Home Is Where The Poem Is

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing my old friend and writing buddy, Alanna Krinard, who has worked in real estate for the last twenty years. We discussed writing, literature, and the poetry of house-hunting!

I remember reading a poem in my twenties called “The Race,” by Sharon Olds, about a woman who is desperately trying to reach her flight in time so she can see her father before he passes. I always loved that poem and admired Olds’ use of enjambment lines. When I was older, and teaching the poem in one of my literature classes, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the dramatic situation in the poem. What I had once just admired for its form and compression of language, I now identified as a possible scenario in my own life, knowing that my dad is getting older. Are there any poems that you read when you were younger that have now morphed in meaning or intensity for you?

Yes, actually. The most significant one for me is “The Red Wheelbarrow,” or perhaps more appropriately titled, “XXII,” by William Carlos Williams. This poem seems so simple on the surface but has stayed with me for so many decades, rolling around in my mind, popping up at many different moments.

When I was young, I was struck by its direct candor and the vibrant nearness of the red wheelbarrow to white chickens. I’ve carried that poem around with me for many years, pondering the colors and rain, finding more and more complexity within its short lines. As I’ve become older, it continues to expand with meaning for me. This poem was purported for some time to have been written as Williams cared for a sick child. I had a child with severe asthma, and spent a lot of time in the hospital with him. During those times, I realized how the more mundane, average things in life that we take for granted can become so foreign. Sitting at a hospital window watching the rain outside, just wishing that my child could be well enough to be home, hoping for the mundane to become normal again.

I learned much later that the poem was instead inspired by someone who was a very hard worker.  Interestingly, this information came to me as I was strongly developing my own career, and my son had mostly grown out of his asthma. So, the poem then took on new meaning for me. In my career, I’ve worked very hard to develop my skill set and be an asset for my clients. So much depends on my ability to see an escrow through—people’s lives are changing, more often than not in very significant ways, and it’s my responsibility to make sure this part of the transition goes well for them.

Another is “Oranges,” by Gary Soto. This poem still makes my heart race with its sensuality. The newness and nervousness of a budding relationship, the understanding of another person who sees the situation from the outside. It gives me butterflies. I love the color play in the poem, and the feeling of winter—so exquisite.

A couple years ago, I bought my first home. While house-hunting, it was interesting to see how other people had remodeled or decorated but even more interesting that it made little difference in the “feeling” of the home. On one afternoon of house-hunting, I, who had lived alone for thirteen years and am not prone to fear of spooks, suddenly bolted out of a basement that was visually no more or less creepy-looking than any of the others we had seen! Do you find, as a real estate agent, that this intimate look into people’s lives, has influenced your writing over the years?

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t write as much as I would like. I originally got into real estate because I believed it would afford me the flexibility to develop my writing and potential literary career. However, I’ve become so active in real estate, that my writing has become more of a hobby.

Real estate is a very interesting career, because I have the opportunity to very intimately get to know my clients and their families in an exceedingly short period of time. We spend a great deal of time together in a very intense setting.  I need to glean their needs from their reactions to properties they see, because often, people can’t definitively explain what they’re looking for until they see it. I’ve learned over the years to read body language and sometimes depend more on that than verbal explanations. I can always tell when someone walks into the home they’re going to purchase—everything about their body changes, and they take in things differently than they do when viewing homes that might be ok but are not ideal.

And of course, I have the requisite “spooky house” story! This happened nearly 20 years ago, but I remember it plain as day. I was with a large group of extended family looking at multiple properties in an afternoon. We came to one home that was vacant, and from the moment I stepped foot in the door, I felt uneasy. Because I depend so much on my intuition when working with my clients, I’ve learned to listen to those feelings, so I was cautious during the showing. There were several children I was doing my best to keep an eye on, while talking with the adults about the property. This particular home was three stories, including a large basement-like addition with several bedrooms downstairs. As we walked downstairs, there was a very audible growl. Everyone heard it, and it sounded as if it were rumbling through the ductwork, coming out through the vents. We finished checking out the downstairs while the growling continued, and finally my clients decided to go outside and find the crawlspace so they could look in the ductwork, assuming that maybe there was an animal stuck somewhere in the heating system. We found the ductwork, but there wasn’t anything in it. I still, to this day, don’t have any idea what was growling at us, but… My clients decided against purchasing that particular home, even though it had all of the space they needed and was in a great location.

