Monday, November 30, 2009

Cat Callings

We have in our household a horrid little beauty of a cat.  Scratchy, impatient, bad-tempered -  unless YoungSon has her.  He rescued her last autumn, a year ago, from the barn, and has persevered gently when the rest of us gave up on her spiky person- . . . er, cat-ality.  Now she ignores the rest of us, but comes when he calls her and lets him ~ only him ~ scoop her up in a ball in his arms.  She gazes around out of his cradling arms like a baby ~ though one particularly nervy and hirsute.

Since the rescue of That Cat, aka Daisy, aka (of all things?) Mousy - and in addition to our patient and sweet old Cat of all Cats (whom I do love, though with a distant, dignified fondness) - YoungSon has also insinuated into our midst a one-eyed bruiser who struts around under the hopeful name of Phoenix.

Moreover, through this past summer and fall, YoungSon has been coaxingly negotiating an adoption with a handsome wandering gentleman who has seemed more than happy to scarf up the kibbles, but not interested in making friends.  YoungSon has been sure that this fourth cat is the long-lost and stubbornly feral Tansy (see link, if you must know more). 

This is all to say that cats are, to YoungSon, serious business.  That he adores them with all his little boy heart.  To him falls the daily chore of water and food, which he fulfills at least half the time without being reminded.  He tells us he does all the work.

On his bedroom door, amidst other important public notices, YoungSon has set out the Universe of Cat-toward approaches as they exhibit themselves in our family.  This document is entitled "Cat Callings."  Any guesses which is who?

  1. Annoyer
  2. The one who stops people from being mean to cats
  3. Watcher
  4. Spoiler (making them rotten) - though this was at first something more like "avoider" - YoungSon says he changed it because maybe this person just needed a better idea
  5. Main worker

And YoungSon wants nothing more than to expand his cat-caring labors.  Every free kitten needing a home, every untagged cat who wanders within range excites his collecting instincts. 

It is enough to reduce him to an expostulary splutter that She Who Stops People from Being Mean to Cats also stops them from adopting any more cats.

I am writing this facetiously, which is an inappropriate tone.  Forgive me.  It is the tone with which I always approach the essential things.  Last month I was working at my desk and YoungSon came running up to the sliding glass door, slap-tapping it to get my attention.

"Let me in! Let me in!"

When I opened the door, his eyes were wide and frantic.  I wondered what had been chasing him. 

"The cat!  the cat!  Tansy!"

Who it turns out has just been hit by a neighbor's minivan.  Now the story turns ugly - please stop reading and come back later if this will ruin your day -

YoungSon is jumping up and down, his voice distressed, "His eye I think it popped out  And I don't think it's dead yet but it is hurting too much - too much! and there is all this blood And it was just going like . . . " my son's body writhes and shudders showing the agony of what was, I have to admit, a beautiful white-breasted cat.

I hold his shaking body to me.  I sigh, "Let's get a shovel.  If it's savable, we'll take it to the vet.  If it's not - " this is the part no one warned me about when I turned into She Who Stops "- then we'll put it out of its misery."

And I just hope the force of my shovel-blow is enough the first time.

YoungSon is beginning to calm down, though still chattering, "I won't look at it.  I don't want to look at it."  It is not just the shock of seeing the impact.  It is also a sense of complicity.  He had been sneaking toward the cat with fishy treats in his hand, trying to lure Monsieur into a cozier connection.  The cat spooked.  Ran off down the hill.  Out into the road.  Right in the path of the neighbors' car.

Who have returned and are now stopped again in the street with their minivan, as we approach downhill through the tall grass, shovel in hand.  They are lifting the cat's limp body into a plastic tub.  "Is it your cat?"  They are so sorry.

We dig.  YoungSon won't look at the cat in the tub who is beautiful still.  But only from the ears back.  The sludgy stench of flesh is beginning to rise from the tub.

When the hole is dug - deep enough that the body won't be dug up by the coyotes whose nightly ruckus down in the ravine I mistook at first for the hoots and catcalls of kids drinking down by the creek - I send YoungSon up to the house to make a grave marker.  And by myself dump the poor body into the clean cool earth.  I avert my eyes.  A thin puddle of dark blood is left in the bottom of the green tub and the smell of death.

YoungSon is heading down the hill as I shovel in a layer of the sweet, clean dirt. By the time YoungSon gets back with the grave marker - two popsicle sticks crossed with Tansy's name carved with a pocket knife - YoungSon is in pretty good spirits. 

By this time he's planning out where all the other cats will be buried when their time comes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

49,842 - the battery charger failed me during the long drive home last night so after 3 hours writing and building up steam I had to close up shop.  I spent long dark hours watching shadowy hills pass by and feeling the story seep out of me. 

Instead we played a game:  

"Okay, I've got my animal.  Guess, yes or no?"

"Mammal?  Bird?  Fish?  Insect?  Parasite? Mollusc?  Freshwater?"

"Does it have six legs?  Antennae?  Is it red?  brown?  green?"

"Is it native to Oregon?  Have you ever seen one?"

"Is it poisonous?"

"Does it have three syllables in its name?  Does the first syllable begin with a? b? c? d?"

158 more words is no problem. 

It's just how to get to the ending and what that ending is - (mammal?  fish?  parasite?  Does the second syllable begin with a p?q?r?) 

