Monthly Archives: February 2010

Fess Up Friday (the quick edition)

While there are still two more days of February left, I thought I would take this opportunity to do a quick Fess Up Friday and give you the status of the book, as far as I understand it.

In February so far, I have written 8,395 new words and have reached page 145 of the 3rd draft, which is a little ways into Part Two, a little more than third of the way through. Most of the new words are for Part Two and Three, to be woven in with previous scenes from the 2nd draft.

I’m aiming to be done by Easter, which is April 4th, just to give myself another crazy-but-potentially-doable deadline.

Some presents:

I never bragged on my friend Helen Gillet, who is OffBeat’s cover girl.

One of Rachel’s stories is online in audio.

A man watched 30 chick flicks in 30 days to be a better boyfriend.

A great article about the potential future of healthcare-concierge medicine.

A sweet review of one of my favorite movies, The Cutting Edge.

Lipdubbing – check out the last video.

Fun airplane safety cards (make sure to check out the images at the end).

Message in a SIM card – this is a really cool story about a couple’s anniversary pics being returned after being lost at sea for nearly two years.

Wusbands and hifes.

Girl Scout cookie facts (and recipe!)

Enjoy your weekend!

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Some bragging on and some poetry

This is an extra cool bragging on post, for me, for a couple of different reasons. First, it involves two of my mentors and former bosses. I was lucky enough to see earlier versions of both of the works while they were still evolving. And both of them are poets and taught me a lot about poetry, at a time (like I mentioned in my last post) when poetry was a larger part of my life.

I receive a Christmas card from Ava Leavell Haymon every year. Not just any Christmas card, but a card with one of Ava’s poems and some artwork behind it. She works really hard on them, as I know firsthand since I worked for her. I didn’t get one this year. ūüė¶ Or, I thought I didn’t. A few days ago, I opened up a belated Christmas card from Ava and her husband Cordell. On the back, they’d jokingly had printed:

Happy Holidays

Happy New Year

Happy Groundhog Day

All the best wishes, all the time-Cordell and Ava

It made me laugh. But even better than the sweet joke was the fine print beneath it informing me that her newest book of poetry is out at the end of the month from LSU Press. Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread was a manuscript when I was working for Ava and it contained some of my favorites of her poetry. It’s a rumination on the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, focusing on Gretel’s perspective. I always suspected Ava was a bit influenced by Russia’s Baba Yaga tales as well, but that could’ve been because I was studying them in my Russian fairy tales class at around the same time. The poems captured my imagination and I can’t wait to get my hands on the finished book. The first book event is at the Baton Rouge Gallery on February 28th.

I was an undergraduate when Jim Wilcox, concerned because I was working nights at a hotel and going to classes during the day, said, “You know, David Madden is looking for a new assistant.” So, I was introduced to David and got the gig and…worked two jobs in addition to going to classes. I kinda loved my night job at the hotel. I got so much reading and studying done! I continued to work for and with David for years. When I tried to quit as his assistant to focus on graduate school, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse–partnership in his literary agency, which I had been working on in addition to other duties. So then David and I were partners for a few years and because of that experience, I got to see books like Mary Manhein’s Trail of Bones, Richard White’s Kingfish and David’s own Thomas Wolfe’s Civil War and A Primer of the Novel go from manuscripts to published books I was proud of participating it.

David’s newest book, Abducted By Circumstance, is particularly special to me because I was still working for him when he wrote the first version of¬† “Abducted By Circumstances.” That version has traveled a far distance to become his new novel – not just as indicated by the setting, which is now the Thousand Islands of New York, but thematically and stylistically as well. David says I was the first person to read that first short piece and I clearly remember letting myself into his house one day for work and he, consumed with creative energy, asked me to take a seat, then read me what he’d been working on. Seeing now that it’ll soon be published, I feel like I’m witnessing the full arch of something profound. David always inspires me.

The cover and plot details aren’t available on Amazon.com, but I found the cover and blurbs on an interesting blog and you can read the plot details and pre-order by clicking the link in the above paragraph for the University of Tennessee Press.

[3.4.10 Update: David asked me to post this response on his behalf – “I imagine I know most of the folks Emilie knows, so I am glad to be in touch and to say that I hope to see each of you by and by, in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, on my front porch knocking at my door in Black Mountain, maybe Denver in a few weeks for AWP, and/or somewhere in the literary world or the firmament above. Fondly remembering, David.” He promised to send London Bridge info soon. Also, if you want to read a summary of David’s work and career that I wrote a few years ago, check out the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture – Vol. 9 Literature.]

While I was writing this, I got an email that Clarence will appear with Ethan Dilsdorf next month as part of the Readers & Writers series, for their 25th anniversary. March 21st at 8:30 p.m. on the LSU campus.

