Tag Archives: Bomb Magazine

Self-hatred and Self Publishing

19th century illustration of La Fontaine's Fables by Jean Grandville

I have been in the pit of despair, climbed out, and then jumped right back in. Living in Brooklyn, NY I am surrounded by successful writers and artists- some lucky ones are even making their living off their art. I have been writing stories and poems since the age of 9 or 10 and my dream has always been to publish a book. I followed this dream through undergraduate and graduate school. I rang up quite a bit of debt getting my MFA in creative writing at New School University. I thought I’d finish my novel sell it and pay off my grad school loans with the book advance. That didn’t happen. I finished a novel that was the best a twenty-something writer could do but probably wasn’t very good and needless to say didn’t get published. I also didn’t publish my first collection of poems despite publishing a few here and there in various literary magazines. I was so disgruntled I stopped writing for a few years and just played in bands screaming my head off and being angry at the world. Those bands sadly didn’t take off either.

During all of this I started to find my way in a career of dog walking and dog training. At first it was really humbling to see artists around me publishing books and having their bands succeed while I was battling the elements picking up dog doo. In 2007 I found myself a few years out of grad school with nothing to show for it except a lot of debt and bitterness. One of my awesome undergrad poetry professors David Kirby was nominated for a National Book Award around that time. He and Barbara Hamby, my favorite poet and mentor, came up to NYC for the ceremony and I had breakfast with them. I spewed all of my garbage and disappointment at them and they kindly said “Why don’t you write about being a dog walker in Brooklyn?” Thus began the my book of poems “Dogs of Brooklyn.”

I worked on it for 2-3 years carefully crafting and editing poems. I had other friends and writers look over the work, published some poems in various literary magazines, and did some readings. When the book was “finished” (are books every really finished?), I began sending it out to all the first book contests in the back of Poets and Writers Magazine and to lots of different publishers. My then boyfriend, now husband, Dennis Riley photographed the dogs and we thought about making it a photo/poetry book. For a year and a half I spent money and time trying to get other people to publish and approve of my work. I was also writing for BOMB magazine interviewing poets on their work. In combing through the pile of books they get sent for review I definitely saw that while my book wasn’t maybe the best it also wasn’t the worst. I’m constantly amazed by some of the amazing books that get published and some of the ones I cannot believe got published. I felt like while I may not be the best poet out their I certainly am not the worst. But I also came to understand that in the hyper-intellectual world literary world poems about dogs aren’t always accepted.

I realized the people who liked my work weren’t necessarily the literary world, but regular folks who loved animals and Brooklyn. While I could sit around and be bummed that The New Yorker (who’s poetry I rarely enjoy) won’t publish my work, I realized that being yet another disgruntled artist really wasn’t productive. I come from a background of publishing my own zines in high school and being in the DIY punk rock band scene who put out their own records. I decided that even if the literary scene doesn’t believe in me, I do, so I will publish my book.

I’ve been working on it the past few months with a designer and some volunteer editors. I can’t tell you the highs and lows of this experience. There are days where I’m really excited about it and days where I’m filled with so much doubt, despair, and self-hatred I find it hard to function. I’ve received some really lovely feedback from folks in the writing community and some not so nice feedback. The format I’ve decided to publish in probably won’t support photos the best so I may have to publish it without them to keep costs down, and that is disappointing. We are still figuring it out.

There are times where I question why the hell I’m even bothering doing this. I guess overall I’m doing this as a gift to myself. I’ve worked so hard on various writing/ creative projects that haven’t seen the light of day and when you spend years working on something I guess you want something tangible to show for that. Maybe its a huge mistake, maybe I’ll never have a writing career with a faculty position at some college and have the admiration of all my peers (sounds a little like high school right?) But at least I’ll know that I tried my hardest to respect the work I’ve done and time I’ve invested.

It’s funny though in talking to my friends who have “made it” and are having success with their artistic careers they still struggle too particularly with money. It seems odd to me that they have published books and still sometimes have to juggle multiple adjunct jobs etc just to pay the rent. I’ve been really lucky that I have established a career working with dogs and I’ve always been able to pay my bills for the most part and have time to write. It may not be the most prestigious job, but particularly since I started training dogs, I get to really help people and their animals. I guess in this “race” I’m the tortoise and not the hare. I’m slowly getting okay with that.

