01 October 2009

good, bad and ugly

Wednesday is the longest day of the week, what with the writing workshop from 6:30-10 pm. It comes right after a full day of work, drive across state lines (not as far as you might think), peanut-butter sandwich and a triple-shot americano. Last night was especially difficult since I have this pain-like-fire in my back that is probably left over from Saturday when I slipped on spilled milk and fell in the grocery store, quite the moment of excitement in itself.

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 Fran├žois 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

read something banned

This week is National Banned Books Week. What would we have missed if we bought into the fears, discrimination or human arrogance that caused books to be banned? Here's some of what I would have missed:

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

horizontal and vertical

I finished The Great Gatsby this morning. Overall, it was an enjoyable read, and I was touched by the tragic longing for that which is past. I can relate. No sense analyzing it, though, because I'm sure there is enough of that out there.

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:

When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour before we melted indistinguishably into it again. [p 184]

If that was true, he must have felt like he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. [p 169]

The track curved and now it was going away from the sun which, as it sank lower, seemed to spread itself in benediction over the vanishing city where she had drawn her breath. He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. [p 160]

And finally, one of my most favorite:

I tried to think about Gatsby then for a moment, but he was already too far away and I could only remember, without resentment, that Daisy hadn't sent a message or a flower. Dimly I heard someone murmur, "Blessed are the dead that the rain falls on," and then the owl-eyed man said, "Amen to that," in a brave voice. [p 183]

Here's one from the Wildish Boys:

We walked together on the wide, cement sidewalk in the fading light, the street going on down the hill to the freeway ramp and Lake Washington. As far as you could see out past the unnatural squared off building tops of north Seattle, there was a fading pink above the Olympics, the reflection of light and water, and over Mercer Island, a glittering line of headlights cut through the black trees and the regular lives of other people that we could almost imagine were just like us.

Need a new book to read now. Suggestions?