A boy crush

January 24th, 2010

What do you call it when small boys start looking up to father figures, start seeking the approval of men? Is it hero-worship? Role-modeling? A boy-crush? I see it at hockey practice, Small Boy looking to his trainers for a well done, a high five. He is especially attached to M (who is my favorite trainer as well) and I see Small Boy glancing over at him as he goes through the drills, looking for his approval. M does an excellent job of singling out each kid at least for a moment, calling each by name, issuing a bravo, a tap on the butt with his stick, a personal correction to a shoulder here, an ankle there. He teaches them seriously – they are learning real skills – then suddenly he’s got one tossed over his shoulder and the other kids are chasing after him. The kids all love him.

They’re good with the kids, these patient men, even D, the gruff head of the program who I initially didn’t much care for. He pats the kids on their helmets and gives them fist bumps after an hour being being stern with them, of calling out: “Hoi, Gillas! Was ha’ni sait!?”* “Hallo, das geht nicht beim Bambinis.”** “Pfudli am Wand! Pfudli am Wand, Augen zu mir!” *** Even he will suddenly smile a surprisingly warm smile at one of the littlest ones tripping over his own stick. These trainers either actually are genuinely fond of each of these children – and at a full Saturday practice there are almost fifty of them – or they have perfected the illusion.

And in return the kids work hard for them. The Small Boy works hard for them, works especially hard for M, listens to him, seeks his approval. M is the first in a long line of men who will mean, in fits and starts and cold hours on the ice, more to my son than I do.

I understand now, why at the first training of the season D thanked us parents “fuer ihre Vertrauen” – for your trust. For trusting them with our children. When I see the way Small Boy glows under M’s praise, I understand that I really have handed my son over to them for the hour.

What’s the word for it, this first hunt for approval? Hero-worship? Role-modeling? Boy-crush? Whatever the word, my boy’s got it. I am grateful.


* Hey, kids! What did I say?
** Hello. That won’t fly in the Bambinis (the official youth hockey team you have to be selected for. Anybody under 8 can go to the hockey school, but you have to be picked to be a Bambini)
*** Butts up against the boards! Butts up against the boards and eyes on me!


January 21st, 2010

I am uncomfortable “asking the universe” for things. I am uncomfortable with the idea of “the law of attraction” and “manifesting your destiny.” I am downright suspicious of The Secret. I know that many people, including at least a few people who read this blog, swear by the law of attraction and can point to situations in their lives when the law of attraction seemed to be fully at work in their lives. I read blogs; I’ve seen it happen, too.* Certainly on some level the law of attraction makes some sense: if you are negative and unhappy and grumble about your unhappiness, joyful people probably aren’t likely to hang around you for long whereas other grumblers will find in you a partner in unhappiness, reinforcing the negative trend. Certainly if fear holds you back from trying to start your own business, from quitting your job to travel around the world for eight months, from tying to publish your poetry then you will never start your own business, travel the world, or publish poetry. I get it.

On the other hand, suggesting “without exception, every human being has the ability to transform any weakness or suffering into strength, power, perfect peace, health, and abundance” seems to me to tread perilously close to suggesting that those who are lacking are lacking through some fault of their own. As if social forces don’t exist. As if class structure doesn’t circumscribe opportunities at every turn. As if crushing, grinding poverty of a type I can’t even begin to imagine wouldn’t dictate a person’s every action. As if there wouldn’t be things that would stand in the way of somebody “manifesting abundance.”

My book club just finished discussing The White Tiger. Balram, the main character, talks about being trapped in “the Rooster Coop.” The Rooster Coop – an insidious combination of social control, class structure, violence, poverty and fear that traps people in “perpetual servitude;” social and cultural traditions that are reinforced from without and from within. “The Rooster Coop,” Balram muses at one point, “was doing its work. Servants have to keep other servants from becoming innovators, experimenters, or entrepreneurs. Yes, that’s the sad truth, Mr. Premier. The coop is guarded from the inside.” I thought the metaphor of the Rooster Coop was brilliant, brilliant and sad because I look at the world and see Rooster Coops. There is joy and wonder and abundance, but there is a whole lot of cruelty and injustice too, and I am uncomfortable with a world view that doesn’t take social structure seriously, that doesn’t take injustice – human-created, human-perpetuated injustice – seriously.

I am uncomfortable ignoring the reality that the pure stupid luck of the draw doesn’t have a lot to do with my abundance, with the chances that present themselves to me, with the freedom – the luxury – I have to pursue them. The socio-economic status I occupy, that I occupy by the luck of birth and the coincidence of marriage – colors everything. I’ve written of this before. I do not mean to suggest that people are locked beyond all hope in certain circumstances; of course people can do better, rise above, shine, get lucky, work hard, break free. But I find it disingenuous to suggest that the circumstances of our birth and the social forces at work in our lives don’t tilt the playing field even in the matter of the law of attraction. I am extremely uncomfortable with that.

I am uncomfortable with the law of attraction because it strikes me as yet another way in which the world is unfair, but in a manner that allows us to overlook that unfairness. In a manner that makes it easier for us to overlook the social structures – conditions of race and class and gender and institutionalized corruption and inter-generational poverty – that are at play every day and that are already easy enough to ignore. Things that are very real and cannot be manifested away so easily.

