Category Archives: writing

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.

Bref Double and a Break

Not that I want to but I need to float off for a bit from here. Please come back! I’ll likely continue to post on Instagram, but less often. It’s time to FOCUS.

I’ll leave you with two responses to a prompt from the retreat, both using a poetic structure listed below. I paid attention to the rhyme scheme, you’ll see, but not the line lengths.

Bref Double, One

The mist rolls, sheer scalloped grace.
Curls floating past trees
echoing the canopy’s curve,
hurrying somewhere I want to go.

The hills rise sturdy and silent.
Clouds come and go and leave no trace.
Mountains like a tolerant mother meeting
a toddler’s antics, squatting low

to grin and meet him, where he is, face
to face, nose to nose, abiding
in connection, eschewing haste.
Such moments seem more than we deserve.

Sturdy love. Isn’t it a disgrace
to reject what’s here, adopt strictures,
go quiet and lose our heart, our verve?

Bref Double, Two

Tardiva points, a flurry
of misdirection, while clouds
creep and float, aligned with
the mountains. Purpose.

Or is it conspiracy? Ridges hold blue,
their stillness a contrast to sliding
mist, while gauze clouds above
wander, roll, tell secrets unheard of

by us. Crickets act as jury
to the crime of vacancy
while low-lying lichen, furry
almost, in ruffled patterns, gifts

the eye. Yellowed leaves, the color of curry
hint at how soon the season’ll leave us bereft.

Western Mass is good for the soul. So is writing.

img_5811I expressed interest late and was told the workshop was full. Facilitator, Maureen Jones, would put me on a waiting list just in case. I discussed Dog care with husband and confirmed that he wouldn’t be in Russia or China that week. Then I forgot about it.

Imagine my happy surprise to learn that a space had opened up! My writing teacher and her sister were going. We would make the trip west on Route 2 together. There was an ease and a flow to it all.

(Except for Finn, maybe, who according to K spent an awful lot of time at the side door, waiting for me).

img_5849Every morning I wake with unnameable dread. “What’s so awful, again?” I wonder. It’s how I felt after each of my parent’s deaths. It was how I felt when my sister was hospitalized in 2009. It’s how I feel most mornings now.

‘Oh, yeah, Trump. The whole awful mess.’ Which is why is was so good to get away. Not that I didn’t look at news, I did, but with rolling ancient hills stretching out in the distance in unbelievable beauty and the quiet, it was hard not to feel restored. Also, having been born not far from there and lived in the Berkshires or the Connecticut River Valley for 15 years, this is the landscape that most feels like home to me.We stopped at a funky place near Charlemont for ice cream. I passed on the sugar — it being Day 8 of my new regime.

It was hot. Really hot. There was no AC and the fan/outlet/screen situation was far from ideal. It was a big presence, the heat. It made all of us go more slowly. Some of us took regular cold showers, including me. Not tepid or body temp showers, but bursting cold showers. There was an outdoor faucet equipped with what they called a “fog nozzle” (sounds like a sex act) which delivered a delicious mist of cool water. I stood naked under it, but some enjoyed its spray fully clothed. Just to cool off. One woman had to quit early. We all understood.


img_5817We were thirteen, counting facilitator — all women (remind you of anything? Just kidding). Half the group was trained as teachers themselves but came to write as participants. Maureen Jones, pictured in closest Adirondack chair below, was lovely. She knew how to open up to the imagination AND keep time. She was thoughtful in her responses to EVERYONE and shared her own work. She helped all of us cope with the oppressive air by here and there adapting the schedule. If she judged anyone, it didn’t show.


There she is again, on the right.

The couple who ran the place produced one delicious meal after another, often featuring produce from the garden. Because I was neither procuring nor preparing food and because I was vigilantly excluding sugar (and gluten) from my diet, I DID NOT THINK ABOUT FOOD EXCEPT WHEN I WAS EATING IT. I cannot tell you how unusual and liberating this was.

I woke up in time to see the sunrise one morning. One evening, a lightening bug flew into my room and made a flashing circle around me before exiting. One afternoon there was rain and a double rainbow. Nothing like my day to day, in other words.

Next post: something about the writing part of the getaway.