Sunday, December 28, 2008

The light dawns

So here's what it is.

I hit the 3/4 mark in Choice. I lost sight of the ground.

Even though I still think it works better with the scene coming earlier - my sense of panic and not knowing what to do comes from that dreadful 3/4 point more than anything else. Once I got working on it tonight, things started working themselves out, of course.

But there is something about that 3/4 point. And it's not just writers who experience this - I've seen it with painters and people building their own houses or putting together a marketing campaign. I think you're far enough away from where you started that you lose sight of the initial impulse, but you're not far enough along to know it's going to work out just fine. You've lost sight of the shore, but you're not seeing the land across the ocean yet. You have to trust it's out there and keep swimming until you hit it.

So, I guess I'll have to tread water for a few days until everything loosens up and the writing feels comfortable again.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Getting Loopy

27 December
Here’s one of the games I play with myself. I make things take longer than they need to because I’m afraid that when I’m done with them, I won’t have any other ideas. So I putter away my time, don’t work on projects like Choice or Ithaka or any of the short stories I’ve got simmering in my brain. But I'm thinking about them all the time, and trying to get to them all the time. If I would just work on them as diligently as I've been working on Choice lately, I would finish everything. And I ought to trust myself by now that I have more ideas than I will ever be able to write in my lifetime. They just keep coming.

Choice has thrown me a loop today. As a short story, I had thought the scene where Matt gets arrested came too abruptly in the beginning. And once Ray asks Matt to help him do the ritual to help Denny move on, it's a straight shot - you know Matt will get the clothes, you know the guys will end up in the desert, etc. The arrest was too big, too overpowering for the scenes that follow until they're out on the desert. So I thought...I'll put that scene later in the novel version. Well, novel version is now at 150 pages and I was getting to the arrest scene and realized, no, it actually DOES need to go at the beginning, in the first 25 pages - so now I've got the dilemma of how to get it there. Do I continue writing as if I've already put it in the first 25 pages? Or, do I go back, make those revisions now and then continue once I've fixed all the continuity problems? And, I don't know for certain (although I'm 95% certain) that the scene should actually go there, so I don't want to do this in a way that I'll obliterate what I've gotten done to this point - so I'm not sure how I should do this. Longhand revisions, on the computer. And I can feel how easily this will turn into a reason to stop, and I'm refusing to allow myself to go there. So I'm desperately seeking advice from the writers I know on how best to write through this.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

8 - 15 December 2008

15 December
Ignoring the world is also a political statement. (heard on NPR from a slam poet)

13 December
Residency – an autobiography. Word tree of working notes from residency.

Take different genres (maybe 6) and create linked pieces based on that genre (like thrillers, fantasy, autobiography, romance, etc.)

11 December
Scream – the dinner is with a college friend she hasn’t seen in a long time - not a good friendship (think Scott – someone she always wanted to impress and never could, and doesn’t like very much). Her husband – “Tell me again, why are we doing this?”

Ideas for my residency - take seagull story and create visual text – use the story as the basis for other pieces – slice the text up, line by line, make a mobile out of it, diagram its sentences, work with hyperlinked text.

1 - 8 December 2008

8 December

After writing assignment: What was interesting to me was that in order to get anywhere with this week’s assignment, I ended up drawing to the music, recording my impressions of it by tracing a pencil over paper (kind of stream of consciousness drawing, not trying to make an image, just lines). Giving the music form, however abstract, helped me find a way into the music so that I could then create a scene to go with it and figure out what kind of scene would have had to happen between the two pieces of music in order for one to become the other.

The cello piece was cohesive, large continuous swoops, joyous, playful, while the Lamentate was fractured, small islands that were disconnected from each other. Odd and interesting that I had to translate the music into another medium in order to find access to it.

1 December
What’s more important – the event truth or the emotional truth?

What’s a gem but compressed decay?

Using form as a way to show you know what the history you’re a part of is and using it as a critical approach, to comment on history.

