Thursday, July 06, 2017

Middle of the middle.

Here we are, just past the Fourth of July, with its blaze and hot dogs, its smoke and ambivalence. At least that's how it was for me. Luckily, I got to see my dad during the day, and we--the historian and I--went downtown to see a movie in total spontaneity. Also, ate pizza. The fireworks in my neighborhood went on well after midnight. Bruiser is an old man now, and is not a fan of the neighborhood fireworks. We postponed our walk till we thought it was all over, but no: one family had their entire ranks huddled in the dark on their parking strip, and set off a few rockets in the street. Green and white sparks fountaining up. We were maybe a hundred yards away. Bruiser drew up short, and looked back at us, as if to say, Really? REALLY? And we were all, I KNOW. When the family saw us, they held up their next conflagration until we had passed. Which was nice of them.

In my current roster of democratic (small d) actions, I include the following:

  • Writing to my senators all the damn time.
  • Reading prescient and pertinent articles out loud to the historian, who is a mensch and a champ.
  • Taking small comfort in good things.
  • Despairing, and at some volume, and then rallying. 

Small comforts: 
  1. the historian was working at a coffee shop, and saw a guy wearing an ACLU tee shirt. The guy was teaching his daughter, about ten, to play chess. The guy told the historian that he'd got the shirt at some ACLU event. So, you know, fellow traveler. Comrade.
  2. All those Secretaries of State, telling Kris Kobach to shove it, one way or another. 
  3. Talking to my dad and mom so often, hearing their stories, observing their responses to challenges. 
  4. Listening to an amazing podcast yesterday, with Danez Smith and Franny Choi interviewing Eve Ewing. 
  5. Writing, at least a little bit, every day. Thinking about writing. 

Eve Ewing talked in that podcast about 'desire-based narratives'--rather than writing about oppression and focusing only on what's terrible, thinking about, listening to, what the people involved want, what they long for. That seems small d democratic to me. An idea to conjure with.

It seems like our current predicament--what Danez Smith said called for them, all of us, to pack the apocalypse backpack every day (what's in yours?)--is going to last for awhile. I admit that I hoped that the appointment of a special prosecutor would be a hero on a horse situation, and even though I knew better, I hoped it would come quickly. But nope. (Or, in my favorite Twitter hashtag, which I think I personally devised, but maybe not: #NOPE.)

Anyway, the fire, and the fireworks, are ongoing, and we--I--must figure out not only how to endure, but how to engage, in a way that might possibly be productive. And that's how I'm spending my summer. Also: packing my apocalypse backpack. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Blame-mongering, or how I am spending my summer.

On the one hand, I'm pretty enamored of the Resist-bot. Because of it, I could fax my senators whilst on the road. I could practically stand in an ancient monument with my cell phone in hand, wave the phone in the air to catch a whiff of cellular network, then speak my truth to my senators in voice-to-text. Or, you know, yell my truth. And then, of course, carefully proofread, because voice-to-text, whew, so many misunderstandings.

Of course, I did not stand in the middle of an ancient monument and do this. But don't think I didn't consider it. Because of the rage, which leads inexorably to the rage-fax. It's a whole new genre, I think. Obviously, I blame DJT. Alternatively, and depending on the day: the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, the afore-mentioned senators, that one representative who is standing down after having been reelected, which, on the one hand, phew, and on the other hand, who the hell does he think he is?

Emergent genre: the rage-blog-post.

All this rage isn't good for a person, I know this. I blame DJT and also all the above, and also my poor character which is, which must be, the reason I am not sleeping well, or enough, which throws all the rest of my carefully made plans into havoc. Carefully made plans: get enough sleep. Relax. Get into a writing routine. Creativity galore! Also, enough exercise. A calm and centered spirit. Etc. If there's not enough sleep, none of this will work. I also blame Bruiser, who has begun an occupation of our bed that shows no sign of abating. He is a sleep-space tyrant. Also, a sweet old dog, and who doesn't want to indulge a sweet old dog? I would never be so cruel, although I have recently purchased a memory foam dog bed that I am hoping will serve as an enticing bait-and-switch for said sweet old dog, because by God, I need more sleep, else the infrastructure of my summer plan crumble and I am left in the dust, for which I will blame, obviously, DJT. &c &c &c.

