All posts by Wendy

front yard renovations

I’ve refrained from watering the front lawn for two years – in spite of that, it’s managed to not be totally killed. Go Bermuda grass!

Problem is, I don’t want grass, I want edibles and medicinals and things that smell good and feed pollinators – so the project that’s been taking my time lately has been planning the removal of the lawn and its replacement with fun native and mediterranean perennials (a list too long and something only another plant-geek would love, so I’ll not put it here), some productive trees (olive, jujube and maybe a plum, also pineapple guava) and some small earthworks to keep rainwater from the roof on site as long as possible.

As soon as I can, I’ll put Before & After pics up. Right now I only, obviously, have the Before set and they’re less dramatic on their own. At least I’m hoping that’s the case – fingers crossed that I’ll be able to pull an attractive design together that doesn’t create an inhospitable mess for all the plants!

A note to a character in my story, 2008

I came across this in the small notebook in which I started planning a 2008 NaNoWriMo story. It reveals more about its author than the character, but it was a good start. It let my creative mind know I was serious about finding a way to connect with it.

I’m not sure how to coax you out. I feel quite ridiculous for even attempting it. I don’t know how to contact you and whether you want to be contacted at all. I’m sure you’ll be offended by all my attempts because they will prove, as everything has always proven, that you’re not being heard or understood. No matter what I write it will in some way be a misunderstanding, as that previous sentence was – just for making any assumption at all.

Maybe you’ll think I’m trying to use you – and you’ll be right, because I want access to your story – but maybe you can look at it this way: we can save each other’s lives. Without me, you’re a ghost, half-formed, incomplete, and fleeting, but still existing and wanting to exist, solidly. I know, I’m not very inspiring, like some writers – I haven’t committed at all, have very little to show, my list of “clips” is pretty small and too, I’ve hardly written any stories – so I’m obviously a novice. And too, there’s the fact of my inconsistency.

I tend to lack faith and lacking faith is deadly. So I get enthusiastic about something and then when the enthusiasm cools I go off and do something else. That’s partly a result of feeling lost and unheard – you know what that’s like. We’re kind of alike.

Though I see a lot of ways we’re different.

And you, you’re going to help me out by the very fact that you exist, by giving permission to tell your story I think a rock will be lifted from my chest.

There’s this weight, you see, and its incredibly large and dark and it smothers and strangles me. It rises up into my throat and I can’t breathe easily and sure as hell can’t gather enough air to actually infuse the meaning that needs to be given life. You know about this.

I’m going to try not to worry about the fact that I don’t know your name, don’t have a plot, don’t have much of anything. I’m going to wait for the story to unfold.

I’d be angry too. Here I am trying to insist one of two things, both of which are probably wrong. The first being that you are me, that everything about you is a metaphor for my life. That makes you too convenient, takes away the validity of your being. The second is that you’re just a character, that you’re my imagination, not real. That denies the actual realness of everything you’ve experience through me and every other sentience which has birthed you.

I keep having flashes of you, images. The first, I think you’re about eight. You’re skinny and slightly snub-nosed and your straight dark brown hair is light at the tips from a lot of sun. There’s a village scene. You’re standing outside. Patiently standing there.

What if, after all these years, you found somebody able to hear you? What if it meant finding your way home? What if you could trust in somebody and be assured that all those meanings were understood? What if I tried to write it all, make it coherent?

Would you feel betrayed by my admission that I’m hoping you’ll cure me? That you will solve my problems? That’s what I’m hoping, to be honest, that after that I’ll be unburdened, that I’ll be unrepressed, that I’ll stop stopping myself with that internal critic, the one who says I have nothing to say. That I’ll be able to write.

Can we come to an agreement?

On the inside front cover, I wrote this:

20160813_134250

Yosemite in summer…

… is not something I’d really recommend.

It is the Disneyland of Nature, at least down in the valley, where it parodies itself (the Yosemite that once might have existed): You can go to the gift shops to buy postcards of the scenes you can’t see because you’re in your car, stuck in traffic, unable to park and get out and being yelled at by the park “ranger” who’s mad that she’s really a traffic cop.

When you do finally get out, there are fences with signs posted about how there’s restoration going on and ‘please don’t enter this area.’ The subtext of course is that there have been too many people entering the area and now it has to be “restored” to some “more natural” or “more pristine” state. My guess is that those areas will never be reopened. They would just get trampled and trashed.

I’m conflicted between a desire for experiencing that pristine state and recognizing that humans are part of New Yosemite’s ecosystem. We’ve essentially overrun it, but we’re part of it. As are our cars, our waste, our noise. THAT is Yosemite.

I tried to find a way to have a suitably reverent state of mind. It is awe-inspiring, those sheer cliffs rising above you and framing the sky or the vista encompassing massifs and vast horizon, forest and falls. I was selective about the photos I took – they’re distinctly NOT pictures of the crowds on the handrail-lined trail, of the milling about in the gift shop (or of the gift shops at all), of the heat shimmering off the lined-up roofs of cars. Those photos would have been more honest, though.

the honest picture

I think I have a very unpopular opinion – that maybe it’s inappropriate to make it accessible to all (from the comfort of an air-conditioned gas-guzzler). Maybe such grandeur deserves to be met after some amount of effort on our part (not just handed to us after purchase), after, even, some degree of struggle following which we are grateful for the beauty and the wonder instead of just expectant that it’ll appear around the road’s next bend.

Also, my opinion reveals my hypocrisy. I’m thinking of driving there in the fall, so that my limited-mobility dad, who, by the way, is obsessed with our driving culture (the irony does not escape me) can see it. So, I won’t be trekking in or through Yosemite, or backwoods camping or climbing Gary-Snyder-like into a fire lookout to end up formulating an environmental ethic or a novel or great works of poetry infused with the spirit of place. Instead I’ll be one-eye on the road, one on the hunt for the next bathroom  or picnic-lunch spot or vista.

I’ll be wishing for contact with something that’s just out of sight.

***
and, as if the intrusion of automobiles and the extending of infrastructure into the region didn’t provide enough catalyst for change, there’s evidence that the forests themselves are changing and drastically. Drought, climate fluctuations, and concomitant stress and weakness leading to pest infestations are taking their toll. It’s a whole new world.

image credits: Wendy Smyer Yu

Shifted Visions, chugging along

freighttrain

Hear that creak and the bang of train cars moving out?

After a long hiatus, the wheels are turning once again!

2015 was a doozy of a year. Well, I take it back, it wasn’t as much of a doozy as it could have been (I mean in the scheme of things it was pretty decent, though I lost a human friend and a cat friend, adjusted to my dad’s moving in with us and began to weather the vagaries of dementia & aging, and our family continued its globalized multi-continental hijinks (if not convulsions)), we at least had a roof over our heads, good food to eat, and the general trappings of what passes for otherwise-normal in this society. Nevertheless, I hit the writing doldrums and didn’t put down hardly a word except for the basic, functional and utilitarian type.

That’s ok, though, because you know what? Previously written words don’t just dissipate. They sit on your hard-drive or in a manila folder or spiral-notebook and wait. Patiently.

When the levers got pulled and the tracks slid together and the train engineer got the all-clear to stop idling the 6,000 horsepower engine and start ‘er up slow — well, lo and behold the boxcars were still there, ready to come along behind at a slow chug.

I ran a poll with a bunch of other writerly types and confirmed that my title choice for a short story collection isn’t half bad. Shifted Visions wasn’t the top pick, but it was close enough to the leader that I could keep it – it was my favorite of the 20 or so I tested.

In case you’re interested, other contenders were:

  • Peripheral Visions
  • Light Dances at the Edge of Hope
  • In the Small Dark Hours

A few that didn’t make it into the finalists’ category are going to be used to title individual stories and one of them required a story to go with it. That’s the one I’m working on now (with varying degrees of success, I’m out of practice and -not surprisingly- kind of flighty, though I’m persevering!).

In two days I’ll also have the results of my cover poll. Maybe I’ll post my first attempts to create a book cover here and see what you guys think (assuming there is a “you guys” reading this 😀 ).

Anyway, I had to stop anguishing over the fact that I hadn’t posted here in a year and stop beating myself with the “need” to start again with something really wonderful. Just start.

Here it is, in all its work-train glory, a kind of beat-up and homely, slow-to-get-rollin’, mode of transport: a long-time-coming blog post about a long-time-coming short story collection!

Woo-hoo! (make that sound like a train-whistle, now!)

image credit: Samuel Zeller from unsplash

Letting the Dust Settle

The north wind is gusting outside – it comes racing down the Central Valley, picks up topsoil and whatever isn’t tied down. The air has a haze and is harried by the change in weather.  The house holds firm but exhales now and then as it braces itself

Each season we have days that blow past like this. They bring with them a shift. In the spring, we’ll have warmer days after the wind dies down; in the fall, the weather becomes cooler.

Although we only get the wind every couple of weeks, it feels like its flux has been continually with me since February. The lack of posting here is symptomatic of all the helter skelter.

But now I’m looking into upcoming May with an eye toward a little more stability and, if not calm, at least  being able to lean into the wind. I’m anticipating the end of my Master Gardener training program, won’t have more guests until July, have finished moving my Dad in with us, and have started toward writing again. My days have been very productive on the household front (you should see my Done List, it’s impressive, just not impressively related to writing) and I’ll continue with the yard renovation plans this month. I suppose it makes sense that my play time has focused on plants lately, spring seems to do that to me. :) Meanwhile, although I don’t have any stories in the works right now, I’ve been sending a few of the ones from Shifted Visions out to online journals.

My aim for the coming month – resuscitate a daily writing practice (of any sort, really, ANY writing is better than no writing), continue with the exercise routine that seems to be working well for me, create a base map of the yard so I have something to work from, get some summer veggies into the already-summer-like ground (trying some drought tolerant varieties, like Tepary bean and Malabar Spinach).

I’ve gotta remember that when the dust isn’t flying, when it’s settled, it’s at its most productive being soil, holding all the things that want to be rooted. Letting things grow.

Words Aren’t Working

Words and I aren’t having the best of relationships right now.
It started out decently at the beginning of February but by the end had deteriorated.

1. I learned a poem by heart. I spoke it aloud in the car, rolling it over and over. Then I returned to other poems I’d learned already and had let fall away. They came back quickly, settled right into my mind and slipped out of my mouth easily. They fit in the small trips I need to make every day. I said them even while on my bike, though quietly and under my breath (and between breaths if I was riding fast). It became an exercise in letting myself hear my own voice, in playing with the words and their meaning. It was a poem about giving oneself, about committing fully to this experience of life. It spoke to me but I’ll share it another time because the part of me it spoke to is a little wounded right now.

2. I’d set aside new writing for a bit. It was alright. I mean, I know professionals can’t do that, but I needed to keep up with other things and I’ve not graduated from hobbyist-status. I was still working on editing my own stories, though, for Shifted Visions. So, although I wasn’t acting as a midwife to words, I was at least a governess, seeing that they turn out right and can be presented in polite company.

3. I was working on a paid editing job, a translation. Translations are finicky, especially when the translators are working INTO a language in which they’ve not attained near-native fluency. It’s easy to go wrong and I started to see my approach to words change. I could imagine the text as a whole, as having its own completeness in its original form. It was a carrier of meaning in a context in which its shape made sense. Like a vessel, a bowl or cup, maybe.

So, imagine such a thing.

For the sake of illustration, though the original text I’m working with is not nearly so artful as this example, imagine that it’s a beautiful and meaningful thing, like this:

Gold_cup_kalardasht But then, in order for it to be comprehended and used in another place with its own cultural context, it has to be translated. And imagine that translation requires the item be taken apart down to its “base layers,” in this case down to the atoms of gold. At that level they’re still gold, but they have to be manipulated and moved. The words, in their own way are melted by the translator who passes them from one language, through his or her body and consciousness, and transforms their shape into the new language. They become new words.

What I inherited from the translators was something like this:

Golden-Bowl-of-Hasanlu

It was pretty mangled.

My brain now had to approach the words like this:

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I have to admit, this is not the way to engage the part of you that likes to invite words to work their own magic, without force. That part of me had to just sit tight and hope the editing would get done soon.

4. And then a dear friend died – unexpectedly and tragically early. It wasn’t supposed to happen, like that or now.

I had been sad to leave Göttingen, where much of our three years there had felt sheltered and warmed by her and her family. I had assumed we’d meet again, had hoped to have her daughter stay with us this coming year for half of tenth grade, figured we’d meet up and travel a bit. But no.

I had to bear the news to all my family members. There are no right words for that. I wrote a condolence card to her husband and two daughters – to my friends – the best I could do from this distance – and in that effort I found that words don’t work. They don’t do the right thing, they don’t solve the problem or heal the hurt. They’re weak and ineffectual. I mean I said nice things but really, what we all want is for terrible things to not happen, for them to not shake and change our lives in this way.

5. One of our cats got seriously ill with a virus that is often carried by cats without effect. When it “mutates” and causes symptoms, though, it’s incurable and fatal. I had to make the decision to have him put to sleep before he suffered more. I know, cats don’t “rank up there” with people, but if you have any animals in your life, you know they’re people, too. He was special to me. We were friends.

We brought our cats back to the US with us from Göttingen and losing him felt like one more uprooting from what we loved there.

Again, I had to tell family members. I had to tell the cat though few of my words have ever made a lot of sense to him. I made sure that he knew in all the wordless ways how much we all loved him.

6. I kept everything running (admittedly it’s run on frozen pizza, some forgotten appointments, lots of tears and a sad kind of lonely inability to help anyone else’s grief). I’ve still had to drive here and there but couldn’t bear more than half a phrase of any poetry coming out of my mouth. I don’t want to say them. I don’t want to say much.

7. I am ‘conversational.’ I talk to people. I write down phone messages, notes for my master gardener class and comments in the margin of the translated text. The editing is not yet done. My head, though it stopped hurting from the inside, feels like it has been used to bang on bad English.

My heart still hurts and I’m wary about words.

8. I wrote this blog post.

 

****

image credits:

Gold cup kalardasht“. (Achaemenid golden bowl with lion imagery). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Gold Bowl of Hasanlu from Ancient Origins (it doesn’t appear to be original to Ancient Origins and it’s not labeled with a creative commons license but I’ll remove it from this blog if needed).

blacksmith photo by Daniel Burgui Iguzkiza on flickr, with creative commons license

Part of the occasional series, Fiction Going Nowhere.

 

***

Quiet Folk

smyeryu.com/wendy/

I’ve always felt that the dead are pretty quiet folk. They sound mostly like dry leaves, or like the skitterings of mice.

Having survived the deaths of four family members, two friends, and a stranger, plus living next to the cemetery are bound to make a person inclined to be listening for what past-folk might be saying.

I was out there yesterday, sweeping off the granite markers hidden in the thick, end-of-summer grass.  The long stems hung heavily, pulled down in all directions by waving seed heads.  Mice had gotten to a lot of the seeds.  I won’t trap them in the house, the mice. They have their own business and I’d just as soon send them on their way, out the door to do it, than make them suffer at my hands. Kind of like the dead.

“I’ll let ’em be.” I shook my head at my last living brother, Jacob, who’s 12 years older than me and who was trying to convince me I needed another, younger, cat.

“Posey’s good as deaf,” he said, as though that indicated a defect, but he wouldn’t have understood if I’d told him that she and I were in perfect agreement about the mouse situation and that she and I both tended to listen to things Jacob couldn’t have been capable of hearing anyway.

When I say the dead are pretty quiet I’m talking about the ones who die as they’re supposed to.  I mean we’re all supposed to, and it’s not the being dead that can cause problems. It’s how you get there that’s important.  Take my mama for example.  She was the kind of person who lived with a flourish, everything she did seemed to have her signature on it because she put her heart into her life.  So even though she died early and we missed her terribly, she didn’t leave anything incomplete.  She was the kind of person you always feel around you, but not because she’d left people with old hurts or unmended rips, but because she’d been the first one to show you the wisteria bush over at the McClure’s abandoned homestead or she’d brought over fresh doughnuts when your first grandchild was born, or she’d singed an old petticoat for trying to make a miniature hot air balloon for one of our science projects.  And so, every time you smelled wisteria, ate a doughnut, or put on a petticoat you felt like smiling.  That’s why I say she’s quiet. It’s not that she’s disappeared, but being quiet, she’s not hollering for attention, raising a ruckus, or needing figuring out like some dead people.

***

as usual, Fiction Going Nowhere is draft-status – it’s not story-ready and is probably unlikely to be developed further. Sorry about typos or errors or the fact that it currently is Going Nowhere. I hope it’s entertaining, nonetheless.

image – mine, taken in Germany