Thursday, August 29, 2019

Associative Thinking in Poetry

I start writing this as I am about to make dinner for the first time for my new boyfriend. Baked salmon, mushroom fettucine, asparagus with lemon pepper and dill, fresh Italian bread. I suppose I wouldn't be a woman of my generation if this evening's act didn't make me think about being a woman, about whether I am too eager to fill this role, about whether being in a position of service changes something about our relationship in a way I don't want. Am I happy and excited because I am the girl cooking for her boyfriend, or because I am a person who loves doing nice things for others? Is domesticity a fair extension of my femininity, or is it an expression of something different and more sinister? 

So I set myself to think about femininity and how I express it when I go to get a massage today. The room smells like eucalyptus and lavender, and it is warm with neutral, earthy colors. This is a gentle place and I feel relaxed. I muse on last night's dinner, which was wonderful, and how my boyfriend thanked me, careful to show me that he didn't expect me to do this domestic work for him, but that he appreciated it. I think he was careful because he understands the history of women cooking for men, and I wonder if he thanks his mom when she makes dinner. 

My massage begins. I ask myself if femininity is what allows me to take care of my body, as so many other things I do-- brushing my hair, shaving my legs, moisturizing my skin -- seem gendered and connected both to beauty and to feeling confident. But men take care of their bodies, too, or should, in this Queer Eye era, and I wonder if masculinity is what allows men to take care of their bodies, not toxic masculinity but the good and true kind-- the pride and striving that makes men feel they are achieving their purpose. 

I start to muse on touch - if receiving touch is part of this file folder of feminist traits I am amassing, is giving touch then masculine? (I think callously while my female masseuse works on my back.) Is femininity receptive? Are men grasping? Is there strength in resisting its grasp? 

Look, I'm not sure that I have any of the answers to gender and what it means to me, but this episode of looking into my head is to show you how associative thinking works for poets. Does your mind more closely resemble an ice cube tray or a spiderweb covered in dew? As far as I know, most poets' brains are the latter. Thoughts like droplets are all connected by threads, and what a poem does is tap the web gently so all the droplets slide toward the middle or the bottom. You've got to make them intersect. 

When I'm writing poetry, I'm fascinated by the ways images surface by surprise. Sometimes I can articulate the exact train of thought that brought me from the beginning of the poem to the end,  and sometimes I'm not sure how stuff got there, but I'm sure it fits. I start with asteroids and end with snowdrops. In a poem I just wrote the other day, my first line sets up a comparison between scars and live animals, then between myself and the trash cans through which the animals are rummaging. I think this means that my scars are causing some unrest; they're not really in the past. But if I am like a trash can, then I must be full of both trash and treasure. I'm not really sure I'm comfortable calling my actual self a trash can, but I'm intrigued by a character looking at her scars to attempt to decipher how good or bad she is. So I allow the speaker of the poem to diverge more from myself, and then thinking about scars leads me to tattoos and what marks us. I think it's a really interesting poem, and it just took curiosity. 

This is to say: I don't think that associative thinking is a blessing from on high; I think it's something that can be practiced. 

One practice that helped me a lot with this type of generative, idea-rich thinking is yoga. Meditation and yoga practices encourage a non-judgemental way of looking at the self and its experiences. Gradually, I've been learning to welcome whatever thoughts come to me, and if they're negative or doubtful or sad about my body hurting, I can see them and send them on their way. But if they're intriguing, I just stick them up on the rocks on the riverbank and let things swirl around them to see where they connect. 

I wonder if you've done this kind of thing when you're in the shower, maybe washing the dishes, waiting in line, even driving? I think these daily, low-risk, semi-automatic activities allow for free associative thought, like walking does. Once you get in the habit, a blank page in a notebook sets that same motion going,  

It takes some practice to turn these wanderings into interesting, poignant, or powerful poems. Sometimes I wander through a poem only to look back and think the connections are too obvious, or the images too random, not aesthetically harmonic. But if you're wondering why your poetry seems basic, or stays at the same emotional pitch throughout, or lacks surprise, you might want to try letting your mind wander a little farther than you think it's supposed to. 

Here are some tricks I use to practice associative thinking: 

1. Write a list of 10 objects, images, and actions that you associate with a certain age. Cross of the 2 or 3 most obvious ones. Now, use the remaining images to write a poem about someone that age without saying directly what age it is. For an added challenge, write about the person doing something that people of that age don't normally do. 

2. Look around you and choose a color you can see (it helps to visualize if you can currently see the color). Then make lists of things that relate to that color. There are a lot of types of connection you can find other than objects that are literally that color. What kind of feelings come up as you make this list? Go explore those. 

