Quotes from better writers
Quotes from better writers
A pall has settled in over the two of us in Chez Hemmingplay, and on our sons and others, a pall that may turn out to be nothing at all. I’ll have more to say if it seems things have gone sideways. But by accident, a writer friend mentioned some words Joan Didion wrote in “Blue Nights.” We can share these for now.
“Do not whine…Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.”
“In theory momentos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”
“During the blue nights you think the end of day will never come. As the blue nights draw to a close (and they will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone…Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.”
With one exception, no one in the pub that night had heard the story of the unfaithful earl with a spear in his guts…. At least, not since they were children.
It was a quiet evening. Truth be told, most evenings in the little village were quiet. Deadly quiet. It made the people a little odd.
This night was running down in the same way. Nothing moved outside, or inside, except for calls for refills by the few villagers who remained.
But just before closing time, Robert Mordrum, a local farmer, burst into the low-beamed gathering place just before closing, white-faced and speechless.
A new (to me) poet:
We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn
A red wing rose in the darkness
And suddenly a hare ran across the road
One of us pointed to it with his hand.
That was long ago
Today neither of them is alive
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.
O my love, where are they, where are they going?
the flash of hand, streak of movement,
rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.
It’s just a number: 1,000. But it is fellow-bloggers and for that reason is especially nice. Thank you all.
My path has taken a couple of side trails, and I’ve dialed back on poetry lately because I’m researching another book, and that’s taking up a lot of time. I don’t have a working title yet, and am still letting the research guide the setting and plot a little, but I know the general outlines.
It is in the “cli-fi” genre, set 50-100 years in the future and will be a character-based story about the world after the first big “impacts” of climate change have hit. After some cities have flooded from rising sea levels, other places are too hot to live in and grow crops most years, and other places are hit with monster storms or torrential rains and winds. I’m probably going to give New Orleans a starring role, since I have fallen in love with her and she’s going to be one of the early casualties as things now stand.
It’s a big story, and I’m basically going back to school. I’m learning that what is coming is both much worse than I thought, but also that the future is not totally hopeless. It’s a tossup now whether our grandchildren will spit on our graves or not.
I’m hoping this project doesn’t swamp me. (Pun intended)
My poetry book is still for sale, of course. 🙂 ( http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL ) and a second manuscript is making the rounds of some small presses.
Thanks again to all of you, and all the best as you live this crazy writer’s life with me. Here’s to your stories adding to the world.
I came to this gig late in life,
so what do I want out of it?
It’s a fair question.
I’ve just started digging the answers out
of the rock that holds me.
It can’t be money, because there isn’t any.
Continue reading “What Do I Want?”
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond any experience,your eyes have their silence: in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me, or which i cannot touch because they are too near your slightest look easily will unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers, you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose or if your wish be to close me,i and my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly, as when the heart of this flower imagines the snow carefully everywhere descending; nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility:whose texture compels me with the colour of its countries, rendering death and forever with each breathing (i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens;only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands Someone said: to get better, read the best
by Jim Harrison
It’s difficult to imagine the conversations
between Jesus and Buddha this very moment
These androgynous blood brothers demand our imagination.
They could ask Shakespeare and Mozart to write words
and music, and perhaps a dozen others, but they’ve done so.
The vast asteroid on its way toward LA goes unmentioned.
in “The Shape of the Journey,” 1998. Copper Canyon Press
“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly.
What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.”
by Jim Harrison
I’m hoping to be astonished tomorrow
by I don’t know what:
not the usual undiscovered bird in the cold
snowy willows, garishly green and yellow,
and not my usual death, which I’ve done
before with Borodin’s music
used in Kismet, and angels singing
“Stranger in Paradise,” that sort of thing,
and not the thousand naked women
running a marathon in circles around me
while I swivel on a writerly chair
keeping an eye on my favorites.
What could it be, this astonishment,
but falling into a liquid mirror
to finally understand that the purpose
of earth is earth? It’s plain as night.
She’s willing to sleep with us a little while.
[from IN SEARCH OF SMALL GODS, Copper Canyon Press, 2010, $16, pb. ]
by Dorothy Parker
Lady, lady, never start
Conversation toward your heart;
Keep your pretty words serene;
Never murmur what you mean.
