What We Say, Or Don’t

I spent most of yesterday afternoon in my kitchen. We were having people over for dinner last night, and so I dug out my tita’s recipe for spaghetti and meatballs and got to work. Making meatballs from scratch is fun, in its way, if you don’t mind meat. (I’ll probably share the recipe for those at some point. I don’t think my grandmother would have minded.)

And then I baked scones, because more friends are coming over this afternoon for tea. (I should probably share that recipe with you, too. Soon.)

Anyway, at some point between putting the meatballs in the refrigerator and taking out the ingredients for the scones, I realized I didn’t have any heavy whipping cream (necessary for scones), or fresh basil (for the other people eating spaghetti — I don’t eat it because I’m allergic, which means I often forget to buy it). So off to the market I went. Since I had so few items, I popped into the express checkout line.

There were several people behind me and I wanted everything to go quickly so as not to hold up the line. I also wanted to get home to make the scones and have them out of the oven before I had to pick up my daughter from school. (She’s attending an art school for these last few weeks of the summer.)

Since the woman in line behind me had already loaded a bunch of items onto the conveyor belt and was practically standing on the hem of my skirt, I knew she was probably in a hurry, too. So when my purchase came to $4.35, I whipped out my debit card to make things go faster. As I turned away with my bag of groceries in hand, I heard her remark to the man checking us out, “Well, I’ve never seen anyone use a debit card for under $5.00 before!” as if that were something worth commenting on. He agreed. I didn’t turn around but just kept walking. And while I know something like that shouldn’t bug me, it kind of did.

It’s not like I live in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and yet on a routine basis we encounter people who feel the need to remark on everything that isn’t, in fact, their business. I chose not to say anything, but there were several things I could have retorted, such as:

  • “It would take too long to break a hundred, and I didn’t want to hold up the line.”
  • “I haven’t been to an ATM machine yet this week.”
  • “If I use a debit card, there will be a record of my having been here, in case something untoward happens to me before I get home.”
  • “I’m hoarding all my cash for when the revolution comes.”
  • “Nice tank top. I didn’t think people still bedazzled their clothes, but hey, you do you.”

Gah. Most of that stuff wouldn’t have been true, even though it might have been snappy enough to be entertaining.

I’ve been trying to stay off social media a little bit, since every time I get on there I find at least a few posts in my news feed from people whom I respect and like but who have to post every thought as if they were the first ones to think of it, or as if the angry, incendiary things they’re popping off in the depths of their own emotional maelstroms might not actually spark some negative consequences. It’s exhausting.

And honestly, I get it. It’s easy to be frustrated and angry right now. It’s also exciting to have new thoughts (new to oneself, at least). Maybe this is the only way they can stand to interact with the world. And I also fully realize how ironic even this post is, because I’m essentially doing the same thing. But gah. I’m trying to find a happy medium, and it eludes me. This means I end up not posting much, because my serious writing time is going to my new book of poems (which I cannot wait to tell you more about — very soon) and my new novel (which is coming along, albeit slowly at the moment). Le sigh. If you have advice about how to handle this whole social media thing in this moment in our cultural history, I’m interested.

So here’s another question for you: what is the most ridiculous thing a stranger has ever commented to or at or toward you, and what response do you wish you had given? I’m creating a safe space here for you to vent for a moment. Feel free to make us laugh, because laughter is the best medicine.

To tide you over while you think about what you want to get off your chest and purge from your system, please enjoy this gorgeous self-portrait my Orange Belt Fairy Princess Badass made this week (after two classes).

 

Advertisements

Radio Silence (Actually, Let’s Hope Not!)

Normally I like to post a little more often during the summer months, but I have been neck-deep in poetry revisions for my new book coming out later this fall. (More details on that later!)

And this evening I’m going to be co-hosting the LivingArt program on KPFT, Houston’s Pacifica station, from 6:00-7:00 (Houston time). If you’re here in the city, it’s 90.1 FM. If you’re looking for it online, click this link.

I cannot deny that I’m (probably ridiculously) nervous about this radio appearance — far more so than for any other radio spot I’ve done before. So send some good vibes this way, please. Our guests this evening are the very excellent John Hovig and Adam Holt, and I know they’ll be great.