Fritz says to celebrate just for the 50,000.  But I wanted a story, not just a lot of words. 

O please, dear Muse, send me a story ending that sizzles.  Just one more day.  Please.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

coming to an end

I have some new stories to tell - though maybe not in their unretouched and recognizable forms, perhaps not here in this venue - but information, scraps of conversation, personal details - to be tossed into some later fictional stew - which is for me one of the best parts about visiting family at the holidays.  Years past it used to make me feel like some kind of monster, this doubleness - that even while I'm experiencing something a part of me is thinking, So how would you write this on paper? Now I just go with it.

As of Wednesday night - 44,489.
As of Friday night - 46,010

I've got 4,000 words left to go.  Wednesday was a 10 hour ride beneath a laptop from which I had no way to run and no Internet access.  I've got the same weather conditions facing me today.  Something wonderful happens - or happened - at about 2000 words  - the story starting to gel and flow at the same time.  I hope it happens again today.

Next time you see me, I should be done.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Bless the Daily Labor

 by Marina Tsvetaeva (translated by David McDuff)

"Evening Meal," by Carl Larsson

I have loved this poem for years now - even before I knew anything about the life of its author.  And even though I'm still not quite sure what she means by "dusty purple" (her art? her passion? her memories? the majesty of her inner fire?), nor what her dusty staff is "when all light's rays are shed" (her enduring stubbornness?  her hope beyond hope?),  nor what is the "law of blessings and law of stone" (the gospel of Jesus and the Ten Commandments? grace and justice?  the sudden miraculous serendipity that walks hand in hand with relentless reason and unforgiving consequence?)

But I love this poem because, even without knowing exactly what she means - I know what she means. 

After WWII, Marina Tsvetaeva faced starvation in Moscow - even mistakenly (and tragically) placing a daughter in a state orphanage where she thought the girl would be better fed.  She and her surviving daughter fled to Berlin, where she was reunited with her husband.  They moved to Prague, where their son was born, then settled in Paris where she contracted tuberculosis.  Then faced ostracism when her husband was revealed as a spy for the Soviet secret police. 

Without other options, Tsvetaeva followed her husband to Moscow, but in Stalin's USSR found all doors closed to her.  Her sister had already been imprisoned and the two sisters never saw each other again.  Friends, afraid for their own lives and reputations, refused to help.  Within a few years her daughter (who had increasingly turned against Tsvetaeva) was also imprisoned and Tsvetaeva's husband was shot for espionage.  Tsvetaeva and her son were evacuated to an area where she could not find work to support them.  She spent the last months of her life desperately looking for any kind of job.  Some believe she was at last forced by a squad of secret police to hang herself.  She lies in an unmarked grave.

Not so encouraging reading for our Thanksgiving Feast? 

But this story traces the shapes of all the things I fear most - the monsters of my nightmares - torn by war, not being able to feed my children, losing the people I love, estrangement, doors closed against me, betrayal, despair - and still, in the face of all these nightmares, Marina Tsvetaeva wrote this poem. 

I bless the daily labor of my hands,
I bless the sleep that nightly is my own.
The mercy of the Lord, the Lord’s commands,
The law of blessings and law of stone.

My dusty purple, with its ragged seams—
My dusty staff, when all light’s rays are shed.
And also, Lord, I bless the peace
In others’ houses—others’ ovens’ bread.

A poem which still lives. 

Which still carries on, whispering her words into my ears and now yours, lighting a small and comforting fire on other hearths many years and many miles from her own.

Blessings on all of you,
wherever you are, whoever you are. 
Peace to your houses.
May you have peace as your daily bread.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

