2021-09-16 Dealing with Deadlines and a Midlife Identity Crisis Part Two ✌️

Part Two? How quaint. 

Last night I banged away at my keyboard, pulled dozens of books off my shelves, and googled “emerging author bios” seventeen different ways. My goal, of course, was to write one short, concise bio for the back of my pending book and one longer version for only the Universe (and my publisher) knows why. 

It took me exactly four years to write something akin to all the examples I’d looked at. Name, geography, credentials, and experience with just enough personality to make it seem like I’m a real human. It’s not exactly inviting. It feels dry and academic and I hate it. 

Well, hate is a strong word and I don’t exactly hate it. It’s more like I read it and it does not seem enticing. It’s also tough to come up with stuff to say in a way that somehow glosses over the fact that I’m very new at this publishing thing. Most bios I read start off by gushing about previous awards and books published and I just don’t have that. But I have to start somewhere. 

Anyway, the short bio got written and I’m mostly satisfied. Then I had a little fun writing the “alternate” version. The one that was easy and oozing with my humor and charm. Yes. I can be funny. I actually like to be funny. And so that exercise was satisfying. 

Just about then my darling husband came up the stairs and I read him both versions. He said about the first…

“It’s well written and I can tell that you thought through each sentence and carefully selected each word.” 

That’s right. 

His reaction to the second one?

“Yes! You nailed it! That’s the one!”

At that point I closed my laptop and decided I needed to go to bed. I gave up on my deadline and promised myself I would revisit it first thing in the morning. 

When the morning arrived I kept that promise. I made a few minor edits of both short bios. I collected all the other items the publisher had asked for and I finally, FINALLY, pulled the trigger in sending those emails. The only thing missing at that point was the long bio.

Which short bio did I send? The answer is both. 

I even asked my friend M what she thought. She laughed at the second one and said she’d definitely read the book of that person. What’s a girl to do? 🤷‍♀️

Some feedback from my publisher will be invaluable. I wonder if and when I will get that. I still owe them the long bio and in my opinion, it will be helpful to know if the two (short and long) will be in close quarters with each other. 

If, for example, the short one appears on the back of the book and the longer one at the end of the book on the inside, then I’d want to minimize repeating using the same language. 

If, though, one is for the book and another is for mailers or postcards or other promotional material, then I can repeat certain phrases and elements and not be troubled by it. 

Am I overthinking this? 

Yes, of course I am. That’s my Way. 

In any case, as I began to struggle with the longer bio today, what I ended up doing was combining the two, adding an element that M suggested, and then changing some of the verbiage so that it didn’t sound too similar to either, shorter version.

And there you have it folks. The finishing line of the deadline for The Finishing Line Press. How apropos.

That’s it for today. Right??

Wrong.

I realized just when I was wrapping up this post that going on and on and on about these bios without actually including them is like setting up a joke and then never getting telling the punchline. Kinda worthless. Well.. not worthless but likely very unsatisfying. So here are the bios mainstream short, humorous short, and long:

Official (95 Words)

Shyla Shehan is a writer and engineer born and blossomed in the Midwest. She holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska where she received an American Academy of Poets Prize in 2020. Shyla is Co-founder and Editor of The Good Life Review and currently lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband, children, and four cats. She enjoys digging in the dirt, road trips, and she accidentally breeds snails in her spare time. Her full bio and an account of her published work are available at shylashehan.com. This is her first book.

Alternate / Humorous (99 Words)

Shyla Ann Shehan is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven books of poetry, essays, and flash-forward fiction that have not been written yet. Her most noteworthy accomplishment to date is divorcing her (now former) career as a Healthcare IT Integration Specialist. Since then, she has pledged her undying love and fealty to Poetry but has so far refused to get matching tattoos. Shyla spends most days tending to a healthy household and accidentally breeds snails in her spare time. She is currently suffering a mini-midlife identity crisis over writing this bio for her first book, Unsuspecting Cinderella.

Long (209 Words)

Shyla Shehan is a writer and engineer born and blossomed in the Midwest. She holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska where she leveled up her poetry game and discovered that the writing life has more to offer than just a way to cope with the chaos of the Universe. 

Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Academy of American Poets, Plainsongs Summer 2021 by Corpus Callosum Press, Gyroscope Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts by Matter Press, and elsewhere. Her most noteworthy accomplishment to date is divorcing her (now former) career as a Healthcare IT Integration Specialist. Since then, she has pledged her undying love and fealty to Poetry but has so far refused to get matching tattoos. 

Shyla is Co-founder and Editor of The Good Life Review and currently lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband, children, and four cats. She spends most days tending to a healthy household and she accidentally breeds snails in her spare time. That’s a joke; she has no spare time. 

She is currently suffering a mini-midlife identity crisis over writing this bio for her first book, Unsuspecting Cinderella but is nonetheless grateful to you for reading and hopes you will visit  shylashehan.com for more. 

