My Project, or At Least the Most Recent One

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So, to answer our pal, HeyLookAWriterFellow, who asked me what my project is, the answer is pretty much what you would expect from a writer. My project is procrastination.

But what might be less expectable is that the project I “should” be working on, the Great American Novel, has been replaced by the Great American FanFiction Magnum Opus. So I am putting off writing another two hundred pages of one project by writing almost 800 pages of another project.

People who know me well probably aren’t surprised by this. I can be remarkably constructive when the spirit hits me. Also, about 650 pages of that is based on Season Two of Supergirl, and the rest is a series of “one shots,” which are basically short stories, but linked together by a theme (in this case how all the characters got to be where they were by the time of the pilot, Season One, Episode One. Also a story about Pink Kryptonite which took way too long to get off the ground. Like twenty chapters or something.

But the beautiful thing about being a writing teacher is that as long as I am learning things from the process, it’s all good. And I have been learning a lot!

Back toward the Light

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Toward the end of the film, Fried Green Tomatoes, when the main character, who has been going through a mid-life crisis, suddenly starts to settle into a new, saner rhythm, her husband asks, “What changed?” She answers, “The light?”

While that’s not exactly true, I understand the thinking behind the line. Although in the modern first world we can control the light at any time of night or day, natural light still has a lot of power over us. Winter Solstice, two weeks ago, marked the start of increasing light every day, and on days when rain or snow haven’t messed with natural sundown, I have been feeling more hopeful and creative.

I want to dig into my novel again. It occurred to me that, although traditional conflict means making every possible situation and interaction get worse for your main character, the opposite might be just as stressful for some people. Dealing with a rash of unexpected good luck might lead to decisions that could be just as problematic as decisions stemming from bad luck.

The fact that my life has been in small ways imitating art these days surely has absolutely no possible bearing on this experimental idea.

The Pointlessness of Writing Nonfiction

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“A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream.”            ― Gaston Bachelard

A week or so ago, I outlined a possibly essay, but I don’t know whether or not I actually need to write it. My usual outlines for nonfiction/personal/narrative essays consist of a list of topics and subtopics. The essay that comes out of an outline like that is exploratory in nature. The topics allow me to “try out” fitting ideas together and see if any of them fit my lived experience. When Michel de Montaigne invented the form we now call “essays” in English, he named it after the French verb “essayer”: to try. At its heart, I think that the personal essay should be a case of trial and error and discovery. If it is not, it is a different beast altogether.

It is, in fact, an expository essay, that bane of high school and college student existence, that thesis statement supported by subclaims and evidence and all that malarkey. I teach this every semester, so I am painfully familiar with the genre. It has great worth, particularly for political and social argumentation. I just find it a little boring to write.

The outline I wrote was of the second kind, more a list of premises and hypotheses: if this leads to this, then that leads to that. But here is the question: If I already know what the essay is probably going to argue, is there any point in writing it? What will I learn from turning sentences into paragraphs? It doesn’t seem to be a particularly publishable set of ideas, so if I won’t learn from it or be able to get a publishing credit for it, it feels like I should probably spend my time doing something else.

 

NaNoWriMo: Nation over Novel

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So yesterday I was struggling to write a blogpost about how we need to vote to avoid turning this country into an English-speaking version of 1930s Italy or Germany, how if we fail our country now, we are both figuratively and literally screwed, all our buried racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia, all our buried shit will come up from where it has been buried for so long and will be turned into public policy.

I am a student of history. I know how that sort of thing turns out.

And I was trying to write this, I found it easier to write about writing, something neutral and safe. But I am a writer and I cannot stay neutral and safe. Yesterday on Facebook, I put out a post saying this:

“Well, even if Wednesday does not begin with a hail of jackboots, we have our work cut out for us trying to unfuck this country from its toxic political discourse and the reality of recharged institutional oppressions. Where do we even begin?”

And while many of my friends focused on my (apparently) original use of the verb “unfuck,” my old friend Jack Reynolds wrote the following:

“Where to begin? Create things of beauty; art, music, poetry, food. Step out of comfort zones with small acts of kindness, not random unplanned ones but something to do everyday. Smile. Tell a joke. Give compliments. Break bread (gluten free if needed) with others and find out what makes them tick. As Dan Berrigan once said “Lets tell the truth to each other and see what happens.” Make community. Don’t search for it, make it or it’ll never happen. Smile. Take quiet time and not take ourselves too serious. Take others seriously. Be grateful for any and all things that are beautiful and unearned and are gifts. I heard a sailor say that you can’t control the wind but you can control the sail.”

He is wise.

So I thought I would write a poem to give us hope, because I seriously believe that this is a huge part of what art is for. So this is my offering to you and to God and whatever other gods might be out there: for sanity and liberty and the hope that this country stands for.

Election Eve, November 7, 2016

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live…” Deuteronomy 30:19-20

 

The moon is half-and-half tonight, like

A mitzpah coin holding out its promise:

That this is not some space-opera dystopia,

Where the creepy demagogue wanna-be

Is going to shoot down the moon, leave

All our tides raging out of control, our seas

Washing their bloody waves, troughing through

Our silent, ravaged, grey cities. No. Never.

 

The moon will remain to govern all our tides,

Those of water, those of blood: like clockwork.

The shining silver half-coin will grow to full,

Showing that we shall be together, not long hence,

With what this country was always meant to be:

The melted alloy of many elements, the gift given,

The promise kept: that we are stronger together,

And together we can heal all the broken pieces.

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Why the Change is Going to Work

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So I woke up this morning realizing why the change to my novel is probably going to work. I had written about one hundred pages in this other point of view, and I like most of it. But then I hit several events that I just didn’t know how to tackle. This morning I realize that that was because they probably need to be written in this other (previously minor) character’s point of view.

This is something I have noticed before, that if you don’t have the right narrator, you can’t really write the scene. People always say that you just write what happens, don’t you? But this goes beyond the Rashomon effect, where how people see the same events makes them interpret (and therefore narrate) them very differently. It’s more like that thing that says the presence of experimenters watching an experiment changes the experiment. As Terry Pratchett would say, It’s quantum.

If I don’t know who is looking at a car crash, I can’t tell you how the car crash happens. It makes no sense, but it’s true. So this might be time to pat myself on the head and find a writer’s mug that says “Damn, I’m good!” or, at the very least, “I’m smarter than I look.”

It must be true. I’ve written 7800 words in three days.

Bat Dance

Some thoughts on experimental poetry.

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Sometimes you want to dress up–top hat,

White tie and tails, a foreign medal, a cape.

The dance would be just as impressive,

A waltz, perhaps, certainly not something

With Cossacks. At least one would think

This would be the dance of formal bats,

Emotive, aristocratic and imperial.

 

One would be wrong. These are bats

Used to hanging upside down, letting blood

Rush to their heads when they are not

Bloodletting right side up. They are wild,

Jazz-inspired, impressionistic, and although

You expected the reverse, they are–in the best

Possible way–way out of your league.

San San, Revisited

Okay, so I am trying the form from yesterday for myself. I think that it is fair to say that I won’t be doing too many of these anytime soon. It’s a lovely little form, but it is hard to say anything much in eight lines with such a strict rhyme scheme and the need to repeat the image three times–I think I only managed two. Still it’s always worth trying new things.

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It is the essence of the candle to provide light:

Gently calling, out of the shadows, structure,

The table you step around, the chair you sit

In. So the candle, even though it is not bright,

Protects you, enables you not to injure

Yourself, bumble around in the darkness,

Walk right into the table or even hit

The chair. This is how humble candles bless.