Thursday, December 20, 2012

November Sky Blog becomes

For blog posts, information about me (Christine Klocek-Lim), Poem Sparks, and anything new I have to say, please click through to my new website:

See you on the other side!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ode to my children

Warning: incredibly sappy blog post ahead.

My older kid's 18th birthday is tomorrow. In January, my younger son will turn 16. The thing is, I'm not the kind of person who looks backward a lot. Sure, I remember when they were babies (okay, I remember the screaming and the legos and the giggling), but I don't have photos hanging on my wall or propped up on my desk. If I want to look at baby pictures, I have to go dig them out. The photo up above? I haven't set eyes on that one in maybe ten years. It's from 1995. Jeremy was 1 year old.

The surest way to grieve the past is to focus on it incessantly. The first thing that usually pops into my head when I think about the boys being little is all the times they almost died. Which, just, no. I'm not going to focus on that. Maybe it's different for other parents. Maybe their kids don't have allergies or heart defects or possible Marfan's or that brain damage incident or whatever, but I've had all too many close calls with the great black hole of grief to ever go poking at the beast on purpose. I want to focus on the good stuff. Usually that's the stuff that's happening right now in front of me.

Both of my kids are crazy intelligent. I don't really know how to explain what this is like. It leads to unexpected conversations and sometimes devices that scare the shit out of me being left on the steps and the odd sensation of knowing that they can solve math problems in their head (how do they do that?). A lot of people talk about having intelligent kids and everyone (according to the articles I read) wants intelligent kids, but many of them, when faced with the reality, pretty much are like: WTF. Hey kid, why won't you follow the directions on the box? Why is it so hard for you to listen and do all the stuff everyone else does at your age?

Smart kids are difficult. Directions are boring. Putting things together the way you're supposed to is boring. Toys with instructions are boring. Games are infuriating and boring (until you figure out how to reprogram them). These kids do weird shit like talk when they're six months old or not talk at all until they're four years old (then they speak in complete sentences with multisyllabic words that most adults don't use or understand). They're BORED all the time. School is usually BORING BORING BORING and "I've already read the entire textbook and this class is pointless now, Mom" by the third week of September.

A lot of people have bright kids. Not many people dodge school officials and psychologists like I've had to for the past sixteen years because really smart kids are kind of ... not normal. Doctor's charts have been a source of hilarity in my house for years. I've had to read up on my college statistics class so I could understand what the hell outlier meant. The funniest thing about all of this? No one believes you. Smart kids are supposed to get straight As. Most of them don't. Smart kids are supposed to just be brilliant, easily, in totally predictable ways. They're not.

Smart kids hate having to learn how to do things that are tricky, like riding a bicycle or tying their shoes or using a pencil (though scissors can be mastered at age one year). That stuff that requires muscle memory and practice is torture. Smart kids can intelligently discuss physics and the socio-political jokes from The Daily Show in their early teens, but learning how to grocery shop? Not so much. Smart kids figure out how to fool their teachers in kindergarten, but butt heads with their eighth-grade homeroom teacher. It's kind of weird and cool and terrifying, at the same time.

As a parent, I have learned how to roll with most of this. I harp on the important things: don't forget your epi-pen. Don't expect the world to make sense. Learning that people act irrationally most of the time is, perhaps, the hardest thing to teach them. I even stumble over that one, still.

It's weird, though, getting to this point. A parent of kids like this must be hyper-aware of the things society expects from children at certain ages, and know how to either hide their kids' peccadillos or not give a shit, depending on the situation. My job has been to keep them away from the "specialists" and do-gooders, so that they can figure out who they are without the labeling that seems so prevalent these days. I wanted them to be bored at the right times. Slotting kids like mine into piles of activities makes them crazy (and me, too) and doesn't help them figure out how to calm their racing brain at midnight enough to sleep.

I worked hard at showing them how cool it is to learn new things on their own because I'm convinced that public education, in many cases, is intent on stifling that urge. Jeremy reads the same books I do, the kind of books you don't get to crack open in school until you're in college or beyond. Zachary doesn't like to read (which everyone thinks is at odds with being smart, and really isn't) so I spend a lot of my time talking to him about online gaming and the internet and watching hilarious videos that he sends me and discussing the ethics of a modern society versus hunter-gatherer cultures among other things.

