Sharon Mesmer for Brooklyn Poet Laureate

Sharon Mesmer is on the short list for the next Brooklyn Poet Laureate to succeed Ken Siegelman.

It really isn’t a contest is it? She has to get the nod.

In a story Gene Kuntzman did for the The Brooklyn Paper he wrote: Sharon Mesmer

“Mesmer will get the vote of anyone who likes a randy dame who’s not afraid to write poems with titles like “Annoying Diabetic Bitch” and “Holy Mother of Monkey Poo.” “If anyone is suggesting me [as poet laureate], it must be because I slept around so much,” she said. But she’s being modest: Mesmer, who studied under Allen Ginsberg, teaches at the New School and, this fall, at Brooklyn College. She’s published three books of poetry and would love to do outreach to students. “I’ll go into any school that doesn’t have a restraining order,” she said. Mesmer is part of the Brooklyn-based Flarf Collective, whose members sometimes craft poems out of Google search results (hence “Annoying Diabetic Bitch” and her master work, “Juan Valdez Has a Little Juan Valdez (i.e., Energy Cannon) in His Pants”). “I put ‘Juan Valdez’ and ‘energy cannon’ in Google and wrote a whole poem off the results,” she said. “It shows how much fun poetry can be.” She said she has been writing poetry since she was 14. “I’m almost 50 now, so you do the math. No really, you should. I’m a poet, I can’t do math.”

Don’t worry Sharon. I’ll do the math for you.

In another piece The Brooklyn Paper said her liability in the selection process (there’s a process?) was that she …

“Is liable to mention her sexual history. And she has a poem titled, “Holy Mother of Monkey Poo.”

Me? I’m think’n this is a good thing.

But if you really want to know how wonderful this poet is, check out this video of her reading Annoying Diabetic Bitch.

Sharon Mesmer: A great teacher, a great mentor, a living legend, a wonderful friend, and the best darn flarf poet around.

I mean, did you see any other flarf poets around today when you went to get lunch?


Full disclosure: I am indebted to Mesmer because she didn’t throw me out of her class, even though I gave ample cause, over and over.

And check out her site, Virgin Formica.

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Email as ToDo List

David Pogue, the Technology Editor at the New York Times, has caused a stir with his last email update. In it he described a short list of his productivity secrets and to the gasps of GTD/David Allen proselytes the world over he declared that he uses his email inbox as his todo list.

The other database I use is my e-mail program. I’m not a believer in the “empty your Inbox every day” philosophy; in fact, my Inbox is my To Do list, which works great. When I’ve dealt with something, I delete or file it. When I haven’t, its presence in that list reminds me that it needs doing. (I have a lot of e-mail folders. I also have a lot of “message rules” that file incoming mail automatically into appropriate folders.)

I thought I heard the followers of Merlin Mann and his 43 Folders InboxZero program clutch their collective chests. Immediately quite a conversation started up over on Lifehacker.

I joined in by posting…

I love todo list so much I had dozens – Omnifocus, iGTD, iCal, Things, legal pads, 3×5 cards, all of it. Then I relized the wonder of the one inbox, and I have made my email that box. Like Pogue, anything that comes in is filed, replied to, or tossed a la basic GTD principles. What is left over are todo/project emails. The problem with using the inbox for a todo list is the crappy subject lines others pass on to you. Solution: If an email is a todo, I forward it to myself with a GTD verb based subject line. If I want it to show up in iCal’s todo list I preface the subject line with “X-” and a rule runs an apple script to add it to iCal. The original email is Archived. Updates, notes or modifications are typed into new forwards of the email. When the task is done I delete it or Archive it if I am feeling sentimental. I came to this system because I can use it to take todos at meetings or away from my macbook and then send them to myself via my iPhone. Perhaps if Apple had made Todo’s syc I would not do this, but the benefit is that I don’t fool myself into moving an item into OmniFocus and think it done, when it is just nicely organized in a different database. Another benefit of the system? It is application and operating system independent. Forwarding emails with redefined Subject: lines, and sending yourself todo’s will be with us as long as we have email, which looks like it will be quite a long time.

Back in my corporate days, when I lived in Lotus Notes and on a Blackberry, I used essentially the same system, sans the apple script. I BB’ed myself emails titled “T-” and my staff would email me phone messages prefaced with “P-“. And long before SMS we learned to send Subject only emails as short messages.

Pogue also spoke of two really old applications he uses, iData 3, and Now Up-to-Date, both of which have been around for decades. Pogue says he’s been collecting notes in iData 3 since 1988. Whew!

