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One of the most joyous things I have ever seen–and one of the saddest. And both within 48 hours. See you tomorrow….
What a person doesn’t know can be the most difficult part of life. The total, necessary abdication of control to someone else—is the definition of awfulness.
For someone who has spent her existence as a (mostly) self-determining being, and as a long-time New Yorker, waiting is the impossible thing. I am used to doing things when I need them done. Now is a concept very comfortable to me.
I am not a person to go to parties with others (or mostly ever at all)…not when I’ve got to wait on a comrade’s willingness to leave. That I can do all on my own. I have bowed out of company outings that involved party boats…simply because leaving when I wanted to would mean swimming to shore. When friends have come to the house for the weekend, I’m the one who begs off the conversation to go to bed.
NYC was largely tailor-made for that finickiness: If one wants now, NY is mostly ready to oblige. One is willing to stand in line, if need be, to get now accomplished. Subways are transportation now (more or less.) Food and drink are now, always. Doctors, very often, now.
Springfield is now, but on a different scale. At least when it comes to jumping into a car and getting somewhere. Restaurants and shops, not so much (but then I’m not much in shopping mode here, anyway.) Doctors, no.
When someone receives an alarming call, shouldn’t the caller remain phoneside to deliver the explanation the recipient wants? Now? And how does one deal with the fidgets of being—unhappily, uncharacteristically—out of control?
What we don’t know can hurt us.
It’s Thursday. Of a long week. If I didn’t know, I could tell what day it is.
The Muzzies are here.
It’s that state of mind, of energy, that no night of good sleep can repair. The what-is-that-ache? state. The condition of I-know-there’s-a-good-idea-in-there-somewhere. The Land of Meh, of numb, of covering one’s head with a pillow.
The last two evenings at the page have been proof of its approach. The stalking mood has stayed perched on my shoulder, tapping my head, distracting me at every opportunity. It hasn’t wanted me to offer my attention to anything, much less letting me track from one sentence to the next.
Where do they come from, these Muzzies? Why do they exist at all?
It may be the heart’s listening to the anguish that echoes in the air, the collective pain from that tornado-raked town 60 miles away. It may be the hangover of worry about the water rising behind the house on the river. It may be that my confidence is low, right now. It may be bio-rhythms. It may be that I’ve been at these chapters so long that I can recite them by heart. It may be that I’m just chompin’ to get to some meaty and challenging stuff ahead. It may be the tough awareness that this book is chapters away from being finished. Hell, it may just be Thursday—and no more reason than that.
Coffee can’t fix it. Kind words from friends can’t. This is the eye of the mind staring at the blank walls on the inside of the head. The endless game of mental computer solitaire. Dishrags, if they had emotions, must feel like this.
The Muzzies. The place of not-so-good. Not much of anything. I’ll choose to think of it as a Recovery Room for the spirit. It’s all I can do.
The best and worst. In Nature. And in human nature. I’m seeing it all around me.
The best…as in the people who are going to extraordinary lengths to help, to care, to do what needs to be done; the breathtaking empathies-turned-to-action. The small, hopeless, delightful baggage of human nature that could see bright hope in a double rainbow at the edge of the devastation—a freak of Nature that was a symbol of the hard-wired human drive to discover the faith that all would be well, that hope would continue.
The worst…in the disaster-tourists who drove into the devastation just to say they’d seen it…the people who’ve come for more sinister reasons…the outsiders who turn the indescribable horror into opportunities to make jokes or to glean attention for themselves.
The woodwork spawns all sorts of ugliness in tragedies. The recent catastrophes in Japan, and a so-called comedian (whose name will not soil this space, but whose talents were better suited to being the voice of a duck than to an open mic to the public ear) who made jokes about it. No. No. And more: Tweets that forgot that self-glorification was not the appropriate response either for the space or the moment. No. No. The United Airlines ad at Ground Zero that declared “You’ll like where our planes land.” No. No.
All of these, people who should know better. People with whom I have no patience. Acquaintances with whom I’ll have a hard time speaking, knowing what I know. No-brainers are exactly that—or should be. Political correctness is not political. It is just correctness; the good sense to understand that words have the power to wound already hurting hearts.
