Welcome to my blog Upstate Girl, (a.k.a Follow Your Bliss Part II), I am an independently published author. This blog is all about writing and the stuff that inspires me to write, the joys and obstacles that come along with the writer's life, and my fascination with the psychology of people and what makes them tick...the human condition, as is...and my love for words, playing with them and making sense of them...and I throw in a few photos from my acre of the world just to make things pretty...sometimes there are things I have no words for, only pictures will do.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

My thoughts about "Bone" by Fae Myenne Ng

We were a family of three girls. By Chinese standards, that wasn’t lucky. In Chinatown, everyone knew our story. Outsiders jerked their chins, looked at us, shook their heads. We heard things. (p. 1)

Ona, the middle daughter, jumped off the Nam. Leila, her older sister, journeys backwards in her memory about what happened in Salmon Alley, trying to grasp the why—how come? The story is told in a manner that is like a non-linear slide through time, reading the past through Lei’s recollections—or perhaps, the book is in order if it is read starting with the last chapter, I only think of this because Chinese is read back to front/ right to left, if this was intentional, it is an provocative element for telling the story. Either way—it is unsettling to arrive at the beginning of the next chapter and realize it isn’t the continuation of the one previous (which some readers have complained that it’s annoying—I’m flexible as a reader so I’m not likely to get too ruffled over such things, I caught on quick that it is meant to be so.) This is how I experienced the book—life is befuddling—we muddle through, some of us do a little better than others, but not everyone leaves this world unscathed—not everyone has the coping skills to handle most of the shit that life slings at us, much of our time is spent dwelling on what happened to get us to HERE, the present. The past is our bones, our foundation—for good or bad. Our minds wander and trip through memories of a bunch of shit we cannot change—we live with it and move on to the new version of normal.

To have a sister (or daughter) commit suicide is an unthinkable loss—that has to be one of the harshest losses for a family to endure. For the loved ones, there is no answer why, not really. For Ona to suddenly make the choice to end her life—there was no time to think about how taking her life will affect those left behind—chances are, if she did think of it, she wouldn’t have jumped. Who knows how many times she was on the edge before she finally stepped off. No one knew, no one had a clue, no one expected it. She’s gone and all that’s left are questions. The whole family struggles with explanation and understanding—they are two distinct constructs of comprehension—one is a revelation, the other a perception—the explanation would be painful if Ona herself documented her reasons in a note—something concrete that could be pointed to THERE, the reason, but there is no explanation. The understanding—this is a sympathetic discovery that each of them must face on their own terms as individuals. The family is left with tatters of old world superstitions such as the bones of Leon’s “paper father” that have not been put to rest in China as promised or it is a punishment for Mah’s infidelity. Family strife/ family love—families travel on journeys both pleasant and unpleasant—it is part of the human experience.

Here’s another bone for the gossipmongers…(p. 1)

I must note here, the symbolic meaning of bones—mortality (of course) and then there are our skeletons in the closet—but it is truth as in the truest part of ourselves that are lasting, our bones will last long after our flesh is gone. Our bones are the memories that we leave behind.

“To bones.”
“Bones,” I repeated. This was a funny that got sad, and knowing it, I kept laughing…
(page 30)

“Bones are sweeter than you know,” she [Mah] always said…”Clean bones…no waste.” (pages 31)

Bone is spare—concise language, it is sad and sweet, it’s beautiful.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The F-Bomb

Yup, this is my little book…independently published in 2009, Dusty Waters, A Ghost Story is an interesting girl… Occasionally I will “channel” my character, Dusty Waters, the guitar slinging folksinger born in the  bookend years of the Boomer Generation…so last night, I wrote a poe-em in the vein of her righteous indignation…I call it The F-Bomb and it goes like this:

Bitch—and I call you "Bitch" with affection, ya dig?
Let me tell you this—this bit of wisdom—
when you reach fifty-two years old
you will have seen, heard, and experienced enough
things to make you drop an F-bomb before 9AM,
maybe earlier than that, depending on what it is. I swear,
ever since Watergate, I can spit nails, and I was just
a youngin’ then—so imagine what I must spit now since
9/11, right? Don’t get me started on that noise—I swear
my head can just about pop off my body sometimes—I’m
sorry to say, it hasn’t gotten better. I’m sorry for you cuz
shit is fucked up and stuff, so by the time you’re
fifty-two years old, I can’t imagine—I’ll be long gone by then,
moved on to my next thing—while you are stuck here with the
mess of life, such as it is. Let me warn you, you are more vulnerable
as you get older—it isn’t just age or illness that takes you out,
it’s the young who unwittingly come in and take from you
everything you’ve worked so hard for all your adult life—
twenty-five or thirty years of experience—service—
easily undermined by someone so new they squeak when
you run your finger down ‘em—not that I’m complaining or anything,
Bitch—I’ll tell you now, I’d rather die with my boots on than sitting
behind a desk being a ‘point n’ click’ despot with nothing
better to do than shrug their shoulders, roll their eyes,
crinkle up their nose, make excuses, and become argumentative
when they can’t answer a fucking question. My question.
Fuck it anyway—it’s not important. I’ve worked hard all my life—
I have kicked ass as a one-woman army—and I have lived a good one
in spite of the downs that can outnumber the ups on any given day.
Life is precarious enough, so, fuck people like that—they are negligible
debris in the grand scheme of things. Seriously. It doesn’t matter.
Don’t dwell on the negative—grab onto the positive and hold on tight.
In my fifty-two years, I’ve known that what matters is
my corner of the world, my family, and my home are my wealth.
Bitch, I do hope you can have a place to call home—
a patch of the world of your own—your own mind.
Know thyself—as they say—ya dig?
From one bitch to another, be good to yourself.
Be strong. Be yourself. Love and love hard—yourself,
your family, your home. Be at peace.
Drop an F-bomb as needed so your head
doesn’t pop off your body—trust me on this—no one will
show up to wash your mouth out with soap.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Melymbrosia by Virginia Woolf

