Thursday, March 29, 2007

Galway Kinnell

Tuesday evening Thade and I venture to Harvard for Galway Kinnell's reading. The meeting of the American Academy is ridiculous, filled with blue-haired blue-blood, robes, and gavels, but there is a decent younger crowd there to see the kickassness of one of my favorite living poets.

My mind is characteristically racing for the first half, but as the reading goes on I find it easy to concentrate on his words. The last poem he reads is about spooning with his wife, and I unexpectedly start to cry. I'm embarrassed, because dear god, who does that, and this is not just a classy welling up, but real tears and sniffles that destroy mascara and turn eyes red. Then I look behind me and see another girl about my age crying, trying to stop unsuccessfully, and I forgive her and myself.

After the reading, I pile a napkin high with free brie, french bread, and grapes and drink two glasses of complimentary sauvignon blanc. This is the first reason I love high-end receptions.

The second is that you actually get to talk to the reader afterward. I timidly and tipsily wait in line, shoving bread and cheese into my mouth until I am the only one and he motions for me to sit down.

I'm not good at meeting celebrities, and I can't think of anything to say except to tell him my name and tell him that the reading made me tear up.

He repeats my name and looks at me in the eye. "You were tearing up?"

"Yeah."

He smiles. "Thank you," he says, holding my gaze. He writes his autograph on my copy of The Book of Nightmares, a gift for my high school graduation from a middle school friend. I linger a second too long, then leave. Walking home, I feel a little better about everything.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Everybody Must Get Stoned

Monday night again is Stone Soup. Every time I leave there, I tell myself I'm not going anymore. It's populated mostly by old men past sixty (often past seventy), with the occasional old woman thrown in for variety. Features are sometimes different. I met Red there at her feature a few weeks ago, and other features I've seen, though all men, vary in age at least. Some have even been in their late twenties or early thirties.

Which still leaves me, female and barely cracked into the mid-twenties, an oddity. Monday Red and Thade and I come together, sit together, and read together. We make the venue seem younger, but I realize in one moment's contemplation that without us, that element would not exist. So we're filmed again for Bill Perrault's TV show, which may make it seem to others watching that young people are at least represented in the venue, (which who knows, may bring more young people in the future) but for now, we're sitting and reading for ourselves.

Every time I go, I also pick up a weird vibe. Thade said he noticed it too, so I don't think I'm too insane. When I read, I feel leered at, as if the fact that I'm young, female, and attractive overshadows whatever words may be coming out of my mouth. When I wait afterward to mingle, the feature (a man in his late forties at least) nudges Chad, the moderator. "You should make her a feature. The place would be packed with all her groupies. You'd get all the hot 20-year-old boys. All those twenty-year-olds with slim curves." With the slim curves comment, he's quoting a line from one of my poems back to me. He looks at me. "Guys my age have curves too, they just go out instead of in." I consider telling him that line was written about a girl, but refrain.

Thinking of Central Square and its venues, I wonder which leaves me with a sicker feeling. Stone Soup, where I feel like I get the wrong kind of attention, or the Cantab, full of slam poets who all know each other and won't talk to me, who relegate me to the table in the back like a group of cool kids in the lunch room.

Riding back on the subway, we all talk about other possible venues. Red tells us about a couple possibilities. I want to try different places, experience different crowds. It's important to me to be heard, but speaking words in a crowded room doesn't necessarily mean anybody is listening.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

City of Young Blood, City of Drifters

I've noticed most of my new young friends here in Boston moved here for similar reasons to mine. Not the literature scene, necessarily, but the desire to move somewhere and overwhelming freedom of nothing in particular pulling you in any certain direction. I've met no one who moved here for a job or even for school. Like me, so many people my age cite groped and grasped reasons for coming here, of all places. Like me, a lot of people had friends or family coming here whom they followed. A lot of people wanted to get away from their previous home and this place "seemed as good as any." Some came here hoping to find school, or art, or love. Me, when people ask why I came here, I've taken to saying, "You have to be somewhere."

I wonder, really, if any big city would be like this. Full of kids who just had to get away. Running to the coast is almost a trope now, but is New York filled with such wandering, directionless searchers? Would LA or San Francisco hold so many people who came for no reason, or barely half-formed, half-baked, half-grasped reasons contrived during or after the fact of the actual decision? What about Seattle? Portland?

One of my many theme songs of late has been Tangled Up in Blue, which is about drifters, and the epic lives of everyone you've ever met. "Heading out to the old East Coast, Lord knows he paid some dues getting through." I listen to the lines and nod.

Drifters like the sea for the same reasons sailors do. The sea is freedom, and in a city where you can't really see the sky or the mountains, it's a constant reminder of how small you are, and how ingrained, and how young, and of course how much you don't know.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Rejection

Two rejection letters yesterday. These are fast. I only sent them out a few weeks ago. I've waited months for rejection letters before.

Rejections don't bother me as much as they used to, but they still sting. I do wonder why I bother at times. I send out scores of poems to dozens of journals, and receive nothing but rejection after rejection. I wonder at times what you're probably thinking now. "When are you going to take the hint? If you were any good, someone would have figured it out by now. Why don't you give up and do something worthwhile?"

I don't know. I really don't. But I just keep on going.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Two Girls, No Guitars

Wednesday night I go to an open mic in Davis square last night with Sue Red at Starbucks, of all places. I finally get to use my employee discount.

It's mostly music, mostly accoustic folky stuff, and Red and I are the only two people reading poetry. We go up together and read while people talk and glasses clack and milk steams. I'm used now to readings where people at least pretend to listen to you, but here I get the impression that no one cares. Though I've been trying for the past year to read more slowly, my natural instinct here is to speed up, read and get my words out as quickly as possible so people don't get bored. I race through my two poems, then Red reads and we sit down.

Afterward two people tell me they liked my poems, but wish I'd read them slower.

I meet Red's friend Brian, who is supercool and a member of What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?, and we discover mutual musical tastes. We talk of Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos, drag queens, and The Milky Way Lounge. He agrees that Boys for Pele is Tori's Greatest Album Ever, which makes him a very wise man, and he was once spit on by Patti Smith.

The open mic degenerates at around 10:30, and we decide to call it a night. I ride the subway home talking to a friend in LA, where it's 90 degrees and people read scripts instead of poetry.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Habits

Lord, me days are weird and divergent.

Suddenly I'm sloughed back to high school -- my senior year -- getting up at the crack of dawn, staggering through the day with glazed eyes and a caffeine drip, coming home and sleeping away the afternoon, then staying up half the night reading or writing or seeing people, going to readings or shows or whatever with a headache and a stuffy nose. I really have not lived like this in about six years. Funny how the headaches feel the same.

Saturday I went at a friend's suggestion to the Boston Bloggers' Summit for the new free paper, BostonNOW. I schmoozed more than I'm comfortable with (read: at all) and am 76% certain that my blog is not newsworthy, but the springrolls were good and a nice guy from NPR interviewed me. Out with pals that night I drank a beer I found on the sidewalk lying in the remains of its shattered brethren, last survivor in a fallen sixpack. Just another day of desperation.

Today I worked and took a nap. I think so often on these days I'm not a real artist. If I were a real artist I would never sleep, would not own a dog or anything for that matter or live in more than one room or work at Starbucks or drink microbrewed beer. If I were a real artist, I would be dirt fucking poor. Yes, so poor I own one bowl which doubles as a mug, triples as a plate, and on rough days, quadruples as a bedpan or vomit catch all. I really would never sleep. I would go to every reading every night, every big literary event, and since I'd have absolutely no money, I'd have to lie or fight or argue or blow my way in. Then I would come home to a stolen pack of cigarettes and a bottle of clandestinely obtained ritalin and write the Great American Novel, or the Really Good American Novel, or some crazy rambling brilliant epic poem, then as the sun rose I'd call someone up (doesn't matter who, really) and we'd talk forever about everything.

Then I would be an Artist.

I need to pick up some more bad habits.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Group Effort

Last night I went to Harvard Square for my writers' group. It meets in the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, and consists of myself and about seven other writers.

Last night we were workshopping my piece. I know I've never taken criticism well, until a couple of years ago my innate reaction to the constructive sort being some bipolar combination of "Fuck you, man, you just don't understand what I'm trying to do!" and "I suck. Everyone hates my work and by extension, me."

But in the last year or two, I've decided that criticism is important and I should seek it out in hopes of making what I do better. I try to go in with an open mind, understanding that not everyone's tastes and proclivites are the same, and that just because my work doesn't spew out of my fingers as fully and perfectly formed (and armored) as Athena from out of Zeus's head, that doesn't mean I'll never be a good writer. I also remind myself that one can find fault in every single great work of literature if one is so inclined.

That being said, any negative criticism is discouraging. Whether you agree or don't agree with it, it can't help but knock you back a little bit. Writing a novel is big and hard. The idea that you've worked for months on this thing, and now you've got to go back and do it over again is so daunting and hopeless. I swear I could feel my heart dropping a few inches in my chest as I left the room.

On the other hand, it's frustrating when someone criticises your work when he has clearly not read it well, and also when a person who has never written a long work picks apart a chapter from a novel as if it were a short story. Or when male writers are incapable of reading a female character as indivually and complexly as they would a male character. "Look, I just think a hot girl wouldn't do this. Hot girls do this." Yes. Well. I actually happen to be one of these "girl" things you're talking about, and I'm here to tell you that sometimes different people are different. Yes, even if they have vaginas.

