So although most people go on summer vacation by, for example, actually going somewhere that is else, I took a summer vacation by working on my novel and basically abandoned the Blogosphere for two months. There were no beaches, maybe two cocktails, and zero blogs about sharks. Or much of anything else, or at least not written by me.
I would like to thank Wine and Cheese (Doodles), A Kinder Way, and Robert Okaji for letting me steal, um, reblog their wonderful work to keep my blog alive while I was writing 37,000 words of a book that starts with someone creating an OKCupid profile.
Obviously, the book will be a comedy.
So although I have not been writing for YOU, Gentle Readers, I have been writing, and thinking about writing, as always, 24/7. So we will declare vacation over, alas, but at least you get ME back.
Well, apparently August 10 was Snoopy’s 63rd birthday. He’s lookin’ pretty good for his age, isn’t he? There are many reasons to love Snoopy: his Walter Mitty personalities, his absolute Teflon response in the face of rejection letters for his novel, his dance. But, like the newly revived Bloom County character Binkley (and his human companion, Charlie Brown), Snoopy often worried about the future. Admittedly, in the next panel he might be flying off as the valorous World War I fighter pilot, but still.
I think of this today because it is World Elephant Day, and Elephants, like so many wild animals are endangered by poachers who kill these gentle giants for their ivory tusks. One way people have been forestalling this evil is by putting money dye on their tusks to turn them pink, leave the elephants unharmed, and make the ivory useless to the poachers.
The increased interest in palm oil is threatening other elephants, whose habitats are being bulldozed, but you can help sign the petition here: http://a.ran.org/r2i
Welcome to Spring. Finally! Yes, I have spent the last two days reading and writing about ancient Greece rather than writing about reading and writing about… You see the problem. Once again the idea of competing priorities takes the stage. The difference is that in my last post, the priorities were literary priorities: rhythm versus flexibility versus imagery versus placement in the poem (e.g., need for transitions or closure). Basically, poetry as problem and solution over and over again.
In contrast, the priorities this weekend were those of time and space. My roommate, talented filmmaker, Jack Siberine, was making another film in our apartment, and it turns out that to make a ten minute film, you pretty much have to shoot ten hours or so of footage (or whatever they call it in the digital age) as well as feeding your 16 person crew pizza, and moving all the furniture out of one room and into others and vice versa. This makes those of us who would rather not get in the way spend time at cafes and the library.
Do not get me wrong. I am a big fan of both cafes and libraries, because 1) duh, coffee and 2) libaries are where the books live. But it does change the kind of work you can do, particularly when the cafe you have chosen turns off its free WiFi on the weekends to get a faster customer turnover. Sigh. Now that I finally have a mobile thingy (iPad), I cannot use it. So instead I wrote poetry. Longhand. Because it Just Feels Better.
What do you do when your normal routine is obstructed?
Well, it does not seem possible, but I have been writing poetry seriously for 33 years. Such a landmark seems to require a thoughtful contemplation of what I have learned, and also a giddy Snoopy dance of celebration. First the contemplative bit.
Some of my poetry is conversational. Conversations in different languages have their own music. English tends to march along, which is why iambic pentameter is historically such a popular rhythm in our literature. Japanese is more takataka takataka, as they say, at least in the cities. The romance languages are more fluid and flowing. One way to achieve this kind of music is through internal rhyme and slant rhyme. Rather than putting a perfect rhyme (bright light) at the end of lines, you put them in the middle of lines, and not necessarily at the same distance from each other. A slant rhyme (light bide) pulls the reader’s attention without drawing too much attention to itself, a bit like the difference between a cat tapping you on the arm rather than jumping into your lap. You can see examples of this at poetry slams, spoken word events and other performances.
I have learned a lot about why and how revising happens. This post by Ann Michael on gestation says it quite well.
I have learned about dealing with rejection, which for me is having many eggs in many baskets, and only caring deeply about the eggs I am currently laying, rather than the ones I have sent off to become omelets. Many writers struggle with this. There are even whole books about it.
One of the hardest things for some people is abandoning projects that are going nowhere. I remember the utter aghast looks on my college classmates’ faces when a visiting poet said that if the work in his Not Yet drawer still didn’t work after half a dozen passes with weeks or months in between, he chucked it. But honestly, sometimes it make sense to, you should forgive the phrase, Let It Go. Though as one of my colleagues has recently shown, it is not always easy.
Lastly, I have learned that although we all write alone, we are saner and wiser if we also surround ourselves with a community of other writers and artists and people who are trying to make order out of chaos.
And when you have the opportunity, do the Hokey Pokey to bagpipe music.
Most people know what a sonnet is because in addition to simply hearing about them in English class, they are exposed to lots of examples from Shakespeare and even get to watch Snoopy act out Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous “How Do I Love Thee” on Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown (1975):
There are basically two rules to sonnets, depending on whether you take the English/Shakespearian or the Italian/Petrarchan:
Fourteen lines in iambic pentameter (five feet, with each foot an unstressed and then a stressed syllable)
Rhyme scheme: English ababcdcd efefgg OR Italian abbaabba cdecde
Note that both types have an octet (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines); these are generally used as a sort of problem/solution setup. This how Sherman Alexie can get away with calling this next example a sonnet of sorts. If you know the format, you get the joke.
Whole Wheat Bagel
Grape Nuts and Non-Fat Milk
Alexie, Sherman. The Summer of Black Widows. New York: Hanging Loose Press, 1996.