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Friday, July 30, 2010

Physics 101: I Should Have Seen It Coming

If a gal's going to write poems about space probes, Galileo, Newton, Da Vinci, Kepler, transiting exoplanets, Democritus, liquid hydrogen, & Alan Shepard peeing his spacesuit while waiting for Freedom to launch, a gal who wants to be taken seriously has got to take Physics 101, like, right now.

Not that she's wanted to, not that she's a Numbers Person, but that she must.

I bet you can almost hear the litany of excuses: But I have no time! But I don't have the $! But I don't feel like sitting in a classroom for even one session a week! But I hated physics in high school! But physics is so boring! But I don't deal in numbers!

MIT Open Classroom to the rescue! Holy cow, this prof makes physics fun. In the time it would normally take me to microwave a burrito, read a few poems, maybe do a little research on string theory, I've sat through THREE introductory physics lectures, and get this, thanks to Dr Lewin's good, old fashioned chalkboard-scribbling of images and equations, along with his infectious enthusiasm and humor, I actually understood most of what went down.

I will crawl into bed tonight not only knowing that the pressure of a femur is proportional to the weight of the animal divided by the cross-section A of the femur, but that F=ma where F is force and ma = mass x acceleration. I also know how to make a Hero's Engine out of an empty Coke can with four holes punched in the bottom: Tie it to a string, fill it with water, swirl it around, and voila!) I also know that Newton's 3rd law is demonstrated when you turn on a garden hose and it snakes back at you (equal and opposite reaction), but even better: when you ride a bicycle with a spewing fire extinguisher fastened to the back end. And oh, oh, oh, Bernoulli's stunning realizations about water and buoyancy--don't even get me started.

Oh. My. God. I never thought I would not only understand but laugh uncontrollably about physics. If only Ms. Obrupta, my high school physics teacher, could've borrowed even ONE of these hilarious demonstrations!

I've been afraid of physics all of my sentient life. I've dabbled, I've dallianced, I've dillettanted, but I've never dove in and embraced it. But that's all changed now thanks to the brilliance of Professor Walter Lewin. Thanks, MIT, for putting these lectures online.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Verdict: 2010 Saturnalia Book Prize

A few weeks ago I posted about being a finalist in "two national contests." Yesterday I learned that Campbell McGrath chose my book, The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception, as the winner of the 2010 Saturnalia Book Prize.

How I found out: I received an email with the subject line "please call" from someone I'd never heard of. I almost hit "delete," but then curiosity got the best of me and I opened it. " The email read "Please call me at ___-___-___. Editor Name, Saturnalia Books."

Okay, so not exactly SPAM. I ran down to find my cell phone, peeking outside to say to my husband on the ladder (he is painting the exterior of our house) Saturnalia told me to call! Saturnalia said call me!

The editor was very friendly and almost as excited as I was, though he did not, as I did, scream, cry, laugh, jump up and down, fall to my knees, and bray like someone on Let's Make a Deal.

After I stopped screaming and was able to pick myself up off the floor, Editor asked me about my cover art. Ha! Had not given that a thought, actually, so now I am on a wild search for something colorful and with religious overtones.

Then I went out with hubby to our favorite local Vietnamese place for a big, giant bowl of hot, spicy shrimp soup with vermicelli noodles (hubby had the egg roll dry noodle vermicelli). While we slurped, a 2-year old boy entertained us with many high-fives and silly dances while his exuberant mother looked on in admiration--a most fitting way to celebrate a book I began five years ago, when my kids were wee like this little tot, drooling and spinning with glee.

The publication date is Feb 1, 2011--just in time for AWP in Washington, DC. Book your plane ticket now!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Celebrity Poem Assignment Using Dorianne Laux's "Cher"

After I posted about Twiggy, I thought I might try to write a poem about her, but I just couldn't get inspired. Dorianne Laux has an amazing poem about Cher--one of my favorites of hers.

If you're looking for a writing prompt, how about writing a poem about a favorite (or least favorite) celebrity? It could be Van Halen, Aretha Franklin, Leonardo DeCaprio, Johnny Rotten, Tom Hanks, Prince, Meryl Streep, Madonna, Eminem, Lady Gaga--but definitely someone you're obsessed with or perhaps have a bone to pick with (in Laux's poem, the bone is the missing bump on Cher's nose), and the obsession is her near-lifetime longing to be like her. Oh, one other thing: think about how you want to shape your poem-Laux's is long and thin, just like her fav ladies long tresses.

I don't think I'll be doing my celebrity poem about Twiggy, so if you want to write about her, she's all yours.


I wanted to be Cher, tall

as a glass of iced tea,

her bony shoulders draped

with a curtain of dark hair

that plunged straight down,

the cut tips brushing

her non-existent butt.

I wanted to wear a lantern

for a hat, a cabbage, a piƱata

and walk in thigh high boots

with six inch heels that buttoned

up the back. I wanted her

rouged cheek bones and her

throaty panache, her voice

of gravel and clover, the hokum

of her clothes: black fishnet

and pink pom-poms, frilled

halter tops, fringed bells

and her thin strip of waist

with the bullet hole navel.

Cher standing with her skinny arm

slung around Sonny’s thick neck,

posing in front of the Eiffel Tower,

The Leaning Tower of Pisa,

The Great Wall of China,

The Crumbling Pyramids, smiling

for the camera with her crooked

teeth, hit-and-miss beauty, the sun

bouncing off the bump on her nose.

