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focus: looking forward

May 24, 2016


Dating back to when I was on Flickr (beginning in 2009), I’ve done a great many photographic portraits, usually of nonhumans. Some of Spouse, though, and some self-portraits.

I’d like to do word portraits, but I don’t even know what that means, never mind how to go about it.

(Although at least one of my poems is a word portrait of me. And one cento is, arguably, a word-portrait of FJG.)

= = =


Seems to be an intrinsic quality of my character. One that is, unfortunately, often off-putting to others.

Can I find ways to put it to good use: Effectively? Appropriately? Surprisingly?

= = =


Even more than anxiety, I think the emotional state I’m most often in is discomfort. Given that it’s the most familiar, there must be ways of better utilizing it. Experiments!


I often write letters from a place of discomfort. Additionally I struggle with how much data is too much data, given that (1) other people don’t seem to use data in their everyday lives the way I do, and (2) sharing data is, for me, an intimacy marker. Yet I’m often not sure how much intimacy I actually have (or can assume I have) with the person I’m writing to. In revisions, I tend to delete 80% or more of the data I had inserted with such hopefulness.

I’m working on a letter right now where the idea to write it came from a dream. I’ve written to this person twice before, but years apart. I don’t recall them responding either time. I was voluble in my first letter, thinking we might become friends; my second letter was brief.

If I only wrote to people I was sure were interested in me, I would almost never write letters.

For the first time, yesterday I wondered if… the discomfort at not knowing if the person is interested in me, is part of why I want to write to them.

Do I believe a letter can kindle interest? Seems unlikely.

Although… if the recipient of such a letter scored high in Openness to experience [part of psychology’s Big Five], their curiosity could be piqued. In theory.

Just last night I finished reading a 345-page memoir of a British playwright I’d never heard of [David Hare]. Luckily I’m familiar with a lot of British slang; less luckily, I understood almost none of his cultural and historical references. But I read the whole thing. And I enjoyed it.

Would I want to talk to him in person? Hard to say.

However, that reminds me… David Hare, like Alison Bechdel, wrote about his past actions towards other people in a way I found disconcerting. I sat down and puzzled through why, now that it appears to be a pattern.

Highly connected people, or perhaps people enmeshed in webs of relationships — I’m not sure how to characterize these people’s social situations, except to be clear that I’m not in similar ones — often write about their actions that affected other people as if the other people themselves were writing about it, and passing judgment on the first person. That is, these accounts read as if, for instance, I was telling my reader what the real Mrs. Nocerino would have said about my actions, but I was saying it as if Mrs. Nocerino’s opinions of me were my own opinions of me.

I think that was clear as mud.

Plenty of people, well writer people anyway, are self-aware enough to write about their past actions and be critical of what they did. Even when they explain their justifications at the time, they still realize they did things they aren’t proud of; that are hard to make sense of in the present, given the kind of person they want to be.

That’s not what I’m talking about here.

I reported her description to the referee one day, who looked back at me as if he had heard it all before. This contempt provided me with convenient cover for my own uselessness. (The Blue Touch Paper, p. 39)

Why contempt? Why uselessness? Why not disinterest (or boredom), and awkwardness?

What I’m trying to think through is these cases where people have seemingly internalized negative judgments from third parties, to the extent that they write about them as if they were their own beliefs. Yet the person writing doesn’t seem to realize the disconnect.

If you’re highly enmeshed, maybe it’s not relevant. Maybe you never have the perspective of looking at your situation from outside the web.

Even when I was enmeshed in a web of relationships, though, and even when I was still self-hating, I don’t think I would have written about my own actions in this manner. Because this manner requires that you know what specific judgment other people are passing on your actions.

When I was enmeshed (and self-hating), what I knew was… everything I do is Wrong. It doesn’t matter what it is; it doesn’t matter why I did it —it’s Wrong. I’m Wrong. Obviously.

= = =

Maybe if you’re enmeshed, the number of the other voices (if not their volume) drowns out your own ideas about what matters and why.

But I can’t help wondering if maybe people who are enmeshed… don’t bother to have their own ideas about their behavior towards others? They wait to be judged? And perhaps if some actions are overlooked by the community, they don’t bother to assess whether they should’ve done them or not? They just assume they’re free and clear?

