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

Creative Reading

I’m deep into Azar Nafisi’s The Republic of Imagination, in which she mentions “Creative Reading.” Google explains: “CREATIVE READING IS DEFINED AS READING FOR IMPLIED AND INFERRED MEANINGS, APPRECIATIVE REACTIONS, AND CRITICAL EVALUATION. THE ACT OF CRITICAL READING GOES BEYOND LITERAL COMPREHENSION TO DEMAND THAT THE READER PRODUCE FRESH, ORIGINAL IDEAS NOT EXPLICITLY STATED IN THE READING MATERIAL.” https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED020090

The concept challenges me to forego my habit of reading like a writer–attending to craft, structure, bits and bobs of language. If I shift my focus, squint a little, I think I could start by admitting that I have expectations when I open a book: I’ll be entertained, I’ll learn something, I’ll be awed by the writing, I’ll be distracted from the ugly national/international/climate news.

And I have different expectations that spring from the general category of the material. For instance, opening poet Ada Limon’s The Carrying, I looked forward to insights into another woman’s private world that I could not access otherwise. Limon does not disappoint. No lack of “appreciative reactions” there.

Reading Nafisi, though, I am deluged with ideas. Not unusual in reading nonfiction. Of course, I’ve yet to “produce fresh, original ideas not explicitly stated in the reading material.” There’s already so much in Nafisi’s prose that I haven’t yet found space for my own ideas. But what she gives me is valuable, and I am challenged to go beyond “literal comprehension.”

Nafisi has dared me to set aside my familiar ways of reading and to widen my view. I’ve been reading since I was four years old. About time for a new approach, eh?

#CreativeReading #AdaLimon #AzarNafisi

Talk, Talk, Talk

Lately, it seems I talk a lot. Possibly, more than is helpful. On Sunday I talked to a group of people about poetry. They were all adults (Kids and poetry startle me, like giving them too much sugar, so they get squirrely). We talked about the essential concerns I see in writing poems. Like getting caught up in technique and missing the creativity. Thinking that there is one kind of poetry, a basket word if I ever heard one. Generic, like music or food or weather. Better to speak of specifics. Poetry might mean sonnets or it might mean rap, slam, language poetry, prose poems or haiku.  It includes the many years old Gilgamesh, Illiad, Odyssey, as well as the latest thing on Instagram.

This coming weekend, I’m engaged to talk to poets about self-publishing. I’ve got my list of salient points and a tote bag full of books, from my first independently published chapbooks to the latest volumes I’ve created for friends. I’ve got my list of does and don’ts. And several handouts from online outfits that will do the work for you, for a price.

In the meantime, I’m reading Robert Darnton’s Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature. And so far, I’m gobsmacked to realize that I live in a time and place that allows me to publish my own books and to help others do the same. The book police won’t  throw me into the Bastille. (Yes, that happened in France in the eighteenth century.) Self publishing is not a lucrative endeavor, although it seems to have been in Paris where illegal books slipped past the censors and the tax men. Darnton knows a lot about clandestine printing, selling, and suffering for books.

Yes, I too suffer for books, but in my own private way–what to put in, what to leave out, how to say something that might last the night.

#SelfPublishing #Censorship