"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." ~ William Wordsworth

The Writing Life Too

And if you're reading this, it means you're not writing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sky the color of a dust storm. Susan Sontag once wrote “My idea of a writer is someone who is interested in everything.” I’ve been mulling this over a lot lately because I’m supposed to be spending so much time resting. If anyone has ideas about what to do during prolonged bed rest when you’re not supposed to use your eyes, please write me. And yes, I’ve just picked up a few audio books. I’ve been thinking about learning bird songs—a long-time interest I’ve never had time for before. As I plop down on my couch or bed, I’m typically listening to the radio where the punditry is speculating endlessly about undecided voters and I just want this election to be over and all our votes counted.

For those of you living in Oregon or southern Washington Paper Fort provides news and updates about Oregon's literary community, including application and deadline information about the Oregon Book Awards and Oregon Literary Fellowships.

And I know that I’m one cold-hearted dame, but if you’re interested http:www.alternet.org/electi is featuring an article, The 11 Dumbest Things Sarah Palin has Said. It includes her assertion that Obama is “palling around with terrorists.” I’d laugh if it didn’t make me feel like crying. And as Palin’s favorability numbers are dropping like a rock, apparently all is not lovey-dovey on the Straight Talk Express. Lately she’s been described by McCain staffers as a diva and whack job. What, she’s not happy with the stylist who is charged $11,000 a week to keep her looking hot? No mooseburgers available on the road? And I wonder what they’re calling the First Dude?

New words for the word list: prudent, man child, slog, rousing, grandstanding, plummeting, lurch, caprice, cred, jabbering, snippy, vacuity, musty sashay, ricochet, pummel, feckless, crutching (verb), guttering, endgame, sylvan, eggheady, baleful, hoopla, fancy-schmancy, jounce, vitriol, unflappability, kafuffle, hoopla.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Clouds scattered across the morning sky. Lately weather has been glorious here--sunny, warm, yet crisp, fiery shades everywhere. Author Mindy Neff advises writers: “In the category romance market, editors and readers are drawn to books with best-selling marketable hooks, but it's the extra spark in the writing, the attention to detail that will make your book stand out. Make sure all five senses are in play throughout the entire book. At all times you want the reader to see what the character is seeing, feel what the character is feeling, hear, smell and taste right along with them. Keep in mind that the character's perception of sense is governed by who he or she is--what is in their background. To one character, the smell of wood smoke might evoke happy memories of a family Christmas spent by a crackling fireplace in a cozy mountain cabin. To another, it might remind them of the terrifying night their house burned to the ground and they lost everything and everyone they loved.

This attention to detail will not only enrich your story, it will insure that each of your characters have their own individual voice.” Visit Mindy at her website: www.MindyNeff.com

Halloween is less than a week ago, so to celebrate this yearly spookfest, I want to direct you to Dr. James Hynes at the Cultwriter Institute for the Doomed, Damned and Deceased. He’s compiled a list of ten tales of horror to help you slip into a graveyard mood necessary for these autumn days.

New words added to my word list: feckless, crutching (verb), endgame, sylvan, erudite, hyperreal, baleful, eggheady, gizmo, guttering

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Well here I am on a Thursday morning with clouds scowling across the sky, although I know the day is going to turn out sunny, writing from the “real” America—Portland, Oregon. I know that I’m often advising fellow wordslingers to hang out at salon.com to read something that I’ve found fascinating, so forgive my Plugola of this fabulous website. There are just too many good writers who contribute to ignore.

Today Stephen King's God trip is posted “On the 30th anniversary of "The Stand," the novelist confesses what haunts him about religion and today's politics.” It’s written by John Marks, a former 60 Minutes producer who is the author of Purple State of Mind and Reasons to Believe. He interviews King asking fascinating questions about our current political climate and religious beliefs.

Here’s how the article opens: In 1927, a little-known writer of horror stories named H.P. Lovecraft tried to put into words the secret of his diabolical craft. "The one test of the really weird is simply this," Lovecraft wrote in the introduction to "Supernatural Horror in Literature," "whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes or entities on the known universe's utmost rim."