2 December
This semester has been so full of new discoveries, new ways of thinking about what I’m writing and reading. I’m sad that it’s almost over, actually really is over. It’s been thrilling and exciting and my biggest worry is that I will close my notebook on this semester and never think like this again. Because that’s what usually happens. I want to stay awake to this. Yes, trust. Trust that what is meaningful will stay with me, will distill and become part of my blood and bones, as unnoticed as my beating heart.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

17 November - 1 December 2008

20 November
Writing prompt to adult students: Who or what ghosts do you carry within yourself? And I ended up writing about Choice (backstory: This is a novel that started out as a short story several years ago. Basically, a 14 year old boy deals with the sudden death of his older brother. In the original version, the brother was out joyriding with a friend, stuck his head out of the car while it was going about 100 mph and was decapitated, the end of the story was a weird “ritual” out in BLM land around Reno so the brother can stop haunting the friend who was driving – so many of my friends said “I didn’t know you wrote horror” that I ended up changing the story radically and it’s now grown into a full-fledged novel. The brother is killed while joyriding, he is not decapitated, the ritual still happens.) So, I realize after this ghost prompt that everyone in the novel is haunted by the brother’s death – not as in ghosts appearing in the middle of the night, but in emotional terms. So Choice is a ghost story after all. And that’s very, very cool to me, that the original impulse of the story still comes through even though it has moved away from its original form, that the impulse now exists on a more symbolic level.

22 November
Reading Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell) – convergent and divergent thinking – convergent is being able to look at patterns and figure out what comes next in a sequence; divergent is being able to do things like finding as many uses for a pencil or brick as possible or forming as many words as you can from a longer word. I excel at divergent thinking and suck at convergent – this may explain why I’m really great at the brainstorming phase of a project – thinking about my characters, the story, imagery, etc – and have a really difficult time with endings. Endings need me to add up all the patterns and choose the way to sum them up and move them into something larger.

23 November
I want friends who have cool names like ‘Unterferth’ and ‘Magnus’ instead I have friends with nice normal names like ‘Jennifer’ and ‘Sue,’ even my dog’s name is ‘Maggie’ (she came to us named) instead of something more interesting like ‘Cabal’ or ‘Stylus.’ I wish to seem exotic instead of normal. I think I spent most of my teens years trying to figure out what ‘normal’ was and then how to become it. Now I’ve succeeded and it’s really, really boring, and I don’t know how to do anything else. Why this seems important to write down, I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to write a story with a dog named “Stylus” in it.

28 November
A pantoum with a scene between Matt and his mother (from Choice)– I have a really difficult time keeping them in a room together because they don’t have anything to say to one another. Repeated lines of dialogue, talking cross purposes. Hm. Possibilities.

1 December
Wrote and rewrote the scene. In absolute terms, it’s not brilliant, but what happened in the writing of it was interesting. It forced me to keep the characters’ dialogue at odds with each other in order to keep the tension. In my first draft, I had the characters respond directly to each other and that was boring. By keeping them at odds with each other, it worked much better. I also found that I had to alter the form a bit. It worked better to have the fourth line of the “stanza” be repeated as the next line of dialogue. What also happened was that last line came to be the power position in the conversation, the one that was directing the flow of the scene so I brought in an incidental character (a grocery store clerk) to be able to change the power structure and give Matt’s mom the upperhand in the conversation. As an exercise, this worked really well for exploring these two characters. I often have trouble with their dialogue because there is so much that isn’t being said between them. This structure gave me a way to play with them and what they are and aren’t saying to each other. And as rough as the dialogue is, it helped me find a way into this relationship that I didn’t have before.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

10 - 16 November

10 November
Katami’s role in Choice is to inject beauty into this tragedy. “Look, Matt, notice how the world moves on and renews itself.” The joy of individual moments even in soul-crushing adversity.

Words to consider for a sestina: dogs, hands, be, space.

11 November
So here is what happens – I build the writing thing up as being so very huge and meaningful and then I get scared of it. And then I don’t want to do it. And it becomes bigger and scarier. Then the monkeys take over. They fling poop. They chatter and scream incoherently. I get caught in this maelstrom of activity. Like Dorothy. Except that instead of telling everyone how there’s no place like home, I complain about how busy I am and how I’m NOT getting any writing done. And really, it’s because I’m scared shitless until I can trick myself into writing again by throwing some monkey chow onto the floor and running like heck until I get to the computer and turn on my noise-cancelling headphones so I cannot hear the monkeys chatter when they realize I’ve tricked them, but then, I’m writing and nothing else matters.

12 November
Oh my God. I don’t like to write at my desk! Why have I been fighting like heck to force myself into writing at my desk? Why can’t I learn to trust my writer instincts instead of beating myself up for not being “dedicated” enough? My writer has been telling me for two weeks now that I need to get away from my desk.