I spend a lot of breath forcing them to relax and take a break and not to worry so much about school. I have never been so convinced as I am now that education in our society and a love of learning is mostly incompatible. Public education teaches to the average and to the below-average. Gifted education? Hah. It's a joke. It mostly consists of piling more BORING projects that require colored pencils and poster board on top of the regular classroom work.

All of this is to say one thing: I HAD NO IDEA what I was getting into. Dear everyone who wants a baby: the pitter patter of little feet thing is a LIE. Sometimes they crawl. Sometimes (like Jeremy), they never crawl, they roll. Sometimes they BREAK THEIR CRIB (Zachary did this. I'm not kidding) or figure out how to flip over their pack-n-play. They take apart their plasma night-light. They invent their own language and would rather go to a museum than have a birthday party.

My kids did NONE of the things everyone told me they would do. But you know what? I don't mind. They're the most interesting people I've ever met. I can't wait to see what we do together tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Publish online and kiss your Pushcart goodbye

This past April I did an interview series for National Poetry Month. During the series, one of the questions I asked was this:

Do you think there is a disconnect between academic poets/poetry and online poets/poetry?

Some of the people I interviewed declined to answer. Some said "I don't know." Some gave an in-depth explanation of why they thought there was a disconnect or not. In general, many of the people I interviewed truly believed that if there is still a disconnect in any way, it will not be around for much longer because the internet has become so much a part of our lives.

I'm not so sure.

It is human nature to strive for status. It is part of our psyche to work toward success because it brings with it so many rewards: respect, wealth, power. In an evolutionary world, this means that one's offspring has a better chance of survival if one has power.

In a literary sense, the definition of success has traditionally meant publish, publish, win awards, publish, win some more awards, etc. The more one publishes, the more one's work has a chance of survival long after the writer has died.

The introduction of a radically new medium (online publishing) into an established and entrenched process has upset this balance of power. The hegemony of traditional literary establishments is slowly eroding as the prevalence of online opportunities expands. The question is whether the traditional establishments will adapt and survive or hang on so tightly that they slow down the process of change. I think it can go either way: some will adapt and some will fossilize their procedures (publishing, awards, etc.), thus preserving their traditional authority for at least a while longer.

(One need only to read the many articles about the arrival of ebooks and the hysteria that is gripping traditional publishing houses (see the brouhaha surrounding Amazon, the big six, and the Department of Justice) to realize that a similar upset is slowly gripping the literary publishing world as well. What most people don't realize is that the tipping point for commercial fiction is already here.)

Just recently, I received an email from The Fox Chase Review. This lovely online journal posted a blog entry in which they explained why they would no longer be sending work to the Pushcart Prize anthology. This decision was because of a statement from Bill Henderson in the introduction of the 2012 Pushcart anthology:

“I have long railed against the e-book and instant Internet publication as damaging to writers. Instant anything is dangerous—great writing takes time. You should long to be as good as John Milton and Reynolds Price, not just barf into the electronic void.”
-Bill Henderson – The Pushcart Prize 2012 Introduction..

The Fox Chase Review's response:

The internet has opened a door to poets/writers in this new time. There are many fine publications who publish only on the net and are not easily entered. Rejection rates far outnumber acceptance rates.  Henderson’s void is an opportunity for various styles of writing to emerge that may not have found a home in more elitist presses which I am sorry to say The Pushcart has now become through the voice of Bill Henderson.  The Fox Chase Review will no longer submit entries to The Pushcart Prize and we hope Henderson doesn’t continue to barf on his computer.

Clearly, a miasma still lingers around online publication of poetry. It will be interesting to see how long it takes before this barrier between online and academic/print establishments falls. I suspect it will be several decades yet.

Meanwhile, I'll be over here quietly writing poems and being unutterably grateful I don't hold a position where I must publish in the right places (meaning print/academic/pushcart/poetry/newyorker) or perish.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Starbursts and Fox Chase Review

No, no, not the candy! And not actual stars, either, although that's the original inspiration for my poem, now appearing in Fox Chase Review, Summer 2012: "Starburst in a dwarf irregular galaxy."

In this issue you can find work by: A.D. Winans, Anthony Buccino, Elijah Pringle, Frank Wilson, James Arthur, James Quinton, Jane Lewty, Jim Mancinelli, John Dorsey, Le Hinton, Melanie Huber, Mel Brake, Nicholas Balsirow, Russell Reece, Stephen Page, and Stevie Edwards.