The longevity of some of these apps, and the resiliency of some of the simplest ones, like email, says something about the place we are in along the technology development cycle.

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Writing Timers, Wasting Timers

A great way to waste time not writing is to set up your system for managing writing time during the time when you should be writing.

I used to write non-stop, heads-down till my body collapsed, lost in the tunnel of creativity, absorbed with characters and stories. While exciting and vaguely mystical, this is not a long haul strategy for writing sucess. Eventually things (like, you) begin to break down.

Somewhere along the way, I think from the Scrivener boards, I learned of a system for working in periods of forty-eight minutes followed by breaks of twelve minutes. The idea was to train the subconscious to visit during the twelve to help the creative process along.

Easy to adopt, right? All you need is a great timer, because if it works you’re fully absorbed during the 48 and will/should/hope to lose track of time until the bell goes off.

So I had to go find the right timer. Don’t laugh, this is a big deal and it can take dozens of hours of frittering to try them all and get just the right one.

I learned that the big boys on the block are:

Each is a fully functional timer application that can do everything clock related including starting or stopping your operating system. They even make coffee. (No they don’t, but you’d think they could given all their options.)

But what I really wanted was a minder chime, that nice little tone that rings every quarter hour or so just to nudge you to pay attention. And I wanted a cyclical timer that could support my 48 minute, 12 minute cycle.

I have the widget, Minutes which is wonderful. You can open multiple instances of it in Dashboard, each of which can have a different skinned background, and each can be set for a different duration, like 48 or 12 minutes. So as long as you remember to hit the 12 timer after the 48 one is finished you’re all set. Wana guess how many times I forgot to hit the 12 or the 48?

The problem is they don’t run one after the other. I found out that what you are looking for in this search is a customizable repeating cycle timer, a feature that to greater or lesser extent exists in all the big paid-for apps above. I played with them all, as well as the weird OS X functionality that has a synthesized voice telling you the time, but each seems so huge and multi-functional, it was like firing up Excel to check my math.

One option, of course, with almost no system overhead, is to begin writing on the hour. Then a quick look at any clock would tell me if I were closing in on the twelve minutes of thinking time. Somehow, and I know this is strange, that just seems a bit constrictive. And you risk never looking up to check the clock. Another option is an egg timer, a big hit with many writers. But the physicality of the device is a distraction for me. I just want the thing in the background.

In the end I found a minder chime called Cuckoo. It’s a system preferences add-in so it works in the background, and is customizable to ring on any combination of 5 minutes. (What kind of mind wants chimes at 5, 20, 30, 35, and 50 minutes after the hour? I want to meet this person. But you could do that in Cuckoo if you felt the need.)

This app is perfectly priced at $6. (And $6 is a perfect price. Free is a silly price for an application because if you like it you’ll want the programer to keep updating it. If they don’t get paid they disappear. But the $25 that many of the big timer applications want is just silly. iPhone apps have taught us that a buck or two is a great price for a piece of software, especially one you want to have around for a long time.)

The other application I picked up was the Lotus mediation timer, it has three sequential timers and four alarms. Designed for the three stages of meditation – preparation, mediation, and post meditation devotion – (who knew there were stages?) the app is elegant and reliable, and it has great chimes. If it repeated it would be perfect, but at least it provides a full 48/12 cycle with temple gongs, all for $5.

As you go along looking for your perfect timer, which is best done during times when you should be writing, you’ll find sounds you like in applications you don’t. A little trick is to open the application bundle and pull out the sound files. (carefully abiding by Creative Commons, TOS, and copyright usage rules, of course) You do this by right-clicking on an application. What looks like a single application file is really a bundle of many folders. Right click on it, chose Open Bundle, and look for the WAV or other sound files. Copy them to Library\Sounds and most of your applications will be able to find them. A less copyright infringement alternative is to go to and find more sound clips than you could possibly ever need to waste time with. Those are all available for use under CC provisions.

So that’s how I solved my timer needs…DING… Oh, look, it’s time to go back to work…

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Shifting Mediums

Of all the artists, we writers are uniquely beset with the chore of dealing with the piles of stuff we produce, and making sure it doesn’t get lost in some tornadoing swirl of trash papers, dog eared towers, or misnamed folders, never to be seen again.

This is not to disparage my friends who are visual artists, they too have vast quantities of stuff, paints, easels, those funny little wooden figures with articulated joints, but their problems are different. A thirteen foot canvas is not likely to just up and disappear overnight, while a 10,000 word story can fall into some crevasse of a hard drive and go missing for years.

I’m also not speaking ill of my friends the performing artists, who’s work is basically geographical. Their biggest organizational issue is making sure they show up at the right place, at the right time, on the right day, hopefully without forgetting their Strad, or Gibson in the cab on the way to the hall.

