Saturday, April 23, 2016

reminder to self: these things count as writing

Last weekend, I sat in circle of students' desks in a college classroom. The other desks were filled with fellow writing conference attendees with whom I share at least one commonality: our paying work is not our writing. We met twice, once over dinner and then two days later over lunch. Our time was limited but we didn't waste any of it because the challenges are obvious. We had a lot to talk about.

In my head, I list off the hardships of this kind of life - often - where they end up cluttering my emotions as excuses or whines or justifications. (so little time, so little energy, writing at night is hard, offices don't cultivate creativity, I need a social life, just one more episode of Gilmore Girls...)

So! Instead of challenges and whining, I present for you a list of all of the many things that feed writing. For me, words on paper are most satisfying, but they are not always the point. The point, I'm beginning to realize (I can be slow, I know) is to build a writing life.

zoning out
reading old journals
making a spreadsheet of publications to submit to
catching up with friends at writing group
listening to podcast interviews with authors and other artists
writing for my friend's nonprofit
asking questions
going to readings
hanging out at bookstores
listening to music
making plans for writing
transcribing passages I like
movies (sometimes)


(photo: book stack from sometime last year)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

give this book the attention it deserves

Sometimes, it's hard for me to separate my experience of a book from the circumstances of my life while reading it. If you've read any of my read2016 posts this year, you might have gathered that much already.

So here's the thing with Tinkers: I was prepared to really like it, but I got distracted. I read it when I was tired, I read it on the train, I read it at a coffee shop when I got interrupted by a good looking stranger who asked if he could sit with me and talk (and I said yes), I read it on a Sunday afternoon when I was determined to finish it so I could start another book before travel a few days later. The conditions were not ideal, especially considering the kind of book Tinkers is -- not much plot, sprawling poetic sentences attempting to describe ineffable feelings, strange switches in point of view and time and generation that can disorient the reader if she's not paying enough attention.

Still, I liked it. I dog-eared pages that I am now transcribing into a document of bright passages from books I read. Even as I do this, I find myself drawn in again by the beautiful language -- poetic, and also terribly precise and physical and surprising. I keep reading past the sentence I meant to transcribe, forgetting what's happening in that part of the story but just wanting to follow his trail of words.

One of my favorite passages comes early on:
There was also the ring in Howard Crosby’s ears, a ring that began at a distance and came closer, until it sat in his ears, then burrowed into them. His head thrummed as if it were a clapper in a bell. Cold hopped onto the tips of his toes and rode in the ripples of the ringing throughout his body until his teeth clattered and his knees faltered and he had to hug himself to keep from unraveling. This was his aura, a cold halo of chemical electricity that encircled him immediately before he was struck by a full seizure. Howard had epilepsy. 
The sign of a good book (and perhaps the nerdiness of the person reading it) is that she will bring it up in a conversation with friends over drinks, which is what I did with this passage, with a doctor friend, because it was the most wonderful and felt description of disease in fiction that I think I've ever read. No technical jargon until the very end, when Harding names it: epilepsy. But before he gets there, he wants the reader to feel it as the character does.

I was tempted to make this post a long list of the passages I love, but I leave you with that one, and with the recommendation that if you read this book, give it the attention it deserves. Drink some coffee, take your time, and resist good looking strangers (but only for this book).

you can just feel God shining through

I think poetry is the mind of God. All the great poems that I love seem to me to all have that little ingredient. You feel like you’re in the presence of the mind of God... Take Rilke, I mean, you can’t just live and come to the conclusions he came to. I think his mission was to learn to get out of the way so that something bigger could speak through him. Emily Dickinson, my God, she’s full of the mind of God. You can just feel God shining through those poems, darkly. So it was her, but it wasn’t. ... There’s something unaccountable that happened to her. And it’s that unaccountable thing that I love.

-poet Li-Young Lee via here.

(more of my own words, soon...)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

after reading ongoingness

What interested me was the kind of love to which the person dedicates herself for so long, she no longer remembers quite how it began.

          -Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness


(photo: selfie with niece)