And now, I’ll leave you with a poem, as promised. I did, in fact, get a book of Lucille Clifton’s poetry from the library, Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000. Just before I sat down to write this, I read a few poems, like savoring bon-bons before my work and I was gobsmacked by this one.

why some people be mad at me sometimes
they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
their memories
and i keep on remembering
mine

[A 2.25.10 P.S./Update: I have now officially hit two new superlative records with the blog’s traffic. Yesterday was my busiest traffic day so far, significantly beating out the previous busiest day, which already made me happy. And, in just the first two months of this year, the blog has already had more traffic than the last 6 months of last year combined. While it might seem like I’m bragging on myself here, I’d actually like to take a moment to thank YOU for helping to grow my blog, for being somewhat interested in what I have to say. I hope to see lots more busiest days and personal records with your help. Thank you for reading.]

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Rest in peace, Lucille Clifton

Shakira might have said, “Hips Don’t Lie,” but Lucille Clifton said it best:

Homage to My Hips
these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top

I used to have this poem memorized. I remember the moment I first read it and felt a pulse of “yes, thank you,” go through me, like the best poetry and truth makes you feel.

The GalleyCat piece I read quoted Thom Ward and I agree completely with what he says about Clifton’s poetry: “Clifton’s poems have their own special ‘signature’ as, say, the work of Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Dickinson. Mixing spare, muscular, visual language, a deft balance of idea and image with powerful silences and taut line-breaks–you always know when you are in the presence of a Clifton poem.”

The word muscular is so perfect for her poetry and it’s so true about the line breaks. Back when I used to study poetry (and I was poetry editor for LSU’s Delta Undergraduate Journal for two years, for whatever that’s worth to remind me I used to pay a lot of attention to poetry), I remember being struck by how utterly unique her phrasing is.

Maybe in her honor, I’ll go get a book of her poetry and read them out loud. And maybe write some poems for the first time in years.

Rest in peace, Lucille Clifton.

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Spicy Girl at rest

So, I had surgery earlier this week to remove my gallbladder and I’ve been recovering since then. Unfortunately, that means I have to miss out on all the parades this week. Before going into the surgery, I spoke with my doctor and actually asked him, “So… there’s no way I can go to the Saints parade tonight, right?” And, bless him, he did everything he could not to say no outright. “Well,” he said, stretching it out for a day and a half. “Even if your friend drops you off and parks, even if you don’t have to do any walking, you’re going to find it very hard to stand for very long and people will be nudging you and pushing you. You’ll be very uncomfortable.” I sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m not going to go.”

Earlier, when scheduling the surgery, I’d spoken with him about any dietary changes I might have to consider. I’d sworn to my friends I *was not* giving up spicy food, no matter what. “You’ll do what the doctor tells you to do,” Jamey insisted threateningly/lovingly. My mamma mia! had her gallbladder out years ago and she was told she’d have to change her diet significantly. She’s remained convinced ever since that my love for spicy food is to blame for the stomach trouble I’ve had for years.

Luckily, my doctor refuted that. My diet won’t have to change significantly (at least once I’ve recovered), which is also good news. When I’d brought it up with him at the scheduling, I’d mulishly said, “Cause I’m going to India later this year and crawfish season is coming up. I don’t want to give up spicy food.” He said I wouldn’t have to. “So, I can still wait for the last batch of crawfish at the boil?” I asked and he laughed and said yes, if I’d recovered from the surgery.

Once, at Beck’s favorite Thai restaurant, I was called “Spicy Girl,” by our waitress. She warned me that what I’d ordered was really spicy and I said, “Great, bring it on! I like it spicy!” This from a girl who’d once never really eaten spicy food. I was raised by a German and an Irishman, from Ohio and Indiana respectively. I think parsley and some black pepper are about as spicy as we got growing up. But moving to Louisiana, embracing the cuisine(s) around me, changed all that.

At Indian restaurants, the waiters eye my super fair skin when I order lamb vindaloo and warn me how spicy it is. I have to assure them that no matter how red I turn, no matter how much my eyes water, I like it spicy.

The evening after my surgery, I selected one of the cans of soup I’d bought the day before. While waiting for the soup to heat up, I picked up the can and my eye caught on the little label – “zesty!” Oh no. I was told to eat a bland diet while recuperating. I thought I’d selected some safe soups, but apparently a zesty one found its way into my shopping cart. So I warmed up some safer chicken soup instead and contented myself with thoughts of the crawfish boils to come.

So what’s a girl to do when it’s too cold to go out, when she’s too weak for the parades rolling oh so close to home? I’ve been doing a lot of reading, some writing when my mind’s clear enough. I did my taxes last night, which was an adventure.

Undergoing this surgery is one reason why I was so affected by this piece about a woman who’s saying she’ll marry for health insurance that I stumbled upon this week. It explains just why we need a better system of health care in this country in a nutshell, gives the issue a very personal face.