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Filed under Art, Brooklyn, Dogs, Poetry, Self publishing, Writing

Giving up Ego for the Holidays

Dog Nativity pic borrowed from Tamara Dormer's facebook profile : )

Happy Holidays everyone! I can’t believe it has been two months since I last blogged but a lot has been going on. I guess I’ll just start where I left off at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. Despite it being an amazing learning experience and forming great relationships with the other trainers and the dogs out there they didn’t choose me for a Dog Trainer position. I am really disappointed on a professional level, but on a personal level I feel relieved. I would’ve loved to work with the amazing people at best friends but my fiance wouldn’t have been able to move out there for a while, if at all- there aren’t exactly a ton of archiving jobs in the middle of Utah. I hope to be doing some work with them locally with their Community Training Partners Program and have kept in touch with the trainers Pat, Jen, and Tamara since I got back to New York. It’s tough on the old ego but I think it’s for the best. Looks like the dogs I worked with are continuing to make progress. I spoke to pat the other day on the phone and he said Sir Uno is running around like a puppy playing which is huge. There’s some footage here. Firefly has continued to make progress with her dedicated caregivers/ trainers and was adopted! More here. So the good work is still being done and I’m getting to do work locally helping out with Pets for Life/ Safety Net Program and volunteering regularly at Sean Casey Animal Rescue in addition to training pet dogs in Brooklyn.

A week after I returned to Brooklyn I moved in with my fiance. Perhaps the old Higher Power knows what he’s doing. Had I gotten the job in Utah I would’ve had to postpone moving in and getting married and those are two things I’m glad I didn’t have to give up. They say “Rejection is God’s Protection” and perhaps our relationship wouldn’t have weathered the whole Utah Brooklyn separation well. Moving in has been great but its also been a trip since both of us have lived alone for the past ten years. So far we and the cats are getting along with minimal hissing. We’re starting to plan our wedding for Memorial Day weekend 2011. Hopefully also with minimal hissing.

On the writing front I’ve decided to stop blogging for BOMB after a year and a half to focus on my own writing, getting married, and doing more work with animal shelters. I love poetry and writing but ultimately my priorities are spiritual- the relationships in my life and being of service to the community with my skills. Creativity is important but at the end of my days I think I’ll be more concerned with how much I loved and helped people and not how much I published. I think the publishing thing is just ego. Ultimately it’s the being creative that makes me feel good, publishing anything only gives short term satisfaction.

Its funny how I let my ideas of what I think my life should be or look like effect my happiness in life. My life looks nothing like what I thought it would years or even months ago. When I can let go of my ego and ideas and accept that maybe I don’t know what will ultimately give me lasting satisfaction and be grateful and accepting of the blessings that I have today, only then can I really be happy.

Phoebe photo by Dennis Riley

For today I’m grateful that:

I get to have a sleepover party with my pal Phoebe.

I have awesome people and animals in my life and we’re all healthy.

I took Christmas weekend off work and am going to see Peewee Herman on Broadway.

It really doesn’t get much better than that!

Happy Holidays!

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Filed under dog training, Dogs, God, Spirituality, Writing

Poetry News, Thanksgiving, and Dog Obedience

Rainbow over Brooklyn

A lot has been going on in the poetry and dog land I live in! First the poetry news:

I had 5 Brooklyn poems published in Poets & Artisits December 2009.

I had a dog walking poem published in Work Zine November 2009.

I was interviewed by Galley Cat’s Jason Boog about The Dogs of Brooklyn.

Sonya Chung quoted me in an article on The Millions about dogs and writing.

I had my poem (and Dennis’s photo) Powerboat Pit Bull published in this wrestling poetry anthology on Clattery MacHenry. Scroll down to “P” its in alphabetical order.

I interviewed rock and roll prose poet Ray Gonzalez, bilingual poet Kristin Naca, and feminist poet Alicia Suskin Ostriker for BOMB and post punk poetry icon Eileen Myles for The Rumpus.

Whew! Thanksgiving was a welcome few days off though I was dog sitting for my pal Jack. I was so grateful for all the small victories this year–publishing and dog training etc. That morning we took Jack to off leash hours at Prospect Park. I love Prospect Park, Fredrick Law Olmsted the landscape designer was such a genius I named my plant after him, then proceeded to kill it with a slow death like every other plant I’ve had. In my life there’s a long tradition of naming things after famous people and characters- My first dog, the Golden Retriever Cindy Lauper, my hamster Murphy after Murphy Brown (I was eight!), my cat Cobain. Anyways, I digress, If you haven’t been to Brooklyn and seen it, its as beautiful as Central Park and far less crowded!

