What is Real

August 1, 2012

Pam Houston, Lidia YuknavitchMarion Winik.  These writers all new to me.  But since I came back from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir writing workshop, I can not help but want to know them intimately.

All three of these books are punch you in the gut good.  Like someone making you tea and sitting you down to tell you a big truth.  And when you understand that something you knew to be true actually is you drink the whole cup of tea in one gulp and then ask for another.  And then another.

In these five paragraphs from Contents May Have Shifted, Pam Houston tells a story of woman who was led to her new husband by the ghost of the man’s son from a first marriage.  The two later have a son together who also can communicate with the dead.  When a widowed man comes to visit, the woman asks her son to check in on the man’s wife from the other side.

Because I remember that Pam Houston’s says her books are 82% true, I think of this book as a memoir.  I imagine that this episode, with the couple and the bereft husband, might very well be true.  Even though the book is categorized as FIC on the New York Public Library tag.

It’s no accident that the protagonist is named Pam, just like the author.  I’m pretty sure both Pams are telling us something about the difference between fact and fiction.  Or about how important it is to tell your story especially if there are parts that others might find beyond belief.


Line and the Light

July 30, 2012

It is the summer of 1988 and Joanne and Gerard Darkly’s son is doing what most kids do before they apply for college.  Fuck around.  Only Jake’s fucking around is gets worse as his parents become trapped in their own small lives and struggles.

So where things on the outside appear to be functional, they are actually reaching a boiling point. The accident is when things are forced to change.  The night that Phil and Jake have snuck out to cruise around for girls and whatever else they find to do outside their homes late at night.

The story is about when things seem ok and they are not but also when things that are not ok are actually ok compared when real trauma occurs.  So it’s about the difference between worrying about things and attending to things when they need to be attended to. Like pieces of garbage collected together to equal the thrown away feelings of our lives.

Yes there is a story.  It’s at summer of 1988.  The family is getting ready to sent their son away to school.  Only the son has other ideas.  He has been skipping class and not finishing his work and otherwise making it harder for him to to flee the coop.

The family is centered around a young boy.  When the boy is getting ready to leave for college some of the family unit kinds of falls apart.  Although it has been falling apart for years.

Spend the first hour of the day offline

July 24, 2012

Today the NYtimes profiled tech companies who feel kinda bad that they bank on the surge of dopamine we get when we use their products.  After a week of limiting my own daily dose, I found out that spending time any other way felt like an incredible chore.  The W, it turns out, sucks your time not because you don’t want it to, but because giving up your time to something that wants it desperately is part of what feels good.

I realized that when I check my email in the morning I usually get disappointed.  There are some times when I have one, maybe two emails that I care about in my inbox.  Some of those require responses that are hard and so I don’t respond right away.  Then I start the day dreading how I’m going to respond and when.

So tried out spending the first hour of the morning without my trusty devices.  No email, no text message and no blogs either.  Just me and a bunch of blank note cards to fill in with ideas about how to spend my time in other ways.

By lunchtime I had actually done something I cared about instead of  just committing to events and projects I probably wouldn’t have time to complete.  By afternoon, getting back to emails felt fun.  And by the early evening I remembered that the internet is, like, for entertainment.

The nighttime was pleasant.  As I lay in bed, tucked in under my covers, I felt as if the day had come to a natural end.  And there had been so much of it that I had been present for too.

Some people will find this crazy because their lives depend on emails from others as soon as they wake up.  Other people will find this crazy because their lives depend so little on what happens online.  I’m curious to know – are you either of these types of people? Or is an hour of no W every morning just right for you too?

How To Practice the Aloha Spirit

July 19, 2012

What Big Sur Writers Do and Do Not Care About

July 18, 2012

They do not care about your publishers, your advance, the number of books you sold or the name of your agent.  They do not care about where you did your writing, what room, on which computer and how many times you printed your manuscript out on paper.  They also do not care about whether or not you have changed your name, or the reason the name of your book is printed in lower case on the cover.

The mostly care about whether you can see the whales in the ocean, their spouts, their tales, their bodies turning over in the waves.  Will you take them swimming into the pacific without tops, without bottoms in water cold enough to make your brain freeze. And can you see the way the poppies head straight down into the ocean?