Show yourself, by word and look,
Swift and shallow as a brook.
Be as cool and quick to go
As a drop of April snow;
Be as delicate and gay
As a cherry flower in May.
Lady, lady, never speak
Of the tears that burn your cheek-
She will never win him, whose
Words had shown she feared to lose.
Be you wise and never sad,
You will get your lovely lad.
Never serious be, nor true,
And your wish will come to you-
And if that makes you happy, kid,
You’ll be the first it ever did.
Dorothy Parker 1983-1967
Dorothy Parker was an American poet, short story writer, critic and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks, and eye for 20th century urban foibles.
From a conflicted and unhappy childhood, Parker rose to acclaim, both for her literary output in such venues as The New Yorker and as a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. Following the breakup of the circle, Parker traveled to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. Her successes there, including two Academy Award nominations, were curtailed as her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist.
Parker went through three marriages (two to the same man) and survived several suicide attempts. Dismissive of her own talents, she deplored her reputation as a “wisecracker.” Nevertheless, her literary output and reputation for her sharp wit have endured.
If you like to read someone who knows how to wield words, Parker’s a good one. There are a few at the link under her name above.
I SHALL foot it Down the roadway in the dusk, Where shapes of hunger wander And the fugitives of pain go by. I shall foot it In the silence of the morning, See the night slur into dawn, Hear the slow great winds arise Where tall trees flank the way And shoulder toward the sky. The broken boulders by the road Shall not commemorate my ruin. Regret shall be the gravel under foot. I shall watch for Slim birds swift of wing That go where wind and ranks of thunder Drive the wild processionals of rain. The dust of the traveled road Shall touch my hands and face.
*I was reading a lot of Sandburg a year ago and posted this then. I’m looking back over the year on this cloudy Sunday, and thought to share this again, since I’m still trying to “foot it in the silence of the morning…”
I am very gratified that Spillwords.com has published the feature above this morning, and hope you forgive me sharing it like this. I’m not the only WP blogger here who has been lucky enough to get some additional exposure on the excellent literary site ( @Spill_words ), and hope you’ll all give it a try. We all get paid mostly in compliments, but it’s motivation for us poor pedestrian poets to keep plugging away.
Q&A at the link below.
To My Favorite 17-year-old High School Girl
By Billy Collins
Do you realize that if you had started building the Parthenon
on the day you were born,
you would be all done in only one more year?
Of course, you couldn’t have done that all alone.
So never mind;
you’re fine just being yourself.
You’re loved for just being you.
I’ve traveled back to the invention of trees, not water. It is too far in the blind past. Trees have eyes to see their penetration of earth.
It’s a rant. A rant about poetry. But I guess it hit a nerve. @Spillwords made it a featured post this morning…AND put a trigger warning on it. 🙂 That made me smile. But be warned: it might bruise your peaches.
I think you can handle it, though. (Photo: Pat Mansell)
Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment, if you don’t mind.
Some things have been bugging me. I’ve been reading…
So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Continue reading “Spillwords: “What It Is Not””
“We dye our hairs under many colors to disguise our gray souls. My girl, we don’t mature by merely growing old, but by the damage time causes in our lives. When there are holes in our hearts, scars on our souls, and patches on our wings, then we know we have grown.
“Ah yet, ere I descend to the grave, May I a small house and large garden have; And a few friends, and many books, both true, both wise and both delightful too.”
― Abraham Cowley
Do Not Go Where The Path May Lead, Go Instead Where There Is No Path And Leave A Trail
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I know men who are healthier at fifty than they’ve ever been before, because a lot of their fear is gone.”
“Tonight the first fall rain washes away my sly distance.
I have decided to blame no one for my life.
This water falls like a great privacy.
Letters sink into the desk,
The desk sinks away, leaving an intelligence
Slowly learning to talk of its own suffering.
The muttering of thunder is a gift
That reverberates in the roof of the mouth.
Another gift is a child’s face in a dark room
I see as I check the house during the storm.
My life is a blessing, a triumph, a car racing through the rain.
“Do you solemnly swear before the everliving God
that the testimony you
are about to give in this cause shall
be the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth?”
