29 December 2009
I was given a gift card for Powell's Books by my father. He called before Christmas.
"What kind of gift cards can I get for you and Rick?"
"For Rick, REI. Easy," I said. "For me, you could get Macy's or something for me to get some new work clothes. Or Powell's."
He might have snorted. At the very least, it was a scoff. "Work clothes are not for Christmas."
In the Christmas card that accompanied the two gift cards, he wrote, "These gifts are meant to delight. Love, Mom and Dad"
A couple nights ago after another round of holiday hoopla, after it got quiet again in my little home, I ordered my books.
Holy the Firm
by Annie Dillard
(trade paper) USED
Behold the Many: a Novel
by Lois Ann Yamanaka
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
by David Wroblewski
(trade paper) SALE
New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers: Tales of Parasites and People
by Robert S. Desowitz
(trade paper) USED
True Compass: A Memoir
by Edward M. Kennedy
New Path To the Waterfall 1ST Edition
by Raymond Carver
Love Medicine: a novel
by Louise Erdrich
Order confirmed. Thank you for shopping at Powell's Books.
I am delighted.
26 December 2009
Don't get me wrong. I remain grateful for it all.
There was a time when I was not writing anything. Given up the dream. Lost all faith. For almost ten years, I wrote only business letters, marketing copy, or technical web instructions.
Ah, I lie. I did find a set of song lyrics that I wrote during that time - angry, hurt, and emotionally broken. My old friend Craig Shell once said that professional musicians often made their best money on lyrics like these. No money here. Mine never made it out of the yellow pad stashed in a box marked "Personal" along with legal papers from the divorce, old resumes, bus schedules, and random news clippings ranging from the Oklahoma City bombing, local crime stories, and the 1995 NBA playoff standings - probably more of a story there.
But I digress.
December 31, 2003. The end of a most trying year. My husband was working two states away and only able to come home every month or so. My children were in varying stages of crisis and teenage angst, flailing around to find their way in the world. One of my nephews was living with us as all of his parents were away. I was in the early stages of what turned out to be a deep cycle of depression. We lit a handful of fireworks that night to send out that old, bad, sad year. My nephew said, "If it doesn't get any worse, it will be a better year."
And then it was worse.
The strain and the pain of that next year pushed me to a point where I had to write again, if only for my own sanity. Which led me to meet Christy Krug. Who directed me to Stevan Allred and Joanna Rose. Who in turn connected me to many, many other very talented writers who continue to guide, support and inspire my ongoing writing practice.
For every anxious writing session, rejected draft, or sleepless hour in the middle of the night spent agonizing over some character detail, I equally celebrate the process. The act of writing has given voice to something deeper, powerful, intimate. Something previously lost. Call it faith or inspiration. Call it love or light. Whatever it is, it is restored to me, and in turn, has restored my being.
Over this next week, I am doing a final sweep to complete a first draft of the current novel for its first full review. 40 hours of work, at least. I am at the same time anxious and hopeful.
About the photo: the analemma is the path of the sun throughout the year. The shape can be tracked by taking one picture per day, always at the same time, with a fixed camera.
24 November 2009
During this last trip, my husband and I stayed right on Lake Union and went out exploring in all directions. South on the Alaskan Way viaduct to White Center and then west from Burien to the Puget Sound, Ed Munro Seahurst Park. Up Queen Anne Hill for a view at Kerry Park. North across the Fremont Bridge and into the Ballard area for breakfast at The Dish. Dinner at Ivar's Acres of Clams on the waterfront where a big bird flew up to the wharf, maybe a pelican or heron.
My husband spent part of his childhood in this area. He shared the traditional family outing trip with me - east to Issaquah and Boehm's Candies, where they still have exceptional chocolates, but no more Saint Bernards. We drank frosty mugs of their specialty at XXX Rootbeer and then went out to Snoqualmie Falls. The lodge, once with the same name as the falls, is now called Salish Lodge.
I have lived in the Pacific Northwest for almost 15 years now and realize I've gained something that was always missing throughout my nomadic childhood and youth. This place of trees and rain, shades of green and gray, convergence of rivers, Sound and sea has given me roots and a place to call home.
More photos of this trip are posted on Flickr:
25 October 2009
Luciano Pavarotti embodied that place of words and music and bore its beauty to the world. He will be forever revered. This is his last public performance at the Opening Ceremony of the 2007 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. I am moved to tears each time I watch this performance.
I am forever indebted to my parents for bringing music into our home. My father recorded countless hours of classical music on reel-to-reel from the USAF base library where we were stationed in Tacoma before we went overseas. I grew up with Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Dvorak, Bach, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Beethoven - from the classics to the obscure. And my mother enforced the daily 30-minute piano practice that gifted me with a tactile connection to the music we heard every day. It was how I first heard the muse that inspired me to write at all.
10 October 2009
Questions like did it really snow in Redmond Christmas 1981? Where would a brand new U.S. Marine go to boot camp if he enlisted in Seattle? And would said same new Marine be hot or cold on August 17, 1990 as he arrived on his new assignment? Or who won the Super Bowl in 1982? (I admit, that's a cheater one because I remember when it happened.)
Today I watched some classic NFL footage. Read stats from all kinds of places, online and that old traditional method: books. Spent some time talking to my USMC cousin in D.C. with some real-life experience in the Gulf War. Read some historical TIME magazine articles. Googled "Scud Bowl." Watched part of a George Clooney movie.
Over the last couple of months, my husband has had to field a whole lot of random questions. As if I was the 3-year old he needed to revisit: do the schools close in Tam O' Shanter if it snows? can you find me a 24-year old weather report? 25-year? what high school did those kids attend? when you were a kid, did you see a Steller's jays or just scrub jays? was there a fence around the golf course? what kind?
