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One of those days

It is one of those days when I keep opening documents to work on them, and I spend lots of time noodling around and trying (and failing) to make progress. Perhaps I am alone in this sort of activity, though I rather think not. It seems that the more one is convinced that something is singular, the less it's true, even if it manifests in different ways for people.

I suspect that today's lethargy is the result of a busy weekend, though my sweetheart did the lion's share of the work (he's a Leo, so "the lion's share" is doubly apt). He took down the popcorn ceiling in our bedroom - the last one remaining in the house - and we painted the ceiling (which needed two coats) and put the first coat of paint on the walls. It will need a second coat, despite being the sort of paint that is allegedly guaranteed to cover in one. Only this particularly shade of pale pink doesn't work that way.

Of course it doesn't.

Since Thursday, I've been tapering off prednisone. I haven't slept well, probably as a result. My energy levels are wobbly, at best, and today, I find I'm wrung out. Worse than that, I have that sort of feeling that I'm a pretender because I can't focus. A writer writers. An artist does art. I'm doing neither thing (or at least, I'm not getting anything accomplished when I try.) I must be a has-been. Worse than that, a never-was.

Again, I suspect I'm not the only person who has days like this. Although I do find myself wondering why it is that my nasty inner critic seems energized when the rest of me is so . . . not that.

All of which is to say that for those of you who have these days, please know you're not alone. And if you have had these sorts of days, I hope you'll drop a note, so I'll know that I'm not alone, either.

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I've been researching and writing, revising and writing, starting over again, etcetera this week. And it seems that perhaps I have finally started a draft of the picture book biography I'm working on that is doing what I would like it to do. Part of it is, of course, that I continue to seek after the "properly scholarly attitude."

Here's a rather light and humorous poem from Adelaide Crapsey about just that, which reminds me a bit of W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame).

The Properly Scholarly Attitude
by Adelaide Crapsey

The poet pursues his beautiful theme;
The preacher his golden beatitude;
And I run after a vanishing dream—
The glittering, will-o’-the-wispish gleam
Of the properly scholarly attitude—
The highly desirable, the very advisable,
The hardly acquirable, properly scholarly attitude.

I envy the savage without any clothes,
Who lives in a tropical latitude;
It’s little of general culture he knows.
But then he escapes the worrisome woes
Of the properly scholarly attitude—
The unceasingly sighed over, wept over, cried over,
The futilely died over, properly scholarly attitude.

I work and I work till I nearly am dead,
And could say what the watchman said—that I could!
But still, with a sigh and a shake of the head,
“You don’t understand,” it is ruthlessly said,
“The properly scholarly attitude—
The aye to be sought for, wrought for and fought for,
The ne’er to be caught for, properly scholarly attitude—”

I really am sometimes tempted to say
That it’s merely a glittering platitude;
That people have just fallen into the way,
When lacking a subject, to tell of the sway
Of the properly scholarly attitude—
The easily preachable, spread-eagle speechable,
In practice unreachable, properly scholarly attitude.

Happy Poetry Friday, all. You can reach Julie Larios's roundup of today's Poetry Friday posts by clicking the box below.

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What's with brains, anyhow?

In particular, what's with my brain?

Last night, as I was snuggled up with my sweetheart and drifting off to sleep, I found the perfect line for inclusion in the biography I'm writing. Seriously, it was just exactly right.

I didn't get up and write it down, because of the comfortable snuggling position.

You can probably guess the next part.

Of course you can.

Woke up this morning and I know what the concept behind the quote was, but the perfect wording has completely disappeared. Everything I try to write on the subject goes CLUNK instead of WHIR.

The little man in the upstairs filing room (which is how I think of my brain, often - he scoots around on his office chair to pull things out of the file cabinets) seems to have misplaced that particular scrap of paper.

Perhaps it is time to take a walk, in hopes of rediscovering the line.

