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.