Aren’t Lovecraft’s words gorgeous? And the article is terrific,mostly an interview with Stephen King pondering America’s fetish for apocalyptic worries and matters of faith.

And folks, just a reminder about keeping a word list. This means you’re culling, scavenging, plumbing the world for language that will fit your many uses and moods. My word list is a simple alphabetized Word document that I print out from time to time. The latest additions are (some cribbed from the King article): Soothsaying, blithely, hubris, trope, tomblike, ass sweat, squib, prescient, drubbed, suckled, dichotomy, kryptonite, juju, mingle, guttering, unbelief, cross-pollenization, demonize, bunkered, steeped

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lovely blue skies here today. Well folks Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving. Just ask Tina Fey. Recent news was released that the Republican National Committee spent $150,000 on Palin’s wardrobe. Records also document several big-time shopping trips to Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, including one $75,062.63 spree in early September. Like many people, I decry the mega expenses of modern-day politics, but that’s some serious cash.

Well, to be accurate the whole family was being outfitted including the First Dude. Now don’t you recall that the fiscally conservative Republicans criticized John Edward for his $400 haircut, Al Gore for changing his wardrobe colors, and Hillary and Bill for their expensive ‘dos? Apparently some of Palin’s expenses included hair and make up costs….I’ve been wondering about that hairpiece she wears ever since she appeared on the national scene. Apparently maverick rhymes with Saks Fifth Avenue ….But let’s look on the bright side: if she’s sent packing back to Wasilla (alias Methville) she’ll have the classiest wardrobe in the state. I predict she’ll run again for national office.

But back to the gift that keeps on giving. It appears that after Palin was drafted by McCain she changed the records of recent expenditures back in Alaska. It appears that she took her children on a number of excursions and designated their roles as “official” functions so thus their air flights, hotel rooms, and travel expenses were paid for by the taxpayers of Alaska. One trip included a 4-day trip with her daughter to New York where they spent more than $700 a night on hotel rooms.

Expect to hear about Jeremiah Wright in these closing days of the election along with more comments about how Obama and so many progressives are “anti-American” and socialists. Meanwhile, I wonder who is dressing Joe the Plumber these days?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fog is blanketing the neighborhood as if ghosts were on the local decorating committee. Yesterday I had a bad case of the Mondays but one thing that buoyed me through the day was Colin Powell’s amazing interview and endorsement of Obama on Meet the Press. Now, I haven’t watched MTP much since Russert died, mostly because I’ve been disappointed with how Brokaw is running the show. In fact, as a journalist, I’m tired of Brokow’s bias and was shocked at how much it showed when he moderated the second presidential debate.

But the Powell interview was simply inspiring. He was making all the points that my friends and I have been talking about for the past months and his analysis was so cogent, eloquent, and plain that there was little room to refute his logic. I especially like how he demanded to know why being a Muslim is now a terrible slur in this country which was founded on religious tolerance. Now, Powell hasn’t been on my hit parade since he appeared before the United Nations and added his stamp of approval to our invasion of Iraq. But he answered that allegation in the interview and after the show with reporters, and I find it especially interesting that he’s one of the few Republican leaders in the country who is still respected. And I find it especially telling that we needed a Republican and man of conscience to stand up to repudiate the blatant bigotry towards Muslims.

Powell said: “I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said. Such things as 'Well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well the correct answer is 'He is not a Muslim, he's a Christian, he's always been a Christian.' But the really right answer is 'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?' The answer is 'No. That's not America.' Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo-essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in you can see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American, he was born in New Jersey, he was 14 at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he can go serve his counrty and he gave his life."

I believe this show would have made Tim Russert proud.

Of course that gasbag Rush Limbaugh is ranting on the air waves about how Powell’s endorsement was made because Obama is black. Let’s not forget that Limbaugh lost his sports announcer gig on ESPN when he made disparaging remarks about black quarterbacks and Donovan McNabb. Ugh.

