Women Who Write: Julie Kane

This is the third in a four-part series featuring Louisiana women poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each profile will highlight a poet from New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana including interview, biography and an original poem selected for this feature.

Julie Kane

Julie Kane

Our featured poet today is Julie Kane. Julie’s poetry collections include Rhythm & Booze (University of Illinois Press, 2003), which was Maxine Kumin’s selection for the National Poetry Series and a finalist for the Poets’ Prize; Jazz Funeral (Story Line Press, 2009), which won the Donald Justice Poetry Prize, judged by David Mason; and Paper Bullets (White Violet Press, 2014), a new collection of light verse. Together with Grace Bauer, she co-edited the anthology Umpteen Ways of Looking at a Possum: Critical and Creative Responses to Everette Maddox (2006), which became a finalist for the Southern Independent  Booksellers Alliance book prize in poetry. The nonfiction Vietnam memoir that she co-authored with Kiem Do (Counterpart: A South Vietnamese Naval Officer’s War, 1998) became a History Book Club featured alternate selection. Recently she wrote the libretto for Starship Paradise, a one-act opera with music by Dale Trumbore that was produced by Center City Opera Theater of Philadelphia. Her poems appear in over forty anthologies and in journals such as Barrow Street, Prairie Schooner, Rattle, and The Southern Review. They have also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. The 2011-2013 Louisiana Poet Laureate,she has also been the George Bennett Fellow in Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy, the New Orleans Writer in Residence at Tulane University, a faculty member of the West Chester Conference on Form and Narrative in Poetry, and a Fulbright Scholar to Vilnius Pedagogical University in Lithuania. Currently she is a Professor of English at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and a Contributing Editor to Light Magazine.

THOSE SUNDAY DRIVES

You used to bore me with your monologues
on drives through old “New Awlins” neighborhoods:
what family had what house when you were young
and where some candy store or bank had stood.
Who cares about the past? I used to think.
We Yankee Irish pulled up roots a lot,
escaping relatives with chicken coops
and cabbage boiling in a kitchen pot.
But that was all before the hurricane
our Mason-Dixon love did not survive—
a minor loss beside a thousand dead,
four houses flooded out of every five.
So much has changed: Time speeded up her clock,
and now I bore all riders with my talk.

What is your earliest recollection of the desire to write down your own thoughts?
When I was seven years old, I had a collection of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen with several blank white pages at the end. I knew with absolute certainty that I was supposed to write my own story on those pages, and I did, printing it in pencil. It was about a girl who was helping her mother make whipped cream, but she whipped it too long and it turned into butter, and then her fairy godmother appeared and granted her one wish, and she turned the butter back to “wiped cream.” I still have that book.

Do you remember your first poem? What was it about?

I don’t remember the very first one, but I have a copy of one I wrote in 5th grade, when we were studying logging in our social studies textbook (God only knows why). It begins: “The loggers are busy butting trees / with saws that sound like bumblebees . . .”

Is writing your full-time occupation?

Ha! Advice to any aspiring poets out there: don’t quit your day job! I am an English professor at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Before I got my doctorate, I worked for many years as a technical writer and editor.

Is poetry your primary genre? Do you work in any others?

Yes, it is my primary genre, but I also publish creative nonfiction, and I write scholarly essays and book reviews about literature. Last year I wrote the libretto for a one-act opera that was produced by Center City Opera Theater of Philadelphia.

I’m always interested in the writing process. Tell us a little about yours. Do you ponder a poem for a while, keeping it in a draft stage and working on it periodically or do you write it all at once, as the inspiration and words strike you? How much editing do you do on a piece?

I can write prose when I am not inspired and produce a lousy first draft, and then go back to it and improve it later, but poetry is different—I have to be feeling inspired to write a poem, or it just does not flow. I handwrite in pencil on lined paper, and I keep crossing out and crumpling up sheets of paper—the first draft of a one-page poem might take me several hours. Then I have to put it aside for awhile, a few days or a few weeks, before I can look at it objectively and tweak word choices or individual lines. Sometimes I will get the idea for a poem but know that I am not ready to write it yet. There are a few poems that have taken me years between the time the idea came to me and the time I felt ready to write it.

Do you have a favorite place to write that’s particularly conducive to your creativity?

I have a huge study with bookshelves and a desk, but my favorite place to write is a little breakfast table that looks out on my yard, with birdfeeders and trees and flowers.
I read an interview where you said you can not force poetry if you’re not feeling inspired (and I silently cheered!). So many writers advise to write every day, to actually force yourself, that it’s good practice. What do you think about that p.o.v.?
I think it’s a good idea to write every day if you are working on a novel or a dissertation or another long prose work, but it does not work for me in terms of poetry. It does for some poets, though.

I read an interview where you said you can not force poetry if you’re not feeling
inspired (and I silently cheered!). So many writers advise to write every day, to
actually force yourself, that it’s good practice. What do you think about that p.o.v.?

I think it’s a good idea to write every day if you are working on a novel or a dissertation or
another long prose work, but it does not work for me in terms of poetry. It does for some poets,though.

Where was the strangest place that inspiration hit you for a poem and how did it turn out?

There have been times when I was driving my car and a line or idea would come to me, and I have had to fish in my purse for a pen and the back of one of the deposit slips in my checkbook to try to write it down while driving. Then sometimes I go back to those cryptic jottings and wonder, What on earth was I thinking?

Are there any recurrent themes in your poems? If so, why do you think that is?

Other people are better than I am at spotting themes, since I am inside the poems and they are outside. But certainly, love and the breakdown of contemporary relationships, fate versus free will, alcoholism, mortality, Irish Catholicism, Louisiana nature and culture.

I am somewhat a collector of words. Do you have any favorite words?

I think my favorite is “newfangleness,” from the 16th century poem “They Flee from Me,” by Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder. It means “fickleness.”

Do you have any tips to share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a piece?

You have to love the act of writing enough to finish what you start, or what’s the point? There are so many other things competing for our time and attention—there is no need to torture yourself, if you don’t love to do it. It can be hard sitting down in the writing chair and getting started, but once that creative flow takes over, it should be more fun than Netflix or Facebook!

