Monday, July 25, 2011


Summer's my favorite season. I've been waiting for the Summer Feeling and waiting and waiting and it's just not coming. I need to get to the bottom of this. I don't know why Summer will not emotionally come.

I keep thinking if I get a better bathing suit, I might suddenly be overwhelmed with feelings of Summerness.

The problem with getting a bathing suit is bikinis are very popular, and I don't like bikinis. Probably because I don't exercise with the thought in mind, "This exercise I am doing right now is a means to an end. I am going to look so hot this summer in my bathing suit." In fact, I don't exercise ever, almost, at all.

As I've told my friends, thank god I'm just as lazy about eating as I am about exercise. It would be very bad if I were extremely ambitious in one area and not the other. Food is not my drug, thankfully. I like fudge as much as the next guy but mostly I feel about food the way I feel about gambling. I'm not that excited to do it, and when I do it, I'm not that excited. I can understand the appeal; it's just not the lever I would keep pressing until I died. I have other levers. Not judging, certainly.

I feel like wearing a bikini, having not exercised, is like showing up at class without doing your homework. You can do it. If you're not morbidly stupid, most people won't notice. Nothing awful is going to happen. But you'll be sitting there all self-conscious the entire time like, "Why didn't I just do my homework this winter? I bet everybody can tell I didn't do it. Can they? Of course they can, if they care about homework. Crap. I just wish I had done it now--even if it seemed boring and useless."

But non-bikinis seem to call even MORE attention to the fact that you haven't exercised. Because (at least if you're on a beach in Chicago--we go to Oak Street or North Ave.) NOBODY wears one-pieces. Like nobody. Maybe one person out of a 100. If you are wearing one, you are signaling: Something very extreme has happened to me and my body.

Tone-issues and fashion trends aside, I like one-pieces better. They're just so much cuter. You have more material to work with. There's not so much you can do with a two-inch triangle and strings.

I have been looking at suits for the past couple of days and Zazi is getting madder and madder saying, "Why are you looking at bathing suits on the Internet! I HATE when you look at bathing suits on the Internet!" I am done looking at bathing suits on the Internet. I swear. Here are some favorites. Would I wear these? Probably not.

Suspended Bather.


Blue Barmaid

Yellow Blackstrap

Aloha Green Triangle

Black Honeycomb

Striped Barbie

Knotback Maillot

In the 70s, my mother used to have a bathing suit just like this one. She must have bought it when she was an especially confident mood.

White Keyhole

I would beg her--BEG her--to wear it. Sometimes to make me happy she'd put it on for three minutes and sit in the backyard, looking pained and mortified. She felt about bikinis the way I feel. But was always so tan and skinny. That white keyhole was so her. She just didn't know it! There was no convincing her.

Thinking about summer and the 70s made me think about summer songs. I think maybe if I come up with some summer songs for 2011, I'll feel more summery.

Can you help me with this? Recommend summer songs?

Here is my top summer song for each decade 70s-00.

THE 1970s

Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom.” This song reminds me of sitting on my bike, watching my dad wash the car and grumble about stuff.

THE 1980s

This reminds me of sitting in the quad at Ball State. It also reminds me of walking from my house on Main Street to the White Hen Pantry and buying Camel Lights and diet Mountain Dew and doughnuts.

The Sundays “Can’t Be Sure”

THE 1990s

This reminds me of sitting in my apartment in Ludlow, Kentucky. My roommate worked at a candy factory so we had reject boxes of Mentos (the European flavors, like Eucalyptus, that Americans hated) stacked against one wall. The couch was one of those two piece numbers, so if you were kissing somebody, it would come apart and you'd fall on the floor.

Galaxie 500 “Tugboat”

THE 00s

My daughter and I dance to this. A lot. Usually in the kitchen. Sometimes our moves take us into the livingroom.

Manu Chao “Clandestino”

Thursday, July 21, 2011


I went to the Usability Conference and I learned and saw some fun things.

I learned about inattentional blindness. That's when you can't see what's clearly there because you're focused on another task.

Check out this test:

[I failed it.]

I also learned about change blindness. That's when you can't see what's clearly changed because you're focused on a task.

This video is unbelievable.

One theory behind change blindness is your mind can't perceive a change if the change hasn't had time to be stored--if it hasn't made it from short term to working memory--or if it isn't significant enough.

When I told my friends about this video, my friend Martin offered that maybe your brain just picks and chooses to remember what it needs. Like why should your brain remember if the person is a tall, white, bald dude or a teeny tiny Asian lady--as long as the mouth hole in front of you is spitting out your directions?

They didn't offer this up as a theory at the Usability conference. But I looked it up and CogSci people are starting to think that this might indeed be what's happening. Fun!


This is kind of gruesome and maybe a depressing post. But for people who are interested in grody medical stuff--I am very much so and always have been--or for people who have kids with the same kind of medical problems as my daughter it might be interesting.

Did I ever circle back around and say my daughter was diagnosed with autism? She was. It wasn't that shocking. I've been saying it since she's been born, "That girl has autism," and all the symptoms were there. She's six, so what might be shocking is that we've never had a diagnosis before. But we didn't. Why would we? Our daughter was already being treated in the same way she would have been if she had had autism anyway--physical, occupational, speech, vision therapy.

Like I said in a previous post, it didn't make any difference to us, the label--or we thought it didn't. To our minds, it was just like, "Okay, doctors, so you tell us she doesn't have "autism." She just has a collection of autistic-like symptoms--lack of eye contact, sensory integration probs, motor probs, seizures, etc.--that derive from physical problems that make her present EXACTLY AS IF SHE HAS AUTISM.

So for instance:

1. Her lack of eye contact came from having a damaged optical nerve, and from having gaze apraxia, which is the inability (without much thought and effort) to direct your gaze on something. The doctor who diagnosed her with gaze apraxia said that he often refers to gaze apraxia as "visual autism" because there's no way for people who have it to visually connect with others b/c their eyes can't land on them for any length of time.

2. Her sensory integration problems came from an IVH (interventricular hemmorhage) when she was born. It happened because the ventricles in her brain were too little and weak so they burst and blood flooded into the grey matter in her brain and blood damages everything it touches. Blood is not a brain's friend. The bleed could have kept going and damaging the whole thing but the bleed resolved itself. Still, once it happens, you can't reverse the damage.

3. The problems with her gait came from PVL (a hardening of the gray matter of the brain, which happens after IVH).. her PVL affected her motor strip in particular.

4. The seizures were from hydrocephalus, which developed after the IVH. Hydrocephalus happened in my daughters's case because her brain drainage system got all clogged up from dried blood and then the spinal fluid couldn't travel up and down, from her brain, down the spinal column and back up.

If this goes on for a long time (without putting in a shunt, a man-made reservoir, a little tube that carries the spinal fluid out of the brain and deposits it into a pocket in the abdomen), the ventricles keep getting bigger and bigger, and the more big they get, the less brain you have to work with, because it's basically just these two giant pockets of fluid taking up all the real estate.

So my daughter has a shunt. It's called a VP shunt, and it's a little square gauge on top of her head. You can feel it under her skin. It feels like she has a little lego piece under there. The gauge is magnetic, so it can be adjusted from the outside. It's sort of a new development, the magnetic part of the shut. With the magnetic gauges, the doctors can put this little square thing on the outside over the gauge and then turn a knob and adjust the shunt--to allow for more flow or less. Pretty great idea. Before, if shunts needed to be adjusted they had to do brain surgery.

The end of the shunt is like a telephone cord, all coiled up. As kids grow, the cord uncoils and uncoils and then if it gets too short, they do a tiny surgery on the stomach and just attach more coiled up cord to it.

