Monday, December 28, 2015

Still & Silent Snow


I could walk to the party tonight or wait.

Before me, the snow lies in swells over the fields like a white ocean. Behind me, the neighbor’s stone wall cuts off retreat.

If I no longer think about my friend who is coming to pick me up; if I stop thinking time onto the snow—the distance between my friends and my self does not disappear. It is not.

Richard complains somewhere and always will. It is the season for that. Sensible creatures either sleep or leave. They don't stand around in shafts of gloom-framed light to sulk and grouse. I try to remind myself of that in monologues, but I don't want to listen.

I am warm beneath this coat; I thought ahead and bought it for this purpose. A place to hide from the winter.

The snow, the road, and the wall meet somewhere in the horizon of evening. A single tree extends her limbs, naked beneath the sky as if this was a still, silent shower. The snow is a luxury of water.

Am I waiting, or standing?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Descending Degrees

Dear Mercutio,

Buon Natale,

I trust the holiday season is agreeing with you. For me it is another source of demanding dissimulation. Here, we walk about with cheer in our hearts, but so often it is only a cutaneous sort of cheer: the kind one gets from being cold or drunk.

Scusami, I can almost hear you chuckle and say to yourself that Ada is as she always is, especially at this time of year. My mood does not result from the turmoil occurring in the world, because there is always turmoil in the larger world and quite often in the billions of worlds drifting through the greater container.

And this container has reached a turning point in its journey around the Sun.

Have you ever reflected upon the fact that human beings have been dividing a circle into 360 degrees for quite some time. The Egyptians and Babylonians both did this, perhaps because the circuit of the sun is close to 360 degrees. And no, I do not believe their measurements were wrong, but their math careened toward the elegant and 365 does not have as many divisors.

So we have five and 1/4 degrees left over. What shall we do? Nothing.

Time, like space is variable. On this letter you are reading, it is a linguistic convenience: something we can agree upon to understand one another. In mathematics and physics it is something else. In accounting it aspires to absolute. It passes much more slowly for a child and accelerates with age.

This is a time of year… for thinking about time. "A year older and not an hour richer." I feel like I lost something last year. A failed project for example is a mocking "white elephant" sort of a gift wrapped up in the degrading tissues of time.

Degrade… Stepping down. Perhaps hiking down into the darkness of the longest night, a sleep we equate with a journey to the Great Perhaps of Rabelais. I would prefer to wear Hanukkah geld on my eyes because at least I can eat it in Hades. Degree descends from degrade down the long road of time from Latin through the Romanesque archways of French. Presumably it came from somewhere else before the Romans carved it in stone.

Upgrade is a curious mixture of old Germanic and Latin. It has degraded by now to mean a dubious improvement that maintains stock values and programmer jobs.

Perhaps the problem is comparing a spatial metaphor with time at all.

There is of course the idea of degrees being measurements, or steps of temperature. Being skinny, I am usually quite aware of changes in temperature at this time of year. But I love the cold for contrast it gives: I feel more alive in it, rather than during the slumberous hot days of July and August. As I have said elsewhere, those days live more in memory and dream.

The New Year is coming of course, whether I measure it in the cycle of the Sun and the days brightening, or the more arbitrary definition of January first: the God of Doorways does not really care, you may say—he is always looking both ways. Did Janus also work on stairs?

This is a time of year when resolutions are often made, but are more often ridiculed. Yet, like many things I hide from the world, a desire to resolve still lives in my heart. This past year I have questioned the value of desiring anything, including the desire to resolve. By logical extension, am I not desiring to desire? No wonder that non-being is the answer to such questions. But for now it is not my answer.

My answer may be that I strive to not look at the world in terms of ups and downs; the very words conjure quantification, which does not entail qualitative interest or value.

May my words suggest: A tone of gray or minor key is not the thing, not a degree. The change from one to another, regardless of its count, is what counts and not what direction it moves in because someone will always see it differently. I remember you said that as a sculptor you had to understand perspective better than a painter—your art inhabits spaces of at least three dimensions, compounded exponentially by the number of viewers.

For that lesson, Mercutio, may the coming year be a continuum of small events of beauty without demarcation or end.

~Ada

Friday, December 11, 2015

Reflections

When I reflect on this...

A curious phrase. Am I recursively looking at myself looking at myself?