I know that you studied briefly under Anne Sexton at Boston University. What is the one most important thing you learned from her?

She told us not to be afraid to be a fool for poetry—not to worry about whether anyone would like us or respect us because of what we wrote. It was the opposite of the advice my mother drilled into me while I was growing up, which was to always worry about what other people were thinking, to be well-behaved at all times.

You were Louisiana’s Poet Laureate for 2011-2013. Do you remember how you felt the minute you were told that you were chosen?

I was sitting in my office at work, getting ready to teach a night class, when I opened an email message from a member of the governor’s staff. It said that the governor would like to name me the next Poet Laureate. I was so happy and excited, I let out a very loud scream! And then a student who was out in the hall poked his head in my office to ask if I were OK.

Did you learn anything that surprised you during your time as Poet Laureate?

I was stunned to find so many thousands of people who care about poetry, all around the state: from teenaged dropouts in an alternative high school to the Colonial Dames of Shreveport.

There is a burgeoning poetry community online and new lit journals popping up all the time. Some people think it’s just so much “look at me” noise and unworthy of notice while others celebrate more open and diverse opportunities for poets to share their work. What do you think?

I think online publication is wonderful—it means that anyone can find and read your poem online, and that the size of the audience is potentially unlimited. I love the look and feel of a beautiful print journal or a book, but I also love the democracy of online publishing. Also, online forums and listservs and social media make it possible for writers who share a certain interest—such as those of us who write in form, the so-called “New Formalists”—to share news and build a sense of community that counters the isolation of writing.

I find it impossible to name one poet who is my favorite – I have several. Who are some of your favorite poets and/or poems?

It is impossible for me to name all of my favorite living poets, but I can name some of my favorites who are no longer living: the ancient Chinese poets including Po Chu-i, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, John Donne, Charles Baudelaire, Constantine Cavafy, William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Anna Ahkmatova, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Seamus Heaney.

Finally, do you have any upcoming readings or appearances you can share with us?

I have several readings coming up in Washington, DC, next week. Together with the current Louisiana Poet Laureate, Ava Leavell Haymon, I will be reading at the National Press Club of Washington, DC, at 12 noon on April 15. That reading is sponsored by the American Women Writers National Museum. That same evening at 7 PM, Ava and I and two other women poets will be reading at the Arts Club of Washington. The following day, we will read our poems for a taping of Grace Cavalieri’s radio show, “The Poet and the Poem.” Later this month (April 27), I will be taking part in a reading at the Zachary Public Library that will honor the memory of Wilmer Mills, a Louisiana poet who died young.

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Thank you, Julie, for sharing your thoughts with us today!

Women Who Write: Cassie Pruyn

This is the second in a four-part series featuring Louisiana women poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each profile will highlight a poet from New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana including interview, biography and an original poem selected for this feature.

Cassie Pruyn

Cassie Pruyn

Today we feature Cassie Pruyn. Cassie is a New Orleans-based poet born and raised in Portland, Maine. She is currently studying at The Bennington Writing Seminars. Her obsessions include geographic history, geographic mystery, and the impossible struggle to express place through language. Her poems have been featured in The Double Dealer, she placed second runner-up in the 2013 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, and she was a finalist in the 2013 Indiana Review 1/2K Prize.

THE NEW ORLEANS AFFAIR

Poor Mississippi. 
Barge-laden, crowned with bluffs. 
She’s been scorned by this city, 
who once loved her enough 

to lay himself down along 
her S like a set 
of ribs (overeager stone- 
stacker, naive architect). 

Her lover’s put a wall up. 
He won’t touch her, won’t 
let her leave––he’s boarded shut 
the windows, girdled her, stripped 

her banks clear of “debris.” 
In the beginning, he smelled 
of blood and fresh pralines. 
She lapped at him nightly, cradling 

his churches and ridges, 
porches and cisterns; she flooded 
him yearly, tickled his drainage. 
Still he insisted 

on having her tamed. 
Planning her revenge, crisscrossed 
with tourniquets, she’ll claim 
him again––it’s his loss, 

she’ll make sure of it. For near 
the levees’ concrete bases,
small cracks have begun to appear. 
She strokes the crevices

with her long tongue, reminiscing: 
Remember those hand-dug canals?
Canoes made of cypresses? 
Even those vulgar sawmills 

she’d prefer to this half-sunk grime. 
Only muffled voices 
now, as she considers her choices; 
seagulls, girders, and plenty of time.


How long have you been writing and what inspired you to choose this craft?

I’ve been writing poetry, at least semi-consistently, for about fifteen years. Like many writers, I started out as an avid reader, but primarily of novels and stories. I’ve given a fair amount of thought, therefore, to the question “why poetry?” as opposed to any other genre or craft, and my best guess is that it comes out of a strong love of words––for the musicality and physicality of words in specific––and also for the compactness inherent in poetry as opposed to prose. I always loved a good story as a kid, but I also loved song lyrics. I loved the container of the song, the way a song can be used as a vehicle for expression. But I was not cut out to be a musician—the words would come, but never a melody.

I also think the way I experience and think about the world lends itself to writing poetry––or at least the desire to write poetry. Any writer has to be a keen observer, but I imagine for a fiction writer this act of observing has more to do with the way human beings relate to one another, or to themselves, as it pertains to the sustainment of a narrative. Well, really, I have no idea how fiction writers think—narrative and imagining characters is never something that has come naturally to me. Rather, I seem to experience the world as a series of atmospheric moments––a kind of holistic sensory impact, as encapsulated by specific moments in time. This is also why I love writing about space and place.


Is poetry your primary genre? Do you work in any others?

Yes; and not yet. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve attempted to write a story, and they were all in response to prompts given by teachers. As I mentioned above, I’m a reader of narrative but not yet a writer of narrative. At some point, I’d really love to expand that part of my brain (because they really do feel like separate mental faculties––the writing of poetry vs. the writing of narrative prose) and challenge myself to attempt a novel, but who knows when and if that will happen. I do love writing critical prose—reviews, close readings, and the like—however.


What is your earliest recollection of writing and poetry as a passion? Do you remember your first poem?