Jeepers, I wish my first drafts of a novel turned out this good. Granted, it is rough—raw in places, and there are things that develop in later drafts that grow from knowledge and time, and so The Voyage Out grew from Melymbrosia as it should have. I can see why VW’s male friends cringed and insisted that she tone it down. (Here is where I must remind readers that it is a book of their time, not ours.) I read it from my size 6 ½’s in the 21st century and thought, “Really? That’s pretty tame.” Maybe because I’m so cynical at this point in my life, I’m just numb to it all—who knows. Whatever. It’s been a long time since I read The Voyage Out so I had to dig out my copy and poke through it while I wrote this bit and admired it for what it is, fleshed out to a density that was typical of her early novels. I noted that Hewet never had his revelation of “dreams and realities” until The Voyage Out—it’s the same musing that Ralph Denham had about Katharine Hilbery in Night and Day (the original title was Dreams and Realities.) So it is interesting to see the overlapping of themes between the two novels—how often do we imagine a person being a certain way, thinking certain thoughts, creating a mold and filling the qualities of our dreams into it, and then when faced with the real person the mold is shattered completely and we feel certain that they do not love us in the same way as we love them.

The title Melymbrosia is a mystery, apparently, VW never gave an explanation for it—Louise DeSalvo speculates in her introduction (which you must read after reading the book) that perhaps it is a combination of the Greek words for honey and ambrosia, but I wonder if it is instead, melancholy and ambrosia—a strange combination—sadness, gloominess, miserable moodiness, delicious, delightful, intoxicating loveliness—the beauty and the terror, the sublime. In my opinion, it is sort of in the vein of the sublime as in “the beauty and the terror”. It’s a Victorian aesthetic that creeps into British writing ever since the Romantic era. Mr. Dalloway suggested that Rachel should read Burke, tho’ he mused over the more political books about the French and the American Revolutions, but I thought Burke’s book, A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) was more appropriate for this journey. " WHATEVER is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling. I say the strongest emotion, because I am satisfied the ideas of pain are much more powerful than those which enter on the part of pleasure. Without all doubt, the torments which we may be made to suffer are much greater in their effect on the body and mind, than any pleasure which the most learned voluptuary could suggest, or than the liveliest imagination, and the most sound and exquisitely sensible body, could enjoy. " Burke believed that the sublime—such as vastness, infinity, magnificence of a stormy ocean or an unexplored landscape—has the power to destroy, it was something that could incite terror, and yet, “pleasure” enters into this intense emotion, as in a sense of being “ravished”, the passion of fear (especially the fear of death.) It is a complex human experience—ambiguous in its nature. The tension between representation (imagination) and concepts (reason); the waffling of harmony and disharmony, pleasure and displeasure, anguish and joy—there and back again—all very human feelings. Virginia Woolf knows the language of the sublime, and perhaps she felt it much too keenly—when writers write, their emotional spigots are on full blast, it’s exhausting to say the least, rummaging around within the inner depths and dragging out a treasure of words—

“—while the gulls are squawking above, the sea is running round the world, and the plants are opening on earth? I live, I die; the sea comes over me; it’s the blue that lasts.” – page 42


My Dad

 William E. Wilkinson, April 5, 1927-Juy 13, 2014

My father passed away on July 13th, he was 87. It seems unreal to me being without both of my parents—we as children are defined by their being there, and now I feel orphaned as there isn’t that one more step above me to turn to…or to tell about something that happened…or to call and ask “How are you?” Sometimes I dial the number just to hear its familiar ring.

He slipped away rather quickly once he started failing on the 11th, he had been in hospice care since April, and although he was frail, he seemed in good spirits and was doing well with the additional care provided by the hospice volunteers and nurses who visited with him at the nursing home. There's a strange false sense of security in knowing that he's being well cared for that made us think, he might continue on status quo...but on Friday he stopped eating, Saturday he was running a fever, was listless, and not talking; by Sunday he was completely unresponsive. He would occasionally crack open an eye to look—in response to our voices in the room or a touch, but the gaze that I saw was far away—he knew we were there. There was no struggle, he passed peacefully in the bliss of a deep sleep...the way it should be if one has a choice.

