Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 -- Don't Let The Door Hit You On the Way Out

I'm not too sad to see 2010 go. It was a very frustrating year for me outside the garden, in the writing world. Maybe it wasn't frustrating, maybe it was organizing / storing up / mobilizing and I can't see it yet. But in this profession--and in the hopes of attaining a teaching job, fellowships, publishers, etc--there are no points for second place or nice thoughts, just feelings of "what might have been." Looking back teaches us how to look forward, and it is always something that motivates me to try harder (by making me angry) even though it seems like I'm not getting anywhere, or that moving 2 inches isn't really progress even though it might be.

1) My poetry collection Afterimage was 1 of 6 finalists for the St. Lawrence Book Award from Black Lawrence Press. There were also 6 fiction finalists, for a total of 12 finalists.

2) Also 1 of 4 finalists for the C&R Press DeNovo poetry book award. Both of the above presses publish outstanding work.

3) Several literary agents gave me complimentary long notes on my garden / family memoir, Morning Glory. For example:

"You are clearly a talented writer, there's much to be admired in these pages. I found this lyrical, moving and rich in both setting and detail. That said, after much deliberation I just can't see a way to market this successfully to a general trade publisher, nor can I see a way to revise it that won't compromise some of the elements I liked here. My instincts tell me this is something that's a better fit for a smaller/ independent publisher, and I'm afraid those circles are just lesser known to me. I'm sorry to disappoint you, and to pass on work by a writer who is clearly talented."

4) I was offered a full scholarship to attend the Ropewalk Writers Retreat in Indiana, but instead decided to stay home and completely redraft my memoir for the entire month of June. It is a much better book as a result.

5) I was offered a partial grant to attend the Vermont Studio Center for 2-4 weeks of writing time and space in 2011, but simply can't afford it (which may be ok).

6) The only works I had published this year were an article, Monarch Butterflies: The Last Migration, in a regional newspaper, Prairie Fire, and an essay on plant rights / invasive species / origin of flowers in ISLE entitled The Lion's Tooth.

6.5) I was the #6 top guest ranter on Garden Rant for my post on flag poles in the landscape, as in, do away with them.

7) On 12/31/09 I did have my second poetry chapbook, Without Such Absence, accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press, and it came out last month.

8) 2011 will see my garden featured on the Wachiska Audubon Society's Backyard Wildlife Habitat Garden Tour on Father's Day. No doubt I'll be busy this spring outside, excitedly so.

2011 -- Well, this post may be more for me now, record keeping so to speak. I have a pipe dream about writing a short / light 100 page garden book in the next week (or month, we'll see, I do have a new class to prep for by 1/10), then turning my attention back fully to the Oklahoma immigration memoir, eventually visiting Oklahoma again this summer. I've got a growing list of publishers to send Morning Glory to, but truth be told, 2011 needs to be about writing and not wasting time and money on $25 book contests and journals whose slush piles overwhelm even me. In the fall I'll apply for teaching jobs as my wife will be done with her PhD in 2012, and that will be a full time job in itself.

At least there is the garden, which in 2010 matured much more than me, and so gives me hope. It is an amazing space that fuels my writing, and vice versa. It is always a lesson in and of itself, and a constant reminder that chaos is ordered and is not chaos at all--or, that even order needs a little chaos so life is lived more fully.

Happy New Year everyone, even though in my book every day is the beginning of a new year. Oh, it's just so arbitrary, all these numbers, lists, reflections, ritual blog posts on 12/31.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Facebook My Garden & See it From Day 1

Do so by going to my TDM Facebook page, "like" TDM, and you can see pics from the last 3.5 years, a video, and enjoy the plant orgy. That's right. Shimmy up to the plants as they sleep, skip creep, and go straight on into leap, leap, leap. Herbaceous perennial gardens blow me away--from nothing to 6, 10, and 14 feet high in one season. And native herbaceous perennial gardens, at that.

Link here, or down on the side bar to the right on this here blog.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Walken in a Winter Wonderland

It looks EXACTLY like this outside as I gaze through the nearest window:

And how about SNL's "Carol of Intimacy"

"Leave me alone! Please go away!
I'm doing fine! Just get away!"

Monday, December 20, 2010

Love, Absence, and the Thin Line of Existence

I've been reading for my new class next month, planning as much as I can, a class on the short story. I've chosen collections published in the last 20 years, some by first timers. Here are quotes from two debut books I've enjoyed immensely this weekend.

From Once the Shore, by Paul Yoon:

"He considered the possibility that there were many kinds of love and as you experienced one, you felt the absence of all the others. He thought of a city perpetually opening onto the sea."

From The Shell Collector, by Anthony Doerr (and a fitting quote for the winter solstice):

Context is a woman who can divine the life experiences of dead creatures (or people) by touching them and going into a trance / vision she can share with others.

