30 June 2008

Enough is Enough

I'm officially giving up on entering the Bridport.

I've had no end of trouble. It's enough, frankly, to write the poems. A couple of weeks ago I checked out their site. It looked fairly straightforward. Upload entry, pay on-line, nothing to it.

So this weekend I tried.

Logged onto website. Selected "submit entry". Selected "as a word document".

Browsed and located document. Clicked "upload".

And my document wasn't recognized as a word document! How could that be? Well, according to a pop-up box, it was because I was using Mozilla and not Internet Explorer. What?? I hope Bridport didn't pay good money to whoever designed their website because that is crap. But OK, I wanted to submit. So I logged out, swapped browsers, logged in again. This time it worked, my ".doc" was perceived as a ".doc". Hooray Bridport!

But then it came to payment. (This part, by the way, has nothing to do with Bridport, but the credit card issued by one of the most prominent banks in Belgium. ) I was asked to make an electronic signature. That happens sometimes. So I went through the procedure but for some reason it was not accepted. Not once, not twice. So I went to the bank today to straighten it out.

"Oh yes madame, we'll give you a new improved card reader. Yes that sometimes happens. Security, you know."

"Yeah, I know. Except it happens all the time with cards from your bank and you know it. Why don't you make it easier for your clients to buy stuff online? I'd switch banks if I could, but you also know full well how hard that is and that I'm not going to." But I smiled at the sweet young man who helped me out (all of 17 by the look of the down on his cheek), and brought my new improved card reader home, crossing my fingers....

And it didn't work.

Not once. Not twice. And I kept returning to a screen that warned, in red,

"We are very sorry but it is not possible to upload word or pdf files from Mac computers."

Well, I don't have a Mac but somehow, that was the last straw. Between my funky Belgian hyper-securitized visa, and the Bridport website's ineptitude, I'd had it. I don't need to pay 6 GBP (7,60 EUR, 12 USD!!) for this kind of fun. I can submit to literary magazines, and get rejected for free!

26 June 2008

Tuesday's Prompt from San Diego Momma

Here's my take on this week's "Tuesday Prompt" from San Diego Momma.

I tried to post it on her blog today but it wouldn't let me, maybe I'm too late or something. (Sadly this "Maman de Bruxelles " doesn't always get to do stuff for Tuesday on Tuesday!)

Anyway.... Feel free to give it a go!

Love and Other Likely Stories

The novel had stalled. I was giving it up -- for good! I was giving it up. I just hadn't gotten around to telling anybody. I still went to "work" in the converted garden shed, whose pine-panelled walls had steadily closed in on me for the past 12 months, but instead of writing I thought about how to tell Ellie that the gamble she'd made, the trips she'd never taken, all the nice stuff that she didn't have, was all for nothing. My best friend Simon once told me that his trick for getting unstuck was "to bring in the girl with a gun." But what girl? What gun? I looked through all ten of his best-selling books and I swear to God, I couldn't find a single example.

20 June 2008

A rare sensation...

I was coming back from the laundromat and ran into Julie, a young woman who used to wait tables in the café I frequented about 5-6 years ago. In particular I would go to this café after dropping off my youngest daughter at her creche. I would sort of crash-land at the table near the window around 9 am and drink coffee until my brain jumped-started again. As I did this nearly every morning for several years, the staff and I got to know each other.

Now Julie has a baby of her own, little Simon. He's about 1 year old. She was pushing him in one of those three-wheeler jobbies that everyone has these days. She looked terrible! She said she was up three times last night. The baby's teething. And the same thing the night before that and the night before that. "God, I know," I said, "I've been there -- twice, in fact." And we chatted for a while, until she said she was dying for a coffee, and if I know anything it's that you don't get in the way of a young mother and her cup of coffee.

And as I went on my way I was suddenly struck with a sense of accomplishment. It's a rare sensation, maternal accomplishment. I knew as soon as it hit me I'd have to write about it. But it's true: I've been there -- twice -- and did it and survived. How amazing is that! Now I'm someone who can say "Courage" (in a french accent!) to other people... And go home and be so glad I don't have to go through that again!

18 June 2008

40 lines max

You want to know something that makes me mad? Those three words: 40 lines max. That's the seemingly standard maximum number of lines in a poem -- lines between stanzas included!-- that poetry editors want to see in submissions.

God forbid you should write a good poem with 41+ lines!

It's not every editor, but recently I came across three such restrictions in a row. I will name and shame them:
(1) The Bridport prize: "Maximum of 42 lines"
(2) Mslexia's "New Writing" feature: "strictly up to 40 lines each"
(3) The National Poetry Competition: "Poems must not exceed 40 lines (not including title)"

The National Poetry Competition is particularly egregious in applying this restriction because they didn't use to (check out the archive of past winners on their website). So why now? And it's ironic too because "Poetry Review", the quarterly journal of the Poetry Society, applies no such limitation.

I'm tempted to find some others but it will only irritate me more.

13 June 2008

Hope... £6 a packet

You may have noticed I've been a little down, at least about writing. (Other parts of my life are going swimmingly, thank you, knock wood, etc.) I think feeling down may have to do with getting yet another rejection... which normally I can take in stride, but not, apparently, at the moment. It's that back (again) to the drawing board feeling. That "where do I go from here?"

Then I remembered Bridport. It's a poetry/short story prize. I'm too lazy to give you the link right now so you'll just have to google it. Sorry about that. Anyway I remembered a writer friend talking about entering. "£6 an entry," he said. "That sounds pretty steep for one poem," I said, "and 42 lines maximum (!) at that" -- but now I'm thinking, £6? That's not so bad!
£6 and the whole world changes. £6 for a packet of hope. Something I wrote is out in the world, and you never know, do you? As the saying goes: you have to play to win.

And because I have just finished that draft of a story, I looked at the rules for the short story section too. The judge this year is Helen Simpson -- I love her stuff. And the short story word count is 5000 words -- well within the count for the story I could enter.

Look, I feel better already, and I haven't even spent the money yet!

The Point

Finished a draft of the story I was working on for my writers group. So I guess you could say it is published to an audience of 10. I really had to squeeze time out of a stone in order to finish it. And because of that I've been wondering what the point is. I mean, I'm interested in it -- my story, that is; for some reason I feel the urge to write about these people who don't exist; I like puzzling out what happens to them and getting surprised when I come up with something I didn't expect to. But then what? There's always "then what". Are those things I just mentioned enough, to be the point?

I guess I think they are and that one day my choice will be validated by a faithful reading public of more than 10 people who know me. (And who are not reading my stuff in exchange for me reading theirs!)

On other days I don't care so much about what the point is. The point is there isn't a point. Or the point is whatever I want.

I wish today was one of those point-free days...

10 June 2008

Myth, myth

I read with interest this morning the Salon feature "the mother daughter wars", about Rebecca Walker's "denunciation" of her mother Alice Walker. Hard to turn away from anything involving mothers, daughters, and writers, eh?

The thing that struck me most, however, of all that author Phyllis Chesler says, was this:

Yes, and Alice (author/activist Alice Walker) did all the things
that women like Judy (Rebecca's more traditional, stay-at-home step-mother)
don't want to do and can't do: Write great poems and novels, devote oneself to
world work, crusade for human and women's rights. Rebecca: Trust me, a woman
really cannot do both. The myth that we can is a dangerous one

(italics mine).

I completely resist that statement. It has nothing to do with myths. It's about what you want to put in your life, and what you don't. Personally, I want to include in my life as much as possible. I want to have meaningful work, and I want to be a meaningful mother. I believe, with varying degrees of success, I am actually doing this! It is no great trick, believe me. It's called having a full life. It's called being a complete person. It's called not falling into compartments of either/or, traditional/non-traditional.

Also Chesler sets up quite a divide: the words "great", "devote" and "crusade" apply to Alice, but check out the words she uses to describe Judy:
Judy, who bore five children and found meaning as a stay-at-home or ever-available
mother. ..." [A] traditional mother. ..."

Not exactly power-words there!

Chesler is wrong. Wittingly or unwittingly, she's propagating a whole other sort of myth-- the myth that you have to choose, the myth that you have to exclude. It's so limiting....and so unnecessary.

08 June 2008

Happy Sunday Morning Reporting

Went to a fun dinner party last night given by the parents of Girl One's friend, T and F. I've actually known T for a long time, but they went to the US for three years, so there was a break. Other people from the girls' school were there, too, mixed Anglophone couples though well-balanced with 2 Frenchies and one Belgian-Frenchie. There were also 2 Swedes and 1 Dane, plus me representing the New World, and a friend of someone else who was visiting from Belfast -- a typical Brussels party.

We did a Scandinavian thing of going around the table, everyone singing a song. Since we had a mix of nationalities, it was songs from our countries. I did "If I Had a Hammer", because I didn't remember enough of the words to "This Land is Your Land". Later we did national anthems.....

Girl 2 was a trooper and stayed up the entire night and walked home with me (a 10 minute walk), then was asleep before her head hit the pillow I think. She got up at 8 and I've let her watch cartoons, but I'll have to go and feed her in a few moments. (Girl 1 is at a slumber party somewhere else)

I also had a good cello lesson yesterday afternoon. Y (the prof) saw how far behind I was in paying him my monthly rental fee and suggested, if I want to keep playing, that I consider buying a cello. Strangely I am somewhat inspired by the thought of saving 3000-5000 euro for my very own instrument. I can't tell you how much I like playing that thing. It gives me I-don't-know-what. Comfort and joy? Something like that.

07 June 2008

Working on a story.

It's coming along, slowly. Today I set my alarm for 6 and got up around 7 (god I love hitting 'snooze') and then did some yoga and got writing. I had an idea of where to get going again from notes I made last night. A friend of Girl One spent the night and I heard the three of them get up around 8 and start playing "Play-Mo", as they call it when they play with Playmobil. I'm stricken with doubts about why I am doing this: what for, why, why bother, etc. What, you think it's worth something? As though it will ever get published? I don't know where these doubts come from but I've decided to make them the voice of Doubt Man. Doubt Man is a miniature wooden puppet. He looks somewhat like Pinocchio, especially around his little wooden joints. He's not particulary helpful, but sits on the edge of my desk, swinging his legs in the air, asking me those questions.

If I ignore him long enough, maybe he'll go away!

03 June 2008

Find of the day

Fantastic poem by James A Wood on nthposition online magazine -- Dispatch from a poem on the editor's desk. Check it out!

Losing a Glove

Good gloves are hard to find – and easy to lose. You check and double-check.

It’s not enough. One minute they’re there; the next, you’re in a café,

your handbag turned upside down and inside out. Panic rises. Your heart

sinks. A lipstick falls to the floor, and old Polo mints roll across the table.

You try to remember where you’ve been, but your mind’s completely blank.

How, you begin to wonder, did you even get here? You sit there with your bag

and then it hits you: you were only everywhere today, so there’s no point

in going back and looking. Around you dishes clatter and people chew.

The coffee machine grinds and whirs and steams. You stroke the thumb

of the one remaining glove. ‘What’s the matter, mademoiselle?’ asks the waiter,

who – you’re somehow sure – will understand. ‘I’ve lost my glove,” you say,

but you’re half-crying, and his English isn’t very good. ‘There, there,’ he says.

‘You beautiful woman. Forget him. You find better love.’ ‘No, no,’ you start,

but then give up. He brings you an espresso on the house. When you leave

it seems you used to have somewhere to go, but you’ve become another

person now. You shuffle out, slowly and uncertain – you, and your naked hand.

Author's Note: I wrote this ages ago, but since we're on the theme of cafés, I thought I'd post it. Americans may substitute "old Tootsie Rolls" for "old Polo mints" in the 4th line.