He was a patient man, gentle and kind, loving and loveable. He had the best laugh, a good belly laugh that was distinct. He loved to read, and made it fun for me to learn while sitting in his lap having a story read to me, and he'd talk to me about the story, almost like a story separate from the one we read, explaining the how come of things. He was also talented in drawing, he saw me struggling to make a picture of a lion once, and he showed me how as he made marks with swift, sure strokes with the pencil. I was so stunned that he was so good at it. He taught me how to take pictures and he built a darkroom in the basement so we could develop and print our pictures. I see the directions for developing a roll of black and white film that I wrote out in my girlish penmanship years ago still hanging by the stationary sink, a relic most revered by him because I wrote it down. His patience was most appreciated when he drove me on his Wednesday afternoons off from the store to take me to my weekly horseback riding lesson at Terry Ho Stables in Phelps NY. I had no idea how he learned of the place and arranged for these lessons, but this was something that he wanted me to have because I kept pestering for a horse, and he wanted to make sure I knew how to handle one first. So he sat in the truck for the hour, reading a book while waiting. Sometimes I'd see him by the rail watching, or strolling around with his camera taking pictures of the horses and landscape. When he did buy me a horse, we drove to many farms to look at several ones, he called on several advertisements in the paper, some were already sold. Hajji Baba was acquired August 1, 1975, I was 13. Which meant more time spent sitting in the truck while I rode my horse and did all the chores to take care of him. 
He taught me how to drive...in addition to driver education at school, he took me around to learn parallel parking and all the other moves necessary to pass my road test. Sadly, I just had gotten my license when I sold Hajji Baba in March 1980, Daddy was with me that sad day when we loaded Hajji into the truck and saw him off, he let me drive home.

When I got pregnant, before I told them the news, he knew by looking at me that I had the little bun in the oven. He called me up and told me "You need to take good care of yourself, you have something very special inside you that depends on you to be good to yourself." It was very sweet.

I don't know where the time goes, but it's gone.

We’re still cleaning out the house that he built of their 61 years of life together—there is so much stuff. It’s hard enough to go there every Saturday to work on it when one has a house and a full time job to attend to…there has to be time for one’s self too. Of course, over the last nearly three years, there have been various illnesses and life interruptions that make going there impossible.

As I resettle myself into this latest version of normal, I find that I’m still editing the same book that I was working on the night that I learned my mother was taken to the hospital almost three years ago on August 2nd. (If I were diligent enough, I could find the exact file that I was making changes to that moment when I telephoned home on my normal Tuesday at 7PM to check in and say "Hello, what's up?") I'm superstitious enough to wonder if the book is cursed or maybe there's a reason for it, all that has happened has provided me with the additional angst I need to finish it properly...or something.

William and William

At Three
Boot camp

On furlough visiting home


Fooling around as young sailors do

Home and the new car

At home

On my wedding day

Bill and Janie 1950

Monday, June 16, 2014

My thoughts on reading "Wolf Solent" by John Cowper Powys

Powys is one of the greatest novelists that not everybody knows about—I always make an effort to press him upon receptive readers—I’m a believer, a bookish zealot—I’m always more than happy to spread the word of literary awesomeness, I do realize that not every reader is going to dig Powys. Books by Powys have a knack to haunt a reader long after they’re done. His writing is magical, beautiful, rhapsodic, breathtaking, meandering, timeless—very dense classic prose. He’s in the company of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Proust, Hardy, D. H. Lawrence—Powys (dubbed by some as the anti-Hemingway—which I find funny, I love “Papa” too—he is his own writing beast, Powys is another unique species of writer.) He’s a writer’s writer. With the generous spirit of Shakespearean shrewdness, he evokes an aged skepticism of everything, and yet a youthful gullibility about everything—it’s all very enchanting and lovely, and far too good to miss. In this contemporary world of instant gratification, it would be far too easy to neglect this master storyteller, and it would be a shame to forget him just because his way of writing is out of fashion.

One of the things that makes a Powys novel like Wolf Solent special is how he lays down a historical foundation that is based on legends. In all legends, there’s a grain of truth—the old hills and dells, moors and coastlines of Wales and England (in particular) have a history and mythology that have deep roots in the lives of the people who live within the covers of his books. The people—they are many and varied, the beautiful and ugly of humanity are all well represented. Pagans and Christians—philosophy and superstition overlap and separate—mingling and repelling—they co-exist with a feigned ignorance or have the willingness to overlook “the matter” out of politeness, and more times than not, they are blatant with their venom—gossiping the next chance meeting with an ear waiting to listen—creating their own legends from the bits of truth of what was muddied by their own perceptions. There’s an intensity of life that is palatable; life is complicated, yet it’s simple. The density of the writing is so absorbing, that’s what makes it so dang fascinating—he creates a sense of place and time, textured and sensual—decadent (in the best sense of the term.) The thing I love so much about his writing is that I have to be on my toes through all of it—my brain is slowly dining on every word, savoring every last bit to the end. I found it hard to put the book down some nights—and I was haunted by it until I picked it up again.

Wolf walks a lot (like the character Porius in another Powys novel of that name)—here, there, and everywhere—if I were his wife, Gerda, I would’ve slapped him silly for his random acts of disappearing—“Where the Hell have you been Mr. Solent? I gave you up as dead in a ditch somewhere along the road—get in here, sit, and have your tea.” (As it is long before the convenience of cell phones, give the nearest lad a ha’penny and have him run a message home at least! Ah, but he doesn’t think of doing that until near the end of the book.) I can’t blame Gerda at all for feeling as she did, a young wife finding herself married to this peculiar, distracted, but mostly harmless fool. He mentally wandered in a self-absorbed state, what he called “sinking into his soul”, also known as his “mythology” a secret name for his secret habit of daydreaming—it is a carryover from childhood that appalled his mother, but his father encouraged. Daydreams are a beautiful thing to have access to—they feed the creative mind all sorts of goodies, but it can be detrimental for an adult to go about in a fantasy world. Absentmindedness is quaint to a point, after a while, people can become pretty annoyed when your distracted manner is no longer entertaining as you are causing inconvenience—one day you have your head in the clouds, the next day it changes to having your head firmly stuck up your ass (there’s a time and place for everything, you see.) Wolf’s walking seems directionless, yet he follows his nose like a canine; examining his internal world and then becoming suddenly enamored by the world outside of himself— the verdant curve of a hill, the muddy stillness of a pond, the blue of the sky, and the golden meadow brimming with buttercups; body and soul, dreams and realities, within and without, life and death, good and evil—his thoughts often veering over the edge into the supernatural. The dead and buried (in particular, his father and the young Redfern) live on in memories and imaginings—laughing at the arrogance of the living.
Truth be told, the fool needed to grow up and get ahold of himself. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Wolf and his ‘mythology’, he cracked me up quite often—from the beginning, he got sacked from his teaching job in London for his “malice-dance” in which he just went off on an inappropriate verbal jaunt that had nothing to do with teaching History to the boys in his charge...

