Saturday, January 31, 2009

Taboo Subjects -- Writer's Poke #170

First there was the group known as the Confessional Poets. They incorporated highly autobiographical elements into their poetry, and it changed the way people thought about "proper subject material" for poetry.

Then, anyone who has read autobiographies in the past 15 years has surely noticed that no subject seems off limits. Want to talk about your incestuous love affair with your father? Go for it. Want to discuss your history of one-night stands? Why not? I bet you'll sell a lot of books.

Personally, I don't have any problem with this. If you're a writer, the number one source of material that you have is your life. And yet, we don't want to hurt the people we love. So we have all kinds of material that most of us never delve into, not because we're scared of "going there," but because we don't want to make those closest to us angry or jealous or bitter by what might come out.

For the longest time, I can remember wanting to be a writer, but the idea of "What would my parents think if I wrote ____?" stopped me cold. It's probably taken me years to get beyond that barrier, and while there are still subjects I know I won't write about, I also acknowledge that I am a writer, and I cannot always protect loved ones from being hurt by my material.

If you're a writer, neither can you. What you can do, though, is explain your need to write. If your loved ones listen to your explanation, perhaps that will be enough to keep their feelings from being bruised. In any event, if you're a writer, you have an obligation to write. Don't ever let anyone take that away from you.

What subjects are taboo for you to write about? What makes them off-limits, and is there a way for you to use the material in non-autobiographical ways?

"There are no taboos." -- Angela Merkel

The Velveteen Rabbit -- Writer's Poke #169

She had only lived in the dorms for 3 semesters, but already she had had 12 roommates. How is that even possible, I asked her? She narrowed her brow, and quite seriously said: "I need to be more sentient." 

I had never heard anyone talk that way, and it really turned me on. But a strangeness about her set off alarms in my head, and while I toyed with the idea of getting to know her better, I finally decided that I didn't need the drama in my life at that point. 

In one of our last conversations, for example, she asked me out of the blue if I believed in monogamy. That's usually not a subject that just pops up, and I didn't have an immediate response. When she saw my hesitation, she chastised me, saying, "I thought you were smarter than most people." All I could do was bow my head in shame. 

After that, I'd seeing her hopping around campus in her brown pelt-like coat, but I decided it would be better if I let this one get away.

Describe one of the weirdest people you've ever dated or befriended. What attracted you to this person?

"The concept of absurdity is something I'm attracted to." -- David Lynch

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Spanish Inquisition

So much depends

a blue plastic

resting on its

beside the Big Buddy

Eight Minivans and a Beetle -- Writer's Poke #168

So, do babies really "change everything"?

There's little doubt that they change a lot. For one thing, I'm a lot more productive. I have to be. Tavi wakes up at 6:30 a.m., and that means I no longer sleep in. She's usually in bed by 8:00 p.m., but then I feel obligated to make the most of my evening free time. No more wasted evenings watching mindless TV. Well, except for maybe American Idol, but even that I record so that I can save time by skipping the commercials.

But I made a commitment that some things would not "change", and so far, I've been able to keep that promise to myself.  One quick example: the last time I picked up Tavi from daycare, as I pulled into the drive, I counted the vehicles. There were eight, and all were minivans. I still drive a Beetle, not a minivan. And that small victory was enough to make me crack a smile.

I am still not a minivan chauffeur.

Have you ever made yourself a promise that you wouldn't change in some essential way? Did you keep that promise? Why or why not?

"There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction." -- Winston Churchill

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Exploring Home -- Writer's Poke #167

Four pretty young women were riding their bicycle through Fox Ridge state park, and they stopped when they saw us staring at them.

"Hallo," one of them said in a heavy German accent. "Could you tell us please which the direction is to Charleston?" We pointed the way, and off they went.

Why would four German girls be riding their bikes through central Illinois? Since we had lived there all of our lives, it was hard to think of Coles County as an international tourist attraction. And yet, here were four girls that helped us see something old in a new way.

Because, although we had lived there all of our lives, we had never taken the time to bike around the entire countryside. Doing so would be silly, right?

Of course the last time I was in Italy, I saw American tourists who paid a fortune for the privilege of doing just that. And the Italian countryside was really no more extraordinary than Coles County. It was simply farther away from home.

What places near your home are worth exploring? How many have you never visited? Spend some time being being a tourist in your own community, and reflect on your experiences.