I can always sense discord in a home, even if it’s perfectly kept. Homes often very clearly represent an owner’s mental state. So, I suppose that I may have a broader understanding of the human condition than I would if I had chosen another career. In this respect, I do believe it’s true that these intuitions and experiences show up in my writing. I often find myself explaining settings and relating them to characters, and that’s probably a symptom of my own life experience as a Realtor.

Do you think there is poetry in the house-hunt?

Oh yes! Unequivocally so!! For me, poetry has always been about evoking emotion in meaningful, thoughtful ways. Poetry is often an opportunity to communicate something in a way that can influence another’s emotions or make something known that has been buried emotionally, politically, or that has just gone unnoticed. I’ve applied that to my real estate career.  From the very beginning, I’ve understood the power of communicating details.  That’s why I’ve always loved WCW’s Red Wheelbarrow—I’m so attached to the chicken that she’s stayed with me for decades. In my line of work, I use photographs and property descriptions to build attachment, and to depict a unique understanding of a property.

Every home has a story and can evoke emotion through that story.  Think of an older couple who is selling their family home to downsize—think of all of the emotions tied to the family who was raised there: Where have the children gone as adults? Are there grandchildren? How many birthday parties did the backyard see? How many spaghetti dinners were cooked in the kitchen? How many times did the oldest brother cannonball into the deep end of the pool? Was a chin ever split open on the pavement from a spill off of a bicycle? How many neighborhood kids played at the basketball hoop on the court, racing into the kitchen for a glass of lemonade that was made from scratch?

Where is the couple going now? What’s their new chapter? What is the freedom that will be afforded to them when they downsize into a more manageable property?

And what of the new Buyers? Maybe this will be their first home, and they want to start a family. Maybe someone wants to open a cottage business from the garage, and the location is just right for transporting goods. Maybe there’s an extra bedroom that would be perfect for….. A writing studio! The backyard might be amazing for BBQ’ing on a warm summer evening, with the pool lights on, and some music playing.

There’s always a story in every real estate transaction, but the story comes from the people.

People’s hopes and dreams are tied up in the spaces where they live, and this is what keeps me connected to the poetry of real estate. People build lives in their homes.

When I list a property for sale, my job is to tap into that feeling and market the home to people who might be attracted to feeling that way about where they want to live their life. That’s why staging is so important—it helps people feel connected to the space, and allows them to understand how they might live in a home. It’s harder for folks to envision a floor plan without furniture or warm paint colors that help tell a story. I want people to fall in love with my properties before they even see them in person and to be ultimately even more excited when they finally step through the front door.

One of the things I love about the Real Estate industry is that it’s always changing. When I first started working as an agent, our MLS database of homes ran out of  DOS, and I distinctly remember the day that my brokerage purchased its first FAX machine. There were no cell phones, and the internet couldn’t support photos, at least not in a way that was accessible to most people. We’ve departed from those days to a time when online representations are absolutely crucial, and video is becoming more and more valuable through social media. There’s poetry in innovation, because that’s where attachment is born.

Frank O’Hara wrote many of his witty and often conversational poems in his book, Lunch Poems, during his lunch hour, when he worked at The Museum of Modern Art. What would a book of “lunch poems” from a real estate agent be like?

What’s a lunch hour?!?

One moment, because, ah, I do love Frank O’Hara.  From “Morning”:

I miss you always
when I go to the beach
the sand is wet with
tears that seem mine

The biggest issue I face with writing is consistency. It’s not because I don’t want it badly enough.  I don’t have the kind of career that is contained within the hours of 9-5, with well defined breaks and vacations. I work during the day when banks, lenders, and title companies are open and am available for questions or deadline-related functions. I work long stretches after hours and weekends, when my clients are off work and able to see properties. I’m available to my agents for questions after hours that are crucial to their transactions, which are often highly complex.