October 20 was the poet Robert Pinsky’s birthday. He once said, "The longer I live, the more I see there's something about reciting rhythmical words aloud — it's almost biological — that comforts and enlivens human beings."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sky is the color of soot and rain is in the forecast. Perfect day for writing and drinking tea if you’re so inclined. If you’re interested in receiving a newsletter from the National Book awards, hop over to their site at www.nationalbook.org.

This year's National Book Award finalists were announced last week and the ceremony will take place on November 19. Writer and actor Eric Bogosian will host this year's National Book Award Ceremony and Dinner. Among the fiction nominees are Peter Matthiessen, Rachel Kushner, and Marilynne Robinson. The Foundation to honor Maxine Hong Kingston with the 2008 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and Barney Rosset the 2008 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the Literary Community.

Matthiessen, who has been nominated four times for the award (winning in 1978 for The Snow Leopard), is nominated this year for Shadow Country, a new novel which consolidates his trilogy about legendary Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E. J. Watson. Robinson is nominated for Home, the successor and sequel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead. Kushner receives the nomination for her debut novel, Telex From Cuba, a portrait of the American colonies in pre-Revolutionary Cuba and their collapse in the face of revolutionary change.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pale skies this morning. Just a quick post. Joan Didion’s essay Election by Soundbite that will be published in this week’s New York Review of Books election issue is available today at salon. com. Obsessed by "lipstick on a pig," economic "free fall" and other "great stories," America has failed to see the real challenges it faces. My sentiments exactly.

And since the economy and the election have many of us feeling tense, check out Bookninja (http://wwwbookninja.com) for a contest of book cover designs that mostly spoof the contents of the story within. The Road cover is a particular play on images that are pretty much opposite of the story told……

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dawn hasn’t yet arrived so I’m sneaking in a bit of blog writing under a dark sky. I missed the beginning of last night’s debate because I was at a yoga class, but I couldn’t help but think that McCain looked and sounded deranged at times. Not to mention petulant, whiny, and angry. His sarcastic outbursts about Obama’s eloquence weren’t working, but he stuck with them. And his assertion that “I'm proud of the people who come to our rallies. I'm not going to stand for them saying that the people who come to our rallies are anything other than the most patriotic great citizens." is going to cause him to lose votes with minorities. Is he proud of the people who shout “terrorist” or “Kill him” about Obama or the man who recently brought a stuffed monkey to a rally dressed in an Obama t-shirt? I have a feeling that Americans just don’t have the stomach for this lemon-faced oddball and his vindictive hockey mom.

When I’m feeling worried about the international economy faltering or about how shenanigans might occur during the upcoming election I turn to other writers for solace. Garrison Keillor is one of my favorite people, although we’ve never met. The only time I was in the audience of his Prairie Home Companion show I was amazed that his monologues about Lake Woebegone are delivered without notes. He also wears red socks and the man I was dating at the time fell asleep during the show, another indicator of how mismatched we were. I love Keillor’s dry wit and sense of absurdity and basic decency. His weekly column in salon.com this week, Let the Leader Lead, begins with his musing about a sermon he heard this past week, talks about people he knows facing huge challenges and concludes with thoughts on the upcoming election. He writes, “Onward, America. We've all seen plenty of the worst -- the sly cruelty, the arrogant ignorance, the fascination with trivia, the cheats, the weaselish and piggish and the buzzardly -- but we can rise above it if we will only recognize a leader when one comes along and have the sense to let him lead.”

And speaking of salon.com, Anne Lamott’s contributions there have been infrequent in recent years, but lately she’s been writing about how we must keep the faith during these nerve-wracking, pre-election times. In her September 16th column where she compared Sarah Palin to a Southpark character and she suggested that people visit the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator as a cheerer upper. Since the Palins named their poor kids Track, Trig, Bristol, Willow, and Piper it answers the question of what your name would be if the Palins were your parents. My name, by the way would be Sport Grunt Palin.

On October 13 Lamott’s piece No time to cry wolf rain begins with “My pastor once said that you can trap bees on the bottom of a jar without a lid because they won’t look up. They walk around frantically bumping into glass while, one presumes, muttering.