I think there’s a lot of similarity between writers and sports players. We don’t know what causes us to be able to do what we do so we get very superstitious about how we do it. Instead of not changing our underwear or always starting for homeplate on our right foot, we invent rituals and habits, define our writing space and conditions as narrowly as possible because that’s what worked for us the last time we had a great moment writing, when really none of that matters.

I spend so much of my time beating myself up because I’m not writing, because I think I’m not making it a high enough priority (yes, I am still hearing Gayle’s voice questioning my dedication to being a writer – it’s only been 20+ years and I am the only one from my undergraduate program still writing, go figure). But what’s maddening is that then I get to the writing and it feels amazing and the words flow and I remember, “Oh, so this is why I write, to feel this.” And then I realize that what’s actually been happening while I’ve been not getting to the writing is that new ideas have been settling and sinking in. This semester I’ve taken on playwriting and poetry, two genres that are new to me, and taken them on for some very specific prose-related reasons. These genres require me to pay attention to different things when I’m writing, to use different muscles as I write. When I got to working on Choice this week, I suddenly see that all the time I wasn’t putting words on paper, I was still writing because what is coming out shows me how much has been going on underneath the surface. My brain has been reordering itself, rewiring how I approach scene and juxtaposition of image, how I move characters through dialogue, create turns in the story through what is being said. What I’m writing this week is very different than what I was writing at the beginning of the semester.

13 November
So here’s what I love about being a writer. I’m sitting in the elementary school cafeteria while my nine year old has chess lessons. I’m here because he wanted me to bring the chess board we made over the summer and it’s too heavy and bulky for him to carry by himself, so I brought it and decided I’d just write in the corner for an hour until they were done. So here I am, and the lesson’s going on, and I’m working on my novel. I’m in two places at the same time. I’m here, in the cafeteria, and I’m in Reno with Matt who’s having a really shitty day while he struggles to find ways to deal with his brother’s death. Both places are as real and concrete to me as the table on which I’m writing and the pen in my hand. I can tell you what’s being said in the room and the conversation Matt is having with his mother.

Sometimes, when I’m writing, I feel my own edges blur, do not feel as physically solid as I do at other times. It makes me wonder if, when people look my way, if I look out of focus to them – like my physical boundaries blur to match my mental ones.

Possible words for a sestina – red orange yellow green blue purple.

14 November
Picked up my data recovery disks from Best Buy today – YEAH! The hard drive wasn’t damaged and they recovered just about everything – including my iPod files! I love having all my data back.

On the way home, I drove past a picket line – the strikers had a giant inflatable rat. It made me wonder about the person who makes these inflatable animals. I’ve seen the gorillas before – the ones they use at sales – but never a rat. And the only use I can think of for it would be at a strike (like, it’s not the kind of thing you’d get for your child’s birthday party, you know, especially since it’s got its mouth open and has fangs and claws, unless you were a unique kind of parent). So, it made me think about the person taking the order for a giant inflatable rat and thinking, “yeah, this’ll have a ton of uses.” I mean, who designs a giant inflatable rat?

Crud. I’m reading Zadie Smith’s article on realism in the novel from the New York Review of Books (great article, by the way) and it jogs something for me. Should I switch two characters in Choice around? Swap their roles in the book? It’s interesting. It would mean a massive rewrite. I’ll have to think about it because there’s something there.

15 November
Our recent history feels “busy” or full because we have personal experience of it, we don’t have perspective on it yet. We don’t know what will fall away and become irrelevant with time. Ancient history feels gauzy because there are large portions where we don’t know what has been lost – like fabric that’s been washed and worn until there is no cloth, just thread.

I know that I’m engaged with Choice again because I am leaning forward into moments throughout my day, running for my notebook to jot things down. And it flows, it flows, it flows.

Worked on the sestina today. Wonder of wonders, I’m actually caught up this week and not dashing into Sunday still needing to read an entire book of poetry by Monday night.

