In Media Res

social media, that is. Also, check me out on Substack.

So far, every single social media website or app I have tried has been home to some kind of poetry community. Some of these sites are more conducive to posting and reading poetry than others (Pinterest is not the ideal place for original poems as far as I can tell), and some sites have clear preferences for certain styles, forms, and themes of poems. Longer free verse poems have a lot of success here on blogs, particularly blogs run through WordPress. List poems and very emotional writings do really well on Instagram. Twitter, where brevity is key, tends to be most conducive to haiku, senryu, tanka, and sometimes couplets.

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How to Clickbait: Pen Pal Letter #6

Going to TACKLE a new subject.

To Whom It May Concern:

How to clickbait? For one, use this title.

As a longtime purveyor of the internet, I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about clickbait as a concept. Up until recently, I approached the topic mostly as a consumer, but over the past few years, I have had to reckon with it as a creator.

I was born at the tail end of the millennial generation, which means I had a childhood before social media was such a large part of life, but my teenage and adult years have been defined by its presence. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter became widely used in the general population while I was in middle school. Instagram and Snapchat took off while I was in high school. There were so many things to consume online and my peers were creators.

I said my peers there because I didn’t have any social media accounts until I graduated high school. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing overall. I do know that some of the less-informed beliefs that I held as a teenager were never documented anywhere online, but my consumption of online media was still rather high.

I watched a ton of YouTube, for instance. And I watched YouTube at a time before the site cracked down on clickbait-y titles and thumbnails. It was not only common for video titles not to match their content, it was borderline expected. Honestly, that era of YouTube probably did more than anything else to desensitize me to clickbait. Once again, I am unsure whether I can make a judgement call on if that is a good or a bad thing. All I know is that I have a lot of skepticism when approaching content online, and that I still do sometimes click on things that draw me in with fascinating titles and images as if I am compelled to do so, though I know that I am being clickbaited while I’m doing it.

When it comes to producing content on the internet, each platform has its own method of getting discovered. With Twitter, it is hashtags and participating in prompts and trends. With Instagram, it is hashtags once again and vying to get featured, whether on an account that reposts content or on Instagram’s own Explore Page. With a blog or other type of website, it is SEO.

I’ve read a lot of articles about SEO, but I am far from an expert. Because most of the content I put online is creative writing, I pay little mind to what I have learned from those articles. In a lot of ways, it feels like those articles are suggesting clickbait in order to grow your blog, though I will admit that this is a gut reaction based on a huge oversimplification of what SEO is. Nevertheless, while I would love for as many people as possible to read and enjoy and engage with the things I write, the prospect of writing things in such a way to encourage that feels wrong.

Artistic integrity is a weird concept that I don’t have any stable views about. Each time I think that I have made up my mind about it, something happens or I am presented with new information that causes a shift in the way I think about it.

I have more information and thoughts on all of this than what I am choosing to say here, but I can’t give it all away in a single blog post! I have to milk this type of content for all that it’s worth to keep you coming back for more, right? And that’s neither clickbait or SEO, it’s an entirely different ploy to gain success in online writing. Like a cliffhanger, but with a capitalist intention. So that’s all I’ll say about any of this for now.

Wishing you all the best. I hope the title of this and the last paragraph don’t lead you to doubt my sincerity in that wish.

Sincerely,

Joy


Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Image to Imagination: Pen Pal Letter #4

seeing things for what they are

To Whom It May Concern:

A picture is worth a thousand words, and I usually record a few hundred of them.

I am never more inspired to write than when I’m looking at things. And by that, I mean really seeing things for what they are. Seeing the longing on the faces of those strangers whose paths I cross on the sidewalk. Seeing the rain speckling my window and the way the blinds divide up that view. Seeing the stardust cascading to the ground as a meteor shoots overhead.

Okay, not all of those sights are true.

I would not claim to be a visual person. Sounds are far more likely to catch my attention than sights, but they don’t inspire me to write the way that images do. So much so that two pen pal letters in a row are all about pictures.