I’ve been feeling like that lately, in these last weeks before the election. I feel trapped on the bottom of the TV jar, frantic, buzzing, bummed. It was largely due to having to see and hear Sarah Palin every time I turned on the TV or radio. Has there ever been, at least in the last 10 years, a more thoroughly repellent American?”
The essay goes on to describe a recent run-in with a wolf and (yes, I said wolf) and her essay concludes: “So what did I learn that day? I learned that fear is appropriate these days, much of the time. Don't let people tell you that you can't have faith and fear, as if you have to choose. The old saying goes, Faith is fear that has said its prayers. This is the best possible time in the history of the republic both to stay extremely afraid and also to keep the faith: If you feel too much of one, look around deep inside for the other. When you are really lost, take the next action that feels most right, and insight will follow. Justified fear is how we are going to win this election, and our faith in goodness, truth and the Constitution is why we must.

And, it almost goes without saying, wolves really don't belong in public parks, any more than they would in the office of the vice president of this nation.”
Meanwhile, happy writing to everyone and a special shout-out to Joe the Plumber. Sorry I cannot visit the blogosphere more often but my recovery from my car accident is taking me longer than anticipated and I’m only allowed to write and read 4 hours a day in 20-minute spurts. And remember that if you’re worrying about the world crumbling around you focus on what you can do today to feel safe and then make things a bit better for people around you. When my mood is especially low I say something nice to a stranger everywhere I go—it works like a charm.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sky is scowling in the deepest shades of gray. Last night there was a freeze warning for some regions of the Northwest—including where my brother’s farm in eastern Washington is located. So the year is marching along and summer is now only a memory. Speaking of memories, yesterday was John Lennon’s birthday and I had one of those days when I wanted to trade in my body and brain. I don’t want to go into details because I cannot think of anything duller than someone’s categorizing their various symptoms on a blog, so before I start spiraling, let’s just say that I got through the day. At dusk I went out for a quick walk. The sky was the sort of sooty, gloomy color you’d associate with a Charles Dicken’s workhouse or Edgar Alan Poe’s skyline if he was walking through a graveyard and under the influence.

A few things I wanted to mention: There is an interview about me now posted at www.coolstuffrwriters.com.

Second, one of my favorite books was Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.(The film version with Christine Lahti was also terrific.) Anyway, in case you haven’t heard she has a new book out. The WSJ talks with Marilynne Robinson about her new novel Home and how it is not quite a sequel, yet manages to weave her searing insights about humanity into the story.

Third, apparently Donna Tartt has a new novel coming out with Little Brown. Trouble is, it won’t appear until 2012. Is it just me, or isn’t it a bit, uhm, premature to announce it now?

All around us the system is collapsing, GM stock has plummeted to under $5 a share. As our economy collapses my mind drifts back to the politics that brought this about. These days once again GOP operatives are trying to suppress the vote in battleground states. Everyone needs to check their voter registration. Yesterday the Alaska Supreme Court refused to halt Sarah Palin’s ethics probe at the request of Alaska Republicans. It turns out that the First Dude was involved for years in trying to get his brother-in-law fired as meanwhile Sarah refuses to answer a subpoena. Is it just me, but before this administration did anyone refuse a subpoena summons?

