Monday, September 25, 2017

Let Yourself Be Awesome: On Overcoming Disappointment

On Saturday, I completed my first 12-mile run since 2005, and I aced it. My overall pace was 8:02 per mile, but the final two miles were in 7:44 and 7:49--and I was holding myself back to avoid injury. This is after running 7 hilly miles the day before at 7:30 pace to "tire myself out" for Saturday's long run. Needless to say, I was ecstatic!

But for weeks leading into this 2-day training session, I'd been filled with dread. In fact, I kept coming up with excuses to modify the workout or alter it completely. The major excuse was that I would end up injuring myself. I was too old; I was too out of shape; I was too heavy; I was too used to not running hard; I was (fill in the blank). Why was I so worried about hurting myself?

The Injury
Me in April before the Longhorn Run in Austin, Texas
Back in April, my training was humming along. I'd stack the miles up and knock them all down. I was even starting to get a bit cocky, to tell you the truth. Of course, I was nowhere near my trackstar days of high school and college, but I was creating a big divide from only a few months earlier when I weighed more than 265 pounds. Then, I strained my hamstring during my first attempt at an 8-mile run.

10 days later, I tried running a very slow 3 miles, but strained the same hamstring again around the half-way mark. My amazing momentum had officially been halted.

And the injury has been with me on every mile of every run since. Not physically, but mentally, it's there--ready to strike when I least expect it. Ready to meet me at the highest peak of euphoria and drag me back down to earth.

And it's made me hesitant. I expect to be disappointed, so it's been a struggle to push for something better.

Let Yourself Be Awesome
This is not the first time I've had to overcome injury, but disappointment has tried to handicap me in several phases of life throughout my entire life. The first time I suffered a serious heartbreak, I swore off falling in love ever again. Thankfully, I was able to get over it, and I have a beautiful family as a result.

But there have been times in my writing when an overwhelming wave of rejections combined with a lack of acceptances makes me doubt whether to continue submitting my writing (though the writing itself will always happen--for the sake of writing). Over the years, I've learned how to get through the ebbs and flows of the quiet times to enjoy the published times. After all, that's how I got my first poetry collection published.

Me finishing a 10k earlier this month in Georgia
Which brings me back to this past weekend: I could've gone into that 7-miler on Friday and said to myself, "You're going to hurt yourself again, old man. Just enjoy the morning and take it easy."

Instead, I took my run one mile at a time, increasing my pace gradually throughout until I was charging up the steep uphills in my neighborhood and clicking the stop button on watch. And then, of course, pumping my fist in success.

Of course, I woke up achy on Saturday morning, and I could already feel that internal critic jumping on my back before hitting the trail, saying things like, "You really did an amazing job yesterday with that fast run...for getting yourself injured today." "What were you thinking? You've never done 12 miles, and you run yourself into the ground the day before? Don't know when it's happening, but you're going to limp home at some point today." "Just give up." And so on.

To tell you the complete truth, I was a little scared headed into my Saturday morning run. The internal critic that wants to limit my awesome was winning the war in my head, but then I did something: I took those first few steps. And I then, I took a few more. And kept slowly building momentum.

Even though it was the slowest mile of the day, it wasn't long before I got through the first mile, and then, the second, third, and fourth. And I started to realize something: I was feeling pretty good.

Miles five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten came and went without issue. In fact, my mile splits seemed to show that I was turning in a machine-like effort of consistency in my pace. So then, I did something crazy in the final two miles: I picked up the pace, while still holding myself back from going all out.

I was finally doing it: Letting myself be awesome.

You Can Do It
You can do it: whatever your little piece of awesome is. But only if you let yourself take those first few steps that add up into others.

Disappointments will come in this life, whether it's an injury, a rejection, a breakup, a job loss, an addiction, or (fill in the blank). There's no getting around the fact that this life is not just sunshine and rainbows.