I love this question! It’s been great to think back to those sentimental, angst-ridden poems of my adolescence. While I can’t remember my absolute first poem, I know I began writing them in earnest when I was 11, my first year in middle school and my first year in a new town. I grew up in an 18th century farmhouse in rural Maine, but when I was 11, after my parents had split up, we moved to the suburbs. If a new school, combined with the onslaught of puberty and a huge geographical/atmospheric change wouldn’t inspire a young poet-to-be to begin writing, I don’t know what would! I remember coming home from school, gazing out the window, and writing rhyming poems in my journal. I seem to remember a poem that revolved around the trope of  a red rose with prickly thorns (obviously!).

Is writing your full-time occupation? If not, how do you fit writing into your work and personal life?

I consider writing to be my full-time job at the moment, in part because I am finishing up my MFA this semester, but I also work as a full-time nanny. Right now, my schedule involves dropping the kids off at school, writing most of the day, and then picking them up and working until 7 o’clock. It’s a lucky little life I lead; I love my job and I love having a lot of structured time to write. At some point, I’d love to teach in some capacity, but I also feel inclined to hold onto the schedule I have. Aside from money, time seems to be that thing that professional (or non-professional) writers covet the most. I feel lucky to be able to have that right now.

I’m always interested in the writing process. Tell us a little about yours. Do you ponder a poem for a while, keeping it in a draft stage and working on it periodically or do you write it all at once, as the inspiration and words strike you? How much editing do you do on a piece?

I find it really difficult to talk about process, because I find my process is constantly shifting to accommodate whatever project I’m working on. And in general, I find the process of writing a poem/series of poems to be an often frustratingly fluid experience. I try to balance structure with inspiration, routine with spontaneity, in order to be the most productive I can be without at the same time choking my poems before they even have a chance to come out. I’ll say, “Ok, I’m going to start writing at 9:30 and stop at 1:00, I’m going to turn off my phone, I’m going to take one or two short breaks, I’m going to work on developing this part of my project,” etc. but then who knows what actually happens on any given day within the parameters I’ve set for myself. I might strike upon an entirely new idea, I might finish something I hadn’t planned on finishing, or I might get virtually no writing done and spend the day sighing and un-inspired. If I ever start to feel uninspired, though, I run to the bookshelf immediately!

The amazing essayist Jo Ann Beard, in a lecture I heard her give once, said that process is as unique as a fingerprint: it’s utterly different for everyone. I find that idea really liberating. She said, regardless of whatever form it takes, though, that it has to do with entering into and staying inside of––for as long as possible––that realm of imagination, with sustaining the imaginal logic of whatever the piece of writing may be. This is an insanely difficult thing to do. She likened it to trying to hold a beach ball underwater for hours at a time, without letting it bob back up to the surface. I think that analogy is really apt. Process is definitely an unwieldy beast.

I do know that I spend an incredible amount of time editing––or reimagining––every poem I write. I tend to work in series of poems, and so I spend a lot of time rearranging and re-conceiving how my poems relate to one another, as well as tweaking individual lines and words. Writing successfully, for me, has everything to do with editing, which is not to discredit the value of those momentary bursts of inspiration––but those, for me, can come at any time during the process of working on the poem, and not just when I’m first setting it down on the page.

Do you have a favorite place to write that’s particularly conducive to your creativity?

When I’m trying to come up with a new idea, I really enjoy writing in coffee shops. I like the buzz and the energy (although I’m always the dork in the corner with ear plugs in; I can’t write to music because it messes me up when I’m trying to “hear” my poems). But, because I tend to come up with long-term “project” ideas that often require research or printing a bunch of poems out and rearranging them, I do a lot of my writing at home. I’ll write anywhere in my apartment––on the couch, on the bed, at my standing desk, at the counter. I find when I’m really trying to sit with a poem or group of poems, really trying to “hold the beach ball under,” as it were, I like to be at home. As most writers seem to be, I am very introverted. While I enjoy being the fly on the wall sometimes, the occasional “flaneur” about town, at the end of the day I really just want to be alone in my little cave!

Do you have any tips you can share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a piece?

Don’t give up! Allow yourself to struggle! Sit with the discomfort of struggling. This is something I’ve learned the hard way, and will probably learn the hard way again. I’m a perfectionist, and I like to achieve––but this is something you have to both cultivate and push against as a writer. You have to want it enough to keep going, but be humble enough to understand that you’re going to have to mess it up to get it right. I’ve been circling about one project––one source of inspiration––for over five years now, and failed countless times in trying to give voice to this inspiration. Like, really failed. But, it’s like Bob Dylan says: “There’s no success like failure.” It’s such a cliche but it’s true. Understand that you’re going to “fail,” but don’t let it demoralize you; learn from it instead. And, during those occasional moments of confusion and panic, if you come back to your essential love for writing, the reason you came to it in the first place, you’ll push through to the other side. At least this is what I tell myself literally every. single. day. It’s far easier said than done, but I think it’s the difference between writing and, well, not.


Who’s work has inspired yours?

There are many poets who’ve inspired me, but Elizabeth Bishop is someone I’m thinking a lot about right now. Bishop achieves this very real intimacy with the reader, but never by giving the reader information about herself directly. You get to know her by looking with her. She describes objects and landscapes with such detail and texture, and the way you end up feeling close to her is by getting to see these things too, in the way that she sees them. It’s about witnessing the rhythms of the poet’s unique mind, thinking the way she thinks for the duration of the poem. I am not what you would call a “confessional” poet. Even when I am writing on or from emotion, I am always fictionalizing it to a certain extent. I think I am an inherently private person. But a writer has to make the reader feel welcome, nonetheless; she has to let the reader get to know her in certain essential ways, even if it’s not the way she’d let, say, her best friend get to know her. Bishop really exemplifies this. Plus, she writes about geography too.


I find it impossible to name one poet who is my favorite – I have several. Who are some of your favorite poets and/or poems?

I could never pick just one favorite either, but here are some poets I love:

Frank Bidart, Rita Dove, Anne Carson, Elizabeth Bishop, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sarah Messer, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Maggie Nelson, Frank Stanford, Lyn Hejinian, Donald Hall, Joan Ashbery, Joseph Brodsky, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare….and that’s just poetry! I could go on and on….


