Name your bliss

I’m feeling deep blog love on this Valentine’s Day. Really, I am. I only wish I had the time to devote to crafting a post about the many positive connections–and even a free book or two (now that’s love!)–I’ve made through this site. Work calls–and so I’m relying on the ol’ reblog. Happy Day, whatever kind of love you’re celebrating. More soon. ~Rebecca

Rust Belt Girl

paper-romance-symbol-valentine-159526.jpeg

 

Is it weird to mourn your mom on Valentine’s Day—with the holiday’s declarations of love, its overtures and SWAKs? This is love stuff, yes, but this is also word stuff.

In the dozen years since my mom left this life, I’ve become more fluent in the language of loss—and of life. Do not pity this post. I happily speak for me and her now, tell her stories to my kids who never knew her, keep her voice alive in mine.

This is mother-love, reborn, but it’s also language-love. Foreign at first and then familiar—even taken for granted—and all the more cherished when it’s gone.

Who among us writers doesn’t ascribe to “show don’t tell?” We illustrate and demonstrate; we craft a tactile scene. But let’s not forget to tell, while we have a voice to do it.

Did you see this coming?

Call your mom. (Or dad or kid…

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When a journal editor says no more death stories* **

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

I submitted “Scooter Kid,” a story about conception (of a couple different kinds)–of creation, chaos, and control. (Spot the nod to Stockard Channing’s character in the 1993 movie, Six Degrees of Separation? Yeah, I’m still a little obsessed.)

Many thanks to Elizabeth Varel, Editor in Chief and Fiction Editor, and all the editors of Parhelion Literary Review for publishing my story in your lovely journal. Alongside my fiction, you’ll find a trove of thought-provoking prose, poetry, and art: right here.

Happy weekend. Happy reading. What’s on tap for you?

Thanks for stopping by!

~Rebecca

*Seriously though, submitting to literary journals? Check those submissions guidelines.

**OK, OK, all stories are death stories.

Of Fathers, Sons, and Seasons: Reading Marilynne Robinson’s GILEAD

The first good snow of the season on our Crepe Myrtle

I was weeping before 8:30 am. Not because of the cold and old pipes and our living room soaked, stripped, and drying now–like a child pulled from a furtive dip in the lake. No, I was weeping over a book about fathers and sons and the seasons of life–and wouldn’t you think my avid reader-cynicism could have borne me up better than that? Nope, there I was weeping, listening to the end of the story, as I trained my eyes on the winding roads that take me from my sons’ school to home and back, again and again.

Not a chance I could have held it together in the face of Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead, narrated by Tim Jerome of Broadway fame. From the cursory Goodreads summary: Gilead presents an “intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart.”

I will admit right here that it took me this long to read anything by the matriarch of the Midwestern religious novel, and I’ll tell you why. I thought it would be not just “churchy”–an attribute Robinson has said did not define her background–but preachy. After reading (and weeping), I’d define the novel as “teachy” maybe, but only in the best way–as the narrative is presented as a sort of last will and testament from an elderly father, the Reverend John Ames, to the seven-year-old son he won’t get to see grow up. In short, it’s a quiet wonder of a book.

Before I go further: quick survey here for you American fiction fans: what was the last Midwestern book you read? How about the last New York book? That’s easy: for me, Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility and before that Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. California novel? Easy again: me, a wonderful novella that echoed Steinbeck as it held a mirror up to our current U.S. culture: Camp Olvido by Lawrence Coates. Full disclosure: my WIP is set in California–so even my mind’s eye resides elsewhere. Midwestern books? Hmm? Crickets…in winter at that.

But, seriously, to make a conscious effort to seek out the books of my native place, the modern Midwest, is one reason I started this blog. To share them with you is another. Still, Gilead’s depiction of life in 1950s rural Iowa does not remind me of home; nor does its Calvinist preacher-as-epistemological narrator remind me of the Catholic Fathers–or dad, for that matter–who I grew up with.

