friday roundup: permission edition

Vincent: A Meadow in the Mountains - Les Mas de Saint-Paul. wikimedia

Vincent: A Meadow in the Mountains – Les Mas de Saint-Paul. wikimedia

Hello, Reader. Well, there was *almost* a full week of school this week. But not quite. And many appointments. And planning for milestone birthday (not mine). Writing and reading happened. This is a good thing. The Muse has been a bit reticent, but sometimes she’s that way. I’ve still been showing up at my desk to see if she’s hanging around. Now let us discuss permission:

permission: n. act of permitting; a formal consent; authorization; leave; license or liberty granted. From the Latin permittere, “let pass, let go, let loose; give up, hand over; let allow, grant, permit,” from per- “through” + mittere “let go, send”

Got that? Because it’s going to be important. Now:

the trapdoor on the top of my skull  Do you read brain pickings? I do. They once featured a really interesting article about Ray Bradbury’s list-making habits. According to the article, he would begin writing by making lists of nouns — whatever came to him. Stuff like:

“THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. THE TRAPDOOR.”

As he made the lists (they were longer than this excerpt — sometimes pages long), the lists would break away from themselves into a longer piece, or an idea for a longer piece. The way I see it, Bradbury’s list-making was a way of giving permission for the unconscious to surface and to bring with it a wealth of material. He suggests to us as writers:

“Conjure the nouns, alert the secret self, taste the darkness… speak softly, and write any old word that wants to jump out of your nerves onto the page…”

I believe he just gave us permission to write any word, not any good word, or beautiful word, or rich or amazing or nuanced word. For me permission is a necessary condition for creation. You can read the whole article here.

basically unreadable  At my MFA residency, one of the faculty (not my faculty mentor, but another faculty member who had read some of my work) suggested I read The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. “It’s basically unreadable,” he said laughing, “but you should read it.”

I am reading it. It’s basically unreadable. But it’s really interesting. And in it, Bachelard, amongst other things, writes about the importance of solitude and reverie in a creative life. In his view, the house is that protective, intimate space where reverie can happen, where one has the freedom and the protected intimacy to create. He says: “poetry appears as a phenomenon of freedom.” And he says a lot of other stuff (much of it unreadable). And I think his view of the house — specifically one’s first house, presumably a childhood house — might be a bit privileged because not everybody has the experience of protective, intimate space in their home. But we all need some kind of protective, intimate space where we are free to imagine in order to do our creative work. Also he says this thing which I’m going to type below just because it’s beautiful:

“And all the spaces of our past moments of solitude, the spaces in which we have suffered from solitude, enjoyed, desired, and compromised solitude, remain indelible within us, and precisely because the human being wants them to remain so. (S/)He knows instinctively that this space identified with his solitude is creative; that even when it is forever expunged from the present, when, henceforth, it is alien to all promises of the future, even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic.”

 

Personally, I once loved a garret. I once slept in an attic room. I’m going to keep reading this basically unreadable book.

and now, a poem  A poem that also examines the idea of permission, and places where one feels protected and free. This is one of those poems that you just have to read out loud to fully appreciate. It’s not a skimmer. It’s lovely, it’s by Robert Duncan, and it is “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow.”

Funny, often I am permitted to return to the laundry room. I mean the garage. Anyway, may you always have the time, space, and permission to do your work, to live your life. Thanks for reading.

 

 

friendly reminder: do your own work first

I seem to need to learn things, and then re-learn the same things, and then re-re-learn, and re-re-re-… well, you get the idea.

Over the last 10 days or so, I’ve re-learned this: do your own work first.

The reason I had to re-learn it is that I started an MFA program and — oh dear — I have assigned reading.

Long-time readers here know how integral reading is to my creative process. And here’s the thing: not all of the assigned reading gets my creative juices flowing. Which is not to say I’m not enjoying it and learning from it — I am. But I still have to do my own work — with reading that does get my creative juices flowing — first.

It’s kind of like that oxygen mask thing they say on airplanes (that I always try not to hear because even thinking about needing an oxygen mask on an airplane makes me feel like I need an oxygen mask).

So I’ve continued to get up before dawn to read what I want to read, and to write whatever flows from that. Later, after the kids are off to school, I move on to the assigned readings (and yes, I realize how lucky I am to have this flexibility).

Days and weeks will come when I have to choose which to do. I will do my own work first.