Confounded by so many notebooks of so many facts, I have been writing around and around the story today. Perhaps sleep will bring it all together into an intuitive informing of character for tomorrow.
Or perhaps I'll just have that dream, like my daughter, where I am really hungry and the refrigerator is full of only one thing: eggs. Cartons and cartons of eggs.
01 October 2009
Personal visuals aside, workshopping has been a valuable experience for me. I gain so much from being able to participate in the shared experience of working with other writers to study and practice the craft of writing. I appreciate the practical nitty-gritty of language - the good, the bad AND the ugly. The collective experience of the group becomes a powerful, motivating and positive learning experience for me. Plus, there are times when I get to hear absolute moving, heart-breaking beauty, like last night with a piece from one of the writers, Mir.
17-ish years ago when I was actively writing and trying to get into an MFA program, I was in a weekly workshop with author and teacher François Camoin. I also did a conference workshop with author Phyllis Barber. Both were inspiring. It seemed like a bright beginning to a bright future.
My reality is that life fell apart shortly thereafter, not in any small part due to my own sustained shortcomings. I lost my family. Lost myself. Lost my faith. Everything I thought I knew about anything changed. And I stopped writing. I did not write a word for almost ten years.
New Year's Eve 2004, two women who had become my friends and mentors were killed by a drunk driver on Martin Luther King Boulevard as they drove home from a celebration powwow. Losing them seemed unbearable, beyond tragic, and I was without a way to grieve. I had lost so much, and while I had come back a great ways, I still could not seem to get my feet solidly under me. As if I had gone so far down that there was no coming back.
Desperate for some solace, I began to write in a plain college composition book. Journaling, perhaps, although it wasn't really a daily journal so much as it was an outpouring of words and pieces of language that spun through my thoughts day and night. The act of writing gave me the smallest pause in the chaos, a moment of peace. It gave me a voice when I did not think I had one left. Allowed me my grief and my joy.
Connected me to that which is greater than us all.
I reached out and joined a peer review group led by Christi Krug, Wildfire Writing. Christi is a kind and supportive writing coach and exactly what I needed at the time. She also pointed me in the direction of Stevan and Joanna and the current workshop group, Over the Pinewood Table, that has also resulted in what I would consider a number of life-long friendships.
I have gone in and out of workshops ever since. But more importantly, I continue to write. Daily. It probably just sounds sentimental to say that writing saved my life. I wonder. But so what if it has?
28 September 2009
Ulysses by James Joyce. Read on a personal challenge by one of my college professors. It challenged everything I thought I knew about story and writing - probably the best thing that could happen to an aspiring writer.
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Amazing humor and insight into human character, suffering and survival.
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman. The world would be a small, mean place without the Barbaric Yawp.
The Call of the Wild, Jack London. I was in 4th grade when I read this. Have wanted to visit Alaska ever since.
Black Beauty, Anna Sewell. "There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to other animals as well as humans, it is all a sham."
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley. Led to all kinds of rebel period reading, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Bronte. Horrifying.
Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau. Of all books to be banned in the U.S. Interesting.
William Shakespeare - depending on the source, many of W.S.'s plays have been banned for various reasons. Can you imagine studying literature without any bubble, bubble, toil and trouble? Or without evil Richard III? No Puck, Peaseblossom or Nick Bottom?
Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Imaginative source of most of the make-believe world of river-running and cave-exploring for me and my six siblings in the backyard tree-house and swimming pool of Bakersfield, Calif, summer of 1974.
Grimm's Fairy Tales. How would you not know that they threw the princess into the sea for being snobby.
The Little Mermaid. The non-banned version marries off a wide-eyed 15-year old to the first man she meets, while in the banned version, she shows some moral character and is turned to sea foam. Hmmmmm.
Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell. Broke my teenage heart.
The Story of Little Black Sambo. A Christmas gift from my grandmother. Of course tigers are the reason butter is yellow.
Grendel, John Gardner. Language, beautiful language.
The Lorax, Dr. Seuss. Funny, I always thought it was about taking care of our limited resources.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Was in 6th grade when I read this the first time. Made a solid impression on my wish to become a writer.
That's just a few. Here's some of the Top 100 Banned:
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (just finished this last week)
The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
Beloved, Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies, William Golding
1984, George Orwell
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Lolita, Vladmir Nabokov
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Native Son, Richard Wright
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin
All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
Lady Chatterley's Lover, DH Lawrence
Sons and Lovers, DH Lawrence
Women in Love, DH Lawrence
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs
The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser
Rabbit, Run, John Updike
Be a rebel. Read something banned. I am.
26 September 2009
I did love the language. It is the combination of image and language that I find most appealing, carries more weight. Horizontal and vertical, terms from Stevan and Joanna. Scene plus introspection or assessment. My favorite pieces are like that. Here's some of my personal favorites:
And finally, one of my most favorite:
Here's one from the Wildish Boys:
Need a new book to read now. Suggestions?
11 September 2009
My breath still locks up in my chest when I start to read. Nerves. But by about page 5, I was fine. By the last page, I was already satisfied with my experience - even before the comments. The feedback was just gravy.
It's a good group. I am looking forward to next Weds. We'll see how well I'll be able to read, if at all, what with the emergency oral surgery I had on my jaw today (ice and Advil are my friends. But I digress...)
Launching into Chapter 5 and 6 this weekend to refine voice of the narrator, Jude Wildish.