Like many disciplines, a Catholic upbringing is good for writing (not just for the characteristic guilt), as evidenced by authors like C.K. McKenna, Alice McDermott and Ann Patchett, who credits in this article “her Catholic faith for teaching her a boundless capacity for creativity and appreciation for metaphor.”

Christianity in general provides us with another language, which doubles the meaning of just about any element you can name: fire isn’t just fire; water isn’t just water; bread isn’t just bread; even life is doubled. In Gilead, it is no accident that the narrator sees his wife for the first time on Pentecost. Names and days and even everyday language become imbued with alternative meaning–even if you don’t mean for them to. A burst pipe and water raining down on my head: are we talking plain plumbing or some kind of baptism? (No symbolism to see here, folks.)

Can a father be only a father? A son just a son? Or is the everyday weighed down by religious symbolism? What reader wants bogged-down story? Not this one. Here’s where Robinson excels: instead of weighing down everyday stories in the spiritual, Robinson’s talent lies in lifting up the mundane–or, as critic Braillen Hopper says, “She evokes the hope of heaven in the everyday…”

Hope is what got to me on that cold morning, what melted me to tears. It’s a hope that lifts up the everyday relationship between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters–my own and my characters’ own–to a higher place. Even if that place is only in our minds. Among us cynics, who can root against hope?

In that vein, I continue (hopefully) querying agents about my WWII-era historical novel, a story about fathers and sons and whole families and neighborhoods and towns whose hope is tested by war–not only the one waged between Axis and Allied powers but between neighbors and friends here at home.

Querying? Submitting to journals and magazines? I hope you’ll check out my posts on publishing, in the category of the same name. Looking for your next read? I’ve reviewed something for everyone. Looking for writerly advice? Let me know how it goes!

What are you writing? What are you reading? What are you hoping for this cold winter?




My interview with Ohio Poet Laureate Dave Lucas

Ohio Poet Laureate Dave Lucas presenting at Lit Youngstown’s 2018 Fall Literary Festival*

Love poetry or hate it (btw, you don’t really hate it), Ohio Poet Laureate Dave Lucas is right there with you.

What’s it like to be a poet laureate? I asked Dave Lucas that–and more. Here’s what the author, teacher, and “poetry evangelist” had to say.

Dave, how much does it mean for you to have been chosen as Poet Laureate of Ohio, and what’s up next for 2019?

If you’d asked me this a year ago, I would have said how honored I felt by the selection and how excited I was for the two years to come.  A year into my term I still feel honored and excited, but more than anything I feel gratitude.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to see parts of my home state I’ve never visited before, to talk about poetry in such varied settings and with so many people for whom poetry is a way of making meaning of their lives.

In 2019 I hope to continue those travels, but I also hope to “meet” more Ohioans virtually through the “Poetry for People Who Hate Poetry” project.  The project entails a monthly column syndicated in Ohio newspapers and media outlets; this year we hope to create a podcast version as well, so that we can promote poetry in whatever medium Ohioans get their information and culture.

As Poet Laureate, I imagine you’ve met many Ohioans in your travels around the state. What has surprised you most?

I’ve certainly been struck by the number and quality of poetry programs taking place at the regional and local levels.  These are workshops, reading groups, recitations, slams, and more, and I’ve encountered them everywhere I’ve traveled in Ohio.  The internet has of course been revolutionary for bringing people together around a common interest, but there’s something wonderful about seeing people gather in common physical space to talk about poetry.

In your Poet Laureate column on the Ohio Arts Council site, as well as in the classroom, you send the message that most of us love poetry, even if we don’t know it yet. Can you talk a little about how you define poetry and give us a couple examples of the kinds of poetic language we can find outside of what we traditionally think of as poetry?

Literary history tells us that anyone who attempts to define poetry today is about to be proven wrong tomorrow.  That’s both the pleasure and challenge of trying to say what poetry is or isn’t.  So I try to maintain as broad and flexible a definition as possible.  I think that poetry is the aesthetic pleasure we take in language.  Words are for play as well as work, as the groan-worthy puns of any good “Dad joke” will demonstrate.