They care to measure the softness of the space around your heart.  Can they reach in there directly, through the skin and chest bones without having to chip away?  Or do you make them take a more indirect route, through the armpit and up through the color bone before descending down to the heart.

If you offer the ugly beating thing to them, messy, running over in your open hands, they will cup them back together.  They will move your hands back to your chest.  They will stitch the open wound together with their stories.

You will miss the chance to spend your last night with them.  You will be in bed in your room missing them before they are gone.  You will regret this even in the moment.

JoJo gets a new job

July 16, 2012

Jojo had just begun to get herself back on her feet again.  PIcked up a job from the classified, if you can believe that.  From the back of the weekend Oyster Bay Herald.  Circled that shit with a red colored pencil and then tore it out and slammed in on the fridge with a banana shaped magnet.  Come organize my old stuff, $20 / hr.

What a scam, Gerald had said, when he reached in the fridge for a snack. Like you see on those flyers taped over telephone posts nearby the stop signs.  YOU can have a chance to make $400 / week working from home!  Or, what of about those pyramid schemes where they want you to sell a bunch of plastic boxes to your neighbors. Who’s they, JoJo had asked? Whatever, Gerald said. It’s not like this person is going to be able to pay you for forty hours a week.

But the hourly rate was higher than when JoJo worked for The Creep.  So that morning, she pushed her pointer finger over the square plastic buttons in the order of the numbers on the ad. And the voice at the other end of the line drew her in close like a whisper from the start. Hello, said the voice. JoJo imagined the woman answering with feet in feathered slippers up on a lounge chair in the middle of a spacious and well decorated room.Hi. Um,  I’m calling to investigate, i mean I’m curious about an ad that I saw in the back of the Herald this weekend.

Curious, are you?  Well I was curious too, once. Now-a-days that curiosity’s all curled up and dormant like a bat asleep in the crevices of the cave over top the clear cool waters of a tropical lagoon.You mean a cenote, Jojo says, pleased with herself that she had visited such a cave many years back on a trip to the Yucatan and remembered the term. Well dear I don’t know what it’s called.  The memory goes too at a certain point.  You’ll see.

Why don’t you stop by tomorrow.  It’s been over two years since my husband died and I just can’t face sorting through his things.  Don’t know if it’s that because I don’t want to find out what I never found out if you know what I mean. JoJo did in fact know what she meant, crunching the trophy of her last evening out in her pocket of her housecoat, a note to reminder her of the moments that had come between the last drink of the evening and her long walk home.


The Accident

July 10, 2012

Jake goes careening through the tree-lined streets with the headlights off.  Phil is in the passenger seat blowing big rings of a smoke from the cigar rolled fatty in his right hand out his mouth, while letting his head relax down into the mound of the velour pillowed seat behind him, eyes closed, envisioning the sun, bikini babes, computers with minds of their own and his the smell of his grandmas mac and cheese, served steaming from an iron casket.  Put that shit out, Jake turns to Phil with a quick of his head to the right before throwing his eyes back to the road.

They are coming from the beach where the cops had come too, to kick the kids out of their night time haunt to remove them from their loitering cars, to give them slips of yellow paper summoning them to appear in a court house, before a judge, with their parents in two.  That fate had yet to befall Jake and Phil, so quick were they to pull out of the dead end where the Jetties lived and breathed.

They are racing fast down the curved streets that they know like the back of their hands.  Past the Stepler’s white columned mansion set back far from the road.  Around the corner by the Tublor’s place, their kids toys, laundry and mucked up cars laid out in the front of their house for days, weeks or months now without change.  Over the bridge of the duck pond that freezes over in winter enough for neighborhood kids to go skating, but with care.

They roll into Firefly Lane near the meadow rich with the little buggers. They duck down low in their seats and feel the cop car roll past them, searching, creeping with the crack of the gravel underneath the tires.  Letting their breath out quiet-like, as if it could be heard outside the car or communicate to others that they were hiding inside.

You’re an idiot, says Jake.  Phil’s too gone to notice.  The two of them now thirsty and bored.  Slurpy please, says Phil before they about face and head towards the 7-11 on Route 75E across from the train station next to the Christian Mission’s Children’s Hope Day School for Kids K-12.