Speaking of Wildish, I drove out of my neighborhood a couple weeks ago, and where there was a building the night before, there was nothing but a pile of rubble and some uprooted Redwood trees. It was shocking. Worst of all, gone was the big blue sign with a mountain tops and in big lettering: Wildish. I am crushed that the inspiration for my family name is gone. There is renewed construction on the lot, but for now, the Wildish family saga will have to go on without the sign.
Ah, well. Things change. Buildings go away. Screws fall out.
08 September 2009
Mary Milstead is not any of those things. She is a wonderful writer and a dear friend. She has also been a long-standing reader of my work in progress and has given many thoughtful and constructive reviews, for which I remain grateful.
Last Wednesday, we met at one of our latest usual places - Coffeetime on NW 21st. Mary listened as I read both sets of my current revisions, each from a different point of narration.
Then, in a nutshell, she advised me to stop distracting myself and get on with my writing.
It seems my trees or chickens of late are of my own making, the questioning of my ability and perhaps a bump in self-confidence. Along the path of self-examination, there is a point where it becomes flailing. After gaining all the positive effects of re-evaluating the direction of my novel, I suppose I have done a bit of flailing.
But Mary was right, and it's time to move on. Outside of my over-analytical evaluation, my instincts tell me which direction to take this piece. There will always be different ways to approach each scene, options for character and narrator and description. But this is this character and this piece.
"Get back to work," she said. "And do what you do best."
Everyone needs a friend like Mary.
30 August 2009
The thing about commuting is that the variable is outside of any participating driver's control. Timing can be predicted only in general terms, and anticipated heavy traffic days are sometimes, randomly, not. Or exponentially so. Planning is a veritable craps-shoot. I could map my hours, leave on time, use all my commuting tricks, and one stall on the bridge would add hours to my plan.
Such is my writing at the moment. Stalled out by one element. An unanticipated glitch in my thoughtful schedule. Granted, this particular element is key to the ultimate success of the story and warrants thoughtful review and selection. But, oh, how I wish I was not stuck here. It's the work-weary return drive at a full-stop on I-5 behind a raised bridge and a diesel truck dually accompanied by the bass-boom Honda Accord with tinted windows in the next lane and the open window blast of country music from the Ford truck behind you.
Here I sit. Sans country music.
The good news is that being stuck does not mean inaction. Not if you want to get anywhere. The re-write of Chapter 1 in first-person has been rejected. A second re-write is in process.
I know that when the traffic breaks free, it flows forward like before. As if the delay had never happened.
Someone honks. "Get ready."
13 August 2009
I did get a one-on-one manuscript critique with an established writer. The first 20-pages of my novel in progress were submitted back in June, and at the conference, I had a meeting with author and editor Jill Kelly for the review. It was encouraging to get positive feedback. Also confirmed some of my instincts that I have been second-guessing up to now, although in retrospect, it would have been nice if I could have embraced some of those thoughts six months ago. Ah, well. What's that they say about water and a bridge?
The good news is I have a good, orderly direction to pursue as I move forward on the novel.
The bad news is my synopsis sucked. Ha. My first. Silver-lining is that there is "plenty" of room for improvement.
To quote my most favored (and frequent) rejection letter: Onward.
07 August 2009
by Sherri H. Hoffman
Those Mackey boys from up the road always teased Howdy. Called him Retard.
Sandra stepped down off the school bus, and before it had even pulled away with a puff of dust, the boys started throwing horse apples at the back of Howdy’s head. Howdy walked alone toward the wooded lane where Sandra knew he lived with his mother, although no one had seen her much since the flu outbreak back before Christmas. Howdy did all the shopping now, brought the brown chicken eggs to the grocery in his mother’s old wicker baskets. Ailing, he said when inquired after her health. His jeans hung low across his narrow hips, and his clean white t-shirt stretched across his broad, straight back, unflinching, even when the Mackey boys switched to small stones.
Stop it, you animals.
Sandra loves the Retard. Sandra loves the Retard.
Sandra called Howdy’s name, but he didn’t turn around. She had to run to catch up.
Howdy! What ya’ doing, Howdy? Can I walk with you?
Howdy slowed, bent forward, held a single finger up to his lips, then spread his hands low and wide. Sandra followed his crouch, holding her skirt down against her bare legs. Sunlight glinted off a filament of fishline stretching into the underbrush.
What is it? Who put this here?
His long, fine fingers lifted the line, held the tension, walked forward as if climbing the invisible thread. A scrabbling in the leaves, thump-thumping in the brush startled Sandra back a step.
Oh! Something’s there. Some animal. Howdy! It’s something!
The fishline looped around the bird’s yellow-stick leg. Its black wings were half-shrugged, half open, its yellow beak open and panting. Howdy called to the bird, soft clicks with his tongue. Sandra crouched closer, close enough to smell the musk of him, his hair, his skin warmed with sun. She leaned in, almost brushing up against the curve of his arm.
It’s beautiful, Howdy. A beautiful bird.
He wound the line around his fingers, cooing soft now. The bird’s yellow eyes were wide and still, its wings drooping. It flapped weakly and hop-hopped one more time. Howdy’s fine, long fingers cradled the bird, folded in the curve of wings, stroked the iridescent black feathers that shimmered like oil.
Howdy turned. His cheekbones were sharp ridges over the equally sharp jaw line, his full, red lips parted just so.
Let me touch it, Howdy. Pet the bird.
Howdy’s eyes were flat, black pools like tar. His right eyelid slanted lower, twitched. His hands held the bird out to her.
Sandra touched the shiny black of the bird’s feathered head. It sagged forward, its neck limp as grass, snapped. She sucked in her breath.
Howdy’s eyes narrowed. He smiled. A casual flick cast the dead black bird away into the bushes.
Sandra backed fast. Howdy’s hand caught her wrist, long bony fingers closing in a vise.