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Things I'm learning about my subject

She reviewed the work of other writers for the publications of her boarding school and college, often choosing the work of women who might otherwise be overlooked by the patriarchy. Or, as her biographer indicates, "she championed the women writers who were considered minor by the literary and academic establishment because their readers had been educated in a society which trained them to trivialize the very values these women writers espoused and exemplified." (Karen Alkalay-Gut, Alone in the Dawn, 78.)

      And reading that, I realize that I am doing just that same thing with this project.
      Gosh, I hope I succeed in finding a home for this manuscript and in helping to
      garner her the attention she so richly deserves.

She praised the poems of Martha Gilbert Dickinson (Emily's niece) for their "epigrammatic brevity, with a subtlety and suggestiveness astonishing in the narrow limits she allow[ed] herself."

      And reading that, I realize those are words that could apply to herself and
      her own poetry as well, though her poems were mostly written years later.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

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So much of writing is rewriting.

Or unwriting. Or, as my autocorrect would have it, unwitting.

I have been working on a picture book biography of late, and I am really in love with my subject and quite happy to work on it for hours at a time. Which is a good thing, as there is a great deal of research to be done, as well as figuring out which facts to include, and which to leave out.

I have a full four drafts on my computer - basically versions of the first full draft, each one too stiff and adult and boring to be allowed to stand. Plus I have two additional drafts: one is essentially a reworking of that/those first draft(s); the other is a new draft from scratch, which is starting to go the direction I'd like it to.

Still, I continue to research and look for the small details that will make my subject come alive for contemporary readers. And maybe for something like a common thread through her lifetime to create something like a theme, besides "here's a life". I so admire what Amy Novesky managed to do in Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois, which relies on an extended spider metaphor, but alas, there is so far no such thing in this woman's life.

And I am thinking today, too, of Lin-Manuel Miranda's remarks in his commencement speech at Penn.

The simple truth is this: Every story you choose to tell, by necessity, omits others from the larger narrative. One could write five totally different musicals from Hamilton’s eventful, singular American life, without ever overlapping incidents. For every detail I chose to dramatize, there are ten I left out. I include King George at the expense of Ben Franklin. I dramatize Angelica Schuyler’s intelligence and heart at the expense of Benedict Arnold’s betrayal. James Madison and Hamilton were friends and political allies, but their personal and political fallout occurs right on our act break, during intermission. My goal is to give you as much as an evening as musical entertainment can provide, and have you on your way at home slightly before Les Mis lets out next door.

This act of choosing—the stories we tell versus the stories we leave out—will reverberate across the rest of your life. Don’t believe me? Think about how you celebrated this senior week, and contrast that with the version you shared with the parents and grandparents sitting behind you.

That is the trick, is it not? As Bob Seger put it, "what to leave in, what to leave out."

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Sonnet 96 by William Shakespeare

Last week, I posted Sonnet 95 ("How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame"), which I analyzed as being a rather long dick joke. Today comes the companion poem, Sonnet 96 ("Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness"), which enlarges on the misbehaviors of the Fair Youth in the previous poem, and carries an actual word of warning, despite being wrapped in flattery and a bit of jest. First the poem, then the discussion.

Sonnet 96
by William Shakespeare

Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness;
Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport.
Both grace and faults are loved of more and less:
Thou mak'st faults graces that to thee resort.
As on the finger of a thronèd queen
The basest jewel will be well esteemed,
So are those errors that in thee are seen
To truths translated, and for true things deemed.
How many lambs might the stern wolf betray,
If like a lamb he could his looks translate!
How many gazers mightst thou lead away,
If thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state!
    But do not so; I love thee in such sort
    As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

Form: A Shakespearean sonnet, meaning that it's written in iambic pentameter (5 iambs per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), with the following rhyme scheme: ABABCDCDEFEFGG.


In the first quatrain
(four lines - rhymed ABAB), Shakespeare recounts some more of what people are saying about the Fair Youth - blurring the line between vice and virtue. The worst thing laid at the Fair Youth's feet is "wantonness", decidedly meaning that he sleeps around too much, which appears to be readily excused due to his youth (which is hardly a vice, though it's listed as both a fault and a "grace"). Some are willing to say that the Fair Youth is not a complete sleaze-bag, but is naturally engaging in "gentle sport" (again, of a sexual nature, but more out of youthful inquiry than unprincipled roguery). In either case, everybody loves him ("are loved of more and less" means "are loved by everybody - the high and low members of society", as it turns out). So nobody is really upset with the Fair Youth for this behavior (or they don't count it as a serious knock on his character). Notches in bedposts were an accomplishment for guys even then, am I right?

Second quatrain: Here, Shakespeare lays the flattery on pretty thick. This would have been written during the time of Queen Elizabeth, and she is referenced a bit here: any jewel (a two-syllable word for Shakespeare, note) she wears is deemed valuable because of her rank and status, even if the stone itself isn't worth much. Just so, says the Bard, do people bend over backwards to convert the Fair Youth's flaws into virtues, or to credit him with better motives than just getting his rocks off.

Third quatrain: In which the poem starts to turn. Just think, says Shakespeare, how many MORE people you could seduce (and he means it literally) if you really turned on the charm?

Final couplet: Interestingly, it's a direct quote of the closing couplet of Sonnet 36. Maybe it's what Shakespeare wrote/intended, and it's a call-back, or maybe it was a printer's error. In any case, it means, roughly, "because we are lovers, we are one unit, so if you get a bad reputation, it reflects badly on me."

The takeaway: Basically, it's "sure, you can get away with your current indiscretions, but please watch it so that you don't get an actual bad reputation, which would also negatively impact me." Which makes one wonder exactly how public Shakespeare's love affair with the Fair Youth was. Then again, many people believe that the Fair Youth was Shakespeare's patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, which helps make sense of their reputations being entwined, even if the extent of their love for one another was not publicly known.

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I've been doing a lot of research and writing about Adelaide Crapsey of late. It's amazing to me that a poet who was so well-received upon publication, and who pioneered a new form of poetry as well as writing a rather innovative tome on metrics, was so quickly forgotten by history. I doubt it would have happened if she had a Y chromosome.

She made such an impression when her poems were published posthumously that other poets wrote poems in tribute to her. Today's poem is just such a thing: a swoony-good poem by Carl Sandburg.

Adelaide Crapsey
by Carl Sandburg

Among the bumble-bees in red-top hay, a freckled field of
   brown-eyed Susans dripping yellow leaves in July,
        I read your heart in a book.

And your mouth of blue pansy—I know somewhere I have seen it rain-shattered.

And I have seen a woman with her head flung between her
    naked knees, and her head held there listening to the
    sea, the great naked sea shouldering a load of salt.

And the blue pansy mouth sang to the sea:
        Mother of God, I’m so little a thing,
        Let me sing longer,
        Only a little longer.

And the sea shouldered its salt in long gray combers hauling
    new shapes on the beach sand.

For other Poetry Friday posts, click the box below.

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It's Wednesday with the Bard again - today, a sonnet about things not being quite what they appear. Which I am about to unpack in a way that Cliffs Notes does not. (Incidentally, the Cliffs Notes "analysis" of this sonnet is rubbish.)

First the poem, then the chatter.

Sonnet 95
by William Shakespeare

How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name!
O, in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose!
That tongue that tells the story of thy days,
Making lascivious comments on thy sport,
Cannot dispraise but in a kind of praise;
Naming thy name blesses an ill report.
O, what a mansion have those vices got
Which for their habitation chose out thee,
Where beauty's veil doth cover every blot,
And all things turn to fair that eyes can see!
    Take heed, dear heart, of this large privilege;
    The hardest knife ill used doth lose his edge.

Form: A Shakespearean sonnet, meaning that it's written in iambic pentameter (5 iambs per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), with the following rhyme scheme: ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

Discussion: This poem is usually read (fairly dryly) as a warning to the Fair Youth to watch his actions and reputation because people have been talking about him, and reminding him that though he is beautiful enough that others will overlook some of his flaws, he'd best not abuse that privilege too much.

I think it's one giant dick joke. Let's parse it by "section", shall we?

The first quatrain (or four lines) is all about how beautiful the young man who is the subject/object of the poem is, while mentioning that he has apparently been a very naughty boy. Probably sexually, as the rest of the poem lets on. The spot on "the beauty of [his] budding name" means that people have been talking, however, so obviously there's a bit of scandal afoot. Shakespeare appears to be merely wagging his finger at the youth, however, and not seriously chastising him.

I will note that the idea of a "spot" and a "canker" seems to indicate that the Fair Youth has gotten himself an STD. Just . . . putting that out there.

The second quatrain, in which the sex part becomes more clear. He talks about a person (probably a self-reference, actually - he is talking about the Fair Youth's escapades here, after all) who has been making lascivious comments on the Fair Youth's "sport", a word which here means "sexual activities", rather than, say, fencing or hunting. The use of "lascivious" is a pretty good indicator, as it means "lustful" or "inciting to or evoking lust". Of course he doesn't name the Youth (he never, ever names the Youth in any poem that's been preserved), but implies that if he did, it would confirm negative gossip or reports about him.

There's an additional sexual pun involved in the "tongue . . . making lascivious comments on thy sport", in that it could refer to actual application of the tongue to the Fair Youth's anatomy. (You're welcome?)

The third quatrain makes me suspect that the STD theory has merit - he is again praising the outward appearance of the Youth, noting that what people can see (in public) looks entirely beautiful and unblemished, as "beauty's veil covers every blot".

The final couplet contains a double-edged sword, so to speak. (Ba-dum-bump!) On the one hand, Shakespeare says that the Fair Youth needs to be mindful of the fact that his beauty makes it harder for folks to see any fault in him, and that he is privileged as a result and needs to be careful of not relying too much on that since it could fail him.

But what I really think he's saying is that the Fair Youth has a large, um, "privilege" (in his pants), and that if he doesn't watch where he sticks his "knife" (knives and swords and pens and staffs and the like being common penile references), it will contract something and be unable to function.

Hopefully that has not ruined the poem for you, but yeah - penile humor, in my opinion.

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Over at Guys Lit Wire

Today's my monthly post at Guys Lit Wire, and I've got a review of The Thing With Feathers, a nonfiction book about the behaviors of birds, and how they aren't so very different from humans in some ways.

The full title is The Thing With Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, and it's by Noah Strycker, who is an editor for Birding Magazine, the author of Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica, and the world record holder for most species of birds spotted in a single year.

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Living with Chronic Illnesses

You guys, I had the best weekend. Seriously. My older daughter, S, graduated from college. My sweetheart and I flew down to South Carolina, stayed with parents (which meant I got to see my mommy on Mother's Day), and got to see my kid for several meals as well as getting to see her walk across the stage and receive her (faux) diploma. I got to see my brother and my nieces and nephews, too, including meeting his two older (adopted) children whom I hadn't yet met.

It was all fun and wonderful, though I didn't sleep super well while we were down there (uncomfortable pillow, temperature issues, possibly all that excitement and/or the evening wine). Last night, we flew home and I was so excited to be in my own bed. And then I didn't sleep super well here, either.

For the past several months, I've been feeling pretty well. My rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia haven't been as bad as they have been for the past several years, in part because I added daily Vitamin B supplements (at my doctor's recommendation), and then prednisone twice a day (ditto). I've had some stiff joints and occasional aches & pains here and there, but my energy has been great overall, and I quickly began to take it for granted.

This morning, I woke up later than I have in the past several months, feeling like I had been worked over rather violently. I'm tired, and so very sore. I mean, this really and truly sucks, and on a 1-10 pain scale, it's at least a 7.

And you guys, this is how I have spent the past three to four years of my life. I was so used to the fatigue/pain levels of today's awfulness that today would have been just above a baseline day for me. So I guess what I'm saying is, I'm a little proud of myself for not being a massive whiner at all times, because this really and truly is horrifying, but I'm also committed to see what I can do to get past this, and to not settle for these levels of pain, fatigue, and discomfort for any period of time moving forward.

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