What is the medium of reflection? Is it the redolent old temple, aspiring to the sleep of nothingness. Is it that night—hot with moon and mosquitos?

For a moment I watched your fitful naked sleep, then turned to look out over the water.

We would never last. I knew this because in the morning, the ruined temple would not be the same. The ripples on the water, the angle of the moon—all different when you awoke before me and became a ghost.

And from this long journey, I return. I am not alone because there is always someone else in the reflection.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Holidays in the slumber of a night-mind

"I feel like I have to smile and give the world a wink."
The holiday season is upon us and the world seems particularly irksome and intrusive right now. Thanksgiving groaned under the weight of retail just a little more this year and I wonder how long it will last as a holiday.

But its passing means I can decorate a Yule tree with Bertolt looking on. Still, I try to remember why I am doing this.

I feel like I have to smile and give the world a wink, which is of course the first of subtleties. Did a wink mean anything until we had language so we could express two things at once? I wish the world well at this time of year, but I wish it would also leave me alone.

Perhaps it is the light, and traditionally, that means the lessening of it. It is now thoroughly dark at 5:00 in the afternoon and the morning seems a thousand miles away, if miles could be measured in time...

...which they often are, but I just want to escape time and space and go to sleep like much of the rest of the world. I accompanied some friends to the Zoo her in Seattle the other day and was reminded that most beings are, like the maple trees and oaks, sensibly asleep right now. I don't know if the sloth bears were sleeping but I didn't see them. I saw no Tyger Tyger burning bright. Like a true Seattleite, the Komodo Dragon wasn't from here and it was desperately soaking up radiation from a sun lamp.

Perhaps it is all the Hawthorne. I do not mean the plant, but rather the counterpoint of Melville. This will be no place for a review of Hawthorne and I do not pretend to make any scholarly pronouncements. Rather, as a writer, I afford myself a chance to read him from something of a professional perspective, and the (now) obscure tales from Twice Told Tales, Mosses  from an Old Manse and The Snow-Image are wonderful at this time of year.

"Alice Doane's Appeal," for example contains a number of frightening aspects besides visitations from the dead who seem to populate New England as deeply as they do Japan. Hawthorne,  captivates me like the strange "Village Uncle" captivates a rapidly vanishing audience as the raconteur slowly dies at Thanksgiving.

But dark nights and dark books call for one another. Ebeneezer and I will make our annual acquaintance again, and I will once again ask why a "Scrooge" is not a byword for a reborn benevolent businessman. It doesn't seem fair, but then I remember that the world isn't fair. The other kind of Scrooge is much more ubiquitous and therefore we need a convenient Dickensian name.

I am not sure how much I will be posting here for a while since part of the reason I am returning to Hawthorne is to revisit basic texts that made the others that made me, either in reaction and rejection, or emulation and exercise. Since The Shadow Well died its peaceful death this Fall, it is time to return to basics and find new paths beneath the tangled woods.

The mud is dark but the Moon glints on its surface. The air is cold, and since the rest of our lives seem so vast in this abyss, I wish you Happy Holidays: the time for small events of beauty.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Blank Page: Or, The Death of a Novel

A Blank Page

Auld Bill Faulkner is famous for pronouncing capital punishment upon darlings... insofar as writing is concerned. I will not endeavor here to discuss that any further since I am a firm believe in letting others discuss what has been discussed. My interest is in something else, a sort of euthanasia of darlings.

For a few weeks now, Hagengard Studio has been a scene of grim resolve, like a ship that lists too much and is caught in the doldrums. The only thing good about it is that it was cold so we weren't sweltering under a sun that didn't seem to move. Grey, with indeterminate fog, a lodestone lost long ago, we knew that there was a Jonah on board.

David brought this Jonah on the ship a long time ago, before I had signed on (in the ludicrous extension of this already exhausted metaphor, I might as well talk about dead sea-birds). Its name was The Shadow Well and while I attempted to help with the novel somewhat, there was simply too much that had to be changed. Again.

That was the crucial problem. The text had been reworked over 3 times before I even saw it, and here is an interesting problem: like an archaeologist, I could delve beneath the many layers and see existing fossils of writing. The stray em-dash? Yes, that's was 2008 when David was rereading Ulysses. There were other remnants, such as the name 'Karen' which I saw popping in and out of earlier drafts. There was even a passage that referred to a time when it was set in Seattle, and I learned it began at the Edgewater.

