What Happens in a Free Write

ESCAPE

Corinne often stopped at the café but this morning she was headed to the mountains in a hurry. She did not yet know exactly why but it felt urgent and wise. She giggled as she turned out of the neighborhood, tuned the radio to jazz, and silenced her phone—freedom! She had only a vague destination, a decadent use of time and gas. She fidgeted with her hair, too long already but she need not fuss with it, just push it behind her ears now he was gone.

As she turned off the highway and navigated the confusing exit, she had an epiphany—this was freedom from both clock and calendar, a day dedicated to her need for altitude, vistas, space, a ramble as far as she could get from the swollen dregs of suburbia. The music was not what Phil would have approved. In her head he whispered that she knew nothing about jazz, so who did she think she was anyway, listening to KVJZ?

“Philip, shut up. You’re dead, remember?”

The road mesmerized her and she wondered how long it would take the neighbors to miss her, how long before they missed Phil? Well, he had diminished her for the last time. Now his voice shrank to a murmur. She meant to erase ever sour conversation, edit out his face, words, and of course, his touch and smell. Smell? Scent, an animal odor, earthy and soiled, like his dirty work clothes and boots. Oh, his boots, how long had he worn the same cowboy boots? Damned stupid, Phil, trying to be a tough hombre. Well, here she was a long way from him and when or if she turned back to the house, she would fling open the windows, scrub the tub, and empty the garbage. Garbage had been his job although at the end he had struggled to heft the bags up into the bin. Well, she would have to do it herself. Cheap enough cost for freedom.

Now the road was very steep and the car seemed reluctant to go higher. Maybe, she thought, this altitude was too much for her old Chevy. Well, she’d already ordered a new one. One more thing about which she need not take Phil’s advice.

The End

#flashfiction

Lessons from a Virus

Each person has a unique response to life within the edges of home and neighborhood. Here in Colorado we are open, somewhat, so yesterday we had a driveway happy hour with our neighbors, well apart but close enough to talk, share a plate of ribs, and sip a favorite beverage. It was odd to maintain social distance and reconnect with those fine folks. Makes one measure what’s valued.

And individually, I suspect that many of us are reviewing our “normal” activities and adjusting accordingly. What does matter? What do we miss? What can we let go? I’ve done just that and, given the ghost of mortality flitting around us, asked myself how I want to spend whatever time is left to me. It’s been illuminating, an emotional temperature monitoring. And as a result I’ve advised friends and colleagues that some long-lived habits will change. I’ve trimmed my responsibilities (Were they really that?) in order to spend more time doing what matters most: fewer writing groups, more deep reading, getting back to my genealogy project and expanding it. I have enough material on hand without visiting the nearby NARA, and–ta da! I want to study archaeology. I’ve been watching a long series of programs that feature digs in the British Isles. Most of my ancestors come from that part of the world, so a balance exists  between the macro of deep history and the micro of my family tree.

Would I have arrived at this decision without the enforced time to consider my options? I’ll never know the answer to that question. But I do know that it feels right to back off and move forward. #genealogy #archaeology #SocialDistance #NationalArchivesRecordsAdministration

Random Thoughts While Waiting

What I’m reading while I’m staying home:

The Moth, art and literature, Issue 40, Spring 2020

The Science of Storytelling, Will Storr

Let Your Crazy Child Write, Clive Matson–not about homeschooling, subtitle is “Finding and Freeing Your Creative Voice.”

Zoom Manual for Participants.pdf

Contributions by writing friends in what Wikipedia describes as “Exquisite corpse, also known as exquisite cadaver (from the original French term cadavre exquis), is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled.”

Cover to cover of the latest New Yorker.

By the end of the day, when my eyes are tired, I watch several episodes of a British documentary series, Time Team, all about archeology. By now the cast feels like family, and since I cannot visit with my family other than those with whom I live, it’s a good thing to see familiar faces. (Familiar deriving from family.)

However long our sequestering lasts, I’m sure I have enough to entertain and distract me. But right now, the sun is shining, I live in suburbia, so we have wide sidewalks, and spring temps, so for a while I will put away words and see what the birds and the neighbors are up to.

Oh, yes, I’m writing.

Book Returns

Despite the title here, this post has nothing to do with a library. My good friend Anita Halvorssen is moving after many years in her house. Over quite a few of those years, she and I have shared our writing adventures and tips on how to get it done. We meet for coffee most Friday mornings, and recently she arrived with a book I had lent her who-knows how long ago, How to Write; Advice and Reflections by Richard Rhodes.

I’m impressed that she could single it out, but there are my initials on the small-title page. I had forgotten it, yet there are my familiar under linings. Of course, I started browsing to see what I had marked years ago, and now  I am once again a Rhodes scholar. This book still matters. So do my notes. I’m on page 155, headed to completion, again. Understand, this book was published in 1995, so it’s a little dated. The  writing-tools section is, but the deeper aspects still resonate. The art and act of writing remains.