***

Now that’s it. I’m sure of it. And it is most certainly enough. Good gravy.

With peace and love and fluffy new kittens, 

~Miss SugarCookie

PS. If you have an opinion, I would be interested to hear it. No joke.. I really would.

2021-09-15 Dealing with Deadlines and a Midlife Identity Crisis

Today is the day. The day the materials—manuscript, bios, artwork, and blurbs—for my book are due. So far my biggest issue with this process has been the very hands-off-and-on-your-honor approach my publisher has had with regard to what they need from me. I’m great with deadlines. I manage my time well. They have made the list of requirements perfectly clear as far back as January when I was signing the contract. 

The problem (which is my problem) is the fuzzy nature of when all the artifacts are due. If I had a solid deadline of May 15th, I would have managed that. Let’s say it was August 1st. No worries. I’d hit that date. But leaving it open ended to where the materials are due at the latest roughly one month before the pre-release, means that all the self-imposed deadlines I’ve set for myself have come and gone and the pulling of the actual triggers has not gotten done. 

Yes I have the final manuscript completed with title pages, section pages, artwork, table of contents and acknowledgments.

Yes I have one to three author photos ready and waiting. 

Yes I have three blurbs by other authors singing the accolades of this magnificent collection of poetry. 

Yes I have the internal artwork and am expecting the final cover design to be delivered to my in-box today. 

So what’s the hang up? What’s still missing? What’s going to keep me from hitting my latest self-imposed deadline (in case you missed it, that’s today). 

The answer is Author bios. One short, single paragraph version and one longer, three or four paragraph version. I swear I’m getting deja vu typing this because I know I’ve written about writing my bio recently. 

How meta… Writing about writing about writing an author bio. Whoa!!

At this point in the game I’ve written dozens. Tweaked them almost every time I get the urge to submit some of my writing somewhere new, which is probably every couple of weeks. Needless to say, I should have this down. It should be easy-peasy in the bag. But it turns out it’s not. This will be on my first book and not on some random web page or anthology nobody is going to read but me and my mom. 

This is going to be the first impression many people get when they pick up the book and in time, part of the deciding factor. The decision for what you may ask. 

Take it or leave it.. or rather, buy it or don’t. My entire universe hangs in the balance with these three or four paragraphs. 

If it sounds like I’m being melodramatic it is because I am. I want to put a lot of weight on this because it means a lot to me. 

And just now my brain did a brief departure from thoughts about the bio to dip into the pure terror that resides inside thoughts I have about the prospect of initiating a social media campaign to promote my book. Good grief… did I just type the words “social media campaign??!!” 🤮 

Bring it back. Focus. This post is about writing a new, longer bio that is going to accompany the collection of poems I’m still not confident are good enough to be out in the wild world and available for public consumption. 

I’ve googled how to write my bio. I can probably list the top 7 how to’s and tips for what makes a good biography. I’ve looked at dozens of examples. 

About 90% of them start with this line… 

“First Name Last Name is the <NYT> Best Selling author of seven books including “Book Title” which won the <insert fancy award here> prize. And yadda-yadda goes on from there to say some serious things and quirky things that reveal who they are, where they live, and what makes them tick. 

Easy. I got this. Except…

This is my first book and I recently changed my life completely and am still struggling with a midlife identity crisis. Can I say that? Is that allowed or is it just too strange even for an ex IT engineer turned poet to admit to?

Five years from now when I grab a glass of red wine and pull that book off a nearby shelf and read the bio will I regret it if it’s too dry and boring or silly and impish. Will I care at all? Will I be working on my second NYT best selling book or will I have given it all up to chase some other yet undiscovered dream? 

If you’d have asked me five years ago what I thought would happen in the next five years, I could not have predicted this. None of it. 

Not the job changes and career dump. Not the Graduate degree in Poetry or meeting the man of my dreams and getting married. Most certainly not this book or the need to sum up who I am and what I’m about in three succinct paragraphs. 

What I’m saying is, there’s no way to predict where I will be or what I will be doing five years from now. Guessing is a useless exercise. 

All I can do is sit down and write something I can commit to for today. Something that’s factual but also let’s my personality shine through. That’s it. 

Writing this has given me a few ideas and there’s no time like the present. If I try hard, I can still hit my deadline….. maybe. 

(Probably not).

Yours truly,

~Miss SugarCookie

PS. Putting off writing my bio by writing this blog post instead is a a part of my master plan. 😜

2021-07-16 This Blog Post is Not About Toads 🐸🐸🐸

Jim and his boys brought back about 12 toads from their adventure at Two Rivers State Park and we released them in the stream behind our house. I feel a little bad for displacing them from their original natural habitat but feel confident they can thrive here too. Lots of cool places to burrow and hide in the day and bugs to snack on at night. The bugs are kind of bonkers right now with all this rain and heat. 

This would be a perfect intro to the garden update that I’ve been wanting to write about for a hot little minute lately but it’s not what’s on my mind today. Nope. 