“He was telling his pupils quietly about Dean Swift; and all of a sudden some mental screen or lid or dam in his own mind completely collapsed and he found himself pouring forth a torrent of wild, indecent invectives upon every aspect of modern civilization.”p.2

This is the prevailing attitude throughout the book—he has something eating at him.

“He felt as though, with aeroplanes spying down upon every retreat like ubiquitous vultures, with the lanes invaded by iron-clad motors like colossal beetles, with no sea, no lake, no river, free from throbbing, thudding engines, the one thing most precious of all in the world was being steadily assassinated.” P.3

I agreed with him on most things, yet there were times I found his obsessive waffling over the flirtatious and sexy Gerda and the solemn and thoughtful Christie to be comical, bordering on absurd—he wanted his cake and eat it until it made him sick. The reality of Wolf’s life is invading and destroying his ‘mythology’—the being in a rut, teaching history to boys at the school for thirty years just irks him to no end—he longs to have financial independence to allow him to live comfortably and to have freedom. I certainly didn’t want to see him lose that lovely imaginativeness that was natural—instinctive, nigh innocent (yet not entirely), but it was clear that his behavior was becoming a concern by those who knew him. It isn’t every day that your father-in-law (a monument maker) indicates his concern by saying:

“Tis no comfort,” he remarked, “though I be the man I be for cossetting they jealous dead, to think that ‘in a time and half a time,’ as Scripture says, I’ll be chipping “Rest in the Lord” on me wone son-in-law’s moniment. But since us be talking snug and quiet, mister, on this sorrowful theme”—Mr. Torp’s voice assumed his undertaker’s tone, which long usage had rendered totally different from his normal one—“’twould be a mighty help, mister, to I, for a day to come, if ye’d gie us a tip as to what word—out of Book or out of plain speech—ye’d like best for I to put above ‘ee?” p. 466

As he moped around on his many walks, at times considering that maybe he should go drown himself in Lenty Pond as alluded by those who believed it to be his destiny, (I seriously felt concerned that he would!) I wished I could’ve advised him—“You should write a book of your own—you really need to.” If anything could possibly reset and settle his mind, it would be that—writing clears the decks of a busy mind that wanders. Writing is one of our most intimate acts of creativity, it can center one and it can unravel one—one can be rattled to the core by the act of writing, sometimes there’s nothing more startling than to write down the thoughts that haunt you to the point of something comparable to madness. Eventually, it does work out those bothersome bugs and gives focus. Then it’s nigh terrifying to share one’s own words on paper with anyone else because they are so personal—private. For example, when Wolf reads Christie’s writing that she had hidden away, she was pissed when she found out—his reading it ruined it for her, she wasn’t ready to have anyone read her thoughts. The eccentric poet, Jason Otter, shared his poetry with Wolf on many occasions, but when Wolf suggests that he should send them to London to be published, Jason became angry—feeling certain that the Londoners would laugh at his poetry. Anyway, I can only hope that Wolf came to writing later in life beyond the last page—that’s another thing that I love about this book, there is a sense that life goes on after the book ends. His walk through the meadow of buttercups was the most sublime event—he had changed, “grown up” in a manner of speaking—he may have lost his “mythology”, but he gained a new sight and insight. Once again, he reveled in taking notice of the smallest things such as the beauty of a snail as it went creeping along from a dock-leaf to the boards of the pigsty shed. Accepting the reality—“I am I”—“Forget and enjoy”—“ Endure or escape”—it was his body that saved him—for this, his spirit is grateful.

John Cowper Powys (I could not find a credit for the image, tho' I'll keep looking and will amend should I find it.)
“Millions of miles of blue sky; and beyond that, millions of miles of sky that could scarcely be called blue or any other colour—pure  unalloyed emptiness, stretching outwards from where he sat—with his stick and coat opposite him—to no conceivable boundary or end!” p. 10

I simply adored this book and could easily read it again—I have a few bits here from some of the many dog-eared pages, and then I’m done with my wordy testimony…

“Every time the hedge grew low, as they jogged along, every time a gate or a gap interrupted its green undulating rampart, he caught a glimpse of that great valley, gathering the twilight about it as a dying god might gather to his heart the cold, wet ashes of his last holocaust.” P. 25

“Nature was always prolific of signs and omens to his mind; and it had become a custom with him to keep a region of his intelligence alert and passive for a thousand whispers, hints, obscure intimations that came to him in this way. Why was it that a deep, obstinate resistance somewhere in his consciousness opposed itself to such a solution?”
p 274

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Thoughts about The Shadow of the Wind...and other stuff

The Shadow of the Wind is an epic, a mystery with romance, and it has just enough Gothic creepy edge to it to make it special—it’s a lovely book, read it, get lost in it, find and absorb all the good from it—and it’s got the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, what more can I ask for as a book lover?

"This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down the pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands."  From page 5-6

This is the quote that caught me firmly into the teeth of this book—only because of my own life experience and emotional connection to books put me there. When I walk into antique shops, I go find their corners where there are old books and I search for ones that I must adopt—it always makes me sad to see them languishing, unread—being the imaginative person that I am, I feel these inanimate objects have an essence about them that is in a sense alive—a soul—it is the spirit of the person who wrote them, the person who bought them, the person who read them (loved them.)

I often look at all of the books in our personal library and wonder—“Will I ever get around to reading them again or reading the ones I haven’t read yet?” And then I sometimes go the extra step further to make it worse and wonder, “Who will take care of my books after I’m gone?” (Painful isn’t it?)

So...with that said...I recently went with my sister to Bouckville, NY to do antique shopping...and of course, I look for old books to "adopt" this time, I found Kipling's Jungle Books, Volumes 1 and 2, illustrated by Aldren Watson, published by Double Day & Co. 1948...they are gorgeous! Volume 2 is his collected short stories, which I was very happy to find...I mean, who doesn't love Rikki-Tikki Tavi?

He creeps up the little creeks that men think would not hide a dog...

Kaa...I always thought he was a very cool serpent...
 Of course, the books were not all that I adopted! I found lots of cool old goodies...

An iron bank (very rusty) and it's a donkey! I could not pass it up!

A compass and a scribe

A pretty yellow ware bowl, not as old as others that I have, but I like the blue stripe...

Old bridle bits...I wish they weren't painted black, but I guess someone thought it would make them more "decorative" that way...paint comes off (but it isn't a priority at the moment.)
I'm still slowly recovering from the shingles (it's been two months already.) The good news is, it isn't the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, so that's progress. What a wretched illness to have...I went all day yesterday without taking my pain meds, I did very well, I hardly thought about the pain at all, but today I am, which is not a good start to the day, it is what it is...so I'm going to mellow out and not let it get me down. I do believe the rash part is finally done...one trick I learned out of desperation...use Listerine on that shitty rash! It stings like crazy, but sends the itch away with its tail tucked between its legs...there is something very satisfying about that sting, trust me on this. Other things I've done to take the edge off when the drugs seem like they're not working (there have been days when it seemed pointless to take stuff that only made me feel dull witted or loopy): gentle stretching does help A LOT, a TENS unit is also a good thing to invest in and use as needed...most of all, patience and be good to yourself, REST (I read a lot and I played a lot of Majong just to concentrate on something else.) That is my advice for shingles.

In spite of being sick and having the shittiest concentration in the world because of pain and pain killers, I have continued to work my way through my manuscript Drinking from the Fishbowl. Even if I work on a paragraph or two at night, I am happy that I've done something that resembles progress. I'm currently in chapter 36, which was once two chapters (36 and 37), but it is now only one...I've practically rewritten the whole thing, there's barely anything original left...I "killed some darlings" that came from the first draft, and I'm happy they're gone. How does one do that? Well, it's not an easy decision to make, but once I made up my mind to do it and carried it out, there was a sense of relief and the flow continued. Let's just say, it wasn't my favorite pair of chapters, and they came from a "different place" than where the book is today, it has evolved and matured beyond its initial conception. I am constantly reminded that this manuscript is only the second novel I ever wrote, and it was initially loaded with some goofy shit that no longer fit in...I'm still tweaking it, nursing it along...of course, whenever large swaths of text are cut out, there's that stone tossed into the pond thing that happens, the ripples travel into other chapters and I have to be vigilant as I travel into these final chapters. Nothing is written in stone in this manuscript...this book can continue to grow and change (evolve.) I even had a crazy thought about wiping out even more, three chapters (34, 35 and even 36)...this possibility is still being investigated (since I'm still thinking about it), but I don't think I can disentangle parts that are deeply ingrained into the structure...a fresh printing of the chapters in question and a pair of scissors might help me piece it together... it's a work in progress. (I love it!)

...[he] stands alone, a solitary tree in an open field of emotions. - from Chapter 18, Drinking from the Fishbowl

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Reading Janet Frame, The Edge of the Alphabet

I’m continuing my journey discovering Janet Frame; The Edge of the Alphabet is yet another magical book of prose, experimental and challenging, a timeless narrative about the beauty and ugliness of the human condition. She plunges right in, starting on the first page:

Man is the only species for whom the disposal of waste is a burden, a task often ill judged, costly, criminal—especially when he learns to include himself, living and dead, in the list of waste products.

The creator of the world did not employ a dustman to collect the peelings of his creation.

Now I, Thora Pattern (who live at the edge of the alphabet where words like plants either grow poisonous tall and hollow about the rusted knives and empty drums of meaning, or, like people exposed to a deathly weather, shed their fleshy confusion and show luminous, knitted with force and permanence), now I walk day and night among the leavings of people, places and moments. Here the dead (my goldsmiths) keep cropping up like daisies with their floral blackmail. It is nearly impossible to bribe them or buy their silence.
Page 3

…and it is non-stop to the last page:

The edge of the alphabet where words crumble and all forms of communication between the living are useless. One day we who live at the edge of the alphabet will find our speech.

