Saturday, May 16, 2020

Tobi Alfier - Compliments

Some of Cholla Needles Library
A post today to remind everyone that compliments are more than just a heart emoji on Facebook. And everyone needs compliments. It’s not about ego. It’s not about narcissism. It’s about recognizing lovely things people do, and saying you appreciate them.


Rich has a library with four hundred volumes in it. Some are classics. Some are contemporary. His library is open for browsing, and check-outs, something we can’t really do right now. He gets a big thanks for having this library available to all of us. 

Cindy Rinne is a beautiful textile artist. She had some work in a gallery, and at least twice last week I saw a piece on Facebook with a big “Sold” sign. That’s awesome!!!! You already know I’m not creative at all. My idea of textile art is a macramé planter with a dead plant in it. I must confess Cindy got the heart emoji from me, but my aunt is an artist too; I know how hard it is to sell work. Congratulations Cindy!

Last week was the 14th annual Peace Conference on Zoom. There was a lot of poetry and art by friends of Cholla Needles and friends of Long Beach. Kelsey Bryan-Zwick did a lot of the announcing on Facebook. She’s a lovely artist and poet, and has graced several issues of Cholla Needles with her poetry. John and Ann Brantingham took part in it as well. Ann drew a beautiful leaf throughout the event. John read poetry. A big, beautiful thank you to everyone involved in this.

Every day we read heartfelt and lovely anniversary and birthday messages. I only know about the ones on Facebook. A dinosaur that I am, I know nothing about Instagram or Twitter. I do know that our woman of every skill in the world, Mia Torres, said she likes shiny things. She posted a beautiful birthday message to Susan Rukeyser this week. (This week? Last week? I don’t even know what day it is). A very happy birthday to Susan, and Mia? Thank you for such a beautiful tribute. It was much nicer than the little Facebook reminder. I toast you both with a glass of that gorgeous red Susan Abbott found on the cover of the cookbook in her new house.

Susan Abbott, thank you for sharing pictures of your new house with us. And your newly found cookbook!! It’s so nice to hear you sound happy, and to see the beautiful pictures you post. I keep thinking that one is the Venus of Willendorf, she is so beautiful!

Clearly I don’t know the difference between a thank you, and a compliment. Before I list my own, one time I took a weekend class at UCLA with a writer friend of mine. The instructor was Carolyn See.

Carolyn said once a week we should pick a writer we like, and let them know how much we like them. Writers get reviews, and the odd reader review on Amazon, but to have an actual person reach out to you and tell them you like their work—that’s priceless. She’d been doing it for years.

Of course I raised my hand and said that I liked Howard Norman, the writer of The Bird Artist. I knew he was married to the poet Jane Shore, and I’d met him at the Tomales Bay Writer’s Workshop. There was no way to reach him. He had no website. All I knew was a lot of writers, including Howard Norman, went to Rainbow Sweets Bakery in Marshfield, VT.

No, I was not going to Vermont to stake out Rainbow Sweets (now temporarily closed). Carolyn’s other suggestion was that I send a bouquet of flowers for him there. Uh, also no. I wasn’t in LOVE with him, I just liked his writing.

But her point was a good one. If there’s a writer you like, try and reach out to them. It doesn’t happen that often and it’s so appreciated. Years ago, Jeff was stationed in Qatar. He’d already started writing, and he struck up an email correspondence with Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, now an associate professor of English at the University of Oklahoma. She sent him a bunch of books. You can imagine how much that meant to both of them. 

I’ve started emailing writer friends of Jeff who I like a lot. I’m sure they think I’m weirder than weird, but they’ve all been very nice to me. At some point I usually tell them Jeff and I don’t write the same, and I offer to send them a book. They are usually very kind, and send me their addresses. I’m very shy, but somehow it’s easier to write someone than talk to them in person. Someday I’ll tell you my Nick Flynn and Pete Fromm stories. Oh lord.

So it’s definitely something to think about. I email an elderly writer friend of Jeff’s from time to time. He mentioned that he has about 800 “friends” on Facebook but he hardly ever hears from anyone. I explained about that (expletive) algorithm, and that I forget to look up people if they’re not on my newsfeed; I’m sure it’s the same with his friends too. I felt so sad. It really reminded me to go look for people!!

Tobi’s thank yous and compliments:

Some of Cholla Needles Library
A good-natured thank you to my mom for proving me a big liar. The other day she made homemade butternut squash ravioli with browned butter, sage and pine nuts, causing my dad to stop cooking. My whole blog post about my dad is now a big lie. He probably already canceled his food magazine subscriptions.

Thank you to my mom for bugging me for years to publish “Slices of Alice”. I’ll never forget when Rich wrote me “your mom is right”. That’s how “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” came to be born.

Thanks to all of you for reading these posts. Please remember that I do read the comments; if there’s anything you want to know or anything you’d like me to write about, please let me know. I really and truly consider this blog to be all of ours.

I hope you had a Happy Mother’s Day, even if it was on Zoom, or a drive-by like Rich had with his mother-in-law. Don’t forget, everyone needs a bit of appreciation here and there. And bacon. And candy. Oh kidding, that’s me. Write well. Make beautiful art. Lots of windows are opening up soon, even if schools are closed. And some journals read year-round. Many are looking for art as well as good writing. Be safe and kick butt! xo

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

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