Found Journal: On the Act of Submitting, part A (2014)

I read in the acknowledgments of the book I'm currently fascinated by, the places the author has published, some big magazines, some small, and think, I have to start submitting work to these magazines not because I think mine is better, but that it is just as worthy, even though it probably isn't.

I have spent many years submitting to magazines.  It took a lot of time and energy, to decide where to submit, to research guidelines, to correctly format, to prepare envelopes, to print, to mail, to track.

And that's to say nothing of writing the pieces in the first place, pieces I evidently believed were worthy of publication, even though I now realize were not.

I collected all my rejection notes in a file which got thick.  It was both heart-breaking and humorous.

And then on-line submitting changed everything, just as the copy machine once did.  Now, no envelopes, no printing, no stamps, no cover letters!  And because of the ease and the gross abundance of people like me, thinking our writing worthy of attention, the editors are so overwhelmed that many don't even bother sending a rejection, but simply state in the guidelines that if you don't hear from them, assume that's a no thank you.

How to know if anyone even read it?

And if someone did, who reads the slush pile?  A 23 year old unpaid intern dreaming of discovering the next Hemingway?  What chance do I have of charming that demographic?

When I see in the acknowledgements, all the magazines that have published this author's work, leading to the accolades and prizes and recognition and admiration and even some money, I feel a part of me tighten, thinking, I should really submit some work to those magazines.

But, in some of her pieces she writes about how the attention doesn't make her life easier, but just more complicated and stressful and how with all the requests, all the expectations that have come with publications and awards she now has little time to do what she really wants to do, that very thing that has won her fame: write.

Author's Note:

The book I was reading was most likely one by Lydia Davis, though why I didn't mention what book, is baffling.



At a friend's party in Minneapolis,

a very hip dude, points out
how he is wearing Kitty's
"the most unhip shoe"

that he got on-line for $35
shaking his head for being
so uncool with his 70's tennis shoes.

Painter by night, marketing creative by day,
Kitty's, I later find out
is one of his clients.

brand:  an identifying mark burned on livestock or slaves with a branding iron


Meditation #861

Is the tendency to jump up and do something,
to mail a package or buy some eggs,
sheer momentum,
or the need to run away
from what I do not know?

It comes only when I sit and stay and wait.

breathe. . . .

Though even that is cliche these days and probably trademarked
just as are words like "evident"
which when searched
comes up first,
a tech company
and next,
a thing that is obvious.


dear marigold,

why so tired
why can't you stand
for so long
without a thought to hold your hand
oh marigold!
growing old

marigold wings!
used to rely on you
thought you could get me through
oh marigold
so old



More Unmentionables

People ask, "What have you been doing this summer?"

And when I respond, "Working on a manuscript," no one says a thing, and we immediately move on to other topics and later I wonder if I actually mentioned it or just imagined it.

Is it the rather awkward way I say it or is there something inherently embarrassing about working on a manuscript?  Is it something about Wisconsin, or more universal?

Is it something about the act of expression or something about commenting on your own creative endeavors that is off-putting?

Why in a culture that celebrates artists who aggressively promote their work, is it seen as unseemly and self-indulgent to do so?

Or is it just me?

Is it that no one knows what to say?  I might ask:

What kind of manuscript?
Is it your first?
Tell me about it.

Perhaps knowing my work, they feel embarrassed for me, like the people who walked by while I was playing banjo to one sleeping bum in the parklet.

Why will a blog post get zero likes, but a photo of a cat get dozens?

So when people ask about what I've been up to this summer, rather than mention the manuscript, I answer, "Painting the house," which is much easier to talk about.

What color?
The whole thing?
By yourself? 
Ever done that before?
Ever consider siding?


Summer Reading: Lawrence Weschler's Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees

while painting the house
i am thinking about Robert Irwin
who dedicated his life

to asking questions
about perception

there is an art to perceiving
at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago
 where Robert Irwin laid down a line of black tape

in an empty gallery he otherwise did not change
four out of the five guards who worked there
asked if he had installed the column in the center of the room

a column that has been there since 
the building housed a bakery
how to see what we do not and not what we to see


Dreaming of Marigold Wings

dreaming of marigold wings
where the pelicans soar into the clouds

where the fox river drops
over the dam
spilling an ancient truth

about what i can not grasp
where the marigolds bloom
along the avenue

about what i can not grasp
as the owl
hoots to the moon

dreaming of marigold wings
where the pelicans soar into the clouds

where the fox river drops 
over the dam
spilling its ancient truth


towards the end of mile four

playing banjo in the empty parklet
as the end of the festival grew near,
people walking by averting their eyes

three kids gave thumbs up
a friend of my son said hi
a thin man stumbled in

laid down to sleep 
with his pack
between me and his head

a young hobo screeched to a halt
with a blanket, a lunch box, a washboard
and something dripping from his bag

he asked me to watch his stuff
while he went to pee
i said sure enough and kept on playing

two clean cut guys set their chairs real close
mind if we listen? they asked with a smile
and i kept on playing


$20 Art: Coming Soon to The 602 Club


you expect me to write
something that relates to the image.

But what if what is written
is complete happenstance

and the only connection the words have
with the image is in your imagination?

What then?


In Search of Another Ending

banjo doppelganger

How can I know what I am going to write, until I sit down to write it?

How can I know what I am going to play, until I sit down to play it?

I am not on a train, but Joe Brainard is.

At the bar, I look out my banjo warning that I approach it as an experiment, that I played for two years before even trying to tune it properly.

My family bought it for my 41st birthday.  Now I am 45.

After I played, a woman with mountain girl eyes told me how she loves my story, how she saw me play at Marcie’s two weeks ago.

That wasn’t me, I said.

Oh.  She didn’t seem that surprised.

You mean there’s another woman who looks like me, plays the banjo like me, and has my same story?

She nodded, smiling.  “Yes, but now that I think about it, she has glasses.”

Nothing is new but the path we choose.

Zuihitsu is a literary style of the late tenth century Japan, the practice of following the whim of the pen.

Boundaries dissolve.

The neighbor is cleaning his grill.

The boys are due back soon.

I remember thinking I was done.

I remember thinking there is no end.

banjo moon


A Case for Improvisation

Maybe we’ve got it wrong.  Maybe it’s the other way around.  Maybe it’s improvisation that should be the basis for all musical study.  Why not let music evolve the way language does, allowing the young student to babble and experiment, encouraging the forming of original sentences?  Why not teach young musicians to play by feel before learning to play by sheet music?  Why not widen the possibilities before narrowing the road?