These are the times that amaze. And appall. That give hope and rob it. To care: Our capacity to feel should be the most immediate and overwhelming instinct of all of us. Indifference is the thing that rips our souls from their foundations and tosses them to the winds.
Joplin, my heart is still with you.
The sky is beautiful this morning, just 60 miles from where lives are in ruin. The cloud are bleached white, tipped with silver.
It doesn’t seem fair, somehow.
The people of devastated Joplin, MO, couldn’t catch a break yesterday. Rain and lightning all day, to add misery to chaos. The forecast today predicts more of the same, a chance of all forms of severe weather later on, a contradiction to the morning’s lying sky.
The knowledge weighs heavily here. I can see it in the wan, stunned faces of the TV newspeople. I see it in the language of bodies, hearts, struggling to find some small good amidst the hopelessness, the outward emotional expressions of their gleanings through the rubble piles.
Things are not what they were, here. Physical objects are no longer recognizable as what they once were. Lives are not. And, for many, there are no lives left at all.
I think, too, of those victims of a more muted, stealthy disaster. The ruin that no longer shows up much on the news—the less camera ready one. These are the lives rearranged by creeping water. Mile upon mile of flood victims whose houses are left standing—for now—but whose existences are tossed on the crest of unstill waters. We have forgotten them.
Life is filled with challenges. Fortunately, for most of us, those challenges are not compacted into a deadly few
minutes of black-sky destruction. Empathy is not help. Sympathy is not solution. But we must feel—and do—what we can. Under this sky of unfair and deceitful blue.
Sundays are hard enough. Even after a lovely weekend down on the river with Glorious, and all the great food and amazing conversation that went with it, there is the return to the workday reality that always crushes my heart. Not even sitting with the page for the hours of the afternoon and evening are enough to reinflate the spirits.
And last night was accompanied by a darkness of another kind. A darkness far more threatening and dire. The sky. This was the storm that devastated Joplin, MO, fifty miles from Republic. The TV was full of it, given over to the tracking of the towering cell that cut through towns like hot knives through butter.
Much of Joplin is gone. Flattened. There will be many too many analogies on the news today about “cars tossed like toys” and homes “crushed as if by a giant’s foot” and “like a scene of nuclear devastation”; we don’t need another one here. 89 dead—and counting—should tell you enough of the story. Much of the town that was…isn’t.
The brilliant sunset that crept out from under the tail-end of the storm line, the sparkling double rainbow…cold comforts. This is blackness upon a blackness, the irredeemable helplessness of disaster, and the other, far lesser, of being suspended in a life lived out of necessity, not love. One feels bad about suffering in private amidst a greater and more important suffering-for-cause. Let the two live side by side. Let one exist to pay tribute to the other.
Joplin, I am sorry for your loss.
When you write tight (I’m talking about the page, here, people, not the writer), there are only a certain number of places where a change will fit. sometimes you get lucky, sometimes it’s next to impossible.
I’m facing that now.
Each chapter must make as much emotional sense as plot sense, yes? And that’s where the problem arrives. If you’ve carefully structured the emotional arc of a chapter, any attempt to shoehorn-in a new tension will not be looked upon kindly by the rest of the chapter. Square pegs, round holes.
The good thing is that the search yields some valuable revelations. The chapter that has been laying on the page, well-written, singing in the tape-playback, still is reporting and not action (and again, I’m not talking about bang-bang, car-chase action, but the force that shows the development as well as reports it.)
I loved the chapter, but it didn’t move me. Spoke to me, but didn’t thrill me. Last night, in the search for “where does this go”, I figured that out—not the solution, exactly, but the problem, certainly. It will mean more work, more standing back from the canvas to see how the brush strokes must change. But that’s okay.
Hammers don’t make square pegs fit those holes. But effort will. I don’t really mind chipping away and chipping away and chipping away until the thing fits…because most often I’ll look back later and think “you actually wrote that?”, forgetting how much sweat and pain went into the result.
We are masochists, writers. We are fantasists. We are maladjusted idealists. We smile at the wrong things. We smile at nothing and weep at less. We are destroyers of worlds.
We are square pegs, writers. We are glad to be.
