Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ashes to Ashes

Today I've divided my reading between Sven Birkerts' The Gutenberg Elegies and Lee Smith's The Last Girls. The latter is getting me through sessions on the exercise bike and is proving increasingly difficult to leave on the bike stand at the end of the ride. I'm not sure where the characters are heading, but the slow excavation of who they are and what they've become is the perfect accompaniment to an activity that used to be my own way of running around with friends and family (on a bike that wasn't stuck in place, of course).

The Last Girls is the kind of book that inspires me to hunt down how-to-write authors and beat them thoroughly about the wrists. It's not deathless prose, but then, neither am I. It's a good read and follows its own path to being that. I may not be sunk as deeply in it as I would be if I could read outside without chasing dogs away from the verbena, but I'm still in it far enough to look forward to getting back on the bike the next day.

The Elegies takes me straight into sadness. Reading the essays in this book makes me feel like I'm drowning in an ever-expanding puddle as soon as I boot up the computer and click on one of my favorite blogs. Mr. Birkerts caused me to realize today that after graduating with a degree in English, what I'd gotten out of the books I'd read is more of a thank-goodness-I-live-in-age-with-plumbing-and-women's-rights and not an iota of empathy for the human condition. What the heck happened?

I'm foundering. I used to love to read and I've read widely (if not classically); I've read enough to want to give some of those words back, to write myself into the narrative. Was it reading for number or reading for depth? If I haven't been reading well, then I've been...what? Skimming like a stone over a lake that is soon to swallow me?

Since I've never finished it, I've decided to try reading Ivanhoe aloud over the next several days--mostly to slow myself down and consider every word. Years ago, I promised myself that I'd read Dante's Paradisio if I ever made it to graduate school. I didn't. Instead of paradise, then, a verbal tour of a faux medieval forest at a walking pace.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Steam Vents and Vitriol

I have a blog, and I'm not afraid to use it. At least, I'm not afraid to use it to vent.

Here is where I lose my nerve. Exactly as I do when I'm writing, I suddenly start to consider how something will sound to a critic who speaks like my mother. Will it be nice? Is it really the smartest thing I could have said? And then, like magic, the story or the rant disappears into the ether. The tension remains. Not today.

I decided several years ago to give my writing a serious place in my life and I joined a writer's group. It went well for several years and then was hydra'd (split into two), hijacked, and is now defunct. I was fortunate to find another group that focussed on critiquing and continued to work and submit (we'll skip over the success ratio).

Then, the second group ran into a shoal of non-participation. That's neither suprising nor threatening, until the participating membership dwindles down far enough that one or two people missing a meeting derails the meeting. This is where we seem to be, with some members arguing for a fee schedule, some for a change of venue, and some for a combination of other solutions. I'm adamantly opposed to some of these options and may be stuck unable to "compromise"--that is, to preserve a dysfunctional system because some people don't want change.

Have I given myself enough time to verify that writing is no longer for me? Have I tried and therefore can stop without regret? Is the group worth fighting for if the membership has changed?