But to reach awesome, we have to let ourselves get past the disappointment; and it doesn't happen all at once. No, it figuratively and sometimes literally means taking one step at a time.

Welcome Back
That's part of what I plan to share on this blog moving forward. Starting with my own stories since December 14, 2016, when I decided to take my health back into my own hands, and perhaps sharing the stories of others, I plan to use the Not Bob blog to share how I and others have attempted to let themselves be awesome.

Honestly, I'm not 100% sure where I'm going to take this blog over the coming months, but we'll figure it out together: One step at a time.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Remixing the World's Problems Results

The one thing about judging poetry is that it often takes me much longer than I expect. For everyone who has waited so patiently for me to get these results together, thank you for that patience. It is appreciated.

Also appreciated: Thank you so much to everyone for participating in the Remixing the World's Problems challenge! I received nearly 300 remixes of the words in Solving the World's Problems, which totally blows my mind!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I still remember having the idea during one of my 500-mile drives up to Ohio and wondering if anyone would really be game for such a thing. I guess I shouldn't have worried, right? Of course, it probably helps that there was a $500 prize for my favorite remix!

Choosing the Winner
Choosing the winner was not an easy process for several reasons. First of all, it's disorienting to read remixes of your own words. It's exciting, but it's also kind of...well...weird.

Beyond that, it's like having grandchildren in a way--seeing all these offspring of my offspring (err, original poems). Picking favorites among my own poems is difficult, doing so with grandchildren is just as difficult.

Plus, y'all came at this challenge with a lot of creativity!

The Approaches
Speaking of creativity, here are a few (though not all) of the various methods people used:
  • One poet remixed every poem in the collection as a tanka.
  • Another used the final word from each poem to construct a new poem.
  • A few poets used the poem titles as source material.
  • Some took the original poems and fit them to fixed forms, including a sevenling, pantoum, fib, triolet, sestina, and others.
  • A handful of poets did erasures.
  • One poet submitted a couple image-based poems.
Throughout the judging, I encountered incredible energy and interesting processes. In a way, it was like an advanced level course in the possibilities of revision and re-creating poems as something new.

So Anyway, the Winner
The winner of the Remixing the World's Problems challenge is Jane Shlensky for her collection titled simple solutions. In her entry, Jane remixed every single poem in Solving the World's Problems to create an entirely new manuscript, a sister manuscript if you will.

Here's a little of what she said when she made the submission, "Remixing has forced me to study your work and to emulate the power of its short lines and images. ... Win lose or draw in this remixing challenge, I've already won a new world view and a darned good education in poesy."

Me too. Me too.

I asked Jane to share a few words about the collection and her revision process, and this is what she had to say:
First of all, a collection titled Solving the World's Problems is bound to appeal to teachers and optimists who believe such solutions are possible. Robert's poems, so very different in form from my own, were amazingly similar in their themes. The order of his collection helped to open up broader questions, it seems to me, and emphasized for the interaction of the self and the world, the micro and macro, and that attracted me. Also, Robert has the ability to say so much in so few words, to engage huge (dare I say global?) questions with single lines or images. Reading his poems closely, I saw how he tapped into his upbringing, observations, experiences, definitions, and loves, just as so many of us do. Studying his work was somewhat like another form challenge. I love playing with forms.
The remixing process required multiple readings for me, close analysis of what worked in each poem, and often multiple attempts to write a remix of some of those poems. My poems are wordy and longish, often narrative; sometimes I tinker with meter and rhyme or blank verse. It really was a challenge for me to condense my meanings to single images, to "squeeze the universe into a ball," as Eliot's Prufrock says. After a dozen or so tries, I got the hang of saying what I wanted in a similar form and found that the conundrum of solving world problems was in channeling Robert--and then rewriting and editing for a few weeks. It was very freeing to dispense with punctuation and capitalization, the trappings of grammar and freeing to be in another poet's head for a while and out of my own. Plus, I learned a new way of expressing myself by remixing Robert's work.
One thing Jane left out is that she actually published a few of her remixed poems in a journal titled Prairie Wolf. She described it as "the only reward I thought I would receive," but, of course, that's not the case. Read them here.