But I'm being negative. A lot of the criticism I recieved was very positive and/or very helpful. I plan on putting it to good use.

After my group, I tried to find Squawk Coffee House, but no one I talked to knew where it was. When I got home, I found out that Squawk Coffee House only exists on Thursday nights, and is actually held in the Harvard Epworth Methodist Church. Who knew. I'll probably try to go again next week. Instead, Thade and I ate pizza and drank cheap beer in the Garage before heading back to Brighton. All in all, not a bad night.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

I Hope I Don't Blow It

I'm still feeling out the different directions I want this thing to go. I'm not sure if this belongs in here, but let's try it out.

I woke up this morning at about 3:30am with a burning stomach. It's usual for me to wake up in the middle of the night, especially if I have to get up early the next day, but usually I can fall back to sleep. Well, sometimes I can fall back to sleep.

Even though I didn't have to wake up for another three hours, I just lay there with a churning belly (blame the Indian food) in a sort of halfsleep, turning occasionally from one side to the other. As I was lying there, images began to pour through my mind in the fluid way that can only happen in nearsleep or other altered states. I felt warm, comfortable. I realized I was experiencing a sudden rush of love for Thade, and then the words began.

I don't write poems very often. I know some people write several a week, but I've never been able to do that. I can make myself write prose for hours a day if I have to, but a poem always has to come to me. Sometimes, like last night, it comes almost entirely completed, and I just have to write it down or organize it, or maybe find the right word that properly expresses the meaning hovering in my mind.

One line came to me and seemed just so powerful, the crux of this whole poem thing, that I was afraid I would fall asleep and forget it. Without turning on the light, I scribbled the line in my journal, sure I would be able to remember even from indecipherable handwriting.

But I didn't fall asleep. I just lay there, drifting in the poem until 6:30, when my alarm rang. I got up and went to work for four hours, my mind ringing with the poem, subltly ordering it, polishing it, and admiring it. On my ten-minute break, I managed to jot down half of it, holding the rest in my head until I went home.

After lunch at home, I shut myself in my room and finished it. I don't know how long it took, maybe thirty minutes all together. Poetry writing is one of the only activities I participate in during which I can honestly say that I become unaware of time.

I've been exhausted all day. Tonight I meant to go to the Lindy Hop dance at MIT, but god, is it cold and am I tired. Oh well. There's a dance every week, and it's worth a night at home to have written this.

That gives you a pretty good idea of how I write poems. They are always written in my head for hours, days, or weeks before they see a page. Sometimes they come out fully formed, sometimes they need some help. On this one, I was lucky. It was a relatively easy birth.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

"Life is Short, Art is Long."

Monday night, March 5th, I go by myself to Stone Soup Poetry. This is apparently the longest running poetry series in the Boston/Cambridge area. It's held in the Out of the Blue Gallery every Monday night at eight, and consists (as most of these do) of an open mic followed by a featured reader.

Because of a bus mixup, I arrive around twenty-five minutes late, and the open mic part of the evening is half over. I duck in and sit down quietly on a folding chair in the group of about two dozen. Chad, the moderator, recognizes me from my attendence there a month or so ago and passes me the sign-up sheet.

The Out of the Blue is a cool independent gallery owned by Debbie Priestly, poet and painter who brought me on her Cambridge Community TV show back in January. The walls are crowded with work by herself and other local artists. Tonight, the pieces consist mainly of portraits of nude women and men and pastels of cats. I'm sitting alone, listening to Chris Robbins talk about his desire to be more feminine (he calls it "Venus Envy"), and trying not to cough and sneeze too much as several flesh and blood cats reside in the gallery full-time, making the close quarters oppressive to my allergic respiratory system.

Chad calls me up next, before I've blown my nose or even taken off my coat. I jump up to the podium and begin immediately to read. My voice cracks, but not as horribly as it could or has. I try to look up from my paper as often as I can, but always my eyes dart back to the security of the written words I'm holding, away from the gazes of the audience, who really could be thinking anything about me.

As usual, Bill Perrault is video taping me for a weekly poetry program that plays in Cambridge and Lowell. The camera makes me more nervous, so I don't look at it at all. He also takes flash photographs of me while I'm reading. Each time the light goes off, I stumble just a little over my words.