details details details

I've been keeping a grateful tally this past month:
  1. a computer that works.
  2. mental engagement - this incredible excitement to get up in the morning!
  3. how snugly ordered it feels to alphabetize papers and file them away.
  4. the textured histories of people's names - some of what their namers hoped for the babies each of these people once were, where they've come from, familiar family groups, nationalities - and the open pleasure when you guess right: "Portugese?"  "Why yes!" and the stories of immigration and opportunity that follow.
  5. sharing cooking tips for kale or squash over a box of donated produce, trading favorite recipes - dried cherries in cinnamon rolls? this I am going to have to try!
  6. singing "We Gather Together" or "For the Beauty of the Earth" in the morning, before we all gallop off in various directions.
  7. the surprise of a cup of hot licorice tea carried down to me on a saucer.
  8. a long back rub while I'm hammering away at the keyboard.
  9. walking in the dark, early in the morning, when no one is out but me and my friend.
  10. THEN! walking by daylight on Saturday and seeing color everywhere!
  11. the smell of the poplars as their leaves die.
  12. Sunday afternoons (after a week of writing I bask in the peace of a day that I don't write - a day of rest indeed - Whoever thought up this idea must be Genius!)
  13. the (resultant?) energy and eagerness of Monday mornings.
  14. finding a good clean rental (triplex) for my in-laws so quickly and easily in a near neighborhood, for a reasonable price.
  15. the fun of planning the daffodil bulbs to cheer my mother-in-law this coming spring - oh, and also tulips!! because their place is down out of deer range (okay, also to cheer me!)
  16. re-connecting with a favorite neighbor who had moved (and who I'll see now regularly when I stop at my in-laws').
  17. just in general, though also in delightful particular, friends who stay friendly despite vicissitudes.
  18. a bad day writing that doesn't mean I stop writing.
  19. a good day writing that follows after!
  20. my feisty 90 year-old neighbor down at the end of the road who says things like: "Anyways, that doctor still kept asking me if I was sure I had  eye surgery.  Like I told him, it's not my brain I'm having trouble with - it's my patience!"  (and the crinkly chuckle she gives, quirking her eyebrows when I burst out laughing).   "Like I say, last time I was at the doctor's office he had retired.  Apparently he made his wad.  Like I say he was young yet.  Not like these politicians who don't know when they're through and have to die in their offices and be dragged out feet first."  I simply love her.
  21. kisses goodbye from my 9yo son.
  22. daughters who make meals occasionally.
  23. daughters who are clever and "brave" - and also actually brave.
  24. good news! (and one step closer to a tuition scholarship - fingers and toes all duly crossed!!)
  25. sunshine suddenly very brilliant.
  26. also rain - the sound of it on the roof and now all the saturated greenness and luscious plummy greys.
  27. prayer, the openness that comes after.
  28. watching YoungSon play basketball with such vehement pleasure.
  29. (and my dear Fritz who is such a great coach with those 4th graders - our daughters and I, watching him at the games, agree he has in part missed his calling, working away every day in his lab - he would have been a great teacher - patient, clear, engaged).
  30. though I am grateful too for the working away in the lab - that he has it to do, that he does it, that he enjoys it as much as he does - all of which allows me to take this year to make one of my dreams reality.
  31. going into the city all together as a family - for once!
  32. listening to the radio together (even if it is Owl City over and over and over).
  33. trying out mattresses (ah!) (though it made it harder than ever to go back to our lumpy old pallet - oops! I mean - of course that I'm grateful I even have a mattress and the thought that someday I'll have a better one is just added cush).
  34. the talk-therapy at the morning pool.
  35. pomegranates.
  36. individual seeds of pomegranate like jewels sprinkled over a bowl of vanilla yogurt.
  37. the kitchen entirely cleaned by other hands than mine.
  38. all the laundry folded ditto.  (Is this a once in a lifetime experience?)
  39. my daughters' blatant enjoyment at the strengthening of their bodies, showing off new muscles since joining swim team.
  40. YoungSon's explosion of bakeryism: shortbread, cranberry shortbread, pumpkin cookies with brown butter icing, cocoa crackles, pumpkin pie bars - though his setting these confections day after day on a plate at my elbow while I sat at my desk has rendered a favorite pair of jeans - well, let's admit it - unwearable.
  41. walking in the rain.
  42. a husband who can and will maintain tidiness and order in the house.
  43. encouragement in all its forms.
  44. the webby world where words matter.
  45. Emma Thompson in Wit - Take that MORTALITY!
  46. watching Ushpizin as a family - a funny-sad Israeli comedy - the title means "guests" and centers on the week-long Succoth holiday tradition of welcoming all comers - no matter who, nor how difficult.
  47. the internet going down (? - yes, because I got so much more writing done that week).
  48. also the friend who let me check in on the webby world from her house when I couldn't stand the electronic isolation any longer.
  49. woolen hooded cape that keeps me warm on morning walks even in pouring rain without steaming me in my own juices.
  50. my Mom writing out her memories of kayaking among the wild geese, a drake with a curly feather on his back, a heron taking flight.
  51. talking to my sisters, to my mother, to my daughters.
  52. a training meeting for youth leaders that for once does not waste my time but fills me and feeds me with ideas and enthusiasm, makes me feel part of something bigger and better - rather than making me more weary and weighed down (as may sometimes, sadly, and too frequently, occur).
  53. a son who greets me with, "Mommee!" and when he leaves, "Good luck today!  Write lots of words!"
  54. people who are able to appreciate my children.
  55. my friend who comes to YoungSon's ball game even in the midst of her own crazy-happening life.
  56. fluffy soft woolen gloves - and mending them so they are wearable again - nothing keeps my hands so warm as this long-(and well-)loved pair.
  57. black tights.
  58. also black boots.
  59. daughter who brings down a big pitcher of water and a white china cup when I ask, does she knows where my water bottle is?
  60. the goodness of water.
  61. hazlenut and shrimp cream sauce over penne.
  62. Barbara Pym and all her works, but especially this month, Civil to Strangers ( . . . and how great would it be to be managed and pampered like the famous male author of that book? . . . this must have been an exercise in total wish fulfillment for darling Barbara, the "most underrated writer of the century").
  63. a loaf of fresh bread from a friend.
  64. the sweetness of sleep.
  65. seeing a falling star one morning while walking alone.
  66. bitter greens with sweet D'Anjou pears and blue cheese.
  67. a husband who lets me put my cold feet on him.
  68. {anything else I've left unmentioned}
  69. geese flying over and their calls.
  70. dry socks.
  71. a furnace that works.
  72. the rock ballads of the 80's - and the way the music of one's younger years - even stuff you never really cared for at the time - sweeps you back to a not-after-all-so-unpleasant a past - though it was one which you could not wait to grow out of and away from .
  73. lunch with friends - chopsticks, tempura and miso soup - and talk and talk and talk . . .
  74. lunch with my daughters - good bread! hot mint tea!  lemon curd cake!!
  75. (obviously, I am also grateful for exclamation points!!)
  76. hearing out of the blue from a young woman I worked with in the church youth program to get her enrolled at the community college - "Hey, I haven't talked to you in a long time.  I miss you." - in college now (thinking criminal law) and doing well.
  77. how clean a rag and a bucket of warm water-and-ammonia, finished up with a squeegee, can get a window - i.e. how much more light the window now lets in  - which begins to be important in this corner of the world this time of the year.
  78. that I could pay my son to do it (#77)
  79. the always reliable quick meal fall-back - deeply nutritious and greeted with cries of "Oh, yum!"  - we miscall it "Orechetti" (rhyming inaccurately with "spaghetti")
  80. the indescribable goodness of baked pears.
  81. seeing other people's gratitude lists - the small delights especially.
  82. watching Middlest and Eldest plot out the Cooking of the Feast - the menu, the recipes, the order of the attack.
  83. watching them make rolls - and their prospective grief at all these cute little crescents being gobbled by the heedless hordes.
  84. Fritz who takes Middlest shopping for supplies and only sighs a little bit to find me sitting at the computer  - writing here - and not adding to my wordcount.