But we writers, our burden is the crap load of words we have to wrangle. Even if you only do the Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird 300 words a day minimum quota (or the 3,500 I seem to average) a writer can easily develop a whole attic of text, mounds of little stories, herds of ideas, notes, quips and quotes from observation or reading, and it’s easy for stuff to slip off on the wind, which is a shame because that cloud of pages heading over the hill has good stuff in it.

Ah, the trade offs of the different vocations…

When I flip through the files in my writing folders I invariably trip over a little gem, something I forgot, something valualble. The other day I found a wonderful description of a feeble old man stumbling off down a hall, he was fragile and vulnerable like he was made of spun candy, along the way he had to stop and remember where he was going. He was a perfect model for a director in my book.

The natural question is how to keep something like that from being lost, or never recorded, or worse, becoming forgotten altogether, because I, like the little old man on the way to his board meeting, sometimes need help remembering what I was just doing. It depends on what medium you are using, paper or PC.

For the longest time I took most of my notes by hand. I wrote in journals and then on 3×5 cards. I was scribbling a lot, and everywhere. During school I wrote non-class ideas on the back pages of notebooks. What I ended up with was a lot of static hand written notes, completely unusable for constructing a text of any heft without lots and lots of transcribing.

Over time, some of these notes were lost, some became unreadable. In the end all them had to be transcribed into an electronic medium because I wanted to use them in my work and I had decided that electronic was the way to go. I’d have no more of that paper and pen stuff that Tolstoy, Joyce or Twain used. I was a modern man, we use PCs, me and Umberto Eco, who once had to defend himself from hysterical charges that his computer did his writing for him. With electronic notes I could sort, find, combine, synthesize, and hopefully never loose my writings as they accumulated to some grand work.

This raised its own problems, of course – all solutions invariably raise their own problems – mainly of data entry. This was not an issue for the old notes – they succumbed to the brute force of a scheduled work period applied against a fixed reserve of inventory; a couple of pages a day and they dissolved into bits and bytes over a summer and a fall. The problem was with contemporary ones, the new stuff that gets generate everyday.

Getting info into an electronic system is, still, not easy, not if you have any social sensibility about you at all. Keyboards and laptops are noisy and imposing and opening one is not unlike setting up an imperial stormtrooper supply station in the middle of your friend’s rebel base; all that white plastic and light, the occasional whirring and a beep or two, it gets people nervous.

I wasn’t a bit surprised to learn that TED doesn’t allow laptops at their lectures (“Al Gore! Put that Macbook away. That’s a good boy…”) I understand the intrusiveness of the current state of our hardware. Even if you use your blackberry or iPhone to type notes, everyone thinks you’re texting some other person you’d rather be with right now. The rudeness is implied, even if unjustified. We just don’t grock the technology yet.

And at the end of the day computer notes on the fly are very restrictive. The best you get is linear text. In an electronic system drawing, connections with squiggly lines, doodles or screwy letters for emphasis and nuance, like over writing a ‘W’ twenty time to signify the importance of ‘W’ riting, in other words lots of ways for creative expression, is lost.

What to do? It seems it’s either paper of PC, there really isn’t a third system. Yea, some wackos use voice recordings but that’s just a combination of the worst aspects of both paper and PC with expediency as its only virtue, and narcissism its main vice.

Another alternative was proposed by one of my writing buddies who works days (or nights as it is) on Broadway and did two shows with Mel Brooks. “Fascinating guy,” he said. “He writes nothing down. He finds you and tells you things and expects you to remember.” I reminded him that we all aspire to the time when we are important enough to have people walk around behind us to pick up our every word, like personal thought valets. So like recordings, I rejected this alternative as impractical at least for a while.

The answer I’ve come up with is to split the difference. I use a notebook to catch ideas when I’m out and about, and sometimes when I just want to draw a squiggly line, but I assiduously transcribe these notes into an electronic system every day, and that’s where they live out their eternity.

It actually works very well. I have a nonintrusive tool that doesn’t scare people into mumbling silence when I activate it, and that weighs a lot less than a dumbbell, so I’m not nursing spinal disk displacements when I get home. I can do little drawings if I want, and since I promise myself transcription and expansion when I get to my desk, I don’t think of the notebook as a permanent record. All my information is trapped in a highly redundant back up system, that (yes I am a geek) includes offsite and cloud storage systems. It will certainly outlast me.

