Friday, February 15, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

My friend & poet Jeff Tigchelaar recently asked me to participate in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, where writers describe the projects they're working on.  I’ll answer his questions below, then send them on to five more writers...and the happy dance continues. This may seem like a strange chain-letter of sorts, but ask any artist how it feels when someone (other than our spouses) takes the time to ask, "How's your work going?" It's pretty wonderful. 
Jeff’s responses are here at his blog, and a list of the writers who've taken part in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop can be found here
I'm ruminating on three book ideas--one nearing completion (poetry), one partly done (also poems), and one in the brainstorming stages (personal essays). But the project I'm sleeping/eating/breathing right now is a book full of others' work... See below.
What is the working title of the book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
In 2010, I stumbled across the fact that American poet William Stafford served as a WWII conscientious objector in Civilian Public Service (CPS) during the same time as my maternal Grandpa, Ivan C. Amstutz. To be honest, during most of my MA/MFA in poetry, Stafford wasn't even on my radar. In my mind, he was just another white American poet-patriarch. I was much more interested in international poetry and poetry by women. But when I began reading about Stafford's life example, starting with his master's thesis Down in My Heart (a creative nonfiction account of his CPS days), I was hooked and inspired and-- ultimately -- rejuvenated as a writer. At the time, I was questioning whether I wanted to be part of academia and what "success" would look like post-MFA. Stafford challenged me to do some real soul-searching.
And then, the Universe seemed to be tapping me on the shoulder wherever I went. Every poet I was befriending had a Stafford-related memory, poem--even dreams! When I looked on Amazon for an anthology of these Stafford-inspired poems/experiences, I found...nothing. 
With Stafford's 100th b-day coming up in 2014, I decided that editing an anthology of poems inspired by the life and work of Wm. Stafford would 1) be the closest thing to meeting him and thanking him, and 2) would hopefully encourage more discussions around his  ideas and teaching methods, some of which still get people all riled up (Just watch the trailer to this Stafford-inspired film Every War Has Two Losers, and you'll see what I mean.)
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Wow. It's impossible for me to imagine anyone else but the actual living poets in a movie version of this book, all sitting around a great table and talking about life. Wouldn't that make a great reality TV series? Let's get all these poets together (preferably in a beach house) and discuss all those unanswered questions Stafford posed! We could bring in some "Amish" people, just to get more viewers! Haha.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
How might we honor/grapple with/challenge/respond to William Stafford today?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

This is my first big editing project, so I'm learning as I go... Some days it feels like Christmas. Some days, I'm so moved by the letters and submissions, I sit at my computer all misty-eyed. Other days I ask myself, "How did I get myself into this?" 

I'm in month #8 of the editing process. Since last summer, I've been querying presses about the idea, writing up proposals, and tapping possible contributors on the shoulder. I think it's pretty amazing that the press who said yes (Woodley P) was #13, just as 2013 started up. A good sign!

As for the book's content: One poet said he'd written his submission 25 years ago and never assumed it would be published; another said she wrote hers last week, getting up every morning to write, just as Stafford did. Some of the poems have been previously published, but so far, more than half are new or never-before-published.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Honestly, I wanted to connect with other writers and readers of poetry who believe in a better world. I needed to know they exist, and that poetry can still inspire conversations that change us, not just entertain us. I love a good challenge, and I want this anthology to be a real dialogue--no "sainting" Stafford. 
Stafford was a poet-teacher who never stopped believing in "the greater good," even in the worst of times. But he knew it would take a lot of work and transformation. I want to be like that/live like that, too.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
So far, poets like Ted Kooser, Susan Kinsolving, Kim Stafford, and Dan Gerber have contributed NEW poems for the anthology. It's very exciting. I've been using the phrase "humbling bliss" a lot. 
Look for the book--complete with a study section for use in classrooms/writing groups--this November! 
A few of my favorite writers who will (or have been asked to) answer these questions next week:
Carrie Oeding, Kent Shaw, Robert V. Hansmann, James Dickson, Sarah Green
Becca J.R. Lachman teaches and tutors writing at Ohio University. Her 1st poetry collection The Apple Speaks (Cascadia House, 2012) is dedicated "to humanitarian workers around the globe, but more for the families who love them."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Blank (Heart)Slate

My good friends who know how I feel about the interconnectedness of big identity issues in America today (feminism, activism, materialism, etc.) tend to cock an eyebrow at my unshakable respect for Valentine's Day. But once I tell them my story--how one of my grandmothers doesn't give gifts for Christmas but sends out letters and gifties to her grandkids for Feb 14 instead, and how female mentors have literally saved my life, one belly laugh and snail-mail letter and girls' night out at a time--they start to get it.

This time of year, I often hear, "Why do we need a day to remind us to love?" or some form of that question in the air. And here's my answer: "How can we not need a day to remind us to love in today's world?" Now, my V-Day isn't filled with chocolates or flowers (though I ADORE the local chocolate and florists in my town, along with the amazing women behind them). My Valentine's Day is fueled by mindful connection.

I generally send out about 30-40 handwritten Valentines/year, and mostly to either the most important women in my life, or the friends I don't often get to see in person. It's a time to be intentional about actually reaching out to people who have made me stronger/wiser/grateful in the last year. We live in a society that now tells us that if we want to "know" someone, to feel connected with their lives, we only need a texting plan, or just need to show them we care by "liking their posts" (I sometimes wonder what American pioneers would say to this odd phrase/action!) But friends (Self, are you listening too?): I'm writing to say this is not enough! There's more than this.

When I send off a Valentine or call someone up on Feb 14, I'm thanking the Universe that this woman is here--here now--in my life and the life of others. And to be completely honest, it's also one week of the year when I can celebrate the fact that I am still here, too, that I am a woman with many privileges and blessings, and that I have the opportunity to reach out to my best self--with the help of friends, and with the help of self-compassion. I can, as a local nonprofit signs its emails, "make love a verb," starting with learning to love my present self.

I deliberately plan activities in my week that make me--yes, make me--acknowledge my strength and beauty as an individual. Yoga, writing, and morning devotions (usually a prayer or poem or song) makes me slow down and nod to who I've been in the past--and who I want to become before the day blasts into any to-do list.

So if I was handing out candy hearts today, at age 32, they might offer, "Forgive yourself," "Let it go," "Renew," "See the beauty in the next stranger you meet," and "You're here now."

I remember putting candy hearts on the desks of boys I liked in 2nd grade, when I was literally about a head taller than all of them. It was before recess ended, and I recall the fiery rush of adrenaline and hope as I carefully chose which hearts went on what desks--before the bell!

And friends, I've been repeating this action ever since, decades later. I'm still that girl asking to be noticed for her worth, and I'm still the person wanting to exclaim to those around her, "I see you. You're lovely. You're OK." It just took me about 25 years to figure out that the person I needed to love in public--more than any man, or partner, or friend--was myself. And what a challenging Valentine invitation that's become every year..."Self, I accept you. Self, how will you define beauty today?"

May you eat something sweet today, whether it's chocolate or a true compliment someone gives you. May you smile at the college boys selling roses. And may you take a deep breath and walk out into the world with greater self-compassion. Our hearts are blank slates. Let's be mindful of what we've written there.