“No, I don’t. I can tell you what I saw
and what I heard and I’ll swear to
that by the everliving God but the
more I study about it the more sure
I am that nobody but the everliving
God knows the whole truth and if
you summoned Christ as a witness
in this case what He would tell you
would burn your insides with the
pity and the mystery of it.”
In the poem of collections, “The People, Yes”. 1936, Harcourt & Brace; 1990 First Harvest Edition.
This is such a good metaphor for the job of poets and writers generally: snorkeling between two tectonic plates. Speaks to the job of exploring places where big forces grind together, places where it’s sometimes hard to breathe.
by Maxine Kumin
Blue landing lights make
nail holes in the dark.
A fine snow falls. We sit
on the tarmac taking on
the mail, quick freight,
trays of laboratory mice,
coffee and Danish for
Wherever we’re going
is Monday morning.
Wherever we’re coming from
is Mother’s lap.
On the cloud-pack above, strewn
as loosely as parsnip
or celery seeds, lie
the souls of the unborn:
my children’s children’s
children and their father.
We gather speed for the last run
and lift off into the weather.
“Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief” by Maxine Kumin from Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief. © Penguin, 1989.
On a brief vacation in Wyoming and Montana. This is the first dawn today, which reminded me of this poem.
by Rudyard Kipling
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea, There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me; For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say: "Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!" Come you back to Mandalay, Where the old Flotilla lay: Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay? On the road to Mandalay, Where the flyin'-fishes play, An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay! 'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green, An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat -- jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen, An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot, An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot: Bloomin' idol made o'mud -- Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd -- Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud! On the road to Mandalay . . . When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow, She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "Kulla-lo-lo!" With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin' my cheek We useter watch the steamers an' the hathis pilin' teak. Elephints a-pilin' teak In the sludgy, squdgy creek, Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak! On the road to Mandalay . . . But that's all shove be'ind me -- long ago an' fur away, An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay; An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells: "If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else." No! you won't 'eed nothin' else But them spicy garlic smells, An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells; On the road to Mandalay . . . I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones, An' the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones; Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand, An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand? Beefy face an' grubby 'and -- Law! wot do they understand? I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land! On the road to Mandalay . . . Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst, Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst; For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be -- By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea; On the road to Mandalay, Where the old Flotilla lay, With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay! On the road to Mandalay, Where the flyin'-fishes play, An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!
seems to need us
–Rainer Maria Rilke
I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
Happened across this this morning. Isn’t this exactly how young love feels? Yeah.
“From June to December Summer Villanelle”
by Wendy Cope
You know exactly what to do—
Your kiss, your fingers on my thigh—
I think of little else but you.
It’s bliss to have a lover who,
Touching one shoulder, makes me sigh—
You know exactly what to do.
You make me happy through and through,
The way the sun lights up the sky—
1 think of little else but you.
I hardly sleep-an hour or two;
I can’t eat much and this is why—
You know exactly what to do.
The movie in my mind is blue—
As June runs into warm July
I think of little else but you.
But is it love? And is it true?
Who cares? This much I can’t deny:
You know exactly what to do;
I think of little else but you.
“From June to December Summer Villanelle” by Wendy Cope from Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis. © Faber & Faber, 1986. (buy now)
Just as I was going to bed last night, my iPhone dinged. (Yes, I’m one of those.) I checked and saw an email from iTunes Connect.
It took me by surprise. I didn’t recall right away what ITC was, and almost deleted the email as spam. But at the bottom was a note that a payment to my old bank had been returned, and had the name of an account I closed recently.
Then it came back to me. Two years ago, I published a children’s book as a favor to a friend with two adorable young girls. I learned a lot about the E-publishing world, which was my ulterior motive. I learned the creative phase is a lot easier than the marketing. I also learned a lot about the nature of the book business these days. Wowsers. (Did you know, for instance, that a ‘best seller’ on Amazon these days is one that sells one book a day? A friend who self-publishes told me this today.)
“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,” was going to be the first in a series if it attracted any interest. It was designed for the iPad, or can be viewed in iBooks on a Mac. I realize now that this was, while fun to do, a mistake from a marketing perspective. Too limited.