Lunch is often trail mix with an orange in the car between showings and inspections. Both travel well. Sometimes I eat at my desk as I look through our MLS system for new listings. Our market North of San Francisco is highly competitive, and I need to be fully aware of new inventory in order to best serve my clients. Because there are so few homes that come on the market compared to the numbers of Buyers who want to purchase a home, I can’t allow my clients to miss out on a new listing. It’s crucial that I stay focused and passionate in order to serve my clients as they deserve.

I recently went on my first vacation as an adult but needed to be able to check in with clients and the agents who were covering for me while I was gone. I’m pretty well tethered to my business—I’m sure that there are other small business owners out there who understand. Unfortunately, this doesn’t leave me much emotional energy for writing, but I love what I do and am most fortunate to have an amazing client base who refers me to people like them. I adore the people I work with, and at this point in my career, I choose my clients carefully. The benefit is, I have the opportunity to surround myself with people I enjoy being around. The downside is, I’m a better Realtor than anything else at this stage in my life. I’m working on that.

What does all of that have to do with the question of what a book of lunchtime poems from a Realtor would look like?

Well, I would say that my poetry is wrapped up in the relationships I build with my clients and the other people I work with, whom I care deeply for. I’m fortunate to have an amazing staff.  When I do have opportunity to write, they are often on my mind. They show up in places I wouldn’t expect—in pointed descriptions, in the way a character might laugh, in the distress of a life event that shows up in a startling turn of fictional events.

I’m currently writing a book for Realtors of eleven traits, which successful agents exhibit. I’ve learned these traits from observing other successful agents and by considering what things I would like to improve, so that I can provide the best service possible for my clients. I have two works of fiction that rear their heads occasionally as well. Sometimes, I have to stop everything I’m doing to contribute to those works, because a new twist has just dawned on me, or I’ve realized an aspect of a character that hadn’t quite come together yet.

So, just like my lunch hours are stretched into thin little pieces throughout the day, so too, is my writing.

alanna-krinnard

Alanna Krinard: I started writing when I was about 10 years old, and have continued throughout my life. I graduated from UC Davis in 1997 with a degree in English, and went straight into my family’s real estate business. I’ve been in real estate since 1997, and currently manage an office, recruit and train for Century 21 NorthBay Alliance in Sonoma County, California. I also run my own sales.

Featured Image: http///www.oukongstick.com/2015/12/11/book-sculpture-arts/

Cocktails with Li Po & Frank O’Hara

This week, we hear from Dr. Raymond Wachter, my friend and colleague of 14 years. In this interview, we discuss journaling, the writing process, and the essence of  Zen poetry. Enjoy! 

You and I have discussed the helpfulness and the pleasure of keeping a journal. What role has journaling played in your own writing process? 

A huge role! Ha ha! I can think of nothing that’s been more central to my life–not just as a writer and teacher of writing, but as far as how I’ve constructed (and de-constructed!) my own identity.

The idea of keeping a journal was foreign to me, until it just sort of happened, organically. A day or two after my 26th birthday, I was at a low point in my life: I was living in Iowa City, bartending and feeling scattered. I was only about a year away from graduating from the University of Iowa, but I was extremely undisciplined about going to classes or even completing basic tasks like paying my university tuition on time.

At that point, in that rather dark phase of my life, I started writing my thoughts in a little notebook. The thoughts turned into entries, and, over the course of a few months, I began to develop a little bit of self-discipline in my personal life. Eventually, I re-enrolled at Iowa and soon after that found myself in a nonfiction writing course. The professor allowed us to choose our own textbook for the course, and I  randomly chose Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, although I knew nothing about it. Both for the book by Cameron, and as a requirement for the nonfiction class, I was required to write several pages a day; I wrote mostly stream-of-consciousness, in a journal, and have been hooked ever since.

Although you earned your Ph.D. in creative writing (poetry specifically) you have written mostly nonfiction in the past several years. How did this genre crossover occur? Has it changed your perspective on poetry or on writing in general?

Well, I’ve never stopped writing poetry, but after I received my PhD and came to Tuscaloosa, I felt very free as a writer, like I could do anything, be whoever I wanted to be as a writer. At first, I revised a (very bad!) novel that I’d written on a one-year break between my master’s and doctoral programs. After I revised the novel (in 2007), I worked hard to shop it around to agents in NYC. None of them ever bit, and they mostly responded in the same way, claiming that my main character was completely unlikeable. It sounds tragic, but I see it as funny now. Besides, with nearly a decade having passed, I can see now that they were on the mark. (The novel is still stored on my hard drive and a redundant jump drive, though I doubt it will ever get published.)