Today I’m thinking about the grinder as a necessary tool in “sausage making.”

Sausage making (in this case) being the production of poetry which is opposed to where I first heard the term applied to developing software when I was working as an engineer for a software company. The metaphor, as it turns out, works well for both. 

I think that’s because there are a lot of similarities. There is a SDLC to poetry I don’t think people recognize.. call it a PDLC. Poetry Development Life Cycle. 

Complete with analysis to development to testing, iterations, and IF you’re good AND lucky, a little bit of implementation too. 

I’m also beginning to be a firm believer in the mathematics of it all. Proven formulas that work and methodologies that can be applied to increase the chances of success. But this is all just metaphorical until I can explain using real life examples to help solidify the thoughts. 

That’s a good disclaimer actually. These are all just my thoughts and what works or makes sense for one person might not for someone else so take that for what it’s worth. Back to “sausage making”…..

About a year ago I had just finished my last semester in an MFA program and my Master’s thesis in Poetry. It was also shortly after the “peak” months of the pandemic when folks were still on serious lockdown and waiting for news each day about what had transpired around the globe in the last 24 hours. I was working full time but had a growing desire to hang on to my MFA magic somehow and use the momentum from that to channel my creative energy into “something.” At the time, I didn’t realize that “something” was going to turn out to be publishing my poetry. 

Sure, I was also starting an online literary journal, but I needed something that would be more personally satisfying. Plus, Trish Lear lectured once that if you have a lot of balls in the air, something is bound to land successfully. You just gotta Toss ‘em up!! 

Yeah… it was near the end of July in 2020 when I started to submit my thesis poems like crazy. As it is with a lot of things you do for the first time, you learn as you go. The main platform I submitted on was Submittable and I slowly developed my own process. 

This process included things like finding and researching potential publishers, tweaking my cover letter and bio, and of course selection and revising poems I thought might be a good fit. After completing my thesis I felt as though I had about 50 poems truly worthy of letting loose on the world at large. I also had another 20 that had potential with more work and (not exaggerating) over a hundred others that will never see the light of day, so to speak. 

I had been told it’s a numbers game and so that was also part of my strategy. All this feels very much like an analysis phase tipping into development. I put the time and effort in. I created a spreadsheet to keep track of my submissions and with each submission and subsequent rejection, I made slight modifications. 

Soon, a few acceptances happened. If I revisit some of the blog posts I’ve written about being accepted and rejected in the past 12 months, I know I would find a sentiment of indifference. That’s kind of a curious phenomenon—to have a similar reaction to both. It’s like a brief shot of emotion right to the heart. An adrenaline spike when I open an email and see that a poem has been accepted and the same dose of a downer with each rejection. 

It passes so quickly, like minutes, and then I’m back to baseline. I’ve often wondered why I am so emotionally detached from the outcome—why I get so much more satisfaction out of revising and submitting than anything else? Maybe it’s the same rush as plunking your precious pennies in a slot machine and pulling the handle. The possibility of “hitting it big” is kind of a rush. 

That slot machine metaphors is also pretty accurate when it comes to getting your work accepted as a publisher, but I’ll stick with the “grinder” for now. 

I went on a serious roll, cranking that grinder daily and the last time I checked, I had amassed about 200 submissions (which equates to about 1000 poems). Being a numbers nerd, it’s an important part of the analysis. Law of averages melds with chaos theory to produce a result by which I can say now, with confidence, is about a 10% success rate. I put that statistic in my back pocket. 

Part of the PDLC is learning from mistakes and making modifications. And I’ve made a few. Some feel like big mistakes like submitting to a brand new publication with no idea about their presentation, professionalism, or vibe. I gave away one of my very best to a new place and was very disappointed in the outcome. I had to let that go, but will never do that again. 

Another mistake I made, which may or may not have been that big of a mistake, was spending too much (money and time) submitting to contests. Like Rattle, where I have very little shot of getting in. I know now that my poems don’t really fit with their vibe (or the current climate for rhetoric) and now all I have to show for that is 4 years of a subscription. That’s a lot of Rattle. I still aspire to get in there someday, but have to find the right poem for it and realize that I may never write that. 

I mention money. While this is not so much of a concern for me, it’s more about not just throwing it out the proverbial literary journal window. I’m all about support of small presses and startups but there are clearly some that have a good mission and vision and others that feel like they are just out to make some bucks. In order to ferret it all out, it takes research. And research takes time. 

It’s also a matter of observation and experience. For real! If I spent $20 on a submission and that hangs out there in “received” status the better part of a year with no communication back (even after the issue or contest it was submitted to has come and gone), that’s a serious red flag. 

Someone once told me that the longer it’s out there, the more chance it’s going to be accepted but I disagree. I think there’s a sweet spot and most of the acceptances I’ve received were at an average of 9 weeks. I think some places just don’t have a very good process for follow up on rejected pieces. 

