Monday, March 24, 2014

This must be the place



When I got home from jury duty, I took an evening constitutional. It's part of my new "move your body every day" campaign and a celebration of the bright sunshine.

It's been a long winter. I haven't been out in my neighborhood much in many months. I love my neighborhood. I love the houses. I love the flower beds - the kempt and the unkempt - which are just now beginning to intimate greenness and growth. I love the big, tall maple trees. I love that these are the streets on which my children have learned to ride bikes.

More than any place else in my life, this neighborhood is home. And most of all I love the people here. Old people, young people, artists, working class folks, young doctors, retirees, pinko lawyers. Families with young children, people who have spent their whole lives here. Straight people, gay people. All colors and religions. Even a Republican. Some of us know each other well-ish. Many keep more to themselves. Both are good. This is a truly diverse place. And in my utopian soul this is what I think the world should look like.

True, this neighborhood has seen better days. We have too many empty houses, fewer now I think than at the depths of mortgage crises, but maybe I've just gotten used to them. We have fewer of the big old maple trees. Our houses are a little more worn. But this evening, in the sunshine, with the birds singing, and girls on roller skates, it seemed just fine.

Fine, but like anything else alive, it felt fragile. I hold this place and hope we can make it last.

Reading: Unmentionable Cuisine by Calvin W. Schwabe, a sort of encyclopedia of weird foods, firrst published in 1979. I've owned this for ages, but have only barely opened it before. The blurbs on the back from Craig Claiborne, James Beard, and MFK Fisher all declare this to be an important and fascinating volume. Some blurbs. Tonight I just got a page into the preface.

Writing: I'd hoped to have more time in the jury assembly area than I finally did.

Dinner: Cheese tortellini in chicken broth with parmesan cheese and gremolata, and a green salad.

Soundtrack: Well, Talking Heads (see blog post title) was in my head on my walk.

Random thing: One of the things I like about jury duty is that it takes me downtown. I like there was someone clever enough to call their sneaker and cell phone store Walk-n-Talk. Aaron Sorkin should be proud.

A Good Lie-In

In a college drawing class I had to draw all the wrinkles and creases in a pillow
without lifting my hand and without looking at the page. 

Like "scheme" in the sense of plan or system, and ordering drinks "for the interval," the term "lie-in" is a great Britishism I think Americans should adopt. Sure, we all sleep in on weekends, at least the adolescents among us, but we don't have a term for it. "Sleeping in" is an action. A "lie-in" is an event.

So, we had one this morning, a lie-in, and a good one at that. A long lazy morning for everyone in the house. O eventually woke and came in to cozy up in our bed. Z slept and slept and then spent some quite alone time in her room. The cats even got frustrated with us we were all so lazy. David eventually got up to make breakfast, O and I stayed in bed to read and write. Z watched a tv show. It was just as it should be.

Reading: A friend's poetry manuscript, to give feedback.

Writing: Yes, but very slowly and with frustration.

Dinner: I sauteed some bok choy with lots of garlic. I ate it before writers group with some leftover spaghetti. Everyone else ate it later with hot dogs.

Soundtrack: Psychedelic Furs. Psychedelic Furs. Psychedelic Furs. I caught "Flowers" on some college radio show sometime during the day and it was like I was hearing for the first time.

Random thing: In the car on the way to soccer, O and I had a great time listening to Splendid Table. He was totally fascinated by the story about white tea. We had to get out of the car just when Lynne started talking about making fondue. O suggested that sometime I "sit down on the couch with a notebook and take lots of notes while this show is on, and then we can have fondue."

Also, at writers group I was made love to by a very handsome cat.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A World with Pyramids

The Wind Rises
Also went to see Miyazki's The Wind Rises. I always appreciate the way he observes plants.
 I was looking for a tighter still of wildflowers, which he does particularly well - in
Wind there
 is even a careful study of plaintain weeds - but this will suffice for now.


It's been a busy few days here in Magpieland. I keep trying to write a post that sums it all up, and I keep hating it. Let's try this:

Thursday was the thirteenth birthday of the son we never had. Calvin would be a teenager now. We always go to the cemetery. This year we took 13 orange daisies, a blue pinwheel, a Lego cop, and a small bag of Doritos.

I was really happy on Friday night to see Ali Garrigan sing the Jesus out of songs she had cowritten with Dennis Yurich in Titus.

On Saturday, partly to prove to a friend that our family has "narrative to spare," we went with her and her son to see the family shorts program at the film festival then stayed an got in on standby to the totally delightful Uruguayan film Anina, based on a book called Anina Yatay Salas, which I hope will someday be available in English.

I finally stopped into the new(ish) Guide to Kulchur book/zine/typewriter repair/poetry happening shop on W 65th. Got a GtK quarterly and a book of essays by Jeannette Winterson.

I went to a poetry reading by friends Catherine and Lee, and Eric, a person who knows so many people I know it is weird that we don't really know each other, and I was surprised and delighted by the proceedings. They traded off readings in the round, which made for interesting associations and a lot of humor. My companion remarked that it made her want to write. Eric Anderson read a poem called "The League" that knocked me over. I bought his book so I could keep thinking about it.

In general, I am wanting to support other people's art. (I also made small contributions to some IndieGoGo campaigns.) Sometimes I feel darkly that we are glutted with people's solipsistic scribblings and everyone should just shut up and do something that actually matters. Right now I am feeling thankful that there are so many people who care about art and want to make things. More art, less of all that other stuff. Until it bankrupts me. It's the "world with pyramids model" (see The Wind Rises for the reference).

Reading: There is a recent NYer profile of micrfiction writer Lydia Davis that is making me think a lot about what makes metaphor work.

Writing: Yes. Sent a piece of the script to writer's group. I need to figure out the last third. That is the really tough part.

Dinner: Most recently, all four of us at Tommy's, milkshakes forbidden due to excess candy earlier in the day. O became obsessed with folding paper hats with the coloring sheets and the napkins and made them for all the many condiment bottles.

Soundtrack: On my way to pick up Anna to go hear the poetry, tuned in randomly to WJCU and got an earful of The Wombats on the Assisted by Argyle show (I love that title).

Random thing: Waiting with Z for her school bus on Friday morning, I think I saw an American Kestrel gliding over the neighborhood from tall tree to tall tree.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The outer edges of my brain

David reminded me, "It's a reflection, not an essay," but this blog is really a random assemblage of links that give something of a map of the outer edges of my brain yesterday. The inner parts of my brain were actually assembling and creating story stuff, which was then alternately ignored and inspected by my editor:

"Your work bores me."                           "What is this supposed to mean?"  


March 20 is a big day in our house. It is Calvin's Day, when we celebrate the presence in absence of our son. I did not know that the UN had also declared it an International Day of Happiness until I was standing in line at the store with a cart full of food and flowers for our March 20 feast and trip to the cemetery and spied it on the cover of a magazine.

Apparently United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.” So it feels painfully ironic that also this week, a new report from a large mainstream scientific society is out trying to get people to pay attention to climate change and the closing of the window of opportunity to do anything to slow it.

To bridge this, I offer you a page of rueful haiku from the largest English-language Japanese news site. This is a bi-monthly feature on the site, which I kind of love. The page I'm sharing is actually from two years ago, and it features this poem that is my new touchstone for the script I am working on (odd perhaps, because it is a children's play, but it is what speaks to me):

Each old doll
carries the story
of her birth
--Hidehito Yasui (Osaka) in the Asahi Haikuist Network, March 1, 2012

Reading: A grad school compatriot with a forthcoming book wrote this post on the myth of the writer as eccentric fuck up.

Writing: Despite all the interwebz trawling, yes!

Dinner: Red lentil dal over basmati rice, from this recipe from Nicholas Day's Dinner vs. Child column, in which he resolves to feed his children too much dal in 2014. I think I am joining in him this resolution.

Another food thing I found was this photo essay about Japanese school lunches. I also resolve to feed my children too much Japanese food this year.

Soundtrack: My house was very silent, but I noticed out of date listings (in the recent New Yorker that David and I are battling to control) for two writers & music events I wish I'd been able to go to. Julian Barnes did a thing with pianist Angela Hewitt at (Le) Poisson Rouge. This blog gives part of the set list. And in Brooklyn at the Greenlight Bookstore the next day, my writing/music crush Wesley Stace did a thing with my grownup music/kids music crush Dan Zanes to sell Stace's new book Wonderkid. 


wish balls
from "Wish Balls"
Random thing: I accidentally came across the website of this artist, Seiko Atsuta Purdue, who has a whole series of works (an "art inquiry") in cloth and paper about "wish tying" - collecting wishes, giving them form, releasing them into the world. I find it very compelling and beautiful. She says this about the beginning of this project:
The most impressive experience I had while collecting wishes was when I set up a sign, paper and pens during the winter along a fence on the Chicago lakefront and left them for a couple days. It was a snowy time in Chicago and I could not walk around to collect wishes. When I went back to the site I saw many paper ties all over the fence. All the paper I prepared was used up and some chocolate wrappers and Dunkin Donuts napkins were tied on to the fence. These had wishes on them too. I have never forgotten how I was shocked to see that response from people whom I didn’t know. I was very encouraged and simultaneously I felt a strange power that kept me from taking down all of them. I left half of them until they were gone. I have thought a lot about what I can do with these wishes after collecting them. I am not a God and I can’t make all those wishes come true. But, as an artist I can create art by honoring their wishes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I'm me but not me.

As Wilde would say, "One should always have something sensational to read ..."

I'm on spring break, doing all things valorous. You know, like blogging.

We moved bedrooms last fall. I am still unpacking my boxes of books and papers. Yesterday I spent some time doing this because I was desperately searching for a book I need to write the thing I'm writing.

I have too many papers - multiple rough drafts of things, invitations to parties that happened 3 years ago, copies of grading rubrics for student papers the writers of which are in grad school now. My recycling bundle will be large this week.

But I also have interesting things - a permission slip I wrote myself to be fabulous, a love note from David, a handmade card from a much younger Z that has multi-colored raindrops crayoned all over it with inkstamped hearts in the middle of each one. And journals. I have decades worth of journals. Mostly, I think, they are full of whining about what I am not accomplishing or what about myself I am most neurotic about at the moment. But yesterday, I blindly opened two of them to unusually significant entries.

A floppy dark green "FlexiComp" book with a phone number jotted upside down in the white label area on the front opened to an entry from almost 20 years ago, July 1994, written the day after David and I first made out. It is racing and raunchy and full of the moment, aware only that something has happened, not yet beginning to imagine what it will lead to.

A lime green cloth-bound sketch book opened to March 14, 2002 - 12 years ago, not quite exactly (and approaching 8 years after that last journal) - an entry written as I approached the first anniversary of Calvin's death. "We're coming up on a year now, which hardly seems possible. Things gradually become easier, more normal, but every day I still grieve and some days I am overwhelmed ... Since the new year began things have felt more settled somehow. The intractability of the situation bears down on us. Bits of life seem normal, yet that old life still feels like it belongs to a different person. I'm me but not me. I'm the mother of a dead child." It goes on to ruminate on other grief and on what comes after. It looks toward writing, and other children, and Calvin's hoped for legacy in the world.

Two moments of profound transition. The witchy part of me thinks this was no accident. (And did I mention I just cut all my hair off?)

Reading: I finally, finally, finally finished Looking for Alaska by John Green, which I began in December. It takes me 3 months to read a damned book I am not reading to teach? This is bad. I liked this book - Well constructed, big-hearted teen fiction with some lovely sentences. What next, and what faster?

Writing: Yes! Happily in the trenches with the new script. A day of discovery and connecting dots.

Dinner: We went out with friends for St. Patrick's day. I drank a Guinness. It was a political statement.

Soundtrack: Very into Portishead today.

Random thing: Another journal I found (also a green composition book, this one stiff backed) was not my own, but my friend Anthony's. He sent it to me because it documents an epic road trip and he thought it might be good inspiration for the book in progress. He gave me his journal. It came in a cardboard mailing envelope with a handwritten note and incredible good will. It's been a long time since he sent it -- I think Anthony has published two books of his own since then! I should gather up the serendipitous magic of today's discoveries and make good on his gift.

Oh! And I found a rough draft of a short story I had forgotten I wrote, and I kind of like it.

Rites of spring.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Notes from airportland


Slow maudlin techno-folk song with the refrain "I never knew you at all" playing in Seattle airport seems ill chosen.

Caramel flan latte? Who wants eggs in their coffee?

Paying for wifi makes me angry

Rick Bayless has an airport kiosk that serves fresh well-sourced food (if you believe the signs, which tell you where all the ingredients come from). Yea, Rick Bayless. I did not eat there because I wanted a waitron to serve me. I am sorry, universe.

And while we are on the subject of karmic debt, I am sorry to all the people who ate less-than-stellar salads at the Pita Potpourri Cafe in Atlanta in 1987-88. I was young, lazy and feckless, and I sometimes left yesterda'ys lettuce in the to-go set-ups, and I am sure that sometimes it was wilty and blah.

Man cheerfully carrying complaining child.

The changing face of airportland: When did light sculpture become the thing?

It is clever to have the museum shop in the airport - good for last minute gifts that don't look totally lame - and also the chi-chi cocktail bar, but has anyone ever really bought a diamond necklace at the fancy schmancy jewelry store? Ever? If you work there, what do you do all day?

Why do the Vosges chocolate kiosk workers all have to look like hipsters? Some of them look very much like they are not hipsters, but they put on hipster costumes to come to work.

How long do you have to spend in airportland before you start to go insane? Edward Snowden was in the Moscow airport for how long?

Reading: class prep

Writing: nope

Dinner: breakfast was the worst bagel ever, in SeaTac, lunch was a decent salad at an Italian sit-down in O'Hare. Dinner TBD, at home

Soundtrack: See line one.

Random thing: It's all random.

A corvid every day

This beautiful creature is "Wisdom Seeker" cast bronze by Tony Angell found randomly in the WAshington State Convention Center. Nice corvid sighting!