  85. walking in and getting my hair cut without having to wait.
  86. Even an encounter with someone who thinks this novel-writing is rather silly and is a little put out when I say, "No, sorry.  I told you before, not until after Thanksgiving," even that makes me grateful - that all month long I've been surrounded by people (like you) who  either understand why this crazy endeavor is so important or love me enough that even if you don't understand you know that it does matter immensely to me -  thank you

. . . and about that wordcount?  40,285. Not bad.

But I'd like to see something much more fantastic tomorrow.

Yes? Can we schedule that in?)

9715 words left to go.

(And an ending of some kind would be nice . . . )

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

and then we're home

 . . . or not

38,470   - not so near home as I had thought I would be when setting up these pictures/titles a month ago.

11,530 words still to go. 

And only 5 even remotely possible days to write - but I could finish in 5 days  doing the 2500 words/ day. 

Only 4 days realistically.  Which will mean trying to average nearly 3000 words a day.

What a boring post for you to read. 

Would it interest you to know that I have been sitting here at my desk all night?  Breaking only to take my 5:30 walk.  And now back again.  What! writing all this time? feverishly trying to finish up?

No.  Downloading pictures from my camera - because I haven't done that all month and suddenly was seized with an irresistible desire to do so.  Posting last night's dinner recipe on the whole/fresh food blog that I have ignored for as many months as it would take to bring a child from conception to blinking in the daylight.  Fiddling with the banner above which suddenly (in the face of my worry that I won't have time to finish because of the Thanksgiving visiting) seemed of the deepest essentiality.

Am I afraid that I won't finish before November 30th?  Or afraid that I will?

Word of the Day - "martinet" 

1. A strict disciplinarian.
2. One who lays stress on a rigid adherence to the details of forms and methods.
which is what I need today . . . Aw right, Emma J! snap to!

Monday, November 23, 2009

the incredible b/rightness of words


  1. On cell phone, texting in T9 the word home: the first two characters get you to in (for IN = the essence of HOME) though you are also offered the option of go (because either we are away and want to go home or we are home and just want to go).  At three characters you arrive at inn (almost home, not quite).  Add the final and fourth character and you have come to good, or as it were, home, at last.  e-philosophy in very fact. **

  2. The Chinese ideogram for good (hao) 好 is a woman with a child;  but the ideogram for home (jia) 家 is a pig under a roof - {This is not so funny as we modern sub/urbanites may think:  pig = wealth, i.e. a guarantee of many meals - freshly on the hoof and safely corralled.}

  3. When over-excitement of the scrivening gland  led me last week to invent an awkward form of the word conundrum, a subsequent sobering led me to the dictionary where I discovered that –

    co⋅nun⋅drum  (a riddle, anything that puzzles)  
    is [origin unknown],  a pseudo-L word of obscure orig.
    as it ought to be.

  4. In order to prove that sign language was actually language and not simply pantomime, linguists have had to prove that the handsigns were arbitrary - snatched from thin air and not merely mirroring the world around them.  Arbitrary being  the essential (?) qualifier of true language.  And yet our vocal words are incredibly mimetic: Not just snatched and thin, but also: waves of wet water, moist mud glistening.  Hard is hard and soft - isn't it softAnd linguist and language come from the old word for tongue  - which you already know in your body, don't you?  As you say language, don't you feel the whole length of that speaking tongue? 

Just like vocal and voice and invoke and revoke
and invocation are of the throat -

(** or mere obfuscation ** see comments below for elucidation ** )

sorry - I can't help it this week - I've got  12,000 more words to write by the end of the month and the Thesaurus of the Mind is flooding the verbal centers.  If understanding this fluff of a thought matters to you, there is a slightly more simple explanation in the comments below.) 