The novel has moved around, attempting to find a narrative, but the problem as I saw it was the protagonist. I was not the protagonist of this novel, if that is what you suspect. I played only a minor supporting role and even then, I came in somewhat late in the game. There was not much I could do. I believe David plans on exorcising this protagonist in ways other than on the page, which is a good thing because the individual wasn't very interesting.

David and I ultimately arrived at a business decision.  Promotion and return upon investment did not seem lucrative enough for this novel. We agreed there were parts (mostly mine) that were intriguing enough to salvage for other work. His illustrations may find homes elsewhere. For those who have met Trudi von Hippe, Theresa Darl and Kanute Eldredsohn, do not worry. They will be back.

I often chide David on this blog and those with whom I privately correspond get a more highly seasoned version of that discourse, but if I am somewhat acerbic, it is because I care. I believe he will post something on that Tumblr of his that will go into more detail. I know this decision was not easy for him and I'm leaving him the last word on this topic.

So you will not be seeing The Shadow Well on the shelves of any bookstore in February, or for that matter, any which when. We have filled in that well. (I did find the title entrancing enough to use for one of my poems).

What does this mean for Hagengard Studio? It is almost time for the turn of the sun and a return to basics: short fiction and the proetic graphic essay as the main outlets—this blog is often an example of the latter. David will work on his artwork some more. There are some classes at Hugo House worth looking at which is fitting since that is where David and I first met when we were starting our creative careers over the first time.

So it is a return to blank pages, which is like a new sail: perfect for a strong wind and clear skies.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Autumnal Sarabande in D Minor

In the months before you died, I began to question, when had you stopped walking in front of me? Perhaps you had stopped to smell some thing, some one new scent. And neither of us noticed that I walked on, oblivious of the watershed. I think it was when our ages shifted places in the relative terms of our years. I was middle aged at 43 and you were old at 13.

I remember the rhythm of our steps through the leaves when you followed me. I abandoned the rush of youth in that strolling, gregarious dark of Fall.

In the tempo, and chromatic scale of yellow to orange, red and brown that October owns, you taught me that each leaf was a note, and unique in scent and tone: because of where it was and when it was.

You taught me that even in the most iterative of days, each smelled different, was different, just as the nights deepened and stretched the call for comfort upon the doorstep of November.

And then you were gone. Perhaps just over there where I could not see you. You always liked to slip away. But the old pathways aren't the same, because you are with me on them all. Now, I know why the minor key of Autumn's cello makes me cry.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The World Just Over There


At night is when I bathe: when the mosquitos evade the hungry dead and their humid desire. The heat of August leaves spider webs and broken wheels in my head. I am thirsty, sweaty and the moon seems too vast and cool—so out of reach like everything.

But the Waterman stands there before me.

Upon an open hand of beveled in turquoise, scaled in sapphire, I see nothing and therefore see trackless seas, forgotten and recreated steps, callouses of rock. I understand the shadowy insights in cities aloofly populated by luxurious cats. The thoughts of mountains fold in upon lovers, and in the spring, the rains come to soak gardens full of old monuments that I have let crumble in the mutability of inconsequence.

I consider his offer.

I am no longer some morose entablature of skinny limbs and tattoos that cannot fly. In Elsewhere, the World Just Over There, these themes will progress throughout my body: blood, thick stars, and my secret name that graces a ship wrecked on the shore.

Will I find debasement in love? Revelation in the crimson torture of sunsets? Counterpoint in the tender sorrows of the earth? Perhaps.

There will be work, but promise me that I shall remember it all in the moment when I die, either here or there. Is that victory? Allow me the language of the darkness: the words that best embrace a heart made out of time.

This posting brought to you by the Hugo House 30/30 Challenge! Please drop some change in the Hugo House donation jar at First Giving.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Perfect 30 Minutes

If you are a writer and new to Seattle, you may have been introduced to Richard Hugo House through a Google search, or perhaps even the old-fashioned way: someone told you about it. Perhaps you are even writing in the 30/30 Writing Challenge.

(To catch up those who just joined us, the 30/30 Challenge is where over 100 writers pledge to write for 30 minutes or more for 30 days. All to support Richard Hugo House.)

If you haven't taken a writing trip on board the Washington State ferries, you may be missing the best 30 minute sessions of this whole fund drive. The above image is on board the MV Puyallup on the Bainbridge to Seattle crossing. See all of those empty seats tables? Most of them have power outlets.

