Or revising the recipe to suit
Did you know that real cheese is cave-aged? That they literally put cheese in a cave.
As I was falling asleep last night I had this fear that yesterday’s post was a little TMI. I mean, who writes about their colon? But here I am, including the word “colon” in both the second and third sentences of this post.
Mostly what I was falling asleep thinking about is an upcoming workshop I’m leading on revising and submitting your work for publication. What do I really know?
I was also thinking about how it was hard to get comfortable, and why is my body still complaining even after all the Advil yesterday.
Today, I woke up to less severe but definitely still there achiness. I’m having coffee and writing this with a cat draped over my arms, because: soup.
Tonight should be a good night for my youngest son. He is—hopefully—finally getting a chance to go to prom. But as of this writing, I don’t know whether or not he’s going.
He graduated in 2020. He didn’t participate in the drive-thru graduation. There was no senior ditch day, grad night, or prom. By all accounts, he graduated by the skin of his teeth and even without the pandemic likely would have had nothing to do with prom. Until now. Because he’s been asked, and he wanted to go, except maybe her dress won’t be here in time so they won’t go, despite having purchased a suit.
I’m told that if they don’t go, they will still do something special where they can get dressed up. I want to commend him for being willing to go with the flow, and yet I find myself disappointed that he might not get to experience prom after all. Not that prom is all that. But I found myself looking forward to it as something special for them; a do-over. Instead, it might be just another Friday night. With a $400 suit.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my own process of revising and submitting work for publication. It’s not a regimented process. In fact, it’s pretty haphazard.
So I find myself wondering what I know that is worth sharing. That perseverance is the key to success? That you can’t fail without trying? As Sylvia Plath said:
“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”
At Inlandia, it is my privilege to work with writers at all levels. That means some of the writers are multi-award-winning, many-published-books kinds of authors. Others are retirees with a lot of time on their hands and great stories. And then there are those who are cobbling together a real career in writing. Who are on the path, but who need others who have come before them to light the way, and all I have are some hand-me-down glow-in-the-dark stars.
To be honest, I’m not even sure exactly where I am on that path. Success is relative. But what I do know is that I am on it, and I am going in a direction. And that is mostly attributable to my imperviousness to failure.
“Don't be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid.” — John Keats
I had planned to write today about my process of revision but I think I will revise it.
Day before yesterday, when I was moving all of those boxes around, I had my phone for company. Wary of not wanting to draw down the battery too fast, I didn’t stream anything (otherwise I might have binge-listened to old episodes of The Slowdown) and instead I listened to whatever poetry I had in my phone. First it was Dylan Thomas: The Caedmon Collection. Then it was a recording of Gertrude Stein’s “If I Told Him,” an auditory cubist-portrait of Picasso, and in the focused listening that one does when there is nothing else distracting the mind (like when doing physical labor) I finally heard it, and could picture each fragment as it was on a canvas of silence.
After that, I pulled up an album that I’d purchased that I was, frankly, disappointed in. Marianne Faithfull’s She Walks in Beauty. Why had I been disappointed the first time I listened? Because my expectations were that it was poetry set to music? Well, it was, just not in the way that I expected. You see, I also own Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep, which I’ve listened to countless times. And I bought Faithfull’s album thinking not of poetry read in that inimitable voice, but sung. Going back to it, knowing that, it was what I expected, what I had hoped for— perfect for what it is, not what I believed it ought to be.
And that is my attitude about revision.
If something isn’t what you expect, then you revise your expectations. Sometimes that might mean abandoning a project, but most often it simply means abandoning our rigid idea about what that project might look like, whether that be in the kitchen, or in poetry, or in love.
We can argue all day about Ted Hughes (and maybe we will at some point, because I am a dedicated Plathofile), but there is a quote that I used to attribute to Plath but, as it turns out, was actually said about Plath by Hughes.
Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy.
If you can’t go to prom, a fancy dinner out will do. You wanted a sestina but those end words just aren’t working—dump ‘em! Who cares? Better to have a functional chair than a lopsided table. Better to have a foot stool, or a top, than nothing at all. Or better to have nothing at all except what you’ve learned about the process. We are all learning, every day. We would all be wise to sit on our poems for a bit before we approach them for revision, or better yet—better than the proverbial desk drawer—age them in a cave. We should treat the process of writing as artisans, carpenters, chefs.
We are all adapting the recipe to suit, otherwise what would we do at 10 o’clock at night when we’re making soup and we go all the way to the market just to find out they don’t have any leeks? Just throw something else in. Be creative. A sock? Some grass? For flavor. Whatever. Only you will know what you put in, what you took out. The end result will either be edible, or it won’t be, or it will be but—yuck.
And that’s okay. That’s what the InSinkErator is for.
Here’s another poem for today
Recipe for Failure First, gather ingredients: One bowl instead of two Six eggs (two of which are cracked) Too much flour Not enough milk A fork for a wooden spoon Kenny G Add all to the bowl Stir. Cry over the batter, which, unlike in Like Water for Chocolate, does not convey any magical properties Pour into a pie pan Pop it in, forget to preheat Sit. Wait