I was scrolling through Pexels once again this morning, and poetic snippets kept coming to me one after another. These snippets have yet to be fleshed out into full poems and there is no guarantee that the final poems that build themselves around those words, phrases, and lines will have anything to do with the pictures that originally inspired them, but they have their roots in those images nonetheless.

I went to an art museum yesterday. I didn’t go there for the art, I went for an event that they were having, but I stayed to look at some of the art anyway. Just three rooms total. I definitely would have liked to see more, but I was so tired or under-caffeinated or both and I really could not see myself being able to give the art the attention that it deserved.

So I left. Got some food. Came home. Spent a tired evening on the couch. And I finally went to bed.

Today, I woke up and found myself inspired by images, but none of that inspiration can fully make up for what I missed out on yesterday. What I miss out on every day when I am too tired or inattentive to really see the world around me.

What I write will never be complete, but then again, neither will any photograph. I can’t see the eyes light up and soften. A video isn’t really complete either. I can’t touch or taste or smell. Nor is an in-person view. I can never know the whole story.

But that doesn’t mean that these things are not worth capturing and worth saving.

I am but a saver of sights. And words are my medium.

Wishing you all the best.

Sincerely,

-Joy


photo by me

Free to Use Images and Inspiration: Pen Pal Letter #3

on beauty and happiness

To Whom It May Concern:

I don’t know if I have something to say so much as I just wanted an excuse to show that featured image.

The website Pexels has become my favorite free-to-use image site, possibly because of its front page. (Side note: I also like Pixabay and Unsplash if I can’t find what I’m looking for on Pexels.).

On that front page of Pexels, some number of curators have selected several images that users have uploaded to the site and ordered those pictures so that the page appears to be like a color gradient. As I scroll through, I admire that pretty gradient, and I save any of the pictures that really speak to me by clicking on the little heart icons. Which is to say that I save most of the pictures I see there because I am truly in awe of the job that they do curating as well as the level of talent of people who upload images to the site.

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How to Argue with a Cat: Pen Pal Letter #2

losing arguments

To Whom It May Concern:

I keep losing arguments with one of the cats.

We have a fundamental disagreement about where she should be allowed to go. I believe that the presence of 4 separate cat trees in the apartment (mind you, only 2 cats live here) should more than make up for the fact that she is not allowed to go certain places where she could be destructive or get hurt. She believes that she should be allowed to go everywhere. She’s very persuasive, but don’t you dare take her side.

She does like to give herself away. For example, she likes to jump on top of the counters (where she is not allowed to go) to yell at me in protest of not being allowed to go on top of the fridge (where she is doubly not allowed to go). “Baby girl,” I’ll reply, “there is absolutely no way that I am going to move stuff off the top of the fridge to give you a space to jump up there, considering that we don’t want you up there whatsoever. Because to get to the fridge, you have to jump on the counter and we don’t want your paws going where we have to do food prep. So get down now.”

She screams again, talking back. I spray her with some water, and she jumps down and runs away.

I don’t like spraying the water at the cats, but I’m 80% sure she understands what I just said to her and she is just being unreasonable and defiant. I’m also 80% sure that her brother does not understand any English beyond one of his nicknames, and I don’t think that should even really count because he doesn’t know his actual name. We’ve stopped using his actual name, in fact, because he has never responded to it. Not once. But he occasionally responds to the nickname. I’m getting distracted. What I meant is that he doesn’t understand any other method of communication than the spray bottle for bad behavior and pets for good behavior.

I’ve taken to making a batch of cold brew about once a week. I keep the coffee canister up on the fridge, since it’s the only thing that can block the space where the cabinets overhang the shelf, and the cats will notice the space and jump onto the counters to get to it if it is not blocked. I must have pushed the canister too far back this time when I put it away, because that argumentative cat did in fact jump up into that space. She screamed in victory, giving herself away. Then she screamed more because she wanted access to the top of the cabinets (where she is triply not allowed to go).

She got sprayed in response and the contents on the fridge got readjusted.

Maybe I ultimately won, but resorting to violence (at least that’s what she feels I did) shouldn’t really count as winning. So I’ll take the defeat. That one was a cat victory, one of many. And now I have to clean the counters.

Wishing you all the best.