See the distractions? Yes, there aren't very many. There is a jigsaw puzzle waiting for someone else, but use it for a Carveresque prompt. Think of the desperate couples who sat at it, doing the corners, missing the center and enduring the metaphorical desperation. Just don't be tempted to procrastinate by sitting down and doing it yourself!

Oh yes, they make you pay for WiFi, so you can kiss the Facebook goodbye once you leave the Winslow dock. There is only the hum of the engines, and the lights passing outside.

Plus, you actually get two thirty minute sessions if you are going back and forth. Or the forth and back as I like to say because I am quite fond of the ferries. Some of the runs are longer, such as the more infrequent, but prettier Bremerton Seattle run, or luxuriously introspective and inspiring like the trip from Friday Harbor to Anacortes.

I would go alone and avoid the commuter runs during the morning and afternoon. For $8.10* as a walk-on, you can get two 30 minute sessions of writing in one of the most conducive writing environments I know.

In the meantime, I will take this opportunity to ask for you to please drop some change in my Hugo House donation jar at First Giving. And welcome aboard!

*as of writing, of course...

Thursday, October 1, 2015

30-30 2015-Redux

30-30 Writing Challenge

I have returned to the fray of 30/30. I am here struggling to get down the beginning of the chapter and there are so many words.

This is, the chief problem of much writing you know. Too many words. Writing feels a little worse than sculpture at times because while a sculptor may cut away all that is not part of the finished piece, a writer is usually responsible for making the initial block too damned big.

At any rate, today I am starting on an adventure in writing. Last year, Hugo House began a campaign called 30/30. A the time I was under the impression it involved a Winchester rifle, but my illustrator and dogsbody, David Mecklenburg, assured me that it was "an initiative to write for 30 minutes every day for 30 days."

After I told him he was a hopeless, bureaucratic buffoon for actually using a word like "initiative" in real life, I agreed to the concept because as he will gladly tell you, it's very difficult for me to shut up. Whether it is peanut M&M's, Imogen Heap's music, Anne Carson's poetry or that old rascal Plato, I have many varied opinions on things and adventures so numerous David is still struggling to catalogue just the first quarter of them.

This year is no different Richard Hugo House is once again in need of your support.

Well, there is one difference: I am not feeling the need to discuss writing as I did in the posts last year. I often suspect that writing about writing, while a form of commiseration is also one of the most patently boring subjects non-writers endure. Instead, one should write about dragons, handsome men, international intrigue, crimes of passion and greed, riches, or at least the hardscrabble life in _____(dreary heartland of your choice, but you might as well make it a flat arid place).

Pondering how I put words on the page and making you endure it is a form of sadism that allows no spice for the masochist.

Rather, I will simply write and see what happens.

By donating you will help out the premier literary organization in the Northwest, which— considering you can't throw a poet without hitting a writer here—is obviously a "resource center" (to use David's banal term for it) in high demand.

And as I like to point out, quantifying the value of art is like counting the blue in the sky. I suppose you could it, but why?

Instead, you should head over my First Giving Page and donate.

(And this counts for my first 30 minutes!)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday Morning


Variation on a theme by Stevens

I am not about to get up and make coffee. Nor am I going to even get dressed. Putting on some music and returning to the comfort of the blanket is all I require. The only encroachment of dark catastrophes is the workweek and the procession of tiny thoughts aggregating to aggravating.

The crows are outside considering and trading news, but they are the only ones. The rest of the world seems as silent and lazy as myself. Others are perhaps snoring, trying to find underwear, retching or quietly addressing God. Even the music of the blue guitar was made decades ago.

I look forward to the Sunday evening. Why should it be the end of anything? Does it matter? I can only think of crows in fire maples—wings furled—waiting and dreaming the darkness upon the world, freeing Sunday night from the week that follows.

For all of that, it is difficult to find the divinity within myself. But in the naked island that is the woman on the bed, beneath the blanket, dozy, I find the solitude of moments blurring into now. I am not even sure there is an I here beyond the marker made of language. So I play with logic just a little, turn upon the bed and test the air with one bare foot.

If there is no me in isolation, then I am not alone.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Writing Nonsense

This is not a list of quips and quotes about writing. This post may very well fail in motivating anyone to write. Its inspirational quotient is doubtful.

