Try 101

Practice — Process — Projects

Month: August, 2013

Good News

by laura didyk

From poet Jeffrey Skinner:

I learned that writing poetry after the age of thirty or forty, depends more on character than talent or luck.

Not to say that I lack talent, but building character seems to be part of my life’s work, so the fact that that activity dovetails in a positive way with writing poetry…well, that’s at least some luck.


The Things I’m Not Doing So that I Can Focus on One Thing

by kathrinewright

  1. Image
  2. I’m writing a book of poems. Of 88 poems, about a specific set of things. (Constellations) It’s as ambitious as a novel, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  3. I started this collection in grad school, back when Bush the second was busy invading Iraq and spending our children’s future on a (wrong) hunch about nuclear capabilities.
  4. At that time I wrote about 25 poems. And then…I let it linger.
  5. I picked it up a year ago. After trimming out poems that no longer interested me, I had 13 poems left. Plus two prologue poems, which to this day, remind me exactly why I started the effort in the first place.
  6. In the past year I have written about 55 more constellations.
  7. That means I have focused. I used to believe that creativity spread wildly magnified itself. But I have few fully completed projects to show for it. And no book publication. I have rebelieved.
  8. I have only 20 constellations left to poem.
  9. That’s the back quarter, the last slip of the moon’s worth.
  10. Now.
  11. To get there, here’s what I haven’t done.
  12. I haven’t organized my office.
  13. No carpet cleaning has happened in this time period.
  14. My office is still tangerine- and creamcicle-walled. Lovely colors, but not for me. Not for poem-ing about constellations. For that you need blue.
  15. I have given up paper crafts (I love handmade paper, but it had to go.) Also, jewelry making.
  16. I have given up baking. Although, I gave that up too, to save calories.
  17. Not that it helped in that regard.
  18. I jettisoned (love that word) washing my car every month.
  19. I forgot to get pedicures. (That’s a first world problem, but one of my true loves.)
  20. I avoided freelance work. I joined no committees. I haven’t had many people over.
  21. I let the garden overrun itself.
  22. Wow. That’s a lot.
  23. I have run out of ideas, and ran into them again. I became overwhelmed at the vastness of the universe, universes, galaxy, galaxies.
  24. I came through that black hole.
  25.  And kept sitting down to tackle just one more.
  26. And one more.
  27. And one more.
  28. It takes that much. I always knew I had it.
  29. I’m almost there.
  30. I have so far to go.

(This blog post also live on Sweetly Disturbed blog  at )

Be Kind

by tjbeitelman


So I have these two letterpress posters in my office at work. Two of several from this guy, Amos Kennedy, who is awesome. You should go find him.

The one you can probably read: The essence of art is generosity.

The other is harder to make out. It says: Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a GREAT BATTLE.

I concur with both sentiments. Obviously. They’re nailed to the cinder block walls of my office. (No small feat.)

Today I am thinking about how these sentiments apply to the creative process. I’m not sure about you, but I know that there’s one person in particular who needs my generosity and kindness when he endeavors to “fight the great battle” of being a creative person.

Which is to say, when I seek to make things, I need to be generous and kind to myself.

Why is that so hard, I wonder. Maybe it’s because I come from a creative background that privileges awards, accolades, approval. Achievement. Which is to say: I am a (so-called) Master of Fine Arts. Maybe it’s because of my parents or something. Or some cheap trick of neurochemistry. Or all of the above.

It doesn’t matter.

It’s not nice to tell people they suck. It’s not nice to tell people what they want to do is stupid and impossible. It’s not nice to “Yes, but…” away everything that matters to them.

So don’t do that. To anybody. Even — especially — yourself.

Just be nice.


by ajanefountas

It’s almost the end of a month. It’s already the beginning of a new school year for some. We’re just about two-thirds through the calendar year. The autumnal equinox is a little over three weeks away. The moon is waning, but it will wax again.

It’s time to try, again.

Never In A Million Years

by mark neely

In his introduction to The Best American Essays 2007, David Foster Wallace writes about the impossible task of choosing the “best” of the hundred or so essays he was assigned to read for the project:

I tend, as a reader, to prize and admire clarity, precision, plainness, lucidity, and the sort of magical compression that enriches instead of vitiates.

Anyone who has read even a little David Foster Wallace will immediately recognize the writing he describes as something like the polar opposite of his own work.

Maybe this is a peek into the mind of the self-hating writer. Or maybe it is Wallace lapsing into his default, self-deprecatory mode. 

But I like to think it springs from envy and admiration, from the same thought I often have when I read the work of talented peers: Never in a million years could I write something like that.

A terrible and thrilling feeling. A feeling reading Wallace’s writing often inspires in me. And one I hope to inspire in someone else one day. 

Exchanging One Cotton Candy Machine for Another

by sophiakartsonis

“I feel like cotton candy: sugar and air. Squeeze me and I’d turn into a small sickly damp wad of weeping pinky-red.”
― Margaret AtwoodThe Handmaid’s Tale

I’ve always prided myself on loving what I love. I feel unusually fortunate to have my very family, fiancé,friends, vocation, and home.

Gratitude should be an inarguably wonderful thing. Gratitude is. Attachment. Intractability. Not so much.

A lot of changes are happening where I work. I have loved this job from the first class that I taught there. I adored my boss: the man who was dean when I was hired and above him, the president of the college. We had two secretaries for our department and both were treasured.  I had an office, a wall painted the perfect shade of dusk, my name on the door.

I am starting my sixth year at that job and everything that I just listed has changed. Every single thing.

I won’t lie. I have been seriously bummed out about it all.

Being in love with a job is a good thing.  In many ways, it is.  But being in love with every facet of anything is asking for trouble. I know this. It is the lesson that I have to learn and re-learn. That same river twice bit.


I am getting married in exactly one month. A few weeks ago, we had a big party at our house to pre-celebrate with our local friends as the wedding is to be out of state. We called it a hootenanny and planned for lots of music and all of the fare of a country fair. I painted a little flower peddler’s cart and planned to set up bags with cones of cotton candy in it.

I even bought a cotton candy machine. Some deluxe contraption that could turn even hard candy into candy floss. It was larger than I hoped and much more complicated.

The party took its own shape. There was no time for cotton candy. People kept wanting more and more of the baked feta appetizer and were mingling but never opted to play live music. It was a different great party than the one that I had planned.

I took the fancy cotton candy machine back the next day. It was unused and I planned to get a refund. Then I saw the simple machine I had wanted but not seen before and exchanged the contraption for a machine that just used sugar and made cotton candy.


I have always lived in the same part of town in every city in which I have lived.  College. Artsy. Gaslight. The names change but the neighborhoods bear certain similarities. Funky coffeeshops, bookstores, and the ability to walk to almost any business.

When we went househunting, I clung to the neighborhoods most like those where I had always rented.

My fiancé found a place far beyond the range we had agreed would be a fair traveling distance from where I work.  Twenty-four miles of driving each way.  An area of town that left our ultra-cool realtor cold. “Enjoy the McCain/Palin bumper stickers.” he told us.

The house had a certain charm to it, but it was the land all around that was unforgettable. I didn’t know how I would live so far away from neighborhoods that I saw as attached to more than a little of my self-image, but I agreed we should place an offer on this odd little country home.

It was a radical change in so many ways. It took me months to really adjust to all of the quiet. It was change that I would have resisted if not for the fact that someone that I love and admire had found something that made him happy and that he believed held the promise of many entirely new types of memories for the two of us. It was an adventure and it was predicated on how many major revisions we had made—two long-time single people—to accommodate all that sharing a life and a home requires.

That was two years ago.

Tonight we paddled out in our canoe across the reservoir that borders where we live, to the zoo where a blues concert played. It was nearing sundown and the water was calm enough to radiate whole stripes of amber, steel blue, silver and yes, cotton candy pink, so that it felt as if our little craft were inside of some kind of liquid rainbow. The whole effect of it was enchanting and I could not believe my luck in getting to be out in such a night, a flock of geese flying nearly with us, the moon casting on the water, fireworks off in the distant sky and the music at our backs. Every second of it changing as we paddled, every change bringing another kind of sweetness.

Off the Grid

by mark neely

According to a study done at Ball State U., where I teach, the average American is looking at some sort of screen—iPhone, computer monitor, television, etc.—for an average of 8 ½ hours per day, and often using two or more screens at a time (e.g. tweeting epithets at Chris Bosh while watching the NBA finals).

Much of that time, of course, is spent right here on the Internet. I’m no Luddite (I’m writing this on a blog for Pete’s sake), and I exalt the wonderful anarchy and global sweep of the Web, but I also wish I spent less time there. Some days I feel my brain getting duller with each passing hour.

There’s some science behind this feeling. In The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr pools together a boatload of research on Web use, and concludes that the Net promotes “cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” It also gives us “the kind of sensory and cognitive stimuli—repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive—that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alterations in brain circuits and functions.”

Hurried thinking, cursory reading, and superficial learning being antithetical to the kind of reading and writing I aspire to, I decided to go offline for the month of July. I didn’t quite keep my promise—once I had to download some important forms and once I took care of some pressing business at work, but all told I spent only two hours online in July—no email, no social media, no websites of any kind.

Unfortunately, I didn’t become a genius overnight, but it was a different life. I wrote and read more last month than in any 30 day period I can remember. I felt the heft of an actual dictionary. I opened a few cookbooks, which had sat idle and dusty on my shelves for many years. I rode bikes and played basketball with my kids. I flushed a family of turkeys from their roost on a morning run. I even napped a couple times. The days seemed to stretch out endlessly. I didn’t worry about who liked what on Facebook, or my Amazon ranking (always dismal), or Paula Deen.

I also missed out. A few writing opportunities came and went (the world of the Web moves fast). The lives (and vacation photos) of friends and relatives went on without me. As did social media—all its flaws, yes, but also its interesting banter and wit and controversy. I got woefully behind on various work tasks that came over the transom while I was away. I missed the news of a great friend’s next book!

I need to be connected most of the time to do my job—but my experiment proved to me that I’d be happier, more productive, and probably smarter if I spent less time online. Now I just have to figure out how to make that happen. The Net is a hard beast to master. Almost everyone I know has pledged to curb their internet usage at one time or another. Even fervent defenders seem to sense we’re all hitting this pipe a bit too often.

I know the Web is simply a new technology for disseminating information, just as the codex was a new technology a thousand years ago, but I’ve never heard anyone say they wished they read fewer books. I wonder why.

Writing Is More a Habit

by ajanefountas

“I think of writers as sitting down and starting from scratch every time—at least that is how it is for me.”

“Writing is more a habit, but a soulful one like smoking, which compulsively connects the head to the hand: from there one tries to make art of it.”

Lorrie Moore, The Art of Fiction No. 167
Interviewed by Elizabeth Gaffney

What’s New?

by tjbeitelman

The only thing new is you finding out about something. Like nothing’s really new, but you reinvent it for yourself and find your inner voice.

Mike Watt, punk rock bassist, most notably of the Minutemen

I’m a late bloomer. Always feels like what’s new to me is old hat to most of the rest of the world. Here of late, it’s been that way with the Minutemen for me, and Eighties-era American punk rock in general. Is it even possible to have a nostalgia response to something you didn’t experience the first time around? Maybe. But honestly, when I was a kid, punk rock scared me. Anything loud and dissonant scared me.

Now, pushing 42, “loud and dissonant” doesn’t scare me. Not always, anyway. It often makes me feel more alive. (Another great Watt quote, c. 1985: “We’re trying to show people we’re alive and that’s about it. I wish that was enough.”) Read the rest of this entry »