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Things I like about this NaNoWriMo thing:

  1. Getting regular pep-talks from writers I read, full of chummy advice.  Eldest and Middlest were very impressed when Gail Carson Levine (Ella Enchanted) sent an email to me (and over 200,000 other scribblers).  And I have to admit it was rather a thrill to get a "you can do it" note from Jasper Fforde (The Eyre Affair) and to know that Tamora Pierce (Song of the Lioness) is NaNoing along with everyone else.  Not to mention messages coming from two writers I deeply admire: Peter Carey (Oscar & Lucinda) and Robin McKinley (Beauty, The Blue Sword).
  2. Getting a system alert that says: "Microsoft Word has detected too many spelling and/or grammer errors to continue displaying them."  I take it my computer doesn't think "summoners" or "bargee" or "nanties" count as real words.  Sheesh - everyone's a critic!
  3. Writing day after day and not just at irregularly spaced intervals.
  4. Setting aside time to write in such a public, out-in-the-open way. 
  5. Saying, "Those are my hours for writing," like that's a legitimate use of the day, instead of trying to sneak scribbling in between the cracks of other duties.
  6. Writing with the long-distance companionship of my two sisters, knowing they're sitting down, pounding out daily word counts along with me - and that they will say, when I call too early in the day, "Evil temptress, what do you mean by calling me during writing hours?" 
  7. It's also something to look forward to months to come when my sisters and I will read each other's writing - even if we can never let anyone else lay eyes on our mss. - at least we three are safe readers for each other.  
  8. Finishing something every day - a set number of words that gets me closer and closer to actually finishing a novel despite the usual sick rising flood of anxieties that always open up when I get past a certain point in the writing and at which I usually.  Stop.  Writing.
  9. (Realizing this is maybe why for many years I wrote poems - and maybe what was wrong with them - that I kept them short enough, shallow enough, that I could tie them up neatly and have done before having to dredge out the marshlands and face the swamp monsters.)
  10. Seeing something emerging  out of the swamp.
  11. Getting excited at my own story. Even though that means it will all sicken me the next day. Because loving it, hating it, I'll still be sitting down the next day to the next page of my story.
  12. Putting into play fascinating oddments from years of complusive reading in archaeology, agronomy, linguistics, natural science, anthropology, history . . .
  13. Seeing story arcs explode and bounce away into what I thought was empty space but which is, I find, already populated and waiting to be travelled.
  14. The freedom to write stupid sentences without going back and polishing.
  15. Freedom to play and get messy.
  16. Freedom to be completely innacurate and giddily unaware of any fact or opinion (political, doctrinal, historical, scientific) beyond unfolding the story to myself.
  17. The whole uncritical Hey, just go for it! Try anything! love-and-kisses ethos which has never been part of my writing endeavors before. For example, this was the message from NaNoWriMo's mastermind for this weekend:
    This Sunday is also the Night of Writing Dangerously in San Francisco! The OLL office currently looks like a candy bomb went off, as Julia, Elaine, and Carolyn load up goodie bags with books and gadgets, carefully pack raffle prizes in baskets, and test the pyrotechnic display we'll be setting off every time someone crosses over 50K at the event.

    If you're going to be there, we can't wait to hug you. If you're not, we'll miss you, and we'll post photos of the event on the site on Monday.

    Have a great, productive weekend, everyone!

    Something about this whole rah-rah atmosphere makes me start to feel like I'm Caedmon - that Old English shepherd who, when passed the harp one night around the fire and expected to take his turn at the singing, simply opened his mouth and invented English poetry.
  18. Feeling like it's merely human to make stories that might matter to other people.
  19. That it's not a high-anxiety points-will-be-deducted performance for which one must be officially licensed and matriculated under the auspices of Them That Know Best.
  20. Being able to end sentences with a preposition - even when there's no inescapable necessity to.
  21. And being able to start sentences (lots of sentences) with "And . . ." and also "So . . . "
  22. Fragments, also.
And wordcount?

As of Friday night: 37,366 - a paltry 134 words away from being back on target.
As of Saturday: 37,564

Saturday, November 21, 2009

WHY report

I'm passing this article along from the WHY Reporter:

And in case you want to do something about it:

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 20, 2009


I was reminded today of one of my best of all best movies (Der Himmel Uber Berlin, a.k.a. Wings of Desire) AND provided with the link* to a favorite scene (only the subway scene and the sudden full-color coffee-drinking scene at the Berlin wall offer competition). In case this film is new to you (or like me you are lost without subtitles): the overcoats and pulled-back hair are angels who  hear our every thought and the old man climbing the stairs at the end is a poet, composing his lyric masterwork. The juxtaposition of his inner poetry with the feebleness of his old man's body simply delights me:

*culled from a post on fatherhood and philosophy on Samizdat.

Of course, you probably also ought to be warned that it was this movie alone that finally decided my brother-in-law to NEVER take movie suggestions from me again.  Several minutes of the main love interest reciting poetry to her man at their first meeting was more than he thought he could ever bear to witness again.

For me though, this movie, besides being quirky and beautiful which is what true delight requires, also makes manifest a reality more real than a work of more obvious realism. 

(How's that for conundrum?)