The line of reasoning has vestibular uncertainty. It veers and leans, going places it never intended to. The line of reasoning may very well lie down at that point and hope the vertigo goes away.

This post may very well be nonsense. Writing nonsense, that is.

It all depends on whether writing is a verb or adjective. I cannot really tell from the fragment I have left myself.

1. Either I am writing out words that do not make sense, which may be what I am always doing.

2. Or, there is a specific type of nonsense characterized by a predicate of writing.

Regarding 1.

I might live in a careful universe that pretends to know everything I am saying.

Really, I am nothing more than a child. I know this, know what I mean when I write it, but then I can think of a number of things that are "more." I am certainly taller than most children. I have "more" years.  I possess "more" ignorance through the seeming paradox of maturity: i.e. the older you get the more you know how little you know.

The other main difference is that I cannot see many people who have any authority to nod their heads as I babble. Parents perform this act.

Instead, I seem to be surrounded by other nothings-more-than-children. Perhaps wiser beings in the universe can nod with authority? With authenticity? Celestial dragons and Rilkean Angels?

But do they understand me? Do they try?

Do they patronize me?

How could I possibly understand them? Perhaps that is why I do not see them.

Or am I like a dog? With people giving elaborate explanations for why they will either beat or feed me when all I really care about is getting away or eating something. They speak as though I understand them. Which I don't beyond the general intents I have just described.

Regarding 2.

It seems remarkable that  people can agree that a series of lines—most which are terrible artistic renditions of things—can constitute a mutually intelligible communication system.

Either there was a great deal of consternation, argument, compromise and bloodshed, or it was an unconscious accident. Considering human history, a messy mixture of the two hidden beneath the strata of time, dirt and dissimulation is the real truth of the matter.

Sitting here, I am well aware that writing is different than speech.

But is that any really different than speech?

Gibberish becomes a communication system when two people agree on what it means. It really becomes a language when one of them can lie to the other person with it.

Tadahiro Uesugi: NHK Cover Illustration
This is a hill in San Francisco. Actually, it isn't. It is a series of colors and shapes that suggest a hill and someone walking up it. It is by an artist named Tadahiro Uesugi.

I feel attracted to his sense of rhythm, how the flat planes of color suggest quadrilatitude but are not exactly perfect if you take the time to look closely: the shady street in trapezoidal contrast to the triangular buildings in light and especially that bow window.*

What does the woman's hair color actually mean? Or is it there as a flourish? The visual equivalent of "so as I was saying" which usually adds nothing to a sentence.

What is going on here? What is this saying to me?

It isn't saying anything. I am interpreting, but without the rudder of language. This is often the problem with art.

Or: I don't know if Tadahiro is lying to me or not. But unlike a piece of writing, this illustration does not appear to be nonsense.

Conclusion

So, as I was saying, words in conversation might mean something by being noise.

Yes, silence is important and also a sort of lie. Or a large container we grub around for in the darkness to fill with lies. The darkness is neither silent, nor empty. For the ears and the body the darkness is full of fur, viscosity and metals of different types.

An art critic or parent (or both) can explain all of this much better, I am sure. But she still uses words.

Sometimes the lies are well meant. This is all I can hope for. I feel I have written nothing. But I look over all of this. Nothing written does not seem true. Nonsense written could also be true.

*For more of Tadahiro Uesugi's illustrations, please visit his site.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Let Me Fly Away News: Write Well Award


I am pleased to announce that "Let Me Fly Away," a story about growing up and moving on, which was published in Silver Blade has been included in the 2015 Write Well Award Anthology!

Currently you can find a version on Kindle, and there will be a print version available soon. This looks like a sumptuous collection of stories that will "touch us, amuse, intrigue, resonate--stories take us places we have never been, make us think, and that we cannot forget."*

On behalf of myself and Hagengard Studio (and that illustrator of mine) I want to extend sincere thanks to the editors at Silver Blade for believing in the story, and Rick Taubold for his work on compiling the anthology

*from the Write Well Award About Us Page


Update: I wrote too soon, there is a print version available as well!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Working Dreams and Balms

At some point I drifted out of the unsound of deep sleep and met a block of wood. It was tall, perhaps eight feet by two feet and it was not only old, but also in my way. Wind-worn and weathered by the beat of salt into the grain, it had been living by the sea for a long time. But it lacked the utter woodghost aspect of drowned driftwood: sand smoothed skin, limb-twisted, the brined ancestral bones of the peoples.