I’ve been watching movies about whistleblowers [Selma, Spotlight].

Martin Luther King, Jr., as portrayed in the movie, looks to his close advisors for encouragement and affirmation that he’s doing the right things for the right reasons. Receiving that encouragement and affirmation helps keep him steady on the (dangerous and emotionally-fraught) path he’s on.

The Spotlight team are pretty sure they are doing the right things for the right reasons, but plenty of people they talk to disagree. Want them to stop digging, and definitely not to write about what they’re finding. But the four of them agree, and their two bosses agree.

What about when no one around you agrees with you? With your principled stands?

This is the zone of discomfort I live in every day. Have always lived in.

an unsent letter

May 21, 2016

Dear X,

Apparently there’s a condominium’s-worth of starlings raising their families in the eaves above our third floor apartment. Starlings are highly social birds: they squawk day and night, in their harsh, buzzing voices.

I wrote them into a poem, and now I mind them… less… than before, but Spouse can’t come to terms, and grouses.

(We’ve had noise issues with birds raising families overhead many times during our marriage. Usually songbirds, though, so their voices were at least pleasant. And they didn’t talk constantly: Only when they had something important to say.)

= = =

Apparently my brother-in-law is getting divorced. He helped break up his wife’s first marriage, but I guess her second marriage (to him) was a happy ending of sorts, which is perhaps why we were eventually told some of the messier details. I don’t understand any of my in-laws, and neither Spouse nor I are close to them, so I mourn that I’ll never know the real story. Stories are interesting; people’s everyday lives, or at least the ways they talk about them, generally are boring.

{Maybe that’s why I have trouble keeping friends?! I want stories and intense, nuanced emotions and Something Interesting Unfolding, but everyone else settles for ordinary and the Big 3 feelings and unmemorable? Food for thought.}

= = =

Last month, after puzzling intermittent pains in his joints, Spouse went to the doctor, who thought he might’ve contracted Lyme disease (for the 3rd time in 8 years). Spouse went through a course of antibiotics, but blood tests eventually showed he hadn’t had it, nor rheumatoid arthritis. (I’ve been wondering if Spouse is developing repetitive stress issues; I’ve had them since circa 2011.)

A week after all that, he developed bronchitis, and he’s been coughing and sniffling and sneezing ever since. He’s also worked from home a lot.

Between him and the birds, I am sorely missing my more-usual solitude and quiet.

= = =

I woke up with a migraine today. Usually, this time of year, it would be from the intense sunlight, but we’ve had a very wet May so far, so it’s actually from the barometric pressure related to the rain.

= = =

I assume your housing situation hasn’t resolved, or else surely I’d have heard from you, if only with your new address.

= = =

I’ve read 130 books this year.

= = =

I’m in an awkward spot with Thing: I greatly appreciate you facilitating it, as I couldn’t come up with any solutions on my own that I felt good about.

But if I ask you how it went, what Pandora’s Box will that be?

It’s not so much that “no news is good news”, since I rarely hear from you about anything. It’s more, I guess, that with family, for me, Good News… isn’t an available option.

Still, I’m so curious, you know?

= = =

See, this is why I don’t write more often.

Our worldviews rarely overlap. I definitely cannot assume that, if sides need to be taken, you’ll be on mine. Which makes asking you questions, about any other person(s), fraught with danger.

If only I could trust that a family member wouldn’t attack me (usually verbally) over a disagreement of opinion…

Even in self-defense, I will rarely attack someone.

Through therapy and reading books and a lot of hard work, I’ve learned how to handle interpersonal issues differently than I learned growing up. I see this growth as a strength, but in my branch of the family, it’s seen as weakness. I’m treated with contempt.

No one wants to claim affinity with me, but occasionally they seem to see affinities I supposedly share with third parties. Perhaps they intend something benign with this behavior, but to me, it feels like just another way to act as though I’m radioactive. Or an infectious disease.

= = =

I don’t know what’s going on in your life, so I can’t ask you about any of it.

= = =

Writing to your husband separately, to encourage him, and offer to talk about Thing We Share, was a bid to develop a separate relationship with him. To hear from you that “he appreciated it”, but not hear anything from him directly, tells me… nothing that I sought.

