not searching for structure

I’m trying not to search for structure. I’m trying just to write. I wrote a few pages this morning.

With the other things I’ve written, I’ve seen the structure from the very beginning. As I type these words, I realize: I’ve also seen the story from the beginning too. So, hmmm…

Anyway, I’ve just read a few pages in Mark Rose’s Shakespearean Design. I spent ten minutes taking apart Pam Houston’s Sight Hound–8 chapters within which 12 different narrators have sections, some speaking only once.

Now I’m on the floor, playing with books. I’ve taken all of Ellen Gilchrist‘s books off my shelf–all 22 of them. I quickly return to the shelf her 1987 and her 2000 versions of Falling Through Space (her journal), as well as her book on The Writing LifeAnabasis (her novel that takes place in ancient times), her Collected Stories, and my hardback copy of The Anna Papers.

After a second’s glance, I also return to the shelf her two lives-in-stories: Nora Jane and Rhoda. I love these two books in which all the stories she wrote over twenty years about Rhoda are collected in one volume and those about Nora Jane, in another volume.

That leaves me with three stacks: her six other novels, her nine other collections of stories, and her one collection of novellas.

I start with the novels. The first one I pick up is The Anna Papers–possibly my favorite. There’s a Contents page:  a Prelude, and then five named parts. I skip the prelude, read the first paragraph of Chapter 1, skip to the second to last page of the first part and read. I turn the page to Part II, then another page to read the beginning of Chapter 15 (so the chapter numbers continue through the parts). I want to catch the reason for the separate parts. I read two and a half pages and am swept away.

That’s when I hopped up to write this post. The Anna Papers is one of the reasons I wanted to learn how to write. To do this. What she did.

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details, details

IMG_2027In the car yesterday, I was listening to the CD that came with The Writer’s Notebook. On it are two recordings. One was a discussion on character. On the panel were Ron Carlson, Dorothy Allison, and Dennis Johnson. There was no introduction; it just started. Some of it sounded familiar.

When I got home, I looked up my notes from the two summers I went to the Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop. This recording was from the summer of 2005. I had actually been there.

What was sticking in my brain this time, though, was largely different from what I had taken notes on then. Ah, I thought, I’m in a different place now with my writing–hopefully a further-along place.

Which is an argument for rereading everything.  Who knows what you will notice the next time.

Which brings me to my point…This time, the main thing that stood out was Dorothy Allison saying, “I’m a watcher.”

Until I started writing, I was not a watcher or a noticer. Now I am. And that’s a good thing. Being a watcher helps me catch days. It helps make things stick. And character, as well as life, is all there in the details.

“She bought throw pillows, for example, and buying throw pillows is in my experience the single best indicator that a female human being is feeling pretty good.”  from Sight Hound by Pam Houston

“A pot simmering on the stove helps my father to believe we are still a family.”  from Fugitive Blue by Dani Shapiro

Details, details…

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every minute

A second works fine for me as a second.  A minute works as a minute.  After all, they’re so short, what should we expect.

And a day works as a day.  Long enough.  At the end of one, I’m ready for it to be winding down.

But an hour, that’s where it breaks down.  The hours never seem long enough.  I expect more from my hours.

Perhaps that’s the problem–expectation.  Or perhaps there are just not enough minutes in an hour.


Dante the wolfhound from Pam Houston’s Sight Hound:

In any case, wolfhounds don’t measure life
in terms of days and years,
because for a wolfhound,
every minute is right now,
and every minute lasts forever.

Just imagine.


From Sight Hound, by Pam Houston, a novel with twelve different narrators--nine humans, two dogs and one cat.

“I wonder what it would be like,” she said to me on one of those days that make you feel that you have chosen the right profession, “if I could once and for all get my mother out of my head.”

“Picture it,” I told her.  “Tell me what it looks like.”

“It’s a big white room.  Massive.  Sunny,” she said.

“Anything in the room?” I asked.

“Just me,” she said, “and about a hundred thousand crayons.”

out of her head

Pam Houston is one of my all-time favorite writers.  She is a master at getting it out of her head and onto the page.  Take for example this bit of dialogue from her novel, Sight Hound:

“You know,” she said, “I’m not going to be one of those girls who plays hard to get, because first, I’m too old for it, and second, I am hard to get, if simply by virtue of my schedule.  I don’t have time for the peek-a-boo part of a relationship, and if you could see how empty my expectation bucket is at present you would be truly amazed.”

She is also the master of the real.  This paragraph is from her story, “The Best Girlfriend You Never Had,” one of The Best American Short Stories of the Century.

“Leo grew up like I did on the East Coast, eating Birds Eye frozen vegetables and Swanson’s deep-dish meat pies on TV trays next to our parents and their third martinis, watching What’s My Line and To Tell the Truth on television and talking about anything on earth except what was wrong.”

She is the also the master of the metaphor.  This paragraph, from the same story.

“There was a man there named Josh who didn’t want nearly enough from me, and a woman called Thea who wanted way too much, and I was sandwiched between them, one of those weaker rock layers like limestone that disappears under pressure or turns into something shapeles like oil.”

Running through these excerpts and all her writing is the truth.