No, the block was hewn by some purposeful hand. The morning fog, a sea breath, surrounded me and the block. I heard the water nearby, dully lapping in that strange whisper that waves make when they are close and cannot be seen.

A rivulet fell somewhere. From a gutter? There were no eaves, or sluices near. A horse pissing on a flat rock? No, that was just a saying, I told myself. The noise disappeared, and then the block and I stood there for a long while. I did not really know how long, and hadn’t paused to stop and think of it, nor ask the block.

I turned, and found myself standing in a low-rimmed tub. I was still on the beach and my grandmother came to me then. She ordered ne to strip naked. I did so.

In a basalt mortar, she pounded pork fat, pine needles, fragrant herbs, marten’s bile until it was a uniformly speckled unguent and scooped it up in handfuls and began to cover me with it: her old knobbed skill-fingered hands worked every bit into my arms, legs and body. I shivered in the cold.

She did not say anything, but seemed to study me through narrow dead eyes.

When I looked away from her face, I saw the fog had thinned, but not disappeared. More blocks of wood, all embedded in the sand, waited in a crooked line up into the mist.

My conscious mind began shouting in the other room, beating on the door.

I am awake and writing this now. My grandmother's ministrations were helpful, albeit horrible smelling. The work never stops. There is always another submission to make, another promotion, another person to contact. Does Grandmother's protective balm inure me to the hurt, the rejection?

I write this as a prayer to overcome the ocean of indifference and silent blocks of wood.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Less is More (Sometimes)

“Less is More” is a phrase most often associated with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus school of minimalist design. The earliest use I can find lies buried in Robert Browning’s “Andrea del Sarto.” Doubtless there are others because insofar as paradoxes are concerned, it’s a fairly easy construction: take an idea and put a form of “to be” between it and its opposite. As with many koanish phrases—and one that is self-demonstrating—it has become near and dear to proponents of any artistic craft.

Those who know me understand that it is a problematic phrase for me because I simply don’t believe in it. That is not a mere excuse to be a lazy writer and not edit, but as Dumas pointed out, “all generalizations are dangerous, including this one.” Most often, those who prefer minimalism will use it as a relentless razor, so that like Occam’s little cut-throat, it takes a life of its own beyond its original application.

In defense first: A simple thing is often the hardest to do. Le mot juste is often a difficult thing to find, and crowding it with verbose, often elephantine phrasing spells the death of much good prose. Unless it is about elephants, perhaps.

Additionally, over-doing any artistic endeavor, whether it is painting, writing, music or cooking, often serves as an unconscious cloak of mistakes. And then there is the problem of just leaving your mess around.

Many of the verbal qualifiers that we use in everyday speech are just that when you leave them in writing. Speaking of “just,” I understand it is a dirty word. It lies on a supposed dung heap of phrases along with “I feel that,” “Indications show,”  “Interestingly enough” and a legion of other “hedging” phrases. I disagree. With any maturity and brains a good listener will just glide over the phrases, the same way we barely pay attention to credits in a film. If you want to learn more, simply visit the wonderful Language Log to read about it. And remember, dung can also be valuable compost.

I like to think of these phrases as warming up. They get your tongue and brain moving and words are actually coming out of your mouth which is a good way to begin communicating. Do you start an automobile in gear? Of course you don’t. But once you have shifted from park or neutral, the rest of your thought follows along enough.

Many writers do the same thing, although it may not just be phrases but paragraphs and entire chapters that starts the literary car moving. One very dear friend of mine usually has to write three or four pages of prose to get to the interesting part, but she needed to do that to get there.

The great advantage of writing is, that unlike speech, you can revise it. Another metaphor comes from construction: does a concrete mason leave the forms up? Of course not. They serve their purpose in shaping the liquid material. Once it sets and cures, the forms can be stripped off and discarded.

Kristen Steenbeeke:
This removal of “language forms” is one of the main thing editors can help with in line editing, which is a refining of a writer’s particular style. As I mentioned elsewhere, editors are indispensable to the writer. Like any human relationship you need to find one that understands you because they will perform the miraculous feat of making your thoughts sound better.

