your ear and moving the beer glass on the bar.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Diversity Conference

I participated in a diversity conference today at LCCC. I had offered my services to Dr. Jameson should she need someone to help represent the mentally ill. Originally the panel was set but at the last minuted (about two weeks ago) someone dropped out. It was a great panel. I was on a panel with a man who had clinical depression, the college counselor and a young lady who had two brothers that were mentally ill. All three of us got a bit teary-eyed at one point or another on different subjects. The people I was honored to sit with were a testament to strength, determination and the will to survive not only physically but mentally and emotionally. I think we helped some people understand that we really aren't very different from "normal" people. We just have a disease to deal with every day.

Before the panel I met a remarkable professor. He is a Professor Emeritus from LCCC and a retired English professor. We talked about the profession and I told him I had aspirations of teaching college English. He told me he had only two pieces of advice: Fall in love with the sound of your voice and read poetry aloud every day; even if it is to yourself.

I also had an incredible hour or so long discussion with a history adjunct. We started out by talking about Virginia Woolf and somehow danced through history, literature, family, mental illness, aspirations, Cedar Crest, LCCC, and back again. Makin' connections. That's what today's agenda seemed to develop into.

There are still many things that I have a lot of trouble with but I think I really like my life right now.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Haiku Fail

Went to Cedar Crest's Spring Fling last weekend. It's a cute carnival that gets the students outside and get away from the last push of classes for an afternoon. A lot of the clubs have stands where you can play little games or do activities like making your own cupcakes. Preterite, the Literary Club (of which I am proudly a member) did a Haiku tree. You write a Haiku and we hang it on the tree. I should be able to do this. I am an English major who has studied poetry. I write Haiku normally. Nope. Couldn't do it. FAIL. My daughter noticed. I tried to fix it. FAIL. I give up. My brain is too full of papers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Literary Tattoos~~ Hawthorne

I'm a tattoo junkie. Well, not really a junkie. I just appreciate the art and love to be a part not only of the art but the culture. I'm not going to get into the history of tattooing. There are tons of websites, books and wiki entries for that. Let's just say it's a very old practice. Tattoos are becoming more accepted and more commonplace every day...and gone are the days of "mother" and anchors (although there are artists that do fabulous retro pieces...Jake Delbene of The Quillian is a prime example). More and more the trend is moving away from flash pieces (pre drawn designs you pick from a book) and toward custom work. All of my tattoos are custom. A good tattoo artist works with you and, if you develop a relationship, gets to know you. My tattoo artist, Steve Lemak from The Quillian knows about my "thing for rabbits." He also can see into my head a little bit. I design my tattoos and he draws them. I start with the idea and have Scott Golley (the head dude in charge of coordinating artists and customers) jot down what I want and do a little research. He gives the info to Steve and Steve draws it up. I like to give Scott the story behind a design so he can pass it on to Steve. Steve's never let me down. I was afraid he'd make the teacup in my Alice tattoo too narrow. Much to my surprise it was a wide brimmed cup. He knew.

So...what's this have to do with literature. My tattoos are all literary. I'm a nerd. I've been researching it and I'm not alone. A lot of people are honoring their favorite authors with quotes, tidbits and illustrations. People even get signatures of the authors tattooed.

I'll start with my latest tattoo. It's an homage to Nathaniel of my favorite American writers. The typical association is a scarlet "A" within a wood carving or Puritan style embroidery. I wasn't keen on having the mark of an adulteress on my body permanently. I'm no adulteress (yes, yes, yes...I get the symbolism of the "A"). I wanted to find something unique. Toward the end of Hawthorne's life he began to become a bit unhinged. He took to obsessively scribbling the number "64" on scraps of paper. No one knows why. He died in 1864 but he started doing this years before he died. Well, how's that for a unique idea. I love Steve. My idea. My concept. His design.

Coming up next...Alice in Wonderland...Stay tuned.

I decided to start writing poetry again since the incident. I submitted a few to my college writing contest. None of them place but I don't really care about that. They really are very personal and most people, while they get what I'm saying (especially if you know about the mental health trials I've been through) but they don't know what moments or issues inspired them. That's fine too. I'm keeping that to myself. So, without further ado...some of the shorter pieces. I consider these emotional snapshots.

A Doctor's Slice

My doctor sliced my brain into thin slivers.
She threw out the damaged sections.
Like my mother excising dark spots
from the potatoes.
The good parts mashed up
and digested.

I Was Pushed

Someone pushed me down hard.
I bashed my head on memories.
I don't remember if I got back up.


Sleepwalking through decay
Wading feet first, ankle deep
Face first.
Wisps of thought, slick from ill use,
neglect and stagnation float in
damp, dank, dark waters.
Moss covered rocks to slip on.
Cold water aches.
Walking forever down this murky river.
Rotting from the outside in.
No end in sight.

One Day

One day I'd like to go outside
And lay down on the ground during a blizzard
And let the falling and drifting snow cover me
And pretend I was never there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ah. So about a year has passed since I started this blog. So much to say. So much. This is just your introductory "I'm Back" note. I'll be posting some poetry and stories as well as general "what's going on in my literary world" nonsense. It's good to be back!

Yeah. It is a weird rat with an ear of corn on its back. Discuss.