Where do you see yourself with regard to your writing in 5 years?

It feels silly to try and predict what I might be working on in 5 years, although it seems as though I’ve got two projects going at the moment––I thought they belonged together at first, but now I don’t think they do. I’m working on a series of historically-based poems about Colonial America, and another series having to do with a particular relationship in my life. It’d be great if, say, I finished one of those projects and published it as my first book of poems, and were on my way into writing my next book in five years. Who knows how these plans will change, though. It may take considerably longer to achieve that. I also have an idea for a series of poems on the Mississippi River. I’d like to write a magical-realism history of the Mississippi River, in verse––go big or go home, right?!

Whatever I’m doing, I hope I’m making time to write and feeling inspired. That’s all I really want for myself, period––but it’d be nice if something got published here and there along the way….

Are there any online or print journals you read and recommend? Are there any venues for sharing/listening to poetry that you recommend?

I’m definitely in the beginning stages of combing through all the awesome journals available online or in print. As in, I’ve only been playing the trying-to-get-published game for about a year (although that’s not the only reason to read literary journals!), and not as consistently as I ought to be. I find the process pretty overwhelming. There is so much out there. And if I could afford to just buy subscriptions to all of the journals that look interesting, and had the time to read all of them, I really would. It seems really difficult, however, to put quality time into your writing and to also find enough time to really expose yourself to the world of published work. I don’t know how people do it!

As for the second part of the question, I think any poetry event––readings, Slam performances, etc.––in New Orleans is worth going to. It’s such a welcoming (and relatively small) city, so going to these events is a great way to meet people, and to connect and reconnect with other local writers. I’m easy to please with this type of thing––I love just being around other people who also find it worthwhile to sit down and write every day, regardless in our potential aesthetic differences. I think New Orleans is a great place to be an artist right now, for many reasons. It’s a highly inspiring, highly stimulating place with delightfully low levels of pretentiousness, and you’ll start to hear it creeping in to everyone’s work, your own included, which just serves to create another connection between you and other local writers.

What are some of your favorite words and why?

This is even harder than picking a favorite author! In general, though, I like English words with more Germanic sounds, words with texture and punch. I also like single-syllabic words a lot.Straw. Gut. Hook. Orange. Those are my favorites tonight!

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Thank you, Cassie, for sharing your interesting pov with us today!

peauxdunqueCassie will be reading at the upcoming literary event Yeah, You Write, a Word Rebellion: Readings and Music, on April 18 at Cafe Istanbul. For more info see the FaceBook page of Peauxdunque Writers Alliance, sponsors of the event.

 
To read all interviews for Women Who Write, click here.

Next Friday: Julie Kane

Women Who Write: Kelly Harris

This is the first of a four-part series featuring Louisiana women poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each profile will highlight a poet from New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana including interview, biography and an original poem selected for this feature.

Kelly Harris

Kelly Harris

This week we feature Kelly Harris. Kelly earned her MFA in poetry from Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. She has been awarded fellowships by Cave Canem and the Fine Arts Work Center and won a Wendy L. Moore Emerging Artists Award from the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. Her poems have appeared in Say It Loud: Poems for James Brown, Yale University’s Caduceus, PMS, The Southern Women’s Review, PLUCK Magazine, DrumVoices Revue and other publications. The Kent State University graduate serves on the board of STAIR, (Start the Adventure in Reading) and is the editor/founder of brassybrown.com

Kelly will be speaking at The Contemporary Arts Center on April 18th in celebration of National Poetry Month and the 30 Americans Exhibition.

 

Stick Fighter
for Winnie Mandela

his breath on your neck

    his morning posture
    at the breakfast table

keepsakes of an ordinary wife

    freedom is not a love story

jumping the broom
is a weapon against those

    who see no danger in a woman

wearing a gele
crossing the threshold

    of her forbidden country

she is mad as the man
she married

can’t wait for God’s will

    demons are necessary
there must be blood

concrete to kiss
a modest woman will not have

    her name carved in stone
freedom is not a love story

               Winnie

the iron that sharpened him
all those years
               into a fist

~ ©Kelly Harris

How long have you been writing and what inspired you to choose this craft?

As a child I could always recite speeches and poems. I don’t really know how I developed the skill. I just always remember speaking somewhere and being mindful at an early age. I’ve been writing seriously since I was an undergraduate at Kent State University. I entered the university as a magazine journalism major, but it was always poetry that had a hold on me. I won a pageant contest my freshmen year. My talent was poetry, and soon after I become a poetry editor for the Black student’s publication and ran a poetry series that’s still active today. I don’t think I ever woke up one morning and said to myself, “I’m going to be a poet today.” I believe life calls us to become who we are meant to be.

Is poetry your primary genre? Do you work in any others?

Poetry is my first literary love. My blog, BrassyBrown.com, allows me to stretch my writing and of course, share my poetry. I just finished a major writing project about Black women in New Orleans that should be released soon by a nonprofit. I also do freelancing when I can. I am in the process of trying to find interest for my children’s book manuscript called “My Hoodie Keeps me Warm.” It’s the story of a group of African-American teenage boys being racially profiled. I am looking for a press for my poetry manuscript, “Revival.”

What is your earliest recollection of writing and poetry as a passion? Do you remember your first poem?

My first poem was called “Be a Leader Not a Follower.” I wrote it in 5th grade at my grandmother’s coffee table. I used to write poems in a spiral, pink Mead notebook. I threw
away many of my earliest poems because I was teased for being a poet. There weren’t a lot of poetry programs in the schools I went to. I didn’t pick up writing again until about 11th grade. I grew up in a very poor neighborhood. The great thing about my street was people were always talking, gossiping, cussing, and when you juxtaposed that with jump rope songs, hip-hop, my mother’s music collections, attending church with my family and black girlhood, it makes for great poetry.

Is writing your full-time occupation?

I wish. I’m a stay-at-home-mom and do contractual gigs in literacy, strategic planning and business writing. This may be hard to imagine, but I think becoming a mom has helped me become a better writer. It’s sharpened my attention to details and sound. To watch my 18-month-old daughter’s evolution of speech really has helped me think about language as a unit of the body.