If you are participating in a panel or other information exchange type of event, unless you are actually reading from the text of a story or poem, which by its very nature depends on an exact sequence of language, please do not simply read from a paper you wrote without looking up, and especially do not read from a computer screen containing the paper you wrote. I know you might be nervous or you might worry that you will forget something or you like the way you put written sentences together. I don't care. Don't do it. Write the paper, fine. But use it as a prop not a shield. Make eye contact with your audience. Vary your tone. Simplify your long convoluted sentences. Also, do not put the exact text of what you are saying on a projector for me to read along with you. This actually distances me from you even more. You do not even need to have a visual aid, but if you do, make it something that illustrates or supplements or highlights or adds color to what you are saying. The exception, again, is if you are reading text that I somehow need to grok in its exact form, like a poem or part of a story we are going to analyze together. And finally, if you are given a 10 minute slot, do not take 20 minutes. (My apologies for maybe probably haven broken the last one once or twice in my life. I admit it, editing is very hard.)

Day 3 was a good day, better than I expected in the morning when I woke up melancholy and small, but it did make me cranky. It was, notably, the only gray and drizzly day I had in Seattle. There were good ideas for non traditional readings, quotes from Rimbaud, conceptual anti-workshop models, and some good stuff on teaching flash fiction. I had impromptu lunch and market browsing with Nora from New York, who is a friend triangulated through writing conference acquaintances (I will let you try to figure out what that means), and had drinks and dinner with Paula and her poet friends. I failed to ever see the monster Frankie. Now, home.

these are place holders for later, posting on the fly:

Making play/book writing notes in the chair in a quiet corner window above the busy street reminded me of the chairs in the 1804 room in the now defunct Baker Center in Athens, where I used to go read as a teenager. I like chairs in windows.

Lunch at the Persian place in the market with Nora 

I dreamt of the gerbils. They climbed up my dress and kissed me.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Imagine a Pen ...

A litle Bogart to brighten your day. I searched for images for "tired pen,"
and this came up (like, about 20th, but it did ). Serendipity at work!

The second day of conference, third full day in Seattle. Fatigue and the ongoing effects of jetlag consume me. I went to one really great session today - on using the journal as a major assignment in the writing class. The panelists were all smart, thoughtful, funny people with great, practical anecdotes and advice. I felt glad to have met them on a human level and also full of ideas for how to continue to improve the use of journals in my teaching.

The other things I went to were OK, but nothing stuck. One panel I even walked out on because I was too tired to participate in the way they were hoping people would. (My apologies to the participatory teaching gods, whose goodwill I need in my own classroom.) In the morning, the best part of one panel was sitting with Huda and Laura, two women who are former students of mine from my MFA teaching practicum. They've both gone on to some success as writers since, but there we all were in the session on sustaining writing in the face of non-success. I guess what was heartening was the degree to which the panel's perfectly fine advice felt irrelevent to me.

By the end of the day, I bagged on all the possibilities for sociability for the evening, including going out with Huda and Laura, which would have been a wonderful thing to do normally. I had no room to absorb more and nothing to offer, so I holed myself up in my room with wine from the market, dinner from room service, and my own tired self. This was a good and self-protective thing to do. The room service guy asked me how my evening was, and when I told him it was very relaxing, he said, "That's great! All the people getting room service say they are relaxed and all the people down in the restaurant are getting wild." I told him that sound just about perfect.

Reading: In this glut of language I resist reading, but I want story, so I netflixed Orange is the New Black. Honestly, I simultaneously thing Jenji Kohan is a fucking narrative genius and I am exhausted and feel manipulated by her plotting.

Writing: Feeling hard the disconnect between so much talking about writing (and teaching) and the actual act of writing, or even for that matter the act of reading. This no doubt contributes to my fatigue.

Dinner: I'm beginning to wish for my own kitchen. But tonight I had a decent meal of farro spaghetti with wild mushrooms.

Corvid Sightings: A crow in alley as I walked from lunch back to the convention center. It held something in its claw would bend to peck at it then stand upright and look around. Every part of it gleamed with different density - its feathers shone gently, its beak glowed like lacquer, its eye was a tiny point of black light.

Soundtrack: There's a guy on the street here who plays makeshift drums on the corner. He sits on something that looks like a big popcorn tin and has a variety of cymbals, bells, and metal objects arrayed in front of him. He plays the tin drum with one hand and uses a drumstick in his other hand to beat out rhythms on the objects. He is awesome. I was on the phone with Z&O when I passed him and stopped to hold out the phone and let the kids hear him. When I put money in his tin, I was sure to tell him that my young drummer was impressed. I love street musicians.

Random thing: In the back of every room here there is a futuristic water dispenser that I did not notice until I sat on the floor at the back so I could plug in my ipad and had to constantly shift myself so people could fill their bottles. My conclusion is that most of these writers are better hydrated than I.