And I’ll leave you with some fun Saints stuff, since I missed the parade on Tuesday (I got to watch it on t.v., though!):

Drew Brees (and son Baylen) make a very cute diaper commercial.

New Orleans was the place to be for the SuperBowl. (I didn’t have to say it, they did!)

And check Toni out in BR tonight, since I can’t. And online, which I could do, as part of B&N’s Book Clubs.

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A happy riot

WHO DAT!

I’ve long been a Saints fan, though never so much into football. I never really watched the games, though some football-crazed exes have coaxed me into watching a few. As Sis teases me, I’ve watched more football this one season than I have the rest of my life combined. And not just willingly, but eagerly.

You can understand a lot about New Orleans (and Louisiana) if you understand the adoration and devotion we feel for our Saints. They are emblems of everything that we as a city are capable of and so rarely achieve. This city is amazing and utterly unique, but our flaws seem too massive and, often fatal, for us to overcome. The Saints remind us that with conviction, we can overcome and endure.

I was on Saint Charles Avenue, in a pub, for the Championship Game. I held hands with a (cute) perfect stranger during Hartley’s momentous field goal. Rounds of such enthusiastic full-body hugs ensued that I worried I’d chipped a tooth. It didn’t matter if we knew each other. We spun each other from embrace to embrace indiscriminately. Then, we spilled onto the street to watch the streams of fans returning from the Super Dome, everybody laying on their horns and shouting. People ran up to passing cars and slapped hands with the people inside. And then we went to the Quarter… you have never seen celebration like that night. I haven’t, at least. I heard one person liken it to the celebration after the end of WWII was announced, at least as far as they could tell from those iconic photographs.

Last night, I was with my neighbors. Before the clock had ticked down to 0 and after Tracey Porter had performed his 74 yard miracle, somebody said reverently, “We just won the SuperBowl.” No one hushed him superstitiously. We all knew it was true. We had just won the SuperBowl. The Saints, New Orleans, each and every one of us had won the SuperBowl.

There was no need for the Quarter (and almost no way to get there), because Magazine Street was a chaotic, impromptu parade. We tumbled out into the night and into the crazy, shouting alongside everyone else. There were firecrackers, cops, singing and honking horns everywhere. Kissing and hugging. Jumping and dancing. The #11 bus came by and there was a short, collective pause and then most of the crowd swarmed the bus so that it had to come to a standstill. The crowd pounded on the windows, shouting to the driver and dancing passengers inside, who were all smiling and shouting back.

Illegal and dangerous? Yes. But it was a happy riot.

Check out the pictures, below. Apologies for how dark they are – they were taken on my phone (yes, the same one that got buried in the sand a while back).

Here are some thoughts from friends on Facebook, to put things in perspective:

…and so, there was much joy in Whoville. On that February night, the City of NO became the city of YES!!! (Maurice Ruffin)

…is pretty sure that life will never be the same again.

…must be dreaming! THE SAINTS JUST WON THE FREAKING SUPERBOWL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ronlyn said: Dear Saints, Thank you for making my grandfather a happy, happy man. He’s not resting in peace tonight. She linked to a wonderful, wonderful Nervous Breakdown piece that truly encapsulates the feeling in the city today (which should be made a state holiday, or at least a city one, Mr. New Mayor).

Today, people are still passionately crying out WHO DAT! Many have been saying it for 42 years and there isn’t any way we’re stopping any time soon.

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Fess Up Friday – the way too long edition

So far, 2010 has involved a lot of being sick and already several doctor’s visits (surgery next week). Lots of time back and forth to Baton Rouge interviewing folks for my latest 225 piece about The Dictionary of Louisiana French – will have to do a post soon on the behind-the-scenes story of this latest piece, because it’s been fascinating.

My goal was to do a NaNoWriMo-like pace in January, trying to finish any new writing that might be necessary for the 3rd draft. I set my goal word count kind of arbitrarily at 30,000. I achieved just over 11,000 new words in actuality. Half of those words would probably never have been written, if it weren’t for Ronlyn.

As I reported last month, Jamey “fixed” my novel. But I wasn’t fixed–my process wasn’t. I’ve had a thousand little revelations (and maybe a dozen giant ones) in the years I’ve been working on this book. The fact that I’m still surprised to learn something about the book or my characters or my process or myself still surprises me, but I suspect the learning (and the surprise) will never go away.

I wrote Ronlyn an email asking her for advice and something in my email triggered an awareness in her that I needed something other than (in addition to) what I was asking for, so she suggested we talk on the phone. I wrote her back and said I was going to Baton Rouge and why not get coffee. We met at a coffeeshop I wrote a lot of my thesis at, which is a lot more active in the middle of the day than it used to be, when I was there. Ronlyn came in with a bandage on her chin (she writes about that injury and another in her newest Nervous Breakdown piece). We chatted about her injury and the day I’d been having and then segued into The Issue(s).