I’m always interested in the writing process. Tell us a little about yours. Do you ponder a poem for a while, keeping it in a draft stage and working on it periodically or do you write it all at once, as the inspiration and words strike you? How much editing do you do on a piece?

I can sit and write a blog a lot easier and faster than a poem. Being a mother has forced me to write at God-awful-times, but I get it done because I do see writing as my life’s job. Most of my poems begin handwritten. When I type poems, I edit too fast. It’s just too convenient to backspace. I’m more likely to delete lines or words that may be useful later. I often do mental mapping of my poems. It helps me weed out clichés and tendencies and helps me see the possibilities for a poem.

Do you have a favorite place to write that’s particularly conducive to your creativity?

I write when and where I can, but I must admit I don’t write well in crowds or with lots of noise. Libraries used to be my ideal place, but now they are not guaranteed places of silence. There are very few public places where you can find solitude. Usually when everyone is sleeping, I am writing.

Do you have any tips you can share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a piece?

I have an MFA in Creative Writing and I sat through all sorts of lectures about motivation and discipline. First, it takes courage to write and hard work to write well, but the writing process is a lot more complicated than that. I’ve learned that everyone is different. I’ve tried to sit down each day and write on a schedule. I just can’t do it. I’m not wired that way, and my life is too hectic for structured writing. I make sure I take in a lot of music, interviews, reading, conversations and vocabulary words so that I am stock piling ideas and energy for poems to come. I’m always working on about 3-4 poems at a time. And I keep a journal of lines I’ve never used and mental notes that I sometimes use for things I’m working on. (See photo sample below)

kelly harris graphic

Whose work has inspired yours?

It depends where I’m at in my life and what I’m writing. I recently just bought “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth” (Mouthmark Press) by Warsan Shire. She packs a lot into a line. Recently the poetry world lost Wanda Coleman and Jayne Cortez—two amazing poets of color. I’ve been re-reading a lot of their work. I bought a Sonia Sanchez album, “A Sun Lady for All Seasons” last month and she’s really got me thinking about how to effectively use repetition and sound.

Speaking of sound … Bobby McFerrin. I’m not talking about “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” He’s amazing. To me there is no other human voice on the planet that creates sound and words the way he does. My 18-month-old taps her chest and improvises with him when I watch him on YouTube. It’s pretty funny, but in watching her and him, it’s a great lesson in the art of timing.

Where do you see yourself with regard to your writing in 5 years?

Hopefully I can increase my publishing credits and teach. I really miss teaching poetry to young people. I’ve had brief opportunities to guest instruct at NOCCA and Lusher, and I loved it.

Please share five poetry books you’d recommend.

“Blacks” by Gwendolyn Brooks (I mean, do I really have to explain?)

“Rice: Poems by Nikky Finney” (“Head Off and Split” won the National Book Award for Poetry but her other books are worth reading too).

“Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African American Poetry” edited by Dr. Jerry Ward (Former Dillard University Professor)

“How I Got Ovah: New and Selected Poems by Carolyn M. Rodgers” (Not as widely known, but should be).