His full lips rounded, clicking soft with his tongue, and his other hand clamped hard over her mouth.
Winner October 2007 Student Choice Award: Whidbey Writers (10/07)
Winner Editor's Choice Award: 2007 VERY Short Story and Narrative Prose Poem Contest, Lunch Hour Stories Magazine (3/08)
23 July 2009
The lake below Multnomah Falls is still. Deer at the edge stand in their reflections.
There's brown pelicans in the Columbia on a sandbar near Biggs.
Rock sheep on the cliffs near Philippi.
And windmill farms outside of Arlington.
Just past the Bradock Slough and there are fields of Black Angus and a row of white bee boxes.
Horses spook near Cement Plant Rd. A palamino bucks. The running herd turns in the field like birds.
I think it was a deer in the sagebrush with its elegant neck and ears like cupped palms.
The Ontario OreIda plant belches rings of white steam. Wonderland Caterpillar of Potato. I'm just a girl, I answer.
Corn. Corn. Wheat. Corn. Potatoes.
Boise. We wave our hands out the window to my friend Justin Larson. Of course he sees us.
Kristen says the sky is always the same dome but I think it reaches further down here. Down to the curve of the earth.
Four days later. The sun rises over Brigham City. Leaving Utah.
There's cows and sagebrush at Sweetzer Summit. And sun over the East hills.
Something you don't see at home: billboard of close-up dairy cow udders. Jerome, Idaho.
There are windmills at the 45th Parallel. Must be windy halfway between the North Pole and Equator.
The first time Becca saw the Columbia at Umatilla, she said, "That's not a river! It's a lake." Only the R's and L's were W's and she was 3.
12 July 2009
Joanna gave me advice from Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird: write it "one bird at a time."
I am stuck in the third and final section of my novel, baffled by some plot movement and my inability to get what is in my head out on paper. This one has been going around and around for the past month. With my August deadline just ahead, frustration is my muse.
Outside the open window, three Mourning doves chase each other to and from the corners of the yard and up to the rooftop. A competitive threesome. For territory? Mating ritual? Play? The whirring mutter of their wings reminds me of old-school sci-fi alien spaceships. Earlier, a black-headed Junco fed seed from the patio to a peeping juvenile. And the brilliant yellow goldfinches have been all day on the thistle feeder, undisturbed even by the antics of the doves.
A light rain begins. Silver drops collect and hang from the branches of the rhododendron. I am content to make another loop through this chapter. One page. One raindrop. One bird at a time.
27 June 2009
In my list, they should probably be separated into categories - fictional and real. The fluctuating distance between dreams and reality.
My fictional heroes are so most likely because of some aspect of their character that I admire, covet or am simply amazed by. And perhaps it is the reality of their character that makes them heroes.
"You know what you get for being a hero? Nothin'. You get shot at. You get a little pat on the back, blah, blah, blah, attaboy. You get divorced. Your wife can't remember your last name. Your kids don't want to talk to you. You get to eat a lot of meals by yourself. Trust me, kid, nobody wants to be that guy."
(John McClane - Live Free or Die Hard)
"Micro changes in air density, my ass."
(Ellen Ripley - Alien)
"He was paraphrasin' Nietsche, ya illiterate midget."
(Logan - Wolverine 35)
They become recognizable out of their creator's ability to carry forward the profound human essence, perhaps of someone nearby or influential: lover, grandfather, next-door neighbor.
"We're alike. I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life. I was twenty when they said a woman couldn't swim the Channel. You're twelve; you think a horse of yours can win the Grand National. Your dream has come early; but remember, Velvet, it will have to last you all the rest of your life."
(Mrs. Brown - National Velvet)
"Well, you can tell me now. I'm reasonably sober."
(Rick Blaine - Casablanca)
Once in a great while, I find real heroes, those living, breathing humans with heroic accomplishments or some monumental legacy of change or goodness. Or perhaps just people who have done something quite ordinary for whom I hold enduring respect and adoration.
"The thing about rights is that in the end you can't prove what should be considered a right."
(Dr. Paul Farmer)
I heard the Dalai Lama speak in Seattle at the Key Arena last spring. (see my earlier post)
Raymond Carver first inspired me to write at all.
"There isn't enough of anything
as long as we live. But at intervals
a sweetness appears and, given a chance
(Raymond Carver - Ultramarine)
Flannery O'Connor prompted me to write the stories in my head no matter how quirky or bizarre. I discovered a recording of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and joy welled up in my chest at the sound of her voice. (Listen to it from this playlist)
"My own approach to literary problems is very like the one Dr. Johnson’s blind housekeeper used when she poured tea–she put her finger inside the cup."
(Flannery O'Connor - Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction)
There's a much longer list, and I suppose there's always room for one more.
It's still early.
24 June 2009
When I was about 15, I took my little sibs to the zoo at Tautphaus Park in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where we stood on the bridge that spanned the pond and fed the ducks the bread from our sandwiches. It was spring and there were so many fluffy new ducklings.
Until the bread attracted the attention of the giant zoo-fed trout or carp that rose up to the surface and snagged a little duckling by its little duckling foot along with the bread and dragged it to the muddy bottom and ate it. I think that one of my little sisters may still be traumatized by the entire event, thirty years later. (Sorry, Amy)
I wrote a tragic duck story into "Road Dogs" that was published in Etchings Issue 4 - The Art of Conversation (3/08) by Ilura Press. Here's an excerpt:
‘Welcome to my family.’
‘Welcome to life. Your family doesn’t have a corner on dysfunction.’
‘Dysfunction would be a step up for my family. Did I ever tell you about the ducks?’