Sincerely,

Joy


Photo by Charlotte May from Pexels

Impulse Purchases and Confusion: Pen Pal Letter #1

That’s not entirely true.

To Whom It May Concern:

So I impulse bought another plant. Two in fact.

That’s not entirely true. I bought grow kits for a thyme plant and a rosemary plant, so I essentially bought pre-plants. And dirt. Dirt that leaked out somehow and got on the jeans that I also impulse bought. What I’m trying to say is that I took a trip to Target.

I do kind of need the jeans, though. I promise that my impulse purchases are measured.

Well, most of them. I don’t need the pre-plants. I will use the pre-plants once they become plants, but I don’t need them. They are more to fulfill my dreams of homesteading, even while I live in this apartment, and also to fill in the gaps of my herb collection, which previously consisted only of basil and mint (if you don’t count the lavender that I killed through negligence before it even flowered). (I promise that I am not as terrible of a plant parent as that previous parenthetical might make it sound. Or maybe I am.)

The other day, I took a walk around my neighborhood. The times I had done it before, I stuck to my secluded little space, but this time I wanted to venture further. There is a crosswalk with traffic signals and everything out on the main road, so I had assumed this meant that there was plenty of sidewalk to be found beyond that point. This is not the case, not even close. It went on for maybe 30 feet and then ended. I walked those 30 feet because I knew that the other side was even worse. I found where the sidewalk ends. Maybe one day, I’ll write a poetry book about it, unless, of course, that has already been done.

After those 30 feet, I turned around. I had taken the dog with me on this little adventure, and he was very confused, as was I. Why put in those crosswalk signs before there is anywhere for them to take you? It would be one thing if they were clearly preparing for sidewalk construction, but that is clearly not true. Not knowing where else to go, I walked the dog through a bit more of the area on my side of the main road and then took him home.

Later, I took a drive down that part of the main road, the direction away from the highway, the direction that I almost never go in. I was looking for sidewalk, to see if it started again anywhere near that crosswalk. What I was really looking for was the hope that my sidewalk issue is a problem that the city would undertake in the near future. That there is just a gap that will be filled shortly.

The sidewalk didn’t start again for a long while. So long, in fact, that I had stopped looking and was surprised when I spotted it. I continued to drive not looking for anything at all, found nothing more, and returned home.

I’m not sure what I’m looking for in life in general; I’m not sure if I’ll ever know, but sometimes I do find it in caring for plants. Confusing dogs can also be fulfilling.

Anyway, wish you all the best!

Sincerly,

Joy


Photo by Blue Bird from Pexels

Barbie Girl

The car was really only meant for two dolls at a time, but that was unimportant.

I had a collection of dolls as a child: a baby doll, a couple of knock-off American Girl dolls that were sold at Target, some Polly Pockets (do those count as dolls?), and a number of Barbies. To go with these Barbies, I had some clothes, some shoes, a house, a Ken doll, and, most importantly, a hot pink Barbie-sized convertible.

One time when my cousin came over to play, we decided that Barbie needed to go on a trip with all of her fellow Barbie friends. We placed a Barbie in the driver’s seat of the convertible and proceeded to pack the other dolls in with her. We pressed and we shoved and we crammed and we scooted. The car was really only meant for two dolls at a time, but that was unimportant. We were going to Jenga our way into fitting more Barbies in than it looked like it could hold. It would be my Barbie-branded clown car convertible.

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Observations

Something about them seems profound.

This morning, I heated a mug full of water in the microwave, steeped a green tea bag in it for a few minutes, then added some lemon juice and a little bit of maple syrup. When I looked out the sliding glass doors at my balcony, I could see an orange mum and a tiny pumpkin that will be gifts for someone else. I also could see a yellow mum with burlap wrapped around its pot that will remain on the balcony for the foreseeable future. There’s a pink box that was once filled with cupcakes that were gifted to me but is now empty because all of its contents had been eaten. It balanced on top of a peanut butter jar on the dining room table.

These are imperfect sights, ones that I’m not sure I want to remember, but I am writing them anyway because something about them seems profound.