“The Never Wife” by Cynthia Hogue (I bought this book at Dauphine Books in the French Quarter and had no idea there would be some poems about NOLA in it. It’s a wonderful book)

~~~

Thank you, Kelly, for this inspiring interview!

 

Women Who Write

Audubon Park Labyrinth, New Orleans

Audubon Park Labyrinth, New Orleans

 

During the month of April, Poetry Month, I’ll be featuring four women poets from Louisiana. They will tell us their writing process, what they read, who they admire, what their favorite words are and many, many other things. They will share a poem with us. They will be beautiful examples of why you should date/love/marry/admire/emulate women who write.

It’s going to be great.

“You should date a girl who reads.
Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she has found the book she wants. You see that weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a secondhand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow and worn.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry and in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.”
Rosemarie Urquico

 

 

NOLAFemmes and How She Grows

I recently received my yearly report from WordPress on the progress NOLAFemmes made in 2012 and thought I’d share some of it with y’all. It was all good and some of the stats included in the report were:

  • NOLAFemmes was viewed about 190,000 times in 2012. (!)
  • The busiest day of the year was February 24th with 85,727 views.
  • The most popular post that day was Lit Up Like a Parade.
  • The top referring sites were Facebook, Twitter, WWL TV and Nola.com.

NOLAFemmes was just a baby of an idea I began tossing around in my head about four years ago because I realized there was no local group blog made up entirely of women writers at the time which I saw as a serious flaw in the NOLA blogosphere.  As far as I know, we are still the only local blog staffed entirely by women. Some people say blogs are dying but our stats and our readers call BS on that. :) Our first post was published on July 12. 2009 and it’s been full steam ahead ever since.

It was a very busy 2012 for this blog and it started off with a Very. Big. Bang. in February with A.L. Mueller’s heartfelt post “Lit Up Like A Parade” which went viral nationally very, very quickly. (Examples here, here and here.) Emily Gras grew out of that post and was one of WWL TV’s most viewed stories for 2012 and WDSU’s Top Stories.

In March Lunanola was the first New Orleanian to tweet about the sidewalk defacement in the French Quarter by representatives of CoCa Cola looking to advertise during the NCAA Men’s Final Four event. She quickly blogged her outrage in her post “Historic French Quarter and Faubourg Tremé defaced with graffiti advertising Coca-Cola products” and was joined in her outrage by many New Orleanians. Due to her activism, Coca-Cola subsequently apologized and had reps scrubbing the sidewalks.

Liprap’s poignant and personal post “Help. Now.”, including helpful information for victims of Hurricane Sandy, earned the blog a prominent spot on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed page. This is a big deal in the WordPress community and gives a blog great exposure. (This made our third time on FP!) It was a well deserved honor and we thank Word Press for the nod.

These are only three of the many well-written, informative and entertaining pieces written by the women of this blog who were all hand-picked for her individual talents. We strive to be a well-rounded site incorporating local issues of interest to New Orleanians as well as cultural and personal pieces of interest to all. We don’t want to be only a “political” blog, a “mommy” blog or a “pop-culture” blog; we want to be all of that and more. We want to inspire, inform and entertain. Our readers are why we are here at all and we always want to give them a perspective they won’t read anywhere else. Our perspective.

So I want to thank all of our readers for choosing to read this blog in a world where an internet surfer’s interest is increasingly being vied for, especially in the social media world. We couldn’t exist, much less thrive as we have, without you.

I also want to thank my writers:
Maringouin
Pistolette
Lunanola
Shercole
Emofalltrades
JudyB
Nola Notes
Laura Bergerol
A.L. Mueller
and also welcome once again our newest
T. Kaupp
Liprap
Bayou Creole

Thank you all, my writing companions, for all you do for this blog. You’re the best!

We look forward to another great year here on NOLAFemmes. May you all have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Random Ramblings On Blogging & Social Media

Once again I’m ruminating on social media and my participation in it. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the interaction on Google+ where I’ve been very careful as to who I circle. I’ve learned from my Facebook account that friending/circling can get out of hand in a flash and you end up with the electronic version of junk mail in your stream. The other day a friend posted this about sharing blog posts on G+:You’re not going to get far on social media if your entire stream says “check out my interview with X, Y, or Z,” or “Go read my latest blog entry.” I commented that he had given me something to think about since I routinely share blog posts from all my blogs. I assumed (ahem, yes.) that friends would be interested in my extended thoughts or, if not, would simply move on. I don’t write a lot on G+ but instead use it to share information, funnies, music – ya know, content I think my friends and I have in common. I comment on others posts when I have something to say but don’t feel obligated to comment if I don’t. Another person (not someone I know or follow) stated she thought “a lot of “traditional” bloggers have very boring streams and if you’re going to be on here you really need to engage”. (I found it interesting she referenced “traditional” bloggers – as if that were something out of date. I don’t see blogs going the way of the dinosaurs any time soon as long as people prefer getting information in a format larger than 140 characters.)  This was a rather ungracious comment, imo, and it prompted me to reply that  “people have all sorts of reasons for engaging on social sites – one being to keep up with IRL friends & acquaintances, not as a tool for anything more. Fortunately what’s boring for one is not boring for all”. As my friend stated, “there’s definitely a way to balance things”, a concept foreign to some people, I guess.All of which reminds me of a quote I read by Tom Petty in a recent Twitter interview. When asked his opinion on social media he replied, “End of the world. Everybody has their head up their own ass thinking their every breath is important.”I lmao at that. Truer words…..

Speaking of blogging, I haven’t done any link love in a long time so I’m going to share a list (in no particular order) of blogs from all over that I’ve read regularly in the past year and recommend you check out. Just so you know, I trend toward lifestyle, photography and blogs with a lit bent. I read political blogs too but I don’t talk politics here. Happy New Year to all and here’s looking forward to a great year of – yes – “traditional” blogging!

Zoom Yummy ~ Cooking, knitting, photography. I’ve found some great dessert recipes here.

Broadside ~ Writer Caitlin Kelly blogs about about women, work, journalism, books, culture, family and relationships.

Mighty Termitey ~ My online sista from another mother who always makes me smile and I bet she can make you smile too!

Cliff’s Crib ~ Proud parent, community leader and New Orleanian who points out our warts as well as our beauty marks. This man takes no prisoners but also has a soft-ish side.

Kiss My Gumbo ~ One of the smartest women I read and know personally. Her recent posts on caring for her father with Alzhiemer’s are truly inspirational.

Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans ~ Amazing writer and poet focusing mainly on life in New Orleans, of course.

Shay’s Word Garden ~ An extremely talented poet whose work will astound you. If you think you don’t like poetry, try reading her. Her work is street smart and tender all at the same time.

My two favorite photography sites: 504ever and My Life in the Quarter – two very talented men you need to meet.

YatCuisine ~ Yummy food blog!

B2L2 ~ A group blog consisting of writers doing their thing including essays and opinion pieces. Good stuff.

Kelly Harris-DeBerry writes about the literary renaissance in New Orleans post-Katrina on the Poets and Writers blog. I had the pleasure recently of hearing Kelly (and others) speak at the first Yeah, You Write reading series at Tipitina’s. Check out Kelly’s  great post for what’s happening in your back yard, New Orleanians!

 