3. Try association through opposites. Begin a poem with this line: "Because I can't _____, I ______." Fill in the blanks with verbs. For the next line, keep the phrase in front of the comma the same, but change the ending. You might keep it this way for a few lines, then try a different word in the first blank and see how that changes your options for the second. This is best done fast so you can see what conclusions your mind jumps to. 

Thanks for reading! You can read more of my writing at my blog,
Exercises 2 and 3 are adapted from prompts I received from my teacher Christopher Citro at the Kettle Pond Writers' Workshop. You should check out his work and his teaching: 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Book Review of The Girl of All My Memes by C. S. Johnson

He didn't "meme" to do it ...  

Tenth grader Tommy Baher has always lived in the shadow of his older brother Johnathan, and he has always hated it. Determined to set himself apart from his brother, Tommy puts all his efforts into securing the highest grades in his class. There's just one problem standing in his way: Kara Metaxas, his longtime academic rival, who has always made his life at school difficult. 

When Tommy and Kara are invited to participate in the Junior Science and Technology Symposium, an academic competition hosted by a prestigious college, Tommy sees it as a chance to prove himself to his parents and his peers. Tommy feels even more sure of himself as he begins to make funny memes using a picture of Kara. Everything is coming together for him. 

But when Tommy starts to change his mind about Kara - and subsequently, nearly everything else about his life - his memes go viral, and threatens to destroy everything Tommy has worked for. 

Can he find a way to make things right with Kara before he loses everything?

Amazon   Goodreads 

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

There is much to love about this book. For one, I loved how it was told from the male romantic lead vs the girl. So often in teen romance stories, the main character is the female. I found this to be refreshing to read this type of story from a new perspective. 

There were a few things I wish could have been more developed. I felt like the characters overall had a simplicity to them and were overly wholesome. With that said, this was a G rated type story. This story also had religious elements it as well. 

If you are a fan of teen romance or just young adult in general and are looking for a good clean read that will give you the warm fuzzies than this is the book for you! 

C. S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles series, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at


Friday, August 23, 2019

Interview with Author Tabi Slick

TABI SLICK is an award-winning author of paranormal and historical fantasy. Her works include: "Tompkin's School: For The Extraordinarily Talented""Tompkin's School: For the Dearly Departed", the novella "Unforgivables", and "Timur's Escape". When she's not writing, she's often found either researching or with her nose stuck in a book.

Let’s Connect!

1. What drew you to write a story set during this time period?

I’ve always been fascinated by the mystery around the Ottomans. In school we only spent a few paragraphs on the subject in history class and I found this odd since this was one of the largest empires in human history. So after a lot of research, I finally got the courage to write this story. It is a happy marriage between history and folklore and I hope that readers won’t just enjoy the
fictional story of Timur’s Escape, but also learn what it would’ve been like to be a Turk in a 17th century Ottoman Empire.

2. What was the most fun aspect of writing Timur's Escape?

The most fun aspect of writing Timur’s Escape would have to be actually writing the story and seeing my research come to life. After years of reading about the architecture, the food, and the customs of the era it was a very exciting thing to put the story together.

3. Do you have a favorite character? Was one character easier to write than another?

Although she’s the antagonist, I really did enjoy writing the character of Queen Naz. She was one of those characters that was tremendously easy to write. There were only a few positions of power available to women in the early centuries of the Ottoman Empire, many of which were obtained by less than ideal circumstances. The valide sultan (mother of the sultan) was the most powerful position a woman could obtain. One could even argue it was one of the more influential positions of political power, even greater than the grand vizier depending on who was the sultan at the time. Creating her story, her frustrations, and her motivations were all too easy after researching the journeys the real women of history had to go through in order to achieve
this title.

4. What was it like writing a cross-genre book?

It was completely terrifying! When I started my research I never thought I’d actually write a book set in Turkey. Who was I to write something like that? Until my friend plopped a giant book on my lap that she’d brought back from Istanbul titled An Album of the Wardrobe of the Ottomans by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. She told me I should definitely write the story and that it should totally be in Turkey. She said that I would see why after reading the book. So I did and the rest is history.

5. What advice do you have for writers who want to incorporate more than one genre in their story?

Be friends with research. People who primarily read Romance will be expecting one thing while readers of Historical Fiction will be wanting something else. While you can’t please everyone, if you try to take the most crucial aspects of two genres and blend them together you’re more likely to keep readers of these various genres happy. For the most part, anyway.