"Going overseas is a vacation. There is so much going on at home." -- Kerri Walsh

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How Do You Like Your Eggs? -- Writer's Poke #166

For Writers:

So, how do you like your eggs? I like mine scrambled, but my wife prefers her symmetrical. Confused? Me too.

Some things you just don't learn about a person until you've lived with them. Take egg distribution, for example. The average egg carton contains twelve eggs. Well, when you remove the first egg from the container, what happens? You have an unfortunate imbalance.

But when you remove that second egg, you have a choice to make things right. If the first egg selected was bottom row furthest to the left, then the next egg selected must be top row furthest to the right. That is, if symmetry is your game.

Why is symmetry so important? It's all about balance. Take two eggs from the left side of the cartoon, for example, and watch how much heavier the right side becomes. The difference in weight between the two sides could cause the remaining eggs to spontaneously explode, and who wants to clean up that kind of mess in the kitchen?

What idiosyncratic habits have you noticed in a partner or roommate? Are you guilty of any yourself?

"Balance is beautiful." -- Miyoko Ohno

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Raven, Nevermore -- Writer's Poke #165

For Writers:

Think animals don't commit suicide? Our cat Raven did.

Granted, Raven was a weird cat. She had lived with us for a year, but she still didn't trust us enough to be touched. Only recently had she decided that she could be safe in the same room with us. At a distance, of course.

And she had never been outside. Then one summer day, we were fumigating the house. We caught Raven and Flem and put them in their cat carriers. We took them outside, and to kill time, we started washing our cars.

Neither Raven nor Flem enjoyed being locked up, so we decided to release them. Flem stayed close by and basked in the sun. Meanwhile, Raven made an escape for the woods behind our backyard. These woods were heavily overgrown, and a house cat like Raven had no business in them.

We finished washing the cars, and we called out to her to let her know it was time to go back inside. We could hear her return "meow," but we never saw her again. Linda spent the better part of the evening going through the underbrush, but Raven stayed just out of sight, coyly meowing as though playing a game.

The next morning, we called for her again, but there were no return meows. In the cat department, we were down to just Flem.

Explore the death of a pet. How did this affect you?

"A cat determined not to be found can fold itself up like a pocket handkerchief if it wants to." -- Louis Camuti

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Flannel Years -- Writer's Poke #164

For Writers:

When I discover a clothing style that I like, I end up buying every design from a specific brand that I can find.

For a while I went through a flannel shirt phase. Bergner's carried these light-weight flannels, and they were really soft and comfortable. Eventually, I probably owned fifteen or twenty of them, but after a season of wear, I was bored with the look.

Recently married, my wife and I were not making much money, but Linda was happy to take my hand-me-down flannel shirts so that I could add a new style to my wardrobe. So for the next two years, Linda wore men's flannel shirts, even during the hot Mississippi summers.

Looking back on it now, we fondly remember this time as our "flannel years." And while we're curious, there will never be any way to find this out: because she wore men's flannel shirts all of the time, how many people thought Linda was a lesbian?

Think back through your life. Pick one period and describe it. What would you dub that period?

"Life is a series of commas, not periods." -- Matthew McConaughey

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Murphy's Law and the First Day on the Job -- Writer's Poke #163

For Writers:

I arrived to an empty office -- no desk, no chair, no phone, no computer. They knew for two weeks that I was starting today, but no one had bothered to prepare. And for that matter, it was rather lucky I got there at all.

My car was packed with books and office decorations, and when I exited the interstate, the tower of boxes in the passenger's side seat toppled onto me. This distraction caused me to turn right instead of left, but since I had only made the drive to work once, on the day of my interview, it didn't register that I was going in the wrong direction.

Ten miles down the road I thought, "I should be there by now. This doesn't look right." So I turned off onto a narrow South Carolina state road. The road had drainage ditches on both sides, and after driving down this road for a while, I decided I had better turn around. But as I tried to use one of the driveway bridges that crossed the drainage ditch, I backed up a bit too much, and my back wheels ended up hanging off the side of the bridge.

I didn't have a cell phone, and didn't have any idea how I would get my car back on the bridge. Fortunately for me, a prison bus was driving by in the opposite direction and saw what had happened. The prison guard stopped the bus, and soon ten big African Americans in orange jump suits had surrounded my car. They easily righted my car onto the bridge, and I was on my way. To an empty office.

After one week, my boss decided to move me to an office that was properly equipped. Apparently it was easier to move me than to move a computer and desk and phone and chair.

What was your oddest or most memorable first day on the job experience?

"The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one." -- Oscar Wilde