I should’ve learned by now that there are gatekeepers everywhere.

= = =

I became a writer by writing letters, to people who ignored me.

There must be better ways to connect to people who actually like me. I wonder what they are.

process: Stokes flow, poetry

May 21, 2016

Yesterday morning I woke up with the first line of a new poem in my head. I spent all day working on it. What I thought would be the title turned out to be an italicized line, setting the stage. I found I had a lot to say on the precipitating event. And some of my lines initially sang.

When I tried to refine my emotions, though, the music of the lines disappeared.  The whole thing turned to mush.


Certain other poems, generally long ones (like this one), seem to need to be written — or at least grappled with — to alert me of issue(s) in my life that need to be dealt with differently. Things I need to rethink and reconfigure.

The last 1/8 of “Embraceable You” in 2011. The muddy beginning and ending of “Guest of Honor” in 2014. Any of my surreal poems about gender and identity.

Maybe this is one such.


What can possibly be so compelling about a weekend — admittedly, a traumatic one — that occurred almost 30 years ago? And why did it suddenly seem salient yesterday morning?

Well, I had just finished reading Alison Bechdel’s memoir, “Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama”, in which she seems to have made considerably less progress than I in separating from her narcissistic mother. (On the other hand, she seems to value being at least somewhat enmeshed with her mother.)

= = =

A week ago today, I got a text message from the post office where we have a box, saying that something was waiting for us. I had an idea what that something might be. I ran through several scenarios in my mind, and made tentative plans for any of them. I felt I was as ready as you ever are for communications from people you’re not sure you want in your life.

I was having a really good day Thursday {Name Day!}, so I stopped by the post office and checked our box. There was a paper notice that the item was too bulky to fit.

I had a flash of nerves: some kind of package was a worrying development. I was suddenly not sure I was ready.

But I went to the counter and handed it in.

And received… a local phone book.

= = =

I’ll be turning 50 in a few months. This whole year since I turned 49 has kind of been about preparing to turn 50. Sweeping away old detritus, making way for new growth.

When I was in my early 20s, my mother turned 50. It was her first milestone birthday where I was working, so I could afford to buy her a really spectacular gift. I saved up for months. I bought an artisan made multi-part necklace from a local art gallery store. Somehow, visually and tactilely, it summed up something essential I felt about my mother.

I couldn’t wait to present it to her. I wrapped it up extra special. I was almost too verklempt to talk, as I handed it to her: finally she would understand everything I loved about her!

She didn’t really like it.

She almost never wore it.

Sometimes, when she was out of the house, I would go into her closet to look at it in her jewelry box.

I would wonder what part I did wrong: imagining her as something she didn’t see herself as? Thinking the way a child (albeit an adult child) would celebrate a parent’s birthday would be welcomed by that parent? Maybe I just misunderstood her aesthetic?

= = =

11 years later, I bought an older female cousin turning 40 a showy piece of jewelry. She did seem to like it, but she immediately put it on, even though it clashed horribly with what she was wearing. (It hurt my eyes to look at her in it, in fact.)

When I turned 40, no one in my family of origin acknowledged it in any way.

I’m sure they won’t note me turning 50 either.

= = =

Showy jewelry is meant to be “shown off”; it’s inherently social.

I have a few pieces of gemstone jewelry that I have historically worn for special (social) occasions. When my family of origin was there, however, if they showed any interest in my jewelry, it wasn’t out of aesthetic appreciation, but jealousy. So I stopped wearing the jewelry.

Sometimes I wear them around the house, when I’m alone. Someone loved me enough to buy me beautiful things I’ve always loved — why shouldn’t I wear them?

= = =

Buying myself a showy piece of jewelry to commemorate my 50th is something I could afford. I’ve seriously considered it. But it doesn’t feel right.


In the poem from yesterday, there was a line:

Someone, anyone, will see me.

No one did, that horrible weekend in 1986. Arguably, no one in my family of origin except my mother’s parents (long dead), ever has seen me.

I don’t know if they can, but they turn away in disgust. Or if they can’t.

Does it matter?


I’m an extrovert living an introvert’s life. Except on Twitter, although all the typing and scrolling on my phone exacerbates my carpal tunnel.

And even on Twitter, I’m an extrovert that no one pays much attention to. I only really seem to exist when I’m boosting the work of others, or encouraging them to keep going.