But like Merwin's "Berryman":

he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally
And I do.  And today's writing was such manic, mantic fun - I am nothing but glad I threw a wrench in the works a few days ago - the river pirates (from a time long long away in the future) may steal stubborn and misbehaving characters but they do have a refreshing irreverence that hides a surprisingly philosophical side (which they have revealed to their current anthropologizer through some of their ancient psalms and troubadour songs).  It may surprise you to discover that you recognize some of their foundational texts.  Such as: 
  • "Fly Like an Eagle (to the sea . . . till I'm free.  Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin')" 
  • "Time after Time (if you fall I will catch you - I will be wading [they're river pirates after all])"
  • "Time (flowing like a river . . . till it's Gone Forever)"  
  • "The Rose (Some say love it is a river . . .)"
  • "Proud Mary (Rollin', rollin' on a river)" 
  • "Deep River Woman  (comin' home to you)" 
  • "Fields of Gold (upon the fields of barley you'll forget the sun in his jealous sky)" 
  • and "In the Sunshine of Your Love"  - which has many surprising and fascinating parallels to John Donne's "Busy old fool, unruly Sun, Why dost thou thus . . ."  Someone really ought to write a monograph.
The river bargee's psalm of joy brought joy to Fritz, too, when I read its ancient text to him - after pointing out the importance of "Time" in their philosophy.  In part:

Let's all celebrate and have a good Time
We gonna celebrate and have a good Time

Nearly profound, what? . . . as in deep water . . .

wordcount: 33,418  - still behind but making steady progress

Thursday, November 19, 2009

good writing about good writing

Here's something good Karen Babine wrote (and quoted) about good writing:

". . . and as I read “The Greatest Nature Essay Ever” to them, I watched with some amazement how the light behind their still sleepy eyes changed. It doesn’t mean anything to them, as comp students, not nonfiction writers, but the transformative power of the language was exactly what they needed as we started working on their third paper— and it would be worth doing nothing more than bringing in this quote (but the essay is short, so I read the whole thing to them):

. . . but then there would suddenly be a sharp sentence where the dagger enters your heart and the essay spins on a dime like a skater, and you are plunged into waaay deeper water, you didn't see it coming at all, and you actually shiver, your whole body shimmers, and much later, maybe when you are in bed with someone you love and you are trying to evade his or her icy feet, you think, My God, stories do have roaring power, stories are the most crucial and necessary food, how come we never hardly say that out loud?

"Go ahead. Read that again. I’ll wait for you. There comes a time in every writer’s life when somebody else says what we’re thinking better—and this is one of those moments. Hasn’t everybody had this moment? Multiple times? It’s moments like this that reaffirm that I’m a writer and I’m doing what I’m meant to do. Hoo-yah!"

I thought maybe I would need these words about this point of my crazy-writing month.

Brevity: "How About that Best American?"

. . . especially since my word count is lagging further and further behind: 30,669 (I should be at 32,500 - eek!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

a way through

According to the NaNoWriMo schedule, Week Three is where you are supposed to shake off the doldrums of Week Two and suddenly blast off into super-productivity and etcetera. 

I never was that great at following other people's schedules.

No surprise then that, so far, Week Three has not lived up to expectation.  After a weekend entertaining the almost irresistible desire to quit, and sitting at the computer all Saturday night Not Writing, I decided to suspend my personal No Read rule and spent Sunday afternoon reading Civil to Strangers by Barbara Pym (it is a short novel).  I always read Barbara Pym when in extremis.  She never lets me down - years ago I whooped and hooted through my first miscarriage reading Excellent Women and this Sunday, Pym comfortingly confided (from the introduction):
The spy novel she did finish, although she found the necessity for a complicated plot tiresome ("It is getting involved and I don't quite know what I am driving at.  That's the worst of a plot.")
Not that I found it any easier the next day to carry on my own plodding plotting.  In fact, all day Monday I also spent in front of the computer Not Writing, and then telling Fritz that really hadn't I tried my best and that I couldn't keep wasting my days like this and that there was no shame in quitting, to which he said, "Are you kidding?  It would be humiliating!  You better get down there and write," which of course made me mad until about 9:30 when I decided I couldn't in fact quit and instead I'd cross out (but not erase - wordcount!) the last chapter that was lying so dead in the water and go back to where the rescue should happen but instead leave the mud boy of my creation in the clutches of the villians and gallop on from there in the opposite direction.  Which got me nearly to the word count for the day.

For as I mentioned in yesterday's post,  I had to stop about 80 words short of goal.  Please know this was not without a valiant effort at pushing through.  But at that point of the day (night? next day?) though I tried to set out into the next chapter I was having a little trouble keeping the thread of the story -
"LI vwatch es wlimg up the eide of a box carried by 4 ill=gosh, Anatomically informative"
Sad thing is I reworked that sentence several times - polishing it, you know.  Sadder still, looking at it now I have no idea what I was trying to say. 

(It kills me though that I did get those last two words so nicely spelled!)

So today - Tuesday - I took a vacation from writing.  I cleaned the kitchen.  I folded laundry.   I made phone calls (satisfyingly berating the con-artists at idearc media who keep billing us for a service we've never signed up for).  I took a bath.  I read the blue flower by Penelope Fitzgerald - ahh!  Then I went to the dentist with YoungSon, ate dinner with the children, and to youth night with Middlest.

Then wrote to 28,756 words - which puts me behind schedule but not hating my story so much any more.  Certainly I can write with more perseverance tomorrow and make up the deficit.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

inner fire

Just in case there hasn't been much of this lately. 

Yes, it really was this blue.  And just a month ago - remember?

I guess I won't, after all, cancel this post. 

I won't write instead "No I Can't."