So puns and jokes in general might be examples of the poetry we find outside of “poems.”  So are the metaphors we use to describe the world.  Riddles, jingles, lyrics, mnemonics, and more.  For instance, I’ve just finished a column (my sixth installment) about the artistry of slang, which Walt Whitman treats as the democratic aspect of poetry.  In this column I argue that even if you haven’t read a poem since high school, you participate every day in the artistry of language simply via the creativity of the slang you use.

One of the daunting things about poetry is the idea that we poetry readers think we’re supposed to read it “right” and find buried meaning. How can you assuage our reader-guilt at perhaps understanding a poem only on its surface level?

Too many of us seem to have been taught that poems are supposed to be solved, some “deeper meaning” discovered and extracted like a vein of ore from a mine.  If we can’t find “it”—or if we find something that we’re told is not “it,” we feel inadequate.

Let’s change the terms.  For example: you hear a song for the first time.  You don’t get all the words, but you like it enough as a whole—its rhythm, its sounds, how it makes you feel, etc.—that you want to hear it again.  You don’t feel guilty about not getting all the words; you just want to listen a second or even a third time.  You keep listening.  Eventually, you get all the words, often before you’ve realized it.

Your poetry collection, Weather, begins with place poems.

“River on Fire”
Stranger, the way of the world is crooked,
and anything can burn. Nothing impossible.
Who comes to send fire upon the earth may find
as much already kindled, may find his city
bistre and sulfurous. Pitched and grimed.
On those suffered banks we sat down and wept.
There the prophets, if there had been prophets,
would have baptized us in fire. Who says impossible
they fill his mouth with ash, they quench him
as if a man could be made steel. A crooked way
the world wends, and the rivers, and the prophets.
Go down and tell them what you have seen:
that the river burned and was not consumed.

…and your collection ends with a poem that examines the language we use for Northeast Ohio’s natural landmark of Lake Erie. How did you decide how to order the collection: as an argument for or against something, as a journey from one time to another, from the external to the personal–or something else entirely?

As you mention, the book begins and ends with the lake.  (Of course, it shows up in the middle of the book, too.)  For me, the lake—or my idiosyncratic idea or myth of it—is what Seamus Heaney calls “the first place in myself.”  So I wanted to begin in that place and with local flora and fauna before moving into the human and even personal histories of (or in) the region. The whole book is an attempt to marry those different histories and mythologies into a coherent vision of place.

Your newer poems center around myth. Can you tell us how the new collection is shaping up and where we can find one of the poems?

The new collection has been “done” several times now.  I assume the writers among your blog’s readers will nod and sigh in recognition of what I mean.  I hope it will be “done”—again—soon.

You can read “About Suffering—,” my take on the myth (and on other takes) of Icarus and Daedalus at the online home of The Threepenny Review.

Do you see poetry changing along with our digital age, with the Instapoets (poets who feature their poems on Instagram), for example? What do you think about it?

The Instagram phenomenon is interesting to me because “Instapoetry” blends forms and genres: you experience the poem as a photograph of the poem.  So you get an experience of the poem as a visual artifact, something different from what you might experience at a reading or a performance.  It’s a reminder of just how many ways we can experience language, and the subtle differences between one experience and another.

What’s your best piece of poetry-writing advice?

The only piece of advice that I believe to be true for anyone who wants to write (poems, or anything else)—no matter who they are or what they want for their writing—is to read as much as possible, to read enthusiastically and omnivorously.

Thank you to Ohio Poet Laureate Dave Lucas for giving us a lot to read and think about! Hope everyone has a good Martin Luther King Jr. Day, wherever you are.

Find out more about Dave Lucas…

Dave Lucas is the author of Weather (VQR/Georgia, 2011), which received the 2012 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry.  Named by Rita Dove as one of thirteen “young poets to watch,” he has also received a “Discovery/The Nation Prize and a Cleveland Arts Prize.  In 2018 he was named the second Poet Laureate of the State of Ohio.  A co-founder of Brews + Prose at Market Garden Brewery and Cleveland Book Week, he lives in Cleveland, where he was born and raised. 

And more…

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*Photo credit: Courtney Kensinger

Little Patuxent Review issue launch

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m delighted that my story, “While Our Grown Men Played,” will appear in the Winter 2019 issue of Little Patuxent Review. I’m also delighted to be reading at the issue launch event. For more information or to purchase the issue–or subscribe to this lovely regional literary magazine–click on through.

There’s truth in every piece of fiction, of course–despite my penchant for writerly distance. But if there’s one story of mine that tells the tale of my mom and me, it’s this one. In it, I got to call my mom a “world-class whiner,” which she was. But she never whined about what mattered: the breasts that failed her when they let cancer in, twice; the chemo and wig; the daughter living 12 hours away by Greyhound bus. She whined about the little things we could share: overdue library book fines, our pear shapes, cold noses in winter.

“While Our Grown Men Played” is a story about being female, sure; but even more so, it’s about being together, despite distance over roads and time–and cosmos, even. As I write, she’s still with me in the way I am, the things I whine about, and in my body: our ballet bearing, my veiny hands that are hers, the accent that won’t leave me.

Maybe most stories don’t take years and great personal loss to write, but this one did. It is a bittersweet thing to let it go, to read from it in front of others, to somehow tie a bow on grief. But it is sweet, and a testament to perseverance in writing and in living. I hope my mom would agree.

So, today I urge against writerly distance. Let’s try it, together. Let’s close the distances between past and present, between the living and the dead, between fact and fiction–and mine for story that heals.

That’s what I’ll be doing anyway.

~ Rebecca

Powerful conversations and an essay by Melissa Ballard

A nuclear power plant near home

My mom wasn’t a hippie, though she lived on Hessler Road as a college student–a Cleveland street where hippie power still reigns. Late 60s, with my bearded dad at the wheel of their VW bug, they looked the hippie part, anyway. Enough to be stopped by a police officer, as they traveled country roads to my mom’s parents’ house in upstate New York. The checkpoint was in a little place called Woodstock. The officer tapped on the driver’s-side window. “Going to the music festival?”

“What music festival?”

Alas. My lovely parents weren’t hippies, but they weren’t content to become carbon copies of their parents, either. Starting fresh, newly-married, they moved to the country, where they would raise a few ducks, some chickens, a goat named Esmeralda, and eventually us human kids. What veggies she couldn’t grow in her lush garden, my mom got from the natural food co-op she helped to run. We had a local honey man and a pumpkin man. None of this struck us kids as any kind of resistance against the powers of 80s consumerism powered by…well, power.

For that reason–a kid’s obliviousness to her mom being anything but Mom— her bright yellow No Nukes! t-shirt stands out in sharp relief when I think of her. A child of the 50s, my mom would have recalled the duck-and-cover drills of the Cold War. She would have remembered Love Canal, not just as the famous environmental disaster, but as the working class neighborhood 45 minutes from where she grew up.

And so, as I was working recently on a new story set in Ohio in the 80s, my thoughts–and research–turned to that familiar landscape and those looming cooling towers, pictured above, belonging to the local nuclear power plant: the site of my mom’s protest days. Did she carry a sign at the gates of the power plant? Did she chant or yell? I don’t know. She never took us kids. Did she join a small group of Sierra Club members who planted spiderwort flowers–with white petals they said would turn pink if exposed to radiation–at the plant gates? Did they turn pink? There’s so much I never asked her.

Today, my dad’s lake view is marred by the cooling towers of yet another nuclear power plant, less than a couple hours west following the lake shore. And so, in a small way, nuclear power has followed our family. In a much greater and tragic way, it has followed so many other Ohio families, including writer Melissa Ballard’s.

From Ballard’s essay, “Nuclear Power,” published in Belt Magazine, January 3rd.

On each visit to a nuclear site, Dad wears a badge. After the visit, he turns the badge over to a technician. The film in the badge, when developed, measures his exposure to radiation. When his cumulative numbers reach a certain level, he has to stay out of the plants for a time.

“Wow, Dad, do you glow in the dark?” I say, teasing.

“No, dear. It’s safe,” he says.

I hope you will read Ballard’s moving essay about a father-daughter relationship–one fraught with struggles of power on several levels. While you’re there, check out some of the best in regional reporting and writing–on offer from Belt Magazine–via my native Cleveland. Thank you to the editor for allowing me to sample Ballard’s essay here.

Is it safe, nuclear power? I’m in no position to debate such things. Such things do color a place, I can say that. Such things do much more than mar the lake view with hulking towers. They change the conversation around power–actual and figurative–that are carried on within families and communities. And we remember and carry the conversations further–those we had, and maybe especially those we should have had with the family members we’ve lost.

We research and write and connect and converse.

What is your impetus to write? What do you wish you would have asked a loved one you’ve lost?

*Image of a nuclear power plant in Perry, Ohio, by Eric Drost.

“Out there”…toward some semblance of literary citizenship

Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

Out where? Well, there, and there, and there.

I’m talking about getting the creative writing out there, into the great wide open–beyond the blog, and into news outlets, magazines, and journals–and so are a lot of other bloggers. So, I thought I might start a convo here, where we can collect some pros, cons, and lessons learned.

Sound good? I’ll start with a disclaimer. I am no expert. I have an MFA in Creative Writing under my belt (along with a lot of Xmas cheese); yet we rarely discussed in short fiction and novel-writing courses what to do with our pieces after we’d written them–past the Sisyphean process of write-edit-trash-revisit-rewrite-edit, that is. Really, a piece of writing may never be “finished,” but eventually, it’s good to let it go. How do you know if your writing might be ready to submit?

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The Great 2018 Blog Experiment

Hot Stuff, right here at least once a week in 2018

How’s that for hyperbole? If you’ve been here a while, you’re probably guessing that by great I mean middling and by experiment I mean absolutely nothing scientific. Still, looking at the year’s blogtivities–what you liked*, what you liked less–could help us all achieve blog bliss in 2019. It could happen. But, first, some preliminary stats, because numbers are fun so long as WordPress is doing the crunching.

I published a perfectly round 100 posts in 2018 (not counting this one) to receive 9,736 views from 5,434 visitors. Thank you for being here; without you, I’m a complete narcissist. Likes: 2,515, and my favorite thing in the world: Comments: 924. (Yep, they still count if I’m the one commenting.)

Your Favorite Posts from 2018 (in descending order, based on views)

Your Least Favorite Post from 2018

The Sunshine Blogger Award: Woot (if tardy)! featured my take on 11 probing questions and my nominations of 11 blogs that are totally worth your time. (Bad post timing? Too much in your reading queue? Are we tired of the award posts? What do you think?)

OK, I’m no statistician, but I’m seeing a trend: gimme more writerly guests, you say. I’m so glad you asked! Coming up in early 2019, I will be featuring an interview with Ohio’s Poet Laureate and hopefully one with a small press publisher. Inquiring minds and all…

So, next up on the old arcade Love Meter: Uncontrollable! I can’t picture just what an uncontrollable blog looks like, but you can help me get there. The American Rust Belt is a big place with a lot of worthy lit–stories real and imagined, memoir, poetry and more. Know a Rust Belt writer with a story to tell? Let me know in the comments.

Other bloggish lessons learned in 2018

Share the work of others and you will be recognized (see above). It’s not just about garnering views, comments, and followers–the stuff of stats. It’s about being a good citizen in this writing life, wherever and whatever you write. I’ll never forget the blogger who responded to one of my very first blog posts by saying something along the lines of “blogging isn’t just writing, it’s communicating.” This is two-way street stuff. This is our blog.