Like a writing therapist, she listened. A lot. And then diagnosed The Issue. “Your process isn’t working.” In short, I had developed habits and rituals that didn’t work for me. Ever, or anymore, that was hard to tell. But they didn’t work. My body would hurt if I didn’t get up and go to Cheers everyday and try to get one of my favorite tables. Except, I would sit there all day and not write. I was there, butt in chair as they say, but I was restless, I was annoyed, I was undisciplined.

The other problem, as I then confessed to Ronlyn, was that I was afraid I’d lost my joy in writing. For good. “It’s almost never fun to write anymore. I remember when it used to be the thing I always wanted to do most.” I was paralyzed because I was afraid that my book sucked and it wasn’t satisfying or fun or pleasant to write to top it all off. But the worst part was that I was afraid writing would never be fun again, that it would always be arduous torture.

Ronlyn then said several things that consoled and comforted me, that woke me. She made some great suggestions, too. First, she reassured me that not all books are enjoyable to write. But, clearly, this book needs to be written because it won’t let me go. Writing can and will be fun and satisfying again, she convinced me.

Next, she suggested that I find new places and ways to write, as my habits and rituals are failing me. She urged me to go back to handwriting, which is how I wrote until I went to college. She gave me another piece of advice that I’ll have to keep private, but which is embodied by the picture below.

The above picture was taken in St. Andrews, Scotland. This is the place where I did my first writing in several months, after finishing my thesis draft of the book. I was weary and burnt out and in Scotland was lucky enough to sit in on my friend Rachel Marsh’s writing group. My first writing in months was an assignment for that group meeting, the Yellow House assignment.

I came home from that visit with Ronlyn in Baton Rouge and I vowed to handwrite in a notebook for an hour every day, before doing anything else. I’ve managed that most days. Sometimes, it’s regrettably at the end of the day and I have missed a few days, what with illness, doctor’s appointments and Saints games. But, I’ve written more days than I haven’t. And I was shocked at how relatively easy and yes, enjoyable, the process was. Several people have told me this over the years and handwriting used to be my primary method. I knew it was true that handwriting would probably be more fun and efficient in the long run for me, but I stubbornly clung to my broken rituals, trying to shove my creativity into the shape of my habits like a difficult puzzle piece.

And then, I was lucky enough to attend the Peauxdunque Writers’ Alliance retreat in Hopedale, Louisiana and I had an amazing, peaceful time. We prepared meals together, toasted J.D. Salinger and had shop talk in incredibly beautiful surroundings and it gave me just that extra bit of creative energy I needed. Below is a picture of the writers at the retreat. Though it’s highly overexposed (we’d set the timer on a camera and were standing on a dock in extremely cold weather), I really enjoy the expressions on our faces.

Bryan, Susan, Terri, Emilie, Tad and Maurice

Recently, someone asked me what the new timeline is for the book and I froze. I don’t know. I’d hoped, ambitiously, to have all the new writing done in January and then just breeze through a shellac/edit, sculpt those new pieces into place and then pop it into the EasyBake. That’s not going to happen. I still want to be done soon. I’m still restless. But I’m figuring it out. I’m that much closer.

One piece of good news is that every time I’ve been asked this year what I do for a living (at doctor’s offices, etc.), I have answered, “self-employed writer.” With hardly any hesitation, too!

But while I’m eliminating my hesitation and waiting for a reasonable timeline, I have much bragging on to do.

Jamey is in 225, talking about her recent and perennial reading. Also, she has finished and exceeded the 32 Day Challenge, which means she wrote every day of the first 32 days of the year. And she’s still going. Not one single day off.

Barb’s book More of This World or Maybe Another was just named a Barnes and Noble Discover Awards finalist.

Dave’s newest film project, Night Catches Us, premiered at Sundance.

Toni is appearing at Baton Rouge’s CitiPlace Barnes and Noble February 12th at 7 p.m.

The Saints are playing in the SuperBowl on Sunday. That’s certainly something to brag on, as well.

Check out this picture I found of some of my favorite people:

Classic. James Wilcox, Jamey Hatley, Ronlyn Domingue and Clarence Nero

And some presents to leave you with:

Pink performs an aerial routine similar to what my character would be doing at the end of my book.

The Legend of Jeremy Shockey – so funny I almost ran the car off the road while listening to it on the radio.

And five seasons of Lost reduced to under 10 minutes by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, below. My thoughts as I started watching it? Ohmygawd, I watched all 104 hours of Lost in December. But trust me, I’m going to enjoy watching the upcoming 16 hours of Season 6 just as much, if not more.

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