SOMERVILLE, Mass. Jayne Eisenstadt will be the first to admit that she’s not the world’s hardest-working writer. “I took an independent study because I get freaked out by the deadlines in creative writing classes,” she says as looks off into the distance, searching for inspiration. And how did she do, this reporter asks. “I guess I’m too independent for independent study,” she says with her lips twisted into a little moue of chagrin.
But Eisenstadt made a New Year’s resolution that she was going to change her laggard ways, and began to search for a writing competition that wouldn’t tax her tender literary constitution. “A month to write a novel is way too short,” she says, referring to the NaNoWriMo, the contest in which budding authors write a novel in a month. “I thought I could handle a write-a-short-story-in-a-month contest, but I froze just as I was about to click on the ‘Enter’ button.”
After scouring various free listings of open calls, she was about to give up when a friend told her about “NaHaWriMo,” a contest that only requires contestants to crank out a single haiku in a month, albeit February, the shortest month on the calendar. “Now that, I thought, was more my speed,” she says, referring to the seventeen syllable Japanese poetry form that is like writing with training wheels for blocked, buzzed or busy budding poets.
But as Groundhog Day rolled by and Valentine’s Day approached, Jayne found herself coming up short on her haiku, which she describes as a “work in progress that’s not progressing much. Tell me how you like it so far,” she says, as she shifts gears to the elevated tone commonly used by poetry slam contestants:
I think of you all
the time. Do haikus have to
She grins sheepishly, but Steve Alfrond, another blocked writer who signed up to be her “writing buddy” in the contest, gives her a little “tough love” of the sort that her less engaged friends can’t provide her. “I think you should try harder,” he says, looking into her eyes but maintaining a cool, professional distance.
Jayne, who is known in writer’s groups she’s quit or been kicked out of as overly sensitive to criticism, responds defensively. “Let’s hear what you’ve written before you dump on me,” she huffs.
“Okay,” Steve says a bit warily, since he’s notorious among his friends as the “author of seven unfinished novels.”
Moon out my window
on the snow. Where does it go
during the day?
It’s Jayne’s turn to smile as she counts the syllables in the last line on the fingers of one hand. “You came up one short, dubohead,” she says with a superior air. “You only have four.”
Steve looks down at his pad, rests his chin on his pencil, then scratches out the question mark and re-writes the last line to read
during the day, huh?