Sunday, August 30, 2009

I Know I'm a Whiney Jerk But....

If you've had sod for 1 month, should you be fertilizing it already? In August? I can feel the synthetic, polluted runoff making its way to my tap then collecting in my organs. All this just from watching my new neighbor.

A quick google search seems to suggest that sod was fertilized quite heavily at the farm (duh), and a summer (early or late) installation won't need anything until spring--maybe a winterizer at most. That lawn just can't be too green, so why not use plutonium on it? Oh, because the dog--the only one who uses the lawn BARK BARK BARK PLOP PLOP PLOP--might get sick.

In non grouchy news, I have 20 essay submissions ready to be sent out this week. I'd like to double that number so maybe 1 place will accept me this year (my odds always seem much longer than other writers I know), but it's just so darned exhausting... and that's not what this fall is about.

I need to go move some ironweed now.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What Are You Gonna Do About It?

I spent 30 minutes this morning chucking seeds over my fence on to the neighbor's 3 acres, taking advantage of the favorable wind direction, speed, and barometric pressure. I see they have wild goldenrods blooming between invasive cedars. Well, goldenrod is a start. Here's how I helped you boring people who occasionlly walk along the fence whispering to each other while staring at me and generally freaking me out:

Echinacea pallida, purpurea, paradoxa

Liatris ligulistylis, punctata

Eupatorium altissium

Vernonia fasciculata

Asclepias tuberosa, incarnata

Sure, I feel a bit like a pervert or some sort of stalker tossing my seeds over the fence while ducking away behind a cedar (you can take that any way you want, folks). I feel a bit ashamed, yet get a small rush.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's Milkweed Seed Flinging Time

I drive down my semi-rural roads each year flinging seeds and seed pods from my car windows. Mostly swamp milkweed, white and purple, since uber-slow-to-establish Sullivant's has yet to bloom for me. May they grow along the edges of fields and in gullies and give life to hundreds of monarchs!

Speeking of caterpillars, I had no idea that Zizia aurea (Golden Alexander) was a host plant for black swallowtails. This midwest native gets yellow flowers similar to bronze fennel and grows to about 2-3' tall in moist soil. I just happened to be looking down at the plant that brushed my leg, and there on the end of a stem near the developing seeds was a 3rd or 4th instar swallowtail. Marvelous! Hope it self sows freely.

And today is a sad day. It is August and it is cold. This is Nebraska. It should be 90, not 68 and cloudy with a north breeze. Methinks the asters and goldenrod may just decide not to bloom, and the budding sweet autumn clematis will simply climb off the arbor and scamper south.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Creative Nonfiction is No Longer Creative

I've spent years sending my prose work to literary journals, almost two decades sending poetry. Here's what I've come to believe are the expectations of literary journals (and average readers) when it comes to creative nonfiction:

1) Creative nonfiction must read like fiction. This means it must have a clear beginning and end, a narrative arc, a denouement or peak moment of energy / tension, some reflection, and blatant emotion.

2) By emotion I mean that the market / expectations dictate sensationalism--to a degree. A degree which I, personally, can't and won't deliver in less than 5,000 words. Nonfiction seems to be a genre that is shrinking into quasi confessionalism, especially if it's from a unique or under-represented cultural / social / economic perspective. What's more, I think cnf also has to be super neat and super tidy because it is true--or this neatness will in the least validate any possible exaggeration or hazy memory.

3) I get the distinct sense that very few journals, and obviously fewer readers, want to see lyrical meditation or reflection, let alone any sense of the "poetic" moments in life. I've had journals tell me my writing tells too much, but that's the only stuff that gets accepted, too (seriously). I find MUCH more value in prose that involves the reader--maybe not through showing--but through a lyrical tightness and metaphorical leap more common to poetry. Through silence. Through pensive reflection. Even my better writing students have recognized this on their own.

4) If creative nonfiction is more than narrative--and most folks will say that's the case--where are the non-narrative journals? Where are the experiential pieces? Where is a literature that goes beyond "as told to" story? I'm thinking about the many lost oral traditions. I'm thinking about story as a rich weave of narrative, metaphor, imagery, silence, and negative space. Too much nonfiction leaves little to the imagination, and as a result too little to the meaningful experience of the reader. A good story is not enough, I believe, yet it appears to be plenty at the moment. Maybe this is why we feel disconnected.

5) So it would seem I'm saying, "Hey, I write in a hybrid style, mixing genres and approaches, publish me." Well, maybe. But what I really want to say is where is true creative nonfiction? Where are the subgenres flirting with each other within creative nonfiction? What happened to the creative? What happened to the excitement of learning / discovering in prose, seeing the world through multiple lenses at once--and as a result, seeing much fuller and farther? Maybe I'm simply asking this: what happened to our closeness with a diverse world, our wonder? Why has our writing become so formulaic, expected, one dimensional, and distilled? Has it?

Anyone out there?

The Sunflowers -- Poem by Mary Oliver

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines

creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky

sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy

but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young -
the important weather,

the wandering crows.
Don't be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,

which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds -
each one a new life!

hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come

and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Absences--Teaching, Flowers, Books, Writing

1) School is starting, and for the first time in 9 years, I'm sitting it out. Woo hoo! I know that my semester off will be exciting and exhausting, but I also know I need to get down to business. I have a mental schedule in my head--can I stick to it? What will true freedom do to me: spurn me onward, or make me a couch potato?

2) The asters are missing. Well, 1/2 of them, thanks to the rabbit. We are now trying liquid fence spray here at TDM, after mixed results with pepper wax and plantskydd. Unfortunately, the 500 grassshoppers are still here.

3) I just discovered that black swallowtails--in late summer / fall--stay in their chrysalides for 8-9 months until spring. Since I don't want to try and overwinter any on the back porch or in the fridge, I put out the last two large cats on the green fennel and hope they can evade any wasps these last few days. I hope the two already inside will eclose soon. Must remember to be careful cleaning up the garden next March and not throw any swallowtails into the compost!

4) To make up for the lack of cats, I brought in three more monarchs. Also smashed up more aphids on the milkweeds. 3 tiems as many milkweed this year, but lots are limp and looked sucked dry.

5) I've had my hybrid garden memoir rejected for a third time this summer. Book manuscript letters tend to be very much like literary journal letters: it's us, not you--or, it's mostly us and other things, just a little you, because there's something sorta decent going on here, probably. I know I've just started this process and am still learning the ropes on manuscript submissions, but I'm quickly bummed to see the process is far too similar to getting an essay or poem rejected. Maybe I was delusional, thinking that a bigger chunk of words--a much, much larger effort--would return a different sort of response. I keep seeing people I know getting books accepted left and right, and I feel left in the dust's dust.

It's probably not a good time to try and get a book published (and please no one suggest self or digital publishing, or finding an agent so the process is twice as laborious and mysterious), but I figure if you got something unique and good it shouldn't matter. So what do I have? I really just sort of want to move on, and am finding it hard to do so when I still have to think about it--sending out the manuscript, sending out essays to journals (I really don't want to send out work to journals this year, but what choice do I really have?).... I'm already having a hard time concentrating on the next book project. Nothing is neat! Ok! Fine! I knew that! And if this book ever gets accepted it'll need editorial polishing. I know! Overlaps can be good, I suppose. I'm my most productive when 2 projects are going on simultaneously.

6) But you know what? I was just sitting here thinking about the times in my life when good things happened with my writing: they usually come in rushes and while I'm working my tail off. So, maybe the cosmos has seen my waffling in the garden too long and is waiting to see if I walk the walk 24/7. This is a test of the emergency writing system--get your butt back in the freaking chair and don't do anything else.

7) I really can't afford it, but I just ordered a heap of liatris for the monarchs. The garden should be nicely filled in next summer. If only a person's spirit and energy and faith were so easily appeased.

8) The day I'm not melancholic is the day I can't think straight or deeply feel the world--and the day I have no hope of experiencing true joy and peace.

"All I know is that here I am, and the valley is very quiet, the sun is going down, there is no human being around, and as darkness falls I could easily be a completely forgotten person, as if I did not exist for the world at all. The day could easily come when I would be just as invisible as if I never existed, and still be living up here on this hill. . . .And I know that I would be perfectly content to be so.

Who knows anything at all about solitude if he has not been in love, and in love in his solitude? Love and solitude must test each other in the man who means to live alone: they must become one and the same thing in him, or he will only be half a person. Unless I have you with me always, in some very quiet and perfect way, I will never be able to live fruitfully alone."

-- Thomas Merton

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Focus On the Garden

Many closeups of spiders, my chest hair, spiders killing preying mantis, dragonflies, swallowtail larva, and various sundry blooms. Ready, steady, go.

I just like this picture; the shaft of light helps. I was playing with the manual focus, leaping from plant to plant, and this one is focused on the 'October Skies' aster--which I can't wait to see in bloom this first year.

A true native sage! As in, Lincoln, Nebraska! It's called 'Nekan' because it's found in a thin swath from Nebraska to Kansas, but it was discovered just minutes from my house.

The black swallowtail cats are loving this mystery self-sown fennel. May it self sow again--mysteriously.

Apologies for the point and shoot camera image (dead battery on the EOS). Not sure who I should've cheered for, the spider or the mantis. I have images from last year of a mantis eating a decapitated bumble bee, soooooo....

I forget the name of this liatris. Help? She's just a baby, so her bloom time is a bit late.

This is the only caryopteris--of 5--that has lived for me, and look at it now! Also look at what's at the birdbath. Also pray that this year the rudbeckia actually come back.

She's been getting fatter and fatter and fatter. I also had the pleasure of seeing her catch a grasshopper a few days ago. Die die die grasshoppers. (I wish the spider could kill the resident rabbit, who has mangled half of my asters).

You just HAVE to click on and expand this photo. Waaaaay cool, dude. It's on a rocky mountain liatris.

Loving the bronze fennel, even in bloom with that somewhat-not-quite-right-with-the-foliage yellow flowers. Behind it is 'Blue Fortune' agastache and white turtlehead.

Electric blue lobelia.

The althea on a stick is looking good....

...see? Though I must admit, it's a bit too froo froo for me, but it does make a nice statement at the corner of the patio.

This concludes the picture show. On the way out please consider donating to the "Buy This Handsome Man More Plants" relief fund. Ushers with hot pepper wax spray (aimed at your eyes) will have cans ready to collect your generous gifts.

Yes, I am feeling confrontational today. But watching the video from my previous post (Kitten Mittens) eases my pain.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kitten Mittens

I tried this. Doesn't even work this well. (So tired of hearing the cats rip up carpet threads as they walk across the room during a movie or intimate moment!)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Poem -- My Fingers Are Yellow With Aphid Juice

I spent my morning smooshing as many aphids as possible on my various milkweeds. Those plants are looking pretty shabby and droopy, just in time for the fall monarch migration and last egg laying extravaganza. Not cool. (Did find 3 cats though.)

So I give you an instant oatmeal kind of poem:

My Fingers Are Yellow With Aphid Juice

I won't be calling any truce,
won't be waiting any longer
to quench my aching hunger.

Aphid guts. Aphid guts.

For an hour beneath the August sun
I pressed aphids against my thumb.

For an hour among bees and grasshoppers
I weaved a maniacal path,
spraying the slaughtered aftermath
in a rush of tepid water.

In the evening I'll raise my hands
against the window, cover the setting sun
with the fading yellow almost undone--
on my skin, in my eyes... aphids, aphids, aphids.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mr. Mows All the Time and Mr. Waters All the Time

These could actually be the same person, but they are not.

Mr. Mows All the Time -- He mows twice a week whether the grass has grown or not. After he mows, he must notice how the grass suddenly looks browner. This is because shorter grass tends to lose water faster (he must not know this). So, he diligently sets up and moves around his sprinklers almost every evening.

Mr. Waters All the Time -- Every morning the street is wet, along with his driveway and sidewalk. His sprinkler system is clearly the program and forget kind. Or don't give a rat's ass kind. His grass is luciously green, however, even though it's no taller than a grasshopper and looks like a golf course (the only time he is outside is to mow his lawn, fyi--I should know, I'm outside all the time).

I forgot one.

Mr. and Mrs. Water for 5 Minutes -- I kid you not, their sprinkler system zones turn on for 5 minutes at a time (and spray over the fence on me, which is nice since it's hot out). Now what in the world are they trying to water? The air? That grass will have the shallowest root system ever so it can burn often, so they can water more, so I can get on this soap box and box soap to you.

And these are just my immediate neighbors. What do the folks two doors down do? I need a cupcake.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

9 Ways of Looking at a Tiger Swallowtail

Images of a female tiger swallowtail, and assorted caterpillars eating skin. I see something different in each, so if you want, expand each image and see what you see (or don't--go eat a donut, it's just as good if not better).

Today's swallowtail preferred hanging upside down, so pictures were harder to take--but in this one you get a good feel for the racing-stripe body.

Here is the full coloration and a cool strip of darker yellow on the right wing that looks as if someone put scotch tape on it.

I don't know what is on the proboscis, but I'm assuming pollen or nectar.

The irridescence of blue on the wing seems echoed in the one visible eye. I like this subtle framing of color.

I enjoy this one because of the nearby green fly perfectly squeezed into a butterfly bush bloom.

The backlit yellow wing--stunning, like a cathedral. And surely there is more sense of divine communion in this one organic life than all the immitative houses of worship put together.


This guy just molted and is hungry. Waste not want not. Maybe I'm jealous.

Did you ever have a glow worm doll as a child, that if squeezed, lit up? Please, don't squeeze my caterpillar (that is not a euphamism).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lots and Lots and Lots of Garden Pics

15 images showing all 1500 square feet (the main, 2 year old back garden). If you want to see what this all looked like 3 months ago, click here--it's pretty amazing. A person can forget how far things come, especially as many plants begin to fall off in the heat of summer and depression sinks in (until the asters and eupatorium restore one's faith).

As you know, click on any image to expand it.

From the deck

White turtlehead

Black swallowtail on coneflower

Standing under the arbor

Looking from the patio

Still looking from the patio

Looking down one of the two paths from up on the "hill"

Morning glories can frame anything well.

Monarch on swamp milkweed

Looking in from the lawn I'd love to not have, but that does present a certain kind of je ne sais quoi counter balance to the garden. I think it's like yin and yang. A needed place to rest your eye. A place where negative space can exist. A place for a swimming pool (100 next two days).

Fence path after the arbor

Grey-headed coneflowers

'Blue Fortune' Agastache

Looking at the arbor from the main garden

Arbor from in the side garden

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Have Greener Sex

22 percent of people worldwide have had sex in the garden.

Now, I simply report what I find, ecologically mindful, of course. But this all seems a bit over the top to me. Or is it? Enjoy (XXX).

1) Sex Toys
Many store-bought sex toys contain, among other things, chemicals called phthalates, a substance used to soften hard plastics like PVC and provide that jelly feeling. There is quite a bit of concern about the toxicity and health risks of phthalates (in 2004, the EU banned a range of phthalates from children’s toys), especially in sex toys that are used in warm, moist places.

2) Lube
As you would with any other personal care product, go as natural as possible and try to avoid petroleum products, artificial scents, flavors, and colors.

3) Condoms
Let’s face it, reduce, reuse, recycle just doesn’t apply when it comes to the rubbers. (duh)

4) Green Fun
Sexy play can be green and efficient as well. Showering together can save water (if things get steamier, we suggest taking it to the bedroom and not leaving the shower running). A nice bike ride for two is a fossil-fuel-free way to get the blood flowing and can also be quite stimulating, especially for the ladies. (OMG!!!)

5) Taste Sweeter
There are some very strong rumors going around that vegetarians have the best tasting love juices (though some items from the vegetable kingdom you may want to avoid, like asparagus and garlic). (Please don't test this theory out and post about it in the comment section--thanks.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Submission Season

Is just around the corner, but I could care less. I'm so freaking tired of sending my nonfiction and poetry out into the literary lottery limbo. It's time consuming and costly, and 99% comes back anyway. I could be researching or writing.

So although it is time for the annual late summer / early fall insanity, I don't think I'll participate this year. Both my books are at publishers, and I am filled with naive hope about them, and that's enough from the glass; the rest of my naive hope will be excursions across the great plains this fall with my laptop, going through old papers, talking to old people. I've had enough of you, envelopes and stamps and contest fees and hours agonizing about the right pages in the right order when it doesn't matter a bit. Time to live the life.