NOTE: I’m going to keep dropping reminders of those tasty sample chapters at the Spiritkeeper site, just in case it’s raining where you are this weekend, and you find yourself in need of an afternoon snack. Cheers.
Does every writer carry two voices in her head?
I wouldn’t be surprised. I do.
There’s the voice that hates what I do, and the voice that loves what I do. And they are not friends.
The latter voice tells me that the work is good. It reacts with surprise and delight to what I’ve done. It is a generous voice. A kind voice. A reader’s voice. It criticizes gently. It encourages. This voice loves me, just a little.
And there is the other voice. The half-empty voice. The voice that says “What the hell were you thinking?” The voice that grudgingly acknowledges some ability in the combination of words, but nothing else. The words and plot lay flat on the page. The characters are unlikely; their dialog mannered and improbable.
In the workday world in which leftover energy is spare and personal hours are few, there isn’t much time to reconcile those two voices. In the limited time that belongs to the writer when the demands of commerce are finished, one can chip away at the rock, but not roll it off the path. Those days of work-all-day-nap-then-write-til-two-ayem are past.
Maybe that’s what makes even an individual rejection so difficult. It speaks to the lurking doubt; to the voice that naysays every attempt to do what your heart and skill tell you is right. The voices can’t be shut out. What, then, does one do with them?
Perhaps a little self-forgiveness is in order. A little patience. The book won’t get done tonight. Or even tomorrow night. In the meantime, everything can be progress—even if the progress is backward. This is not like baking a cake that—once it’s in the oven—can only be what it is. This is the stew that tasting, adjusting and time can make perfect.
Not the half-full/half-empty glass, these two voices and the product of one’s long, long hours. This is writing as goulash.
I have written something that follows me through my days. A book that taps me gently on the shoulder and reminds me that it is still there. It feels to me the way love should feel. It feels like the love I live but have never known; that wonderful, impossible thing invested with all the joyful awe we so rarely experience.
That is The Spiritkeeper. My love letter to love.
It still takes my breath, It still makes me cry. And I am not just deluding myself or flattering the hopeful writer in me. I have been told that it is pastoral. That it lacks the sharper, harsher edges that fiction wants in order to be published these days.
Sharper, harsher edges are not what love wants.
Love—and the love story that represents it—are a finding. A softness amidst the hardness. A breathless discovery in the flat, bright light of ordinary days. It is the thing that is found when no expectation of finding exists; the thing that is given from the most inspired part of our uninspired selves.
It is given without asking. Given without knowing whether it will ever be given back. The thing discovered between two adults who have ceased to live in hope. It surrenders and sacrifices. It saves lives. It saves souls.
The Spiritkeeper is who I am.
In the excitement of discovery—of a new passage, a new plot-point, a nuance of character—it’s easy to forget, sometimes, how big a job actually waits ahead. The revelations of the weekend thrilled me when they happened. They still do. But now comes the hard part: the working-out.
I write tight (the story, not me, silly…). Which means that inserting those little tension builders that will help strengthen the plot isn’t anywhere near as easy as just sticking a new passage into the existing story somewhere.
An emotional logic rules the pages as well as the structure. The chapter sections have been built to a pace of heart as well as head. All those things that delighted me so much at their creation now have square edges that refuse to fit neatly into the created round holes. And now that the book itself is nearing 200 pages, reading back through the step-by-step logic is not as easy as it once was.
Enter the outline. Maybe it’ll be simpler to find the insertion point once all the filigree is stripped away? Sure. And maybe not. The tight writing doesn’t want to let me in.
Oh…and did I mention a sudden, overwhelming urge to second-guess myself at every turn? It’s a sorry place to be.
That’s where the plasticity of writing is a godsend. Try a little of this, a little of that. The thing will make sense of itself—eventually. But where flexibility giveth, time taketh away. Those necessary visits to the gym leave me about two hours to get things done…not anywhere near the time it takes to relax to the task. And not go to the gym? Sure. But not for too many days running, or one pays for it. One robs one pocket to feed the other. That’s the way of the word, for now.
Things will happen. Clarity will come. I will have that ahahhh moment, whether all at once or over time. But for now, my back is bent to the climb. The road has lengthened at my feet. And, damn, it’s uphill all the way.