Wordcount  26, 916 - which is Not Quite.  Which though is better than, "Not at All."  And it is too late into the night to sweat the final 80 word. 

Especially when "Not at All" was looking pretty inevitable most of the day today.  But then I decided to kill off a character - or at least, have him kidnapped for the next few years by the river villains. 

"That takes care of that," she says, dusting off her hands.
Stubbornly uncooperative characters, take note and tremble.  You may be the next to go.

Friday, November 13, 2009

18th Street Green

I'm lying on the ground, my bike a few yards away  lying also on its side, when I hear footsteps - and bounce back up (for I am not wounded but have been trying get an angle that will frame the potted dahlias and the whole of the church's luscious green door).  I dust myself off, walk with purpose to my bike, scrolling through my pics, culling the worst ones, keeping an eye on the two approaching youths.  Who are, like most people, shorter than me.  I quirk an eyebrow and nod as they approach.

"Hey," says one of the young guys - they're both walking kind of tough, both deep in conversation.  His friend lowers his head, trying to hurry by. 

"How are you guys doing?" I draw my words out - for clarity - because I grew up in a quicker-talking region.  And also to project confidence.  Because there is no one else in sight.

"Good," the first one nods, his friend nods, and they stride on by - hurrying away actually.

They seem as nervous of me as I might be of them.

"I would feel so vulnerable," one of my friends has said, more than once, when she hears I've been biking or walking alone out on the roads. 

But I feel magnitudes less vulnerable when I bike or walk, when I can talk to people around me rather than just zoom past suspicious-looking strangers in their anonymous houses hiding inside my tin can on wheels.

For me, I think for most people, a town or city with pedestrians and cyclists just feels . . . safer.  It's the paradox of defensiveness that the more you try to hide, the more vulnerable you feel.  And you miss out on what's good and real about the place you really are.  Like this green they've painted the Church of Christ.  It used to be grey and grey-blue - safe and sober but a little dismal to the eye - lately, by the looks of things, someone around here seems to have linked UP . . .

 . . . to a brighter Fount of inspiration.  Who likes colors.  Who says, "Fear not." 


Life is indeed dangerous, but not in the way morality would have us believe. It is indeed unmanageable, but the essence of it is not a battle. It is unmanageable because it is a romance, and its essence is romantic beauty.

Howard’s End
E.M. Forster, 1910

 Okay, Dictionary Muse, you can keep the job - for one more day at least.  Finally, you left off all the "maundering" "nudnik"  "soporific" comments.  And sensibly urged me to at least

asseverate \ uh-SEV-uh-rayt\ , transitive verb;

1.To affirm or declare positively or earnestly.

since suggesting I exhilarate only led to the Slough of Despond.

Even without your spelling it out, dear Muse of the Daily Word, I realized that today's words were a

douceur • \doo-SER\ • noun
: a conciliatory gift
which I accept and give you in return: 25,019 words.  Halfway home.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

18th Street Thinking Pink

When I used to be the Story Lady at the library right across the street, this pink plaster-over-cement-blocks rejoiced my eyes every time I turned the corner.  

Okay - it is true - its cubic Southwest pastel design is completely out of character here on a stretch of the Columbia River where the name of a nearby town (Rainier) is likelier a soggy Northwest boast than a memorial to Rilke or the urbane Prince of Monaco.  But still I love this cubist patch of pink in the landscape and the way the pink plaster makes a setting for a bright red chair, Breaker Boxes 1& 2, and the old-time dull red door with its mini-portico.  I could spend a whole post about that door:  its panels, its handle, the home-carpentered screen with its rusting nails . . .

I love that the roses are planted out front in the tiny strip between wall and the right-on-the-road sidewalk.  That the roses match the color of the wall exactly (with the so-satisfying exception of the small rosebush in the center in deep and contrastive red). 

The elegance of the roses' scent, the almost damask-thickness of the petals is all the more rich for being backed by faded blinds and weather-worn window frames, accompanied by older roses past their prime and the rudeness of rank weeds.

The day I stop to take this picture a woman (I think it is a woman -  she is tall and broad-shouldered with a ravaged face and blurred voice, one of the walking wounded from her own personal drug war) crosses the street to admire the rose with me. 

"Are these yours?" I ask her.  "They're so great.  Beautiful."

"These are Pete's roses.  I always smell these roses," she says and then goes up and bangs on the back door - "Pete! Pete!"  But he doesn't answer.  No one answers.

"I usually smell them like this," she shows me how to smell them.  "But usually I don't, because I've got allergies!  Allergies to everything, like pollen . . . " her voice trails off like she's trying to remember what else she may be allergic to also . . .

I'm not denying this place would be a hard-sell for any realtor. After several days of rain, the walls soak up what we call "moisture" in desert states, what we call "weather" here.  But seen from the sidewalk, that picking out of the block-structure underneath the plaster is somehow deeply satisfying.  

Because there is  a beauty-loving consciousness at work here - the fine froth of evergreens, the perfectly matched flowers, the hand-built fence.  Pete (if that is indeed who lives here) even has his own greenhouse, slipped into the narrow space on the side of the house.  My Young Self wants to stay here and move in: it has always been her ambition to live in a pink house (which ambition I was tickled to find my younger daughter, quite uninfluenced by me or my Younger Self,  shares - or at least did at the age of nine).