Stay Friends, Critique Well

October 12, 2011

It’s not every day that a friend trusts you enough to send you some of their writing for review.  If you’ve been put in this privileged position, congratulations – you’ve earned a deep level of trust.  Now don’t mess it up!

On first read you’ll most likely get distracted by where your thoughts and feelings are different than the thoughts and feelings of the author.  Keep those to yourself. Now, read through a second time to find the parts where there’s a dissipation of difference – where they made a connection with you – and highlight those parts instead. The challenge for the writer is admitting where she’s just like everyone else.

When you start your critique, note the greatest strength first.  You’ll want to tell the writer that you see their creative voice so that they trust you when you tell them what’s not working – in the next step.  But we’re not just buttering up – we use what we’re good at to compensate for what we struggle with the most.

Next up, be specific about when are where you felt confused when you were reading. Pull out a part, extrapolate for the writer and see if you’re right.  The writer will have to refine in order to say what they really mean, even if they slay you with curses under their breath a few times first.

If you think the work needs restructuring, ask questions that will help the writer rethink how they’ve presented material – instead of suggesting specific structural changes.  Unless the writer has asked for specific structural changes that is.  If that’s the case suggest a few possible ways of approaching the structure instead of explaining what you would do.

Your written response is only your first step.  Your writer  will likely not want to make the changes you suggest, especially if you’re right on.  Offer to read the next version and follow-up till you get the next draft.

Now you’re friends for life.

Today’s News

October 11, 2011

Gerard spends Sunday evenings in the tub.   The length of time he spends in the bath is equal to the length of time that has passed since he last enjoyed his work: a long time. Tonight, just when he’s lowered himself down into the hot water, complete with bubbles and a glass of port by his side, the phone rings.

Darn it, he thinks, lunging himself back out of the tub with a sigh, the water shallowing out beneath him.  By the second ring he wraps a fluffy white towel around his waist and tucks a corner into the top.  In three ring he’s bounding toward the phone, leaving wet spots in the shape of feet trailing behind him.

The interruption bothered him less than the listening of his voice on the machine echo through the house when he was in fact at home.  You’ve reached the Darkly’s, please leave a message beep.  Gerard, Gerard dear are you home, was usually the sound of the voice that followed.

Yahello, he says before the sixth ring.

Mr Gerard Darkly, says a low but robotic sounding voice at the other end of the line.

Speaking, says Gerard.

I’m calling from the St. Methodist Manner hospital. We received a patient to our ER unit tonight at 8:32pm – Jake Darkly.  Is this your son?

What happens now is a jumble of things: Notes on the location, instructions on which door to enter through, the name of a doctor. Repeating the details back to the voice on the phone and then hanging up with a beep with receiver nestled back into the cradle.  In the next moment he feels an urgency to call out for his wife, for what seems like the first time in years.

Warning, Fiction tk

October 7, 2011

I started fiveparagraphs so that I could publish an idea every day. It turns out that it’s hard to do writing when you don’t know exactly what you’re writing about. You spend lots of time reading other people’s blogs about writing and do little writing of your own.

At some point I will transition the writing here to fiction writing. But I’ll keep writing about the craft of writing. And the craft of making things in general – like great installation based performance work.

There are lots of blogs dedicated to the craft of making things though. So in order to offer something different,  I’ll write about the cast of characters that sometimes speak up if I wake up early in the morning.  When they are unhappy I’ll try to quell their fears, put them at ease on the page and deliver them to you.

I’ll also read or listen to a piece of fiction, a poem and an essay every day; as prescribed by Ray Bradbury. Live in the library, he says. And also: if you complain about how hard it is to write, than do something else.

If you stay with me, I’ll be happy. If I lose you, I understand.  But when you’re still here I’m looking to know, with each post whether you think:

Good for you, who cares, save it for therapy?
Fun, thanks, I feel better now and not in a misery loves company kind of way.

Voting functionality to come.

Today’s Ray:
Playboy Interview: Steven Jobs (1985) From Longform

Audio file of Flannery O’Connor reading A Good Man is Hard to Find

The Journey – By Mary Oliver