I’ve sold six copies in two years, four of which were bought by long-suffering family members. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but yeah, I’m a force to be reckoned with in this brave new world, obviously. But hey, Apple wants to send me $6.20, so who am I to complain? I’m getting paid for a BOOK! Woo Hoo!
If you have daughters, granddaughters or friends with daughters who are at that age when mermaids have an appeal, I hope you’ll check this out. Maybe I’ll be able to sell six more copies in the next two years! (And the kids will love it. My focus group told me so. 🙂 )
Your beauty, nude
not naked on the bed,
is far more a gift
than I ever expected.
I watch languor recline
1n your wise grey eyes
while slate hummingbirds
carved as earrings
dangle from golden hooks.
I quiver in your breath
and the ceiling fan halts
in that instant.
We look at one another
with both eyes open and close.
An intimate wind,
the cause of auroras,
moves north and south,
east and west,
then we swim
into one another.
“Not Naked on the Bed” by Timothy Young from Building in Deeper Water. © The Thousands Press, 2003. (buy now)
I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
There is an eagle in me that wants to soar,
and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.
“…Writing is a very complicated thing, it’s a completely cerebral experience. And everything has to be at a distance, even you have to be at a distance. You are not writing your story, it has to go beyond the experience. And I can tell you very frankly that if I know how the story will turn out, I never write it. I have to deal with myself, with my capacity and capabilities to get things out of the narrative….”
–Indian author Krishna Sobti, 91
by Jim Harrison
The moon comes up.
The moon goes down.
This is to inform you
that I didn’t die young.
Age swept past me
but I caught up.
Spring has begun here and each day
brings new birds up from Mexico.
Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there’s no chain.
“You give up the world line by line. Stoically. And then one day you realize that your courage is farcical. It doesn’t mean anything. You’ve become an accomplice in your own annihilation and there is nothing you can do about it. Everything you do closes a door somewhere ahead of you. And finally there is only one door left.”
a swan disappears
into the mist
–by Steve Hodge (Frogpond 38:1)
Celebrities are exiting the stage right and left lately, it seems. I feel like I should, but just can’t share in the outpouring of second-hand grief. Part of me thinks it’s all too self-regarding. Our celebrity worship seems such an empty thing. This one reminds us of our childhood’s passing. And that one. And that other one was singing when I got laid for the first time. As though in the age of the selfie our personal mundane saga should somehow seem unique among the billions on earth. I don’t quite get it. But I don’t quite get a lot of things…. And the list seems to be getting longer.
But today’s the anniversary of another celebrity’s death. 400 years ago. I wonder if they’ll still be quoting Prince in four centuries? Somehow, I doubt it.
“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
“The moon comes up.
The moon goes down.
This is to inform you
that I didn’t die young.
Age swept past me
but I caught up.
Spring has begun here and each day
brings new birds up from Mexico.
Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there’s no chain.”
Jim Harrison, the fiction writer, poet, outdoorsman and reveler who wrote with gruff affection for the country’s landscape and rural life and enjoyed mainstream success in middle age with his historical saga “Legends of the Fall,” has died at age 78.
Spokeswoman Deb Seager of Grove Atlantic, Harrison’s publisher, told The Associated Press that Harrison died Saturday at his home in Patagonia, Arizona. Seager did not know the cause of death. Harrison’s wife of more than 50 years, Linda King Harrison, died last fall.
I’ll be stopping for a few days in New Orleans in early March, living on the edge of the French Quarter before taking The City of New Orleans to Chicago. If I can manage it (it’s a couple of hours west of NOLO), I’m going to visit New Iberia, LA, home of one of my favorite authors, and my favorite Southern author, James Lee Burke. They’ve made a couple of movies from his books, but I could only find one trailer, based on “In the Electric Mist With the Confederate Dead.”
It is beautiful, is it not?
Utterly calm, soothing, serene.
If only I felt that way,
Or knew what it was like.
I float for a moment,
Feeling the calm,
If only I could have the Grace
To leave it at that.
Instead, my brain is churning
Wondering why something
Built for movement, for air and sea,
Is alone and still
Like some discarded refrigerator.