In many ways, I am my surroundings. I mean this both in the sense that the clutter level around me is usually an indicator of my mental state, and in the sense that I am an amalgamation of everything that I have ever seen or heard or touched or smelled or tasted.

I worry that I’m only truly present when I’m writing. That I just let life pass me by unless I go into the moments with the intention of recording them. I don’t know if that’s a problem or not.


Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

How I Write a Poem Step 3: Editing as I Go

A buzz that will awaken the kaleidoscopic,
psychotropic colors and patterns
to cut through the pervasive fog.

A cream-colored mind,
thick and languid
in desperate need of some coffee
deep and gritty caffeine
in order to jazz, to liven.
Perhaps that jolt is all that will be needed
to fill the brain with wondrous things
never before contained.


Hope for A buzz that will awaken the kaleidoscopic,
psychotropic colors and patterns
to cut through the pervasive fog.

Shady palm trees in hues of puce
with their giant spiky elephantine trunks.

The mind is changed
from cream-colored
to utterly without hue.



Key:
wine-colored and with a strikethrough = removed from a previous “draft”
blue, unitalicized, and underlined = added since a previous “draft”
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When I write anything, but especially poetry, I do not end up with a series of distinct drafts. Rather, I make constant changes as I continue the writing process. I never have a “completed draft” that will be heavily edited. I’m not great at murdering my darlings once I feel like I have a draft of a poem that has been fully written. On the rare occasion that I have fully written out where I want the poem to go as a draft, but I feel like some major changes are necessary, I simply scrap the poem. If it is not good enough at that point, the chances that I will be happy with it at the end of some heavy edits are very slim. It’s not worth it to put in the work of slicing apart a full poem if I’m going to hate it by the time I am done with it. I have done it on a few occasions, only to post the poem and later remove it from my blog.

At this point, I am coming to doubt whether there are true “steps” of my poetry writing process. The transition from my Step 1 post to my Step 2 post and from my Step 2 post to this one really just involve the same thing: adding more. Granted, here I did take away a word and replace a phrase with a better one, but those changes are relatively minor. Dividing the work that I will do on this poem from this point forward seems silly because it will just be more of the same; I’ll keep taking a few things away and adding more. Thus, I think my post for Step 4 will be my final one and will showcase the poem in its “finished” state.

I will note is that only 2 days passed between my post about the idea for this poem and my post about expanding on that idea. Nearly a month has now passed since that expansion post in this series. Taking long breaks from poems is very common for me. I did not intend to capture that element of my writing experience within this series, but it happened naturally. Generally, though, once I start to approach the late-middle stage of a poem, the writing process picks up pace, so hopefully you won’t have to wait another month to see the final post in this series.

Peace out!
-Joy

Photo by Fiona Art from Pexels

Can Peonies Open Without Ants?

What is wonder?

As a child I believed that the continents floated above the ocean, like gigantic earthy boats on the surface of the water. I thought that if you swam far enough out into the ocean, you would eventually arrive at a dramatic drop off where the continental plate ended and you could find the water beneath. More than that, I thought that with a lot of effort, I could be the first human to swim all the way underneath the USA from the east coast to the west coast.

I am older and wiser now. I know that the US is not just floating on water, ready to be swum under. I also know that the tectonic plates are on top of a liquid, just not one that humans can breaststroke through. There is still a magic and an insight to my original understanding, even if it was ultimately wrong.

My world didn’t change dramatically when I learned about the layers of Earth. I didn’t lose my child-like wonder in that moment. If anything, I just had new things to wonder about.

What does the area where it shifts from mantle to crust look like? Will we ever be able to dig down to the core? How do we know about all of these layers if we can’t dissect the earth the way it’s depicted in the graphics that show these layers?

The world is a never-ending stream of questions, of misunderstandings, and of corrections.

I grew up hearing the old wive’s tale that peonies require ants to open their flowers. Until yesterday, I didn’t realize that this was a wive’s tale; I had assumed that it was a scientific fact that peonies require ants to nibble away at their buds in order to bloom. I am constantly being proven wrong. I am constantly learning and growing.

Photo by Irina Iriser from Pexels

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