This is a long way of introducing a set of articles I’ll be posting about how I make the electric portion of this system work, now that I’ve described how I got here. After a few (okay, many) failures I think I have a system that is as future proof and functional as current technology will allow. That’s because it doesn’t uses any of the popular applications available for managing structureless data.

There’s been quite a debate brewing out there in cyberspace about the use of everything buckets for managing notes, documents and archives like this. Evernote, DEVONThink, OneNote, EagleFiler, MacJournal, Circus Ponies, Journler and their ilk are all applications trying to get you to put all your stuff in them, and since they are as seductive as a little black dress, I’ve tried them all. None of them are long haul tools, and writers, either academics or artists, need long haul tools.

While the electronic part of the system that replaces these applications is a bit complicated, the paper part is remarkably simple. Now that I rely on the electronic part for sorting, chronology, and topical searching the only thing that needs to be done on the paper end is, well, think. That, and add an open box [ ] next to each item that gets check off when it’s dumped into the electronic system.

That’s all, no fancy indexes, or cross references, no solutions to the intractable problems of liner chronology vs topical relationship that has vexed every intellectual since bound notebooks were widely available in the eighteenth-century. Just a check box.

Next, I’ll be back with how I manage what gets checked off and put in my info base.

More on file systems, archiving and note taking from Dougist…

Dating DEVONThink

Writing Tools – Journler

The Low Fi Manifesto – Data Architecture, and Journler

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What comes next?

In response to a question on another site…

“Once you have written down the inspiration that comes to you, then what?”

…I replied…

Outline, reorder, revise, wrestle with syntax, realize that there is no message or point, start over….Get to same place, cry, make coffee, read someone else’s work, say “I can do better than that”, start over, fail again, make choice between Martini or scotch, check facebook, read emails, call a friend, fritter, decide to give it another run…Find original point is not that bad, re-outline, like the way it looks, fill in gaps, change “its” to “it’s”, check spelling, publish, collapse exhausted and get another Martini… Or something like that.
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No Armageddon, Not Yet

One of the things I’m surprised about is the resiliency of the economy. Things are flattening out, opportunists are making their moves on low prices in many industries. Business is starting up again, mostly because credit is beginning to flow out of the banks.

I really thought it would have been much worse. Given the environment of the crisis, regime change in Washington being the largest and most disruptive, I would have thought by now the pavement would have been fracturing, buildings collapsing, that there would be revolution in the streets.

I said this to Shannon yesterday as we walked cross town on the way to a meeting of one of her non-profit groups that works with disabled vets, and she stopped cold in the middle of Park Avenue.

“You? I can’t believe it. I just read this ‘the world is coming to an end because of the liberal fascist government’ article in the financial analysis reports we get at work, and I wondered if it was you ghost writing. I can’t believe I’m hearing this.”

“Nope, not me. Those guys, making those kinds of predictions, are applying the rules of the market to the economy. That’s not how it works. Sweetie, let’s get out of the street or none of this will matter.”

“You were Mister, ‘It’s all over! To the hills! Only Idaho is safe from the collapse!’ just a week ago.”

“If there is anything that we have leaned from this mess – besides that banks are the most important part of the economy, and that when the wealthy stop spending, businesses of all sorts begin to fail – because the big money began to pull back in, what, 2007 right? – is that all that stuff we did installing systems, processes, and people designed to produce flexibility in corporations, it really worked. Hey, I was surprised at how fast the economy tanked when spending shut down, which really was a result of that flexibility as well, and I’m surprised at how fast the up-response to opportunity is occurring, flexibility in the other direction.”

“So it’s all about you?”

“Of course. Always has been. What time’s the meeting?”

“Seven, we have plenty of time to get there…I don’t think anyone is ready to call a bottom,” she said. “Nothing is really going up yet. It’s just not going down as much.” Harvard trained people like Shannon always have vast facts at their command, so you don’t challenge statements like that for fear of being humiliated. Sensing this I repositioned to an area where she couldn’t challenge me, my cosmic connectedness and zeitgeist reading faculty, supported by unassailable analogy.

I said, “No it’s not, but you can feel the new certainty in risk taking areas of industry. Seriously, don’t look at me like that. You can feel it, I mean, I can.” I put my hands out over the crowds on 67th street, like Moses speaking to his people.

“Don’t do that. It looks strange, and you’re scaring people.” She was right, Most of the people on the street looked tired, and the outstretched arm thing was giving them the willies.

“Look, economies,” I said, “are not like markets. Markets gyrate up and down, overnight. The random walk, revert to mean, madness of the crowds, tulip mania, attention span of a gerbil nature of them means they’re prone to boom and bust. But economies are more like giant whales, they are great graceful beasts that move in huge arcs. If things are starting to flatten out, and the vectors are just a bit positive, then there is momentum that will continue.”