My mother rescued a batch of baby ducks off of the road by our old house. I was eight. Mama duck had been hit by a car, and a dozen ducklings were milling around on the road next to her body. My mother brought them home in a cardboard box and called Animal Control, who advised her to release them. So she did, into Crystal Creek at the end of our block, where they were promptly sucked into a drainage culvert, disappearing one at a time into the iron grate, aligned and orderly, like mechanical carnival ducks on a string pulling straight through the heart of the current.
‘My mother actually saved the last one. We took it home and named it Soup. In the night, Soup committed suicide. Body-slammed against the bars of the cage. Peter and I renamed him Compost.’
‘Nice,’ Vincent says.
‘The neighbour asks about the birdcage on the porch. I tell him, “We found these ducks.” And my Mom says, “No we didn’t.” Cuts me off. Like it never happened. Wouldn’t even acknowledge it. Ever.’
Vincent’s eyes narrow and he nods his head. ‘PTDD,’ he says. ‘Post Traumatic Duck Disorder.’
‘Psychosis. All-American family dysfunction’
‘My mom shot my dad with his own service revolver. You don’t hear me crying dysfunction.’
I roll my eyes. ‘I met your parents,’ I say. ‘They live in Tucson.’
Vincent and Lena are two of my very favorite characters, so I was thrilled to have their story put into print. (And I do love the Australian formatting by Ilura Press.)
And I do love ducks.
21 June 2009
The eagle was flying at a pretty good clip, but at the same time, it didn't appear distressed at all. Could it simply have been going from A to B, and some over-amped crow had to throw in its final "and stay out" after the larger raptor's retreat? Exerting some birdie-machismo? Or perhaps pushed to go above and beyond to protect a nest, a territory, a mate?
The eagle could have definitely kicked some crow tail-feathers - it looked to be about three times the size of the smaller bird, equipped with talons and that great, hooked beak. The crow did not leave off its raucous pursuit even as far as I could see, and the car behind me honked, light turned green with me still sitting motionless in the lane.
I've been toe-to-toe with the bigger-badder before, scared spitless, knowing I was going to take an ass whupping. The adrenaline burst that kicks you in the stomach activates all kinds of reckless responses. It has to go somewhere, no matter how bad the odds.
But that's when it gets interesting - in that moment of unbalance.
It's Hannibal defeating the Romans. The Scottish rebels winning the Battle of Bannockburn. Joe Namath beating the 1969 Baltimore Colts in Superbowl III. Every Rocky movie. Han Solo and Chewbacca rushing the Imperial soldiers on the Death Star. We make our underdogs heroes and mythical legends. Chasing the eagle.
Not that it doesn't sometimes end badly. For every victory story, there's a defeat on the other side. But for today, I wonder how it worked out for that brave and/or reckless crow.
16 June 2009
n. pl. syn·op·ses (-sēz)
A brief outline or general view, as of a subject or written work; an abstract or a summary.
condensation, epitome, abstract, abridgment, précis. See summary.
In what became an arduous process, the pieces were dumped out like so many collected marbles from a bag and sorted, examined, as it were, and assigned value and priority.
The plot was held up against Stevan's quintessential challenge: but what's the story about?
The characters floundered around in confusion, fell through some plot holes, threw inconsistencies back and forth between themselves in a quick game of Hot Box. And when it got too dark to see the ball, they went inside and sat around the table, drank Ovaltine or whiskey or Ovaltine with whiskey, and traded big fish stories. One of them knitted an afghan out of alpaca yarn.
The chapters were reordered. Renamed. Revised.
The title was removed. Or not.
First draft complete.
Round Two begins at the bell.
I love the writing life.
09 June 2009
Solution: return to the muse, sans super-massive black hole.
Billy Bathgate (E.L. Doctorow)
He had to have planned it because when we drove on the dock the boat was there and the engine was running and you could see the water churning up phosphorescence in the river, which was the only light there was because there was no moon, nor electric light either in the shack where the dockmaster should have been sitting, nor on the boat itself, and certainly not from the car, yet everyone knew where everything was, and when the big Packard came down the ramp Mickey the driver braked it so that the wheels hardly rattled the boards, and when he pulled up alongside the gangway the doors were already open and they hustled Bo and the girl upside before they even made a shadow in all that darkness. And there was no resistance, I saw a movement of black bulk, that was all, and all I heard was maybe the sound someone makes who is frightened and has a hand not his own over his mouth, the doors slammed and the car was humming and gone and the boat was already opening up water between itself and the slip before a thin minute had passed. Nobody said not to so I jumped aboard and stood at the rail, frightened as you might expect, but a capable boy, he had said that himself, a a capable boy capable of learning, and I see now capable of adoring worshiping that rudeness of power of which he was a greater student than anybody, oh and that menace of him where it might all be over for anyone in his sight from one instant to the next, that was what it all turned on, it was why I was there, it was why I was thrilled to be judged so by him as a capable boy, the danger he was really a maniac.
Keys of the Kingdom (A.J. Cronin)
Late one afternoon in September 1938 old Father Francis Chisholm limped up the steep path from the church of St. Columba to his house upon the hill. He preferred this way, despite his infirmities, to the less arduous ascent of Mercat Wynd; and, having reached the narrow door of his walled-in-garden, he paused with a kind of naive triumph—recovering his breath, contemplating the view he had always loved.
Behold the Many (Louise Ann Yamanaka)
The valley is a woman lying on her back, legs spread wide, her geography wet by a constant rain. Waterfalls wash the days and nights of winter storms into the river that empties into the froth of the sea.
Another Roadside Attraction (Tom Robbins)
The magician's underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami. However significant that discovery may been—and there is the possibility that it could alter the destiny of each and every one of us—it is not the incident with which to begin this report.