Meanwhile our lives are solitary; we are captives of the captive dead. We are like those yellow birds which are kept apart from their kind — you see their cages hanging in windows, in the sun—because otherwise they would never learn the language of their captors.

But like the yellow birds have we not our pleasures? We look long in mirrors. We have tiny ladders to climb up and down, little wheels to set our feet and our heart racing nowhere; toys to play with.

Should we not be happy?
  Page 303

It can leave one breathless...

Janet Frame’s books never cease to fascinate me — I have dog-eared several pages of this one (like others) marking where I want to return someday to explore a word-scape of unique beauty. The entire book is loaded with the most exquisite language — precious, priceless. She created geographical territory in which the borders of social inclusion and exclusion are investigated with an emphasis on language (communication or the lack of communication). The ghosts of the past are haunting, memories of lost relatives or events linger with a zealous desire to be remembered. There are surreal essences of despair, fear, failure — fragile dreams and disquieting realities—the human condition of those existing on the margins, marginalized — to be blunt, reality sucks. Sadly, this is a generous portion of our world’s population — life is not glamor, romance, and drama — to look away and deny it is negligent. Life is gritty with filth — our manmade rubbish, self-made madness, and life-long sickness. Some people are incapable of coping with life — some just do not have the tools to cope as they are flawed by disabilities (Toby’s epilepsy) or disabled by life (Zoe’s ignorance.) They are people easily discarded and ignored — yet Janet Frame writes in a way that makes the ugliness of life beautiful — and in all the trauma, there are comic pleasures that wink with a sweet wit that isn’t frivolous, if anything, the absurdity is very grounding.

A first kiss leading to the private research of identity, which leads to the creation of a sculpture from the silver paper of a cigarette pack, and then a life ended. A novel, The Lost Tribe, left unwritten because the writer is illiterate. Paintings destroyed, talent unrealized by an artist overcome by despair. And a life spent just getting by, going through the motions of life’s expectations to the point of not truly living.

“Just how much blank paper do you need, sir, to match your blank life?” Page 278


“He’s getting above himself, going overseas.”…there is an affliction of dream called ‘overseas’, a suffering of sleep endured by the prophetic, the bored, the retired, and the living who will not admit that it is easier and cheaper to die, die once and forever and travel as dust. But being dust how can you return and have your name in the paper and yourself pointed out in the street as having been “overseas” and your conversation filled with the names of places you have visited, your words received with wonder, as prophecies… How, if you are not Marco Polo or Herodotus? Page 49-50


Shall I write a book? Everybody is going to write a book. Memoirs on writing paper, toilet paper, café wall, pavement, or stone column in a city cemetery where borders of trees provide a trip-wire into silence. Shall I write? Shall I engage in private research of identity? Page 99


And then she laughed out loud to think that she had never known, that she had always believed that people were separate with boundaries and fences and scrolled iron gates, Private Road, Trespassers Will be Prosecuted; that people lived and died in shapes and identities with labels easily recognizable, with names which they clutched, like empty suitcases, on a journey to nowhere. Page 106


The day is patched with long silences between the communication of people, give rise to dread; as if the time itself held a reserve of opinion too terrible to express. In the cracks of the silence the people’s voices grow like bright feverish weeds whose stalks are hollow and whose shallow roots are separated from the earth (or water) with one tug of a hand or breeze; now and again people’s voices disappear in the gaps that open with the continual shock of Time. Page 215


“Did you make it?” he asked Zoe. “How did you think of it?”

Everyone admired the shape once again. Zoe was not used to being the center of attention; not for something she had made—when in her life had she ever made anything? It’s only a bit of paper, she said to herself, but she throbbed with warmth. How strange that it had so affected the others, had evoked in them feelings which they could only consider and explore by sitting there, as all three were doing now, silent, staring at the silver sculpture… How extraordinary, Zoe thought, that such feeling should be roused by seeing a conventional paper shape twisted at random, in idleness, among strangers whom I shall never meet again.
Page 272

Janet Frame writes with this special vision about social identity, a textual borderland — a wonderland — an Is-land — the post-colonial experience, New Zealand and England—being an alien within one’s homeland and within one’s own skin, living in the margins — at the edge of the alphabet…

And sometimes it seemed too much like being excluded from the mystical long-division sum, like being the odd number at the bottom or at the side of the column, the mental afterthought, the carrying number put there for mere convenience and erased when the answer to the sum is worked out. Page 297

Honestly, who hasn’t spent time living on the edge of the alphabet…

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Thoughts on writing...some advice

Me with Dusty Waters at my first book signing, May, 2009
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, since I could scribble, I wanted to write something that mattered—it took a long time to get there, I had a good deal of false starts. It’s been 15 years since I wrote the manuscript Washed Glass and saw it through to the finish. (Oh, I thought I knew what I was doing, but I totally had no idea.) This effort is still unpublished and certainly nowhere near ready to have a cover designed for it. It’s a densely written monster that has everything and the kitchen sink in it, and it’s rife with first-novel-itis, but I know the story is good enough to take the time to make it right—not every first manuscript is good enough. Even tho’ I do cringe a little when I think about going back to it, but now that I know more about what I’m doing, I know what I must do, so I will revisit where I started all those years ago—someday. I will always have a soft spot for it—it was my first, from there, the rest of my work with words followed, and they nod with reverence to what happened before them because without Washed Glass, Dusty Waters and The Fractured Hues of White Light wouldn't have happened. 

My "Girls"

For what it’s worth, here’s my advice for aspiring writers (young and old):

It’s never too late to start. Just do it.

Write. Even if it’s pure nonsense, if it’s there in your head, write it. Unfortunately, we learn from our mistakes, and you’re not going to learn by being afraid of fucking up.

Read—read a lot—especially read outside your comfort zone, if you have resisted reading the classics, read them—experience them and learn from them. Keep your mind wide open to receive knowledge, grow your mind, grow your vocabulary—read the dictionary (you know, one of those old-fashioned cloth bound books illustrated with line art, get one.) Familiarize yourself with the basic rules of grammar and punctuation too. Keep a Thesaurus handy.  Honestly, you’ll need something to do during those dead zones when you’re not staring out the window thinking.

Be humble.
Write and write some more.
No, you’re not crazy, you’re writing a book. Keep writingjust let it flow.
Be brave.

Here are the Don’ts:

Don’t listen to those dissenting voices within you or from the others who are on the outside looking in—for goodness sakes, don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t do that” because it’s hard. Damn right it’s hard and don’t you forget it.

Don’t rely on spell check and grammar check on your computer to catch your errors because words like dairies and diaries are both spelled correctly and if you’re a little bit dyslexic at all it’s easy enough to screw them up. The brain has this amazing self-correction thing it does when you’re too close to your writing and you know what you want to say, so beware when dealing with words, especially when writing tens of thousands of them.

Don’t be a hermit.
Don’t forget to live.
Don’t forget to breathe.

So you finished writing your manuscript—your first book. Do a happy dance, scream, laugh, and cry. Tell all your friends and family—celebrate. It’s a wonderful thing, it’s an accomplishment, and an achievement worthy of a pat on the back.

Don’t be surprised if you feel sad—because you will. You will “miss” being there, being in your head with your characters—it can be a little scary to feel depressed like that, but don’t worry, you’re all right.

Do you think you’re done with it?

"Done" means it has a beginning and an end with a bunch of shit happening in the middle. I know it will be hard to do it, but walk away from it—leave it for months—start something new or just write nonsense. Keep reading more books to pass the time. No matter how tempting it is to fool around with it, leave it alone. Forget it long enough to “forget it” in a sense that will allow you to be objective when you read it again.

It’s nice if you can find a first reader who can honestly tell you what they think of it—it’s nice if the first reader doesn’t sit on it for months and not read it. A book, especially a raw first draft isn’t easy to hand off to someone and expect them to read it—it’s not like showing someone a drawing you made—reading is an investment of time—and first drafts can be SO ROUGH it’s not fun to read them.  When you do go back to it, be honest with yourself—is it how you envisioned it? Aim high, raise the bar for yourself, take pride in your work, OWN IT. Edit the darn thing—make it bleed red ink—be prepared, this process can go on for several drafts. If you can find an editor that you can afford—one you can trust to work within your vision, go for it. But not everyone can afford one, not everyone has access to such creatures, so it’s good for a writer to learn how to self-edit.

I do my own editing partly because I’m a control freak, and partly because I love doing it—I love the whole process of revising and editing. I will read a chapter backwards, sentence by sentence just to take it out of the flow to make sure it’s what I want it to say. Then I will read the chapter forwards again to see if I catch anything wonky. I go through it until I make no more changes. Then I leave it alone to forget it, then read it again. If I make no changes, that’s a good thing. I’ve been known to take the scissors to a chapter that I had thought was perfect two weeks ago and reorganize the paragraphs, tape it back together, make the revision, and then start over reading it in the new configuration. I read it and revise it until I make it right.

Reading hard copy is always a good idea.

It does get better—trust me on this.

Final thoughts:
Keep writing. 
Don’t settle.
Make it right. Make it perfect.
Practice, Patience, Persistence.

(For the record, I won't edit anyone's work, so don't ask...you can't pay me enough to do it.)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez 1927-2014

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”
(the first paragraph of One Hundred Years of Solitude)

 I adore this book. It is beautiful and it became an old friend within the first few pages—sometimes books are that way, they tell their story with a voice that is familiar, yet remarkable because of its unique qualities. There is so much grace in this book—very profound. It has a playful spirit that is hungry and happily full of love, a spirit that accepts death and sorrow as unavoidable facets of life. It made me laugh out loud and at times I would tear up—it is deeply emotional—compassionate. It is still speaking to me in an enchanting way that good books do—it keeps tugging on me to come back for one more look, so it is not too far out of reach, even now. One of the beauties of such a book is suspension of all belief and going with the natural flow—it is told in a voice that is wise and older than time. It is a book about being human—humans are messy, passionate fools who tumble into wisdom after several rounds of stupidity. Sometimes there is no dignity in our existence as we scratch about making a life out of what comes to us along the way—

“Ursula wondered if it was not preferable to lie down once and for all in her grave and let them throw the earth over her, and she asked God, without fear, if He really believes that people were made of iron in order to bear so many troubles and mortifications.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that everything he had written, he knew or heard before he was 8 years old. These formative years were spent with his maternal grandparents, listening and absorbing their folk tales and superstitions—stories of which he could not tell what was true and what was invention. His novels were filled with unforgettable characters existing in a fantastical landscape; books filled to the last page with dreams and realities; life and death; war, politics, madness, truth, enchantments, and lots of love—so much love.

