Tag Archives: writing

Avoidance in disguise

I could spend the rest of my life, even a long life, organizing my studio and finishing incomplete work.

Started sorting this morning and made give away piles, maybe-sell piles, village-quilt-teeny-geometric piles, and found many, many quilts half done. Also a few all the way done.

(I was in the basement because of tree work over at the school. The noise level is fairly tolerable now but just wait until they start grinding branches).

The problem with a space that affords potentially endless and productive activity is that it can serve as a sneaky tool of avoidance. You’d think my laptop was covered in cactus spines or snot the way I’m avoiding it.

So, in the school of Find the Thing You Can Say Yes To (Even If it’s Ridiculously Small) I found something I can say yes to: go through and make sure chapter headings match my table of contents. Bye!

Avoidance and chores

Have other bloggers noticed that if you let a few too many days go by, it can be hard to step back in? Right now, I’m procrastinating.

I should be putting my recently printed manuscript into a binder for ease of editing. Instead, I vacuumed. To finish properly, I had to pull a big jam out of the tubing using forceps. Found a bic pen lodged in there (– perhaps a symbol about getting down to business today?) Then I knocked over a Christmas cactus and had to clean that up.

I rearranged papers under the desk to make room for my soothing noise maker, because leaf blowing season is upon us again. “I must be ready!” she said.

Then there was a little candle lighting (my brother hasn’t been feeling well; D lives in Boulder — AND IS OKAY — but shops at that grocery store).

Then, because it’s lovely today, I opened a bunch of windows and got a couple of fans going and in the process kept losing the cup of coffee which any writer can tell you is an essential element of GETTING ONE’s ASS BACK IN THE CHAIR. One screen got stuck. Par for the course.

It occurs to me that if one had a practice of praying for all the victims of gunfire in this country, and their families, there’d be little time for anything else.

It also occurs to me that keeping a catalogue of the sickening and vast difference in how Black and white bodies are treated by cops could be a full time job.

On that note, I’ll leave you with yesterday’s historical tidbit (think: a trump-corrupted CDC playing down the Covid numbers).

And now, off to work!

Off the page

First my page, then Helen Macdonald’s.

This paragraph came at the end of a much longer piece about illness and caregiving:

The copper beech branches outside claw at the sky, barren but for a few tattered leaves. But even a tattered leaf speaks to season — one jiggling a little message in the bitter breeze this morning. All I have to do to find redemption — serious, nervous-system, Holy Spirit kind of redemption — is lift my head and look out the window. Blue jays my best teachers. Squirrels and puddles and scarlet holly berries, too.

* Bird sculpture by Maggie Rose.

White noise for Writing

People ask, how long do you write? With what implement? How organize files? Research? When really the most important thing is one’s intention.

Nevertheless, let me share some new essential tools. I may have developed misophonia in the last few years or maybe it’s just the same old irritated me, but managing my sound environment has become critical to my well being.

Today? An abutting neighbor’s tree work. A nearby development project blasting at ledge stone. Not that unusual.

Monday? Five yard crews, all but one employing the gas-powered leaf blowers that are banned for the summer. There was no reprieve this year. (I attribute the widespread violations to the prevalence of shameful Karen videos. I certainly stopped approaching crews and telling them they couldn’t/shouldn’t).

And, did I tell you about the roofers who decided to saw up a twenty foot aluminum ladder over the course of two days? Such that the normally fairly benign rat-a-tat-tat of a pneumatic hammer was overlaid with an unbearable metallic percussive roar?

So

#1 — silicone swimmers’ ear plugs (thanks to Deb for this recommendation).

#2 — big box fan, running ten feet from where I sit.

#3– white noise maker. I mostly listen to rain. I probably could’ve used an app instead of buying a little device. Oh well.

Together, these three tools work amazingly well to shelter me from the absolutely endless noise of my neighborhood.

For the record, I write with medium Bic blue pen in college-ruled spiral bound notebooks or on legal pads. Then I type into a dedicated laptop, as is. Save original then edit a copy. I have saved versions of entire manuscript often. At some point, likely to be deleted.