The Wapshot Chronicle (John Cheever)
St. Botolphs was an old place, an old river town. It had been an inland port in the great days of the Massachusetts sailing fleets and now it was left with a factory that manufactured table silver and a few other small industries. The natives did not consider that it had diminished much in size or importance, but the long roster of the Civil War dead, bolted to the cannon on the green, was a reminder of how populous the village had been in the 1860s. St. Botolphs would never muster as many soldiers again. The green was shaded by a few great elms and loosely enclosed by a square of store fronts. The Cartwright Block, which made the western wall of the square, had along the front of its second story of row of lancet windows, as delicate and reproachful as the windows of a church. Behind these windows were the offices of the Eastern Star, Dr. Bulstrode the dentist, the telephone company and the insurance agent. The smells of these office—the smell of dental preparations, floor oil, spittoons and coal gas—mingled in the downstairs hallway like an aroma of the past. In a drilling autumn rain, in a world of much change, the green at St. Botolphs conveyed an impression of unusual permanence. On Independence Day in the morning, when the parade had begun to form, the place looked prosperous and festive.
You Can't Go Home Again (Thomas Wolfe)
It was an hour of twilight on a soft spring day toward the end of April in the year of Our Lord 1929, and George Webber leaned his elbows on the sill of his back window and looked out at what he could see of New York. His eye took in the towering mass of the new hospital at the end of the block, its upper floors set back in terraces, the soaring walls salmon colored in the evening light. This side of the hospital, and directly opposite, was the lower structure of the annex, where the nurses and the waitresses lived. In the rest of the block half a dozen old brick houses, squeezed together in a solid row, leaned wearily against each other and showed their backsides to him.
It's like returning to safe harbors. My heroes always restore my faith in the process.
The Wildish Boys (working title)
Church was not over, and we were walking home early. Ma had herded all of us boys out before Father Andrew began Confiteor after Sawyer called Lenny "stupid as Esau." Lenny said at least he had a birthright, and Sawyer punched him in the eye. Right there in the third row of pews.
"Onward," says every rejection letter I've ever received from Howard Junker, editor of Zyzzyva.
25 May 2009
Work on my novel is getting down to nuts and bolts, and I've had to reach out to libraries, photo galleries, books and even take a couple road trips in order to clarify the facts. It's not enough to write by experience if your facts are mis-aligned.
This week, the focus is fishing. My personal experiences are many and varied. I fished as a child with my father, then with my brothers, and now with my husband and my own children. Years ago, I was dumped by a boy I was dating after we went fishing together and I caught more fish than he did (3 - 0). And once I lost an enormous brook trout for my husband after he had played it in to the shore where I failed to net it before it flipped out into the waterway, gone forever—reasonable grounds for divorce, our friend Big Danny advised my husband.
The shortcomings of my memories are that they are attuned to the broad experience. In order to take the Wildish boys, my family of characters, fishing with their father, I needed a more accurate vision of the fish and the language of those who are the artists of their craft—the real fishermen.
Off to Powell's with a specific book title recommended by my youngest brother, Scott, who holds the esteem of being a real fisherman. Powell's has an entire section for fishing, and then sub-sections: fishing in the northwest, trout fishing, fly fishing, fly fishing for trout, and (my target) fly fishing for steelhead in the northwest. Advanced Fly Fishing for Steelhead by Deke Meyer. The author is a local expert and has written in particular about the steelhead on the Stillaguamish.
I browsed several books on trout, including Trout: an illustrated history by James Prosek. Inside the pages, a folded article "For Bigger Trout" by Tom McNally, Outdoor Life, May 1957. Of course, I bought the book.
In 1957, The Wildish boys' father, Abraham Leonard Wildish, was 21 years old. He was still living in Indiana with his family, never dreaming that his life would go to hell seven ways from Sunday over the next couple of years. Naive to the changes that would alter his life forever, he probably even read this particular article, his only aspiration to become the greatest of all fishermen.
Coincidence? I'm not a believer. But I believe in universal connection, the convergence of thought to reality, collective conscience, the repercussions of a lifted butterfly wing. Call it what you will.
Today's gift from Mr. McNally:
"As every fisherman who has chucked flies or dunked bait in a trout stream knows, big trout like big mouthfuls. Fishing records go on to prove that wherever large trout are caught on flies. . ."
16 May 2009
Do you dream about flying? One of my children fell asleep in Anatomy class and dreamed of flying, and then falling, and woke abruptly when her head banged down on her school desk.
My favorite dream is of riding my horses as a young teen - it's almost like flying, clinging bareback to my favorite mare on a hot Idaho summer day, leaning forward over her rising withers as she lopes across a freshly ploughed field. It is my most restful dream and only comes to me in times of great need to be grounded or times of great joy.
Ten years ago, I kept dreaming about seeing a drowning baby and not being able to reach it in time. Interpretation aside, I would wake, terrified and shivering in a cold sweat. The baby was not mine, and the setting would be different every time - a mountain stream, an ocean beach, a clear lake. I was advised to step into the dream lucidly to save the child, change the dream, but it only heightened my terror to wake again and again, too late, all attempts failed.
Healing finally came for me from a group of women on their sacred ground, the ancient fishing grounds at Celilo where the Columbia River was once a large waterfall until the Bonneville dam covered it over and eliminated the traditional fishing rites of the local tribe. On this spot during an annual three-day gathering, the women were in ceremony, and I was given the opportunity to prepare and serve them food.
On the morning of the third day just before dawn, I dreamed again of the baby. Of rushing water. This time, I was able to reach out my arms and take the child to my breast, both of us saved in our embrace. Saved in a place where the falls had been drowned and through the practice of serving another. I have not dreamed it since.