The problem with putting shunts in is a lot of the time, they get infected. You have to do the surgery carefully (for obvious reasons), but the longer you leave the brain open, the more susceptible it is to germs, and the more susceptible the shunt is for getting germs on it. When I asked the doctor how they can prevent germs getting in there or on the shunt, he said, it's basically "witch-doctoring." Every brain surgeon has his or her own superstitions and little rituals he or she does based on completely unfounded ideas and opinions. Some keep the shunt covered until they need it, some don't cover it for fear germs will be on the cloth, some keep the room really cold, on and on.

It's interesting when doctors tell you how little they know and how they're just winging it when they're doing stuff like, say, cutting your brain open and putting a foreign object in it. This is the same doctor who told me, "We almost know nothing about the brain. We know there's a hard bone around it and it has ridges. That about wraps it up." He said, "We go in and put in shunts to drain fluid off. And we cut brains in half so seizures stop, though we don't know why that makes them stop. And we cut out masses of cancer. That's about it. That's all we can do, given what we know."

It occurred to me that it's kind of funny. Everybody says, "This isn't brain surgery," but they should probably say, "This isn't heart surgery." Heart surgeons are incredible mechanics. We know a lot about the heart and so there's a lot of very intricate fixing that needs to be done. You don't just cut a portion of it out or cut it in half or stick a straw or plug in it.

Oh, so anyway, the doctor told me, very matter of factly, that my daughter may have to have several shunt revisions. I said, "Like how many?" He said, "Maybe none, maybe a lot." I said, "Like what's a lot? What do you mean a lot? Like twenty?"

"Maybe," he nodded. "Or more."

"What do you mean more, like hundreds or something?"

He shrugged, "Possibly."

I walked away and I said to my husband, "Doctors are so full of SHIT! They always tell you the worst case scenarios but who's had a hundred surgeries? Have you ever ever EVER in your entire life heard of someone having a hundred surgeries?"

Later that day, I talked to my friend Rachel in the NICU parent's lounge. Long story but my husband knew Rachel's husband and their baby just happeend to be in the NICU with ours--her baby and my babies were incubator neighbors--and so Rachel and I got to be really close because we saw each other 24-7 for months and her son had an IVH too.

So anyway, we were talking and I said, "So are you southern or something?" Her accent didn't really sound southern. But she had this accent that was super cute and drawly.

She smiled and was like, "No. I think it's from hanging out with my sister all the time who's deaf."

I was like, "Oh, really. Was she born deaf?"

She was like, "No, my mom had shunts put in her ears so her ears could drain when she was little." [I guess sometimes little kids have trouble with ear infections because their tubes are so little and sometimes the parents get nervous that the kids might not develop speech because they can't ever hear because their ears are always infected, so instead of waiting until the tubes get bigger, they put in shunts.]

And Rachel was like, "But the shunts just kept getting infected and infected and infected, and her body kept rejecting them, and she kept having to have surgeries."

I was like, "Really, like how many?"

"I don't know. Like probably a hundred or more?" Rachel said. "Then she finally went deaf. And now she's in her thirties, but she has brain cancer from getting cancer in her ear and the cancer spreading from her ear to her brain."

I must have looked horrified because Rachel backed up, looking terribly sorry, like, "But that never happens! It's like so SO rare!!!"

I talked to Rachel about this very conversation three years ago, and we were laughing because Rachel was like, "I was so brain dead during that time. Why the HELL would I ever tell you that story? WHY THE HELL WOULD I EVER TELL YOU THAT?" I was like, "I'm kind of glad you did. I thought that neurosurgeon was a lunatic."

BTW, my daughter's only had one shunt revision. Her shunt, the gauge part, about four years ago, shifted because her head was growing. So the doc just realigned it, and while he was in there digging around, he switched it out with a new and improved.

Oh, wait, I thought this was really fascinating. This guy had a shunt, and it malfunctioned but it wasn't like it was a total blockage. It was a slow, slow build up of fluid over time and when they did an MRI or whatever, they found the guy was basically functioning normally but had NO BRAIN LEFT. Like he just had the smallest rim of a a brain. The rest was filled with fluid. But he functioned normally. Had a job. Just under average IQ.

Anyway, so what's my point? Oh, my daughter has autism. We had the diagnosis for insurance and school purposes.

And once she got diagnosed, and we had a name--once we heard the words "Autism" and saw it on paper "Amira Abed, autistic spectrum"--this huge paradigm shift happened. I was really really mad at her for a week after that. Every time she would be doing the annoying stuff that she always does, I'd be thinking, "Stop being so autistic, God! You are SO AUTISTIC, you are driving me insane. I cannot stand living with an AUTISTIC PERSON! Why do have this AUTISTIC child who is so weird and does all this weird stuff and never listens to me or anything I say and won't follow any directions because she does not care about me whatsoever!!! Don't come up to hug me. I could be a wire monkey for all you care. I know this hug is for you, not for me. You know why I know? BECAUSE YOU'RE AUTISTIC AND THAT"S HOW YOU AUTISTIC PEOPLE ARE! Huff!"

My husband and I were like, "Is it just us? Is she acting MORE autistic now that we have this diagnosis? She just seems so much more autistic now."

Of course it IS just us. Language is so powerful. One word can really change the way you think. This is good news. It was bad news for us then, but it's so great to confirm that words can punch people in the brain SO HARD. They work like that. We are in the right field! When I write something, it's possible my writing might do something to someone at some point.

So anyway, my husband and I were super bummed for a week. We weren't even talking. It hit us so much harder than we thought it would. We would just sit in the car, staring straight ahead at nothing. It was just understood. "We are so sad right now. We can't even talk about this shit."

But now it's a relief. Because before, she'd do some weird stuff at a restaurant, and my husband would be like, "Oh, I'm really sorry, she's uh . . . special." And I would look at him, all squinched up like, Don't say... 'special!' I hate when people say 'special!'" But what could you say? There wasn't any neat way to wrap it up. No easy medical term you could rattle off to a waiter. But now there is.

Now we can just be like, "Sorry she just spit on your floor, dude. Autistic. Know what I mean? I think you do."


I've been gone so long. I shut my blog down for a second that lasted a entire month and made it private too. I thought I might be looking for a job. Then I didn't.

Then I thought I might be working with some hard-core Christian clients at my present job, and I was, but then it occurred to me that I don't care. I doubt they will either. I think my Introduction to the New Testament course I made for them is A-okay. Jesus would approve. Jesus would chip my socioconstructivist tasks onto a stone tablet and throw the tablet on top of a mountain and say, Pretty good, pretty good. Learning-by-doing, I like the concept.

I was also working on my novel every minute of the day and didn't finish it.

So something weird happened. This weekend I was indoors ALL weekend. I didn't step outside. My kids weren't with me so I was trying to get as much writing done as possible so I got up and started writing at 5:30 a.m. and did not stop until 9:30 p.m. at night. I did that both Saturday and Sunday.

Finally on Sunday, I decided to go for a walk at 10 at night. I walked outside, and it occurred to me, I hadn't seen anything "live" move in 48 hours (oh, except my fingers). So all motion struck me as so strange. Like the leaves rustling on the trees startled me, and then when I walked over the overpass, I was so scared. I thought something terrible had happened, some kind of massive city-wide disaster had occurred, and everybody was speeding to try to get off the Dan Ryan because all the cars looked like they were traveling at like--no exaggeration--120 miles an hour. I was filled with this paralyzing fear, like "Why is everybody driving like that? What is HAPPENING?" It's like the physical laws of the universe were thrown out the window while I was on my weekend writing binge.

What do you think this is? Like psychologically/physiologically speaking? Any guesses?

I asked Elisa and Kathleen and they said, no idea, but blog it. So I obeyed.

Hi! I've missed you.

I think I may post a bunch in a row to make up for my absence. Is that obnoxious?