Daisy Pignetti: Blogging the Unfinished Story in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Daisy Pignetti* is participating on a panel at the Oxford Internet Institute symposium at Oxford University in England and is presenting her paper “Blogging the Unfinished Story in post-Katrina New Orleans” on Friday. Her paper features my writing from my personal blog, TravelingMermaid,  in the months after the storm and up to 2009. I am honored that Daisy felt my frustrated scribbles was worthy to include in her paper so I wanted to share this news with y’all.

Daisy contacted the “NOLA Bloggers”, a group of people who blogged and networked after the storm, through Think NOLA in 2006 asking for volunteers to talk about their blogging experiences for a research project. I think it’s important to note that Think NOLA, the New Orleans Wiki (both now defunct) and Alan Gutierrez were instrumental in organizing the Nola blogosphere into a cohesive group and deserves a lot of credit for doing so.

The abstract from Daisy’s paper reads as follows:

“With the growing familiarity of the blog genre, much has been published about the use of information and communication technologies for grassroots and community endeavors, but there is still research to be done, particularly of placeblogs that coincide with sites of natural and/or national disaster. Unlike other scholarly Internet inquiries where issues of identity might influence the structures and processes of the research, the population discussed here stands out in its transparent use of blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies.

The New Orleans blogger community proves to be one built upon the shared experience of Hurricane Katrina and is thereby focused on reporting the facts surrounding and actions needed for recovery to take place. While their individual blog audiences may be small, their disclosing details about their lives ‘after the levees broke’ allows these ‘NOLA Bloggers’ to be in control of their storm stories and potentially receive feedback within minutes of sharing, which is fundamental during times of crisis.

After a brief overview of my autoethnographic research methods, I present a profile of a blogger whose writing presents readers with a truer understanding of what life is like in post-Katrina New Orleans. Since the hurricane hit in 2005, Charlotte’s writing has progressed from emotional outpourings of survivor’s guilt to reflective posts illustrating the way web 2.0 technologies have empowered her local identity since the storm. “

Several bloggers and/or blogs from the NOLA blogosphere who were posting immediately after the storm are mentioned in the paper, including:

Humid City
NOLA Slate (Sam recently guest posted for NOLAFemmes – you may read her post here.)
DotCalm
Polimom
Wetbank Guide
Maitri’s Vatulblog
Think NOLA

Also mentioned is the list of New Orleans Bloggers and the Rising Tide Conference.

After the success of last year’s 5th anniversary project on this blog, I had hoped to publish a series for the 6th anniversary featuring some of the NOLA bloggers that I personally read after the storm, people who came to mean so much to me, but personal issues prevented me from seeing that project through. Maybe next year.

There’s really nothing more I can add except, read this paper. Scroll down the programme to Friday and click on Daisy Pignetti’s name after which you can download the paper. It’s fascinating reading and gratifying to realize that all our ranting and kvetching about life post-Katrina was heard and really is a little piece of history.

________________________________________________

*Daisy Pignetti is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. A proud New Orleans native, her research into the rebuilding of New Orleans through new media endeavors can be read in scholarly journals such as Computers and Composition Online and Reflections: A Journal of Writing, Service-Learning, and Community Literacy as well as on prominent blog sites such as the Open Society Institute’s Katrina: An UnNatural Disaster and the Harvard University hosted Publius Project. She credits these publications and opportunities to the wonderful group of Internet researchers, faculty, and staff she met during the 2007 Oxford Internet Institute Summer Doctoral Programme.

Guest Blogger Sam Jasper: On Writing in the Wake of Katrina

On Writing in the Wake of Katrina

I watched CNN on Sunday for a long time, following the path of Hurricane Irene, worrying about relatives and friends who were in various states along the storm’s expected travels. As it became clear that the inland flooding from overflowing riverbanks would be by far the greatest danger to them, a tiny part of me jumped into a familiar anxiety mode, while another was outraged by the screaming coverage on television. While I pray for the families who lost loved ones, and I do empathize with the people, and there are many, who lost their homes, I was nevertheless annoyed by the continuous loop of video showing a lifeguard station in New Jersey coming off the sand and running into the boardwalk. That video was followed, on a fairly regular basis, by a photograph of a park bench, half hidden by water perhaps 3 ft deep, that the anchors kept looking at in amazement remarking that it had moved—all the way across the street. They were nearly dumbstruck with awe. I meanwhile remembered the endless loop of people on roofs, helicopters with little kids hanging in baskets and, of course, one bit of footage of a looter that was looped like the yarn on my grandmother’s crochet hooks around every other bit of footage as the levees broke six years ago. The coverage was frustrating and more than a little infuriating.

Doubtless there is someone in one of those states looking at the destruction Irene left behind and screaming with fury at the looping footage that doesn’t tell even a tenth of the story.

As Katrina headed in towards land, we had left on the Sunday afternoon before the storm after flipping a coin. Not the best way to make a decision, but one that we admit to as it is true. Under a sound roof in Alabama, we watched that looping footage, switching stations frantically to get more information, maybe better information. What was happening to our city, to the people in it? As the video of water coursing through neighborhoods started, we were shocked.

Then came the reports of what was happening in the Superdome, at the Convention Center, on roofs and overpasses. People. Lots and lots of people waiting for help. Some asking for water, just some drinking water. Reporters saying there were bodies floating near the overpasses. This in our city. Our country. Another couple days went by and we decided to return home after scouring nola.com for other news, connecting with some people, finding comfort in communication, being told we were crazy to go back. We were told it was the Wild West, it was a catastrophe of monumental proportions, it was illegal. We put the map on the dining room table, plotted a route home that would take us north through Hattiesburg and Bogalusa, a route that took us about 150 miles out of our way. We’d buy gas along the way wherever we could find it. We couldn’t sit watching the video loops another minute. We felt compelled to come back and at least make an attempt to help.

As we headed south to the Sunshine Bridge in order to come up 90, we hooked up with some other New Orleans-bound travelers. All of us with the same compulsion to get back, to pitch in. We talked a lot when we stopped for gas or supplies about what we’d do if we couldn’t get into town. What if all the exits were blocked by Guardsmen? We all decided to risk it. As we came north, the southbound lanes looked like something out of a Steinbeck novel. People with furniture tied to the roofs of their cars, passengers sitting on tied down mattresses in the beds of pickup trucks. Not a vehicle was moving. A giant parking lot full of frantic people and a few of their possessions. We wondered where they were planning to go, but we kept heading up toward the city. In the lanes next to us were a few National Guard trucks, humvees, and some personnel. We and the other couple traveling in their car were the only civilians we saw. We got to our exit and miraculously it wasn’t blocked. There was no one around as we approached our house. It appeared that there was no one anywhere. We saw no chaos other than a house in the middle of an intersection and downed trees and power lines everywhere. We lived on the Westbank at that time. We had been lucky. Just the other side of the river it was an entirely different story.

After a quick recon around the neighborhood, we found out who was home, and there were several. We gathered all the news we could, but the information void put us into an alternate reality: we only knew what we saw or what we heard in our little area. It was that way for people in other neighborhoods as well we found out later. We found out that a food distribution point was going to be set up at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras world so the next day we went to offer our services. The people on Powder Street needed medication. The lady by the levee was hooking up with animal rescue folks and needed our dog crate.