Because I truly believe that, I spend a lot of time out on the WordPress Reader scoping out new blogs; I drop comments; and I share what I love. Case in point: WordPress Discover shared their 2018 roundup: A Year of Great Writing: The Most-Read Editors’ Picks of 2018, which is a great list btw, and in conclusion the editors asked for our picks. I didn’t have to think twice before hyping in the comments Ella Ames’ blog Not Enough Middle Fingers (and not just for the name). I was thrilled to maybe send a few bloggers Ella’s way for funny, poignant, deep, and daring writing plus her homegrown illustrations. Know what happened next? My comment drew visitors–and even a few new followers–to my site. (Welcome!) So, let’s all spread the blog love in 2019.

Will next year be the year my writing hits Uncontrollable on the Love Meter? I don’t know. But, together, we can make connections that count for a lot.

All the best to you and yours for a safe, happy, and healthy New Year!

~Rebecca

*Thanks to K.M. Allan and her 2018 Blog Roundup for this post idea

Wanna join me elsewhere on the interwebs? Here’s me at FB and on Twitter @MoonRuark

“Do not hoard…”

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.”

Annie Dillard, American author

This felt like appropriate writing advice for the season, so I thought I’d re-post this gem from Annie Dillard today.

Over the past few days, my writing energies have been poured into Christmas cards. (Yep, I still do those.) It’s the one time of year I connect across the many miles with family and friends who don’t do social media (which was me, too, until just a couple years ago).

It’s the one time of year I “give it all”–braggin’ on my boys and sharing declarations of affection, longing, and even shared loss that might feel sappy at any other time.

Which gets me to thinking about something a friend of mine posted (on social media) about not being afraid to speak of those we’ve lost over the holidays. This is my twelfth Christmas after my mom’s death. The cynical and deflecting part of me thinks I could make up a funny song about my grief–to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas…” (Or maybe something along the lines of “Goodly Mom I lost looked out on the feast of (what rhymes with Stephen?)” Instead, I share her stories with my boys, carry on tying the family ties, and speak her name.

“…give it, give it all, give it now.” That seems like good writing–and living–advice, during this and every season.

All the best and sincerest holiday wishes to you and yours,

Rebecca

P.S. Pics from my family’s “Thanksmas” celebration: the obligatory sister and me in the kitchen selfie; a nearby beach looking not at all Christmas-y; and one amazing elf.

The Sunshine Blogger Award: Woot (if tardy)!

Thank you to Writer Side of Life for nominating me for this award (ages ago). If you haven’t yet checked out Kim’s blog, please do. There you’ll find engaging posts about books and the writing life, inspirational interviews with New Zealand authors, lessons learned from “dragging” her kids to France for a research excursion–and much more.

So, as I said, I am tardy, actually more than tardy, to my own award presentation. Imagine one of those big show venues, with all the glitz, glamor, and champagne–after it’s stripped down. The place echos with emptiness, and next up for the venue is, I don’t know, the opposite of glamor, maybe a taxidermy show.

Welcome, folks, to my stuffed dead things award presentation. (See what tardiness gets you?)

Award rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blog so others can find them.

2. Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.

3. Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.

4. Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.

5. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post and/or your blog site.

My answers:

What is your favourite place in the world? (“Favourite” spelling Kim’s)

I have extolled many of the wonders of my home city of Cleveland, Ohio, here on the blog. For those who don’t know, Cleveland has long been the butt of jokes, and while it might have lost a little of its sheen from its Gilded Age, industry-fed glory, C-town today is where you want to go for sports, arts, outdoors, and popular culture when you’re in the Midwest. List of major attractions here. From the home of the Cleveland Browns (who won yesterday!) to one of  the premiere art museums in the U.S.; and from the Metroparks system to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, there’s no place I’d rather be. And…Paris is also nice.

What do you want people to get out of your blog?

I hope my blog helps people come to know and appreciate the literature–poetry, fiction, memoir, and more–coming out of the U.S. Rust Belt, generally, and Ohio specifically.

Cat person or dog person?

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