16 November
I cheated a little on my sestina – I’ll call it a fractured sestina because it doesn’t adhere to the rigid structure of the form in terms of end words. Each line refers to the same end word (I used colors – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple), but doesn’t end with that word. I think it works because of the subject I’m exploring with it. What I like about the sestina form is that it becomes a meditation on the meaning of words and their relationship to the words around them. But I often get bored reading a sestina because it feels forced. (not that I’ve read many, before this semester, I didn’t even know they existed).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

3 - 9 November 2008

3 November
Feeling very inarticulate and clueless at the moment. Still very much wrapped up in the whirlwind of stuff around me – which is getting very tiresome to me to be feeling and writing about. It’s just that it’s like walking around with my head stuffed with cotton – everything comes at me muted and fuzzy and I keep waving interruptions off with this mulish “give me a minute,” as if keeping my head down and staying focused is actually going to get me anywhere I want to be.

So last week, my Toshiba laptop died after five years of loyal service. Not bad. But then came the hellish question of replacing it. Which, of course, was not a simple thing. I went to Best Buy on Tuesday, couldn’t make up my mind between a new Toshiba and an HP, ended up with the Toshiba, which then took up all of Tuesday with me trying to get it to recognize my printers. Vista problem or computer problem? I was brilliant, though. Wednesday morning I realized we had a desktop with Vista and tried hooking one of the printers up to it – no problem. Also loaded software the Toshiba had been rejecting. Okay. Computer problem. Back to Best Buy, who, of course, won’t even think of taking the computer back if they can’t duplicate the problem, which, of course, they can’t. So…I finally told them, “I’m not walking back out of this store with that computer, how do we make it happen?” And went for the HP, which recognized my printers and hasn’t had a problem with the software. Go figure. The other weird thing about the Toshiba – it had these really nice shiny keys that looked great in the store, but when I started typing on them, they showed every single fingerprint. Not good. I get slightly neurotic about fingerprints and keeping things neat. The HP has matte keys, so we’re all much happier now.

One bright note: I’ve been selected as the student artist-in-residence at the San Francisco Recycling Center for the February to May slot in 2009! YEAH!!!!!!

Which takes us up to:

6 November
And I am totally not inspired by history. Last week I was able to work with something that veered off the path a bit, but this week, not happening. Which is odd because so much of what I write is about history – like my novel Ithaka which retells the Odyssey set against the Iraq war. Or the new project that has me researching Fort Point and the Gold Rush. Maybe it’s because I look at history as subject not frame – it’s not the container for me, it’s what gets contained. Does that make sense? (I can hear Brian in the back of my head saying, “Can you push into that a little more?”)

Maybe it’s also a question of needing to re-enter my work, re-enter my interior working space.

7 November
Architecture and furniture design catches my attention today – sitting in a Starbucks (try the Espresso Truffle – it’s yummy) and looking at a slot back chair. I’m able to see through it, so I can see both it and what’s behind it at the same time. The chair frames the background. And then thinking about the process by which architects create buildings or spaces for people to inhabit.

9 November
Watching a show about what would happen to the world if people just disappeared. Scenes of Chernobyl and how the natural world has mostly reclaimed a city of 50,000 people in the 20 years since it was evacuated because of the disaster. They showed a carnival that had been set to open 4 days after Chernobyl and all the rides were just sitting there, falling apart – the bumper cars and ferris wheel. It’s striking how spaces look when they are supposed to be inhabited and they aren’t – like when you look at a picture of a meadow, it doesn’t look desolate, even though you can’t see any humans or animals, even a hillside stripped by fire has a kind of beauty to it; but a room that was intended to be inhabited by humans will look desolate and run down without anyone in it.

And then watching Blade Runner later in the day – I haven’t seen it in years and had forgotten how visually striking that movie is. And the attention to detail, even in the background, is extraordinary.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Computer Crashes

My computer died on Monday, the 3rd. I suppose it was time. The computer was five years old. It is now with the Geek Squad and they are attempting to get my files off the hard drive, which will be nice, but I will still lose much because of now having a laptop that runs Vista. Some of my programs (most notably, my desktop publishing program) will not work in Vista. C'est la vie. Most of my writing files were backed up, as were my photos, so really tragic losses are minimal. But it has cost me about a week's worth of time writing. And that is irretrievable.

October 20 - 26

21 October
Today we celebrate by bringing our new puppy home, which, though joyful, also reminds us of the dog we had to put to sleep in May. We love Maggie, but we miss Charlie horribly, and we know that the only reason we have Maggie is because Charlie is no longer with us. Being able to hold those two conflicting emotions at one time is amazing – the writer in me says, yes, now can you get a moment like this in your pieces? Can you create that horrible emptiness of mourning accompanied by the joy of a new beginning and all the promise it holds? Stupid writer.