Give me back the old Cher,

the gangly, imperfect girl

before the shaving knife

took her, before they shoved

pillows in her tits, injected

the lumpy gel into her lips.

Take me back to the woman

I wanted to be, stalwart

and silly, smart as her lion

tamer’s whip, my body a torch

stretched the length of the polished

piano, legs bent at the knee, hair

cascading down over Sonny’s blunt

fingers as he pummeled the keys,

singing in a sloppy alto

the oldest, saddest songs.

Dorianne Laux

Thursday, July 22, 2010

ItalicI woke up this morning thinking about Twiggy. Twiggy was this young woman from Northern London who was discovered in 1966. One day she was a shampoo girl in a beauty shop, and the next she was The Face of the Year.

To get that black-eye look, she wore three pairs of false eyelashes, plus she painted extra "twigs" on the skin underneath them.

She was 5' 6" and weighed 91 lb.

In 1967, when I was 6 years old, her face (and her pencil-thin legs) were everywhere. She did 13 separate photo shoots for Vogue the year before, then landed on the cover of American Vogue no less than three times: April, July, and November. She also appeared on the covers of McCall's, Seventeen, Newsweek, and Harpers Bazaar.

In 1967, you couldn't escape Twiggy if you wanted to. Almost every girl I knew, but most importantly my mother, sister, and I, had Twiggy haircuts. We all thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

Twiggy's measurements were 31-22-32.

Twiggy's legs were like two skinny snakes. Two very skinny snakes.

And she was impossibly cute.

Who didn't want to be skinny like Twiggy?

[This is where I could put in a few paragraphs about the sickos who serve up concentration-camp-thin fashion models as images of ideal feminine beauty, but I will refrain as I figure you already know where I stand on the modeling industry.]

I did some research, and it turns out Twiggy is still very much alive and well in England. Recently, she served as a judge on the television show "America's Next Top Model," that is, until she was replaced by a younger model.

She appeared in an Olay ad for wrinkle cream that created a stir when it was discovered that Twiggy's wrinkles had been airbrushed out. The ad was banned, and Olay was forced to replace the touched-up photo with one in which there had been "no post production work around the eyes."

To her credit, Twiggy's gone on the record as saying "Personally, I think there's something scary about injecting poison into your face."

Apparently, poison is out, but airbrushing is not, though in her defense I'm sure Olay paid her a huge wad-o-quid.

Either way, I was glad to learn that Twiggy's still alive and well, hawking her Twiggy London collection of apparel and accessories, that she didn't go into hiding when her Supermodel days came to their inevitable end.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Unibrows & Feminism

Remember this billboard? They were up all around in Seattle in 2007. There was also another one that went "she has a mole," with mole crossed out and yacht penned in above. Some people found them sexist, but I recall there was one about a guy going from bald to BMW, or was it back hair to Bahamas? Others were offended because the equation $ = who cares about your imperfections, when in fact the wealthy spend big bucks on tummy tucks, collagen implants, botox, etc. Call me a cheap laugh, but I cracked up every time I got stuck in a red light near one of these.

Not that I don't fight battles elsewhere. Case in point, the current issue of American Poetry Review. In his interview with Ruth Stone, Chard diNiord asks Stone if she's a feminist. Her reply is nothing less than baffling:

I don't think I'm what you call a real feminist at all. I tried to be. I tried to be and I didn't know how. Because actually I had a brother I loved and I was not anti-male in any way. I loved men, you know.

With all due respect, could someone please take Ms. Stone aside and explain to her what a feminist is? Pardon me, but does it mean man-hating, icky, selfish, unpleasant person?

Goodness me, I know she's 93, but there were feminists back in the flapper era, so you can't use her age as an excuse. Or, help me out here, has feminism gone the way of totalitarianism? I thought it meant treating women fairly, on equal footing, not discriminating, not assuming a woman couldn't do a job as well as a man, ahem, that perhaps she could do the job even better. Is Stone suffering from some kind of internalized misogyny? Institutional misogyny? Rampant misogyny? I expected her, a highly educated woman, a fine poet, to not be dissing feminism, but maybe I ask for too much.

Friday, July 9, 2010

This and $2 Will Get You a Popsicle Department

It's been a great July so far. I've been to my favorite community pool two times for lap and family swim (best of both worlds), have gone U-pick strawberrying with my daughter, and I finally figured out how to stopper the blow-up Orca whale kiddy pool. It makes for a great cooling off spot in the heat of the day, icy lemonade in hand.

I am trying not to think about the fact that my manuscript is a finalist in two national contests. Both are a 1 out of 10 deal, a 10% chance.

Answer me this: if you had a 10% chance of dying, would you bungee jump? Or climb Mount Rainier? If someone said you were in 90% great shape, wouldn't you take that as a huge compliment?

In other words, these aren't very heartening odds, and I do not expect to win.

What I hate is that being a finalist, if you don't win, ends up meaning "you weren't chosen because clearly you were not the best." There is no way around this; it just IS.

Okay, I contain multitudes. Actually, it could mean "the judge did not groove on your aesthetic" or "the judge hates kids" or "the judge doesn't give a wit about the universe or babies" or "the judge votes no on refrain and music."


I will be hearing any day now from contest #1, and within a month from contest #2. In other words, my next post will either be good news or bad news.

Meantime, I am, like i said, not going to spend more than 30 seconds a day thinking about it.