After the thorough rejection by literary agents, I was preparing to write another novel. I  felt it was some sort of badge of honor to keep moving forward. But I still remember quite clearly the way my girlfriend (at the time) scoffed at me, for wanting to continue writing in the same genre. Perhaps because it felt like more of a risk, or more of a jump into the unknown, I pretty much abandoned fiction at that moment. Now, I’m only interested in writing nonfiction & poetry.

What are you currently writing?

Currently, I’m writing a nonfiction book, but it’s not a memoir, and it’s not even “literary nonfiction.” It’s a book about the mind/body connection and how to make choices in your life that bring you happiness.

About seven years ago, the Department of English, here at The University of Alabama, began an initiative where the instructors would teach “themed” courses in First-year Writing. (I believe you and I were both part of that pilot program.) Out of the five themes offered, the one I chose was called “Advancing Mind & Body.” Teaching that course was really wonderful for me, professionally & personally. I began reading a number of authors and sharing them with my students, writers like Bruce Lipton & Larry Dossey, who both have rigorous academic backgrounds, but whose work might be considered “New Science” or “Mind-Body-Spirit” (as far as their publishing labels).  My initial teaching assignment, and the new authors I began reading, definitely changed the course of my writing projects.

So the book I’m currently writing, about the mind/body connection, is an explanation for New Thought concepts about Self-Awareness and the crucial importance of understanding your own inner monologue. I really can’t imagine wanting to write fiction ever again, or even “literary” nonfiction, now that I’m writing this book.

I know that you  have often favored Zen poetry. How has your view of this type of poetry changed over the years? What keeps you coming back to it?

I suppose I was always interested in poets who describe a moment of heightened awareness, which is probably what Zen is, once you strip away all the trappings of Buddhist theology. There’s this poem of Jorie Graham’s that I loved as an undergraduate, called “The Dream of the Unified Field.” Now, Graham is the last person in the world who would call herself a Zen writer, but the poem moves in and out of different moments in Graham’s life–as a mother bringing a leotard to her daughter’s overnight party, to  historical moments, including an entry from Christopher Columbus’s diary.

It’s a gorgeous poem, especially as it’s fairly long and (seemingly) meandering. I didn’t have a clue as to why I liked it two decades ago, but now I can see that I was attracted to Graham, and other poets as diverse as Frank O’Hara and Emily Dickinson, because they are all interested in moments of heightened awareness. Whether it’s a moment in their lives (Frank seeing Billie Holiday’s name on a daily newspaper, or Jorie walking through the snow in her neighborhood) or whether it’s a moment in their writing lives (Emily’s “slant of light,” “Winter Afternoons”), it seems to me that great poetry is an accurate rendering of  heightened consciousness. Then, as a reader, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Li Po poem from over 1,200 years ago, or a Sappho poem twice that age, you are able to momentarily enter into that state of heightened awareness that they left for us. Also, as I consider the diverse poets that I just mentioned in this answer, it’s clear too, that the best Zen poets don’t necessarily see themselves as Zen.

Well, if Frank O’Hara and Li Po were somehow able to read or hear this answer, I hope they wouldn’t be mad at me. Actually, if we were all somehow together on the physical plane, you and I and those two poets would probably love to have a cocktail right about now! I’d venture to say that drinks with those two, and a chat about poetry, would probably be the best dinner party one could imagine! 🙂

ray-at-bama

Ray Wachter grew up on a farm in rural, southwest Iowa. After serving two years in the U.S. Coast Guard, he attended the University of Iowa where he received a B.A. in English. He studied American Literature & Creative Writing at the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he received his M.A. and PhD. For the past ten years, he’s been a faculty member in the English Department at The University of Alabama.

 

Featured image of man typing, by Joel Robison: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/04/06/joel-robinson-joy-of-reading/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+brainpickings/rss+(Brain+Pickings)&utm_content=Google+Reader

Ghost Writing: Busted!