A List of Finalists
With so many great entries, I could not stop at just a winner. I also want to recognize the top 20 finalists. If your entry did not make the list, it probably had nothing to do with how much I enjoyed the remix; it's just, well, I had to make tough decisions.

Here's the list (starting with Jane):
  1. simple solutions, by Jane Shlensky
  2. "Incantation," by Ellen Evans
  3. 60 tankas, by Ed Bremson
  4. "horizon poems," by Eric Otto
  5. "Origami Portrait," by Terry Wolverton
  6. "The Swirling Winds of My Awkward Life," by Linda Hofke
  7. "the trees obscure the water towers," by Elizabeth Weaver-Kreider
  8. "Origami Kisses," by Martin Willitts, Jr.
  9. "dissolving the world," by Stewart C. Baker
  10. Mixing Up the World's Problems, by William Preston
  11. "Curioser," by Ellen Evans
  12. "Not Alone," by Tracy Davidson
  13. "Building, Driving, Writing," by Linda Goin
  14. "the end," by Beth Ayer
  15. "tear," by Laurie Kolp
  16. "The Creek," by Tracy Davidson
  17. "Igniting," by Helen Yeoman
  18. "she origamies me, and i her," by Michelle Hed
  19. "Late Night Parade," by Mary Kay Knief
  20. "after 'Murder & the Love Curse,'" by Alfred Booth
Congrats to everyone who was a finalist! And again, thank you to everyone who participated!

This was truly an incredible adventure.

But the Adventure May Not Be Over
As I relayed to our winner earlier, I'm in the process of trying to shop around an anthology of some of my favorite remixes, including ones that may not be on the finalist list. I have a plan for creating a remix anthology that doubles as a guide to the possibility of revision.

We'll see how that goes, and I'll keep everyone updated if there is any progress on that front.

With That, I'll Leave You
That is, I'll leave you with a poem from Jane Shlensky's simple solutions, one that was written off a poem titled "the end" in Solving the World's Problems (appropriate for ending this post, I suppose):

reprieve, by Jane Shlensky

she often gets the urge
to walk away
become & unbecome
rest nameless blank
as a summer sky
no questions asked

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Help Me Solve the World's Problems (By August 1, 2013)

(Special Promotion: If you pre-order a signed copy, whether through me or my publisher, by the August 1 deadline, I'll enter you into a raffle for an extra bonus. What's the bonus? A signed hard copy proof--in addition to your signed book--with an extra handwritten poem that doesn't appear in this collection.)

In September, my first full-length collection of poetry, Solving the World's Problems, will be released by Press 53. I am very excited!

And I've bought a bunch of new pens know...umm...sign books and stuff. Would you like a personally signed book by me?

The best way to get an autographed copy hot off the presses is to pre-order a copy from me now, so that I can pre-order copies from my publisher. When I receive that first shipment, I'll sign 'em and mail 'em immediately. (I need all pre-orders by August 1.)

Order a copy by sending me an e-mail with the subject line: I Want Solving the World's Problems.

Who knows? I might even slip a surprise thank you or two in there as well, though I hope the value of this collection is intrinsic, not extrinsic.

Here's what former New Hampshire Poet Laureate Patricia Fargnoli, author of Duties of the Spirit and Then, Something had to say about the collection (an advance proof): "The 'World' in Robert Lee Brewer's Solving the World's Problems is a slippery world ... where chaos always hovers near, where we are (and should be) 'splashing around in dark puddles.' And one feels a bit dizzy reading these poems because (while always clear, always full of meaning) they come at reality slantwise so that nothing is quite the same and the reader comes away with a new way of looking at the ordinary objects and events of life. The poems are brim-full of surprises and delights, twists in the language, double-meanings of words, leaps of thought and imagination, interesting line-breaks. There are love and relationship poems, dream poems, poems of life in the modern world. And always the sense (as he writes) of 'pulling the world closer to me/leaves falling to the ground/birds flying south.' I read these once, twice with great enjoyment. I will go back to them often."

