Category Archives: writing

Editing cloth and prose

The base. Pieced. Bottom left sea green patch bugs me and presents itself as a problem to be solved.

What if I go back to my hybrid method of quilting? I used to combine piecing and appliqué in a somewhat slapdash way that embarrasses me a little now. It sent me into a purist phase — everything must be pieced! What if I now consider some of those “nice” purely pieced quilts as unfinished — or at least, as potential canvases?

How much fun to defy the lines of the seams and extend patterning in a spirit of play?

And, as always, how about adding more houses? The pinned one on the left, believe it or not, is a “discovered” house, fussy cut from a rayon blouse. The green house to the right was made by simply topping a vertical rectangle with a roof.

There are so many more pictures of Italy to share but they already feel like old news. But I will be sharing more, if you don’t mind… along with a half dozen mini book reviews. They’re piling up! Turning into homework (ugh!)

One Assisi insight (not profound at all but hear me out): when you’re not walking the dog, cleaning the house, watching two MSNBC news programs a day, cooking dinner most nights, and tending a demanding mentally and physically ill sibling, a charge whose hours of attention are preceded by dread and followed by a period of demoralized recovery — there are a lot of hours in the day! In Italy, I had soooo much time! Time to wander the streets. Time to drink Caffè machiatto at the bar with the old men. Time to light candles for my sister all over the city. Time to read and write and quilt.

(My street — San Rufino Ave).

I am watching how I vacuum and scrub and now garden (yes!) to avoid the page.

It’s a process. And I miss my sister more here than I did there, particularly (and ironically because it was a place of ongoing tension), whenever the phone rings. It rings and I think: it will never again be her.

But you’ll be happy to know that of the 200+ chapters in my manuscript (Blood and Indigo), all but a handful have received a hard edit. One of the best things I did in Italy at the advice of fellow-writing-resident– the supremely lovely, warm, insightful and generous Argentinian writer, Elena Bossi — was to chop a lot of dull descriptions of interior crap and replace them with dialogue. What a good piece of advice that was!

Maybe that was one of the reasons I was so taken with the statute of David at the Cathedral of San Rufino — the dynamism of his raised arm, about to strike! I deleted two entire chapters while I was at it. Highlight, click! Highlight, click!

And what a pleasure to come home to a world exploding with the extravagance of spring.

Assisi sunny Wednesday

Town is mobbed. Roaming packs of teenagers, hooting and hollering at all hours. Middle-aged tourists. Nuns and brothers. The daily walks produce one spectacular view after another.

This little alley (above) leads to my door.

Much ruthless editing going on here. Chucking a lot of shit straight into the “extras folder” (that is, the dust bin).

It is a relief to be somewhat away from the news, although I check online a few times a day. Impeachment feels more and more urgent. What say you?

Rabbit holes and other distractions

Can dropping down a rabbit hole be a necessary pursuit? Or does it always imply time-wasting?

Whatever the case, two deep rabbit holes yawn constantly at the writer’s feet. They are: research and editing.

My story begins in 1738. I had no idea how little I knew until I stumbled along, inserting obvious anachronisms like electric ceiling fans and ice cubes. Yes! But even once you get a certain fluency for your period, quick dips into research are needed — often to remind me of things I learned and then forgot.

How many rebels died the morning after the Stono Rebellion? How many were executed the following week? And the number rumored to have evaded capture, again – remind me?

How is Beaufort rice bread prepared?

What were the prevailing views on homosexuality in the low country in the 18th century? Surely not the same as in the Puritan northeast?

Editing is also necessary and can go on and on and then on some more. Few and far between are those golden passages that come out intact. Most require a lot of work — in fact, an astonishing amount of work — things like making a flashback stand on its own in real time, fixing inconsistent tenses, eliminating peripheral characters, and always — paring away words that clutter the page.

There’s always the danger that editing will keep the writer from the business of original writing. They use such different parts of the brain and one is so much easier to access than the other!

Editing also poses the danger of wiping out distinctive cadences and phrasing. That’s part of why when I back up my manuscript, I don’t write over the previous version (not that I go back and read them, but — I could).

Useful distractions include working in other media (and reading. Always reading!) Most creatives will tell you that switching media feeds the work.

This morning, I played with magazine scraps brought from home. Whether it was a useful distraction or not, I’m not in a position to judge. Here are the results.

The first one speaks directly to a storm scene I’m editing in which the slaveholder loses both an entire crop of rice and a key slave in a boat accident. The scene exposes dissonant responses to the loss (white vs. black). The white response wonders which is the greater loss — the twenty barrels of rice or the valuable slave? — highlighting in a sharp way the slaves’ status as property.

(In the era my novel describes, the enslaved wore ragged tunics and head rags. The portrayal of the two African Americans above, therefore, is to my mind, romanticized).