It’s likely that Dante and Ovid and others from the past had challenges not unlike our own. I hope they had good friends who return borrowed books, and writing advice that never feels stale. Like these from Rhodes: “Imagination is compassionate” (p.4). Or, “…time and chance happen to us all” (p. 69). And this, “Words are the model, words are the tools, words are the boards, words are the nails (p. 166).

Being part of a writing community helps–whether it’s two or twenty or two hundred, whether it’s shared books, shared tips, shared smiles and tears. Thanks, Anita. Thanks Richard Rhodes.

#Accidental Child #Providence #Invisible Juan

Paz Effect

Reading Octavio Paz’s poems challenges me. He goes deep and wide, mythic and intense. His work silences and moves me, but if I keep him close I will perhaps learn to write with courage. His female figures are stunning, earthy and unabashedly eternal. As I read though, I cannot find my own words. I close the book. I put the phone on the charger, wrap a holiday gift, peel the price tag from a new notebook, small things to distract me. Again he  dares me to write bigger, deeper.

Instead I go out for coffee, chat with friends. I’m intimidated by his huge body of work. I’ve used up too much time and ink and achieved little. Then I recall a line from the Tao te Ching: “Do your work, then step back.” I splatter enthusiasm onto the page, decide that I am a link, not a destination. I’ve tripped over awe and envy, and now I  acknowledge a little sourness on my tongue. Then again I feel comforted having the work of a master to teach me. Promise to try, as Frost said, to get a few poems to stick, and know that to do so, I must write them. And finish the novel that too often I call the damned novel, because it too makes me aware of the limits to my skill. I dare not call it talent. I struggle with this knot, pick up one thread only to lose another, roll around like the dog scratching its back on the rug.

There’s benefit in admitting one’s ambition toward perfection, an impossible goal, but the carrot that pulls me forward. I’m not sorry about this turmoil. I’m better for having put it on the page and finding the energy in it. Tension holds me up like the tendons in my joints, steady and fluid. I feel better now. #OctavioPaz #poetry

How Do I Do? Very well, thanks.

Natalie Goldberg says to free write until you get past monkey mind and she’s right. Then again, for decades she’s been right about writing. So, thanks to her I’ve altered my morning writing sessions. For years I’ve clung to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and filled three pages, much of which was truly monkey mind, full of to-do lists or rambling self-castigation about my insipid journal. Then, for a short while I tried to model my morning writing after Eric Maisel’s Deep Writing, attempting to “clear my mind” and write “deeply” about the first object in my line of sight. That approach ended when I wrote deeply about my slippers or my coffee table.

Recently I’ve been adhering to Nat’s advice in The True Secret of Writing. (I feel free to refer to her by her nickname, having once met her briefly at a book fair.) More often now, I’m having fun, not as quick to judge, believing most days, that if I don’t censor and don’t quit at the bottom of page three, something interesting and fresh will pop up, sort of whack-a-molish. But lately I don’t smack the pop-up, keep the pen moving, excited to see where the words lead. And I’m through, I think, demanding that every page I fill must be productive.

For all my years of preaching process and practice over product and publication, I see now that I often didn’t take my own advice. Now I have a purse-sized notebook full of Nat’s advice–like “Don’t waste this one precious life.” Writing is again discovery, getting beyond my own opinions and, you know, it’s fun. And the more fun I have, the less I ration time and paper.

Chunk Reality

Reading Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within, I took her advice and “fell in love” with the first thing I saw when I looked up from the book. Well, shoot, what I saw was my own foot in a black sandal, propped on the corner of the coffee table. Really, Kim? My own foot? Okay, I’ll try. And I glanced at her list of “new words,” another recommendation. Ah, pollex and hallux, meaning thumb and big toe. Okay, I have two big toes. This has to go somewhere.

And it did, other than misspelling pollex, I dove in and came up for air an hour or so later, having landed a good sized poem. Addonizio’s advice isn’t exactly new to me. I’ve long admired “thing” poems that showcase the tangible world and find meaning there. The prompt worked because it brought me close to one thing and its parts. The process is called chunking.

I am relearning this. The world is way to big for my small brain and worried heart. Otherwise, going forward I see so many issues to track that I shut down, concentrate on jigsaw puzzles or crosswords. But shutting down is not a wise option. So I am learning to chunk the worry, pick one issue and pay attention, see if I can help relieve my angst and make a difference, however small, in the chaos that is civilization.

Writing witness poems and stories in our age of political fragmentation, I cannot continue to practice scatter-shot activism. For me, the key issue is climate change. True, it has a thousand moving parts, but it supersedes so much else. If I can’t breathe, I can’t vote. If I don’t vote . . . well, that’s just not an option. Writers can, must, respond to the world as it is. Else what good are we?

#KimAddonizio #ThingPoems