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Well, anyway, here we are at nearly the end of June. So far I have spent many sweet hours with my parents and sisters, walked where the ancestral Puebloans walked, smelled the sweet blooming desert flowers of Santa Fe, begun distributing copies of my book (my book!) to people. Booked one reading, am working on a second (and third, fourth, etc.). Reveled in the glorious mess that is our garden. Slept like a champion, mostly, whilst on our epic road trip. Read some really good books and some really enjoyable ones. Talked myself, several times, down from the ledge of anxiety that is the life of a writer (shouldn't I have my next manuscript ready RIGHT NOW? and if I don't have all the poems ready RIGHT NOW what will become of me? deadlines are passing right and left!). Found myself engaged in work projects that seem like they should wait till September, but no, they have to get started now. Seen many friends. Seen lots of family. Seen many more movies than I would have predicted, including Wonder Woman, which is a wonder.

I'd like to cordon off my rage-generator and its motive forces and its discontents from my ordinary (and extraordinary) joys with, oh, let's say, a hedge of dog roses and tea roses and floribunda roses and wild roses. Roses, in other words, thorny and sweet-smelling and petal-laden and high on blooms. It would be better for me, and better for everyone around me. It seems like, though, the world is whole, and everything is (as Lauren Hill says) everything, for good and ill. Here's hoping that dog bed strategy works, and all my rage-faxes join in a great river of resistance, and I--and you, too--wake up each morning having slept well, to greet the day and get to work.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Short notes.

Dear "May is my writing month,"

I find it so touching now, this declaration, which I based upon analytics that were (a) too literal minded, and (b) just wrong.

As I write the above, I can hear my friend Kim say, "writing is not typing." And she is correct. Today, for instance, I looked into my notes, and I spent some time thinking about a new poem I think I'm writing. For now, the "writing" means "looking into my notes" and "looking up etymologies" and "chasing down medical details" and "conjuring up connections that may or may not be 'real'" and so forth.

Also: fetching and eating snacks, and doing the laundry, and contemplating a nap which I did not, ultimately, take.

So, okay, "May is my writing month," I guess May is my writing month.




Dear flaky buttermilk biscuit recipe,

I get it. You're super exacting, and you have "data" about how important buttermilk is, and your technique, of folding the dough into thirds like a letter, and doing that a second time, and letting the dough rest, etcetera and so forth and what not, is, like, science.

So when I skipped that part about letting the dough sit in the refrigerator before I began the folding and the thirds and the ins and outs and what have yous, I should have known. I should have known that you would turn into super buttery hockey puck-shaped baked items, and would not rise to the heavenly heights of my previous flaky buttermilk biscuits. So it's on me. I own that. I own it real hard.

Still, would it have killed you to just rise already, into the afore-mentioned heavenly heights? I feel like you were just being super literal-minded.

It's shaking my baking confidence, is all,



Dear even more flowers,

So, I know I have just finished planting the last of the previous more flowers, all hundreds of dollars' worth. And the splendor of these previous more flowers is not lost on me. I like going out and admiring them in the first of the morning cool, and in the late morning light, and even in the mid-afternoon. Evening also.

However, the fact remains that somehow my evening primroses and pincushion flowers of yesteryear have disappeared, perhaps displaced by some especially aggressive lemon balm. And no garden of mine is going to scrape by without evening primrose and pincushion flower, as God is my witness.

Also, I needed to buy all the basil. And one pineapple mint.

Also, just two little creeping thymes, and I swear that is it,



Dear productivity,

What are you, anyway?

Here's what I accomplished today:

  • clean sheets on the bed
  • read the entire New York Times except for the sports and the business section
  • made a lovely soup and some subpar biscuits (which were, to be exact, architecturally subpar, but aced the flavor bracket)
  • made a good breakfast
  • talked to my daughter in Scotland
  • fretted over the state of the republic
  • gave the historian some helpful feedback on the revision of an essay he's working on
  • sat in front of some notes and thought about a poem and so forth
  • etcetera
That is nine bullets. I'm calling that productive, I don't care what you say.

I mean it: I just don't care,


Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Writing Life, update number one billion.

Is 'one billion' an exaggeration? It feels real.

This weekend I managed to set aside some time in a private place to look at the writing I have done over the past couple of years to see what's there. I know that I am very lucky that I can do this: that I could secure that private place for a couple of days and nights, that the people I love support me in this.