 “Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out old people, they kept on blooming like little children and playing like dogs.”

My most favorite part is when Remedios the Beauty ascended and she took Fernanda’s sheets with her, and of course, Fernanda was quite bent out of shape about that!

“Ursula, almost blind at the time, was the only person who was sufficiently calm to identify the nature of that determined wind and she left the sheets to the mercy of the light as she watched Remedios the Beauty waving good-bye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.”
It is these moments of fantastical glory contrasted with human truths that make this book so special. No belief required—let it all go into the wind of light like Fernanda’s sheets and Remedios the Beauty, open your mind, read it and love it.

“Tell him,’ the colonel said, smiling, ‘that a person doesn’t die when he should but when he can.”

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Thoughts on reading and writing...

From my size 6 1/2's

It's another winter coming to a close, and I'm still editing my novel Drinking from the Fishbowl, it seems to be taking forever to accomplish this feat, but I'm taking my time (as I should) to make this book into what I have envisionedI love the process of writing and I love to readI'm constantly reading and I cannot stress it enough, that reading is very importantbooks are important—especially for a writer (or anyone wanting to become a writer.)

Books that have inspired me...and my two "girls" in the middle.
Reading is a transformational experience, what makes it a special experience is it’s very personal, the reader becomes immersed into another world—the writer’s construct. People who are avid readers are passionate about books—and when you’re a writer, that’s another story—it's more personal. It was through reading that I knew that I wanted to be a writer—early on, I read books that transformed my life, my way of thinking and seeing the world. I became interested in observing nature and what made people tick. I had a lot to learn, more than the mechanics of it taught in school. I had the desire to write and the aptitude to do it, but it seemed as if I did not know what I wanted to write about—I did but I didn’t—it was frustrating; there were lots of false starts. For years, I carried around lots of nonsense bits and pieces—ideas that were mere fragments, I never wrote them down because whenever I did write these things down they made no sense on their own. For the most part, they were just there in my head, as if they were waiting for me to find a use for them.

I wanted to write something that was mine—something more than “write what you know”. I wanted to write books that mattered—books with a deeper meaning. I wanted to write what I call "human documents", novels with complex relationships, communities of people with overlapping histories, books about the conflict with dreams and realities. Books about ghosts of the past and the ghosts that haunt us now, and a broad spectrum of cause and effect—what the soul is supposed to be—what it could be—Free will and Determinism—psychology and philosophy. It took a long time to get there—it was a natural progression to commit myself to writing, I just knew when I was ready to start, once I started, there was no turning back. Those fragments of ideas and bits of this and that fit perfectly in the places where I used them—even the ones I thought were impossible made sense once they were applied. At first, I was upset that it took me so long to come to this, being a “late bloomer”, but no, it was the right time, I had a few things to experience first, before I could write. I’m glad I waited.

It's so strange how the things I write about conflict with who I am. It's always a mystery to me how my characters develop and then have the audacity to do the things they do or say the things they say. I always find it odd when it’s assumed that they’re about me in some thinly veiled convolution—no, not I, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes at all. Of course, writing is a very personal experience, naturally, personal experiences and observations are taken from the toolbox and become part of the construct, but for the most part, I’m just making it up as I go along—it’s just a story.

Goodness knows I feared that I bit off more than I could chew on more than one occasion once I committed myself to writing novels. I’ve experienced what I call a creative “sweet spot”, writing with the emotional spigots on full blast is an immersion unlike anything I’ve experienced creatively, it is a strange sort of mix of misery and ecstasy. It’s a worthwhile experience,  but just when I begin to doubt myself, I read what I’ve written and then I know I've done a good thing—I’ve followed my bliss.

Writing a book is difficult, but it is probably one of my happiest times. I have muddled my way through as best as I can with no pedigree on paper or an affluent background with names of people who could pave my way—I’m truly on my own with this. I like it that way. I will stand and fall on my own merits. I write my books much in the same way that I make art as a painter—it’s intuitive. It’s such a rush to sit down with a few notes, character studies, phrases, and brief conversations written down on scraps of paper or in a notebook and then start filling in the blanks, letting the story happen
—I'm always in awe of the creative process.

Writing a novel is not for the faint of heart, it’s a given that not everyone is going to be receptive to what I’ve done, and I’m always grateful to those who are kind enough to read one of my books and tell me they enjoyed reading it.  It’s a solitary process and very lonely at times, I think I enjoy editing my books almost as much as writing them, the fine-tuning process can take a very long time, but I know when I’m done with it, I am satisfied with what I’ve done. If anything, I’ve learned that writing requires patience, practice, and persistence—and I will always read. 

That’s my story, I’m sticking to it.

The books in the photo:

On the right, (read before 1999)

Mikhail Bulgakov, the Master and Margarita

Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

E. M. Forster, The Celestial Omnibus

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Joyce Carol Oates, Wonderland

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

On the left, (read after 1999)

Virginia Woolf, Night and Day

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa and Shadows in the Grass
Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuban

Paula Fox, Desperate Characters

Virginia Woolf, The Waves

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

Gustaf Sobin, The Fly-Truffler

Joyce Carol Oates, Bellefleur

The two book ends are Porius: A Romance of the Dark Ages by John Cowper Powys and The Voice of England by Charles Grosvenor Osgood.