A few other open micers go before the feature. Since it will soon be his birthday, Bill Perrault is featuring tonight with Sue Red. He reads his work straightforwardly, no pretenses for this short, ruddy-faced New Englander soon to be seventy-two. His words reflect his struggle with alcoholism, and there's nothing oblique here. "I am an alcoholic, and my mind is full of s.h.i.t." He won't say the curse word, which I think is odd. I wonder if it has to do with the television program. He also reads a few poems about being a boy, waiting for the ice trucks in the summertime. "They don't have those ice trucks any more," he says after finishing his last poem. "I sure did love that ice truck."

Sue Red reads after Bill. She's a small woman who looks like she could be in her twenties, but I get the feeling from things she says that she's older. She's adorable with two eyebrow rings, a black collared shirt under a red sweater, red plastic glasses, and a black conductor hat that says, "The Beatles." She begins her reading with the poem, "Getting There," by Sylvia Plath.

I'm impressed by Red's original work. It's not only her language that I appreciate, but the fact that she doesn't write about trivialities. One issue I tend to have with modern poets is so often it seems that their work is just poetry for the sake of poetry. I see so many people at these things who get up and read a poem about sewing buttons, or watching a kid dance, or breaking a pencil, or whatever, and the only point is to illustrate this mundanity in poetic language. Red isn't afraid to write about big things, important things, like love and time and passion, and she does it very successfully. In one poem, she reads the brazenly important, unselfconscious line, "Life is short; art is long." She ends with a fine, delicate poem about the band Dagmar, though it's really about love. I like her.

Two people have arrived even later than me to the reading, so they extend the open mic after the the feature. The last person to read is Bill Barnam.

This 80-year-old arrives always at least an hour late and strips down his layers until he's in an unwashed button-down shirt, a vest, and grey sweatpants. His shoes are laceless slide-on sneakers full of holes, and he wears a bandana around his neck. His skin is pulled over his face so tightly you can almost see the skull trying to break through, his eyes sunken into the sockets under bushy white eyebrows bugging out and looking at you with otherwordly depth and distance, stringy white hair falling to his shoulders. He shakes so much he is always in motion, and he stutters, but performs strange, prophetic, elliptical poetry with his full body, acting out every line. When he performs, everyone is silent, every eye focused on him.

"T-tonight I w-will perf-form a p-poem that jumps around a l-lot. It s-starts in Egypt, at the b-building of the p-pyramids, th-then it m-moves t-to Milton, M-Massachusetts. Then it m-moves to the c-circus. Then t-to the h-h-house of a n-nymphomaniac. Then to a f-forest."

I really wish I knew what he was talking about when he performs his poetry. The images are intriguing, and just from who he is I get the feeling that his words are important, almost as if he's a sage journeyed down from the woods, and I would understand so much more about everything if I could just decode his poetry.

After the reading I talk to a few people. Red gives me her card and tells me about a few other open mics I might be interested in. I also talk to a man named Seth and give him an old book of mine.

"Is your contact info on there?" he asks.

"No, but I'll write it on there." I write my Myspace address and he looks dissapointed.

"So what are you doing in Boston?" he asks as I hand it back. I've already told him I just moved here from Indiana.

"Just working at Starbucks and writing."

"So you just moved to the city to sort of... start your writing career?"

I'm not sure if he's being dismissive or not. "Yeah. Guess so. You gotta do something."

He nods and smiles, but I still can't tell if it's appreciative or condescending. "Well, you're off to a good start, I think," he says, and we part.

As I leave it's snowing hard. I see my book sitting on a chair by a bag and wonder if Seth is going to read it or throw it away. Bill Perrault is leaving at the same time I am and he holds the door for me.

"Thanks for coming back," he says.

"Sure," I say, pulling up my hood. "Thanks for having the reading." Then we leave in different directions.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Introduction

Welcome to the first entry of The Broken Watch. Here are a few things you should know.

I'm a struggling novelist, poet, and (now) blogger living in Boston, Massachusetts. I'm currently revising a manuscript of one novel and laying the groundwork for another. I also write and perform poetry, and am in the ongoing process of sending out poems and shorter prose pieces to various publications with the hope of getting something published and breaking onto the scene. I'm a member of a few writing groups, and I frequent several open mics, readings, and slams around town.

As you've probably figured out by the facts that A) I am a writer, B) I am relatively young, and C) you have never heard of me, I don't have a ton of money. Consequently, I also work at Starbucks, as well as other occasional odd jobs. Starbucks is a good job with people I like, but it leaves me in near constant moral quandary in relation to the ethics of megacorporations and the amount of resources utilized and wasted by these megacorporations. But I do get free coffee.

"The Broken Watch" is an allusion to William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, which, gun to my head, is my favorite novel.

Now that we've got all that out of the way, I hope you enjoy looking at my weblog as much as I'll enjoy the beer I'll be drinking while I post here. We'll talk soon.

Until then,
-JS