31 December 2010

On Timing

It is, of course, the last of the year. This is the day that we finish things, or we lament what we have not finished, or, perhaps most commonly, we ignore all of the unfinished things in that chrome-bright anticipation for tomorrow, for starting new things. All around the interwebs, we lay out our new clothes for tomorrow (I'm laying out my Mario Lemieux jersey), we prepare new journals and planners (Jackie at Letters & Journals has given me the urge to organize my paper-based life), we resolve, resolve, resolve. We have hope. It is glorious and invigorating, and I try so hard to save that feeling up, to say, I will hit the ground absolutely pell-mell this year.

I am, of course, not at all immune to any of these things. I'll spare you my resolutions: I break so many.

But I started a new thing today, a new written thing, and I don't even know what to call it. It thought at first it was some sort of prose poem or at the very least an experimental sort of narrative. It thought it was short. One version of it may, of course, be short. But short narratives don't sit well in my soul, and so it may become quite long (it wants a novel, of course it wants a novel, I am desperately sick of things that want a novel because one can't write six things at once that are all three hundred pages long and research-intensive, and yet that's what I love, and so I continue to be convinced that writing is the most contrary of actions anyone could take).

I started the new thing in a new journal, too (one I'd meant to save for something else, but I don't remember what the something else was, and so this new thing trumps the unknown), a lined 8x5 Rhodia. I had wanted to do my new writing for the year with one of the new inks, but the Lamy Studio was waiting, full of Levenger Cobalt, and there was no sense in waiting, in giving the idea a chance to squirm away.

I should, of course, know this already. I have read Annie Dillard.

"One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better." ~The Writing Life

But the real point of this is this: it is the day for finishing, tomorrow is the day for starting, but I'm starting today. I am hoping the momentum carries me forward. The method is something like the writerly advice to stop in the middle of the sentence when it's time to quit: if one always does that, there is always a place to start.

21 December 2010

Unexpected Marvels

I'd been introduced to the nyckelharpa through the music of Väsen a little over a year ago by a dear friend, and through that lovely chain of discovery that is the internet, yesterday I found the music of Bardou. I certainly don't claim to be a source of real knowledge on the band, but it appears to be two blokes, one with the incredibly fascinating nyckelharpa and the other with a 19-string arch/harp guitar. 

Yes. Chew on that for a moment. I barely understand what that means, either. But I don't play the music, lady--I just listen to it.

But here are these amazing fellows doing "Greensleeves," which I found to be a really lovely boon to my less-than-festive spirits.

Definitely check out the rest of their tunes at YouTube. 

07 December 2010

Regarding Parking Lots & Loafers

The campus parking lot this morning was a thin sheet of black ice, or perhaps just the result of an incredibly vicious frost on asphalt--whatever it was, I skated from my car to the door on the flats of my loafers. It's probably time to stop wearing loafers, and that's likely the universe telling me that, but when one is in the habit of sitting on one's right foot, it's best to wear shoes that come off easily. (My right shoe spends an awful lot of time on the floor under my desk, hollow and footless.)

Perhaps this is also the universe's gentle suggestion that I ought to learn to sit like a grown-up, with both feet on the floor.

I have no recollection of asking the universe for its opinion on either my footwear or my desk-side posture.

But the thrill of scooting along on the parking lot, that I'll keep, dear universe.

21 November 2010

The Pony Express or How Mail Gets to Wyoming

Or maybe the mail doesn't get to Wyoming at all. I'm starting to think that's the case--my mother sent me my calligraphy set last Friday. As of the last post (on Saturday, a week and a day later), it still hasn't arrived. I'm miffed about that because noodling about with some ink and so forth is what I'd like to do just now. I spent literally all of my Sunday grading (all right--all of my Sunday minus a longish tea break at 10 a.m. and a very shortish dinner break at 5:30), and if I were a smart person, I would return to my stack of papers before I go to bed.

If I were a smart person, I also would do something else with my night that doesn't involve holding a writing instrument. Or typing. Or knitting. Generally speaking, I would do something with little or no involvement of my wrists and fingers.

Does anyone have any actual hobbies that fit this bill?

Perhaps riding Pony Express and getting the mail to Wyoming faster than its current pace would suffice.

Now I have my good and practical reason to get that horse I've always wanted.

14 November 2010

Reading and also writing

I'm currently reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Williams (yes, I know: me and everyone else on the planet). The link goes to the book's LibraryThing page. What a cracking novel. I'm only about a third of the way through it, and I am dazzled by the number of significant and interesting narrative threads Mitchell's braiding here. The one that I am most interested in (the most human of them, perhaps) is, of course, the one the reader gets least of, but rather than feeling slighted by the choice, it's easy to recognize a) the narrative necessity of that construction b) the practicality of how that thread may weave itself through the rest of the plot with consideration to the novel's reality. And, well, it's lovely enough to want to keep that one set of interactions rare and striking and not dull itself with too much familiarity.

All that said, though, if the last 200 pages of the book want to be nothing but Jacob and Aibagawa, I would surely not complain one bit.


I am needing, in a very significant way, to get past a wall of inaction this weekend if I don't want to call my writing goals for the month a sham and a mockery. (And, lest anyone be confused, I surely do not wish to do this.) The most prudent way to approach this, of course, would be to open up the Word document the novel is in and start typing, But I have the attention span, of late, of a sparrow. Or of my cat, The Scoo. See photo.

And so I think that I'll turn to pen and paper this morning. And, for those of you who like that sort of thing, the choice will be my True Writer Water Lilies pen filled with Levenger Cocoa ink, and the paper is the Ecosystem notebook that has been dedicated to this single project. (Seriously--Ecosystem notebooks, available at your local B&N or on the interwebs, are brilliant things. No crankiness at all with fountain pen ink, and mine, which is roughly 8" by 5", has held up to much, much rough treatment. I first discovered this gem through the Letters and Journals stationary giveaway, which I was fortunate enough to win in July.)

Anyroad, it's time to get on with it.

09 November 2010

Compartmentalizing on a Snowy Day

Today is the first substantial snow of the year. The ground is too warm--from its 67 degrees yesterday--for any flakes to linger on roads and sidewalks, but the grass and the trees are powdered sugar-dusted, and the fall has been constant since it was light enough to notice the flakes.

I'm not supposed to be blogging just now--my to-do list is rather daunting at the moment--but I feel like I've been sprinting through my day and I need fifteen minutes of quiet, of stillness. I suppose writing a blog entry demonstrates how poor I am at actually achieving real stillness, but I am completing a single task in doing this, concentrating on one thing, and that's a milestone for me. (I even tried to manage to screw that up--the title of this post reminded me of a poem whose title I don't remember and whose author escapes me and whose lines I can't quote. Locating the poem, then, to reference properly, was not a success, and I spent five minutes with one hand on the keyboard and one hand poking the books on my shelf, willing one of them to turn into the anthology I wanted. If I had the correct anthology in my office, I could find it in a tick, because I remember where in the book it is, but I don't remember what it's called or who it's by. Memory is such a strange and fickle thing.)

My Tuesdays and my Thursdays often feel like this. I teach back to back classes (which fill nearly three hours) in subjects I love, and I am always breathless by the end of the second. This afternoon found me having meetings with some students and then with a poet from the community who was looking for some basic feedback: was his writing "good enough" to bother continuing to write? It breaks my heart that he even considered this a necessary meeting, but I understand the anxiety. The best part of it is that I got to meet a cool new poet (who has apparently been writing his entire life) who isn't a student, and I invited him to the open mic night that the awesome Casper College poetry class has started to hold twice a month. Hopefully he comes to that.

But that was another conversation to leave me somewhat breathless. (Maybe the real moral of the story is that Holly should learn to breathe between her sentences.) And so here I am, taking a few minutes to re-center before embarking on the rest of my afternoon. I do, at least, take a breath between the period and the next capital letter. Most of the time.

07 November 2010

Lazy Sunday

Well, it's not exactly lazy-lazy--I still have a to-do list, but the weekend has felt incredibly decadent in that I didn't/don't have anything to grade. To that end, I've been rather productive in the sense that I've gotten a nice-sized batch of stories out into the world.

I've also decided that perhaps the more effective option for my November challenge might be to ensure that I do one writerly act each day. I say this because, while I've been accomplishing things, I haven't exactly been following my own plan. Mostly, I've been striking while the proverbial iron is hot--instead of revising one story, I did two. Instead of sending one story out to three places, I sent two out to a total of nine journals. So, I'm resolving not to be particularly fussed over what gets accomplished in what order, so long as something gets done.

One thing that has actually helped me to be productive is the acquisition of some new writing tools. I try to avoid relying on "stuff" whenever possible, but when there's a basic pleasure in using the instrument, I find myself far more interested in completing tasks. Most significantly, I'm talking about fountain pens. In March, I acquired my first fountain pen: a Levenger True Writer in a pattern called Water Lilies. It has since been discontinued, which is heartbreaking because it's really, really lovely (and inspired by the Monet painting, of course). In the past month, too, I added a black Levenger True Writer with a stub nib and a Lamy Studio to my new collection.

There are countless blogs devoted to the art of the fountain pen--to fine-tuning and appreciating the nuances of these instruments. At this point, I'm not qualified to comment on any of these issues, but what I can say is that there is a brilliant and beautiful simple pleasure in writing with a quality pen. The ink flows without any kind of pressure--not only is it much, much easier on my hands (which makes it easier to write for a long time), but there is a lovely metaphorical reassurance in that, too. The writing instrument isn't fighting the writer, so that leaves one with only the idea and the words themselves to wrestle.

03 November 2010

New Set of Challenges

Well, the first three days of the month went somewhat successfully. I did manage my transcription task (by almost twice my goal), and I managed the pencil-edits on a story. But then I got kind of involved in the editing process, and I decided that I'd do pencil edits on three stories. Which is still better than I'd been doing, of course.

My new set:
Nov. 4: Electronic edits on one story
Nov. 5: Mail out one story to three journals
Nov. 6: Transcribe & edit 2 pages

In other news, I've figured out how to make the ginger tea that I've been mad for since I had it at the local Thai place. It's stupendously simple--boil X inches of thinly-sliced ginger in X cups of water for ten minutes, and then add a bit of sweetener of some sort. I added agave nectar to mine, though I think a mild honey would be an even better option. Right now, though, all I have is some super-robust German honey that is a bit too overpowering for beverages.

Sometime soon, too, you'll be hearing about my new fountain pen obsession. Stay tuned.

31 October 2010

We all know what tomorrow is.

And, of course, if you don't know, it's the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, i.e. NaNoWriMo.

I'm not in a place where I can truly do NaNo, in the actual sense of the thing. (The last thing I ever need to do is to begin a new project. My troubles always have to do with finishing--and revising--what I have already begun.)

And so I set my own NaNo goals. I'm going to try to set out three days' worth of goals tonight, to be accomplished, of course, before the end of Wednesday. If all goes well, at the end of Wednesday, I'll put up another three, and so on through the end of the month. Because this is also the middle of the semester and I'm teaching four writing-intensive classes, I'm going to try to be realistic, rather than over-ambitious. But here goes, anyway.

Monday, Nov. 1: Retype 2 pages of handwritten work
Tuesday, Nov. 2: Print & pencil-edit Story A
Wednesday, Nov. 3: Complete edits on Story A & draft submission plan

27 October 2010

In times of cold, everything draws inward.

Well. Except for water. But I'm not here to talk about water.

In truth, I'm not entirely sure what I'm here to talk about today. I suppose I'll start with difficulty.

At this time of year, everything starts with difficulty for me. I am happiest waking up early--truly, 5:15 agrees with me. In August, that hour is tinged with gray, and the sky warms and warms (at least here in Wyoming, where our days are sunny more often than not), and by the time everything has lit and the world's begun, I'll have written, I'll have had breakfast, and I might even be clean and ready to start all of the other parts of my day.

Here at the end of October, in a week that's showcased our Casper winds, "early" means having to shed the blissfully warm cocoon of blankets for a chill, chill room and no promise of daylight until seven has come and gone. The clock changes in November will perhaps help a little, but December shortens the days more, and we'll be back where we were. This all translates to me abusing the snooze button, and I know that's not an effective or useful strategy for me. I feel like the trees, the sap in my limbs slowing and slowing, and then there's very little in the way of growth. This is all well and good if one is an Ent, but I am, alas, not.

So I'll be looking for solutions to this issue as we trundle forward into winter. It's the same problem, every year. It's high time to do something about it.

19 April 2010

The return of the weather report

This week, it seems, shows Wyoming's weather turning the precipitous corner toward spring. All this truly seems to mean is that there is no snow actually in the forecast, and there's been some balmy weather. None of this is insurance, none of this a guarantee. My students, and some of my coworkers, delight in reminding me of a year, not so far off, when it snowed on the fourth of July. I can see Independence Rock glazed white and slick on Independence Day, and I have to think back to all of those many travelers who stopped at Independence Rock on their long way west and thought of reaching it as a safety point. Make it there by early July and exit the Rockies before snowy doom. One small solace in a world of uncertainty and equipment failure. What would it have meant to those travelers that day, even a handful's scatter of wet, dense flakes, when they had to think so very hard about the continuance of summer? My own soul sinks looking toward a weekend of rain and a temperate fifty degrees; I can't quite think of what snow means anymore, not until we're well into the leaf-crunching days of October.

15 April 2010


I have seen seagulls in Wyoming for several days now. I cannot think that they are here by design, unless the design is the wind's. I don't know enough about the West to know if seagulls go to the Great Salt Lake, west of here, but if they did, the winds pulling toward the continent's center are surely strong enough to push a few wayward sea birds with them. I think of them finding the snaking Platte and following it, low as they can fly, and wondering where the thick, salty sea air has gone. They tilt their wings for each winding turn, going very little distance for how far they fly. I wonder if they find the ocean again, or if they stand on some prairie plateau, flatten their wings for the sun until it leeches all sense of sea from their feathers. I wonder if they perch on beef cattle, lift themselves to our mountain just south, scrape up bits of bone and sand in their beaks, and commit themselves to fossils and pronghorn skulls when they can find no spilled popcorn, no teeming shoal.