Thursday, April 21, 2011


The song "A Chore" by Tom Vek makes me want to jump for joy.

At first I was so confused. I thought that Ziggy/Debbie girl was singing it. Why does she sound like Tom Vek?

I love everything about her. Her fangs and her size 13 pink tranny pumps and her yellow pants.


I want that girl to come to my birthday party next year.

UPDATE: My husband watched the video and told me, "First thought, best thought, That IS Tom Vek." I have no idea. I still want her to come to my party.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Geeks, rejoice!

I am going to this USABILITY WEEK 2011 conference, and I am not ashamed to say that I'm so excited about it. Don Norman, the head honcho of Usability 2011 actually set up the usability lab at my company (well, my company three incarnations ago in 1998).

Being a usability expert is the worst job in the entire world. The majority of the time the job title "Usability Expert" is synonymous with the job title "You Can Decide Not To Believe Me If You Want, But The Fact Is, Ten Hours of Footage Show That Indeed 87 Percent of Users Mistook Your New Disk Drive For A Coffee Cup Holder."

It takes a special person to be a usability expert. Here are some points that illustrate the worldview of a good usability person.

1. People deserve the best and I want to help them get the best because I love people.

2. Everybody has worth and everybody's opinions have worth.

3. Even the most hopeless things can get better with the right feedback.

4. I believe my eyes.

5. One day somebody will listen to me and believe me and do exactly what I think they should.

6. I hear what you're saying, even though it sounds insane. I withhold judgment.

7. No matter what you say or do, my face will stay exactly like this page of computer code. And why is that? Uh huh. Which part in particular was like that for you?

8. Everything is right in the universe, or at least the universe of testing.

This is why I'm a designer. Here's my worldview.

1. People deserve the best--to a point. I want to please people, and I want to try to give people the very best but, in the end, if they don't appreciate and like and understand what I am giving them, then they deserve something that's worse than they already have--or, at the very least, nothing.

2. Some people have worth and those same people have opinions that have worth.

3. Some designs are shit. You can shine a turd if you like that sort of thing but I don't.

4. What the hell just happened there? There is just no way that the simplest explanation explains THAT. I'm obviously witnessing a great anomaly. This scene has strange and uncommon attachments which will later be revealed.

5. Nobody ever listens to me. I see that you are listening--but in total disbelief for some reason. Why is nobody ever on my program? It doesn't make sense because I'm so smart.

6. Given W, X, and Y, why would ANYBODY decide that Z is the best way to proceed!?"

7. Eye brow scrunch. Eyebrow raise. Mouth open. Askance look, left eye facing subject. Nobody is this stupid. I refuse to believe that there are more of you. In fact, I refuse to believe in YOU. You are performance art.

8. We called in the wrong people to test. The users should have been more techie. The users should have been more Masters level than B.A. The test was set up wrong. We should have done the interview THEN observed. We should have skipped both the interview and the observation.

With the help of this conference, I hope to change my worldview to be more user-friendly.

Given my current worldview, I have doubts that my worldview is capable of such change. But my company is paying for this conference, not me, so what do I have to lose?

I love people! That's my pre-conference mantra/pep-talk.

On that note, I leave you with YOU KNOW THAT I COULD USE SOMEBODY. I am a romantic and that sentiment, I think you will agree, is one very romantic sentiment.

Friday, April 15, 2011


L: I have an interview and I have to get three questions over to my friend because he's waiting.

Z: Well, just give them to me and I'll tell you the answers.

L: I'm sorry?

Z: Go on. Just ask me. I can tell you what you need to know.

L: Uh . . . okay. Well, why are some of your poems easy to understand and others aren't?

Z: Because I'm unique.

L: Oh.

Z: I said I would give you the answers and I was right, wasn't I?

L: You were.

Z: Well what's the second question?

L: The second question is, 'What do you think makes a good poem?'

Z: A good poem is . . . your way.

L: Oooh, that's a good answer.

Z: I told you, see? I'm giving you everything you need. What's the last one?

L: The last one is 'What are you working on now?'

Z: What am I working on now?

L: Yeah, what are you working on?

Z: Oh. [Nods] My work is writing. [Slower and louder.] WRI-TING. That's my work.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Hi All,

I've been working with Switchback for almost two years, and they're having their annual competition, The Gatewood Prize, for a first or second-length collection of poems by a woman writing in English.

If you're looking for a home for your first or second book, please consider submitting.

SB puts out beautiful books by brilliant writers. And, having judged the contest last year, I can tell you, it's an absolutely dead honest and ethical judging process. Anonymous as they come and extremely deliberated and thoughtful in consideration.

I've seen that a number of our finalists (thankfully) have had their books picked up by other great presses this year, so the manuscripts we're seeing are of amazing quality and diversity.



The Gatewood Prize is Switchback Books' annual competition for a first or second full-length (48-80 pp.) collection of poems by a woman writing in the English language. It is named after Emma Gatewood, the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.

2011 JUDGE: Harryette Mullen

READING PERIOD: April 1-June 1, 2011

HARRYETTE MULLEN's most recent books are Recyclopedia (Graywolf Press, 2006) and Sleeping with the Dictionary (University of California Press, 2002), a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Mullen was the 2009 recipient of the Academy of American Poets' Fellowship Award. She teaches African American literature and creative writing in the English Department at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Please visit our website for more information and guidelines.

Download our contest flyer.

Thank you!

Hanna Andrews & Becca Klaver, Editors
Whitney Holmes, Managing Editor
Dolly Lemke, Assistant Editor
Brandi Homan, Board President


It's likely you don't want to admit this but . . . when someone you've known (in a friendly/naked way) dies . . . after some time has passed, you think of their body and wonder what percentage of the good parts are still intact.

Then you think how you were once in close contact with these body parts which are now, no doubt about it, in the decomposing process.

With new coffin technology (I'm sure there is such a thing and that it's always improving) this process is probably delayed somewhat. Still, no computer program or super sealant made by NASA can stop bodily disintegration. That's a fact of life. Or death. However you want to think about it.

I told my guy friend Chuck that sometimes I think of this big barge of a man who used to come see me in my last dog days of NY, and who died sometime after from liver failure.

Chuck told me he that sometimes he thinks of this blonde flower of a girl whose mother hung herself and who, soon after, moved across the country to hang herself.

I explained to Chuck (at the time that we had this conversation), "It's almost been a year so there's probably nothing left by this point. But I don't know how fast these things happen."

Chuck said, "I used to think about that, too. But it's been 20 years. She's definitely nothing but bones by now."

I asked Chuck if he thought the conversation was deranged and disrespectful. But he said no, because he's convinced everybody thinks such things--they just won't admit it. And obviously, if we're still thinking about these people (and fondly), they've influenced our lives.

"And anyway," he said, "don't you want someone to think about you after you die?"

"Think about my decaying . . . uh . . . body?"

"Better than nothing," he said.

Then we went back to sipping our coffee at McDonald's on Chicago Avenue.


I know I've been talking a lot about death lately and I don't mean to be gruesome but I'm totally obsessed with bog bodies.

Imagine this.

It's 1950 and you live in a tiny village in Denmark. You're just cutting peat for your little stove. Suddenly, your wife calls you over like "OMFG Viggo! Check out this face in the peat layer! This guy musta just got wacked!"

Who have figured he's a human sacrifice victim? He looks so peaceful! Doesn't he look like he just tied on his little bonnet for a long winter's nap? And he did--in 4 BC.

My greatest wish is that when I keel over, my dead body just so happens to fall into a bog so somebody can find me some day in their backyard in 2,000 years.


Friday, April 8, 2011


Kate Schapira is guest editing the poetry blog TRUCK and she included my poem "Hammering the Screw." Thanks Kate and thanks TRUCK!

