15 March 2010

3.14: pi day

π = C/d

Pi is an equation I learned somewhere along the mathematical education path long before grumpy old Mr. Collier in 8th Grade pre-algebra. Long before Mr. Mortensen's geometry class at Shelley High School. Its formula is burned into my brain, but in the last 20-ish years that I can think of, I haven't had to use it for anything. At least not directly.

There's all kinds of theory proven and otherwise about right-side and left-side brain activities. Do math-minded people write better novels? Do musicians program better software systems? If I make an amazing huckleberry pie, am I also disposed to write beautiful poetry?

The text for my Art 202: Drawing class at Weber State University was "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain." The book remains one of my favorites to this day. Its theory is to engage the brain with a new perspective that opens up the ability to draw at a deeper state of creativity, even a subconscious level. I recommend it to every writer, poet, artist and math geek.

Because in the end, everything we do is all about perspective and the engagement of thought. Whether we are writing novels, designing bridges, practicing medicine or baking pies.

I baked two pies today. One blackberry and one huckleberry. In celebration of Pi Day.

3.14. Celebrate infinitely.


07 March 2010

writing rules

Elmore Leonard compiled his writing experience and wrote a list of rules for writers. His 2001 article in the NY Times: WRITERS ON WRITING; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.

Inspired by Leonard's list, The Guardian recently collected writing rules from Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy, Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson: Ten rules for writing fiction.

I love these. I love how conflicted the lists are. I love "Hooptedoodle." While I can't speak at the celebrity-level success as these authors, I do write. Here's some things I know. Also conflicted.

1. Write every day. I would love to have a special, established, sacred time in which I get to write, but I don't. That is the nature of my current reality. So I write whenever and wherever I can. Even if it is a single line that shakes out of my head while I am going to work and I have to write it on the back of a grocery receipt while driving down the freeway, although not advised due to some of the traffic implications. My writing brain does not stop just because I have to buy a gallon of milk or do a load of laundry. Honor that.

2. Capture those brilliant epiphanies in the moment. No matter what it is. If I wake up in the middle of the night with some amazing turn of phrase, I make myself get up and write it down right then so that I can read it in the morning and usually discard it for the rubbish that it is. Otherwise, it is gone from my head by morning, and I am left with a nostalgic fragment of memory that I had The Perfect Line. The glory of those moments of brilliance is generally "hooptedoodle," but the regret of not writing them down is real, and the process is far more important - it keeps me engaged.

3. Muses are overrated. Vodka was my Muse for a very long time. Although my writing from those vodka-years was mostly drivel, it was necessary. In retrospect, I probably could have written loads of drivel without the vodka, but that is not my reality. After a ten-year dry spell without either vodka or writing, I discovered that writing doesn't need a muse as much as it needs a sustained, consistent, daily practice.

4. Discover what process works for you and then keep doing that. My brain works faster than my fingers and eyes. It always has. They have real names for this now: ADD, OCD, neurosis, etc. I lack a formal diagnosis. But more than 25 years ago, my math teacher sat me down in front of an Apple computer (DOS), instructed me to write, and turned off the screen. When I just need to get what is in my head out, I turn off the screen and type. Or close my eyes. The trick is two-fold: don't stop until it's all out; and for god's sake, keep your fingers on the home keys.

5. Get everything down at least once. I always write more than what ends out in a finished piece. Better to write it all, and then cut the crap. Some of the crap will end up in something else. Some of it, thankfully, will never surface again. It's all part of the process.

6. Every pre-conceived ending always changes. I just expect it now.

7. Read every day. Novels, biographies, non-fiction, articles, blogs, newspapers, magazines, billboards, websites, backs of cereal boxes. I need language in all forms if I ever expect to be able to write it.

8. The greatest source of authentic dialogue is real people. I hang out in coffee shops, markets, business meetings, parties, hallways, city streets - anywhere there are people talking to each other - and listen. Then I write it down. Word for word if I can. I have not found any better published source for teaching real dialogue.

9. All input has value. A renowned national poet laureate evaluated one of my early pieces (from the vodka-muse years) in a university class I was taking at the time, and his written comments included a suggestion that I choose a different art form. After the sting had worn off, I was able to find helpful direction in his comments. If I am unafraid to look at it, both the negative and the positive input, I always learn something. For the record, I took up drawing and am an adequate artist to this day.

10. You can't make up better stuff than real life. For all the hair-brained, elaborate, whimsical, imaginary stories that flit through my head, the best ones for me are about real life. My absolute favorite rejection letter came from an East coast magazine declining my story, "Doing Time in the Real World" that said, "...while the writing was genuine, the material itself seemed unbelievable." The story, later published online by the Noneuclidean Cafe, is based on my several years of employment in the child welfare system as an Outreach worker, and my own early poverty-stricken years as a college student living in a trailer court with two small babies. All the facts are real, even if they are not exactly mine or not factually in order. Among other things, I did find a fly wrapped up in a package of meat, and there was a horribly embarrassing scene at the grocery afterward. Once I did burn my bangs right off with a lighter. And I was miserably grateful for government cheese back in those early years. I don't actually think you can do better than reality when it comes to a good story.

So there they are. Not so much rules, as just my experience.


01 March 2010

we are not so big

A man of great compassion and teaching called Sam Dunlap officiated the ceremony of my wedding more than twelve years ago. And while I cannot quote him exactly, as he offered up prayers to the Four Directions, he said of us humans, "We are so small and weak."

And we are.

12 January 2010. Léogâne, Haiti. Earthquake magnitude 7.0. Currently 230,000 confirmed dead.

27 February 2010. Off the coast near Concepcion, Chile. Earthquake magnitude 8.8 on the Richter scale. Damage is still being assessed.

28 February 2010. 7000 miles away from Chile, in Hilo Bay, Hawaii. The waters of the bay ebbed and flowed in 20-minute cycles to the depth change of about one meter. All the water in the entire bay.

Each of these events has been widely broadcast. Yesterday, I watched a live feed from Hilo on the internet. All Pacific islands were on tsunami alert, as far away as Japan and the Aleutian Islands. The wave did hit, but thankfully caused less damage than was expected.

For all our human accomplishments, the world in which we are but Guest is a big place. We tap into the very smallest fringe of its enormity when we launch rockets into space, erect towering skyscrapers, transmit the Olympic Games from Vancouver, B.C. Canada.

The earth below us shifts in what must be a relatively minute way in the greater Universe, and Haiti crumbles. Chile collapses. All the water in Hilo Bay rises and falls. Over and again.

In keeping with the rules of Universal Paradox, as small as we are, we remain a part of the greater whole. Understanding what that means is reached through the practice of compassion. Meditation. In the extension of service to others.

My wedding ceremony more than twelve years ago was held in a meadow at the foot of Mount Adams. Before our families, friends, and the Universe itself, my husband and I spoke vows of love and commitment to each other and to our children. To All that is Sacred and Greater than Us All.

Because it is an honor, and also a great responsibility, to have the opportunity to carry love with us on our journey through this big universe.


"For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love."
~ Carl Sagan