Bartlett Arboretum Writers Marathon 2

This is a continuation of a previous post about our Writers Marathon.  The following excerpt comes from Misty Maynord, proprietress of the Kechi Playhouse: http://kechiplayhouse.com/

            All the nooks and crannies, the gravel paths, the brick walk ways, the twisted wire fences with their quaint old fashioned gates speak of a world that is slipping away from us. Stepping into the Bartlett Arboretum is like taking a step back into another time when everything was not mass produced with an eye towards expediency and convenience. A time when people cooked real food in real ovens and not frozen microwave bricks. A time when listening to music was an act of communion rather than a solo experience through ear plugs. A time when parents were not afraid to let their children play outdoors all day, when neighbors knew neighbors, when there was not a T.V. hanging on the wall in every public place impinging on conversation.

 There is no doubt that modern times have brought many marvels, but they have arrived at a cost. Everything now seems antiseptic, lacking the charm of uniqueness. But here at the botanical gardens in Belle Plaine the past still lives. The tree house just inside the gate reeks of romance, but I have become so indoctrinated to current trends that I find myself thinking “ . . . it doesn’t have the OSHA approved standard grid to keep people from falling,” and that is just the point. People used to be expected to develop common sense, to be aware and alert, to have a sense of preservation without government standards doing all the thinking for everyone.

Perhaps that is one reason why common sense does not seem all that common now days. Perhaps that is why imagination appears to be less prevalent. It has occurred to me that while the old radio shows encouraged listeners to visualize the story unfolding over the airwaves, T.V. completely robs viewers of that same experience. Attention spans are shorter; seven second sound bites keep us engaged with mind candy and prevent the ability for true engagement with a puzzle, project, or problem.

 The sound of wind and birdsong in the Arboretum is magical. Natural quietness is becoming rare. I once heard the poet Nikki Giovanni say to a group of college students, “I can drive you all crazy – all I have to do is put you in a quiet room. None of you would know how to react to it.” I wonder if she isn’t right.

Bartlett Arboretum Writers Marathon 1

Introduction:

I had the honor and privilege of participating in a writing marathon this last Thursday.  The weather was brilliant and cool due to a recent storm, and the trees were absolutely gorgeous.  A classic writing marathon brings people together, has them writing in spurts, and then with no critiquing or judging, writers share whatever their pens created.

 The Bartlett Arboretum is a little piece of heaven right in the middle of Belle Plaine.  If you get the opportunity to participate in an activity at this private garden, be it a concert or a mosaic workshop, I highly recommend it.  Words do not do justice to the serenity that can be found there. http://www.bartlettarboretum.com/

 All of the writers on Thursday were a part of the National Writing Project.  We followed a similar model to the New Orleans Writing Marathon http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/315 :

Format:

 10 minutes of continuous writing (actually, all ‘writing time’ is meant to be continuous)
Writers share
15 min write
Writers share
20 min write
Writers share
25 (or sometimes 30 min) write
Writers share

 For me, the ambience of the place really lends itself to the quality of the experience.  Between writing spurts, we hiked to different areas of the Arboretum.  I must admit that some of the time, I allowed the wind to lull me into a more meditative state.

 I feel especially privileged that several of the writers have agreed to share their work from that day here.  Please keep in mind that we didn’t do much in the way of editing.  One participant described our journals as diamond mines where treasure would be found LATER.  We were to ignore our internal editors!  So my sample below follows the very stream-of-consciousness that I experienced during the 15 minute stretch.

April’s Sample

The water grounds us, feeds us, winding through, the ripples mirror the new lines of my face, discovered just this morning as I hovered over the glob of toothpaste sliding down the sink.  There is a white bridge, and although I know where it leads, I imagine a different way forward, a different outcome.

I did not know I could be friends with trees, that I would want to be friends, that they might whisper to me of god and Holy and last night’s rain.

The strangers are friendly and welcome me and I do not know their names; and I hurt to call them less than they are, that orange flower, so inadequate.

Want to be a Writer? Then WRITE.

Spending this strangely warm Sunday afternoon looking at Poetry really isn’t a bad way to spend the day.  If my fairy godmother could just poof a fresh vanilla late next to me, I’d be set.

But I should probably acknowledge that judging the Youth section of a Poetry contest isn’t quite the same as spending quality time with the classics.  It hasn’t been easy!  I’ve been tempted to “screech” onto the critique sheet the following:

CRYPTIC ONLY WORKS IF YOU’RE THE SPHINX

DON’T PREACH AT ME

DON’T TRY TO TEACH ME ABOUT LIFE

I’m not sure why all early poetry looks like this:
She trusted him.
He betrayed her.
Now she is sad.

or worse… young writers think rhyming poetry is neat, but they’ve never read anything other than Mother Goose.  So their efforts look more like this:
She loved a rat,
who beat her heart with a bat,
so now she said, ‘Drat.’

