Archive for the ‘submissions’ Category

Canned

The first day back after winter break was a bit of a shock to the system–one forgets how much energy it takes to be among so many people!  Lucinda wryly observed, “This is harder than sitting in my living room in sweatpants, playing with my two-year-old.”  Yeah, this was harder than lying around reading and occasionally going to a yoga class, writing poems, doing a bit of housework, and all the other things I did during the break.  But we’re up and running now.

The first summer application is nearly ready to go–it’s the paragraph about the current project that I’m not happy with, but I’ll get there.  I might have finished this evening except that I spent forty-five minutes on the phone talking down a worried relative who is a parent of a high-school senior who is freaking out over college stuff despite already having a couple of great acceptances to schools that are hard to get into.  Really feeling frustrated about the way that kids and parents get caught up in the college admissions frenzy.  Realistically, kids at this student’s school, like kids at SA, get good preparation and good advice, and they all get into multiple schools and have good choices–they are very fortunate by any measure.  But some of them–some of the very strongest students–define success as this or that Name School and in their minds everything rides on that.  This student could be happy with her acceptance to a school that rejects over 85% of its applicants, but she is in anguish over the possibility of not getting into a school that rejects over 90%.

It just seems like such a waste of emotion. But of course I am not 17.  I am much older and I have applied to so, so many things.  I’ll send this one off and I’ll dream about it a bit, but mostly I will focus on other things.  If I get it, I’ll be thrilled (and panicked about logistics).  If I don’t get it, I will sulk for a day and be done.

And I know that teachers at places like SA are somewhat complicit in the whole dynamic–but truly, I believe that kids should go where they will thrive, and I define college admissions success as finding the right fit that you can afford.  I try to hit the exact same notes of congratulation and excitement with the kids who tell me they got into Podunk College as with the kids who tell me they got into Fancypants U.  And in fact it comes naturally–I can see certain kids will blossom at PC who would be lost at FPU.

I hope that I look at this post in a year, when the Snork Maiden will be in the thick of it all, and feel the same…

A confession

Usually fairly slow to pick up linguistic innovations, I have started saying “I know, right?” and I cannot stop.  I really like it, even as I am painfully aware that many people experience it as a stale little mannerism.  The fourth commenter down on that post, “amanda,” puts her finger on what I enjoy about it–its tone of amusement at a trivial but true observation.  The tone is so fixed and reliable that carries over nicely to the abbreviation IKR, much as the tone of OMG does.  I would like not to hear it coming out of my mouth quite so much, but I can’t lie about my fondness for it.

A few other things, too.  My friend MW sometimes says “True confession:” (yes, the colon is part of the expression, except when it’s “True confession?”).  So, true confession: I didn’t go to any panels at AWP except for the one I spoke on, and I didn’t go to any readings except for the one by Carol Ann Duffy and Philip Levine.

Big excitement: after one year of sending out work from the new book, I finally got a magazine acceptance.  And it’s one I’m really happy about, for a magazine with a circulation in the tens of thousands, where I’ve read a lot of work I’ve admired.

I know, right?

All that (the real post this time)

Back in October, I wrote about needing to put a little more Lenny Dykstra into my attitude about writing and publication.

I’ve always cared deeply about doing good work, and I’ve done a lot of it, but I’ve always taken my failures to heart, and I’ve always questioned my successes, whether I really earned them.  (Even to say “I’ve done good work” without a qualifier takes a bitten lip.)

And the more I think about it, the more I think that on one hand, there are ways this attitude has served me.  I sought to do good work before I sought publication; I listened very carefully to others; I aimed for quiet excellence and only put myself forward diffidently.  I had some great opportunities–but there’s no denying I missed out on others.  For example, in college I wrote and took creative writing classes, but didn’t get involved with any of the several literary magazines I could have.  I was involved with a lot of things in college–I wrote for the newspaper, worked in the theater, was the most politically active I’ve ever been–but it was more than I could do to submit to a literary magazine or show up to offer to work on one.  To do so would have been to openly show desire for the thing I wanted, and that is something I have always found it very hard to do!

Some part of this is gendered, of course.  Nice girls don’t let their desires show, seek recognition, or act as if they are more deserving than other people.  As a woman and a feminist, I am not willing to reject completely (even if I could) such modes of interaction as collaboration, care for others, communality.  I value these traits in both genders and try to foster them in my students.  In teaching girls and boys, in particular, I have a lot of opportunities to experience how different people balance respect and care for others’ needs with respect and care for their own.  As a teacher, I’m often urging students (whether female or male, fifteen or forty) to value their own work highly, speak up about their opinions, be proud of what they’ve done.

In most of my life, I’m actually pretty satisfied with my ability to assert my needs and opinions–to speak up.  The thing I’m not satisfied with is hard to articulate, but it’s to do with operating out of a place of anxiety–of being concerned about falling short, about not being good enough, and particularly about being exposed as inadequate.  It’s rooted, I think, in something other than lack of self-esteem.  I have a lot of self-esteem–I know I’m smart, highly capable, funny, attractive.  It’s more about functioning too much in a mode of humility and not enough in a mode of pride.

I was definitely taught to be privately proud and publicly humble.  And a lot of the time, this is a great way to be!  The thing is that a lot of my dissatisfactions with my life and work can be traced to operating too much out of humility, anxiety, underconfidence.  I think this is the thing that I’m getting stuck on.

Mind you, I know my life is wonderful.  If I couldn’t change a single thing, I’d still be thrilled to be who I am, doing what I do.  I still want, though, to be the best version of myself I can be–the one who enjoys life the most and  puts as much good work into the world as possible.