So here is where I admit sheepishly that I asked the universe for something this month. In my own way, I think I asked the universe for something. Something that I got (these are the more coherent thoughts I promised). In thinking about this workshop, I did a few things differently. Who’s to say I wouldn’t have gotten in anyway? I mean, I would have sent the same five poems, written the same awkward cover letter. But I did kind of ask the universe for this thing.

Where does this leave me, cynic that I am? I guess it leaves me thinking that the law of attraction might work in my personal, small life.** But the world is big and the injustice is real. And I am still very, very uncomfortable suggesting that “without exception, every human being has the ability to transform any weakness or suffering into strength, power, perfect peace, health, and abundance.” That’s too simple. Too close to upper-class privilege. Too comfortable.

I’m still uncomfortable with all of this. I doubt I’m going to start “asking the universe” for things on a regular basis, unless it’s to ask the universe for a little more social justice a little more quickly, please. And then to go the barricades.

* As a social scientist, however long out of the field, I’m compelled to suggest here: it’s impossible to prove that people wouldn’t have gotten what they wanted even if they hadn’t opened themselves up to the law of attraction since they only live one life and can’t go back and see what would have happened had they behaved differently in some way. Correlation does not mean causality and all that.

** Or it might just leave me thinking that correlation does not imply causality.

Happy dance

January 20th, 2010

Oh my god, I actually got in!

I’ll put together some coherent thoughts on this when I’m feeling more coherent.

2010: The Year of the Line Break

January 8th, 2010

My lines are too short.

I’m going through a revision phase again, trying to find the five poems that will get me into this workshop, (and frankly I’m about to tape my best twenty to the wall and just start throwing darts) and it’s clear to me that in many instances my lines are too short. I’ve come back to several poems that I haven’t worked with in months and have made major changes to the line breaks in all of them, in each case producing revised poems with longer (and thus fewer) lines. Longer lines create more possibilities for interesting line breaks, breaks that carry the poem forward on its own momentum; in several instances I think the poem just looks nicer on the page as well.

I write almost all of my first drafts by hand in Moleskine notebooks, and in most cases my lines are as long as the page is wide: when transcribed into typeface that can yield a pretty short line. (It also reminds me of the oft-told story that William Carlos Williams wrote many of his poems on prescription pads. Did he write on the pads because he wrote short poems, or did he write short poems because he wrote on prescription pads? Did his tools influence his style? Did his style dictate his tools? Did the two feed off of each other?) What’s interesting to me is that it shows me that I am not in control of my material, not on the first pass-through at any rate. I’m letting the width of the paper I’m writing on determine my line breaks; and line breaks are a poet’s most powerful tool. 

About a year ago I started paying more attention to stanzas, to controlling the pace of my poems by introducing some breathing room. I think it made for some better poems; certainly thinking more closely about form, making decisions about form, made me a better poet even in those instances when I held on to the original version. Thinking critically about the way I write has to be a step forward, it has to be a sign of something. Growth, maturity, something. So I’m going to look at my lines more closely.

If 2009 was the Year of the Stanza, then 2010 shall be The Year of the Line Break.

I’ll take it

January 1st, 2010

2009 was the year I decided to take myself seriously as a poet. 2009 was the year I gave myself permission to try. 2009 was the year I made some writing goals, made them specific and public the better to hold myself accountable to myself.

By my reckoning I made a good year of it. I did not write fifty-two poems but I wrote forty-six things that I am able to call poems under my bizarre internal standards and I’ll take that. I wrote a lot of things that went nowhere, and I’ll take that too, and in the process I learned something about saving the two lines that seem worth saving and moving on and I’ll take that most of all. I sent out fifteen packages and in the end had eight poems published in five journals (with two submissions still pending): my novice self will very much take that, thank you. I subscribed to or requested sample copies of a few new journals, and though I’d love for it to be journals-a-palooza around here, the logistics of the back-and-forth communication about how much extra the journals cost when shipped overseas (because I know journals run on tight budgets and want to be sensitive to this point), and the growing on-line availability of back issues, made it easy for this one to slip by the wayside. I lost count of the poets I added to my collection and am too lazy to go to my studio shelves to figure it out. Suffice it to say I am better read now than I was one year ago. I did not attend a writers’ workshop.

Now it is 2010 and my writing goals are much the same:

  • Write (at least) fifty-two poems this year
  • Send out (at least) twelve packages
  • Attend a writers’ workshop (I’m already registered for this one am applying to one very ambitious one and one slightly less ambitious one Stateside). 
  • Continue to read, read, read. Read more, read more widely, read more critically, read more openly. Read more stuff I never thought I’d read. Read more stuff I’ve already read. Read more stuff I don’t like. Read.

My writing life had a good year. My writing life passed the test I had set up for myself: give it a year and if at the end of the year something from the year is still glimmering, then give it another year. And things are glimmering. I’ve published some pieces that I’m proud of, pieces I think I’ll still be proud to have my name attached to a year from now and a year from then. I’m reading more poetry, and that’s just good for a person’s heart. I’ve found a thing outside of me, outside of my small boys, that is hard and shiny and good. That is mine. This is me, now, this fresh-baked stumbling poet. Maybe not, as Bethany so perfectly put it, for a living, but for a life, yes. For a life, this stumbling poet is me, and I’ll take that.