Today is Good Friday. The Christ figure removed from his cross last night will be processed from the top of the hill down to the Basilica of St Francis. People mobbed the statue last evening once it was in repose in order to touch it.

This morning when I attended Mass at San Rufino at the crack of dawn, the 500 year old wooden body was adorned with flowers.

My digs are a little cold, so midmorning I found a patch of sun near St Clare’s Cathedral and stitched for a while.

The beauty of this place fills me up!

PS. That moon picture was taken out of my window between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m.

Sturdy bones and spring

Notes from a walk with the dog

Today my body claims her bones. I am tired and sturdy. Bones and I share purpose. The pavement doesn’t defy me. Nor the dog. High in the upper reaches of a willow, a dove coos a greeting, not to me but to spring so newly arrived. Do you see her there, next to the clouds?

Think of all the other kinds of tired! There’s fragile tired as after a haunted night without sleep and wired tired, often associated with a deadline too long deferred.

There’s marathon tired, the through and through physical exhaustion that feels laudatory and comes with a permission slip reading: REST.

There’s dutiful tired, arising when the body ought to be firing on all cylinders but isn’t because drudgery and resentment make their nasty claims.

Mourning is its own kind of tired, one that comes in waves with rhythms all its own.

There’s 4:00 tired, requiring no cause whatsoever and almost always attended by an overwhelming need to nap.

There’s the hand-wringing tired of anxious grievance. Formerly rare, now nearly constant, this kind of tired jangles with us through our days as we watch the news, listen to the unhinged tirades, or merely read about them because we can’t abide the sound of his voice. As we scroll through twitter and go to our trusted online news sources, this tired has us reading current indictments in full and praying for more.

There’s the tired of despair. This type of weariness is dangerous, bearing as it sometimes does an irresistible and irrevocable mandate. Nobody who wants to live should heed that mandate.

There’s the tired of age that comes when you bend to wipe the floor as you’ve done with ease forever and upon rising, your hand grips the counter. Maybe there’s a tiny groan.

Sturdy tired is nearly indistinguishable from sturdy energy. It offers a determined walk, a pain-free pivot, a place on a warm bench where you just know hope visits.

Hope visits. Spring bears glad tidings in its bird song, bulb blades, warmed pavement, wispy clouds — and it does so every god-damned year. How is such constancy possible in a world full of damning variables?

Without thinking too hard about variables shaping clouds and rain, I’ll take this magenta scarf, formerly my sister’s, and walk back out into a morning brushed with promise.

 

Super Bowl Poetry


Here’s the second and last football poem of the season. The rules are simple: phrases are jotted down when they grab the ear, no words can be dropped or added in each phrase, and they must appear in the order they are uttered. I don’t require that I use every phrase, but in this case, I did. I have no idea what a lot of these words mean in the context of the game.

Dynasty

How are they gonna double-team him over and over?
There was pressure coming up the middle.
If you get vertical, you can hit them on the way by.
From the 80’s, the way they line up.
Knocked down after a couple —
there was nothing there.
Safeties
A little guy in Hogan
Holds him to two.
Don’t let him bootleg!
Right now he can’t tell the difference between man and zone.
He’s twisted out.
It’s almost laughable —
inside, outside, incomplete.

It gets tougher and tougher —
who’s on who?
They made it look different with motion.
A perfect window,
The brigade.
That grizzled veteran right there
rode ’em quickly.
I’m a little hesitant
other than those sacks
somehow comes downhill.
They made you look this way,
then brought it right back at you, toe to toe.
Look at them both create holes.
They stood up over and over.

Blank stare
declined
whispered explanation
put it down
good snap
not in our lifetime.
After the pick, it’s hard to imagine,
nobody can morph,
doubt hovering.
You give him one.
I would take the Hail Mary early,
maybe if you’re fortunate,
at one second.
There it is!
The dynasty.

Football Poetry – Patriots vs. Chargers

I was ironing. The game was on. Every now and then, I grabbed a piece of commentary.

Football Poem #1

The soft spot in the pocket
It just takes a while
All these streaks you talk about
They’re changing it up
A double team, it’s really hard
By flowers
A lot of zone right here
We’re not going sideways
From the get-go
A hand on it
Just blown up at the end of it
There he is
I did it! Oh

Tuesday in 2019

A blissfully quiet day. The predicted storm turned out to be a dusting and no more. Finn is out with Handsome Dog Walker. Coffee is in the larder after an early morning grocery run. My sister will see a new PT today. Mike.

K is thankfully not scheduled to fly anywhere anytime soon. “WTF?” is all I’ll say to the shutdown and to the networks who seem to have unanimously decided to air the gasbag’s gaslighting this evening.

I am making revisions to the text, rereading journal entries from when C was a baby, and writing new scenes for the novel.

A pile of ironing awaits. Couldn’t stay awake for Maddow last night, so I’ll watch her as I press.

Chicken stock cooling on the stove. The whole downstairs smells of its savory goodness.