And this is hardly news but the hate speech, lies and slander that are now part of the daily gatherings of the McCain-Palin campaign whipping up their supporters to shout “kill him” and “terrorist” at their rallies really needs to be stopped. (Reminds me a bit of Reagan’s campaign—lest you forget how incredibly racist it was check out some of his early Southern campaign stops) But the point is, it appears that Palin is trying to incite violence. Is this what our political system has degenerated into? This also reminds me of the terrible events of 1968. That crazy old coot the cowardly McCain had a chance to confront Obama during their so-called debates. As I recall he couldn’t even look at Obama he was so incensed that a young upstart was smarter and more capable than him. As someone who has researched the habits of alpha males, this isn’t exactly on par with their behavior, even when they are perpetually pissed off. Speak the truth people, speak the truth. Before it’s too late.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Morning sky is a pale, smoky blue. I taught writing workshops at the Write on the Sound Conference last weekend in the lovely town of Edmonds, Washington and on Saturday afternoon attended the talk given by the keynote speaker, Samuel Green. He is a poet and his talk was entitled Singing the World into Being: The Discipline & Consolation of Poetry. He is the first Poet Laureate of Washington State, has taught poetry in Ireland, and lives with his wife on a remote island without electricity where they run the Brooding Heron Press. This press specializes in producing the poetry of the likes of Donald Hall, Gary Snyder, and Denise Levertov. He has other accolades, but it was clear that the man who has chosen a wardrobe of all black to make his life easier since he travels a lot as poet laureate, spouted poetry and the knowledge of poetry with such ease that I felt practically illiterate in his company.

Green began the talk by telling a story from his boyhood. When he and his brother were together in the back seat and started acting up his father would recite poetry to quiet them. This led to a lifetime interest in story poems and poetry of all types which broadened into trying his hand at writing them. When he fell in love at age 10 he wrote a poem to impress the girl of his dreams. He read that poem to the audience and when he finished, sitting near the front of the theater, I started clapping. To which he replied, “Where were you forty years ago?”

Throughout his talk he wove in the poems of his friends and favorites, ee cummings, Robert Service, Marilyn Hacker, Jane Kenyon, John O’Leary, and Hayden Carruth who died about a week ago. In Carruth’s New York Times obituary it was written: “He had a greater variety of poems than almost anybody,” said the poet Galway Kinnell, a longtime friend. “He was interested — superinterested — in everything and he could write about anything.” You can find poems by Carruth and other poets at www.poemhunter.com.

But mostly Green starting talking about how he turned to language to figure out his struggles, to allow the heart to speak. To quell the terror of not being able to connect. And as he talked, I remembered listening to NPR in the days following the 9/11 attacks. They ran a show that featured a number of poets reading their favorite poems, offering solace. I recalled how the voice of W.S. Merwin came over the airwaves from France and as I listened to him read, as Green said, I was willing to come out differently on the other side of the poem. And did. And for the first time since those terrible events I felt like we were all going to be able to go on.

After Green’s talk, drunk on poetry, I slipped into a Thai restaurant and ordered tea and a bowl of Tom Kha soup. Maybe it was the poetry, or the autumn afternoon, looking at the brooding sky, trees shivering in the autumn wind, and people bustling past bent against the wind, but it was probably the best bowl of soup I’ve ever eaten. The soup was creamy from coconut milk and had been simmered with complex flavors of lime, chili, and lemongrass.

Later I walked up to the Edmonds library and settled into a chair with a book of poems by W.S. Merwin and another by Ted Kooser, Winter Morning Walks. They were written as postcards to his friend Jim Harrison. In Kooser’s book he wrote poems, mostly haikus, about his walks as he was recovering from cancer and his poems are filled with acute awareness of his surroundings and all seem touched with the fragility of the human body. In the preface to his book, Kooser wrote: “In the autumn of 1998, during my recovery from surgery and radiation for cancer, I began taking a two-mile walk each morning. I’d been told by my radiation oncologist to stay out of the sun for a year because of skin sensitivity, so I exercised before dawn, hiking the isolated country roads near where I live, sometimes with my wife but most often alone.”

Each poem begins with a brief comment on the weather and conditions. If you’ve never read Kooser’s work, you’re missing his painter’s eye and deft hand with metaphor. The library is perched on a hill far above the harbor and was lined in windows. Between reading poems I watched the ever-changing sky as clouds in shades of funereal gray and cigarette smoke and fresh bruises scuttled northward as if heading beyond Canada.

Now that I’m home, I’m going to make my own version of Tom Kha and watch the autumn sky from here, and read more poetry. I’m going to be traveling down to Newport, Oregon to teach a class on Story People on October 25. For more information write me or check out the description at Craig’s List. Happy writing to all.