Unless of course a bleak season comes along. And I think it’s important, when being bossy and telling people to do their own work first, to discuss bleak seasons. Because they do come, and they sometimes mean putting things aside, even your own work. Here is what I’ve said before about bleak seasons. If you are in a bleak season and you’ve had to put things aside, even your own work, remember this: no one can take your (insert your passion here) badge away from you. Life is very lifelike. Bleak seasons come. They also go. Hang tough.

Now off to the work of feeding the hungry… .

 

 

 

friday roundup: snap out of it edition

Snap out of it!

Snap out of it.

Hello, Reader. Meet the snap out of it doll=>

My mother gave me this doll one fateful summer — the summer when all three kids were old enough to whine and fuss in earnest, and with a goal in mind. Like:

Me: It’s time to put your clean laundry away.

Them: Waaaaah. But I’m toooooo tiiiiiirrrrrreeeedddddd.

Me: [Thinks to self: Connect and redirect. Gives a quick hug]. Being tired’s no fun. It’s time to put your laundry away.

Them: Waaaaaah. Buuut Moooooooommmmmm. I’m toooooo tiiiiiirrrrrreeeeddddd.

Me: [Thinks, Where is that F-ing doll? Finds doll. Hands doll to child] Snap out of it. [walks away]

If you look closely, you will see that the snap of it doll has gotten enough use so as to be in need of mending near her ear. I feel I can relate to her deeply on that point.

But lately, I, too, have felt the need to…

snap out of it  Not because I’ve been whining about putting my laundry away, but because I’m back from the first residency of my low-res MFA program, and I’ve had a hard time snapping out of: Oh look here I am with a bunch of people who care about what I care about and who are reading what I’m reading and who are also interested in rhetorical strategies for lyricization of a narrative and here we all are all day and all night doing our writerly thing.

I mean, I get this sense from the washing machine that it expects me to have this deep connection to it, but I’m just not feeling it. And then, these people who are always STARVING.

Them: Mooooommmmmmmm, I’m STARRRRRRRRRRRVING.

Me: Starving? Really!? Do you want to know about starving!!?? Come here, look at this. Do you see this? [shows photo from New York Times] These people are trapped on a mountain by a terrorist group. There is no food or water on the mountain. If they leave the mountain to try to find food and water, the terrorist group will kill them. THEY are starving. YOU are SO NOT STARVING [walks away, mutters under breath].

Them: [insert deer in the headlights look].

So, yeah, as usual, a little pain on re-entry for all of us. I’m sure I’ll stop feeling disoriented any second now [waiting, waiting.... waiting]. Or maybe not. Maybe disorientation is what we need to write poetry. Le Sigh. Anyway, …

here’s what I’ve been reading (says the prairie dog at my desk):

  • Descending Figure Louise Glück
  • Charming Gardeners David Beispiel
  • Victims of a Map: A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry (all by men, I must add)
  • Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson
  • How to Live on Bread and Water by Jennifer K. Sweeney
  • Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers (also all men, I must add)
  • Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel
  • Mary Coin by Marisa Silver
  • Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
  • The Everything Parenting a Teenager BookT by Linda Sonna. Le Sigh.
  • Occasionally, the New York Times.

At some point, I will have to focus on 2 or 3 of these texts and let the others fall away for now. I’ll do that. As soon as I snap out of it.

speaking of which  Right now, I want to hand the snap out of it doll to the whole wide world. I want us all to stop killing each other. I want us all to stop thinking that some people are worth less than other people. I want us to start caring more about our planet. I want the police to go back to wearing those nifty blue shirts and caps with a visor on the front. I want there to be fewer guns in the world, on our streets. I want people to stop making and playing video games that turn killing other people into entertainment. I want us to say hello to each other in the morning when we cross paths walking through our neighborhoods (when I do this in the P-town, people look at me like I’ve just sprouted a third eye). I want no one to be trapped and starving on a mountain top, literal or figurative.

[steps off soapbox]

In that spirit, I offer you a poem by the beloved Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim who died this week. I give you:

Travel Tickets by Samih al-Qasim

The day I’m killed,
my killer, rifling through my pockets,
will find travel tickets:
One to peace,
one to the fields and the rain,
and one
to the conscience of mankind.

Dear killer of mine, I beg you:
Do not stay and waste them.
Take them, use them.
I beg you to travel.

(A.Z. Foresman, trans.)

*

Happy weekend reader. Here’s to snapping out of it [raises glass -- full of water].

 

pain, panic, famine, and oblivion

IMG_3654

pain, panic, famine, and oblivion

Hi Reader. I’m back.

This world is a heartbreaker.

Our friends from Greek myth, pain, panic, famine, and oblivion, seem to be working overtime these days. Not to mention racism and disease. Ethnic violence and political quagmire.

I’m sure I don’t need to list all the events that are breaking our hearts lately. You’ve all seen/heard/read the news.

There’s a word in German for how the world can break your heart: Weltschmerz. Literally, “world pain.”

Last night, in a text exchange, a friend and I were listing poets we turn to in times of Weltschmerz. Mentioned were Neruda and Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry and W.S. Merwin.

I zeroed in on a Merwin poem. Partly because I know that in heartbreaking times, gratitude helps me to keep going. Partly because the only gratitude in this particular poem is a bleak gratitude. 

Here it is for you, in case you need it.

summer flowers with dictionary, and wee, small hiatus

I noticed this lovely little scene yesterday:

Garden Flowers with Enormous Dictionary That Should Have Come with an Altar Boy

Garden Flowers with Enormous Dictionary That Should Have Come with an Altar Boy

Sister gathered the flowers. And yes, the dictionary that’s been hanging around the house, wanting to be fed is my doing. I will tell you more about it someday.

I’ll be going on a Wee, Small hiatus for the next few weeks. There will be some family time, and some time of not-being-connected-to-the-Interwebs, and some time wholly devoted to reading and writing.

Before I go and in case you missed it, you simply must read Karen Skolfield’s poem “Epiphenomenon” at poets.org today (if you want to know what an epiphenomenon is, look here). At the risk of being soapboxy (technical term), I feel I must say: One thing scholars have learned is that we read differently online than we do on paper. They’ve found we tend to scan and skim, rather than actually read. They’ve found we don’t really like to scroll down much, and we read for about a screen’s worth and then we wander off (can’t you just hear our attention spans shrinking??). I beg you to SCROLL DOWN and read this ENTIRE POEM. Because it just keeps getting better and better as you go. Or scroll as the case may be.

And may your summer do the same, i.e., get better and better as you go. See you back here in a few weeks. Thanks for reading.

summer flowers with dictionary, and wee, small haitus

I noticed this lovely little scene yesterday:

Garden Flowers with Enormous Dictionary That Should Have Come with an Altar Boy

Garden Flowers with Enormous Dictionary That Should Have Come with an Altar Boy

Sister gathered the flowers. And yes, the dictionary that’s been hanging around the house, wanting to be fed is my doing. I will tell you more about it someday.

I’ll be going on a Wee, Small hiatus for the next few weeks. There will be some family time, and some time of not-being-connected-to-the-Interwebs, and some time wholly devoted to reading and writing.

Before I go and in case you missed it, you simply must read Karen Skolfield’s poem “Epiphenomenon” at poets.org today (if you want to know what an epiphenomenon is, look here). At the risk of being soapboxy (technical term), I feel I must say: One thing scholars have learned is that we read differently online than we do on paper. They’ve found we tend to scan and skim, rather than actually read. They’ve found we don’t really like to scroll down much, and we read for about a screen’s worth and then we wander off (can’t you just hear our attention spans shrinking??). I beg you to SCROLL DOWN and read this ENTIRE POEM. Because it just keeps getting better and better as you go. Or scroll as the case may be.

And may your summer do the same, i.e., get better and better as you go. See you back here in a few weeks. Thanks for reading.

california 1,099 days in

Cyclops on my back porch

Cyclops on my back porch

Three years ago today, the occupants of the Wee, Small House woke up in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in a hotel whose A/C was broken (highs around 100 all that week), packed our bags, and went downstairs into a drippy, humid, steam-on-my-glasses morning, where, outside the hotel, a few dear friends had gathered — some to say a last goodbye, and one to drive us to the airport. Several hours later we landed and began the California chapter of our lives. Here’s what I can say so far:

  • Weather: better. Um, understatement of the century.
  • Healthcare: better. We had a wonderful pediatrician in St. Paul, but overall there is more advanced medical knowledge here, and more experts-per-capita. Thank you, Stanford University.
  • Schools: worse. This is one of my biggest regrets of the move. My kids attend what are supposed to be some of the best schools in California, and they don’t hold a candle to the schools we left in terms of curriculum, differentiation, facilities, extra-curriculars, etc.
  • Real-estate: Don’t get me started. Let me just say that we were amazingly lucky to have relocation assistance and to have bought just before another uptrend in prices.
  • View from my kitchen window: worse. Then: woods, the bird theaters (as Sister still says for bird feeders), a beautiful old cedar tree. Now: the loading dock of the Asian grocery store, a strangely out of context center hall Colonial, a blue duplex that gets frequent visits from the police.
  • Traffic and parking: (*crumples in defeat)
  • Literary and arts scene: better. The Twin Cities had a good literary and arts scene, too, but the scene here feels more democratic and ubiquitous.
  • The City: (*swoons and holds up hands in adoration)
  • Produce: So much better, so much cheaper. The only cheaper thing in California. Tender mercies.
  • Streetscapes: different. In the Midwest, you tend to have your “nice neighborhoods” and your “not-so-nice neighborhoods.” In the nice neighborhoods, all the houses are nice, tidy, and well-tended. In the not-so-nice neighborhoods, not so much. In California you have wild mixes: a multi-million dollar, ultra modern, new home right next to a 1920s cottage with no central heating that looks like it’s about to fall in on itself.
  • Public transit: so much better.
  • Parenting culture: Oh, help. The parenting trends we’ve seen all over (achievement culture, wanting to make everything special for children, helicoptering, etc.) are at a fever pitch here. I have a long story about being assigned (I emphasize assigned) to make clam chowder for 60 and deliver it to school on the day after Second Son came home from major surgery, and about what happened when I said I was sorry, I couldn’t do it. I have another story about a friend who was assigned to make fruit tartlets for 8th grade graduation, “must match attached picture, no canned fruit.” Have I mentioned the weekly teacher appreciation brunch? Friends, I can’t compete and don’t want to. I’ve also noticed that many parents speak of their children in the collective here: We are doing gymnastics. We have Mandarin class today. Somebody please pass the Midwest in 1978.
  • (I hasten to add that of course not all parents here buy in to this culture, but enough do to make me feel like I need to run and hide. Have I mentioned that when we first moved here I was known as The One Who Lets Her Kids Walk Alone To School? 1.5 blocks, people, 1.5 blocks)
  • Access to brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, nephews and cousins: BETTER <3 I feel so lucky to live near my brother and his family, and not super-near but near-enough to my uncle and his family.
  • Flora: All I can say is: Abundance of pants on steroids (oops – typo – I meant pLants, but there are pants on steroids here too). When we first moved here, I actually felt a little freaked out by how big and ubiquitous plants and trees are (First text back to Saint Paul: “freakishly large geraniums”). I’m now getting used to it, and I’ve particularly fallen in love with succulents, which look like little (and not so little) aliens on the planet, exactly mirroring what I feel is the shape of my soul.
  • Freedom to be you and me: better. You can pretty much be/do/look like/try anything and everything in California and no one will bat an eye. There is a real freedom here to be who you are, to fly your freak flag.
  • Sleeping weather: better. Even on the hottest days (which rarely reach the 90s, and which typically happen in October) the nights are always cool. Thank you, cold and indifferent ocean known as the Pacific. Speaking of which:
  • Access to big water: better. When we lived in Minnesota I’d sometimes become despondent. I felt trapped and landlocked. Husband would ask what was wrong, and I’d say: I need some water. BIG water. Although MN does have Lake Superior, it’s quite a drive away from where we lived. Here we can be at the ocean in about 35 minutes. Having been formed by the sands and horizons of the Great Lakes, I need that vast expanse of big water. Thank you again, Pacific Ocean.
  • Access to psychics and palm readers: better ;)
  • Joint pain: better. No storms rolling through, no 6 months of cold weather, no basement stairs. My arthritis is easier to manage here.
  • Access to my mother: worse :(.
  • Thing I miss the most: my dear Saint Paul friends (*heart literally skips a beat, then aches).
  • Have I mentioned my washer and dryer are in the garage? (still not quite used to that)

Sometimes I feel like my real life is still happening in St. Paul. That this is just a long, strange trip. Mostly I’m grateful for the way life can surprise and fill you full of goodness you never expected. I’ve made a few friends here, one of which in particular feels like a true soul mate, a sister ship on this voyage of life. Peaches grow in my front yard. My 3yo nephew loves to vacuum my couch, and lays his head down on my shoulder when he’s tired. My husband is employed, my kids are healthy, there is a roof over our heads and (at least for now) water comes out of our faucets when we turn them on. Who could ask for more?