Still not convinced? Wow! You're a tough customer. Good thing I've planned some hypothetical non-softball-questions ahead of time with totally-unplanned-off-the-cuff answers at the ready.

Why would I lay down my hard-earned money for your book?
Because you love poetry, and this book is filled with poems. (Click here to read a few.)

Or if you need another reason: Because you want to be a part of history, since this is the first full-length collection of poems from the Robert Lee Brewer. You can say you were there in the beginning, and that'll make you really cool in a "I was there in the beginning" kind of way.

Or if you need another reason: Because I begged and pleaded with you, and it's better than dropping the same amount of money on whatever it is that you spend money on that you usually regret later as a bad purchase. I ain't too proud to beg.

Is this book really going to solve the world's problems?
Hmm... Good question. You're pretty sharp. Sharp like a knife. Or sharp like the teeth of a shark. You know I think you'll find the answer you want to find by purchasing a copy of the book and reading it yourself.

But now that it's out there, I'm pretty sure of one thing: It will drive you crazy not knowing. So spare yourself the sleepless nights and read the book. You can thank me later.

I know Patricia Fargnoli said nice things about Solving the World's Problems, but does anyone else have anything nice to say about the collection? I mean, besides your mom.
Well, I do have a really nice quote from my mom, but I'll save that for another blog post, I guess. Since I can't use her endorsement, I'll use this one from one of my favorite contemporary poets Sandra Beasley, author of I Was the Jukebox and Theories of Falling: "Rather than solving the world's problems, this collection turns them to the sun like a prism--casting bright and spare images of humanity in flux. 'We spill ourselves all over ourselves,' one poem observes, 'our excess light / our forgiving natures.' Compassionate, challenging, and filled with slinky swerves of phrase, these poems refresh how we look at our daily lives."

Any other non-mom niceties coming your way?
Yes, this is what Scott Owens, author of Something Knows the Moment, had to say: "These poems illustrate the vitality of poetry in our daily lives. Diverse, refreshing, even at times startling, these poems make bold claims for poetry."

Okay, okay. How do I purchase this amazing book?
That's the easy part. Just send me an e-mail at with the subject line: I want Solving the World's Problems. Then, we'll work together to get the book in your hands.

It costs $15 (shipping included), and I can accept check, money order, or PayPal. And you'll get a signed and dated copy to prove you were there in the beginning. Plus, I think the poems are pretty darn good.

Click here to read a few sample poems.


By the way, if you'd rather go through my publisher, that's a great option too. As with getting copies from me, the pre-order event is only valid through August 1. Click here to learn more.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Solving the World's Problems - Sample Poems

My debut full-length collection of poetry Solving the World's Problems is due from Press 53 on September 1, 2013. It's been an exciting highlight to the year for me, and I can't wait to hold a copy in my hands. If you're interested in getting your hands on a signed copy, send me an e-mail at to get the wheels in motion--or order a copy here.

The poems in this collection represent what I consider my best up to now, and many of them have gone through a major transformation since the collection was accepted for publication. I have my wonderful editor Tom Lombardo to thank for helping guide this collection in a new (and I think better) direction.