I have an interview up at Bookslut right now with Paige Taggart and Justin Marks about their chapbooks, Digital Macrame and On Happier Lawns, respectively.

It's a flipchap and it's really beautiful to look at and touch and it's published by Poor Claudia. Thanks Paige and Justin and Poor Claudia.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I have no idea how to meditate, does anybody?

Even if you think you are doing it, I have a feeling you aren’t. The fact that you can tell me "I meditated last night" seems like proof that something else was happening, something like you saying to yourself, "I want to be meditating, and here I am doing it, meditating, it's happening right now, and tomorrow I’m going to tell my friend I meditated."

I told my friend that trying to meditate makes me anxious, and my friend told me that his doctor [mine at one time too] taught him how to meditate during an office visit.

He said I should ask her and she’d show me how—-right then and there. Then he said, "Did you see that picture on the reception desk with her and Andrew Weil, their arms all around each other? Hilarious."

I couldn't stand that office because they had a little waterfall fountain that they plugged in, so you could get a peaceful feeling. But then the receptionist was all mean and disapproving if you were five minutes late, like raising her voice over the gentle lapping of water, IN FIVE MORE MINUTES I WOULD HAVE HAD TO RESCHEDULE SO IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU ARE HERE AT LEAST FIFTEEN MINUTES EARLY FOR YOUR APPOINTMENT.

Why would I arrive 15 minutes early for my appointment? Why not just set my appointment 15 minutes earlier? I don't believe in arriving early to make bossy people happy. I also don't believe in bossy people. I believe in myself. My magic is real.

So anyway, what I'm saying is meditating is not healthy for me. My heart rate actually increases. Even though I look very peaceful in the picture below, you can believe that I wasn't.

I don’t like concentrating on my breathing; it makes me nervous. Breathe, step, breathe, step, breathe, step [aaaaaa....fall into my little death hole]. That's what I'm thinking.

I listened to a reading with Li Young Lee, and he said his father taught him how to meditate in this really terrifying way, by chanting: "Deep breath in, thank you, deep breath out, goodbye."

Somebody trying to be helpful once said, "Maybe just don’t concentrate on your breathing? Maybe say a word like 'om' over and over."

I said, "I really don’t want to say that. I think I would feel funny saying that."

“Well, it doesn’t have to be 'om,'" she said. "It could be anything, like 'one' or something."

So I said, “one one one one one one,” and I felt extremely anxious.

I’m not afraid of death, so I’m not sure why listening to my own breathing alarms me. Actually, sometimes when I think about death, I get excited. I’ve always been a very curious person, even about things that may end up being terrible.

I don’t think death will be bad, and I’m not religious, so I don’t know why I say that. I just feel in my bones that it’ll be fine, but even if it isn’t, I’m interested to see what kind of misery it is. It may be nothing, and that would be fine, too. But I’d rather have misery than nothing. I hate when I take long treks out to places and then realize nothing is happening.

I also find those near death experience websites, reading the personal accounts, very comforting. My friend was really sick and she died for a few minutes. Her heart stopped. She swears it was just like in the books and movies. She left her body, watched her own body from above, saw the white light, and walked toward it, feeling nothing but absolute peace and serenity and harmony with all things on earth and other places. Then the doctors used those paddles (CLEAR!] and she came back to life. She said coming back to life was so depressing.

My other friend has a recurring dream over and over. He's walking down a path in a forest alone.

Then he sees a house in the distance with all the lights on. He knows the house is evil and he also knows he has to keep walking toward it and go in.

Then he wakes up, filled with fear and dread.

I said, "But that doesn't mean anything. That's just because you're afraid of dying." He said, "I am afraid of dying."

The dream does sound scary. It's so simple. Aren't simple things scary? There's nothing to misunderstand. You will die.

Lately I have had dreams that are so boring I want to cry. The worst part is that these dreams are lucid, so while I'm dreaming them, I'm thinking to myself, "God this dream is boring." Sometimes I'm scrolling through screens on a computer. Sometimes I'm clicking a mouse. The other night I had one and I was cleaning something, or I had a cleaning feeling.

I was thinking to myself in the dream, "I can't believe I'm having another one of my totally boring dreams. And why can't I get this clean? How hard can it be to clean something?"

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Lately there’s a ringing when it’s quiet.


It’s physical I’m sure, but I don’t like that idea, I don’t like the idea of making an appt with an audiologist. It seems boring and expensive, and I don’t like to pay for boring things, I don’t even like to pay for exciting things, so I try to work the Eeeeeeee out of my ears and project it onto the landscape, and sometimes it works.

Like right now. The eeeeeeee was happening. As soon as I heard it, I thought, You are not happening, and at that very moment, somebody started screaming outside.


Not like "Eeeeeeeeeee, I'm dying." Like "Eeeeeeeeeeee, I'm drunk. I love ya!"

One early Sunday morning I found a furry bra on Wayman--on the north side of Isaacson and Son's Fish Market. It was on the ground by my car.

There it is again:


My head is so full of ringing lately, I’m not sure there’s enough room for necessary data.

Today I couldn’t remember how people greet each other—-I don’t mean appropriately, given the situation—-I mean greet each other in any way given any situation.

I read in a book, “And then we greeted each other” and my mind vaguely could feel what the word was, the physicality of the word, but it wouldn’t go any further than that.

I knew a woman once who claimed she was addicted to dopamine. I don’t know if that could be true. I’ve never heard of such a thing. She’s South American--though I’m not sure if that might make her dopamine addiction story more true. Anyway, she said when she was trying to get off shooting dopamine, she became psychotic, and she couldn’t remember what money was. She went into a store and her husband said, “Wait, you have to pay for that!” And she was like, “What is this ‘pay’?” And he was like, “You need to give them money,” and she was like “What is this ‘money’?”

This woman was a seamstress and had her own dinky little store, and she told me she was a stylist for Cher way back in the day and that she was a stylist for Shakira (at that time) and also that she fitted Iggy Pop, which was the highlight of her life because he was her idol. Or maybe she said if she could fit anybody, she would fit Iggy Pop? Because he was her idol? I don’t remember.

I remember thinking at the time Man, I wonder if she’s full of shit, this girl. But I had a feeling she was telling the truth because she seemed so unimpressed with herself.

Once I was in her shop, and a customer came in and wanted her money back for a pair of leather pants. The customer said, “They’re too tight. I can’t even wear them.” And the leathermaker said, “No they’re not.” And the girl said, “Yes. They are. Look at them. I can’t even get them up. They are hurting my bones, like my bones hurt from these pants.” And the woman said, “I’m not making those bigger because they’ll look like shit. Go home and put Vaseline all over your legs aand then pull your pants up and don’t take them off for three days, and they will be perfect.” And the girl was like “But...” and the leathermaker said, “Okay. Goodbye.”

I googled her recently and she was listed as a stylist for one of the Lady Gaga videos. I guess it is possible to be addicted to dopamine.

Friday, March 18, 2011



I am finally sending my manuscript out to some poetry contests.

I have never sent out this manuscript before. I had a manuscript called Hysterical Pastoral which morphed into another manuscript called About the Elephant and I sent out HP/AtE maybe five or six times (to good response surprisingly), but then I read it with some distance/sense and threw it away because it was terrible, and I’m not looking for compliments, it really was (measured against any poetry rubric I might create). Does anyone else create poetry rubrics? Before my ID job, I never did, but I find it’s helpful.

I don’t care as much about publishing as I should. I talk about this all the time to friends and I’m sure they’re sick of hearing it, but maybe you’re not my friend, and so I’ll tell you. I worry that this indifference about publishing makes me look lazy, which I’m not, though there’s no way of me proving this. Also, I worry that it makes me look like I’m not a real poet.

I say this because I constantly doubt that poets (ones I haven’t met) are real poets if they don’t have a book, and I haven’t seen their work anywhere. It’s absolutely stupid to do, of course, but I do it and I’m sure everybody else does too.


I’ll give you a concrete example of one time I did this. I was working in a factory in Indiana that made . . . something . . . It doesn't matter because I never did my job, I just wrote poetry, and one day the plant manager came up to me and looked at my screen and said, “Oh, are you writing poetry?”

I never feel like it’s a good policy to lie in these situations. If you’re cheating a company out of its work time, why be a cheater and a liar?

So I said, “Yes I am, Mike.” He was like, “Really? I love poetry.”

Mike used to sit in his office all day long looking totally bewildered. Sometimes he would invite me into his office to chat about nothing, and his face, the entire time, would say to me, “How did I get here? However will I get out of here?”

So when Mike said, “I love poetry.” I said, “Really?” Oh god, let this conversation be over. And then he said, “I even wrote a poem one time, when I got back from Vietnam.” I said, “Oooh, I bet it was good.” Or terrible. Then he said, “I even got it published.” I said, “Wow.” In the Michigan City News Dispatch, I’m sure. He said, “Yeah, in The New Yorker. Can you believe that?" I said, "Uh . . . that's . . . incredible. So are you still writing?" He said, "I don’t really write poems. I just wrote that one.”


Oh, here’s another good example. My friend Cynthia, one of my closest friends in NY, said to me when we first met, “Oh, my roommate’s a poet, too. You should meet her.”

When I found out her roommate didn’t have a book (and this was before the Internet, or at least before anybody actually used the Internet, so there was no looking up her work), I remember thinking, Yeah [cringe] I’m sure. I never expressed any interest in meeting her, although I did see her a few times in passing during parties at their lesbian loft in Tribeca.

Anyway, a few years later, Cynthia was like, “Guess what, I’m in the acknowledgments section of my roommate's book! She told me she’s psyched because her book is going to be shelved by Shakespeare.”


Every time I think of prizes, I think of disappointing people and losing things. Prizes bring out the worst in people, and by paying to win prizes, I am paying 30 dollars a pop to do just that.

In second grade I won a prize for writing a story. What made it even more great is I was competing against kids K through 6.

Here’s a summary of my award-winning story "No Red." It’s paraphrased (and nicely plotted, if I do say so myself).


In a castle lives a princess named Melissa who is spoiled and vain and bossy. One day the princess spills paint on her pants when she’s playing and then she feels foolish and ugly and enraged that her servants could let such a thing happen to her. In the midst of her anger and pant trauma, she banishes the color red, all things red, from her palace. She feels pretty proud of herself for her great idea.

Valentine’s Day comes, and the princess doesn’t get any cards. She’s kind of sad, but she sticks her nose in the air and holds strong.

Time goes on, business as usual.

Then one fated day the princess is playing in her garden and starts craving a peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich like crazy. Unfortunately for her, the strawberry jelly has been thrown in the trash and forevermore banned from the royal estate—-at her request! Having no other option, she eats mint, a mint and peanut butter sandwich. Then she cries.

For a while nobody hears her because her servants have been banned, too. But then they hear her and the princess feels so sorry for making that red rule, she lets all her servants back into the royal palace. Then she asks them to make her a peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich and deliver all of her belated Valentine’s Day cards. Then she reads all the cards while she’s eating her sandwich.

The End

I picked up my prize for this story at the public library. There was a big box with a bunch of books in it and you could choose whatever book you wanted as a prize.

The one I chose was a book about a mouse that keeps busy by storing colors in his head for winter. His grand plan is to use these mental colors to protect his family when it gets really really cold, like “Surprise! I have sunshine yellow in my mind. Soak it up, family.” But the mouse’s family can’t see his mind at work; they can only see him sitting on a rock all day. Finally, at the height of winter, the mouse reveals what he’s been doing, and all these colors float in a dialog bubble over his head as proof of his boundless altruism and foresight and creativity.

I can’t remember if you see the mouse’s parents’ expression in the book when he reveals his top-secret color solution. I think you just see the mouse standing next to the rock, but, in any case, the feeling the book gives is that his family forgives him and feels bad for thinking he was lazy. Then at the very end of the book, another mouse is like, NO WAY! YOU’RE A POET! (Like me with Brenda S.) And the mouse blushes and says: I KNOW IT.

When I got home, I showed my prize/book to my family and they asked how it was that I could be smart enough to win a prize for my story but stupid enough to choose a 15-page book about a mouse as my prize.

My family was extra irritated with me that day because while I was at the library, I forgot my tea set, and when we drove back to get it, it was gone. The tea set had 25 pieces or something and it was a family heirloom supposedly. I have no idea why anybody would let a child carry around a family heirloom, especially a child who’s perpetually in outer space and loses everything. I also don’t know why I needed to take a tea set with me to the library to pick up my prize. Both remain mysteries to this day.


To conclude, the moral of this post is (because all posts should have morals):

1. If there are books in a box and they’re free, choose the biggest one because it will make your family happy.

2. Do not, under any circumstances, take your tea set to the library and leave it there or it will be stolen, and this will make your family sad and mad at you.

3. Don’t judge someone with no poetry book or else they will get a job teaching poetry at Princeton.

Monday, March 7, 2011



D: Go brush your teeth.

Z: I would but . . . the next time I do it, I’m going to do it really well--and it will take me 12 years.


Z: Did you know when Daddy first moved to Chicago a long time ago, he lived in a neighborhood and it was dangerous?

L: I did. Albany Park.

Z: What?

L: It was called Albany Park.

Z: Guess it should have been called I Got A Lot of Guns Park.


Z: I think I will put a period right there [points at my forehead]

L: Why’s that?

Z: Because you’re not . . . very exciting.


L: So you’re going to be Aquagirl for your school project! Are you going to dress up like her?

Z: Just the shirt.

L: What does Aguagirl do? I don’t even know.

Z: Well "aqua" means water. And her superpower is she makes everybody around the whole wide world feel awkward.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Here is a list of things I like. I feel strange, compiling my list. Who cares? Who am I? But I really like reading lists of what other people like. And I really do like these things.

ORIGINS LIQUID LIP COLOR in Wild Flower. I tried my sister’s. Now I use it. My mom tried my sister’s. Now she uses it. If you wear lipgloss and you try it, you will use it. I am a sucker for makeup--even though I don’t really wear that much makeup and I certainly don’t wear it regularly. But I like having it around. Sometimes I get all dolled up, then I sit around the house or go to bed and take a nap. I like the hope and promise of makeup; it’s depressing and optimistic at the same time. I also like looking at makeup palettes. [I wrote this entire blog post spelling it as palate and had to change it--I always do that.] But it’s like painting with expensive paints. Once you are used to an expensive palette, you can’t go cheap. Well, you can but you’ll feel sorry for yourself.

Speaking of palettes.

OLD HOLLAND SINCE 1664. The palette is so beautiful and the tubes weigh a billion pounds more than other paints. If you pick one up, it’s like you’re picking up a bar of lead. Maybe you are, come to think of it. Are oil paints still made with lead? I’ll check right now . . .

Hmm. I guess so. Just came back from the website which says “Known as hazardous when worked with incorrectly. Occurs in the case of Cadmium pigments.” My husband is partial to Cadmiums, come to think of it. Also various Naples and Ochres and the Titanium white.

He keeps a narrow palette though. He feels distain for people with overly rangy palettes. (He would deny this but it’s true.) My husband allows my daughter to play with his Old Holland paints. He doesn’t let her finger paint with them or anything but she does paint with them on canvas. That’s probably not good. Oh well. There are worse things. We don’t give her whiskey and make her sleep in a drawer.