I printed out several swaths of poems--for the last year, I've written a poem a day for several months--five different months--and of course, there's April (the cruelest month) and the poem a day I've written with Dr. Write. All of this. I printed it all. Trees quaked at the prospect.

I read through all these poems. All of them. I made notes on the poems themselves and I made notes about what I saw--what connected the poem, what threads and strands there were. I had had some intuitions prior to this retreat, and I tested them, to see if those ideas of what an arrangement of these poems might add up to were borne out by what I had.

I thought about big revisions, and smaller ones. I identified what poems were close to being finished (a handful) and which ones needed work (most) and which ones would require architectural overhaul (another handful).

And then I assembled an order.

All of this is a draft.

Now, I can work through this draft manuscript poem by poem. And then I will see what I have when I'm through.

I'm optimistic that I might be able to work through what I have, poem by poem, by mid-summer. And then I'm hoping to look at the sequence I've made again.

This process felt, and feels, entirely methodical to me. Procedural, even. Although there's a part of putting something like this together that feels alchemical and intuitive, there's another part that is compositional and even rhetorical. Thinking about how the terms of an argument--made by poetic means, but an argument--work themselves out over a sequence of texts. Thinking about sequencing. Thinking about balance. Thinking about emphasis and transitions. This is why the quiet was so important to me--why I needed to be undistracted. I don't like thinking about how easily I feel distracted by the ordinary components of my life. That's something I'd like to work on. Maybe I'll get it right when I'm dead.

I love the moments, when I write, when I can feel something coming together in a way that feels magical--when I feel the small thrill of gathering the threads of metaphor and image and they add up, they do something more. This is, in fact, not the biggest part of writing for me, at least not usually. Obviously, I love it when it happens. But I also love this methodical part. I love the thinking part and the considering part. It is deeply satisfying to me, even when I know--as I know now--that there's nothing whatsoever final about this stage of the work. That this is, in fact, an entirely provisional moment in the composition of what I hope will be, sometime, a new book.

A couple of days ago, I reminded myself that I don't need to be in a panic about this. That I can take my time. This idea--that I have time, that I can take my time--comes in and out of focus. Because, really, no one knows how much time she really has. (We're all going to die.) But I'd like to do everything--everything!--in less of a panic than I have been doing things as of late. Because doing everything in a panic is a terrible way to live. To make art, to make dinner, to visit one's family, to work, to write: panic is a terrible atmosphere for any of this.

Panic, I renounce you. Get thee behind me, panic.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Breaking news.

1. I made that new header more than two weeks ago in a fit of optimism.

2. Today, I came to my office to start sifting through a hundred poems to see what's there, but first I stopped at Target, obviously, to buy ibuprofen and a teacup with pansies on it and glitter markers and ginger tea and a thing of yogurt and three little pouches to organize my purse. Also, fyi, there are four flavors of Tim Tams currently on the shelves at Target, in case that's a thing you are interested in.

3. My youngest son steered me to Carrie & Lowell Live, which is pretty amazing. Of course Carrie & Lowell, the studio recording, was pretty much the best thing ever, so.

4. What of the republic?

5. Twitter has me by the throat.

6. I recently said to my older son that my loathing of Mitch McConnell was unChristlike. And yet, I persist.

7. Roses are about to bloom their heads off in our yard.

8. In short order, we have installed a new refrigerator, which, through various ins, outs, and what have yous, resulted in a small but steady leak, which resulted in some of the ceiling in our basement falling, sodden, to the floor, which resulted in a plumber coming to do a whole bunch of other stuff, including fixing the leak, and currently there are giant heating devices beaming heat at the location of the fallen ceiling. In other words: disaster! But also: new refrigerator, which actually keeps food cold!

9. I had a lovely mother's day, thank you, including one of my favorite compliments of all time, from grandson William, who said that I thought I was "pretty as a deer." He explained that he didn't think I looked like a deer, more like Lily Potter's patronus, a doe. I am seizing on all of that. All of it.

10. Okay, onward: I have made the first cull of poems, and now I need to start theorizing the potential intimate dialogue that the remaining poems may have with each other.

Or not. Maybe nothing means anything and everything is stupid. Just spitballing.

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