friday roundup: opposites, diction, and “Then you can return”

wikimedia

wikimedia

Reader, the weeks fly by. Since the last roundup (or lack thereof) there has been one batch of houseguests, one trip to North Beach / Chinatown, one almost-finished book review, one pool closure (one distressing moment of realizing how disappointed I was about the pool closure — swim practice = time to read), one birthday party hosted, two rounds of laser tag, one pool reopening, one-half of a cousin sleepover in the tent in the back yard, two out of three cousins deciding they’d rather sleep in their own beds, untold numbers of arguments settled, one trip to Costco (and I am still alive), one electrical problem in the Wee, Small House, many meals, two trips to the library, many loads of laundry, many conscious avertings of eyes from my To Do list. There have been some narrow rooms of time for poetry — quite narrow, but quiet and with a lamp softly lit. I’ll take it. Now on to the roundup:

opposites Having recently spent most of my creative time revising my manuscript, and having finished revising it (at least for now), I’ve found myself in a lull of creative weariness and lack of focus. The general feeling is What can I possibly work on now? And also I am tired. The answer yet unknown, I’ve fallen back onto tricks that keep the juices flowing without having to think too hard. Yes, I’ve been writing opposite poems.

The trick is thus: Find a poem (I prefer short-ish ones, being tired and the one who others look to for their meals) by another poet, and then write its opposite. You don’t have to think about what to write — their language is your map. An example:

A line from Rick Barot’s poem “Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It”: “the sky has all these beginnings.”

The opposite line: “The earth has all these endings”

You get the idea. When you are stuck or tired or don’t know what to write about, I recommend trying an opposite poem or two. Already I have seen hints of new themes and obsessions come out in my drafts. Thank you, opposite poems, for doing my work for me.

diction n. Choice of words to express ideas; the use of language with regard to clearness, accuracy, variety, etc.; mode of expression; as poetic diction

A recent Writer’s Chronicle contains an article on diction by Tony Hoagland. Hoagland points out that, because it’s a mishmash of many other languages, English is a rich linguistic landscape: “We American poets are millionaires… we can write checks with our mouths all day.”

He goes on to talk about diction as a focusing device — as a way of directing your reader’s attention. He says:

“To use any interesting word is not just to pinpoint one meaning, but also to invoke a whole resonating web of vocabularies, contexts, and ideas… . (D)iction is very much an instrument of associative imagination, and one of the many modes of intellect which collaborates in the making of the poem.”

Diction — the choice of a particular word over another — as a means of focusing your reader can

“operate on both conceptual and emotive levels.”

This is why writers lie awake at night wondering what they will do in the Grim Times when it becomes necessary to leave on foot in search of water and safety, and there is no way, really, to bring along the Enormous Dictionary Which Should’ve Come with an Altar Boy, the Fairly Large Thesaurus, and the Exhaustive Dictionary of Etymology. This is why every word choice matters. Choose on.

“Then you can return” On one of the trips to the library this week, I was looking for anything by Lynn Emanuel. Nada, Reader, nada. But I did find an anthology called Dark Horses: Poets on Overlooked Poems in which she recommends a poem. I did not fall in love with that poem, but another: “Water Lilies” by Sara Teasdale. Here it is:

*

Water Lilies by Sara Teasdale

If you have forgotten water lilies floating
On a dark lake among mountains in the afternoon shade,
If you have forgotten their wet, sleepy fragrance,
Then you can return and not be afraid.

But if you remember, then turn away forever
to the plains and prairies where pools are far apart.
Then you will come at dusk on the closing water lilies,
an the shadow of mountains will not fall on your heart.

*

(Excuse me while I pull the dagger from my heart).

So much to love here, but there are two things I love most: One is that the poem delays the “then” clause for a few lines. We are left to wonder what the resolution of that “If you have forgotten” is for most of a stanza. Tension, emotion building — the syntax does it. The other is that this poem turns our expectations upside down. There are one zillion poems that remember home or another important place. Often remembering a place is an invitation to return there (literally or figuratively). But this poem says, “if you remember, then turn away forever.” Then the closing water lilies, then the shadow falling, the dagger in your heart.

(I also think this poem would be a good poem for which to write the opposite).

And now. It is still summer vacation. The pool is open. The children are hungry. The poet must leave her desk. Happy weekend, Reader.