Hope everyone had a spooky Halloween! Today, we hear about ghost writing, music, and the adventures of childhood. Enjoy this week’s interview:

Tell us about yourself and your background.

My name is Karvy. I have a degree in music and spend most of my time either writing or immersed in Chopin. I am part of a collaboration called Karvy & Valor (karvyandvalor.com) where I write and blog and compose. I am also writing my first novel under my own name.

You have recently worked as a ghost writer. What is your writing process for such a project? Do you think that the behind-the-scenes nature of this job lives up to its name?

I’m not sure how typical my ghostwriting experience was. At the beginning of the project, I was handed a 20-page outline that I was told I had 45 days to make it into a 200-page manuscript. It was a delicate balance between writing something solid and keeping the client happy. The original outline was pretty rough. It’s a miracle if you can make something readable out of what you are given. You have to field some pretty wince-worthy ideas and most of the time your employer won’t recognize what is readable and what is not. I wrote for an employer who admittedly ‘didn’t really read much of anything,’ and still hadn’t made it past chapter seven at the time of the book release.

After I won the writer’s confidence, they gave me an immense amount of freedom, and I changed the last half of the outline. This was actually my first time writing fiction, and I adored it. It was so fantastic to have an excuse to get to write as much as I wanted. I would set my alarm for 5:20am and work for 8 hours, go off and teach and come back and work another couple hours when I got home at night. It was so exhilarating to see it taking shape and that experience helped build my confidence as a new writer.

I was pretty happy with the finished book, but after I sent it to the client, he got jumpy and wanted more opinions. He sent it to two different freelance editors and a screenplay writer, and they all inserted themselves into it with more audacity than taste. The end result was unreadable and felt like seven people with very different personalities and styles all had a drunken stab at it.

The book found its way back to me, and it broke my heart a little bit. You can’t get attached to your work as a ghostwriter because someone else owns it and has the legal right to mangle it after it is submitted. The client hired me to rewrite it in the space of a week, which I did because I felt a sort of responsibility for the characters. He gave me a team of two fantastic editors. The finished product was beautiful, but then some potential legal issues came up with some of the studies and medical language and assumptions in the book. It concerned the editors and me more than it did the client. He offered us all credits in the book, which was pretty rare in the ghostwriting world, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t worth the risk of getting pulled into someone else’s legal battle, should someone decide to sue him.

I gained so much from the experience, especially in working with the professional editors; that being said, ghostwriting is not something I plan to do again. I was recently at the book release in San Francisco. I can’t explain how strange it is to hear someone pitching a book, that you wrote, as his own.

How has music influenced your writing or vice versa?

I’m a pretty emotional, serious person—always have been. When I was young, music was my form of expression, and I hardly wrote at all. There was little privacy in our house, so I rarely kept a journal or wrote anything down, or if I did, I would scratch it out, tear it into pieces, and throw it in five separate trash bins so no one could piece it back together. Music was safe because it was an anonymous release. In a household as big as mine was, I needed a place that was my own where I could express my feelings anonymously. I am a pianist and am drawn to the kind of music that has depth and grief. It is still a challenge for me to write honestly. I think my writing is catching up, but there is still a part of me that is conditioned to filter my work through the lens of whom I will or won’t offend, wanting to shield the people close to me, whereas music has no bounds. In a way, music is the perfect non-dualistic art form. It inspires a moving connection and empathy through its fluidity. I hope someday my writing can inspire that kind of empathy.

I am currently writing a novel that is pushing me towards vulnerability and transparency in ways I wouldn’t have believed possible. It has been an experience of growth, and sometimes, I feel amazed that I feel free enough to write it.

You also teach music lessons to children. Do you consider teaching a form of poetry? 

I think anything that sparks wonder can be a form of poetry. Most of the kids I work with  are young, 6 or 7. They come in and sit on the bench and tell me all about their adventures, and I just get to take it all in. I love the way they see the world, so much innocence and zest for life. They are so present because everything to them is exciting and new and worth discovering and paying attention to. It’s a much better way to see the world, don’t you think?

How do you define poetry?

Poetry is like music: it holds the world with metaphor. Another dimension by which to contemplate the human experience.

karvyandvalor.com
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Featured Image:
“Hand in Smoke”: http://www.zedge.net/wallpaper/10140846/