So back to Prospect Park Thanksgiving- we ran into Pooh Bear, the dog that wouldn’t go outside when I first met him. He had lots of fears of the outdoors when I started working with him and would pitch an 80 lb. fit whenever his owner tried to walk him. I switched Pooh to an over-the-hose-nose gentle leader so he’d be easier to control (sometimes the right lead makes all the difference!), a backpack with water bottles as weights to tire him out and give him a job, and ignored his drama. A few months later he’s trotting along happily in Prospect Park with his owner! It feels good to be able to help people with what I’ve learned in my year dog walking.

I used to think because I didn’t have a title or go to some office that I was a failure and couldn’t keep a “real” job. Now I see I wasn’t meant for that world. I am a humble servant to the animals and that works for me. I’m reliable and trustworthy and people trust me with their pets, I may not be some fancy professor or lawyer but I’m of service and I make enough to live and work shorter hours so I can write, that’s all I need. I also see some people can work for others in offices, I am not one of those people, I’m someone who needs to have their own business and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just had no model for this kind of life growing up in Florida. That’s one of the reasons I love New York, you can have a small business and survive, its harder in other areas of corporate, chain-store America to do that.

Back to Thanksgiving- I was just grateful I could eat this year. Last year about a week before Thanksgiving my appendix exploded and I was in the hospital getting emergency surgery. The surgery wasn’t so bad it was the recovery. Since my appendix burst there were toxins all over my insides so they had me on all kinds of antibiotics and I have never been so sick and scared in all my life. It was like a horror movie in the hospital with people screaming down the hall. I kept throwing up green and having diarrhea and I couldn’t walk. I think the immobility and weakness may have been the scariest part of all. I couldn’t eat anything all I could do was suck on ice chips. Thankfully my friends and family showed up-Dennis stayed at the hospital practically all day everyday with me. I got out the day before Thanksgiving but still could barely eat or walk for about a month. Thank god for my friends, employees, and understanding clients- running a business from a hospital bed is no fun but everyone was really great.

I think a lot about gratitude and service when it comes to dogs and writing. I don’t think I felt really a part of the writing world until I started doing service for it by writing a column for BOMB. I don’t get paid for it but the writers I interview are so grateful to have someone read, understand, and ask them intelligent questions about their work and I feel like I learn a lot from doing it. Also I’m publishing and making connections regardless of whether my own poetry is being published. Its easy to feel resentful when other people’s work is getting published and yours isn’t but somehow writing this column has made me feel a lot less disenfranchised and more a part of the poetry community. So my advice to anyone who’s struggling is to find someway to be of service, it works for me every time.

Gracie photo by Dennis Riley

I also just wanted to write a little about dog obedience since I’ve been doing a lot of training with insecure dogs lately. I have Oban,  french bulldog who is aggressive to any visitors, and Claudia who has a lot of fear of the outdoors. When one brings home a new dog or there’s a major change in environment- a move or a baby being born- this can bring out nervousness and sometimes even aggression in an insecure dog. The biggest problem with these dogs is they are not natural pack leaders and they don’t feel secure in their owners pack leader status. Dogs have different dispositions just like people, some are shy, some are bold, some are just mellow. It never fails though that if we step up to the plate and are strong, dominant pack leaders the nervous guys stop being so nervous, they’re nervous because they feel they have to step into the pack leader role if we aren’t it because in a dogs world there are only two positions- leader and follower. Feeling sorry for a nervous dog doesn’t help them. In the wild animals don’t pity each other, a pack leader cuts of any behavior they don’t like and that’s the end of it. Dogs want to please us, they don’t want to act out. So I correct behavior I don’t like with a tug on the leash or a sharp “chhh” sound and then we move on. I praise only behavior I like with affection. We have to give affection at the right time not all the time. Dogs need jobs just like we do or else they get bored. So tricks, walks, etc stimulate their brains and make them happier than just sitting around the house getting petted all day. The migrate (walk) for their food all day then eat and play. That’s the natural order for them.