Healing comes to me in the small moments of morning or the quiet of sunrise. The noise of a bird. The reflection of water up from the lake against the trunks of trees. And for all those broken pieces that make up my life, it seems an ongoing process.
Perhaps made easier by dreams of riding bareback under a wide Idaho sky.
19 April 2009
Stevan relayed a story about the difference between poets and prose writers (inspired by a poem from Melanie about bats). Here's the short version:
A woman came into a group of poets and prose writers and said, "I just saw some bats at my house."
The poets said, "What did they look like?"
The prose writers said, "What happened?"
It provoked conversation. What's the difference? Does use of language determine form? What if prose engages poetic language? Does it matter? Why write at all?
Author Jeremy Adam Smith says that writing offers a different way to work through problems, a persuasive perspective, or a larger connection. Or maybe writers just like to read.
A poet near and dear to me says he writes to give voice to those feelings for which there are no single words. Poetry allows him the room to touch those deepest emotions. It is personal for him and needs only a private audience.
Raymond Carver said writers write to save lives (looking for the reference - I think it is from his introduction to Best American Short Stories).
Quantum mechanics proposes that perception is integral to the existence of the universe. (Read The Biocentric Universe in this month's Discover magazine). In a quantum nutshell: we observe so the universe exists.
Do the observations of our world in all our most human moments serve to do more than just record us?
A western tanager outside the kitchen window.
A fishhook in a drunken man's lip.
A spilled bottle of screws on a widower's workbench.
Carver also wrote that the life we save is our own.
08 March 2009
I have my father to thank for believing that his children were better off for seeing the world rather than sitting in a classroom every day. I thank my husband for continuing the adventure with me. But for the grandeur, I can only thank the universe itself.
In 1977, I turned 12 and my family hiked out of Driggs, Idaho, through Devil's Staircase up to Alaska Basin and then to the top of Hurricane Pass that looks over at the backside of the Grand Tetons. Our guide was an older gentleman named Fred Miller. Fred was born with two club feet. His mother was told he would never walk. According to Fred, she didn't accept the diagnosis and worked his feet straight every day until he walked. Fred hiked with two walking sticks, swinging one or the other forward with each step.
It was a 2- or 3-day hike, and we all carried packs - everything in and out. Fred could out-pace us all. And while I don't remember the details, I recall that he told us stories and named the trees, flowers, rocks and streams all along the way. He showed us watermelon snow, elephant heads, and purple iris. He memorialized the troop of girls who died around a great tree at the crest of a ridge, killed by the lightning strike that burned through the tree roots to reach them where they lay in the grass away from the tree.
Then one night after camp had been set up against the big, round boulders and dinner was done, Fred Miller sang. He sang with the red flicker of campfire on his face, the sharp white of stars overhead, and the black shape of the mountains all around.
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
He sang in joy. In worship of his God. In humility. In awe.
Even though I was young, pre-pubescent, struggling to understand without an understanding, I was moved to tears. His awe gifted me with something precious, something I have never forgotten.
Something I felt again this past week.
My husband took me to Hawaii, the place of his mother's birth. He grew up with her stories and more than a little bit of the local language. As a young man, he returned to the island to work on a construction project with his father, both of them carpenters, and lived in Hilo with his mother's people. So it was a return for him. A new experience for me.
Hawaii, the Big Island, is active with volcanic eruptions. We visited the Volcano House at Kilauea, saw the billowing white steam from the rift in the giant caldera, a volcanic haze spreading west across the island, punctuated by sharp, white bursts of steam vents and smaller eruptions. The larger driving/hiking loop was closed due to high levels of poisonous gases in the air. Several days later when we drove over the volcano and west to Punalu'u and Honaunau, we could smell the pungent sulphur even with all the car windows closed.
Late one afternoon, my husband drove us south from Hilo, down Hwy 130 through Pahoa towards the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Drove until the highway was stopped by an old lava flow that had taken everything around it - the highway, homes, outbuildings, forest. A one-lane makeshift road took us up and over the massive flow, and we followed it to another short stretch of paved road. Then over another flow, another narrow one-lane, and reached another abrupt end. This time, truly an end to the road.
A tower of steam rose up beyond the expanse of old lava. We had seen it from miles away, that place where the molten lava meets the sea.
We hiked then, followed a series of yellow paint stripes across the old lava flow, the hardened cake-batter ripples of pahoehoe and the crunchy sponge-like a'a. For all the people who had walked this way, there was no visible path worn into the rocks, only the yellow tags of paint to indicate we were going the right way. It was like walking on the surface of another planet, surreal and unfamiliar.
The sun set behind a haze of sulphur and volcanic matter, and the moon overhead was a thin crescent, Venus bright beneath it.
More than a mile away, the pillar of steam was immense, lit from below by the flux and flow of molten lava. As the night darkened, the reds, oranges, yellows and blues deepened. The flow pulsed and growled like a living organism, spit and surged, and sometimes flung brilliant flares up and over the edge of the old flow like primal fireworks.
Awe is inadequate a word for what rises up in your chest as you stand on a mound of hardened lava and watch the earth birth new land. Awe and immense joy for this world in which we live. For its beauty. For its astounding cycles of life, healing and regeneration. For the immense power greater than us all that pulses beneath our feet and lifts in the air we breathe.
To that which is greater than us all, I give thanks. I give honor. I gift my awe to the very universe I celebrate.
Aloha and mahalo nui loa.
* A special thanks to the following photographers:
Ryan Backman for his beautiful photo of Hurricane Pass;
and Ben Levy for his amazing photo of Alaska Basin.
The rest of the photos are my own.