Fox Chase Review also did an interview with me recently: Ten Questions for Christine Klocek-Lim. In the interview I mention how much I hate doing readings. This is terribly ironic because I will also be doing a reading for Fox Chase Review next year. (Thank goodness it's next year! Procrastination is your friend! Yeah!)

Monday, June 04, 2012

Poet in Residence - Touch: The Journal of Healing

A few months ago I received a call from the editor of Touch: The Journal of Healing. We've had a long and fruitful professional and personal friendship so I wasn't particularly surprised to be hearing from him. However, when he asked me if I would consider being the first Poet in Residence for his journal, I couldn't help but feel completely flabbergasted.

Me? I thought. What do I know? Yeah, sure I've written a lot over the years, but quantity doesn't always equal quality as so many of us know (have you seen the typos cropping up all over the web lately at large news/magazine sites?). Nevertheless, O.P.W. Fredericks persuaded me. He asked me to write a series of essays exploring one of the major themes of the journal: Evolution into Insight. How could I resist?

If you click through you will find my essay as well as three poems I wrote over twelve years. The poems all deal with one thing: my second son's congenital heart defect. As I said in the essay: "Never be satisfied with the first attempt." It took twelve years and many more poems than the three published in Touch to really become satisfied with my attempt at recording the trauma and subsequent emotional revolution that was born of my child's brush with death.

There are a lot of other great poems and artwork in Issue 10 of Touch: The Journal of Healing. Check out the Editor's Choice: Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas. There is also work by: Ed Bennett, Jackie Fox, John Davis Jr., Richard King Perkins II, Danny P. Barbare, Pat St. Pierre, Tammy Daniel, Emily Lasinsky, Murray Alfredson, Stephen Gilchrist, Krisztina Fehervari, and Susan Kelley.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Death looked over my shoulder but I stuck him with an EpiPen

I don't often talk about my kids online. They're teens and I feel it's inappropriate to discuss them or post pictures without their permission. However, when I finished reading my email this morning, the urge to speak up was overwhelming. Both of my sons have severe food allergies. That photo you see above? It's been part of my daily life for sixteen years. It's been part of my sons' lives since forever. We don't go anywhere without an EpiPen, prednisone, and Benadryl. In fact, we usually carry extras around because my paranoia knows no bounds.

Yesterday my seventeen year old had to go to a computer science competition practice after school. They were serving pizza, and like usual I told him that as long as he knew where the pizza came from and could ask about peanut ingredients, it'd be fine if he ate some. He refused. He told me that he was really tired of always having to worry about his allergies and didn't feel like expending the energy to check with the pizza place (we generally call and speak with the cook/manager). He packed food from home for himself. Then he told me something that made my blood run cold. He said that in another club of his, the kids often gave him a hard time when they ordered pizza. They asked him why didn't he ever eat it and made fun of him—all the usual stupid shit teens (and adults) do to those who don't conform to their idea of normal. Disgruntled and frustrated, my son told me that there's another teen in the club with a peanut allergy. Apparently, this kid eats pizza and a lot of other things without worry, care, and most disturbingly, WITHOUT CARRYING AN EPIPEN.

There are two reasons why this freaked the hell out of me. One, since when were kids giving my son a hard time? I had no idea. He's a teenager and that means he has assumed a certain amount of responsibility in his life. He doesn't tell me every single detail of what happens at school and that's fine. However, if I'd known the other kids were doing this, I would've been more than delighted to go to his club and give a detailed description of how much fun we had that one time when I had to rush him to the hospital. Anaphylactic shock is AWESOME! Watching your kid's eyes turn glassy and his whole body turn bright red? TOTAL GREATNESS. I mean, what could be better than wondering if your kid is going to stop breathing? Or, you know, LIVE? I could've described how cool it was watching the ER staff hook him up to multiple IVs. How damn wonderful it was watching them rush around my son, controlled urgency in every movement.

I suppose you can tell I'm being a bit sarcastic here.

The other thing that bothered me is that my son told me the other kid didn't carry an EpiPen. This saddened me greatly. I know a number of people with severe allergies (food, environmental, etc.) who really should carry an EpiPen but don't. EpiPens are not large. They can save your life. Some researchers are even working on a new version of one that is as small as a credit card. You'll be able to carry it in your wallet. There are two reasons why most people don't carry one: 1. too much bother and 2. other people make fun of you when you carry an EpiPen.