For Oban the aggressive dog I recommended they switch his leash and leave it on in the house giving it a tug anytime he did something they didn’t like, this snaps the dog out of the bad mindset the same way a dog pack leader would nip a dog on the neck if they misbehave. Simple subtle, drama free correction is all they need. I use the “chhh” sound because dogs are non-verbal, all energy, and I can’t be all emotional about a sound the way I can about yelling NO. That only makes an excited dog more excited. Its the energy behind the NO or the “chhh” sound that they respond to. Oban is improving and his owners are more empowered with how to correct him.

With Claudia, I switched her to a gentle leader and she responds better to it. A dog’s neck is really muscular so gentle leaders or leashes worn high up on the neck work better for getting their attention. I also recommended that they stay cool as cucumbers when she gets nervous on the street. When I walked her I noticed she kept looking up at me to gage my reaction of loud trucks etc. The more I ignored them the more she felt safe simple as that. I didn’t respond to her freak outs only her calm states with praise. The thing we give more energy too will always be the thing that grows so we only want to give energy to positive things unless we want the negative to grow.

Then we have the one year olds- Ozzie, Roxy, Jasper, Gracie, Leo, Murray. They’re in there rebellious teenage phase where they test us with spazz outs and occasional bad behavior. We wonder what happened to our sweet pup. This will pass but we have to be consistent in the training we’ve done so far and not freak out. Consistency is the key in writing and dog behavior. If we just keep at it with consistence eventually we’ll get what we want cause nature abhors a vacuum. With the insecure guys we don’t get to space out or talk on our cell phones when walking them. They need us to be present with them which is really the point of having a dog to spend time with them and share our worlds. This has taught me how to be more present in my whole life and see the little things as opposed to the big things I have no control over. Sometimes the dogs we get aren’t the ones we want we, they’re the ones we need. They help us work on our own issues of nervousness, stress, etc. because they pick up our energy like sponges and the more freaked out we are the more freaked out they will be. So when we work on being a calm, strong pack leader it not only helps them, it helps us. This is the beauty of having a relationship with your dog, don’t miss out on it because you’re too busy worrying about other things. Those things will work themselves out if you focus just on what’s in front of you.

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Filed under Dogs, Interviews, Poetry, Training, Writing

The Dogs of Brooklyn Poetry Show, BOMBlog Poet Interviews

Indiana & Amelia photo by Dennis Riley

Indiana & Amelia photo by Dennis Riley

I am currently preparing for my first The Dogs of Brooklyn poetry show. The Dogs of Brooklyn is my fresh poetic narrative about my colorful life as a dogwalker accompanied by vibrant photographs of Brooklyn and the dogs by Dennis Riley. The Dogs of Brooklyn is the poetic equivalent to many other bestselling dog-oriented books like Marley and Me, Mark Doty’s Dog Years, and Unleashed: Poems by Writer’s Dogs.

For the month of November 2009 Dennis Riley and I will be hanging his photographs and my poems of/about the dogs and Brooklyn at Ozzie’s on 7th Avenue and Lincoln Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY. We will be having a free opening party/reading on Friday, November 6th at 7pm. I, the fabulous Melissa Febos writer of the memoir Whipsmart and co-host of Mixer reading series, and one other writer TBA will be reading poems and stories about Brooklyn and its “wildlife.” Melissa and I are also discussing the possibility of me joining her on her West Coast book release tour Spring 2010. I plan on doing some guerilla style readings at Dog Runs, Pet Stores, Book Stores etc. More info to come!

As most of you know I’ve been working on a book of interviews with poets for the past year. The interviews were originally featured on BOMBlog. I do love reading these poets’ new books, researching them, and asking them thoughtful questions about their work, and most of them seem to appreciate not getting asked “Who’s your Favorite Poet?”  and “When did you write your first poem?etc. Below are some of my interviews so far:

Denise Duhamel: Reform School Poet

Barbara Hamby and the Abecedarian Corset

Akilah Oliver: Good Grief

The Biographical Helium of Stacy Szymaszek

Matthew Rohrer: Poultry and Poetry?

Campbell McGrath, Survivor: Poetry Edition

Mary Jo Bang: The Bride of Alliteration

Hopefully we will find a publisher for both books soon!

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Filed under Dogs, Interviews, Poetry, Readings, Writing