*Note: My husband read this and said, "I would like you to correct the part saying that I use Titanium White BECAUSE I HAVE NEVER USED TITANIUM WHITE. I USE FLAKE WHITE!"

EAST/WEST. My husband was commissioned to do a painting for our building. It was supposed to be a landscape of Chicago’s West Side.

As you see, it is not. Like many artists, my husband does not take direction well. He understands that you have desires, and he lets you express them, and then he says, “Okay.” And then he paints whatever he wants. Luckily, it's difficult for my husband to pick up on when people are pissed; he is missing that part of his brain. For this reason, he’s impervious to criticism. While he was working on the painting, he was three months late delivering it. One day he said, “I think X [client] may be pissed at me.” I said, “Why do you say that?” And he said, “Because he wrote me a email today that said something like, ‘Just get the goddamned painting done already and I’ll give you your little fucking wine and cheese party.’”

My husband looked at me and said, “I never even asked for a wine and cheese party. ’”

As you can imagine, when my husband was finally finished and he unveiled his painting of the west side, the client was . . .not overjoyed? My husband didn’t understand why anybody would be irritated about such a minor thing, and he refuses to be sorry for it.

His reasoning: “The landscape was not going well. So I did this instead. The perspective is facing east. But it’s reflecting west. The reflected buildings are on the west side.”

I said, “Of Michigan Avenue. To be fair, most people don’t really consider that ‘the west side.’”

He said, “Well, he wanted it done fast. That’s what he said at least. And this painting was coming together. I can’t help it if he doesn’t feel like it’s the west side.”

I was working on this fiction book that was based on real people and real events (though sequence was altered and physical characteristics and locations were changed), and I had all these worries and concerns in my mind about the real life people. About not hurting them, but still being able to tell the story. I was agonizing over it, turning over all the different options in my mind. I said, “It’s just that no matter what I do, somebody is going to be unhappy.” My husband said, “Somebody is already unhappy.”

TRADER JOE'S HOFBRAU BOCK. Kind of orange-y. Kind of grapefruit-y. Kind of high alcohol content. Very cheap.

EL TACO VELOZ. El Taco Veloz is my favorite Mexican restaurant in Chicago. And it is so cheap; it is the opposite of highway robbery. It’s like if you were on the highway and somebody drove up next to you and started throwing tortillas in your window.

Certain aspects of El Taco Veloz may annoy you or may delight you, based on your personality type. Obviously, I am the right personality type for ETV. We are a match, but here are some things to expect so you can judge for yourself if you are or are not an ETV person.

1.) The murals inside ETV are really weird. They’re supposed to be Mexican ladies, like “maidens” or something, holding baskets of fruit and vegetables, in white flouncy blouses, as if to say “I am abundant,” but the muralist must have thought that it would be better to give the Mexican ladies a splash of whiteness, and so all of the painted ladies have these giant creepy blue eyes like Barbie is peering out of them, watching you eat your barbacoa.

2.) The music is extremely loud and sometimes a birthday party happens in the middle of the restaurant without warning. There are booths around the perimeter and the staff starts moving chairs and tables aside and it just happens. David has been there before when they moved the chairs and people started dancing. His friend Mark—not the ETV personality type--was horrified. Mark is anti-jubilance. My advice: if you don’t like spontaneously appearing children in hats or adults dancing while you’re eating, skip ETV. These are, no kidding, pictures of ETV, possibly the night Mark and David were there.

3.) Instead of giving you bowls of salsa, they put the salsa into a squeeze container (like those plastic see through containers used to hold hair dye) and you have the squeeze the salsa onto each chip. If you ask for a bowl, they will bring it and you can squeeze some salsa into the bowl, thereby avoiding having to do the chip-by-chip squeeze. But you need to MAKE this happen, be assertive and innovative and all that.

4.) They have spicy pickled vegetables on the table, which are just out there, never put away, communal, there for the taking, which does not seem ALL that sanitary. But because of the high PH, I’m sure it’s fine—or fine enough; I eat them and I’m alive, let’s just say that.

Things that may bring you to ETV: Barbacoa. Cheese or chicken enchilladas (verde). Chilaquiles. Desserts: no. Don’t get the shrimp cocktail either.

P.S. Did you know that in Mexico a taco is not just a taco. A taco is anything wrapped in a tortilla. Did you know that taco in Spanish means wedge or plug or wadding; also pool cue? I didn’t. Taco, the word to describe the food, supposedly comes from a N├íhuatl word derived from tlaxcalla which means tortilla.

BREVILLE ELECTRIC KETTLE. When I bought this, I didn’t know how much I’d like it.

What’s the diff between an electric kettle and a teapot? Well, electric kettles (this one) don’t get all gunky on the inside. And they heat water SO MUCH FASTER. I use a coffee press and I don’t like waiting forever for water to heat up in the morning. Also, I hate when tea kettles scream. I hate when people scream but it’s even worse when a machine screams--because you bought something that screams at you. This kettle has the friendliest “ding” too. Like the tiniest pleasing chime. I use this kettle 5, 6, 7 times a day…and have for five years. Mine seems to have a short. Sometimes the light flickers. When I see the light flickering, I get anxious. Don’t die. I suppose I should be anxious that it may catch on fire, but I’m not.

NESPRESSO. "What else?" I don’t have this. I WISH. My friend had one in Spain. I tried it and . . . it was all over. My vacation was over. I didn’t even leave the house after that. I just stood by the coffee maker all day. I was an unapologetic coffee-swilling PIG. I made myself like 15 cups (lungo! cups) of coffee a day. The coffee maker takes a little capsule. You throw it in this hatch and it punctures it somehow and the coffee pours out a spout into doubled walled glass. My daughter’s little friend’s mother has one and when I went to their place the first time to pick up my daughter, she said, “Coffee?” And I said, “I would, but husband’s making dinner. We should probably go.” When I walked in, the first thing my husband asked was, “Did she offer you coffee? I said, “Yeah, but I said I really shouldn’t, we had to get going.” “Oh,” he said. “You really should’ve. She has a Nespresso.”

The next time I went over, she said, “Coffee?” And I said, “Oh, I don’t know, you’re probably getting ready to make dinner. (Please insist!]” She did.

“I’ll just make you one! It’ll only take a minute. How do you like your cappuccino? Dry? Extra foam? Maybe just an espresso?”

Then she got out a billion capsules. She had an entire silverware drawer of them.

“Which kind do you want? This one’s good. And this one. This is a new kind; I haven’t tried it yet. My husband likes this one.” On and on.

When I looked down, her two-year old daughter was playing with a bunch of the capsules on the floor, stacking them and putting them in cups.

I said, “Capsules!”

She said, “Yeah, we didn’t like that kind at all.”

When the spout started spewing the coffee out, I said, “That thing is so SWEET. Mmm, mmm.” Then we talked about her coffee maker for a half an hour. During this time our children were coming up to us and trying to get our attention and we were like, JUST WAIT A SECOND WE ARE TALKING. Our conversation ended with her saying, “It changed my life. And I’m not just saying that.”

[And the MOST you’ll pay for it is $799 USD!]

Nespresso also has good commercials. John Malkovich is God, a piano falls on George Clooney, etc., etc.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


This post started out as a list of my favorite things but it was becoming way too long and so a list of favorite things will come later.

But actually, I'll list one of my favorite things: Bumble and Bumble's Brilliantine.

This stuff is oil-based and you can’t slather it all over your hair or you’ll look like a rat and you’ll cry. Here’s how it describes itself: “Gives hair polish and a sort of languid, slept-in, sexy look.”

I am ready to run out of this stuff and I’m freaking out. How will my hair look sort of languid, slept-in, and sexy?!