Okay, okay… these are terrible examples written by my own hand and do NOT do justice to the very real efforts of young poets.

Perhaps the poems look like this because when we are young, all those emotions are fresh and new and we wrestle ineffectually with some way of expressing our experiences.

This is more about reminding myself that these kids really want to write and that my comments should actually be educational, rather than biting.  I remember my own fragile ego when I first began to write.  I kept waiting for someone to tell me I was great.  I needed the affirmation, and still do! [this after 90% of my submissions ended in rejections this fall]

So I’ve vowed, accurate or not, to end every single critique with this thought; “You clearly want to be a writer.  Keep writing.”

Want to Get Published? Write Something Good.

While it certainly is no secret, I usually don’t mention that I have an MFA in creative writing.  I’m not embarrassed or even particularly modest.  I just find that people then expect that I am an expert on writing—when I have NO IDEA what I’m DOING.  Don’t misunderstand.  I get the basics.  And I can even discuss critical theory with relative ease (gee, isn’t that an exciting coffee topic?)  But I didn’t discover any magic, no hidden secrets of the trade, no certain paths to success.

In fact, I can only remember two clear points of wisdom passed on to me from my advisor.

1.  Want to get published? Write something good.

            2.  Want to be a writer? Don’t be a teacher.

The first came after I asked questions about the publishing world, like how did I know the publisher was reputable, etc.  He then told me that there were plenty of books on the market for that sort of thing, and then he reiterated his original point: Want to get published? Write something good.

I’ve somewhat made peace with that.  I also recognize that “good” is a relative term.  There is a market for just about anything.  If I’ve really absorbed what works in that market, then I might actually publish in that space.

It’s the second that I truly struggle to understand.  I’ve been a member of the National Writing Project, a group of collaborative teachers and writers.  I do believe that being both a writer AND a teacher are possible, but I also realize that energy is a finite commodity.  The beginning of the school year always knocks me left of sideways.  Here in the third solid week of instruction, I am still falling asleep in my easy-chair by 4:00pm.   When he said, Don’t be a teacher, he really meant that doing both is nearly impossible.  I could be less of a teacher, show lots of movies, do hand-outs all day, try to save my energy.

But I really can’t do that.  Just as I am intrinsically a writer, constantly trying to absorb experiences so that I can write about them later… I am also a teacher, thriving on the challenge of new minds, enjoying their enthusiasm, desperately caring that they receive a skill that might empower their futures.  Somehow, someway, I have to find the wellspring of energy so that I can do all the things I WANT to do each day, and all the things I NEED to do as well.

Rejection Sucks

Rejection sucks.  No matter how many times someone tells me, with the best of intentions, that rejection is part of the ‘business,’ it still sucks.

I’m a big girl.  I understand that not every journal needs work like mine.  I’ve even been the editor sending out the letters.  Perhaps that’s why I cringe and wilt some every time I get one; I know that “this writing is terrible; don’t they know it’s awful?” may have actually crossed the mind of the poor editor experiencing my submission.  I realize that we’d all like to believe that the editor is some kind-hearted tooth-fairy-type, but that’s because no one, me included, wants to confront the reality.

Editors are beasts.  They are protecting the design and poetic aesthetic of their publications.  They are working against deadlines, juggling full-time employment, and often facing bankruptcy.  Any writer’s work that doesn’t fit in with the view or vision of that press gets rejected.  On rare occasions, the work actually fits the aesthetic, but the caliber of the work doesn’t reach the level of other submissions. 

Frankly, maybe I used too many ‘to be’ verbs.  Maybe the editor didn’t appreciate my line breaks.  Maybe that profound moment which was authentic and true for me feels sentimental and overblown to the editor.    On some higher, cerebral level, I respect that.

It still sucks.

I even have a system for dealing with this situation.  I almost always have something out for review.  That way when the rejection letter comes from one press, there’s still the chance that something else will be picked up elsewhere.  It’s the eternal cycle.

Unfortunately when I receive one of these letters, inevitably I stop writing, even if it’s only for a few days.  I just get the wind knocked out for a bit and need to regroup before I can keep writing.  Every so often, I actually get a letter which show time and effort because the editor actually addresses me personally.  But mostly I wait six months, only to be told “We regret to inform you that we did not accept your work for publication at this time.  Feel free to submit again.”