Catch you on the other side of my editor’s duedate for this book of poems, my friends. And I can’t wait to tell you more about it!

Author Event This Weekend

Hey there.  🙂  For any of you in the Houston-and-surrounding-areas area this weekend, I’ll be appearing on Saturday at BrazCon, which is a book festival and comic con aimed largely at the YA set but really open and friendly to all ages. It’s a free event, happening all day. I’ll be speaking on two panels and signing books, so please come by if you’re around and say hello!

Click on this link to see more about the event, including author and artist lists and a full programming schedule. Spoiler alert: there’s a LOT to see and do here! In addition to a veritable slew of authors (myself included), you’ll find workshops on writing and drawing (with Mark Kistler, no less!), a cosplay contest, anime, video and card gaming, fandom paraphernalia (including, if I understand correctly, Daniel Radcliffe’s wand he used when he played Harry Potter in the films), and Houston’s Quidditch team. Plus Star Wars. And Doctor Who. And more I haven’t listed here. Check out their website for further details.

Sounds pretty fabulous to me. I hope to see you there!

New Year’s Round-Up (Part 1)

This year my New Year’s round-up really needs to be split into two posts for thematic and length reasons. So today I’m going to cover blog statistics for 2017 and some cool author stuff coming up, and tomorrow you’ll get another post about resolutions and why that concept is such a mixed miasma of obligation and glory.

***

I came late to the blogosphere. Sappho’s Torque has been around since August of 2011, and like many of the authors whose blogs I read, I try to do a summary of the year’s statistics here. 2017 saw my readership expand significantly, which is a trend I rather like and which I am grateful to be able to say about every year’s blog stats. It’s a slow way to build an audience, but it’s a worthwhile one. I’m grateful for all of my readers and hope you enjoy my work here. I wasn’t sure blogging would really be right for me when I started, but a friend in the publishing industry convinced me to do it, and I’m glad she did. My hope is that I will continue to post here, in a mix of thoughtful memoir writing and commentary and all of the very popular series connected to my other interests (reading, music, food, fashion, poetry, etc.).

In 2017, I posted to the blog 88 times. That’s not bad, I think. It averages out to more than once a week, though my daily poem series for every day in April and my 12 Days of Christmas Music That Doesn’t Suck series in December do throw that timeline off a bit. (The links take you to the start of the 2017 editions of both of those.) The most I’ve ever posted here in one year is 99 times, in both 2013 and 2014, so I feel like I’m doing all right. Maybe in 2018 I’ll crack 100? Oh, watch my ambition climb!

Sappho’s Torque is being read in a lot of countries around the world, but as I write in English here, it’s no surprise that most of my readers are in English-speaking countries. The USA, the UK, and Canada have my biggest audiences, but my blog also has a healthy following in India and Germany. Welcome!

Most people find my blog through search engines, by far. This was a surprise to me. The next most common access portals are Facebook, WordPress Reader, and Twitter, with big gaps between them.

***

So what else is going on in my artistic life these days? I’ve been considering resuming some of my old hobbies — in particular, making jewelry. You might remember that I am desperate to make art and have been my whole life. I can’t stop the urge. Writing is the art I’m most competent at, I think, and it’s definitely my primary vocation, but I also dance and paint and make stuff. I even have an Etsy shop, called Arts Eclectica. In this shop you can find my handmade cards, and soon you will also be able to find there journals and jewelry and my daughter’s art. She is already a much more accomplished visual artist that I am, and some of her watercolor paintings have been made into limited-edition print runs, which we’re going to make available there.

I also have an exciting author event coming up in a few weeks! I’ve been invited to speak at BrazCon, which is a combination teen book festival and comic con happening here in southeast Texas on Saturday, February 3rd. Last year it was extremely well attended for a relatively new event, and it should be even bigger this year. For those of you in the area who want to drop by, it’s going to be held at Shadow Creek High School in Pearland from 9:00 to 4:00. I’ll be speaking on a couple of author panels and also signing books. More details on my schedule closer to the event. If you’re there, drop by and say hello! More author events for 2018 are in the works, but I can’t say much about them just yet; rest assured you’ll read about them here when I have firmer details.