23 October
It’s been total puppy pandemonium – it’s like having a baby in the house again. Constant Vigilance! Make sure she doesn’t chew on the dining room table, chew on a live electrical cord, redirect her attention from playing tug of war with my skirt to one of her toys, treading water until a new routine, a new normal in the house, re-establishes itself. Amazing how something that doesn’t even weigh ten pounds can completely alter everything within its vicinity.

How on earth can I be expected to get any writing done while this is in my house??? Especially since she’s chewing on the electrical cord to my computer?

But on the writing note: I catch a really stupid movie on the Disney Channel – something about a magicians’ school (as opposed to wizarding, I suppose) with, wonder of wonders, it looks like Frank Langella playing the headmaster (Hello? What? I kid you not, but it can’t be because I can’t find it listed in his IMDB profile, unless he’s really ashamed…). But…here’s what caught my attention. The plot is that there’s a kid at the school who can do real magic, though he doesn’t realize that’s what he’s doing. The headmaster tells him that the idea of real magical powers threaten magicians because magicians provide illusion. He says there is a long history of magicians debunking claims of supernatural powers (I think of Penn & Teller) because a magician’s bread and butter is made by playing on the audience’s desire to believe the illusion is real.

I love that idea that entertainment relies on our willingness to be lied to, our willingness to suspend normal rules of reality and believe what we see rather than what we know.

24 October
One of my students tells me she’s been thinking a lot about her work, but she’s worried because she’s not actually writing a lot of pages at the moment. After telling her that, since she is in a class, she will have to put some actual words on actual pages, but that thinking about the work is a valid part of the writing process. I qualify this with a) the final result has to be pages produced, and b) sometimes “thinking” about the work really means procrastination and it’s important to be honest to yourself about what you’re really doing, and you know the difference.

I really think that when you’re engaged with your work, when you’re actively working on it, you find resonance in what occurs around you – you find what you need in the daily detritus through which you move. There are so many times when I’ve been working on something and go to the grocery store and see something that fits so perfectly with the scene I’m working on or the time I was at a coffeehouse and one of my characters sat down across from me (he was just a guy with a sketchbook – but he looked exactly like how I’d pictured my character, who was an artist) and I spent a half hour talking notes on how this guy moved and observed the space around himself which helped make my character more vivid.

Which may be why things aren’t resonating for me right now – I’m not engaged with my work, but with the end of a very long to do list that started back in September.

25 October
There’s the busy that interferes with your work and there’s the busy that happens because you’re doing the work. I have way too much of the former and not enough of the latter in my life.

An artist friend of mine tells me he’s got a show opening and a commission piece he’s working on plus teaching, so much to do that he hasn’t had time to design and build his family’s Halloween costumes and his kids are facing their first Halloween with store-bought costumes. I’m terribly jealous. I want to cultivate that kind of busy-ness in my life. I want to be totally busy with my work not with my life.

Liminal – a threshold space, neither here nor there.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Now I'm caught up and will (I hope) keep the blog up-to-date as the weeks go by and continue with this exercise after my class is finished.

There is one more thing I want to post - an aside of sorts. It's the kind of thing that makes me smile. I was reading Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and came across a reference to a particular person in London. And it made me so happy because someone else had seen this person and been so taken with him as to refer to him in a story. It was like having Neil wave to me from the page and being reminded of being in London all at the same time.

Here is a scan of the photo I took of the Less Lust man at Sport Aid in London in 1986.

I used to have his pamphlet as well. It cost 18 pence, and I bought it after taking this picture. It's one of those objects that keeps appearing and disappearing - I'll think it's lost forever and then it reappears. I put it somewhere I know it'll be safe, then go to look for it and it's gone. It's now been missing for several years, but I doubt it's really gone forever. I think it's between the pages of one of my books and I'm pretty sure I'll find it again. I'll open up a book I haven't noticed for years and see something stuck between the pages and there it will be.
I've also been told that the pamphlet is available through Amazon, though I haven't checked it out yet and don't think I will.

6 - 12 October 2008

8 October
Write a scene or synopsis using a scientific principle as a starting point – there are theories that fascinate me, but, of course, at this moment, they have all fled from my consciousness. I can’t think of a single one.

9 October
Turning to podcasts of Radio Lab to spur on inspiration, I come across the idea of ‘emergence.’ The first piece is about a husband and wife team of researchers studying fireflies – the image of thousands of fireflies released into a dark room, how they start out random and then suddenly become synchronous – the emergent process in action. And a beautiful image.
The idea comes – how are human relationships emergent processes?

10 October
Research – the term ‘emergent’ was coined by G. H. Lewes who was George Eliot’s spiritual husband.

Synchronicity – I am currently reading Middlemarch. To use Eliot’s language. “The mind is not cast in marble.” To use her and Lewes and their lives to explore consciousness, free will, emergence.

11 October
I’ve had one of those explosions in my mind where ideas that seem disparate suddenly fall in line and make total sense. That emergence explains the idea of perception – it was about color. Color as an emergent property. Elementary particles have no color, it is only when the particles band together that we get all the colors of the rainbow. And how we go from being one cell, one zygote, and become these organisms of differentiated cells; and how blind, deaf, and dumb collections of electrical impulses become us – humans with intelligence and self-awareness.

I have never worked this way before – finding a structure first, in this case from a scientific process, and then allowing the story to fill the frame provided. It’s been fascinating to feel the story fall into place. And the way it’s falling into place in line with the scientific process itself – out of chaos comes this whole.

Usually, I have the story first and then the structure. Which feels…cumbersome compared to this, like I’m imposing something on the story and characters, finding a way to order the experience, but usually just going with what comes up.

It strikes me that this is what I’ve been looking for with one of my projects – I have the characters and the story, but have been unable to move forward on putting it down. I thought I was looking for voice, but I think, actually, I was looking for the framework with which to tell it, the structure from which to hang all the other elements.

Now – if I want to end the play with the image of fireflies in a room, where does that image start? How does it resonate with where the play begins? What does it link to?

12 October
“If you never make any mistakes, you are not trying problems that are hard enough.”
Tim Baumgartner, math teacher, Torrance, CA.

I have the image of chaos on the stage – a whirlwind of activity slowly becoming ordered as George Eliot and George Henry Lewes enter from opposites sides of the stage. A Victorian market, patterns of action emerging as they come into proximity, like a ballet, until the couple meets, talks, and daily life (with the patterns still discernable underneath) taking over.

What surprises me is how quickly this all fell into place. I have wanted to write from this type of research for a long time, but held back because I did not think I had enough time to research a topic fully enough to develop a story. Yet, here it is, in a matter of days. And I am not an expert on emergence or George Eliot or George Henry Lewes, but I have enough that I would be able to go on and write the play and do more research as I needed to.

29 September - 5 October

30 September
In thinking about this week’s assignment – I really don’t want to look at that play again – but in thinking about where to take it next and how to pull something out of it, I found myself thinking about where the inciting incident would lie and realizing that it depends on where the play is going to go next.

If I’m working on a family drama, the dynamics of the family are the idea to be followed, so the inciting incident comes from those dynamics – who says the irrevocable thing that causes everything else to follow? To govern the reactions of the other characters in the room?
If I’m looking at it revolving around death, a meditation on the ways of dying – the inciting incident lies with Rose’s death and what happens next in that particular room.
And while I don’t know if the inciting incident actually resides within the scene as it’s written now, looking at it from the perspective of what happens after this scene, makes the decision about inciting incident clearer.

2 October
At Hyde Street Pier with the 8th graders: noticing the relationship of lines to each other.

Points of convergence (left):
Everything narrows down to a limited number of options, all roads lead to this one point, all choices made. - This feels like a very traditional way to structure a story or play.

Layering (right): The lines echo each other, though each one is distinct. There's a progression through the relationship between objects rather than a linear progression. Each line refines or changes the line before it.
This photo was interesting because I noticed the structure as I took the picture, but it wasn't until after I'd taken the picture that I really noticed what I'd seen and then got very excited about the image. There was another photo where the line of the deck is visible, but it wasn't as interesting for some reason. Maybe what works in this photo is the lack of context. It's just lines without the grounding of being in a particular place.
Also – research for the Fort Point project:
A crimp was a “recruiter” for sailors – you could sign up for a voyage or be kidnapped by the crimp. You had to pay for all your clothing and equipment, which fell apart quite easily and then you had to pay for the replacements, so sailors mostly ended up in debt to their crimp by the end of a voyage and had to keep working to pay off their debt.
The plimsall line on a ship is the line above which the ship is too heavily loaded and will sit too low in the water.

3 October
Oh. Structure.

I realize I’ve been thinking mostly in terms of content – what will I do, who are the characters, what do they say to each other – not in terms of the shape of the thing being written.

At the reading, Truong talked about wanting to write a book in the spine so that the reader had to break the physical book apart in order to read it – they would have to break the physical constraints of the book, to subvert and destroy the idea of what a book is. And all the poems are in service to that idea.

So thinking, structure as an organizing principle around which everything revolves. The physical laws that govern this particular world of this particular play – it’s algorithm, so to speak.

5 October – looking for inspiration
From Neil Gaiman reading: You can either write or not do anything – those are the two choices when you go to your writing space.

Best advice for aspiring writers: Write stuff. Finish stuff.

The entire writing process is beset by doubts. You can run across a gaping expanse of nothing if you don’t look down, like the Road Runner and Wily E. Coyote, but at the ¾ mark, most writers look down and fall into the abyss.

(Also, Neil was reading Chapter 6 of Graveyard which is the turning point of the novel, and, thinking about structure, I noticed how each section of this chapter started in the middle of things, action already occurring, someone in the middle of a thought or a dream, but always in medias res.)

From Andy Goldsworthy DVD:
Looking for obsessive forms that you come back to again and again.

The thing that brings the piece to life is the thing that will cause its death, that will destroy it.

Total control can be the death of a work.

The real work is the change.

Taking work to the very edge of its collapse.

The work makes itself.

22 - 28 September

So much of this week spent in a blind flurry of doing, constant motion, having a trajectory in mind and then just launching myself at it. I hate weeks like this. Even worse for having, in the back of my mind, the idea of working notes and needing to pay attention to process.

In the blind flurry of doing, there is no place within which to find a quiet corner, no place from which to observe, contemplate, even be aware of what is passing before me, of what I am passing through. Writing does not happen in this place. Consciousness barely happens in this place. And when I arrive here, writing panics me. There is no safe harbor and my conscious mind, thinking it is in control and has to provide words, panics. Once again, I am confronted with the fact that my conscious mind is not the writer, and only when my conscious mind submits itself to my writer mind that I enter the place from which I write. And it is there I find calmness and peace.

So…a scene based in memory. Failed love. I played with the literal scene, then went back and played it as the fantasy – the “what I wished I’d had the guts to say” scene – then the “what should have happened.” It brought up some intriguing prospects for me. The scene turned on the play of words and on each characters’ control over what the other will or will not say and their desire to hear or say something to the other. It is strange, and different, and I like where it went very much.

15 - 21 September

14 September
Why do objects appear outside our bodies?

15 September
My imagination is caught by Linda Bierd’s poems – the intersection of art and science and religion – and I feel an expansion, a gathering of ideas, propelling me into new streams of inquiry. And with it that feeling of fear and reluctance – that it will overwhelm me with the adrenaline rush of it, draw me away from what I have been working on, seduce me, distract me. How to tell what is real and fertile ground from the illusion of procrastination and fear. The fear that I will never understand enough of it to make it source for my words. That I will never be able to stand far enough back to see the entire elephant.

16 September
Tea at the Japanese Tea Garden – what I see. Each gate is different – reminders of mindfulness – every stone, every tree, every patch of grass, gate, bridge, building placed with a consciousness of relationship, juxtaposition, conversation between objects and viewer. The bridges with their uneven surfaces reminding the crosser to be conscious, be aware.

Each gate is different – each entrance and exit unique. Not just a gateway to something else, but an object, a destination, in and of itself.

Some gates are ornate, some simple, some for ceremony, some for the quotidian.

I am drawn to patterns today, repetitions of form. Rows of benches, the weathering of a wooden bench on which I sit to write (even the repetition of sound from the helicopter which hangs overhead – the percussive thrum of the blades beating against the air – we only become aware of air when it pushes against something – our skin, a bell, helicopter blades).

17 September
Doing. Doing. Doing. All day today. Getting the reading series listed in calendar listings, dealing with Pay Pal so that we can AT LAST let people pay for tickets in advance (what a concept!) And can you tell me why “Get me a fucking human being NOW!” does not immediately result in a response by an automated phone system? You’d think they’d have heard it enough by now to recognize it.

Thinking in terms of endings – last act, climax to end – what happens? Where’s the energy?

Jo ha ku – the scatter narrowing down, then pushing into a new jo.

At the school board meeting – looking for dramatic structure, is there any potential there? Agenda and minutes and formal business – clash of personalities (watching the new elementary principal throw EVERYONE under the bus within five minutes of her first time speaking to the board – cool – “I sent it to her, but she lost it.”) How this might spin out in another few months of this kind of attitude – where it would wear on people. Thinking – rancorous meeting, touching on ideas of what we teach and why. Thinking conflicts between evolution and creationism (going back to Linda Bierd’s poems) – what would be the images? The opposing forces?

18 September
Watching Krapp’s Last Tape in Alice’s class – rising action, increasing tension between the voice on the tape and Krapp’s reactions (realizing, there’s more than one character on stage in this play). Rises to the climax of him finding the image of Bianca on the boat – suddenly, all action stops, a moment of suspended motion, speech – everything stops. All tension narrows down to this pinpoint of light shining on a tiny scratch on her thigh and “Gooseberries” “Let me in.”

Structure – tension created in Krapp’s reactions to the earlier self, tension between what was and what is. The desk and piles of detritus, the locked drawers and bananas filed away. The moments where Krapp disappears off-stage. All these are in service to the idea of memory.

19 September
The thing about ambiguity or abstraction is that it is not the absence of information. It’s the essence, implication, subtext, suggestion, shadow of information. It demands more specificity and concreteness than something presented literally.

20 September
Oh, so not sure I’m doing this assignment right. Somewhere between intention and execution is the play I really meant to write.

21 September
The climax equals transformation. That’s what I keep reminding myself. It is the realization, understanding, that makes something happen that means nothing will be the same again.

8 - 14 September

9 September
At the gym, on the treadmill. Price is Right comes on. Displays of consumer goods like sets moving past the contestant – “and what would you be willing to do for this?” on the treadmill – too obvious? Too static? Thinking Beckett made a complete play with Billie Whitelaw walking back and forth on a line on the stage “1,2,3…wheel” – what made that work? I need to go read it and think about how it looked on the stage.

Thinking – structure like a cup – it’s liberating in a way not to worry so much about the shape of the thing but how to take character, action, plot and make it fill the vessel.

Google Zoe Keating – cello player.

10 September
Ideas to consider for two people
– an almost-affair, the arc of entire relationship from meeting to “divorcing” in the space of one conversation.
– after the funeral of a famous person, the children trying to decide on which papers are valuable, trying to preserve a public “persona” vs. showing the real person. Talking about narratives and how construct the story of our life – what is says and what we’d like it to say.

At the farmer’s market – it was a good year for berries, but not for apricots. Cycle of seasons and how each year varies. Also, the uglier the fruit, the sweeter and better it tastes and that sweet and bland fruit grows on the same tree – what makes the difference?

11 September
- next you’re going to tell me he molested you
- no, but I did walk in on him once masturbating in the shower
- that’s disgusting.
- I know, it scarred me for life.
- no, that you would tell me.

12 September
Moving quickly through the day towards Ian’s Bar Mitzvah. How when I am focused on task the reflective reflex goes away. I don’t stop to think about how things impact me, I just do them. To write about them, to notice them, is to take a step back from them, a step away, rather than being in the muck of the moment.

13 September
Structure of the Bar Mitzvah service – like Bernstein using the Catholic mass as the structure for The Mass and at the same time encompassing the whole of man’s creation of religion from a simple song of worship to a highly structured, mannered entity with a right and wrong way to do it. Call to prayer. Reading from the Torah – the idea that these words are the same words that have been spoken on this day for the past 5,000 years, that every Jew in the world reading from the Torah on this day reads the same words that my son is reading to us. Taking a place in that lineage, moving into a larger sense of community and family.

14 September
Not even going to pretend that I started working on the 40-line play before this evening. Not this week. But funny thing of writing – I so don’t know what I’m doing, and yet, the thing begins to live on the page. Like watching Frankenstein’s monster take its first breaths on the slab, these two paper creations begin to think and move in my mind, start taking up space, begin to have a voice of their own, a personality, begin to ask to behave in a certain way. Such an odd way to go through life – having people taking up space in your mind, and they’re living, breathing fully embodied people except they have no bodies at all.

Purpose of the blog

This blog was created to be a repository for my working notes, a tool used in a playwriting class I'm taking that tracks the creative process, both in general and for specific projects. I've found this to be an invaluable tool in keeping me engaged with the creative process as well as making the process more visible to myself.