When I speak of my own life and struggles, no one cares. When I’m happy and excited about something, no one cares.


I’ve been researching terroir because it’s important for things I want to write about. But now I think maybe I have missed why it’s relevant to me — organisms fit their environment. They reflect their habitat; they couldn’t thrive somewhere else.

I have lived in a great many environments, but I haven’t thrived in any of them. Yet.

Maryland suits me much better than Illinois, New York, and certainly better than Indiana and Oklahoma. But to the extent that I fit in here, I fit in with the topography, the ecology, the water bodies. I’ve quite struggled with the subtropical climate. And I don’t understand the human beings at all.

Arguably, of course, I don’t understand human beings anywhere.

Reading List 5 of 2016

May 1, 2016

Covers the period from 4.10.2016 through 4.28.16

I own 4 of these items. I read 1 book on vacation. Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 7 of the books and movies.



  1. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie {re-read}
  2. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie {re-read}
  3. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie {re-read}
  4. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott
  5. Jeweled Fire by Sharon Shinn



  1. First Impressions: A Novel by Jude Deveraux
  2. Speak Its Name by Kathleen Jowitt



  1. Felicity: Poems by Mary Oliver
  2. The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, … by C. D. Wright


Women Writers on Craft:

  1. 16 Writers on the Decision to Not Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum
  2. An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make their Way to Mastery by Janna Malamud Smith
  3. Daybook: The Journal of an Artist by Anne Truitt



Reading List 4 of 2016

April 8, 2016

Covers the period from 3.15.2016 through 4.8.16

Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 17 of the books and movies; libraries in other parts of Maryland, via Inter-Library Loan, supplied the other 19.


Women’s Poetics:

  1. The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity by Louise DeSalvo
  2. The Art of Writing Great Lyrics by Pamela Phillips Oland
  3. Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, edited by Sheila Black, et al.
  4. The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts by Susan Brind Morrow
  5. Emily Dickinson by Bonita Thayer
  6. Headstrong — 52 Women Who Changed Science — and the World by Rachel Swaby
  7. How to Live / What to Do: H.D.’s Cultural Poetics by Adalaine Morris
  8. Innovative Women Poets: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and Interviews, edited by Elisabeth A. Frost and Cynthia Hogue
  9. Poetics in the Poem: Critical Essays on American Self-Reflexive Poetry, edited by Dorothy Z. Baker
  10. Unauthorized Voices: Essays on Poets and Poetry, 1987–2009, by Marilyn Hacker
  11. Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, edited by Leah Price
  12. Women Artists in the 20th and 21st Centuries, edited by Uta Grosenick



  1. A Potentially Quite Remarkable Thursday by Jeff Coomer
  2. A Woman of Property by Robyn Schiff
  3. Blood Work by Matthew Siegel
  4. Flamingo Watching by Kay Ryan
  5. Passing Through by Stanley Kunitz
  6. Say Uncle by Kay Ryan
  7. Selected Poems by Zbigniew Herbert, tr. by Peter Dale Scott & Czeslaw Milosz
  8. Shock By Shock by Dean Young
  9. Trinity by Susan Ludvigson



  1. Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft by Bill Moyers
  2. Painted Pages: Fueling Creativity with Sketchbooks & Mixed Media by Sarah Ahearn Bellemare
  3. Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein
  4. Wired to Create by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire



  1. The Art of Risk by Kayt Sukel
  2. The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic by Inger Strand
  3. The Green Road: A Novel by Anne Enright
  4. Hebrides by Peter May, photographs by David Wilson
  5. Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage that Made a President by Betty Boyd Caroli
  6. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
  7. [SFF] Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis
  8. [Film] Enchanted
  9. [Film] The Hundred-Foot Journey
  10. [Film] Mamma Mia!
  11. [Film] This is Where I Leave You



Thinking in Pictures

April 3, 2016
  1. Drawing and Painting Imaginary Animals by Carla Sonheim
  2. Fantasy Art Drawing Skills by Socar Myles
  3. How to Draw Animals in simple steps by Polly Pinder, et al.
  4. Mastering Sketching: A complete course in 40 lessons by Judy Martin


Illustrated children’s books whose illustrations I pored over:

  1. About Reptiles: A Guide for Children, written by Cathryn Sill, illustrated by John Sill
  2. Ballet Cat: Dance! Dance! Underpants!, text & illustrations by Bob Shea
  3. Bear Snores On, written by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
  4. Blue Chameleon, written & illustrated by Emily Gravett
  5. Day Dreams, written & illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin
  6. Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
  7. Firebird, text by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Meyers
  8. Have You Seen My Dragon? written & illustrated by Steve Light
  9. I Like It When … / Me Gusta Cuando … ,written & illustrated by Mary Murphy
  10. The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs and Other Stories from the Tipi, told & illustrated by Paul Goble
  11. Monster Party! written & illustrated by Annie Bach
  12. My First Book of Mandarin Chinese Words, written by Katy R. Kudela {unknown photographer’s credit}
  13. Noodle Magic, written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Meilo So
  14. One Red Apple, written by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Karla Gudeon
  15. Paul Meets Bernadette, written & illustrated by Rosy Lamb
  16. Roy Makes a Car (Based on a story collected by Zora Neale Hurston), written by Mary E. Lyons, illustrated by Terry Widener
  17. Spike: Ugliest Dog in the Universe, written & illustrated by Debra Frasier
  18. Super Fly Guy, written & illustrated by Tedd Arnold
  19. Two Bunny Buddies, written by Kathryn O. Galbraith, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
  20. Unwitting Wisdom: An Anthology of Aesop’s Fables, retold & illustrated by Helen Ward
  21. What Is Part This, Part That?, written by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Tom Slaughter
  22. When You Were Born, written & illustrated by Emma Dodd
  23. Zoe’s Jungle, written & illustrated by Bethany Deeney Murguia

Reading List 3 of 2016

March 14, 2016

Covers the period from 2.14.2016 through 3.14.16

I own 7 of these items. Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 9 of the books and movies; libraries in other parts of Maryland, via Inter-Library Loan, supplied the other 19.


Celtic Language(s); Literature:

  1. Common Gaelic: The Evolution of the Goidelic Languages by Kenneth Jackson
  2. Irish Family Names: With Origins, Meanings, Clans, Arms, Crests and Mottoes by Captain Patrick Kelly
  3. A Pronouncing and Etymological Dictionary of the [Scottish] Gaelic Language, by Malcolm MacLennan
  4. 1000 Years of Irish Poetry: The Gaelic and Anglo-Irish Poets from Pagan Times to the Present, edited by Kathleen Hoagland
  5. Hebridean Folksongs: A Collection of Waulking Songs by Donald MacCormick and Francis Collinson
  6. Introduction to [Scottish] Gaelic Poetry, edited by Derick Thomson
  7. On An Irish Island by Robert Kanigel



  1. The Secrets of Songwriting, edited by Susan Tucker
  2. Songwriting: Essential Guide to Rhyming, 2nd, by Pat Pattison
  3. Successful Lyric Writing by Sheila Davis
  4. Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists by Kay Larson



  1. Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay
  2. Dear Life by Dennis O’Driscoll
  3. Elegy/Elk River by Michael Schmeltzer
  4. Pieces of Map, Pieces of Music by Robert Bringhurst
  5. Songs for Relinquishing the Earth by Jan Zwicky
  6. New American Poets of the ‘90s, edited by Jack Myers and Roger Weingarten


Words & Writing:

  1. Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers by Paul Dickson
  2. Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places by Ursula K. Le Guin
  3. The Poet’s Craft Book by Clement Wood
  4. Saussure for Beginners by W. Terrence Gordon
  5. Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. Le Guin
  6. The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination by Ursula K. Le Guin
  7. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer


Art ~ How-to:

  1. Botanical Drawing in Color by Wendy Hollender
  2. Brave Intuitive Painting by Flora S. Bowley
  3. Expressive Drawing by Steven Aimone
  4. Fundamentals of Drawing by Barrington Barber



  1. Bloodchild, and Other Stories by Octavia Butler
  2. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
  3. The Martian by Andy Weir
  4. Wild Life: A Novel by Molly Gloss
  5. [Film] Big Hero 6



  • Little Fish: A Memoir by Ramsey Beyer
  • My Uncle Emily, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter




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