Every now and then, it’s necessary to print out pages for a round of edits. Editing is just different on paper than on the screen.

Before I send “Edit Two” back to my hired publisher, I plan to print out at least the last 75 – 125 pages where I have made major changes. Just biting the bullet on (outrageous) cost of toner because I still don’t want to go into a retail establishment if I don’t have to.

Oh, and here’s a brag. One of my digital collages was featured on @thedianasblog on Instagram. It’s not the first time. It’s always a teeny thrill.

Maroons or the untamed

I “attended” a three hour seminar with Anne Lamott this weekend. I’ll probably be talking about it for a while. She went over many of the tools explicated in her famous book on writing, Bird by Bird, but first let me say how happy I was to hear that she includes research in writing time!

Here’s a little taste of the rabbit hole I went down this week for my novel.

“Wherever Africans were enslaved in the world, there were runaways who escaped permanently and lived in free independent settlements. These people and their descendants are known as “maroons.” The term probably comes from the Spanish cimarrón, meaning feral livestock, fugitive slave or something wild and defiant.”

Smithsonian article about The Great Dismal Swamp and its long history of maroon communities. Written September 2016 by Richard Grant featuring the archeology of the intrepid Dan Sayers.

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“By downplaying American marronage, and valorizing white involvement in the Underground Railroad, historians have shown a racial bias, in Sayers’ opinion, a reluctance to acknowledge the strength of black resistance and initiative.”

It is well known that researching the history of enslaved people is difficult. For one thing, primary sources are few and far between. Then there’s white ignorance and racial animus in creating secondary sources.

Even in the instance of the Federal Writers’ Project, which collected first person accounts from Blacks who had lived under slavery, the narratives are inherently unreliable because they were recorded by white people.

Think: white person with a clipboard.

Think: Black person talking to a white person with a clipboard.

Even with the best of intentions, we can assume that white minds listening to Black thoughts and speech applied some kind of filter. And we can also assume that Black speakers shaped what they said in some way because of their white audience.

Enslaved people had little by way of possessions. A community in a remote swamp likely owned or collected even less than those dwelling “on the street” (a common naming for a collection of slave quarters).

Slave communities are nevertheless of great interest to archeologists, as evidenced by Dan Sayers in this article and by recent excavations at Monticello and Mount Vernon.

My research has also turned up references to maroon communities in the swamps north and west of Charles Town. It seems that these groups may have initially been comprised of Natives, who then welcomed fugitive slaves. The Smithsonian article posits the idea that whites fleeing indentured servitude also found their way to some of these remote areas.

Update on Second Edit of my novel: the sagging middle is getting slashed (good example of another thing Lamott talked about, the famous advice to “kill your darlings”) and the ending is being expanded.

I’m back to the pin board for the final year of chronology. (Lamott also uses this visual trick, by the way, though she described taping pieces of paper around her entire living room).

It’s important to have a map of your story SOMEWHERE. I’m not adept enough to keep it all in my head. For some stretches, this pin board had every chapter pinned to it, color-coded by POV. After a while the directory in Word on my laptop served as an outline, because I put each chapter in a separate word doc and used a consistent naming protocol that arranged them chronologically.

Right now I’m working on two large documents so until I resurrected the pin board it was a little like flying blind.

A second edit is so, so important, Lamott said, so much so that she won’t show her work to anyone until she’s done one. (oops!)

Before the second edit comes what she calls “the shitty first draft.” That’s a liberating shorthand for all kinds of things, but perhaps mostly as encouragement to forgo perfectionism or debilitating ideas about inspiration.

Another way to say it, she shared, is from Nike: Just Do It.

The heat has been brutal. Today a little less so. Do you know what it’s like walking a dog on paved sidewalks in 97 degree heat?

And lastly, I call yesterday a good day. How unfamiliar the sensation of relief twinned with hope! Biden and Harris both gave great speeches. You can view on YouTube (August 12).

PS WordPress screwed with typefont again. Ugh.