Solving the World's Problems

Anyway, this post shares a few sample poems from Solving the World's Problems.

solving the world's problems, by Robert Lee Brewer

i began as eyelashes blocking the sun
and my father was a digital clock
in a dark cave  my father counted

out the minutes as i kept myself
from myself   in this way  i learned to kiss
years later  when i became a horse

i ran the hot blood out of my body
father turned into a dream filled
with fire and a horrible laugh   i

burned into a cloud of smoke
father became a phone call and then
silence   i worried what i might

transform into next   i worried
what i might already be   then
i forgave father


you origami me, by Robert Lee Brewer

fold me into animal shapes
                         and hold me like paper
          you don't want to tear

i've been here before
                         i've waited like money
          and spent myself evenly

across your accounts of love
                         the time has come for our withdrawal
          into the pleasures of night

these simple transfers and deposits
                         these points of interest
          fold me as you will

and hold me longer still
                         i'm not a wolf  save when
          that's the only way you'll bend me


10:15 in a kroger parking lot, by Robert Lee Brewer

he sits with the engine off staring straight ahead
through wells fargo  through the next strip mall and the new
half-developed subdivision with prices that

start in the low five-hundreds  through mcdonald's and
chick-fil-a  through burger king and dairy queen  through
thick and thin  cats and dogs  teenagers in public

parks  radio waves and satellite images
carried to you  the possibility of you
a number on a graph  some outlier who reads

poetry as if reading might even matter
to the man with this weight on his shoulders staring
without any thoughts because his brain's finally

filled past the point of pure saturation and he's
sitting in his car oblivious to the world
outside  the store stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables

and diapers and frozen pizza and toothpaste and
deodorant and trash bags and prescription drugs
and his eyes are wet but he is not crying  blank

as he feels and overwhelmed as choreographed
cars park and people enter the kroger and leave
the kroger to drive away somewhere without him


As we run up to the release date for the collection, I'll be sharing more information, including various events--both online and in person. If you're interested in either having me read at your venue or doing some kind of interview or review, just send me an e-mail at

To get a signed copy, send me an e-mail as well, or click here to order a copy directly from Press 53.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


Check out some other related posts:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Forsaking the Zone (Leah Lindeman guest post)

Silence permeates a musty-smelling library, shadows touched by flickers from candlelight. In the centre of this haven is a mahogany desk upon which sits leather-bound volumes. And the hunched over writer scribbles furiously; his ingenuity rolls through his tensed muscles. His masterpiece must be put into words.

Reality is that most of us fight to a gain a sense of peace and to be in a comfortable state when we write. Writing isn't about being comfortable; it's about forsaking our comfort zone.

Last year, Robert Lee Brewer challenged his participants to their build their social media platforms in one month. Many of the daily tasks I passed over because I was either too lazy, too busy, or too scared. However, I kept all the tasks I didn't do in my inbox. Just last month did I decide to revisit them, promising myself that I wouldn't provide an excuse for any lack of action.

Leah Lindeman, forsaking the comfort zone

One of the tasks was to set up an RSS feed. When I viewed the instructions on Google, I was ready to abort my mission. Words such as HTML, feed burner, and RSS feed intimidated me. I am no computer genius. But I was determined to do something new, to get out of my comfort zone. I followed the steps slowly. 
When I finally saw the RSS feed symbol on my blog page, I was ecstatic. I went on to setting up an e-mail subscription link, as well. This small, brave step for me has given my blog the potential to attract even more followers; and I am now able to use my "expertise" to help my friends set up these important functions.

Try New Things
Another way I try to get out of my comfort zone is to try new things, discover new places. This correlates with the advice "write what you know." There are arguments for its antithesis: "Write what you don't know." I won't try to prove which point is better over than the other; however, there is merit in writing about what you do know. 
For example, I've gone bungee-jumping twice. This daredevil stunt doesn't have anything to do with writing directly. But if I ever were to write a scene in which my character free falls or feels a greater force than his own pulling him in a certain direction, I could insert a realistic feel into the scene, making it and my character even more compelling and relatable. Try something new; you will have a wide range of experiences from which to glean.

