Tuesday, July 31, 2012

the heart

It has been days since I have written anything from my own heart, because sometimes the heart is hazy and difficult to reach. Or perhaps it is just pulsing there, and does not want to be articulated. It only wants to pump blood through the body, to keep the mechanism moving forward. Too much has been asked of you all this time, dear heart. What other part of us is expected to not only sustain life, but also to dress it in meaning and warmth and wonder? It is a big task for so small a lump of tissue.

Sometimes it seems I am nothing but a big pulsing heart. A heart on a sleeve, a bleeding heart. I am too sensitive for this world. I have been warned of this since childhood. I used to say you can never be too sensitive, but there is a weariness that comes. This is the kind of day when I would prefer taking action to feeling everything so acutely. My skin feels tender. This rain-kissed midsummer world full of birdsong and rustling leaves is too beautiful to bear. The half-begun fall garden is a swatch of reddish-brown clay cut out of the green lawn. It whispers: "Why don't you build something here? Why carve out this much only to let it lie weed-choked and fallow?"

Half a heart is all I had for that garden. There were very old claims laid on the rest--as old as mother, father, brother, sister. I have never been good at accomplishing many things in a day.

The strange simulacrum that is my professional world tugs, too. A client refuses to pay a humble amount for my work, and it feels personal. I am a ghost because I do not want to entangle my writing with my ability to support myself. I also believed that not attaching my name to the words I string together would protect the ego. But the ego just got pricked, and sharply.

All of which should serve as a reminder that the ego is only a constructed thing, and has nothing at all to do with who or what I am made of. For of course, that part of me which is most sincerely me, the part that tells the story, the part that might make you feel warm if you were to sit near me...that is all bound up in this straining and miraculous bundle of bloody muscle over which, right now, for comfort, I place a hand.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


A lifetime bundles itself in clusters
of two or three years, delineated
by walls of various houses and
what happened there.
What images were projected
upon them: the shadow-shape
of a certain dog, or the edge
of a support beam meeting the porch floor.

You live somewhere. You see
these things, but you do not notice them.
Hundreds or millions of times your eyes pass,
your secret memory storing each pass away
for later, when you will need to remember this place.
Each grazing of the gaze a stretch of thread
in the spool.

And of course there are those things that define
the perimeters of the year bundles:
a smell that was there, a sound that travelled past.
wild spearmint growing at the back door,
the sweep of cars down the road. the traffic light
switching from green to yellow to red. and the things
your love tended in those years to talk about.
your rituals around getting ready for bed at night.

The subtle trick of time is in each second passing. To notice
this would drive us mad. Yet there it goes.
And again.
All that is behind falls further behind and an end
grows closer. Again, now, gone. Again.

So it is that we can only catch time, hold it--
spin it before us--
in the form of memory. In memory, we can
still its indifferent motion.

A lifetime bundles itself in clusters. Of years,
not more than two or three.
Look back.
The edges are there,
plain as the day.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Print is dead. Nobody reads books anymore. Letters are dead. Nobody writes letters. Ray Bradbury just died. He wrote about people burning books and being addicted to giant screens projecting 24-hour soap operas. That day has come, he knew it would come, and now it has and he has died. Before he died, he finally gave into pressure from his publishers to release Fahrenheit 451 for Kindle. Kindle is not the same as 24-hour soap operas on giant screens to which people have become addicted, I understand, but I still find this ironic. Paper is made from trees. Best we use less paper. The trees are dwindling; it's all dwindling. Kindle is not in itself an evil, but I remember reading an Asimov story as a child in which all the kids had to read their books on computer screens. I said to my dad, "this is awful, I would hate to live in that world," and my dad said, "you will live in that world one day. sorry."

Before Maurice Sendak died he said he hated e-books. He said something to the effect of "if that's the future of books, whatever, I'll be dead." I would never have seen him say that if I didn't watch the Colbert Report on my computer in the mornings. I don't have giant TV screens and I'm not addicted to a 24-hour soap opera, I don't think. But I have a Facebook account. So, perhaps I am.

I'm writing a series of books for Kindle. These books will not have my name on them; it will be someone else's. If they were going to have my name on them, I would not be doing it. If I were not doing it, I would not be able to pay the rent. I do not feel sorry for myself; I feel grateful to have some means of paying the rent. Many people do not.

Often I become stuck, partly because the subject matter of these books is not that interesting to me, and partly because I have always become stuck when writing. No matter how interesting the subject matter, no matter how personal or necessary. To write is to be stuck.

Of course I wish I had the freedom to lounge around all day thinking of the stories I'd like to write and then writing them. Slowly, carefully, being stuck for hours at a time but free from fear. Of course I wish that.

Today a friend posted on the 24-hour soap opera site a link that made me cry. Partly because it's easy to make me cry and partly because the link was about children writing to authors who had helped them. Who had given them something beautiful, something that made their lives better. I was such a child. I never mailed any of my letters off, but I wrote them or daydreamed them and most of all, I knew that there were some writers in the world I would never meet who had, literally, saved my life. C.S. Lewis, Madeline L'Engle, Tolkien, many others. They told me stories and comforted me and promised me that adulthood would be better. They gave me somewhere safe to go in the meantime.

That is why I started writing, too. To give myself somewhere safe to go. On days like this I wonder if my series of Kindle books appearing under someone else's name will do this for anyone. And if not, it makes me feel sad and useless. Because that's the only point of writing at all, isn't it? To help someone, to ease their pain a little.

So all I ask for today is to find a way to help someone, somewhere, through the medium available in this world I have lived to see. This clickety-clackety, shiny-screen world that doesn't feel like paper and doesn't smell like ink. Even here, I'd like to feel useful.

Friday, June 15, 2012

late is the hour

Once, it seemed, I could say "swing" and it would mean "father."
At one time, sometime in my past, metaphor was the only language.
And a grand, sloppy language it was--sweeping over whole years
of my life. Drenching all memories in meaning.

To be sane, I have attempted to see meaning in less.
I mean, in fewer things.
Reserving meaning for the big moments--
the ones shaped as keys.

It is a more even way to proceed.
And I have come to dislike the tumblings,
the upheavals. At least, that mood takes
me less often.

But I still love, deeply love, always will love
the mind's ability to wander. Vastly,
and without apparent motivation, over the
topography of what is perceived. The
dramatic, meaning-making urge of human
thought, encapsulated in language, so
frail and imperfect.

The moments of the mind at its most distinctly human:
when contemplation of the word "fragile," for example,
becomes both sound and story.

I do not know if it is any more remarkable than
whatever way it is a horse thinks. Or a dog. Or a bird.

It only is, and it is the type of mind that I came into.
That I inhabit. And I do love those most fragile
and pointless turnings of consciousness.
They brought poetry into being and it is only
through them poetry can exist.

A very species-specific endeavor, poetry.
To me, this fact gives it no more weight
than the dog thinking "supper time,"
or "I'd like to go for a walk." All things are.
Yet I need the abstract, the unnecessary. An inherent
contradiction that is nonetheless true.

And that is just one way to be. Others are
like me, others are different. What I really need most
is the mystery, the contradictions. They please
the brain. They entertain and renew. Without them,
there is only stagnation. The mind grows self-satisfied,
weak. Moves in lazy loops.

May nothing ever
answer all the questions.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

tracking the mind

Day four in a row working at home alone. The days can tend to run together. Morning finds me waking up as usual at exactly 8:03. J has been up for an hour. We have coffee together and I get chatty. We feed the dog, the cat. Then there's a little breakfast and watching last night's Colbert Report on the computer while J gets ready for work. My getting ready for work consists of putting a sweatshirt on over my pajamas and checking my email. I also make the bed. I can't write in a house with an unmade bed. As we say our goodbyes, I mention something about cabin fever, but I'm not sure that's exactly what I have.

I have always enjoyed long stretches of hours alone. It's necessary for a writer and natural to me anyway. Sometimes I can't believe that I actually have this life. It feels like a daydream I had when I was twelve. I sit on the porch in the cool morning light and watch the progress of my mind. I sure can sit and stare. The creative, the mundane, the revelatory, the anxious, the worried, the doubtful, the meditative, the curious and sleepy progress of a mind with time and space to wander.

This morning it goes like this:
Do I have cabin fever? No, that implies a desperate feeling. I am not desperate, only slightly worried. There was an email yesterday from the landlady. She wants to sell this house in the spring, much sooner than we expected. Could we buy it? I'm used to thinking there's no way, but maybe there is. I guess we can try. And if it doesn't work out, we'll move again. What a nightmare. When will we get to feel settled?

Alan Alda was on the Colbert Report. He has always reminded me of my mother. Not just because she loved Hawkeye from MASH when I was growing up. He actually reminds me of her, personally. In Jungian psychology, we all have a contra-sexual figure who makes up a significant part of our psyche. The anima for men, animus for women. Mine takes the form of Bruce Springsteen sometimes, sometimes Sherlock Holmes. My mother's animus must be like Alan Alda. This thought is comforting. On television he played a doctor. My mother is a healer, untrained but in possession of natural healing gifts. Also, she is funny.

Are we really going to have to think about moving in ten months? Why have I never established good credit? When will I start acting like an adult? Why did I take out so many student loans? Did I have a choice? What is choice, really? Isn't every decision just a combination of necessity and self- or societally-imposed limitations on the possible?

How do things work? I mean, like real estate things and mortgages and filing taxes as an independent contractor? These are all things I have to find some way of understanding soon, this year. But just looking at the words overwhelms me with a yawn. A deep internal sleepiness. Is this normal? When threatened by a predator with spoilage of home and safety, does a nesting cardinal simply yawn, overcome with boredom? Wait, I know the answer to this. I've seen it! She doesn't yawn, she chirps loudly and puffs up to make herself look bigger. What is the metaphorical equivalent of that for me?

Does my brain function properly? Why do so many things make me feel sleepy? Is it because I'm biologically intended to spend a greater portion of my time lounging, like a chimpanzee? What kind of evolutionary madness is responsible for real estate and mortgages and student loans and taxes?

They can make holograms now, just like on Start Trek. I saw the Tupac hologram  on YouTube. A dead man made of light performing on stage with a living man, looking almost equally substantial. The line between the real and the simulated blurs and blurs and blurs, but still the simulated gives itself away  in unnatural flickers. My business is metaphor but all I really want to do is dig in the dirt with bare hands.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


My dad was a writer too, a journalist. He told me recently that the reason he was a sports-writer for so many years was that being a real reporter in a small town ensures that you have no friends. Eventually, he said, nobody likes you. Sports are neutral, in their way. It's just a matter of what did or didn't happen at the basketball game and nobody to blame for it.

I always thought it was odd that my dad wrote sports, considering how little interest he had in them. He didn't really care to watch the football game on Sunday afternoon, nor did he relate to the kind of guy who did. He'd rather watch an episode of Star Trek or the Twilight Zone--by far. And then meditate out loud for an hour or so to his small children about what the meaning of it had been.

I guess I learned logic from him, and a love of story, and a curiosity about culture and various ways of life. I never picked up his Spock-like ability to deliver complicated sentences perfectly articulated, with no hesitations, in an emotionally neutral tone of voice. Or his steel-trap memory, a vast catalogue of names, dates, numbers, faces and facts on topics as wide-ranging as Chuck Berry's discography to Napoleon's defeat in Russia, arranged with encyclopedic sobriety and available to him at will. The only thing he can't seem to remember are the names of the people his children are dating, generally, and I suspect that's a matter of choice.

Putting your name on something you have written is hard. My dad and I agree on that. Neither of us cares much about praise, and we're too tender for blame. I used to act on stage, and thought I loved getting attention. I don't like attention anymore, positive or negative. I just like to get a job done and relax at the end of the day.

So I write out the ideas other people have in their heads, and I try to get it right. I pretend to be them, like I used to pretend to be other people on stage. I'm having a hard time today, because the book I'm supposed to be working on doesn't interest me that much.

I suppose my dad felt that way once or twice.

Monday, May 21, 2012

country moments

1. Carnage.
A few nights ago, kicking back by a blazing fire with a couple of cold ones, J and I heard what he now refers to as "the massacre." A deep, sinister, rumbling snarl followed by the agonized screeching of some helpless prey.

At first, I thought it was my cat and a chipmunk. Then I realized that the predator's growl bespoke a much larger animal than my fifteen pound tomcat. Upon which realization I suddenly feared that my tomcat was in fact the squeaking victim. I ran inside to look for our pets, finding both of them on high alert near the front door. Clearly, they heard it too, but--clever with self-preservation--made no attempt to go outside. They both knew that whatever this thing was, it was bigger than them. And it must have been much more vicious, because normally our sixty-pound dog doesn't hesitate to tear out after any moving thing, including deer, SUVs and tractor-trailers. Size normally doesn't figure into his calculations.

Without a flashlight handy, we didn't see much. So we went back to our fire and conversation. Twenty minutes later, we heard it again. Closer, this time, just around the corner of the house. Something big, snarling and tearing at something crying, high-pitched and desperate. I thought of werewolves. The crying stopped, followed by a dragging, scuttling. Sickening.

We never actually saw anything. Too dark, too lazy to fetch a light, too fearful of what we might see, in truth. For days now, death has felt a little closer. Not in a threatening way. Just in a way that is. That is, that death is happening. Not just death, but carnage. Hunter destroying prey. A violent, a tragic, a necessary thing. Around us, in the yard. In the woods. Next to the lilies on the western side of the house.

Incidentally, the Roman Polanski film, "Carnage," was a great rainy Sunday afternoon experience a couple of weeks back. Watching it, we were reminded of a more metaphorical kind of massacre--that of the human need for companionship in a society which has managed to "civilize" itself away from any hope of closeness.

I'll take this country carnage over that any day.

2. Cradled.
J has two hammocks strung up in the woods now. He cleared out a gorgeous swatch from the tangled mass of thorny vines, poison sumac and dead tree limbs in the acreage behind the house. Three tall, slender trees in a triangle begged for a pair of twin hammocks. The sun filters down through the leaf canopy during the day and the stars arch brightly overhead at night. We spent as many hours as we could this weekend, cradled there.

Outside the front window of my writing room, a cardinal mother-to-be has set up a cozy little nest in the bush. She's cradling a number of eggs, and our eyes meet if I lay on the sofa and glance over. I wonder how much of her nest is made up of our dog's fur, which lies in tufts all over the yard, and is often seen hanging from the birds' beaks. A good incubating insulation, I am sure.

3. Country.
Went to the flea market this weekend and came across a treasure trove of old records. Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Patsy Cline. Finally, some music to fit the mood I've been in.

4. Cookout.
Last night we had my sister and my brother over for a midwest-meets-southern-style feast. Midwest for sure was the barbecued chicken, but southern the collards with bacon, the vinegary slaw and the skillet cornbread.

My brother seemed calm here, more attuned to those around him than usual. He found his way up to the hammocks on his own and relaxed awhile. This place is good for people.

5. Crawling.
J went into the kitchen for his stash of candy after dinner last night, and there were a thousand tiny ants swarming the Brach's bag. We spent an hour armed with diatomacious earth and cleaning spray trying to put a stop to their mindless stampede. Perhaps mindless is not the word. Single-minded is better, I think. Don't they all just have one giant brain basically? It's something different from telepathy, even more profound. I don't like it. It seems robotic and unnatural to me. Individualism is embedded in my DNA, I suppose. I know I shouldn't judge them, and maybe it's time to drag out the Thoreau and revisit his observations of red ants...

But, really, they somehow got inside an unopened, perfectly sealed bag of marshmallows. That's just gross.

6. Contrary.
Today I'm supposed to be ghostwriting. Something got into me this morning, and I decided to do my own writing instead. A strain of contrariness, of resentment.

But the bills must be paid, so I'd better get back to it. Most contrary of all--I have to now imagine myself as a twenty-something person working in the corporate world, looking for the next rung on the ladder. For this ghostwriting job.

Nothing could feel further from the truth.