Conference Envy: A Survival Guide

Sad Web SurfingYesterday I was running around the park in a T-shirt with a birthday party full of seven-year-olds. Today, I walked downtown through a flurry of hard, tiny pellets of snow that I couldn’t escape from. It was a little like the experience of going to bed a happy, underpaid writer and waking up the next day as a miserable, underpaid writer who is staying home while everyone else you know is traveling to a conference.

No matter where you look online, you’re getting smacked in the face with these niggling little reminders that you’re here dealing with laundry and kids and deadlines and your friends are off brown-nosing editors and eating dinner in absurdly large groups and developing inside jokes and memories that you’re going to be outside of the next time you get together.

You can complain to and commiserate with the three or four other people you know who aren’t at the conference, but you’re aware that it’s petty and fruitless, so you stop after a few hours and just try to avoid the Interwebs for a few days—which means that, no, you didn’t see that video of Trump as Lex Luthor or whatever it was. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “The Grackles”

Poetry Friday Grackles Poem BigHere is a poem that silently enacts a conversion.  The poem starts off with a string of scornful terms for the speaker’s new neighbors, culminating in the almost mean pun on their child’s “grin” as “grim.” But right after this, the speaker begins to soften her terms: she notices a “warmth” in this noisy, dirty, low-class family. Then by the start of the fourth stanza, a switch in point of view has occurred: the speaker sees herself through their eyes. So when the poem’s title image enters (in the inner-rhymed “racket grackles”), the poet intentionally leaves ambiguous whether it’s the speaker or the previously demeaned family who are the bullying grackles. Whoever they are becomes irrelevant, though, in the poem’s closing lines, which focus on the birds themselves. As the sunlight strikes them, the speaker’s previously negative terms for them turn glowingly positive: “they’ve got the spectrum’s full iridescent gleam.” The poem is ultimately suggesting here that whomever or whatever we demean will—when seen in a new light— shine with this richly full gleam.

—Peggy Rosenthal


The Grackles by Betsy Sholl

Down the block, our new neighbors, not unlike
the old, could be named the Grackles, given
the way everything they have is loud: cars,
children, stereos, parties. It all spills out
into the street—broken bikes, pizza boxes,
a nasty looking dog with nothing to restrain it

but the owner’s curse. Giving the mutt wide berth,
stepping around a rusty bike rim, I glance
at the weary-looking man, the angry woman,
sullen teen, younger girl with a smudged grin.
Grim, it seems. But there’s a warmth here, too,
the father teaching his son to make the car

loud by tweaking something on the exhaust,
as the mother spit-washes the baby’s face,
laughs through smoke and sunken eyes
at her barefoot daughter’s new skip rope trick.
When the son grabs the dog’s collar—sorry
the stupid pooch frightened me—I watch him

slowly size up my jog-reddened face,
amused disdain on his for the type I am,
flitting around the block in ragged sweats
as if life’s a matter of tips from slick
magazines. Such a racket grackles make,
like castanets, scolding the song birds

they’ve chased up into the trees, giving them
flack for not even trying to bully back. Now
the sun flashes on them its brightest beam,
so it’s clear from light’s point of view,
however drab they may look in the shade
they’ve got the spectrum’s full iridescent gleam.

 

Betsy Sholl’s most recent book of poems is Otherwise Unseeable (Wisconsin). She teaches in the MFA program of Vermont College of Fine Arts and was poet laureate of Maine from 2006 to 2011.

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A Strange Season for Inter-Christian Families

3438325081_caa9a19ee1_oAmerican culture, at this late and plural hour, seems to have pretty well normalized the notion of the interfaith family, to the extent that if your environs are urban and/or coastal, and your circles revolve around the ranks of top- and second-tier universities, then the multiple-faith union is almost a given, and certainly not a problem.

There’s now the cliché—which the Mark Zuckerberg biopic The Social Network made a joke about—of Jewish boys and Chinese (Baptist? Confucian?) girls. There’s another pattern, mostly in my experience in the Northeast, of Jewish young adults finding their bashert among a certain kind of generationally-sanded, now-affluent Irish Catholic (cf. Caroline Kennedy and Ed Schlossberg, to cite another generation).

Families that truly number two (or more) faiths have a kind of flexibility that can seem infinitely elastic: The Christmas tree gets rechristened into a “Chanukah bush”—with attendant blue-and-silver tinsel and a Star of David on top—a trope that comes in for annual December scorn among both my Jewish and Christian friends. (Except for those evangelicals of my acquaintance who avow a special relationship with the state of Israel.) [Read more…]

I Am a Digital Man

mobile-apps-pile-ss-1920I couldn’t record it in my Flava journal app because the transformation happened slowly, like any great change of being. The epiphany, if that’s what it was, only marked my awareness of what had been accomplished through the myriad invisible operations of life. There is mystery yet.

I remember one day at church, a friend mentioned a place to look for work, and, almost without thinking, my hand whipped out my phone and opened Evernote. My hand knew what my mind didn’t: that I have gotten used to thinking “there’s an app for that.” [Read more…]

The Living Among the Dead

mushroomThanksgiving Day after I turned four: high fever at dinner, a drive through a blizzard, then a spinal tap. Meningitis. The nurse promised me angels, and they floated from the bright examination light to the floor, and this is all I remember: paper angels filling the emergency room, snow falling outside, my mother crying.

For two weeks while my brain boiled, I was in the hospital bed and outside in the falling snow, both at once. My parents made me testify about the angels (but not about the snow) to our church, and later, I teased my father about this, about people who wanted a miracle so badly that they confused miracle with inflamed brain. He shrugged and said maybe they’re not so different.

I have been putting things side-by-side, trying to make sense of images that occur and reoccur and tie themselves to other things, snow and angel, miracle and spinal cord smolder. The signs of crisis averted, barely. Bear with me. I’ve been walking in circles, encountering the same signposts, over and over since my grandma died this summer. I’m looking for what I’ve lost, the signs for loss that only seem to point back toward themselves, building a constellation of images around the shape of something I can barely see. [Read more…]


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