Editorial Calendar
For those of us who like to roll with the punches, setting up an editorial calendar is hard. We like to create order, but we may not like to work within order. The problem with being disorganized is that it's a gamble; our feelings are the basis for our progression toward our goals. Setting up an editorial calendar which highlights research dates, deadlines, blogging subjects, and more will ensure success most of the time. 
My editorial calendar mainly consists of which days are set apart for blogging and an idea to go with each of those days. As a result, I've been much more consistent with my blogging; and I've been gaining more followers and connecting with them. What used to be uncomfortable has now become comfortable.

The first step is usually the hardest to take. But if you jump outside your box, you will expand whilst you benefit others. For me, setting up an RSS feed, trying new things, and setting up an editorial calendar has helped me become a better writer. Get out of your comfort zone. In what ways can you become uncomfortable?

Leah Lindeman was born in Montreal, Quebec. Throughout her childhood, she dabbled in different extracurricular activities such as ballet, piano lessons, and soccer. But writing became her one passion starting a few years ago. Wanting to become better, Leah enrolled in a writing correspondence course given by the Institute of Children's Literature. She graduated with honours and began working on her first novel. Presently, she is researching material for her second novel; and she is trying to conclude the finishing touches on the first. When Leah is not reading or writing, she's usually taking care of her home, her husband, and two children. Some of her hobbies include horseback riding, visiting with friends and family, and singing.
Follow Not Bob on Twitter @robertleebrewer 
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Here are some previous guest posts:

Monday, April 29, 2013

Chasing April

OK, so the plan for April was to run all these guest posts (and even some of my own content) that were related to platform building. That obviously came off the tracks, and I'm not going to get into making too many excuses.

I'll just say that April turned into an even busier month than I expected (and I expected a busy month), and we'll just leave it at that. No need to dwell on it, but I do want to acknowledge that, yes, I was expecting to post more content this month. Sooo...

...let's take a look at what May's going to look like. I'm not going to over-promise, but we'll get back on track with the guest posting on May 7. Promise.

And now to hit you with an extra helping of cuteness, because it's cute.

Can you really argue with cute?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Facebook Groups Are Great for Writers (Zara Hoffman guest post)

Everyone says the Internet is either a distraction or the best thing to happen in our lifetime. More often than not, I agree with the latter. 

I love Facebook. It allows me to keep in touch with my friends and keep up to date on some of my favorite pages. Most recently, though, I’ve developed a new love for the social network. 
Facebook Groups
The Teens Can Write, Too! and Go Teen Writers Facebook groups are friendly communities for writers that offer moral support and fun anecdotes to help motivate me when I’m looking for inspiration. Some people prefer to write alone and share afterwards, and these groups give you that opportunity. 
It’s a hangout, not a mandatory club in which you need to contribute a specific amount to get advice or help (as it is with some writing website forums). 

As to balancing my time in these groups and actually writing? I generally check in once a day and see if there are any interesting new threads I should be aware of. I try and stay off Facebook other than to wish people happy birthday, see the latest news on my biggest obsessions so I can maximize my writing time. 
Word Wars!
Sometimes, there are “Word Wars” where people agree to write as much as they can within a given amount of time and we keep a chat open, it can be very effective and satisfying. I actually have yet to do one, but Go Teen Writers is hosting a similar scenario, but it’s called 100 for 100 in which you sign up and promise to write 100 words for 100 days. Currently we’re about halfway through and I’m over the 50% mark in word count. Forums on writing websites also offer these opportunities, but there’s something I just like about the Facebook Group configuration.

Facebook Groups changed my writing experience and it may change yours too. However you write, there are friendly writer groups all over the internet (I also use,, and, so know that you’re not alone!
Zara Hoffman is a teen author currently working on a YA fantasy romance called 7th Heaven and has three other WIPs. When she isn't wrapped up in projects, Zara can be found relaxing with friends, family, listening to music, reading, writing, and playing with her puppy. Learn more at her blog, her website, or directly via e-mail.
Connect with Not Bob via Twitter @robertleebrewer
Check out previous Not Bob goodies below: