The War for Your Attention

rogue-oneLast night Emma and I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and we thought it was epic. And heart-breaking. But as always happens when a writer watches a movie (at least it always happens to me), I found myself thinking about what got me invested in each character — especially Jyn and Cassian, and Cassian’s (at first) annoying droid, K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) — and how the parts were woven together. If it starts as merely someone’s vision, someone’s wild idea, and then becomes words on screenplay pages, and then camera angles, etc., what makes it come together, what makes it come alive and tick?

Despite a powerful urge to bake (or melt chocolate and stir), tonight I am watching the 2015 Star Wars with my daughter (remember Rey and Finn?) and pecking away at my keyboard here. I may (finally) start my Christmas letter, too.

Earlier today, however, I was reading A Writer’s Guide to Persistence: How to Create a Lasting cell-phoneand Productive Writing Practice, by Jordan Rosenfeld, and I came across a page about the folly of multi-tasking. Rosenfeld refers us to an NPR story citing neuroscientist Earl Miller, who explains that the brain is not good at doing more than one thing at a time. What the brain is good at is “deluding itself” (qtd. in Rosenfeld, 31). I noticed last quarter that young people, especially, believe that they are the multi-tasking generation. Nevertheless, their minds often seem miles and miles away from whatever task is at hand. At breaks, all 29 of them whipped out their cell-phones and began tapping and staring intently. When, during class, I’d see a student on his cell phone, I made a point of asking a question of him (or her). Looking up at the sound of his name, looking a little dazed, the student would say, “What?” Not good at multi-tasking. As I told them, in a few years we will all be in 12-step programs trying to break our fierce dependence on these devices.

I wonder if one of the reasons I like to watch movies (the ones I like) over and over has to do with my not simply watching but simultaneously attempting to analyze them?

Well, you can go here to read or listen to the NPR story for yourself. For now, I think I’ll rein in my wild mind, close the laptop, and just enjoy the movie.




All You Want for Christmas…


Some Reasons Why I Became a Poet

Because I wanted to undo each stitch
in time, unravel the nine seams
that inhibit remembering; because I wanted
to roll a stone with such tenderness
that moss would grow & hold light
on all sides at once; because I wanted to teach
every old dog I saw a new set of tricks;
because I wanted to lead a blind horse
to water & make her believe her thirst
mattered; because I wanted to count
the chickens of grief & gain before they hatched;
because I never wanted to let sleeping cats lie
in wait beneath the birdbath; because
I wanted to close the barn door after the last
horse went grazing & know that something
important was left stalled inside; because
I wanted to welcome all Greeks & the desperate
bearing of their gifts; & because I couldn’t stop
keeping my poor mouth open in a sort
of continual awe, trusting that flies, like
words, would come & go in their own time.

-Samuel Green, from THE GRACE OF NECESSITY

What I love about this poem by former Washington poet laureate Sam Green is the playfulness. More specifically, I love the repetition, which makes it satisfying to read aloud, and his use and transformation of cliche. I love the details, the “thinginess” of this list (despite the cliches). I love that it is the sort of poem that makes me want to write a poem. caffe ladro

If this were an assignment, then it would begin with a list. It could work for a poem, or for
a character study. List everything you want. Make it a long list that you can maybe whittle down. (If you find yourself listing vague or abstract desires — time, a room of your own, a clean house, world peace — how can you transform those into particulars?) Use repetition of an opening word or phrase (called anaphora) to elevate your list into a poem.

What I’m Reading Now

PeakWhen I drive I listen to books on CD (free from my local library). Dh listens to NPR. He recently heard this review  of PEAK: SECRETS FROM THE NEW SCIENCE OF EXPERTISE, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. He ordered the book, handed it to me, and said, “I think this is your kind of thing.”

It is. Ericsson and Pool recall for us Malcolm Gladwell’s OUTLIERS, the book that famously insists on a 10,000 hour rule for mastery, and while they agree with some of its aspects, they also masterfully refute it. 10,000 hours is not magic. (In fact, they share one example of 200-hour mastery.)

Deliberate Practice is their mantra.

This chimes with lessons I’ve learned from my own practice — it chimes with advice from my dedicated writer and teacher friend Priscilla Long (advice you can now possess merely by purchasing her new book, MINDING THE MUSE).

Even though I’ve heard some of it before, the book managed to blow my mind. Ericsson and Pool have studied so-called geniuses for thirty years. They have gleaned history for the details that lay behind the myths of genius (including Mozart’s) and they have worked with experts in lab settings (particularly with people working on feats of memory). They re-examine phenomenons such as perfect pitch, and draw from the worlds of chess and track-and-field to demonstrate that inherent talent is often not for a particular field, but for the willingness to practice purposefully and persist in that field. Yes, body type matters, and maybe IQ matters (at least to an extent), but it’s more than that. Long story short, it has to do with recognizing the parts of one’s practice, learning to recognize in which parts one is deficient, correcting that deficiency, and moving forward. Having a teacher or coach helps, but as Ericsson and Pool show us, not all teachers and coaches provide this sort of insight. And when they do, they often concentrate their efforts on the top performers. So, guess who gets better? It isn’t because they are the top performers, but because they have been enabled to recognize their deficiencies, correct them, and continue practicing, deliberately…

Well, I’ll let you go to the NPR review (which is in part an interview, and linked to an excerpt).

PEAK’s authors do not so much address themselves to writing, but what they are saying can easily be applied to writing.

Exercising is a good analogy for writing. If you’re not used to exercising you want to avoid it forever. If you’re used to it, it feels uncomfortable and strange not to. No matter where you are in your writing career, the same is true for writing. Even fifteen minutes a day will keep you in the habit.  –JENNIFER EGAN

Practice, the right kind of practice, changes your brain. We know this. Ericsson and Pool propose that understanding this concept more fully, more in depth, can change the way we think about our own “innate” abilities, the way we acquire expertise, the way we teach children, and — no pressure here — the whole world.

New Issue of Gravel


labyrinth2My resolution to send out 50 packets of poetry this year, though it was stalled for a long time, is now sailing along. I believe I can claim 34 submissions as of today, and although only 6 poems have thus far found homes, one was nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology, and another was just nominated for the Pushcart — so, yay!

You can visit Gravel, which went live today, by following the link (the journal title), and from there you can click on my name to go to my individual poem, “Metamorphosis,” or access it from here.