"More clearly than ever she could see that there was a fine line between dreams and wakefulness, between living and dying, a line so tenuous it sometimes didn't exist. It was always clearest for her in winter. In winter, in that valley, life and death were not so different. The heart of a hibernating newt was frozen solid but she could warm and wake it in her palm. For the newt there was no line at all, no fence, no River Styx, only an area between living and dying, like a snowfield between two lakes: a place where lake denizens sometimes met each other on their way to the other side, where there was only one state of being, neither living nor dead, where death was only a possibility and visions rose shimmering to the stars like smoke. All that was needed was a hand, the heat of a palm, the touch of fingers."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Blooming Winter Foliage

This is a TRUE bloom day, one I've never participated in because everyone just posts flowers. Blah. My love of 6 to 12 foot tall perennials is finally beginning to pay off--and one can only orgasmically fanticize about what things will look like in exactly one year. Wow. Screw summer with its trite petals. This is where it's at. I think the upcoming June garden tour should happen right now.

And then we also had a few birds pass overhead:

The grading is done, the semester is over. The office floor can once again be seen. I even opened up my computer, messed with some wires, and fixed my 11-1 memory card reader. I can't tell you how such ambition is literally sucked away like low tide during the term. Over winter break I expect to read at least ten books, and, perhaps, begin writing one or two of my own. Four weeks "off"--clock starts when I started this blog post. See you on the flip side.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Listening to Neurons

Just cut off a cockroach leg, hook up the SpikerBox, and listen to the insect neurons firing away (don't worry, they say the leg grows back).

Order yours now! I know everyone in my family would love this, and that soon after I'd be covered in vomit and taken out of the will, divorced, et cetera.

But seriously, have you ever heard of such a thing? Would this work on frogs? Cats? Humans who use their lawnmowers too often when I'm trying to enjoy my garden?

Then again, the demented natural scientist in me thinks this would be neat. I wonder what flowers sound like, if they even have a sound. Which I bet they do.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Proposal To You

I've been thinking how I could write a short book (100p) on my 3 years of gardening. I've been thinking about how gardening books are either about design /theory, practical advice, or narrative reflection. I've been thinking how all three could surely be hybridized (get it?) and juxtaposed against one another in a collection of short, yet linked, chapters--some lyrical, some humorous, some quasi practical, most about how much anal research I've done and how much time spent in my garden. How much obsessing. Late nights. Bad dreams. Et cetera. All the sordid details of my elicit affair (which it is, ask my wife). So below are some proposed chapter titles.

Finding a Big pink rock (I was so excited! Free rock!)
Skinning Me (on a sun burn and my wife's peeling me like an onion)
Is That a Pruner in Your Pocket Or Are You Now Half a Man (mechanical misshaps)
4 showers a day and it still doesn’t rain (in the first two years I took many showers in one day cuz I coldn't stay away from gardening, in July, when it was 95...)
Rabbit Pretzels (nutrional suggestion on what we can do with them)
Gnome on the Range
Monarchical Monarchs
The Garden Center Circuit (I once went to 6 nuseries in one day, and visited some of them twice)
1st Plant to Die, Last Plant to Live
Tree me to your leader
Take the Edge Off
Winter Flicker
Watch Your Step (as in, I want you to come visit my garden, but don't you dare break ANYTHING)
Fountain Planting
Twilight Zone
What’s eating you
The Geese at Sunset
Putting Around (on my neighbor who golfed while watching us eat dinner on the deck)
650 Light Bulbs (on planting crocus in 20 degree weather before Christmas)
To be a gardener or a potter--working with clay
Stick to your ribs
Wet Robin Contest
Right Plant, Wrong Garden
Sneaking Around With a Hussy Perennial (my favorite plants)
Not a drop to drink
Nebraska Faultlines (who knew dirt could make pocket change vanish in a bottomless hole)

What would you want to see in such a book? What "gardening" books most grab you, or is it simply any depending on your mood? What bothers you about "gardening" books? Is voice, tone, and energy the most important aspect of a book? Do you prefer info over story, or how it feels / sounds? Do you like light reading, or heavy, or both at once?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Writing Life Update

Since I work in two genres, I'll do one, then the other:


In October my full length collection, Afterimage, was one of four finalists for the C&R Press De Novo book award. This week, I was one of twelve finalists (out of 300+ total submissions) for the St. Lawrence Book Award from Black Lawrence Press. I've been sending this book out for 4-5 years, and suddenly I was a finalist in two contests.

My second chapbook, Without Such Absence, was just released. You can get it on Amazon (and perhaps write a lovely review of it while you're there?):


About two weeks ago I had a rejection from an agent who gushed about my memoir Morning Glory: A Story of Family & Culture in the Garden. They were into the lyricism, structure, stories, and what not, but the book wouldn't play with the trade publishers they mostly work with. So, as I'm suspecting, a smaller press may be a more appropriate home. Who knows. Some essays from the book have also been positively rejected this month--not positively as in, yes, of course they were rejected, emphatically so--but as in looks good, sorry.