It’s part of the reason I want to treat submitters to The Good Life Review way better and follow up on every inquiry and make sure each submission gets the care and attention it deserves. I digress. 

Anyway.. so now I have a process defined and operating like a well oiled machine. What this does for me is allow me to maintain my submission goals without a ton of effort. My current goal?.. maintain about 35 open submissions. 

This means when I get a rejection (or acceptance) the open count goes down and I engage with the process to crank another out. However, as most people in any sort of successful business know, there’s always room for improvement and ways to level up. My new aim, therefore, is not just to maintain 35 (or increase that number) but instead to make small steps forward to increasing the quality of the publications I’m getting into. Having names that are more recognizable on a CV or in a bio becomes important in the grand scheme. 

The grand scheme being what? Success. But, good gravy what is the definition of success? The true short story on that one is that I don’t know. Is it to someday get into Rattle or The Sun? Is it New York or Paris? Is it having a full manuscript published by Grey Wolf?

Maybe. I don’t know. 

If it is then I’d better get busy writing. What this post doesn’t address is that part of the process which remains shrouded in mystery. I’ve told a few folks my well of inspiration feels dry right now and what I get in return are comments like “well you are in the middle of publishing a book so I wouldn’t be too worried about it.” 

Good point. I’m not actually worried about it. I’m just a thinker and a planner so I know that if I desire to publish more, I’m going to have to write more. And prove to the world that I’m not just a one trick pony, so to speak. 

The other way one might interpret the grinder of which I speak is the way rejection can start to mush up your confidence after a while. Yes, I’m not so bothered by any individual rejection but after a while, as they start to accumulate without any acceptances to balance things out, I begin feeling like I’ve just gotten lucky and am really just an imposter posing as a poet. 

That’s ok. I fooled the world into thinking I was a rockstar engineer for about 25 years so I’ve got this. 

I know I’ve been shying away from public appearances lately and my social anxiety has thanked me, but I’m really jazzed about this topic and think I would like to give a talk or presentation on it. Barcamp? Winter Res? Nebraska Poetry Society? We’ll see. 

I think that’s it for today folks. Or should I say toad-a?!! 😜

With Peace and Love and Bacon Wrapped Dates, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-06-27 Super Solo Sunday Status

Today I’m getting a half day all to myself. My man has gone “picking” with his bro at a farm in Seward Nebraska. I hadn’t heard of picking until he Introduced me to the concept and cited the show American pickers as an example.

Jim is big into finding “treasure” at antique stores and estate sales and more specifically that which has some local significance to Omaha and Nebraska (and Iowa). 

This year we went to an event called “Junk Stock” in search of old road signs to adorn our game room walls. He found some but also met a woman who lives out in Seward Nebraska whose husband is a scrap metal worker and brings home all kinds of discarded signs, old farm equipment, and other various machines. 

So today they are taking a trip out to their farm to see what they can find. Which leaves me with about a half day to do whatever I want. 

Sure, there are 4 teenagers here but they are either going to work or sleeping in because it’s Sunday. My first order of business?…

Treating myself to an extra long session on the treadmill. Hell, I might even go for a solo bike ride too. Get ALL the exercise I want and probably still have time enough to enjoy lounging on the couch with my cats. 

Speaking of cats… we have a 5th cat this week because we’re cat sitting for my friend M, who is on vacation this week. Our new fluffy friend is Stormy and he’s a very lovey, fluffy friend. His breed is Norwegian Forrest Cat and he is big with super long fur including the most gorgeous mane which makes him look like a lion, except his fur is dark grey with a little white on his paws.

Stormy loves people but he’s a very sensitive soul who doesn’t like change. He spent most of the day yesterday under the bed in his “all inclusive” bedroom. The door is closed and we’re not introducing the other cats so he doesn’t have too much “new” to deal with. He finally came out from under the bed at about 10pm (I think to use the litter box) and this morning he came out right away to greet me and get some love. 

He’s so pretty and all the kids think he’s great. You know we are a household of crazy cat people.. it’s not just me and Jim. All 4 kids love all the cats so much. I’m pretty sure we all like the cats more than we like each other.. ha! So Stormy has a great home away from home here. 🐱💕🏰

In other news, I’m excited to report I’ve got three new poems forthcoming with three different publications. Two were originally drafted during the advanced poetry studio class I took at UNO and the third is one of my newer “response” poems. 

When I first had the epiphany of writing a series of poems that were responses to other poems, I knew I would have to write a lot of poems in order to amass a collection that works as a unified body of work. The Universe knows there are a million poems out in the wild that are available both in print and online, the trick is finding ones that really speak to me enough to spark a response. 