“Yea, but that could just be a dead whale floating up with trapped gas in its belly from decomposition.” Dam she is a smart one. Countering me on my analogy front. “So, what you are saying is, Obama gets credit for the greatest save in history?”

“Certainly he will take all the credit. But the reality is, all this is happening before the Obama money shows up. Right? None of those trillions in payoffs to friends of ‘The One’ has hit yet.” I was shifting ground to politics.

“Now, now, he has to get credit. Great leadership and proper English syntax is important. He has been a steady hand in a time of crisis.” So that’s the new criteria for leadership? Being able to look good on TV? Larry Summers is a Harvard guy too, I thought, and pressed on.

“So all that money that’s going to the political supporters of the Dem’s in the last election, that trillion dollars, that the kiddies will have to pay for, will come in on top of this upward moving economy. The risk is just what every economist has said since Keynes: Fiscal policy is always enacted too late to make a difference in a recovery, it causes over stimulus and sets up the next recession. I mean, a trillion dollars to Obama’s buddies is a ton of spending, and that kind of spending is like eating sugar candy. There is no nutritional value but you run around with ADD for half an hour before the glucose crash sets in. It’s not like this guy is out building infrastructure for the future, he’s making payments to union leaders and local politicians.”

“So, you’re not on the Hope Train yet, I keep telling you it’s time to get on the Hope Train. People are watching you know. I still can’t believe you’re off the Armageddon track, though. Why not the end of the world from run away Washington fueled inflation? All you right wing, back to the gold standard, wackos revert to that line, eventually.”

“I’m a pragmatist, not a wacko. These days, in the reflection of ‘The One’, we just look like wackos.” She was right about the inflation problem, but not the gold thing, that really is wacko, so I dodged the issue.

“The problem is political,” I said. “This guy just massively increased the size and power of the federal government. Inflationary? Maybe, but the middle class likes a little inflation, it lifts home prices and wages. Bankers hate inflation because it monazites debt. Obama is Andrew Jackson, he’s going to want a good head of inflation going. But the bigger issue is about control and who’s in charge. He’s attacking the private sector, trying to shut down the New York power base. The NY vs DC story goes back to Lincoln, if not earlier, maybe to Rome, and now DC is winning; which is bad news for the future, paragons of efficiency that these guys are. He has no qualms about using dictatorial control to make himself look good, and don’t forget this guy is all about image. I mean this thing with the auto industry was just embarrassing. They just ignored whole swaths of established laws and court decisions.”

“I was a crumbling, failing industry that employes millions. They had to take control.”

“So we decided that the archetype of world industrial efficiency, the Italians, would save us? Pittiful. That was like Obama’s bend at the waist bow to the King of Saudi Arabia last month. The autos should have gone into bankruptcy and joined the other great industries of our past that no longer exist, like mast timber harvesting, cod fishing, and whaling. And that’s the point. No elected politician is going to be anything other than Obama. This is as good as it gets, and I like the guy. He’s smart intelligent, crafty, devious, opportunistic, arrogant, strong and telegenic. But he ain’t nothing like all the people we know who actually run companies; none of whom could get elected to office, because they are so unique. We have let government get so big that our weakest leadership selection process – I mean didn’t the last election remind you of American Idol? – now can have a huge impact on our everyday lives.”

“So Armageddon’s not gone yet?”

“Economically I think it is. DC will try and stoke the flames of fear a bit longer, and the media has a momentum all its own. All those reporters who are fighting for relevance, who just learned what a derivative is, will still run stories for a while – wrong stories, but it’s all they have, now. But the banks are back, and there are new one’s forming from the flotsam and jetsam of the guys who got fired in this mess. Of the dozens starting-up, you only need one or two to make it to have a real impact. Here’s the sign: These Goldman guys, and Jamie Dimon, they are crafty, throwing the TARP money back at Treasury as they felt the clamps of the federal mafia close in. No, we’ll deal with the inflation and distortions from the Obama money, but no economic collapse, I mean through this whole thing China never dropped below 6% growth, and technology never really took a hit, and that’s where the action is. But that means that the battle will be over human rights and the role of governmental control; about these things, people take up arms…”

“Take up arms huh? Whew. Okay, now I’m feeling better, the old you is back. You had me worried there. Just don’t say anything like that tonight. These people are academics and they need to feel that they did the right thing.”



“Do I get a martini if I’m good?”


“Okay, okay, I promise, no Obamanomics reality talk tonight.”

Posted in The Annals of Protest | Tagged , , , , | 2 Responses