What's the take home lesson? It's December and there's still no snow in Nebraska, but the squirrels are out at the bird feeders in full force. Up to you to be the writer and find the symbolism there. First person to wow me gets a free reply from me in the comments section!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Prairie, Literature, and Richard Manning

I've begun the ecological research phase of my next book, and just finished Richard Manning's book GRASSLAND, which is a cultural, historical, economic, flora and fauna look at the grasslands that once covered 40% of the country, from Illinois to California. I'm pasting in quotes, with some of my reflections and context clarifications in brackets. Someone should find this interesting, and perhaps go pick up this book. What will I hopefully be doing in May? Visiting some grasslands in Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

262 -- To date, our society has shown no special inclination to mature. We still consider progress to be stoking the very economic engine that already has consumed so much of the planet’s life as fuel. We are still able to rally most “progressive” forces of our nation around candidates who say “It’s the economy, stupid,” when the fundamental issue is not the economy, it is life.

263 -- …everything we know was taught us by nature, but nature gave us brains evolved to their niche, so they are limited in their understanding. All that we know we have learned from nature, but we do not know all that nature knows [and likely never will].

260 – on botanists: I have been afield with many of them, and they are different, almost invariably quiet, distant. Undeniably, they see something different from what I see, as if the knowledge of the plants lifts a veil. The whole of it is there in the plants to be read, the full soul of a place, its life and the abuses of its life, the creation’s intentions and the manifest violations of those intentions. Botanists are our shamans.

250 -- Discussing a biologist at Walnut creek in Iowa who is studying the intricate lay of the land, how species depend on one another, the hills and streams, the topography, and the need to gather local seed to reestablish a total grassland ecology because even bluestem from Kansas is far differently suited to its place than bluestem in Iowa: “Anything else would be just gardening.” [clearly the insinuation is that gardening is just plopping in plants without considering the regional source of those plants, the interdependent community of those plants as regards to co-evolution, and the topography of the land where they grow. I think I can be a much better nongardener, in this sense, though I do think about these things very much in my limited context--my 1/4 acre lot.]

247 -- …the culture of plants is the same as the culture of people.

245 – [part of his logic against vegetarianism] Why is it not ethical to kill and eat a single bison? A single bison does not stand alone, is not an individual. It is, rather, a manifestation of a place, the net result, the capstone of fie, wind, and grass—grass to the horizon—and the hundreds of plants that live in it, and of the fungi, insects, the birds, the wolves, the prairie dogs, ferrets, burrowing owls, compass plant, horned lark, sunflower, and cone flower, all of these things, and can only be understood as such. The return of our eating bison marks the return of all these things to our lives.

[I used to be against saving the mega fauna, the obvious animals. But if you save the largest, the capstone fauna, you must, by extension, be saving, preserving, recreating all that sustains them—which is an intricate web filled with co-evolved organisms designed for a specific place and time. For us to be taken outside this place and time is to be taken out of creation, something as stupid as placing your hand in a vat of liquid oxygen. Perhaps it does start with bison.]

229 – The solitude of the prairie is like no other, the feeling of being hidden and alone in a grassland as open as the sea. Walking toward the horizon through the hills, tawny and loose like the folds in a cougar’s skin, one has a sense that over the next ridge there will rise a brown cloud of bison and over the next, the Pleistocene, unspoiled. Unless one has walked pure prairie, it is difficult to imagine how such a sense of freedom can flow from a landscape that is the giver of harsh rules.

[All over in book – we have a 70% grain surplus, and we use it to fatten cows, and we eat those fat cows and get heart disease and what not. If we raise bison, roaming free across the plains, we would not have to spread fertilizer or pesticides, the bison would take care of themselves. Their grass-fed meat would be much leaner, and we’d be connected to place psychologically and physically.]

155 – Virtually all of agriculture is an attempt to artificially prolong a first or immature stage of succession. The grasses we have domesticated are seral species [annual 1st stage plants in a disturbed area] that grow well only in monoculture. They grow quickly and concentrate energy on producing seed [whereas later perennial grasses store energy in roots and rhizomes, and thus create prairie]. They store carbohydrates in these seeds, which is precisely why we value them as food. From an ecological sense, then, agriculture is a sustained catastrophe. It is the practice of plowing [and cattle overgrazing], then preventing nature from healing itself. It is imposition of a monoculture on a system that wants nothing so much as to diversify and stabilize.


97 – Our science, our poetry, and our democracy fail because they lack specific information of the plants….

206 – We who inhabit the grassland need a new story, a sort of illiterature that rises from the land.

192 – The West is made of one long series of necessary and true fill-in-the-blank stories, and sometimes it seems we are doomed to love them cyclically and perpetually, simply because there is no such thin as The Story. as the colonial culture of the West, we have no culture, which is just the same problem as having no story that tells us how we fit in the place. This is not an original idea, and in fact there is a self-conscious and active movement among western writers to invent a literature for the place. We need stories that will settle us to the land, not more stories reacting to those who would and do destroy it, but as long as the destruction goes on, these accounts of our struggles will be our only story. They are necessary, but seem doomed, a new sort of colonialism.


141 – 1 square yard of bluestem grass has 25 miles of roots

83-83 – 1870 over 2 million bison taken from one heard in NE and KS.

The plains slope 10 feet for every mile toward the MS River.