Thus far I think I’ve only written six and my focus lately has been revising and submitting and I haven’t been inspired to write anything new. I’ve actually gone bananas submitting these six and the one being published in July is the first to get picked up. Coincidentally, the title of that poem is “Bananas”. 😜

Two of the others I believed to be really strong but have lost a little of that confidence with the myriad of rejections I’ve received. Two others are prose poems that I feel are not as good but keep working on them and sending out. The final one is also relatively new and frankly the only viable poem I’ve written so far this year (I think) and I’m in love with it and submitted it to like 25 places. If it gets picked up, my work will be cut out for me in the way of withdrawing all those subs. 

It would be nice to write a few new things that have some merit, but what can I say.. if I’m not feeling it.. I can’t force it. Maybe today will be the day for that too. 

On that note, I suppose it’s time to read my three daily poems and see what the Universe thinks I need to think about today with my copious amounts of free time. 💚💛🧡❤️

With Peace and Love and Peanut Butter Toast, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-06-26 After the Storm there is Calm

I’ve once again navigated the sea of emotions my monthly cycle often laps over me in waves. Gritting my teeth through the frustration of the daily grind, the longing for peace and stillness, and anger when little pricks press into my skin like poorly executed acupuncture. 

My mantra? “Wait a few days and see what washes back out to sea.” 

In these moments, my mental accounting is both a blessing and a curse. Waking in the wee hours with unnecessary thoughts on repeat or awake and lacking focus, yet still surprisingly productive, flush with new ideas, and tapping into spaces in my psyche that are otherwise unreachable. 

I’m on the other side of it now and able to look back and recognize the waves that were / are nothing more than ripples in the tide pool—concentric circles created by pebbles tossed in by life. I can see them clearly now for what they are and decide what attention should be required, which is often none. I let it go and move on. 

***

I now have three poems in my daily in-box and today I’m very unimpressed and uninspired. 

I’ve tried to write a couple of poems this week—force myself to begin and just don’t have it. I’ve resorted to exercises and prompts and tricks and somehow those poems never hold the same energy for me. 

I spent a little time yesterday getting caught up with Submittable. My active submission count had fallen below my goal threshold of 30 and I wanted to hike that back up. I might have resolved to submit more to a few prestigious journals in July, but for now, my selections are mostly driven by cost and whatever journals show up at the top of the “discovery” list. 

I’m also spending time on the production of The Good Life Review’s Summer 2021 issue. It’s a fair bit of work but it’s coming together nicely. There are a few prerequisites I’m waiting on but hopeful we can get it together by mid-July. 

What else? It’s Saturday and we’re planning a family gathering, pending weather. If it looks like rain we are going to scrub it but waking up this morning the weather this afternoon looks pretty clear. I suppose that means I should get going to attend to the last minute outside things. The pool isn’t going to clean itself. 😜

Perhaps I’ll feel more like writing about the ins and outs of life again soon. I’ve kind of lost it lately. Maybe today’s party will provide sparks of thought worthy of writing about. 

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-06-07 Reactive 🩸

“Reactive” is the result of the COVID antibody test performed by the Red Cross from my latest blood donation. It’s now standard for them to do the test on every donation.

The explanation for my reactive result is that I have antibodies consistent with a person who has had the COVID vaccine, but did not have those that indicate I was exposed to the virus.

It’s true. I hid from the world at large for over 12 months, emerging from my castle a few times a week to mask up and get supplies. According to my latest antibody test I was successful dodging that Coronavirus bullet. 

I never had a nasal swab or a reason to go get tested during the thick of it all, when the frenzy was a pool of hungry fish, bubbling up for any morsel. Starved of normalcy, deprived of human interaction. Such a strange time. 

Now it appears we are on the other side of it. The population is under control just enough. The masks have been discarded. The shelves at the store full once again with toilet paper, disinfectant, and little bottles of hand sanitizer. It’s cheap now. They can’t give it away.

It’s just going to sit there for eternity like those end caps with masks of every color—blue, black, pink, and grey stitched to suit any outfit or occasion. They will hang there in their little plastic packages until the next time the end-times knocks on the door of humanity.

I can’t recall who I was talking to about 2020 lately, about the riots and forest fires—a fresh hell delivered to our doorsteps every month. For some quite literally but for me just figuratively, via my morning news report. How many times did I have to tell Alexa to stop? How many times did I feel so desperate in my hiding? 

Yet here I am still, living to fight another day. And isn’t that just amazing. Isn’t it just the best gift to step outside and feel the sunshine on my unkissed skin. 

I think I might spend some time today, in the shade, reading a book. Keep it simple. 

The hiding was not so bad—is not so bad as long as the world at large doesn’t interfere too much.

I’m a lucky girl. Or blessed if you believe in that sort of thing.

Peace and love and peanut butter toast, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-06-06 All the Life that Wants to Live

My neighbor Dick has touched over a thousand people’s hearts. Literally. In his prime he was a cardiothoracic surgeon who performed thousands of procedures. I can’t imagine having the kind of skill, knowledge, and expertise required for such things. It’s got to be a bit surreal to think back over your life and know that you have saved hundreds of peoples lives, extended ten times that, and had a positive impact on thousands of family members falling over each other with unyielding gratitude. Not to mention the weight that must come with delivering the worst news to the spouse, daughter, or parent of a patient. Watching as they clutch whatever is in their arms and hands a little tighter, pain and anguish climbing inside of them bursting from their eyes. 

Dick is retired now and though his career is long behind him, he still comes out every day to check the mailbox at the end of his driveway and on Tuesday’s to wheel his trash cart to our shared curb. His hearing and eyesight are not so good so when he sees me, he always walks closer to the small green space that separates our driveways. 

His greeting is familiar now, “Shyla, is that you? I can’t see so good anymore.” He hobbles with his cane a little closer. His smile is soft and genuine. 

“Yes.” I reply, walking a little quicker toward him so he doesn’t have to come too far and also so I don’t have to raise my voice in an unnatural way like I’m talking to an elderly person who is hard of hearing. “How’s it going?”

“Oh, you know,” he says with a smile. And I’m not sure I know but think I might. 

Recently I was working to tease the weeds out of the lilac bushes that live in our shared strip of green space. I was on his property on my hands and knees pulling out little saplings and Creeping Jenny that have planted themselves there. You have to really get them up from the root otherwise they will stubbornly grow back.

All the life that wants to live.

It wasn’t Tuesday. The mail hadn’t been delivered yet. Yet here was Dick outside and making his way across his driveway.

He smiles and says hi and asks me what I’m doing. I stand so we can be eye to eye and I tell him I’m pulling weeds. We survey the bushes in silence for a second. They have been neglected for far too long and are in rough shape but still working all their lilac magic to produce those wonderfully smelling blooms. 

I once heard something about plants that were nearing a rough patch or the end of their time. That they somehow put all their energy into producing whatever it is that will beget offspring. Like a pine tree producing twice the normal number of pine cones as its branches become brittle and brown. Or a flower blooming out of control before a bad winter it might not survive, somehow with a premonition of things to come. 

Dick breaks the silence and says the bushes look great. I don’t think we’re looking at the same bushes. They smell amazing though, and maybe with failing eyesight that’s what he’s basing his assessment on. 

I ask him how it’s going. He surprises me and says, “You know a person shouldn’t live past 90.” 

He’s 92. 

I’m not sure how to respond to that so I just smile and we stand there for another moment of silence. 

He reaches over his cane and grabs the tendril of a Creeping Jenny and yanks it away from the bush. It snaps, leaving the root of the weed intact. 

“I think I’ve got my work cut out for me,” I say. 

“You’re doing good.” He says. And then “I’ll leave you to it.” 

As he turns to walk back to his open garage door I can’t help but think that no matter how much good I do in my life, it will never amount to much.

All the life that wants to live.

I get back down on my knees and reach for another weed.

2021-05-18 Music as Inspiration and Other Rando Crafty Thoughts…

I’ve had my new phone for over a week and finally.. FINALLY.. got my music library loaded. So now I’m officially down to using one device daily. 💃💃💃

This morning, instead of picking a playlist, I’m listening to the ultimate shuffle—all the songs that are in my library. Another advantage of my new phone is that it has space to hold all the music I’ve loaded onto iTunes on my laptop, which is a fraction of the songs I’ve acquired in my lifetime. I only load artists, albums, and songs that I want to hear so as to avoid spending time skipping a whole lot of garbage that I’m not into.

In any case, listening to the ultimate shuffle today began with Mrs. Potters Lullaby by Counting Crows. That’s a song I once got inspired to write a poem about. One of the few instances (besides my Fall Out Boy poem) where I remember the exact circumstance—where I was and when.

I was at the Panera Bread in Papillion on 72nd street and it was just after a meetup with my ex, Matt. I sat in a corner chair—one of the bigger lounge chairs that’s not at a cafe table. I had my laptop out and was writing when the song came up. I was immediately immersed in the song and stopped writing. I couldn’t remember hearing that one before and I’ve listened to a LOT of Counting Crows. 

After the song was over, I hit the back button to listen again. And then again as I began to compose a poem. I let the song influence the poem, both in meter and rhyme. Each time I listened I pulled a line or two out to mingle with my own thoughts and I repeated the song until I was satisfied that the first draft was complete.

I then closed my laptop and drove home. 

Months later I found it again, perusing my personal slush pile and worked on revising, with the limited knowledge I had at that point (still early in my MFA). I didn’t spend too much time on it though, dismissing it because of the heavy rhyme and all the lyrics I’d hijacked and twisted to suit my needs. I wondered if the poem was too much of the song. Would that be considered plagiarism? 

Fast forward about two years and I’m revisiting my slush pile again, hunting for something to submit to workshop for my final MFA residency. I had a lack of new material and really wanted to push the envelope with something I felt was good and worthy of workshop, but would spark conversation about rhyme and “stealing” lines. 

It did exactly that and I was pleased with the outcome, yet, I have not submitted that one for publication and as I write this, I’m questioning why not. 

Perhaps that should be one of the next poems on the agenda for revision and research. Research because sometimes it takes a little effort to find a place that the poem would be a good fit for. Many publications I research actually say that rhyming poems are a tough sell and honestly, the poem itself is lacking tension and that’s probably a problem.

But tension can come in many forms. The subject itself can be edgy, the writing can be such that it surprises, or the tension can be more subtle—hidden in the play between the fundamental elements of the poem. Interruptions in established meter or form, changes in diction, or juxtaposing simple colloquial speech with complex rhetoric can all be effective means to create tension. I just have to decide what my poem wants—what would work with what’s already there. 

But… it could be that this is just a learning experience and the poem isn’t meant to be out in the world. Many aren’t. 

Maybe the experience I can learn from happened years ago when I first composed the poem, leaning into a song for inspiration. Maybe the daily reading of poems for inspiration can be expanded to include whatever song I feel moves me the most. 

Right now I’m listening to a song by Justin Bieber and that’s NOT inspiring me to write anything. I like some of his songs but listening to the ultimate shuffle, I’m still left skipping through a lot of garbage. Ugh!

Times up now anyhow. The taco Tuesday train is about to leave the station. All aboard! 🚂 

Peace, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-05-17 Back in the Game… ✍🏻💕✍🏻✍🏻

Last year I went on a submission spree, submitting my poetry to all levels and types of publishers, from the very brand new organizations to the big-name long shots—print, online, anthology, full manuscript, chapbook, daily, monthly, quarterly journals and reviews. I think I maxed out at 80-something open submissions sometime in November or December. Oh, and I spent some coin too as most of those journals operate much like my Good Life Review in that they rely on the submission fee to cover the cost of operations. 

In January I started fresh but vowed to only submit to free places that month. Then I sort of lost my motivation and promised myself I would wait out for what was currently open to be declined (or accepted).. until my open number dwindled to around 50. I told myself I would pick it back up then and maintain that 50, as a goal. 

50 came and went, I don’t know when, and then 40, then 35, and 30. About that time I decided I would try to maintain 25, when I got there. With the last decline  I received I think the open count was down around 22 so I was clearly lying to myself. Among all the declines have been a few acceptances, of which only one is set for future release—summer 2021. 

Of course I still have that chapbook that’s going to be published later this year. Sort of anti-climactic to have that come through and literally wait almost a whole year to announce anything about it. Though I’ve thought about making it public anyhow, just to boost my writer spirits. 

Anyhow.. not sure what my lack of motivation was from. I tried to look early last week for potential places to submit but quickly lost interest. Maybe it has something to do with my lack of new material. 

I read my standard two poems a day and that’s been uninspiring. I’m reading all the poetry submissions for my lit mag’s contest and am also uninspired by most of it. I think I’m just not in the mood to write anything new. I ask myself if that is ok or if it’s a problem to be solved.

Hmmm. 🤔 

***

Recently I wrote about how my mood has taken a turn for the better lately and that I think the lack of obligations has something to do with that. I wondered briefly if setting an expectation that I continue to press hard on the publishing thing wasn’t a contributing factor in the grand equation of expectations and a feeling of self-worth, or purpose. 

Last Friday I dipped my toe into submittable and confirmed what I thought to be true. Sure enough I was sitting at 22 open. I resolved myself to bringing that number up to 25. But oh my, am I sick of looking at the same poems (especially the ones that have been rejected over and over). So I opened some fresher material and got to work on revising and polishing them. 

And wouldn’t you know what happened next is like magic. I got lost in it. I was putting these newer poems through a series of tests—syntax, form, vocabulary choices, passive voice, cutting unnecessary words, lines, rewriting others conpletely, etc., etc. It felt glorious. With each pass, I felt better and better about each poem and, in general, I felt better too. 

I continued to edit and felt good enough about a couple to submit. Then I thoughtfully toggled between research, more revision, and submitting again until my count was up to 25. That was only 3 new submissions, but it was 3 more than I had had that morning and hitting my goal was satisfying. 

Wouldn’t you know, I woke up Saturday to a new decline in my email and I shrugged an got out my laptop to work some more. This time, exceeding my goal. Now I’m up to about 27. Maybe my new goal should be 30? 

This is how it starts. 😉

I suppose the point of all of this is that I had to force myself to do something I enjoy, but once I did, it was extremely satisfying and now I’m back in the game. 

Now… maybe THAT has more to do with my improved mood than anything. It could be that the spell of depression and unmotivated mood I had been going through had to do with BOTH external obligations and the lack of nourishment of my soul. The part of me that needs poetry and that thrill of producing art that I feel is beautiful and full of love. 

Love IS the right word. 

Today is Monday and I’m steadily making my way through my house chores—dishes, cleaning the kitchen (after a weekend with a houseful of teenagers), litter boxes, grocery shopping, and laundry. So far so good. And I’m not even bent about it. I feel great about it actually. What a flip!! 