12 January 2009
June 1976, my dad and I were at the church for some kind of event when he got a message that the Teton Dam had broken and flooded our new home in Rexburg, Idaho. My dad and I flew from Los Angeles to Idaho Falls in a single engine plane with one of my dad's pilot friends who sweet-talked air-traffic control into letting us land at the Idaho Falls airport and then through all the barricades into the flood zone. The images of the destruction remain clear: the scoured cement foundation of our house, all structure completely gone; green strawberry plants in a muddy border around the space that once was a porch and garden shed; the swollen bodies of cows rolled up against collapsed fence lines; deep swirls of black mud crossing and re-crossing the roads; small airplanes caught in trees and tipped up against the skewed shapes of buildings, miles away from the airport.
February 1996, the Columbia River bore ice and then melted into brown water the color of a cappuccino. At its peak, the Willamette breached the sea-wall to flood into downtown Portland. I was working for a band back then, Stain, and we had played a gig in Vancouver the Thursday night that the rivers crested. In the early morning hours after packing up our gear, we took a detour on our way home, parked at the end of the closed I-5 and walked up and over the Morrison Bridge. Trees the size of train-cars were stacked up against each other on the south footings of the bridge, their yellow insides bare and splintered. The water was red and brown and foam. But mostly I remember the sound of it, the deep roar of something primal. The sound of water moving the earth.
Perhaps it is the same sound that whispers in the rain outside my window tonight. The barest hint of inherent power. Evidence of that which is greater than us all in a single raindrop.
I remain awed and grateful.
06 January 2009
15. I have six piercings and five tattoos. None of the tattoos are butterflies.
14. All of the children I have birthed are girls. 100%.
13. My family lived off-base (USAF) in Taiwan during monsoon season when I was about 9. Our house was enormous with high ceilings and wood floors, and unfurnished except for our beds and maybe a dining room set. During one particular storm, my parents put wide, brown packing tape across all the windows to keep the glass from shattering into the house. When the storm had passed, my brothers and sisters and I peeled off all the tape and made "cool-ee" balls and had the mother-of-all tape-ball battles while skating through the house on roller skates. It was most epic.
12. My earliest memory is of fireflies (in Kentucky, I am told) and how I thought the riot police looked like big bugs in their helmets (in Ohio, I am also told). The next is of living in Texas and thinking that rattlesnakes could crawl up the outside of the doors in the night. I think I might have been four years old. I have been afraid of snakes ever since.
11. I got chickenpox at my first ever sleep-over birthday party.
10. Once I dropped a can of floor wax on my big toe and it got infected under the nail, so my father took me to his clinic on the military base (USAF) and sliced open my toe with a scalpel to drain it. 35-ish years later, there is still a faint silver scar.
9. My first kiss was from a boy in my 3rd grade class who then followed me home after school the next day and beat me up. I don't recall his name.
8. My first hero was Errol Flynn after I saw Robin Hood on Thanksgiving Day the year I was in the 4th grade in Bakersfield, California. My second hero was Speed Racer from the original cartoon series.
7. My first love was a girl named Stephanie. We were both in Mr. Everly's 5th grade class in Tustin, California.
6. I had a pet turtle that I regularly fed raw hamburger and lettuce. When he died, my mother wrapped him in tinfoil and we buried him next to the back porch stairs. As far as I can remember, I have had eight dogs, innumerable fish, two parakeets, a pair of mice, frogs, a salamander, and three cats. I currently have a pair of zebra finches named Jack and Delilah.
5. A palmist at a dinner party in a remodeled brothel in Butte, Montana once told me that I was a pathological smoker and would never be able to quit when I told her that I would wake up in the middle of every night and smoke a cigarette without getting out of bed. So I didn't quit; I just haven't smoked a cigarette for about seven years now.
4. The nastiest black eye I ever got was playing basketball with a bunch of guys where I took a head-butt to the brow that knocked me clean out. The very next day, I had to get a new driver's license and appear in court on a driving infraction. The judge took one look at me, reduced my $300 fine to $25 and waved me out of his courtroom. I got a replacement driver's license not long afterwards because whenever I had to show my ID at the grocery store, the checker would do a double-take at my picture and then glare at my husband.
3. I am the same age as the Super Bowl and have been a fan of the Indianapolis Colts since they were in Baltimore.
2. There is a newspaper photo of me in a 4th of July parade, riding my horse Lucky and wearing the only tall cowboy hat I have ever owned - black felt.
1. I know that I cry when I am full of joy but not always when I am sad, things can happen as quick as a single breath that can never be taken back, a broken heart feels like empty space and tastes like metal, and time does not heal all wounds.
03 January 2009
The "new" year seems arbitrary in a larger, universal timeline. But perhaps closing out a year and starting anew satisfies our human need to count and account for things. A time to climb up on a rock out in mid-stream and look back over our shoulder to mark progress, such as it is.
2008 has provided a number of publication opportunities and additional recognition for my short stories, for which I continue to be appreciative. My thanks to any and all readers who have taken the time to read my pieces. Writing is made that much more satisfying by its readers.
Publication has proven to be about the cumulative effects of long-term sustained efforts - to write, to edit, to submit. Even the smallest effort contributes to the greater, long-term outcome - that universal timeline that does not need or recognize a new year.
With more publications, the number of short stories in the coffer are fewer as more of my time has been spent working on the novel, its own timeline stretching to completion later this year. So I continue those late-night, early-morning writing sessions, too much coffee, handfuls of post-its jammed in my purse, scraps of paper and scribbles on the backs of receipts to tell the stories of the Wildish boys that push forward in my thoughts at the most inopportune moments of departmental staff meetings, workshop trainings or random conversations.
Here's to the new year.