I wish someone would make a perfume out of Brilliantine. (And the B & B Gentle Shampoo). I wish Elisa would smell this and write a column about it. I can’t begin to tell you how it smells. But I love it anyway.

In general, I do not like anything I can’t describe. It makes me uneasy. A friend of mine wrote a poem with a line in it "[. . .] description/all I ever wanted." Actually, I don't know if those are the exact words or the line break and I'm too lazy to look, but that's the gist and I am thumping my chest in agreement. Description is all I ever wanted too.

I really don’t like when I can’t describe the food I’m eating. I cannot fully enjoy any food I’m incapable of describing. When I’m eating it, I can only focus on classifying it, linking it to some like thing. I remember biting into an avocado when I was really young and trying to assign it to something. I remember thinking something equivalent to There is no making sense of this, this food right here in my mouth. How would you describe the taste of avocado? Nutty with a spritz of citrus? That’s what I’ve settled on, and I feel comfortable with that.

Tamarind is still indescribable for me.

I eat it, not because I like it, but because I cannot figure it out. And each time I eat it I think, This time will be different. This is the time my tongue is totally going to get to the bottom of this tamarind. But that never happens.

I just read a book--I’m not going to mention its title because it really doesn’t matter--and what was strange about it was that it was a memoir, and the subject matter of the book was implicitly emotional and charged, but the book itself was not. It had no voice whatsoever. It had no style that you could recognize. It seems nearly impossible to write a book with NO VOICE and NO STYLE but yet it has been done because I just read it.

This author is successful, too. She has several books of poetry published by a major house and a book of fiction by a major house. My friend who’s a journalist read it and she said the same thing, “It’s just so . . . bland. It’s like reporting.” I said, “Not even.” She said, “Yeah, not even. You’re right. The most remarkable thing about the book is how moving it should be, yet how unmoving and dull it is.”

Maybe because the author is first and foremost an important editor, she edited out her own style and voice? Or maybe she had to keep her voice agonizingly neutral to get through the subject matter? I have no idea. It was odd.

Another thing about the book is you couldn’t classify the people in it. In good books of fiction and non-fiction, the people/characters being described draw to mind real people or real kinds of people for the reader. Or they call up a composite of several real people or kinds of people. But that did not happen in this book. It wasn’t for lack of description. There was a ton of description. You knew the sister's hair was “blonde” and she had “skinny legs” because that was in the book and maybe she was “helpful” or “quiet” or whatever but you couldn’t FEEL any of that and you definitely couldn’t classify her, like Oh, just like my friend Jane. Well, I guess you could throw her into a pile of skinny-legged people, but . . . why?

Also the characters/people were discrepant. Their actions did not go with their emotions and in fact their actions did not go with their actions. That could make for a really interesting character, like “She’s quiet homebody who loves knitting. But she also loved surfing and really tying one on every Friday night! She was quirky like that.”

That’s not what was happening. It was like you kept trying to sniff out the scent of the person, and you couldn’t put your finger (nose) on it, but every once in a while, you’d get a faint whiff of something that MIGHT be a scent and later you’d get another faint whiff of something that MIGHT be a scent, but it was so faint you couldn’t be sure and anyway, the two things you thought were scents were so far from each other. It was like smelling cleaning fluid and hot dogs.

My friend always used to say about people, “She/he dresses with humor.” I knew immediately what she was talking about. Not like an “I’m with stupid” T-shirt or a beer can hat with hoses.

But just . . . with humor. *After just being asked for an example, I said: my sister. I hope she doesn't mind but I'm going to post a pic of her. She has it on Facebook anyway.

Here's another:

Note the kitty earrings? Are those kitties? Maybe robots? Oh, speaking of. Here's her Halloween costume:

This same friend who noted that people dressed with humor could not like people if she could not classify their clothes. She did not TRUST people if she couldn’t classify their clothes. She said (suspiciously), “It’s like you’re looking at his clothes thinking, 'Where did he even BUY that?'”

Again, we’re not talking about somebody wearing some pants made out of cellophane or a dress made out of dollar bills. We’re talking about somebody wearing pants that looked like they might have been from the 50s or something, something a math teacher might wear in the 50s, but they were never stylish then and they’re not stylish now, they don’t exemplify “50s style,” so there’s no way he got them from a vintage store and there’s no way he got them from a contemporary store because everything about them is dated and wrong for this century. So where did he get them?

Maybe this guy's uncle was a math teacher in the fifties and now the uncle is dead and this guy has him stored in his attic and every day he removes his decomposed uncle's pants and wears them? Then puts them back on his uncle at night? I suppose that is the most reasonable explanation.

Friday, February 4, 2011



I read manuscripts for Switchback this year, like more than a hundred manuscripts for their contest, which was the most useful thing I've ever done for my writing. I saw thousands of perfectly proficient poems--good poems, even great ones--but after reading many of them, I wondered, "What is at stake here? Why must it be this writer who is writing this poem?" And most of all, "What’s with the full-on stage makeup and gorilla suit? We like you for who you are. But we can't see who you are. You don't need to be so ambitious and anxious."

Is this what you want?! Is this what I want?!

If you plan to publish poems, it’s hard to write like you don’t know someone’s watching you—because (if you’re lucky) someone will be watching you at some point. And as you’re writing, unless you’re insane or completely obliterated with various substances, you’re most likely watching yourself.

So, yeah, when reading the manuscripts, I kept thinking, "I am not judging you, friend. I just want to see what you've got. I just want you to bring it to me. That's all you need to do."

Thinking this made me cringe because, of course, I feel judged and watched all the time when I'm writing, and thus, cannot bring myself to bring it. It happens to the best of us. It's hard not to perform for your audience. It’s hard not to see yourself sitting in the audience in your underwear.


The winner of the Switchback contest, Jennifer Tamayo? Let's just say her poems were not overly focused on her audience.

I looked back on my comments in the electronic submissions software, and I had written something like, "HAHAHAHA….OMFG is this woman serious? I'm not sure I care. I sort of LOVE these poems. Definitely a finalist for me."

It was the only manuscript that, all the way though, felt unburdened and free. It really felt like I have fifteen minutes left on earth, and so excuse me, I must go write this manuscript.

It was ridiculous, how messy and associative her manuscript was. If you were the one who wrote it, it would be nearly impossible not to think at some point, “Why am I writing this? Nobody will ever publish this fucking thing.”

Which, of course, is why we had to publish it--because it looked and felt like nothing else we had seen. And it's hot to be ignored. It's like when you're sitting on somebody's lap all minxish and they're reaching around you to type and talking to themselves:

I am going to align this header to the RIGHT. I am going to change the font right HERE. I am going to put my driver's license HERE and lady parts HERE because it feels absolutely right to me. Yes, yes. Obviously this manuscript needs these things.


I had huge amounts of respect for Switchback for choosing that manuscript. It was a risk. I think when everybody found out who the winner was, and that she had published poems in Action Yes and Diagram we were thinking Thank god we weren’t just really tired or in a weird mood or something. Obviously, other poets and editors we respect are seeing the same thing as we are.

I also think, though nobody said it aloud, we were thinking, Either this person knows exactly what she's doing or she is typing this from the church of batshit.


Tamayo is a tornado. Her poems are like watching a natural disaster. They whirl around in an  interlanguage (self-created)--a conceptual limbo that exists from incorporating some aspects of a new language while still receiving a significant amount of interference from the first—-in this case, Spanish. But of course, this is further complicated by the fact that this interlanguage is inside of (on top of?) a third language, i.e., poetry.

When you’re teaching ESL and reader/writer/learner is stuck in interlanguage, you must analyze their errors and correct them so they can eventually leave that limbo and make it safely to the other side, to the second language, without becoming "fossilized," without having non-target forms become fixed. In other words, fossilization has happened if, after a billion years of instruction, you keep making the same mistake over and over--it's like a fossil inside of a rock, except the rock is your brain--and no amount of explanation or correction can remove it or stop you from making it.

