Tag Archives: writing

wayward words, where have you gone?

dry hills

 

“You only dreamed you wrote it,” said my ever pragmatic oldest daughter in response to my frustrated sigh. I’d spent a good part of the morning rifling through stacks of papers, flipping through the spiral notebook that I’ve been slowly filling with essay drafts and fiction snippets. But there was no sign of the story I could have sworn was right there among the other ink-filled pages – other than an initial, mind-mapped rush of images that had led me into a world, a scene, a brief moment of my characters’ lives. The story itself, that I clearly remembered having written, was gone.

“Write it again,” said my academic husband who could probably re-sculpt a lost paper out of his notes and citations. “That’s not the way it works,” I said, feeling the few remaining shreds of the story float through my mind, cloud-like and a little wispy. It had been one of those things that just appeared. In the basement, actually, on my way up from putting the laundry in the washer. I’d floundered about a little that morning (not an unusual state for me) and had finally remembered to just up and ask my Muse-mind what he was interested in.

“Lonely houses,” he returned. Lonely houses? Hmmm, interesting, I’d thought. And then he gave me the rest in a flash, literally in images and sensations. The unrepeatability lies in the perception – an all-senses go! moment, barely contained in instances like this, until I write the “thing” down. I promise, I wrote it down. I have no idea if it was any good because though I think I re-read it once, it went the way of everything I’ve written lately, which is to just sit and wait for me to do something with it. In the notebook.

I wish remembering it here would bring it back but all it’ll do is sound second-hand, like a half-heard joke minus the punchline. The point was the experience of the flash, the writing it in that sometimes-entered “I’m in the thick of it” almost-trance, and then, the written thing itself. I don’t know why it wouldn’t be in the notebook and I feel a little lost without it.

Maybe that’s the essence of lonely houses, too. Once alive, full of life even, situated in a particular place. When they lose their people and their purpose all that’s left is a feeling of what was. Accessible only to the one or few who knew them and recognize the rest of what’s left behind as remnants.

Here, as memorial to this lost, lonely house, is the remaining foundation of its story, found only on the mind-map on which is sketched some plumbing work under gutted cabinets, the walls and all the broken windows (beware of nails and fragments, loose wires and run-on sentences):

  • “my lonely house,” he says…it is, in its own way, beautiful though dying and doing so without grace, just dilapidation
  • not the ones in towns but the ones forgotten by most, off in the hills in the summer
  • the whine of cicadas – scream, buzz, shrill, drilling summer through your ears. Then they stop.
  • still, late afternoon air, hours before an evening breeze can remind you that at least it makes its way toward the coast
  • the live oaks do not move, do not whisper. Their shade, lined with prickled leaf-litter, does not comfort, it crackles.
  • little girl comes out from the side, stays in the shade. Does not sigh, merely squats near a stone, picks it up idly, rolls it from palm to palm, puts it down and looks off into the distance. Mama is sick again.
  • nothing, of course, is watered in the yard. The faucet does not work. Anyway, there is no garden so what would be the point of water? It would only benefit the star-thistles which scratch the calves of girls who venture past the house shadow in their sundresses. Better not to wear a sundress in the sun anyway: sunburned shoulders and a little poison oak blister where she carelessly let the daughter of the mother-of-all-poison-oak bushes touch her where it reaches across the foot-path edge on the way round the west ridge – away from the dirt road – out where the view of the valley unfolds.
  • behind their old car a silver sedan from town clicks and pings and its engine fan shuts off with a finality not heard in the conversation in the house until her father says, “we can’t pay for that, and anyway, she’ll be fine in a day or two – always is and she doesn’t need to go to the hospital.”
  • an airplane bores its way through the pale blue sky and is gone
  • she goes up the cement steps to the unshaded hollow-core front door, opens it and slips in before the murmured voices can rise above the stillness outside. She closes the door so nothing can escape.
  • far off in the distance, unseen by the girl or her mother, clouds gather themselves and somewhere – somewhere else, it rains, out of season.

****
image source: Michael W. Murphy on flickr (creative commons license)

self: scientist, publicist…person

This is a post from 2012, and as I work to re-post-ulate this blog, I find it’s still relevant.

 

It has come to my attention (self-reflectively as is appropriate to post-modern solipsism) that I have nothing to add to the internet’s cache of information. I don’t know if that indicates my lack of social utility, a failure of creativity, an utter retro-square mindset (the opposite of which would be a rush to expose, through all electronic social networks just the things I wouldn’t share with my real life ones) or if it’s just wishy-washy dilly-dallying on my part, a fear to commit what it takes to stake my space, forge my “Brand.”  That and the overwhelming sense one can get by spending even a small amount of time online: it’s all already been said, why bother?

But I am bothered. I have things I want to share, conversations I’d like to be part of and they all get waylaid by all that’s involved with putting more words online.

In some ways starting this blog was like undertaking an advertising campaign without a product to market.  No invention, no novel idea (well, there is an idea for a novel, but I digress), no empirical data or dogmatic conviction. Just a life, just some thoughts, just a notion that blogging could be a viable way to connect with others.

It isn’t – or at least not in any life-changing, honest-to-goodness way. It’s illusory – I go away for months, nobody notices. A regular reader goes away for months, nobody notices. We can’t, we’re off to the next best greatest new thing to relieve us from the agony of boredom. We’re looking for the day’s True Truth, revealed in Twitter feeds, that will grant us momentary status in the nebulously networked, self-referencing universe of “oh, look at me!”

I wonder where this is heading, what’s the inevitable outcome of the requirement that we spin our lives to collect “friends,” that we push ourselves to be cutting edge, ahead of the curve. What are we sacrificing (what does the cutting edge cut away)?

Though they often leave me woozy, I like big questions and the possibilities they bring to our awareness. Mostly I don’t understand the universe – there’s consciousness (I think!), there’s matter, there’s energy, there’s emptiness and perception – all jumbled together with enough regularity to make us think we can get a grip on it and with enough anomaly that we sometimes get our convictions served back to us on a platter.

I was entertained (oh, is that the best we can get these days?) by a piece in The New Yorker (2010) in which the author reported on what he called “the decline effect.” By now Jonah Lehrer’s… shall we say, journalistic indiscretions, have become well known (see here and here if they’re not well known to you). But at the time, and being a slightly nerdy skeptic of “absolute” knowledge (as in, I like/benefit from but am untrained in science and I also accept other epistemologies), I fell for Lehrer’s notion that the universe might be throwing the “rules” of the game just ’cause it can, in all its way-out-there vastness. But just because an idea sounds good doesn’t make it valid. No brainer, right? Yet isn’t that a fundamental problem for humans?  All it takes is one glance at the varieties of philosophical ideas that have been promoted by one person or another through the millenia, all the styles of governing proposed, soteriological prescriptions offered, utopias envisioned to see that we love to take an idea and show all the ways the world proves it correct.*

Ironically, Lehrer made that same point in that same article, “Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it’s true.” I quote him here not to push home some sort of weird relativistic notion of truthfulness and provability (and that quote rightfully garnered a huge backlash); with remarkable accuracy we can explain and predict how matter behaves in this world because of information we have gathered with scientific inquiry – the scientific method is not really being challenged as Lehrer suggested.  Non-material reality, though, is of course, not so easy to pin down or interpret – and this is both because of the “problems” of subjectivity and wrapped around what subjectivity actually is.

This is a symptom of deep cultural uncertainty that leaves many scrambling for explanations or ways to cope.  For many, though, it’s been a springboard to a thriving career path that leads to

the dubious promised land of the convention hall, where the book, blog, TED talk, and article are merely delivery systems for a core commodity, the Insight.

New York Magazine’s Boris Kachka wrote a little over two weeks ago in an article on Lehrer’s downfall and the culture that created it, that “[t]he Insight”

is less of an idea than a conceit, a bit of alchemy that transforms minor studies into news, data into magic. Once the Insight is in place—Blink, Nudge, Free, The World Is Flat—the data becomes scaffolding. It can go in the book, along with any caveats, but it’s secondary. The purpose is not to substantiate but to enchant.

Lehrer, far from alone in his travels

was scrambling up the slippery slope to the TED-talk elite: authors and scientists for whom the book or the experiment is just part of a multimedia branding strategy.

Kachka posits that “he was less interested in wisdom than in seeming convincingly wise,” compelled and compounded in part by a culture in which writers (particularly staff writers for magazines which focus on the intersections of technology and science with social sciences and consciousness studies) “function as boldfaced brand experts in everything from economics to medicine to creativity.” [all emphasis mine]

blah.

I think that my self-fueled dilemma about blogging arises because the nature of the media is predicated on the existence of audience. I hope I’m not playing the role of the wallflower who claims that “dances are so stupid!” just because nobody asks her to dance, but that I’m honestly not sure how having an audience observe the inner workings of my mind affects said workings. Can I dance freely when I know others are or will be watching?  Do I really have to retire to a cave?

Oh, did I ever mention I overthink?

It’s hard not to when cases like John Locke (the contemporary writer who gained a following after receiving lots of positive book reviews, which he paid for) and Jonah Lehrer show up with some regularity, when ‘surface’ is the soup of the day and ‘substance’ is dropped from the menu.

Maybe I just have to have the attitude of a three year old – you know, if I close my eyes, nobody else is here.  Dear audience, forgive me. I know you exist (well, I take it on faith maybe), I just want to be careful… I don’t want to dance because somebody’s watching.

Meanwhile I’m off to update my SEO stuff.**

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*cynicism on this front brought to you today by the 2012 US presidential election campaigns.

** I take full responsibility for the irony of this conclusion.

 

 

Writing, Spirit and Courage

I believe writers must travel into wilderness and bring back what they find, envelop it in words, and release it into the world. I believe that is their ecological function and without that renewal human culture deteriorates. I believe in the sacredness and the necessity of the art..          –Stephen Harrod Buhner

I once had an acquaintance who derided me for not being into physically adventurous things.  Nevermind that I am physically active, was once a competitive swimmer and practiced aikido – if I wasn’t mountain biking or rock climbing or alternately throwing myself down mountains on skis, I was missing out, I was not “edge” enough.

Now, I may not be the most courageous of folks (evidenced by my inability/unwillingness to scathe him with a witty comeback) but as someone who wrings every assumption out through writing, who is willing to go deep and look directly at my life, find what’s at the center and what can be brought back in beautiful form, I have to say that Buhner’s reminder gives me more courage to explore a different wilderness. An equally dangerous one.

I know I hang back even though I try not to.  I know I am not doing the daring things that might be possible.  But I’m at least willing to stand on the threshold and enter, open-eyed.

I am a practicant of this sacred and necessary art, but I have not earned any right to claim ecological or cultural significance.  I understand the importance of bringing a gift back from your journey, something to heal your community, something to nourish those who have nourished you.* Maybe it’s better to not know that, though, because it contributes to “pressure to produce.”  Something that makes it less likely that anything will come of a novice’s attempts to to use writing as a spiritual practice.


Quote from: Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Ensouling Language: On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer’s Life.

* a la Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey

Image source: Trey Ratcliff via Compfight