My son doesn't deserve to have to deal with stupid kids giving him a hard time about his allergies. Kids suck. High school sucks. I remember when my peers made fun of my glasses, my crankiness, my general "you're not like us"-ness. Whatever. I got over it. That stuff didn't threaten my life. The thing is, my kid could DIE. The stuff he has to deal with could KILL HIM. Sure, most parents worry about their kid getting hit by a car, falling in with the wrong crowd, or just doing something dumb—I worry about what my kids eat. The food they put in their mouths can kill them if they don't know what's in the ingredients. And what do their peers do? Oh, hey, look at him! He won't eat the pizza, he's such a dork!

My nephew is allergic to casein (the protein in milk). My younger son has a heart defect and thinking about that sometimes scares me to death. Another nephew has multiple health issues (liver transplant). I'm used to worrying about shit I can't control. I'm used to expecting the worst at the most unexpected possible moment. What really pisses me off though is the complete and total narcissism of our society. Homophobia, racism, bullying—these things make me angry. Why do teens act like this at school? Why do they treat kids like my son who has allergies, or gay kids, or non-white/non-black/non-hispanic (oh yes, racism knows no bounds, believe me) kids like crap? Because the adults in their lives act like that and we all learn by example.

We tell our kids that it gets better. That when people grow up, they magically turn into fair, nice, respectful individuals. Um, no they don't, not all the time. How about we stop lying to our children? Adults suck just as much as kids do. Many grow up and get a clue and manage to learn how to treat other people well, but many don't. And until we stop lying to our kids about this, the fake culture of "people are nice" is going to persist. Peer pressure is an incredible thing. It creates riots. It makes teens act like jerks. It can also move an entire society from hatred toward peace. Toward equal rights. Toward research that improves our planet and saves our children's lives. Let's admit to our kids that we've messed up. Acting like that is not okay. In order to change the world, in order to make sure teens don't continue to propagate evil, we adults have to start owning up to our own shameful tendency toward pointing fingers. We need to not pass this crap on to the next generation.

In my email this morning I received a note from my local chapter of a food allergy support group. In it was the news that yet another teenager had died from eating cookies that he thought were safe. They rushed him to the hospital but he'd stopped breathing within minutes of eating the cookies. His brain was dead. The thing that stood out to me the most? This boy DIDN'T CARRY AN EPIPEN. I don't know why, but I can guess: his friends/peers probably made fun of him.

What do I have to say to every kid with an allergy (or who is different)? Stand up for yourself. Stand up to adults (if you can safely), to other kids, to whomever you have to and tell them that your life is more important than their need to make you conform to their idea of normal. Oh, and carry your EpiPen, for crying out loud. Hide it in your pocket, your backpack, your purse, but don't ever, EVER, leave home without it.

ETA: Having a food allergy does not define who you are. I've made it a point to teach my kids this idea. Their life is not their food allergy. They are not a label, an illness, a paranoia. The thing is, no one else in their life should be defining who they are by their food allergy, or illness, or the color of their skin, or whatever, either. When other kids give them a hard time about what they eat, they are, in essence, saying: Oh hey, you're the freak with the allergy! Sucks to be you.

Yeah, no. It doesn't suck to be a kid with a food allergy unless you let it define your entire life. Don't let it. Don't let anyone else do it, either.

I once knew a woman who wrote by sticking a pencil in her mouth. I know a man with Parkinson's who uses a voice recognition device to write. I think of them as poets.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Haboobs - an old sonnet from 2009

I just saw this post on wunderground (my favorite weather site) and it reminded me of a poem I wrote back in 2009 (never published). I have to remember to not read the news on the weekend. It's this little pact I made with myself: weekends are for fun and family and writing and reading and gardening.


There are so many things I shouldn’t read;
when misfortune has already come in real
life, why decipher more? The speed
at which we realize one ordeal
does not preclude the next. Another time,
another storm will suck transparency
away. Thunder sounds inside the grime;
it’s hard to breathe, impossible to see.
Why bother reading news after the fact?
Who wants to know how strangers may have died
when here at home all the walls are cracked
with loss? Except, perhaps the other side
is greener—grass instead of sand. And rain
that gives its people peace instead of pain.

ETA: oh, wow, that same photographer has a video! It's amazing. May 9th, 2012 - Dust storms near Casa Grande and Phoenix by Mike Olbinski: