For the last two weeks I’ve been an artist in residence at Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois. If you haven’t applied, apply now. The most wonderful people are here to make sure your work comes first and that you don’t … Continue reading
Christine Schutt Florida debut novel Harcourt/A Harvest Book paperback 2004 On structure echoing content: Nothing then, nothing held its shape but blew away. (52) Dear Alice, you don’t have to tell the whole story. (79) On the structure: 4 parts with … Continue reading
I adore this portrait of May Sarton. I used it in a blog post on August 8, 2009. I also used some of the same quotes, but I had a very different reaction to them two years ago.
There is nothing to be done but go ahead with life moment by moment and hour by hour–put out birdseed, tidy the rooms, try to create order and peace around me even if I cannot achieve it inside me.
As the last days of summer float by, I feel like I’m swimming upstream against them, periodically climbing onto the river bank to put out the next fire. I don’t really think that’s what May Sarton meant by going “ahead with life moment by moment.” And, unfortunately, I’m not even in the same universe with putting out birdseed and tidying rooms. How can I have so much to do?
I’ve been printing blank weekly calendars from the internet and making lists, thinking about the best way to shape the mornings, afternoons, and evenings. On one of my lists from yesterday was “schedule time for reading.” You’ve got to be kidding, I say to my list. It’s come to this?
“That was what I was after–a daily rhythm, a kind of fugue of poetry, gardening, sleeping and waking in the house.”
I like fugue for its sense of interweaving of parts, for its writerly rhythm.
But at the moment I’m not sure fugue is going to get it done. In fact, what I need is a general to command the troops, to whip all these to-dos into shape. And less sleep. Maybe if I get up an hour earlier…
How about the rest of you–how are your summers going?
Inch. Do you know this tiny journal? I discovered it at AWP. Small. Gray. Thin. Tiny poems. Tiny fiction. A single issue costs $1. Bull City Press publishes 4 issues a year. Ross White is the Editor, and guess what? Robin Black is the Fiction Editor. I didn’t even know that.
In the past week, several different readers have commented that either they didn’t know there was a list of all the writers in the How We Spend Our Days series or that they didn’t know what I was talking about when I said an article was mentioned on the Updates page. So put your feet up and enjoy the Delta Rhythm Boys as you read about the 4 blog bones: the header with tabs is connected to the blog feed is connected to the right sidebar is connected to the footer….Did you know there are…
9 tabs currently on the header: home, about me, about blog, how we spend our days, my writing, reading list, literary journals, update, and click here. Sometimes you might notice a new tab that corresponds to a new interest or current obsession. If you hold your cursor over a tab on the header–for example, on tab #4 How We Spend Our Days, you’ll see that you have options to click on 1) how we spend our days, 2) past writers in the series, or 3) next writer in the series. Each one of these is a separate page.
Home is the feed of posts with the most current one at the top. About me and about blog –obvious : )
How We Spend Our Days is the feed of all the posts in this series that posts on the first of the month. On the past writers page, there’s a complete list in chronological order of all the writers in this series. On the 8th of each month, I announce the next writer in the series on that page.
My writing is updated as something new is published. You can either see all categories at one go on the first page or go straight to the essays page, for example.
The reading list tab shows the on-going list of the books I’ve read, starting back in January of 2008, with links to a post if I’ve written one about the book. There’s also a page that shows the book I’m currently reading.
There are four pages for literary journals: general, current, some cool covers, and the One Story thank you to my commenters page. I update these pages when I have a free minute.
On the Update page, I list interesting articles about writing or the writers who’ve appeared on the blog, or new writers I’m interested in. I often list awards. This is an informational page, and you can tell just from the tab the last time I’ve updated it.
Finally, the click here page, which is the list of blogs I like to read. I’m also trying something new at the moment, which is to feature one of my favorite blogs for a month, hoping that you have time to visit that site.
On the footer, which is at the bottom of the blog feed, I have a few little odds and ends, such as a link to Facebook.
On the right sidebar, there’s the calendar that highlights the days I’ve posted. You can also hit the arrows and go to past months. Then a brief description of the blog, lists of my most recent writing on the web, a list of some of my and your favorite posts, another place to see what book I’m currently reading, blog stats, my most recent tweets (and how to find me on twitter), the very important SEARCH BOX in case you want to find out if I’ve ever posted on a book you’re thinking about reading or a writer you’d like to know more about. Then the list of categories, which is TOO LONG. I know. My next project. But even though I’ve only written two posts on William Faulkner, how can I not have his name there??? And finally, yes finally, the archives, where you can click on a month to see the posts from way back then.
So there you go. Have fun and thanks for reading!
In a 1984 Paris Review interview, the writer James Baldwin said the following:
I remember standing on a street corner with the black painter Beauford Delaney down in the Village, waiting for the light to change, and he pointed down and said, “Look.” I looked and all I saw was water. And he said, “Look again,” which I did, and I saw oil on the water and the city reflected in the puddle. It was a great revelation to me. I can’t explain it. He taught me how to see, and how to trust what I saw. Painters have often taught writers how to see. And once you’ve had that experience, you see differently.
Many of you are visual artists as well as writers. I’m not. But I’ve become a much more visual person in the last few years. I think maybe this blog is my nudge to look again. To be more aware of the world around me.
These days, with writing, instead of having ideas, I’m seeing scenes. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten out of my own way. My thinking has gotten out of the way of my…something.
When I started with the words of James Baldwin, I didn’t realize I would end up with something, but that’s as far as I have time to go with this today…
I’ve always wanted to like yoga. I tried Pilates–for two years. I wanted to be more connected to my body. Surely this would make me a better writer.
Today I’m going to CORE, a studio in the recently renovated and very cool White Provisions Building in Westside Atlanta. Outside its large rectangular windows, trains pass slowly. This will be the last 4 hours of a 24-hour pre-training course in the gyrotonic expansion system.
I stumbled onto gyrotonics by accident. Every January I try to visit a spa. In 2009, instead of choosing what I wanted to do while I was there, I asked the two women at the desk the name of the best trainer. Paul, they both said. I showed up the next morning, and Paul began talking as we walked past the machines and the free weights.
As I wrote in The View From Here, gyrotonics
makes sense to me. Most of the movements are circular and three-dimensional—like life. As founder Juliu Horvath said, “You will…find the unexplored parts of the body.” And I have, starting with my abs. Naturally it’s not for everyone, but I clicked with it. In late April, I discovered that the “wave” was a larger movement than I had understood. I was really supposed to roll far more and involve more of my body. “Oh,” I said, “I’ve been doing it wrong all this time.” “No,” Kayley said, “you’ve been doing it right. This is just a different level of right.”
The week before Thanksgiving, I had an appointment in Atlanta with a visiting Master Trainer. Bradley is tall and lean, and was wearing frayed gray sweatpants and a fitted t-shirt. He had been reading Truman Capote and, as I was arching and curling, he was talking about the long sentences in “The Thanksgiving Visitor.” Then I swear this is what he said to me:
“I think you like doing the movements in gyrotonics because each movement seems to hold a story within it.”
15 stories in this slim volume from Amy Hempel published in 1985. Only 3 of the 15 written in third; the rest, in first.
My clear favorite is the first-person story “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried.” It’s nicely developed and goes deeper than a lot of the others in this collection. [spoiler alert]
One of the interesting things about this story, which is divided into 20 short sections, is the way Hempel uses white space–as in, not the same way throughout the story.
The first 16 sections of “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” are basically one visit of the Narrator to her friend in the hospital. As the story progresses, the visit progresses as well. It all moves forward except section 2, when time seems to stand still as the Narrator steps back from the scene to describe it, and sections 8-10, when the Narrator reminisces at the beach. In sections 1-16, Hempel uses white space stylistically–to highlight moments.
Between sections 16 and 17, the white space denotes a space and time jump. Section 17 begins:
“On the morning she was moved to the cemetery, the one where Al Jolson is buried…”
Then in sections 17-20, Hempel is again using white space stylistically but this time to highlight thoughts. These sections exist in the place and time after the friend dies.
Using white space inconsistently adds to the random, floaty feel of this story that is actually organized in a linear sequence (granted sections 17-20 could be in random order rather than moving forward chronologically, but that seems unlikely given the rest of the story).
Another interesting thing–in the first scene, the Narrator has 2 lines; in the second scene (section 3) the Narrator has 1 line; in the third, 0 lines. The fact that the Narrator does not say much, despite the abundance of scenes, contributes to a feeling that the Narrator is not fully present in the hospital room.
Finally, Hempel uses 4 tenses in this 12-page story. Perhaps to show our split consciousness, where we are when we’re not fully present–thinking about the past, imagining the future, the conditional what-ifs.
All this, and we haven’t even begun to talk about what the story is about…
Usually we meet to read and critique each other’s work.
On our breaks we take the waters or a mud bath or a culinary excursion to Mustard’s, Greystone, or Ad Hoc.
I am encouraged by the little frog outside who stops croaking if I open my door and from the shapes and colors inside and out.
This leaf, propped up like it is here on its stem and all by itself, was waiting for me when I opened the front door yesterday morning. Do you think it thought I wasn’t noticing?
I moved it for a moment over by the pumpkin…
Then I brought it inside where I showed it to everyone.
I was planning on doing a post on that need to write but then had the opportunity to write a Guest Writer article on the subject for The View From Here Magazine. It is online today with the print issue coming out November 6th, I believe. Here’s the first paragraph:
For six years, I was a lawyer. I went to law school; I passed the bar exam; I was sworn in, and I paid my licensing dues. Et voila. It fits, doesn’t it?
Far more difficult to know if you’re a writer.
There’s the obvious, “You’re a writer if you write.” But that’s like saying you’re a cook if you cook. When I was in law school, I heard over and over again, “You have to learn to think like a lawyer.” But that doesn’t work here either. What defines a writer is not “thinking.”
In Mary Gaitskill‘s story collection, Don’t Cry, is a story entitled, “Mirror Ball.” It’s one of my four favorites in the collection and is described on the book jacket as an “urban fairy tale” in which “a young man steals a girl’s soul during a one-night stand.”
I don’t generally like stories that involve the surreal, but from the first page, the language of this story is so alluring that I was able to keep an open mind.
“…the anonymous little haunts where songs were still alive and moving in the murky darkness,…”
The words just kept twirling me on down the river of the story…
“It was a cold fall night with a feeling of secret pockets and moving shadows.”
…until I was caught in the current.
“Music temporarily filled the empty space, soothing her and giving shape to the feelings she could not understand.”
My favorite passage of all is so full of concrete images that it almost seems to move this way and then that:
“In daily life, his emotions were chaos. He let himself become a vessel for them, letting feeling roar through him, pulling him around like a kite, boiling him like water in a kettle, dissolving him in a whirl of elements. Except that normally he could go into his studio and make order. He could make songs that were satisfying containers, for the kite, for the kettle, the whirl of elements–he could put each in its place. The things he was feeling now did not fit into the songs he was used to making.”
What a fantastic paragraph. It contains so many images and ideas. Every time I read it, I want to read it over again. Except that for all the rich images, the idea I keep coming back to is using containers to make order.
Growing up, when I would approach the front door with my arms full of eleven different things, my mother would always be right there with a tote bag. “Here,” she would say. “Put everything in here.”
Containers keep us from spilling out all over the place. They make order out of disorder. Here, the character poured his emotions into songs. Matisse used paintings. I empty myself into words on a page. I’m also reminded of this passage from Toni Morrison’s Beloved:
“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”