My mom is coming over this afternoon and bringing her dog. We are actively trying to find a new home for her as my mom can’t handle her with her current health issues. It’s just not feasible. I’m hoping today’s meet-up will yield a positive outcome. It would be one less thing she has to worry about (and by proxy, one less thing I have to worry about). 

I think that’s it for today. 

Cheers to Being Back in the Game, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-05-11 All of This Is True.. Or Is It? 😉

This morning I was listening to my “Gear Shifter” playlist—the one I curated with songs that are sure to pump me into a cardio machine mood. One of the songs that came up in the shuffle was Hoodie Allen’s “The Real Thing.” 

The end of the song is a clip I have to believe is an authentic message left in his voicemail. It’s some girl, presumably his girl friend telling him she knows he’s working hard on a new album but he needs to get his priorities straight and pay more attention to her. For real! 

When she left that message she probably had no idea that it would make its way into one of his songs that would eventually be distributed to thousands of adoring fans. What do I think when I hear her sharp tone and biting words? What a bitch. 

I was given advice once to always be careful what you say and write, always, lest some unsavory nugget make it out into the wide world. It’s a conundrum. We spend so much energy making our public profiles look exactly how we want people to perceive us. For better or worse, I suppose.

The flip side of this is the freedom of letting your freak flag fly and not giving two turtles what other people think. In my head it’s a balancing act. My hatred of social media helps tip the scales in favor of not posting anything, ever. However, Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are obviously not the only places I’m putting myself out there.

My biggest public facing platforms are my blogs—in various levels and colors of “findability.” My newest website which is less of a blog and more of space for self promotion is the place I’m thinking (hoping) people find me if/when they are looking. I was told that all writers should have a website to promote themself and their work. That it makes publishing their work more appealing to potential publishers.

That blog isn’t really a replacement for my original shyspark blog which I still post on a few times a year. That blog is home to first drafts of poetry and is also the archive of poems and musings from all the way back to the beginning of my poetry writing (which incidentally was when I was about 12 years old). In any case, it still serves a purpose.

Here’s me finally getting to my point…

A few weeks ago I posted to that original shyspark.com blog, which is connected to my Twitter account and posts automagically to Twitter. I had written a first draft of a prose poem. It was more of a musing than a poem, but I’m gonna call it a hybrid piece.

In the poem I had embellished some details of the situation I was writing about, letting the imagination in my fingers do the talking. I had an argument with myself about whether or not to post it, worried what people might think. I ended up posting it. 

Fast forward a few hours and whatever part of me won the argument about posting it waffled and I edited the post, rewriting the details of the lines to smooth over any content that might cause someone to question my character. Doing that made me feel so much better about the poem. 

Fast forward to the next day when it was brought to my attention that my husbands ex-wife had read the post AND brought it up with her son AND had him look at the post. 

They didn’t find the original lines. As timing had it, by the time she was pulling him in to read what I had written, the post had already been changed. I chalked it up to a lesson learned. But what was the lesson?

This question is one I’ve been struggling with since then. Here is what I’ve learned:

  1. Given the timing, it’s clear my husband’s ex-wife (who I’m thoughtfully calling whore number 1) is somewhat stalking me. To have seen that post in the short time it was in its original state, she is either following my blog, following me on Twitter, or just looking at all my shit on a regular basis. Any way you slice it, it’s creepy. If you are reading this, Jill, get a life!
  2. I still, after all these years, struggle with the thought of people actually reading what I write, worried about their perceptions of me. I’m a good person, but obviously have flaws and problems and make questionable decisions at times, that are not so pure of heart. Can I let that go and should I?
  3. Does the poem have to be true or are embellishments ok? If I twist the truth to shine a light on the deeper meaning I’m trying to come to terms with, is that being dishonest? I think most seasoned and learned writers would say it’s ok. Still, I write so much that’s nonfic, it’s tough to spin anything else when writing poems.

In the end, I felt like I wanted to write about this incident because it upset me but suppressed the urge, in favor of trying to just let it go. Clearly I haven’t let it go because as I began to write about that voicemail clip in the Hoodie song, it’s exactly the incident my mind zeroed in on. I didn’t plan this.. it just happened. 

If I was more brazen, I would tell you what kind of person is semi-stalking me. I would tell you that I call her whore number 1 because in an email to my husband she called me whore number 3. She wrote it and sent it and she’s never even met me.

Yes, I am my husbands third wife, but if I’m whore number 3, that makes her whore number 1. Good gravy!! 

(Oops.. I guess I’m more brazen than I thought!) 

If I was bolder than that I would tell you all kinds of other horrible things this woman has said and done and written. But not today. I’ve already satisfied my need to vent about this situation and her and it would really serve no purpose. I guess that means I’m done. 

And it’s about time.. I’ve definitely gone way beyond my allotted time for walking today. 

Cheers to Getting Shit off Your Chest(Finally), 

~Miss SugarCookie