And, ah! for the final, finishing touch: my grandma had an awning just like this above her back door.

When we'd come visit her, the first thing I'd hear - right after the squeak and bang/slam of the screen door was my grandmother's, "Well, look who's here!  It's my kids!  And I'm just tickled pink to see you!"

And her arms would reach out to embrace us in the floury smell of baking bread and her eyes would  sparkle behind their glasses above her little-apple cheeks - which were, in fact, pink.


I see that yet another advantage of being offline is to have missed the griping of my grumpy Muse who sets out the Words of the Day - and who has grossly misunderstood her role as Inspirer and Enheartener.  She thinks she's helping by commenting on the action.  (I can only thank my lucky stars to have missed soporific.)

Perhaps today's forfend (prohibit, forbid, prevent, defend) does not come across as so pointed a critique, but I can't say that the sentiment is appreciably improved. 

I begin to think that English has many more nay-saying words than yay-saying words.

Thank goodness for Merriam-Webster who offered this advice
exhilarate • \ig-ZIL-uh-rayt\ • verb
 which we set out to do . . .

. . . and hours later we can report that we have answered email and checked Flickr many times and copied out notes from a book our friend brought us about the feeding habits of shorebirds, mating patterns, where the names of birds come from. Wordcount?

What wordcount?

All I've got is loose change. Not even worth counting.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

and no, I have not fallen off the face of the earth . . .

It has probably been a blessing that my Internet has been down.  No email. No time-consuming forays to check the exact meaning of words or look for pictures of heron (and other less directly productive investigations).

I ended last week at 13,410.

Monday, despite spending the day at the food bank, I ended with 16,663.

Tuesday - O Tuesday! - as in the day just prior to this one - I ended at 21, 670!  5000 words yesterday!  And my characters have finally broken through the expository walls of the city and are on the verge of passing through the waterfall into adventure in the wider world. 

I may hit the half-way point later today - it's less than 3,500 words away - but not if I dribble away my time checking up on the biking news in the Netherlands . . .

Tour de Here: wasting time on 18th Street

It's only later - when I arrive at another meeting and am asked - "So you just- what?- hung around town between meetings?"  - that I come to think of this as wasting time.  At the moment, in the moment, I am on a mission.  To put a cyclist into the townscape.  To see what is overlooked in a town some consider unsightly. To be the change I want to see.

It's lunchtime.  I have an hour and a half.  Where should I go?  In earlier posts, I have focused on the more obviously picturesque.  What about - for today - an ordinary street? 

First the practicalities - getting there on bike.  In years past, the narrow bridge, between where I start today and the so-ordinary 18th Street I'm aiming for,  meant much glancing back over the shoulder, much frantic risk-assessment, then sudden boldness taking the lane, pedalling like bats are streaming after. 

It's not nearly so exciting lately since they've built the biker's bridge.  The wood still smells new.  I can pause and look down into the creek.  I think someone in this town loves bikers.

At the corner of 18th is the entrance sign for one of our city parks.  The flowering bulbs that are no longer here in the spring have been dug up over the past few years, since their planting, by people in town who think that public property means it belongs to them - Joanie Q. Public - as in, they can take whatever catches their eye and make it private at their whim.

This is not what living in a community looks like.

But this is: around the corner is a clean-faced Dutch Colonial, very tidy and definite - though if pressed I would have to admit it is probably the seven dwarf bushes alongside I like best of all:

And then - what riches! - right next door is the house of butterflies.  Notice that both these houses are yellow to yellowish.  Which color on houses I have all the time before moving to the Great NorthWET abominated with a clear and pure abominating hatred. 

Now though, when February rolls around and my eyes have become saturated with grey - fog grey, soggy rain grey, low dark sagging sky grey - for day after day, seriously I live from yellow house to yellow house.  I arrange my errands to take me past the best yellow houses.  I pause in front of them.  I take pointless pictures of them.  I point out their bright and cheerful sunniness to anyone within earshot.  Yellow houses are lovely in a grey landscape.

Houses with giant butterflies and windchimes and bird feeders lining the eaves may not be lovely but they have an authentic place on an Ordinary Street.

A block down is the wavy-roofed library.  The immense green roof reminds me of thatch roofs or French country-house roofs - a roof that says shelter from rain.   A roof that bids you come in under its overhang.

Meanwhile, the roses and Oregon grape and native grasses out in front have interesting color and texture all through the year.

The two most interesting buildings ("Pink" and "Green") on this street each deserve a post of their own (check back tomorrow and tomorrow's tomorrow) but there are many quiet everyday virtues on an ordinary street like this one.

On this street is my nomination for Tidiest House in Town.  The pale green paint, the crisp white trim, the manicured shrubs,  velvety grass.  In a town where too many houses have slid into stages of dereliction, this neat perseverance begins to partake of the heroic.

Though I am not immune to other, less ordered charms: a  front garden blooming with pinky-red fallen leaves - the perfect color to set off not only the spring-sky blue of the house but the bluebird blue of the cooler left out on the front porch.
At the end of the street, before the business zone begins and where a connecting road tees, is a yard with always some kind of yellow flower blooming - even now at the first of November:

So if I was indeed just hanging out this hour and a half, it was hangin' with a purpose. 

Trying to see.
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