There are many self-constructed non-target forms in Tamayo’s work, but are they fossilized? We’ll see. The Gatewood contest is a first-book contest.

Tamayo herself has taken on the task of error correction and we have an open window though which to watch it. The thing is, there’s a difference between an error and a mistake—-which Tamayo well knows—-and that’s the most interesting part of this book for me.

*Actually, from now on, for these next points, I don't want to refer to Tamayo the writer as "Tamayo" because I don't want readers to mistakenly assume that I'm talking about Tamayo's abilities and language skill as an ESL learner. So I guess I will call the student/teacher/learner--i.e., the overarching guiding voice in these poems--poetry mouth.

1. Sometimes poetry mouth makes a linguistic error, except it doesn’t know the rule, and so it stands uncorrected. “I dance the movements gentle. I sew a man rolling his eyes in the back.”

2. Sometimes poetry mouth knows the rule. It just says: I take your rule and I crush it, I crush it. Because I am poetry mouth! For instance, “I feel out how SHE feels me writing this;” No, PM, you mean, “feels ABOUT me writing this.” “No, reader, I actually meant just what I said, i.e., “I try to figure out how on earth she senses that I am writing this.”

3. Sometimes poetry mouth knows the rule but simply slips up and accidentally deviates from it and then self-corrects, e.g., “Stretch then into nonsense. Stretch them into nonsense.” Come to think of it, this actually might be #2--the word "then" possibly meaning "at that time" or "immediately after."

4. Sometimes poetry mouth makes patterns of repeated mistakes which other people wrongly detect as errors, but they’re actually just embedded patterns of slips. This might be an example a repeated slip, wrongly interpreted as an error: “They weaken with my breathe.” I say this because about 90 percent of people write that mistake--native English speakers/writers I mean.

5. Poetry mouth tends to make certain types of corrections more than others—for instance, discourse, content, and lexical corrections make a bigger appearance in these poems than grammatical ones. That’s where the desire to step in and fix stuff as an outsider comes in: "My eyelids are feel upside down and I know what has happened.” No, poetry mouth, it’s “My eyelids are FEELING upside down." When people’s eyelids are feeling upside down, that is how you say that.

6. There is danger of too much focus on error and poetry mouth knows this. It can diminish a sense of accomplishment. It can actually hinder language proficiency--in this case, the language of poetry. Thus, there are perfectly unblemished sections. “The rapid language acquisition at these years will separate natives from non-natives. Do you know Mr. Potato head?”

And then, soon after [in this case, in the very next sentence], the mistakes/errors start back up. “Do you now the “Ten Little Indians” song?”

7. Poetry mouth realizes errors should only be corrected by a teacher when a student is linguistically ready to accept that correction. Except that poetry mouth is both the teacher and the student, which complicates the matter slightly.

Reading this manuscript really is so similar to watching and listening to someone learn a language. It’s fascinating and thrilling and unnerving and extremely irritating. You really want to get in there and fix things, correct it, help it. You want to figure out: What EXACTLY does this poetry mouth know? What exactly does it know it knows? But it doesn’t want your help. Does it even know the word “help” or “fix” yet? It has to, right? It just used the word "clitoris" and drew a picture of it.

To figure out what second language learners know (I don’t know if English is indeed Tamayo’s second language, I know nothing about her but the author is clearly fluent in English and not stuck in an actual state of interlanguage), you need to consider competency vs performance and comprehension vs production.


We know poetry mouth is a poor performer (as noted above). It somehow does not seem to see itself in its underwear. Some people act like they don’t see themselves in their underwear, but that’s because they love being in their underwear. They love letting everybody see them in it and sneaking glances at themselves like, “Mmm, mmm, mmm. Pretty good.” That’s not PM. PM is honest-to-god NOT performing. But that’s not to say it’s not competent. Poetry mouth makes a ton of technical mistakes, but it competently nails the more subtle and complex aspects of language—humor, slang, irony. Book is funny, people. I like a funny book of poems. I approve.


We know PM has comprehension down. That comes from being competent (which, as noted above, it is) and listening well (which it definitely does). Production always lags behind comprehension so it’s not really a good indicator of how much anybody learning a language understands—and this is the case with that “gral” PM, too. Don’t you mean that “girl” PM? "Yeah, that 'gral,' that's what I said." See?

I’m pretty sure poetry mouth understands everything in fact. You better be careful. When you are not watching, it is going to turn to its teacher and tell her, “Shut up, motherfucker. Well, at least that’s what my mom always says to me! Ha ha."


Apart from watching and analyzing the language of PM, I like how Tamayo ties the content in this book together so so so tangentially--mother to country to language to childhood, with some sex thrown in--and then just leaves it, just walks away. It’s so life-like. Certain events are connected, certain themes are recurring, but you're not sure how because you're inside of those events, you're too busy generating themes from those events to deconstruct and analyze them real-time.

I was terrified upon rereading the poems below that I would think Jennifer Tamayo’s poems were terrible. But I still love them. Jennifer Tamayo’s poems have "it." She's real. She is really in her underwear. Nobody say anything.

P.S. I JUST remembered last night that Tamayo's manuscript is called (or at least it was when she submitted it for the contest) The Hanging Cloud of Read Mistakes. Told you she knows what she's doing!

Here are some of her poems at Diagram.

Here they are at Action Yes.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Everybody is at AWP now. But me!

I debated going. Should I go? Should I not go? Given my experience last year, with terrible panels and being the only person at the conference who did not know that Denver makes you much, much drunker than usual, was it worth it?

Granted, nothing says, "I am really making great connections and am sure to crush the literary scene at any moment," like running from a Nigerian with Leigh and having absolutely no recollection of it.

Still, in the end, I decided I would not go, that it wasn't worth it. I was going to go to a conference about young adult writing in January. That conference probably would have been very useful and worth it. But I didn't go. And if I couldn't go to that, I figured there was no way, money or time wise, I could justify AWP, considering my life's earnings are in no way connected to poetry and considering I have children who tend to miss me when I leave them.

I'm sure some people will say that I am cheapening poetry by saying that it holds less value for me because it has no monetary value. But I'm not really saying that, of course, and you know that. Or maybe I am and what if I am.

I'm sure some people will say I'm cheapening the value of poetry by saying it holds less value to me than my children. But that's because some people had parents who did not love them and still don't, and for very good reason.

Speaking of children, why doesn't AWP have childcare options again? Remind me? Is there no grad student who could get a discount to AWP for watching some kids for half a day? I always feel like such a square pointing these things out. Like I'm not bohemian enough to just dump my kids with my spouse for three or four days (or not give birth to them in the first place) so I can go to poetry conferences. I am not bohemian enough. The square cat is out of the square bag.

I will make it to AWP next year. It will cost me $2.25 to get on the El, and I'm saving up, so I will be able to buy at least a five ride by then. If not, I can walk. The Hilton is walkable from my place. Two years ago when I went with my friend Mel, we walked there. We were going to walk home, too, but by night, alas, it was not walkable. Somebody poured grain alcohol on Randolph and it grew, longer and longer, wetter and wetter, into a river. So we got into a cab and floated down the river to the Fulton Fish Market. Hello there fish we thought. The thought sounded like, Hrble thblr fble.

Everybody's freaking because of this blizzard. I love blizzards. I love apocalyptic weather in general. I like blackouts in the summer, too. I liked how during that blackout 10 years ago Mayor Daley got on the news and he was so pissed at Com Ed, he couldn't even speak, he was like me, talking to the fish. Also, I love how everybody feels compelled to tell you exactly how the blackout personally affected them.