If only that made sense…
…My nature is hopelessly complicated; a mass of contradictory impulses;
The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain—a curious wild pain—a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite—the beatific vision—God—I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found—but the love of it is my life—it’s like a passionate love for a ghost. At times it fills me with rage, at times with wild despair, it is the source of gentleness and cruelty and work, it fills every passion that I have— it is the actual spring of life within me.
This from The Writer’s Almanac this morning. Sometimes it is just work to do this, not an excuse to indulge one’s self, or play at being a writer. And, happy birthday Ursula!
It’s the birthday of science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin(books by this author), born in Berkeley, California (1929). She grew up in a family of academics. Her mother, Theodora Kroeber, was a psychologist and writer. Her father, Alfred Kroeber, was the first person to receive a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University-he’s been called the “Dean of American anthropologists.” He specialized in researching Native American cultures, and so Ursula grew up with Native American myths.
When she was young, over the course of 10 years, she wrote five novels, none of which were published. Publishers in the 1950s thought her writing was too “remote.” So she began to write science fiction and fantasy, and she has been incredibly prolific for the last four decades. She has published more than 100 short stories, 20 novels, 11 children’s books, six volumes of poetry, and four volumes of translation. She’s best known for her Earthseabooks, a fantasy series that takes place in a world populated by wizards and dragons. She also wrote the Hainish Cycle – science fiction novels set in an imaginary universe where the residents are genderless.
An interviewer once asked her advice for writers, and she replied: “I am going to be rather hard-nosed and say that if you have to find devices to coax yourself to stay focused on writing, perhaps you should not be writing what you’re writing. And if this lack of motivation is a constant problem, perhaps writing is not your forte. I mean, what is the problem? If writing bores you, that is pretty fatal. If that is not the case, but you find that it is hard going and it just doesn’t flow, well, what did you expect? It is work; art is work.”
I’ve meant to tell you many things about my life, and every time the moment has conquered me. I’m strangely unhappy because the pattern of my life is complicated, because my nature is hopelessly complicated; a mass of contradictory impulses; and out of this, to my intense sorrow, pain to you must grow. The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain—a curious wild pain—a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite—the beatific vision—God—I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found—but the love of it is my life—it’s like a passionate love for a ghost. At times it fills me with rage, at times with wild despair, it is the source of gentleness and cruelty and work, it fills every passion that I have— it is the actual spring of life within me.
From better writers… a series
Maybe Alone On My Bike
by William Stafford
I listen, and the mountain lakes
hear snowflakes come on those winter wings
only the owls are awake to see,
their radar gaze and furred ears
In that stillness a meaning shakes;
And I have thought (maybe alone
on my bike, quaintly on a cold
evening pedaling home), Think!-
the splendor of our life, its current unknown
as those mountains, the scene no one sees.
O citizens of our great amnesty:
we might have died. We live. Marvels
coast by, great veers and swoops of air
so bright the lamps waver in tears,
and I hear in the chain a chuckle I like to hear.
“Maybe Alone On My Bike” by William Stafford from The Way It Is. © Graywolf Press, 1999. (buy now)
There’s a good reason pro authors finish a book’s first draft as quickly as possible: If you wait too long, you lose touch with the energy and lives in that created world. They both die of asphyxiation.
This means one of two things. Each and severally—as the lawyers say—is and are quite bad.
(There’s a third, quitting, but …. just no.)
Either you have to pray that there’s something salvageable after you shit-can the 95-plus percent of it that makes no sense anymore, and probably never did…
OR you knife the useless bastard in its hard drive sector like Macbeth stabbed Duncan.
……….Besides, you never know…..
Time to get to work.
Doing the inspiration-kick-myself-in-the-ass thing this morning again.
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
Twitter sent this to me this morning, and it struck me that the same could be said of life in 2015. We are not getting better at this task of being fully human, are we?
We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare;
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love;
William Butler Yeats (/ˈjeɪts/; 13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939) was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923.
and, to be perfectly honest, it bums me out.
So many great ones! —libidinal heroes,
idealists, warrior-chieftains, revolutionaries,
fabulists of all sorts, even the great Irish pig farmers
and Armenian raisin growers —and who,
I ask myself, am I by comparison? Calmed
by Valium, urged on by Viagra, uplifted
by Prozac, I go about my daily rounds,
a quotidian member of the quotidian hierarchy,
a Perseus with neither a war nor a best friend,
and sink to the depths of despair
on the broken wings of my own mundanity.
If only some god had given me greatness,
I surely would have made something of it—
perhaps a loftier, more humble poem than this,
or some übermenschliche gesture that would reveal
my superiority to the ordinary beings and things
of this world. But here I am now, one of
the earth’s mere Sancho Panzas, leading
those heroic others through the world on their
magnificent horses, merely turning the page, dreaming
my own small deeds into their magnificent arms.
“I Think Constantly of Those Who Were Truly Great” by Michael Blumenthal, from No Hurry: Poems 2000-2012. © Etruscan Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
“Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Act 5, Scene 1
More strange than true: I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!
“The world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.”
Novels are like marriages. You have to get into the mood to write them — not because of what writing them is going to be like, but because it’s so sad to end them. When I finished my first book, I really felt like I’d fallen in love with my main character and that she’d died. You have to understand, writing a novel gets very weird and invisible-friend-from-childhood-ish, then you kill that thing, which was never really alive except in your imagination, and you’re supposed to go buy groceries and talk to people at parties and stuff. Characters in stories are different. They come alive in the corners of your eyes. You don’t have to live with them.
DAVID FOSTER WALLACE
Up too early. Everything hurts because the dog was hogging the middle of the bed and it was easier to let her than shove 45 pounds of dead weight, grumbling, to the floor. This has got to change.
It’s time to hit the shower and drag my carcass into Hormone Central. I’m stalling, of course. But I would like to share one last thing, in case I don’t come back. ….
Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer
by Jane Kenyon
We turned into the drive,
and gravel flew up from the tires
like sparks from a fire. So much
to be done—the unpacking, the mail
and papers … the grass needed mowing ….
We climbed stiffly out of the car.
The shut-off engine ticked as it cooled.
And then we noticed the pear tree,
the limbs so heavy with fruit
they nearly touched the ground.
We went out to the meadow; our steps
made black holes in the grass;
and we each took a pear,
and ate, and were grateful.
“Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer” by Jane Kenyon, from Collected Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?
—But it’s nicer here…
So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doings things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
—But we have to sleep sometime…
Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota. You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
― Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain
We had one of those experiences recently that had a touch of magic about it. Unexpected pleasures are the best kind.
Near Flatrock, NC., just driving around looking for something to do, we passed a sign that said the home of poet Carl Sandburg was up ahead. It’s a national park, now, so the signs had the brown backgrounds and white lettering. He, his wife, daughters and granddaughter, lived there for nearly 21 years, until his death in 1967. The anniversary of that was just ten days away when we visited, actually.
He’s probably my favorite American writer, and I didn’t know he lived in the South. So we stopped and spent several hours wandering the grounds. It’s a lovely place, full of charm and history and serenity now. The house was built in 1838 and was at one point owned by the treasurer of the Confederate States of America, a slaveholder. Sandburg, a committed socialist and Unionist, was terribly embarrassed by the presence of slave cabins out back, but also believed in preserving historical things. So he had them renovated and painted, and just lived with the moral quandary they represented as he worked on his Lincoln and Civil War books. The house sits on a hill overlooking a pasture and a lake full of fish.
I took the tour of the house, and have a picture of the writing room on the 3rd floor where he wrote big chunks of his Lincoln biography and much of his Civil War history, below. And most of the extensive library of children’s stories he wrote. It’s just as it was when he and his wife lived there, just as it was on the day he died, July 22, 1967.
After he died, his wife of nearly 60 years just lost heart and moved out, giving the land to the Interior Department to make the national park. She and her daughters took just their clothes. If you ever are in the vicinity and want to stop by to touch a piece of literary history, please do.
This is the poet in his own voice, reading a short poem he published in 1918.
Writing is rewriting.
This is not an original thought, but worth repeating.
The real point of any piece, the inner crankiness of malformed intent that pushes me to write, doesn’t emerge until the sixth or seventh draft, usually. (I’m writing for the terminally ill, after all —we’re all gonna die—and I don’t want to waste our collective valuable time with frilly froo froo stuff.
Don’t you have enough crap in your life already? Yeah. Me, too.
Writing is mostly staying at the chair and getting the first five versions out of the way so I can really begin to work, to follow the scent, to hone and polish and revel in the craft and mystery of it. I murder my own words for the greater glory of the correct ones still caught in a holding pattern and unable to land.
The final piece may look nothing at all like the first — or fifth, or eighth — draft. That’s just how it works.
The stuff I’m most unhappy with are the things that I pushed out into the light of day too soon.
Like this post, for instance.
This was only the fourth draft, and it shows. I should probably go back and cut about 20 percent more. 🙂
To add to the day’s flood of Shakespeare news stories….
From “The Writer’s Almanac”, by Garison Keilor
It’s the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, who is traditionally believed to have been born on this date in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. He left behind no personal papers, so our knowledge of his life comes to us from public and court documents. His father, John, was a glove-maker and alderman, and his mother, Mary Arden, was a landed heiress. The baptismal register of the Church of the Holy Trinity in the Shakespeares’ parish shows an entry on Wednesday, April 26, that reads, “Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakespeare.” Babies were traditionally baptized on the first Sunday or holy feast day after their birth. The Feast of St. Mark was on April 25, and although normally that would have been Shakespeare’s baptismal day, it was also considered an unlucky day, and that may be why the child was baptized the following day instead.
Shakespeare studied at the well-respected local grammar school, and married the older — and pregnant — Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26. She gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, six months later. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed two years after that. Shakespeare was no doubt deeply affected by the death of son Hamnet at age 11; he began to write his tragedy Hamlet soon afterward.
He moved to London around 1588 and began a career as an actor and a playwright. By 1594, he was also managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular London theater troupe. The 1590s saw the production of his plays Richard III, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and The Merchant of Venice, to name but a few. His greatest tragedies — like Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear — were all written after 1600. He wrote his last few plays back in Stratford, where he retired after an outbreak of the bubonic plague caused the London theaters to be closed for long stretches. He was popular during his lifetime, but it wasn’t until after his death that his collected works were published in print form. That volume has come to be known as the First Folio, and it was published in 1623.
In 1611, he made out his will, leaving most of his estate to his daughter Susanna, and bequeathing to his wife, Anne, his “second-best bed.” He died on or around his birthday in 1616 and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford, leaving a last verse behind as his epitaph: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare / to dig the dust encloséd here. / Blessed be the man who spares these stones, / and cursed by he who moves my bones.”
Shakespeare wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and a couple of epic narrative poems. He created some of the most unforgettable characters ever written for the stage, and was a master of the language of various social classes. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, he coined 3,000 new words, and he has contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. Shakespeare gave us such commonly used phrases as “a fool’s paradise,” “dead as a doornail,” “Greek to me,” “come what may,” “eaten out of house and home,” “forever and a day,” “heart’s content,” “love is blind,” “night owl,” “wild goose chase,” and “into thin air.”
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
I need an editor. Everyone needs an editor. A good editor.
NOTE: I am an official fossil. Can’t help that. At least I haven’t shouted “you kids get off my lawn” in… forever. But this rant will sound like I have, I suppose.
This is like a notice on an adult site, though. Don’t read on unless you’re over the age of consent.
I learned the craft of writing at the knees of editors who were hard nosed, but not hard-hearted. They demanded the best, until that’s what I could give them. I have had stories (on paper; told you I was old) balled up and thrown at my head. One quite literally was hummed from across the newsroom and stuck in my ear. That guy had one hell of an arm! Can you imagine such a thing these days? He’d be sent to a re-education camp now, probably. Or go through a shaming ritual on Twitter. (I shed a nostalgic tear for the good old days. 🙂 )
I get the feeling that most people go through school and early professional life not being put through the grinder like that. That’s a damned shame, frankly. It wasn’t fun at the time, but I grew a thick skin and higher expectations. Those editors who reacted with anger to poorly written stories got angry because they cared. Deeply cared about the words, about the story, about the truth of things. I learned.
Before anyone leaps to the defense of the beginners and seekers who are blogging, allow me to insert a disclaimer: I’m not thinking of those who are here because they are looking to unburden themselves of something heavy and awful. I’ve read a lot of these writers with awe, many of whom have enormous talent, latent or otherwise. And the cries from their souls would tear a hole in Heaven and make the angels weep. They just need to be heard, and get a helping hand. But I argue that there’s a goal more lofty than just feeling good. It’s being good.
They can be very, very good if they keep at it and refuse to accept easy answers. Along the way, they will probably face doubts and pain every single day. It doesn’t really get pain-free; you just learn to keep going. Some have actual physical pain and they keep going. If they can, we can.
The struggles writers go through are pure raw material that, properly crafted, can be spun into gold. There are only two ways to do that: write, incessantly, and seek out a good editor to keep you honest and moving toward higher ground like you’re escaping Noah’s flood.
It’s acquiring the craft I’m talking about, and do not claim I have achieved any 20th degree black belt, either. I haven’t. I’ve been working at this for nearly 50 years and I look at a lot of what I write now with disgust. I’ve just learned to accept that as a cost of doing business, a challenge, and throw the crap back in the hopper and work it like an eel wrangler hoping to turn those wriggly bastards into rope.
So, back to the premise of the rant.
If I want to call myself a writer, in the professional sense, I cannot thrive or grow without a good editor. Even someone who’s main goal is to work the knots out of their lives can use simple feedback on technique, if they’ll listen. “Do more of this, less of that. That part doesn’t make sense to me. What if you moved this phrase up there? Poor spelling hurts readership, and muddies your story. Buy a dictionary. Buy a thesaurus. Buy Strunk and White’s ‘Elements of Style.’ ” This helps you cultivate that little voice in your head that learns to stand off to the side, the objective observer, the voice that is both friend and judge.
A good editor is not your best friend who tells you she loves everything and nods sympathetically at everything you say. She’s the kind of best friend who will call you on your bullshit and help you find a better way. This person will call crap what it is, and you will listen if you give a damn and if you want to be any good. It takes enormous hubris to sit down at a keyboard and write, and enormous humility to be any good at it. Nobody grows if all they hear are soothing words. You need to seek out honest critics and humble yourself. And then write, write, write.
That is, we will if we want to be any good. If we want to be more than good. If we want to be the best we can possibly be.
It isn’t fun, and isn’t supposed to be.
The sayings about this are plentiful. I told someone when I started on the book that it was easy. I just locked myself in a cabin for four days (true), smashed myself in the face with the laptop (not literally) until I lost some teeth and the words started to come. I came down off the mountain and worked for a couple of months, and then had a good friend who used to edit a magazine read it. She really let me have it, the good and the bad. She’s a pro. I listened. I have rewritten it all twice since then, and will probably have to do it more.
A good editor is your best mentor, and the callouses you grow on your fragile ego will let you push on through the hard times when the words dry up. A good editor will push you on when you want to lie down and settle for second-best. A good editor isn’t a bully, but a coach, a friend, an AA sponsor, the hand wielding a whip when you need it most — which is usually when you think you don’t.
Such a person is a pearl of great price—hard to find. In a pinch, however, find writers you KNOW are loads better than you and read, read, read.
Like your life depended on it.
Because it does.
I’m really not feeling morbid, but the well-examined life always includes thoughts of the end that comes to all, that final journey into the “undiscovered country.” My thought is always that it’s better to stare everything in the face than to be afraid and pretend. It just doesn’t change some things. Turns out we humans have been thinking about this for a long time. I also believe that we think about death, but then grab a bottle of wine, a pretty girl, and make love without care or regret.
From an unknown Athenian.
c. 305 BC / Athens
When you’re moved to find out who you are,
study the graves you encounter as you pass by.
Inside rest the bones and weightless dust
of men once kings and tyrants, wise men, and those
who took pride in their noble birth or wealth,
their fame, or their beautiful bodies.
Yet what good was any of that against time?
All mortals come to know Hades in the end.
Look toward these to know who you are.
Emergency lighting for times of darkness and fear
Good things are going to happen@Mehakkhorana
by Kelly Lewis
“The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne." --Chaucer
seeking sublime surrender
A Continuing Revolution
THE DRIVELLINGS OF TWATTERSLEY FROMAGE