Wednesday, March 29, 2017

In yesterday's post I bitched and moaned about how much I hate writing, and today I take it all back and admit that, after I composed that note to you, I immediately fell headfirst into the writing hole and didn't clamber back out until five o'clock in the afternoon. At the end of the day I possessed a seven-page draft, with a structure and a dramatic arc. It was a miracle. And it goes to show you that I know nothing about the creative process, so do not ask me for advice.

Today I thought I was going to the dentist, but it turns out that I read my calendar wrong (a common side-effect of falling into the writing hole, akin to driving past my own exit or forgetting to pick up my kid from his piano lesson). Instead, I have another day of "write write write," which is to say, anything could happen. Tomorrow I may have to reveal to you that I spent much of the day on the couch watching Star Trek reruns. Or that I decided to hand-wash all of the wool sweaters. Or that I accidentally brought home a puppy.

Anyway today's embarrassment is worth it. Because I have a draft.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Yesterday I wrote and wrote, and what I wrote was pretty awful, but at least it's been ejected into some version of actuality. I am definitely not in the zone: every word feels like a jackhammer to my skull. Still, I did manage to blurt out four pages of dense undigested garble, so I've got material to revise.

Like a coward, I'm yearning for distraction. Surely someone will need me to do something! Please! . . . but no: I've got another whole day to myself, and I'd better make use of it. Ugh. Writing is so awful. Why do people do it?

A few days ago, a poet-acquaintance commented on Facebook that her local coffee shop was offering free coffee to anyone who wrote a poem. "How is that a bargain?" she asked plaintively. "It's a million times easier just to pay for coffee."

No kidding.

Anyway, off I trudge to the mines. Let's hope the methane levels stay under control and the supports don't start crumbling.

Monday, March 27, 2017

from "Spin" by Tim O'Brien

You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present. The memory-traffic feeds into a rotary up on your head, where it goes in circles for a while, then pretty soon imagination flows in and the traffic merges and shoots off down a thousand different streets. As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come at you. That's the real obsession. All those stories.

* * *

It's raining today, which is far better than the sleet originally forecast. The snow in the park is dwindling in streaks and clots, and on my walks I have seen a handful of crocuses, two spindly snowdrops, and a few iris and daylily spikes. Buds are beginning to swell on the trees outside my windows, and opening day for the Red Sox is next Monday. The times they are a-changing.

Suddenly the lobster boats have been busier on the bay. Flocks of eiders gather and disperse. Bluejays clang in the shrubbery below the cliff. A row of starlings decorates a ridgeline, and two prim pigeons investigate a feeder intended for some other sort of bird. On Saturday Tom brought home soft-shell crabs for dinner.

"You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present." Yet I'm not sure what my "real obsession" is . . . stories, yes, to a degree, but also the sounds and shapes, also the unarticulated longing. Perhaps, really, the longing is the heart of the matter.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

from My Detachment by Tracy Kidder

I had mixed feelings about . . . a young Spec. 4 who improbably enough, had come across a paperback copy of The Brothers Karamozov and had wrestled with it to its end. I don't think he'd finished high school, but I never met a more ardent reader. Periodically, he'd yell, "I'm not readin' this fuckin' book anymore!" and hurl it across his hootch. Half an hour later he'd be on his hands and knees reassembling the scattered pages. . . . I thought we had a bond.

Then one night in the drinking hootch, someone was talking about the Americal Division patch, which depicted the stars of the Southern Cross, and I piped up and said that, speaking of stars, the light from many of them was so old that the stars themselves no longer existed, and that was because, in proportion to their distance from us, light didn't travel all that fast.

"It's pretty fast," the Dostoevsky reader said.

Well, I replied, we human beings couldn't reach most parts of the universe even if we could travel at the speed of light, which we couldn't.

"Oh, yeah? Why?"

"Because mass can't travel the speed of light," I said. . . . "That's Einstein's theory of relativity," I added.

"I don't give a fuck whose theory it is!" He was practically yelling. "Maybe you can't go the speed of light, but don't fuckin' tell me what I can't do!"

* * *

from "Fragging" by Michael Casey

this kind of crime
is getting to be epidemic
it must be catchy
and it's entirely
from electromagnetic disturbances
in the atmosphere
like I'm dumb he yells out
sunspots sunspots

* * *


Saturday, March 25, 2017

I may have found a way to begin writing about my uncle. Copying out Carruth helped, as it so often does . . . though for reasons that are unclear to me. Not that reasons matter. What matters is finding a frame and a sound and an open door.

Overall, yesterday was a good day. I was delighted to watch the Republicans' health-care bill crash and burn. And as I was humming over that debacle, I received an email from the editor of a very famous press, inviting me to submit a Chestnut Ridge proposal. That was an amazing moment. I doubt very much the press will end up taking the book, but getting onto its radar felt like a miracle in itself.

So this morning I will work on that proposal. And this afternoon I will teach an essay workshop. For now I am watching rainwater drip from the balcony, watching seawater crepitate under a pallid sky. Out of sight, the interstate growls and barks, an incessant rubble of noise. There is no silence here. Nonetheless, solitude remains.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Pages from a Commonplace Book

from Vermont by Hayden Carruth

Have I been too hard on Frost? Let's say I have.
Let's say he made, out of his own bad temper
and this forsaken and forsaking land,
a large part of our context. Not the whole,
not that by any means, but nevertheless
a large part. We must come to terms with him,
or find ourselves cut off completely. Frost,
whatever else you say, possessed a saving
curiosity. That's it, he got around,
he knew this people, he explored this land;
he saw, he apprehended, he perceived,
at least at his best he did, and by God that's
seven-eighths of the battle and five-eighths further
than most of us ever get.

* * *

from PFC Timothy Robinson in Vietnam, April 7, 1968, to his family in Minnesota

Im still waiting for my first letter from someone back home. It would be nice to get a package from home about once a week if you could because your son is starving over here. Some of the things you can send are: cans of fuirt, cokies, hard candy, caned meat, anything in cans our jars, hony or some strawbarry jam, joke book, comics book, hot rod books, paper's, baked food's and "kool-aid" The water over here teast like "H" apple sauce. About once a month send some stationary like Im writtin on now. Im going to try and write grandma, Nancy, and Joyce to because they always have good coked foods around but it is hard to get the time and the equip. over here.

I heat to write and ask for food like a pig, but I losing whiegt fast. Dad I would love to have that big hunting kinef with me over here Do you think you could send it to me. Dont get any cold beer or Coke any more. Maybe one or two cans a week

Haven't seen a base camp in a mounth. That's why we can't get any of that good stuff. Im still wearing the same cloth as when I got over here but they gave me new socks last week. We get a chance to swim in the ocean here but the water is to salt to get clean. We have a mud piled in front of our bunker to wash up and shave in. Got to go now

Love and miss ya all lots
Your loven son and brother Tim

P.S. I don't know what good Im doing over here but I'll keep fighting in hopes that my brother may never have to see this dam land.

["The special care packages the family had put together for Robinson were returned several weeks later. On April 19, 1968, Robinson caught his foot on the trip wire to a booby-trapped mine and, quite literally, was blown to pieces."]

* * *

from War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, trans. Constance Garnett

"Now where, your excellency?" asked the coachman.

"Where?" Pierre asked himself. "Where can I go now? Not to the club or to pay calls." All men seemed to him so pitiful, so poor in comparison with the feeling of tenderness and love in his heart, in comparison with that softened, grateful glance [Natasha] had turned upon him that last minute through her tears.

"Home," said Pierre, throwing open the bearskin coat over his broad, joyously breathing chest in spite of ten degrees of frost.

It was clear and frosty. Over the dirty, half-dark streets, over the black roofs was a dark, starlit sky. It was only looking at the sky that Pierre forgot the mortifying meanness of all things earthly in comparison with the height his soul had risen to. As he drove into Arbatsky Square, the immense expanse of dark, starlit sky lay open before Pierre's eyes. Almost in the centre of it above the Prechistensky Boulevard, surrounded on all sides by stars, but distinguished from all by its nearness to the earth, its white light and long, upturned tail, shone the huge, brilliant comet of 1812; the comet which betokened, it was said, all manner of horrors and the end of the world. But in Pierre's heart that bright comet, with its long, luminous tail, aroused no feeling of dread. On the contrary, his eyes wet with tears, Pierre looked joyously at this bright comet, which seemed as though after flying with inconceivable swiftness through infinite space in a parabola, it had suddenly, like an arrow piercing the earth, stuck fast at one chosen spot in the black sky, and stayed there, vigorously tossing up its tail, shining and playing with its white light among the countless other twinkling stars. It seemed to Pierre that it was in full harmony with what was in his softened and emboldened heart, that had gained vigour to blossom into a new life.

* * *

from Vermont by Hayden Carruth

Well, I’ve said Robert Frost had curiosity
and took the trouble and go and satisfy it,
on foot or driving that bay mare of his;
he saw the state, he met the people. Yet
my guess is that he traveled by himself.
Your typical Vermonter is a man
of, say, sufficient winters, or a woman
for that matter, walking the back roads,
the pastures, woodlots, hills, and brooks, alone
or with a dog, mostly looking down.
Curiosity? Yes, but it bears inward
as much as outward, maybe more. My dog
is Locky, a mixed-breed bitch, though shepherd
predominates, and in her eleven years
Locky and I have walked these thousand acres
ten thousand times, I reckon. Do you think
we go on sniffing the same old rabbit trail,
examining the same old yellow birch
forever? We grow stiff. We plod now, I
with my stick, Locky with her lame forepaw,
and mostly we look down. And so did Frost.
Which brings me to the “all-important question.”
What is the difference, now at last, between
the contemporary and the archaic?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

One excellent side-effect of buying a new comforter, pillows, and memory-foam pad is that the cat has been too comfortable in bed to bother to yowl-claw me awake at some ungodly hour. For three days in a row, he has been the last one up. So we've all been sleeping well here in the doll-house . . . though I did have an unpleasant dream in which I villainously stole someone's identity or possessions or invented a mountain that did not exist and then made my victim climb it or something involving all of those nefarious behaviors; and if this plot does not make sense to you, well, join the club. (Also, there was a cave involved, and some elementary-school wall decorations. And I think I might have bleached my hair blond.)

Today I have nothing to do. No editing, no classroom prep, no vacuuming. I will walk to the post office to mail cookies to Son #2, but that's about my only pressing obligation. Otherwise, I am going to read and write and practice the violin and water my plants and make cookies for Son #1. When Tom comes home from work, we will walk to the library together. Then I will come home and make dinner and watch the Michigan-Oregon game and receive terse game-time texts from my father and Son #2.

By the way, you'll be shocked to hear that the FBI seems to be finding evidence of collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. I mean, shocking, right? The terrible thing is that it's not shocking. As a poet friend wrote last night, "we knew it in our bones." But what the hell? And in the meantime Trump's callow son is sending rude tweets to the mayor of London, just as the man is dealing with a terrorist attack. And in the meantime our so-called president is threatening House Republicans with retaliation if they fail to support to the party's health-care "solution." And in the meantime the guy on the Senate Intelligence Committee who's been most vociferous in his outrage about leaked FBI information just leaked some FBI information. Our government is a humiliation.

But I did see some crocuses in bloom yesterday. So that's something.