I also want my work, my writing, to make a place for itself in the world, and I’d do for it what I might not be able to do just for myself, so that it can be here when I’m gone.

And finally, I think I’m ready to test whether my worldview–the disaster mentality, the sense of impending panic, the difficulty being in the moment without anticipating the next problem or concern, the Sunday-night feeling of impending doom–might possibly not be the way I have to live.

So!  My resolution is to act like I know I’m fabulous, damnit.

  • I deserve time to write and the conditions I need to get my work done.  Among other things, I deserve to spend two weeks at a writers’ colony.
  • I deserve to have my work published.  In fact, magazines and presses should be falling over themselves to get my work.
  • I’m an effective teacher.  I contribute a lot to both my institutions.  I deserve everything I earn and then some.  I can operate from a position of confidence and competence.
  • I deserve to do things that I know matter, like seeing people I care about, without feeling guilty about taking time away from the jobs that I am, after all, performing with great competence.
  • I deserve to spend time having fun.
  • I deserve to spend money and time on things that make life easier, like a cleaning service (which we’ve had for about six months and I wish we’d gotten years ago) or make me feel good (like massages–I need one right now–or going out for a run).
  • I can care for the people I love, and I don’t have to take on other people’s problems.
  • I can choose to eat pretty much exactly what I want to–food I want, that nourishes and pleases me.

I’m feeling a powerful urge to put in a little disclaimer here, to defuse all this self-centeredness and self-aggrandizement, just in case you think I’m really that asshole, so I think I’ll just stop.  For now, I am that asshole/Lenny Dykstra/my bête noire (whose confidence, by the way, is one of the things I both envy and dislike about him).

I rock!  See you soon.

More about the weekend

I’ve graded fourteen of those short papers, and they have gone fairly quickly.  I’m taking a few minutes to write this post, and then I’ll grade the remaining six and go to bed.  I had to go to an NLNRU barbecue at the home of the cranky colleague of this post, but the Snork Maiden hung out at my sister’s and Stubb met me at the bbq after his performance.  My hands smell of ham.  I should wash them again before I go back to the papers.

Somewhere in the week I found time to read Moneyball and to realize that while it’s about baseball, it was probably a bestseller not because it’s about America’s pastime, but for the same reason that Malcolm Gladwell’s books keep being bestsellers: it tells you that some of the things everyone thinks are true, or important, actually aren’t, while some other things that no one thinks are very important actually are.  And your thinking is shaken up in a very pleasurable way.  Or, if it’s not so pleasurable, in a way that seems meaningful.  Or else you say, “I’ve always thought that, and I was right!”

When Michael Lewis is describing Billy Beane’s time in the minor leagues, he reports Beane’s impressions of Lenny Dykstra, who was drafted by the Mets the same year as Beane, but later, and as a less impressive prospect.  They are watching the opposing team’s pitcher come to the mound, and Dykstra doesn’t recognize him.  He asks Beane who the asshole is, and Beane says, awed, that it’s Steve Carlton, and rattles off some impressive facts on Carlton.  Dykstra isn’t fazed:  “I’ll stick him.”

The point about Lenny, at least to Billy, was clear: Lenny didn’t let his mind screw him up.  The physical gifts required to play pro ball were, in some ways, less extraordinary than the mental ones.  Only a psychological freak could approach a 100-mph fastball aimed not all that far from his head with total confidence.  “Lenny was so perfectly designed, emotionally, to play the game of baseball,” said Billy.  “He was able to instantly forget any failure and draw strength from every success.  He had no concept of failure.  And he had no idea of where he was.  And I was the opposite.”

This really resonated with me because as a writer, I’ve always cared deeply about doing good work, and I’ve done a lot of it, but I’ve always taken my failures to heart, and I’ve always questioned my successes, whether I really earned them.  (Even to say “I’ve done good work” without a qualifier takes a bitten lip.)  My fear of being the asshole who doesn’t know she isn’t any good, and keeps sending her work to magazines for which it isn’t good enough, and keeps applying for prizes she doesn’t deserve, has frequently kept me from sending my work to magazines and sending applications to prizes.  This even after I racked up some good publications and national-level prizes and fellowships.

Take now, for example: I need to take some work that’s been rejected by magazines A, B, and C, and send it to magazines B, C, and A, respectively.  I know you have to keep knocking on the doors, that the second or third time they see your work, they may start to recognize it and to like it.  I just haven’t made myself do it. I have to send some work to another magazine that was suggested by a writer I talked with this summer.  And I have to write a follow-up to this editor I’ve been in touch with.  All three of these things require a little time and a little psychological resilience.  A little bit of Lenny Dykstra.*

Not even that much!  I don’t have to look these people in the eye.  And they aren’t throwing anything at my head!

*Circa 1985.

Numbers

Students I have this semester at SA: 60

Students I have this semester at NLNRU: 10 (7 in workshop and 3 thesis advisees)

Short papers I need to grade for tomorrow morning: 20

Hours I estimate needing to grade this batch: 2 (they’re pretty short)

Hours I’ve spent avoiding this task: 32 (since yesterday morning), or 25 if you don’t count the 7 I spent sleeping

Number of other necessary tasks I’ve struck off my list while avoiding grading: 11 (shout-out to John Perry’s “Structured Procrastination”)

Average number of weekly trips to NLNRU in the first 3 weeks of SA’s semester: 1

Number of trips to NLNRU I have planned this week: 3

College recommendations I’ve agreed to write: 5

College recommendations I’ve begun writing: 0

Submissions to send out this week: 5

Meetings to attend this week: 3

Advisees to meet with this week: 2

Snork Maiden’s afterschool activities this week: 4

It’s definitely October.