Working with an editor is an ongoing process and dialogue. Write your heart out onto the paper in a bloody mess, but when you revise think of what your editor might say. After her work on The Nightingale’s Stone I can often hear Kristen Steenbeeke's sardonic voice: “you’re leaving that in?” I've learned to recognize my own phrases when they stumble across the page thanks to her pointing out previous examples. Writing is art, it is craft, but it is process and the more you write, revise, and pay attention, the easier it is to not “put needless words” in. Or chapters. (But you'll still need them to work on your text once your 'finished'!!)

However—and you knew that was coming—sometimes a mess can irrupt into stories with glory. I suspect that the fascination with minimalism has nothing to do with a priori “value” but is a historical trend that began with the Modernists and continues on to this day—refined in the craft workshops of MFA programs and ateliers of genre fiction.

I have grown to weary to count out how many exceptions I can list when I listen to a writer, editor, or even an agent declare their blessed Rules. Rather, I like to think of them trying to work with established, beloved works of literature.

Even though it stands as one of the most important foundation texts in fantasy, do you think any New York publisher would let The Lord of the Rings stand as written in this day, let alone bother to look at it at all? The Craft People would want the story to move and get rid of all that mucking about in the Shire, the Old Forest, and the Barrowdowns. And yet, as I grow older, that is my favorite part of the book. I don’t want to go to Mordor any more than Frodo does. I want to savor the landscapes, the walking pace, the earthenware jars full of flowers and water in the House of Tom Bombadil.

This is only one example. I am sure you have a few books on your shelf that have wonderfully long, irrelevant, over-written, distracting stretches of writing in them. They are precious and we writers buy them with great pain.

Be careful, is all I suggest. Remember that while "Less is More" may be apt, "More is More" remains tautologically correct as well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Standing Under Time


Time, as something we fall through like a haze of cottonwood fluzz, does not exist. 'Time' is a convenient name that we ascribe to an ontological experience. To say even that this experience “shapes” us gives the name a certain agency that is questionable, if not dangerous. But language such as I have used is not very interesting. It lacks context. Time as the flow of water will do nicely, since it is the metaphor Heraclitus offers us.

The Nightingale’s Stone
is an important book for me because it describes occasions wherein I “stood under” Being and Time through heartbreak. It is often all too easy to describe past experiences of Love as illusions. This is nonsense. The fever and confustication that Love causes makes nearly everyone an unreliable narrator—if you believe in absolute truth—because none of our narratives can be trusted. That river, Time? Too much of it passes under the bridge we are standing on.

If you pick up the book, you will notice that my conversations with Anton take place in the present. Or at least what passes for it in words, which means I used the present tense. My description of what brought me there was all in past tense. The reason was simple: the subject of narrative concerns what was. The act of narration concerns what is. Like all simple things, I have not figured it out.

All writers must face Time. I do not mean narrative time, or nonlinear vs. linear time, but the words I choose to describe those times. If I am alone, which I am as I write this, and there was a time when I was not alone, how do I accurately treat that experience?

What if the place where I was coupled—and single—is the same place? What if it is a moving place? The place ‘moves through Time,’ but it obviously moves in space because it is a Washington State Ferry. This adds a further dimension: that of iteration, because the Washington State Ferries lack bow and stern. They simply have “ends.” They go back and forth. It is interesting that in English, one begins with the return, but from where?

“Back and forth” seems to call for the present tense. There is an implied immediacy, and since the present is actually timeless, going back and forth in present tense reflects how some ontological truth that lies beneath our fragile conceptual framework of space, time and causality. If I describe my lover’s infidelity in present tense, it throws the reader into the immanence of that sorrow.

That is one facet you may choose. Another facet is that my lover is long gone—an interesting temporal collision. His last lies, and what I had to return to him liberated me. I was miserable, but am now grateful for it. Have you noticed that Time often hinges on that conjunction ‘but?’

Or should I mix times? Should I add a future tense? Thinking back to when I had some inkling of how happy I would be when he was no longer in my life? Would I do this all again? Or would the ferry be something truly different, if only for this chronological epiphany? How would Heraclitus describe the Puget Sound?

Rules? Useless in this case. I have to write it out and then read it out loud, for the ear is often the best judge of how the heart philosophizes.

Monday, June 1, 2015

We are here in your garden



We are lions-toothy leaves and eyes watching you hate us

Crow black, rat grey, dandelion yellow

We will remain.