18 July 2013

it's dangerous to go alone--

I'm not Link, but if I were (and I kind of wish I were, because honestly), this is the point at which the old man offers me a wooden sword.

Instead, because I'm not a small, green-clad adventurer in an 8-bit RPG but rather a small, Crosby shirsey-clad writer in the fourth day of a writing residency at the utterly gorgeous Jentel Foundation, I've taken these:

They're as good as swords--or better, really, since I'm doing a lot more reading than slaying bats in caves--and they are excellent company (and my fellow residents are good company, as well). These are books and chapbooks and zines by people I know or that have been gifts from folks I know. In order, from left to right: Deborah Poe's the last will be stone, too, Vanessa Stauffer's Cosmology, Kim Barnes's Finding Caruso, Chris Collision's Queen City Fall, Sean Thomas Dougherty's Sunset by the Chain Link Fence & The Blue City, and shortandqueer #10, The reawakening of my baseball fandom. 

I've also brought a ton of reading for research purposes, some directly related to projects, some indirectly. If you want to carve yourself open while an author carves herself open on the page, pick up A. L. Kennedy's On Bullfighting. A. L. Kennedy is always brilliant in the fiction I've read & her regular column for The Guardian, but this book is hard and beautiful and bleak, and also contains one of the most powerful meditations on Lorca I've ever read. Melissa Montgomery, wherever you are, this was the conversation on duende that your Lycoming College honors project wanted.

Here at Jentel, I have a room of my own and a studio in which to work, as well as gorgeous common spaces for absolutely everything else.

My studio, before I decorated it with piles of books, three separate & full travel mugs, and a plush stegosaurus.
There's much to say about Virginia Woolf and rooms of one's own and that's something that I believe in desperately. Space is such a necessity and a privilege, and the Jentel Foundation has provided truly superlative space in the way everything has been planned. But to have this space as well--even with a first-night rainbow over these prairie swells, the not-quite-foothills of the Bighorns--is something particularly moving.

On Tuesday, in those hills, I also got to see my first rattlesnake in the wild. It was lying beneath a clump of sage I was intending to step past, and my preceding rustle gave us both twenty-four inches of warning. I didn't have a sword, but I didn't feel much of a need to have one, either. The snake moved slowly and silently in its direction (without shaking its tail--I'm a little disappointed not to have heard it, but glad too I didn't vex it to that point), and maybe I decided to change mine, but that's all right. I had friends waiting at my desk.

14 July 2013

making peace with joy

I'm starting this post while my stomach churns over the Zimmerman verdict, and I don't want to write it. I don't want to write it because it feels so frankly useless and irrelevant in the wake of so much horrifying injustice. My impulse says write about that, but frankly I'm not qualified and I don't even know what to say except no. 

Last night I had a few friends over, so I could see them before I left for the rest of the summer, and we ended up talking about Sharknado. I didn't watch it, but I did observe my Twitter feed and the ubiquity of the hashtag. Everyone was watching it, it seemed. Even the Communications Director for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins was in on it. And our conversation went on a bit about the gleeful ridiculousness of it all. I personally don't like the "deliberately awful" school of entertainment (and I was that person who was legitimately scared during Army of Darkness). The Office is too awkward for me to watch (even though I know it's on purpose.) But I was really interested in the communal groundswell over this SyFy movie. I'm always surprised when something brings people together (and I'm always grateful when it doesn't have to be tragedy).

One of my friends, one who, like me, can't deal with the intentionally ludicrous entertainment business, posed the quite-serious point of "But there are actually important things happening in the world." And so why are so many people pouring all of this energy into bad CGI and shark puns? They could be mobilizing that attention on something more worthwhile. I've said the exact same thing myself, many times. The internal guilt--how can I be happy when there is so much sadness?--is paralyzing and omnipresent. I wish I had a way to tally how much I've written and deleted for that reason. I'm watching baseball and something nifty happens, some small pure thing, so I start typing. Then something ticks by that hurts my heart. I delete whatever I was planning to share. I do this at least half a dozen times a day, about everything: music I am listening to, things I have read, my obsession with the weather. How dare I how dare I how dare. And, to be perfectly honest, I don't dare. Maybe it's some attempt at courtesy. Maybe it's cowardice.

What I think about Sharknado is wholly irrelevant. I have to recognize, though, that it brought a lot of people a lot of laughter and connection. And today--and other days--I've tried to make peace with the fact that, while there is much, much evil in the world and this trial is every evidence of it, there is also good. And it's important to treat what is good as relevant, too. Ignoring what is good only gives the bad more power and devalues what we so desperately need. We know silence is the tool of the oppressor. So say things. Especially now. I have to remind myself of that. If I do not speak, if I do not write, I am complicit. So: I am angry and I am disappointed and I am saying that now. Dear God, what is this world and how can we suffer to go on like this?

I've got nothing more interesting to add to it, so I won't. All I can do is keep saying it and doing what I can to fight the ways we fail each other, individually and systemically.

But I am also trying to recognize this: silencing joy will not defeat injustice, either. Finding something about which to be happy--truly, upliftingly happy--is not something to hide. There is always something about which to grieve or rage, and we can honor that without denying joy.

01 July 2013

space and time

The second and third legs of my travels, which took me to the Maritimes & Quebec and San Diego, respectively, have come to a close. Have a few photos of some of the highlights from the first few days of the east coast excursion:
Waves at Acadia National Park, Maine
Bowsprit of the Tall Ship Mar, Halifax, NS
The lighthouse on Cap Gaspe, Forillon National Park, QC
Another view of Cap Gaspe, from the Mont Saint-Alban lookout tower
There are quite literally hundreds more photos from everywhere that I've been in the past six weeks and thousands of miles (also literal: my friend Heather & I put more than three thousand miles on her car in our New England/Canadian adventure). I'm looking forward to sifting through them more carefully in the future. Just now, I'd like to pause a moment on how strangely productive all of this travel has been. 

I certainly don't mean in terms of production, any finished project. I've been a shameless and capricious dilettante, starting a dozen different pieces in three genres and finishing none of them since I set out on May 16. I blame some of this on the fact that I was working almost exclusively in my notebook, with a pen, and it's much easier to do the big organizing/re-writing/overhauling that I need with a keyboard than without, so instead of crashing things out, I took notes and then moved on to whatever was next, returning to make more notes as necessary. (I will say that Evernote may be revolutionizing that annotation process in a really easy and useful way, and it was incredibly helpful even when I didn't have actual network or wireless access with my phone, which was incredibly often through the Maritimes and the Gaspe Peninsula.) But while I still have my many, many pages of notes and scraps and snippets to actually type up and organize, the overarching sense of it all is that much of what I started deserves finishing. I don't often feel that way, and my folders are a hive of the unfinished. But all of these things feel quietly, calmly alive in a way that says Take your time. We will be here when you're ready. This is good. This is important. Because there's no way, of course, to finish all of these things at once, and it's madness to try. It's madness enough to be still at work on a novel's revisions (more on that in a moment), preparing to start drafting the next, and having some non-fiction planned that really does need to be finished. But this is good madness (I think). At least the back of my writing brain thinks so. It must think so because it's finally let me think some useful things about the novel I "finished" over spring break. 

That was the first substantial revision. It was a revision that needed to happen, but when I put the files away for the end of the semester, I knew there were some things that weren't quite right, and, in early May, trying to think about those things made me feel frantic, panicked, and riddled with failure, even though I know that excellent novels do not come about on one-and-a-half drafts. A novel is work, but, in May, it didn't feel like work, which is familiar, which is what one does, which is strangely comforting in its way. In May, it felt like just one more thing I couldn't get right. 

So, an ocean, then most of a continent, then the spine of the Rockies and wide deserts between me and it. Up to nine timezones. More than a dozen new students and a host of wonderful new people and a wealth of new landscapes and climates and a lot of delicious food and miles passed beneath my sneaker-soles. A jumble of new ideas. The constant smell of sugar in the air in Sibiu, the pine freshness of Gaspe, everywhere marine salt from Maine to Montreal and then in San Diego. All this distance, all this stimulus. And in small, quiet moments--under the rain-wet tent in Maine, on a silent, red beach on Prince Edward Island, on yet another lookout over Gaspe Bay, with coffee in hand in the Quarter of Spectacles in Montreal--things became clearer. Some small changes, adjustments to scenes and moods, and some cuts, of course, and then, last night, as the last flight started its descent into Casper, the thing I probably needed to know most about the book crept in. I had to write my notes on my actual boarding pass, given the timing, and there are scrawls in all of the white spaces, in the bigger block of white following my name, in the smaller white rectangle beneath the large DEN-CPR, on the back around the advertisement for United's Mileage Plus credit card. The ideas filled themselves in, wherever there was space. All I had to do was find that space. 

In fourteen days, I leave for my residency at the Jentel Foundation. I'll have four weeks of space, too, to listen and to work, thanks to the fantastic people at Jentel. In the meantime, there are smaller things to manage, a semester to prepare for, and some finishing to do. But I know where I stand, and the footing is good, and for now, the listening is easy.