Our power was out but the phone line miraculously still worked. We had brought enough gasoline in with us to get us back out if that’s what we thought we should do. Instead we poured it into a generator that our neighbor had and we shared that generator one hour a day. I still had a dial up modem in my computer so I rigged a connection to a dial up number for AOL in New Mexico. It worked. On September 12, 2005 I wrote my first mass email explaining what we were seeing here at that time. I wrote every couple days after that well into March of 2006.

I was asked what it felt like to write during that time. Necessary. That’s how it felt. It was necessary. It was eminently clear that news coverage was limited at best. That people in other parts of the country were getting barely a piece of the story. While I certainly couldn’t give a view of the entire city, I could absolutely tell people what was going on in my neck of New Orleans: what we had, what we didn’t have, when the power was expected to come on, where the food distribution was and who was distributing it.

After one week my mailing list swelled to over 200 as people forwarded my emails to each other and dropped me a line asking to be included on any future updates. AOL was convinced that I was running a gigantic spam operation, so I wrote them and explained where I was and what I was doing. They relented, allowing the emails to go out, and eventually the mailing list grew by another 50. I was getting emails from locals asking if we could check on their houses and post photos, I was getting emails from people outside of the country asking what they could do, I got emails from friends and others asking what they could send and how to send it as the post office wasn’t in service. I was getting emails from people saying that the original mail had been forwarded ten times until it reached them and that their thoughts and prayers were with us.

What started as a simple “we’re okay don’t worry” email had morphed into an on the ground news dissemination system and people wanted the information, not the stuff they were seeing on the news. They wanted the stories of what we were doing, who we had met, the incredible generosity of some guys who drove through the night to deliver much needed goods. We eventually managed to photograph several houses for people who couldn’t get back, and although it was slow going on dial up, we sent them out. It eventually got to a point where we could no longer send individual thank you emails, there were too many and our generator time was too short.

I said earlier that it was necessary to write at that time. It was. Not just because the news coverage was initially so bad, but because once that first email went out the responses we got sustained us. I am not sure how we would have managed those first few weeks without the support of all those emails. People we didn’t know were keeping us going when all we wanted to do was cry. A bond was forged with those strangers on my computer screen. I kept writing. They kept responding, and I felt a duty to continue sending out updates.

Many people sent boxes of supplies. Others sent vitamins and tasty things. They all came with notes of support, often with cash in them, and all with a comment about the frustration of trying to find a tangible way to help in that moment. So many kindnesses to balance the unfathomable cruelty of Katrina. It still chokes me up.

I had always written, an article here, a story there but nothing as regular as the emails written at that time. As the anger mounted and the sadness dropped us into pits of despair, the words were there being read somewhere by someone who cared even if we didn’t know their name. They met the people in my neighborhood, the people helping out. They heard the stories of the noble sons who’d stayed with their elderly, ill mothers. They heard the stories of lost people and our panic over their whereabouts. They heard about little triumphs and major hurdles. They heard about the heat and the exhaustion, the jubilation of power being turned back on, our first sight of Jackson Square covered in satellite trucks and humvees and old bandages instead of artists, and how many nails a tire can absorb before it becomes unusable.

In the writing of those missives I found the strength to cope with what I was seeing around me, and if the responses were to be believed, I was giving the people who read them a more realistic view of what was happening here during that time. Interestingly enough, six years later, sometimes those emails swirl through my consciousness with the tenacity of a CNN video loop.

~

Sam blogs at New Orleans Slate and is a contributing author and co-editor of A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writing from Postdiluvian New Orleans. Her emails chronicling the days after Katrina can be read at Katrina Refrigerator.

Advice Columns Vs. Self Help Books

This morning this headline on The Awl grabbed my attention as I was trolling my list of zines for a good read: A Q&A with the Advice Columnist Called ‘Sugar’.  I suspected “Sugar” was Sugar the anon advice columnist from the lit magazine “The Rumpus” which I read now and then and I was right. I’d seen Sugar’s column featured prominently on “The Rumpus” but had never actually read it since I’m not a fan of advice columns and I figured it was all about sex anyway (not that that’s a bad thing!); however, I was curious as to what Sugar had to say in this interview so I clicked through. I skimmed through the first half when I realized it was all about how the interviewer knew Sugar in real life but didn’t know she was the anon Sugar of “The Rumpus”…. yadda, yadda, yadda and then I zeroed in on the following question and Ms Sugar’s answer (boldface is mine):

“Tell me what that message is.”

“Well it’s so many things that I feel like, what you could do, if you read all of my columns they do boil down to some pretty essential truths. You hit on one of them when you said ‘the hard choice is often the best one,’ that life is both more simple and more complex than most of us would like to believe, that there is something about the essential, that we all have an essential truth within us which if we really listen to that, which is totally different than that bumper sticker ‘follow your bliss,’ which is bullshit. You know? And that’s, I have never read a self help book in my life. I think self help is pretty much bullshit. I don’t pay attention to this…what’s that Oprah book, like The Secret, or some sort of crap like that? ‘If you only believe, then it will be true,’ I think that’s a really aggressively entitled bullshit sort of approach to life’s complicated questions. And at the same time there’s a piece of that in Sugar that says ultimately we’re all responsible for our lives, we’re all going to fail, we all have something inside to offer, and our work here is to find out and express it in whatever channels are appropriate. So it’s not Sugar’s message, but it’s really just my life, everything I think about how to live, which is in opposition to that self help crap.

I find it ironic that Sugar thinks self help books are bullshit , apparently not recognizing that she engages in the same “bullshit” on a different level. I’ve read a self help book  or two in my day, in a quest for finding workable solutions for life issues, by people educated and published in their area of interest.  It’s easy to find experts on a given subject by simply researching a subject and assessing the qualifications and education of those who have written about it or soliciting recommendations from friends and colleagues. The same cannot [always] be said of advice columnists, many of whom are people who are hired by infotainment newspapers and magazines to give their opinions on any and every subject under the sun without any discernible expertise. In the answer above Sugar even states herself that “…but it’s really just my life, everything I think about how to live “.  Um, o.k. But don’t read those self help books by psychologists, physicians and educators because that’s, ya know, bullshit. Interestingly, in this interview, Sugar describes her column thusly:

“It’s self-help and it’s also anti-self help.”

It seems to me Ms Sugar is as dazed and confused as the rest of us poor slobs trying to make sense of this thing called life.

While I’m not a regular reader of advice columnists, I’ll admit to occasionally rubbernecking a particularly sensational advice column headline in the newspaper or a magazine. In my opinion, though, most advice columns are really just voyeuristic exploitation of people’s confusion and hopelessness for the ratings game and/or public recognition and that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But everyone is entitled to their opinion and is free to seek help from whatever forum they please. Maybe an anonymous advice columnist of unknown qualifications has more validity for some because of her life experience than the author of a self help book. And that’s….o.k. I’ll just take my chances with a well researched book, thank you.