Not Your Mother’s Book Tour

Runyan imageIn my world, a typical book signing involves sitting behind a small publisher’s table at the annual AWP Conference book fair. Along with dozens of other poets throughout the day, I peer at passersby like a shelter dog whose time has run out. If I’m lucky, someone might stop to say hello, taking a complimentary butterscotch disc as they shuffle away without my book. “Got just one carry-on bag this year,” they’ll say. “You know how it is.”

The book signing I attended this week was different. In fact, it wasn’t really about books—or signing them—at all.

Jenn McAllister, otherwise known as Jennxpenn, is a nineteen-year-old YouTube sensation who started making videos about her teenage life several years ago. My twelve-year-old daughter, Lydia, and her friends follow Jenn and other millennial vloggers, like Super Woman, Taylor Oakley, and Miranda Sings, on their four-inch screens every day. So when Lydia and her friend Emma heard that Jenn was coming to the Chicago area for a signing, we had no choice but to take a ninety-minute road trip—on a school night—to see Jenn in real-life retina display. [Read more...]

How To Begin a Book

4270156619_bb2e54ca50_zI’m a bit Type A for a poet—or for what people perceive as one. I like to know when and where I’m going with my writing, and why. This is no apology. Without specific goals, I wouldn’t have written a thing since becoming a parent twelve years ago. I make the time and space to write, even perching atop an ottoman in the corner of a stairway to scratch out drafts in the early, nauseated hours of my pregnancies.

My projects are clearly defined. Explore Paul the Apostle with fifty poems. Grapple with the book of Revelation from Patmos to the Great White Throne. Write at least one poem week, unless it’s Christmas or something, until the project is “done.” Then revise with intense, almost physical focus, as if scrubbing a yellow ring from the bathtub. Inspiration? Who has time to wait around for that when the elementary school is requiring five start-of-the-year events?

However, when I flew to Image’s Glen Workshop earlier this month, opting to spend most of the week on retreat, I had no such plan. I knew it was time to start a new collection of poems focusing on the violin, one of my lifelong loves. But I had no idea how to approach it, how to even figure out how to approach it, or how long any of these undefined tasks would take. I just knew I was about to spend a week in Santa Fe with artists, writers, mountains, chocolate, and wine. At least a couple of those are daily necessities. [Read more...]

Breaking Bad’s Walter White is My Shining Star

image1When I first met Walter White, I was in pretty bad shape. Incapacitated by my own depression and anxiety, I couldn’t bring myself to concentrate on much of anything. But the moment I began watching Breaking Bad and laid eyes on that desperate man trembling with a gun in his signature tighty whities, a bullet-riddled RV smoking in the desert behind him, I was transfixed. A struggling high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, Walt turns to a life of crime with his former student Jesse Pinkman, producing and selling crystal meth to secure his family’s financial future before he dies.

I had always hated—actually, feared—violence and bloodshed. As a high school sophomore, I fainted during a filmstrip about making tourniquets. As a result, the drivers’ ed department exempted me from viewing Red Asphalt, a body-strewn movie produced by Highway Patrol in my home state of California. But the next year I fainted in my U.S. History class as my teacher simply described his Vietnam injury. Well into adulthood, I continued to experience all manner of dizziness, nausea, and cold sweats when faced with suffering.

So why did I take instant interest, even comfort, in a man who lurched down a dirt road with unconscious, poisoned men rolling around the floor of an RV? Why me, the girl who did not attend one drinking party in high school or college and who has never lit, snorted, or injected a thing? With every reason to fill my mind with good things, why did I keep wanting to return one of the most disturbing TV shows of all time? [Read more...]

A Bug Night of the Soul

10800524884_59f58af19b_zIt was a night of tumors, broken relationships, lost jobs, and loneliness. A night of sharp words cutting people off at the knees. I hadn’t even read about that day’s ISIS exploits, burning churches, or anonymous children washing ashore—just the workaday grief in my messages and newsfeed.

I have an eating disorder.

I’m so lonely I can’t sleep.

Will I ever get a paycheck again?

By the grace of God, I wasn’t one of the lamenters, but I was a friend to all, knowing “grace” only lasts until I’m next.

I fluffed my pillow and put down the phone, and my husband turned out the light. He slept, and I lay there, guilty again of filling my head with all that is flashing and grim.

I should never have left her.

My father won’t speak to me.

I have news too scary to share.

Then something pinged off my forehead. [Read more...]

Hello, Insomnia, My Old Friend

4539066536_d5b0cb95a8_oIt may have started with the antique grandfather clock in my childhood living room. The mahogany behemoth bonged on the half hour, and whether I was conscious of its waking me or not, the booming rattled my bones: 10:00. 10:30. 11:00. 11:30. Midnight.

Around eighth grade, I began to struggle with falling asleep. As I lay there, I anticipated—dreaded—the half-hour intervals of time. The midnight gongs were the worst: the official passage into the next day, the extended knell of loneliness, the reminder that I was the only person awake in the world. Around then, I would stand in the hallway outside my parents’ room. I knew it was selfish, but I wanted someone, anyone, to join me in my tragic vigil. I rarely even had to say a word. My mom would sense my presence and whisper, “Just close your eyes and lie real still.” It’s like she, too, never slept. [Read more...]