***

Finally, because I think that a community thrives when its inhabitants are readers, and because I love the concept, this year we put up a Little Free Library in front of our house. Within a week it was full of not just my family’s contributions but also those of others who have passed by it. Our LFL has been particularly well received by the kids in the neighborhood, some of whom come by several times a week, which has been an absolute joy to witness. I even have a whole box of books in reserve to make sure I can rotate and restock as often as needed.

My husband built this charming Little Free Library. The roof was constructed and painted to look like an open book, and the doorknob is a tiny book he made on his 3D printer. One of his best anniversary gifts ever!

***

Tomorrow I’ll post about my goals for 2018. Leave a note in the comments about what your resolutions are, if you have some — or whether, like many people, you’re not sure if the concept of resolutions works for you.

Thank you, every one of you, for reading my blog and making my forays in the blogosphere fun. Happy reading!

Poem-A-Day: William Carlos Williams

Auden’s poem about Brueghel’s painting cannot make an appearance, in my mind, without also acknowledging William Carlos Williams’ poem on the same painting, on the same subject. The two poets’ styles couldn’t be much more different from each other, and Williams’ poem also relies more heavily on description than many ekphrastic poems. Yet it still highlights the most salient feature of Brueghel’s painting, titled as it was. It still conveys, through brevity, diction, and line/stanza breaks used as punctuation, a gut-punch of despair for the futility of Icarus’ sacrifice, of Daedalus’ trauma.

***

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

 

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

 

 

LANDSCAPE WITH THE FALL OF ICARUS by Pieter Breughel

Poem-A-Day: W.H. Auden (again)

Here’s another poem by Auden. It’s one of my favorites and is my first go-to when teaching ekphrastic poetry. I love that the first stanza of the poem, which comprises more than half of it, isn’t really about the painting at all, but about the theme Auden believed the painter was getting at. This, I think, is the most important aspect to an ekphrastic poem: that it doesn’t really describe the art it’s about so much as it responds to it. It continues a dialogue begun by the initial artist.

This concept might seem simple at first, but I’ve found in teaching this form for many years that it’s not as easy to put into practice. So here’s a bit of a challenge for you, should you choose to accept it: write an ekphrastic poem and either post it at your own online space and link to it here in the comments, or else email it to me at forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com. Be sure to include the original artwork you’re responding to. (I still have a spot or two open later this month, and maybe your poem will be curated into the mix here.)

***

Musée des Beaux Arts

 

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

 

LANDSCAPE WITH THE FALL OF ICARUS by Pieter Brueghel

Poem-A-Day: Paula Billups (again)

This year I will sometimes feature more than one poem by a particular poet, and this weekend belongs to Paula Billups. (I posted her poem “Christmas Letter for 2016, A Hard Year” yesterday.)

Today enjoy “A Delicate Milk Floods Winter.”

***

A Delicate Milk Floods Winter

 

A delicate milk floods winter
overwhelming my intentions with
early fog,
making faint the resolution to
meaning, to spin yet another
tale – for no one, for nothing.

I used to be so deft at that.

Now if such impulse rises
I stare it down blankly
as if addressing
a sudden stray cat staring
greenly back serenely
shrugging off the gathering chill
taking a long-known meeting
(or else a common standoff
to reward
the maker of the first sound.)

Neither of us can think of
a thing worth saying
that words could hold.

The mercury dives. And that idea,
hazy, deep, abandoned and
unbiddable, ignores my invitation,
winks slowly to show me who’s boss
and fluidly turns – an eddy in the year
fades back to the giving darkness
that lifted it –
a lace pattern once so crisp and
diamond-clear distilled to
icecream thoughts
all melted.

***

Paula Billups is a visual artist whose work takes in the media of painting, drawing, collage, artist’s books, installation, and collaboration. She bases her studio practice in Boston and Berlin and exhibits internationally, most recently in Cuba, Toronto, Berlin, and Luxembourg. Core themes of her work include interior shamanic processes, hidden and lost knowledge, and contradiction of the human desire for omniscience. Poetry has been a running thread of her creative life since the age of ten. She writes a blog at paulabillupsart.blogspot.com and files her poetry at paulabillups.tumblr.com. You can learn more about her work at www.paulabillups.com.