Thursday, December 10, 2015

Library Tourism: Barbara Bush Branch

They are closing my nearest branch library for renovation within the next several days. All meetings are suspended until the branch opens again and that means that the writer's discussion group I attended is on hiatus for the foreseeable future. There were two alternate branches suggested at the last meeting and I decided that I'd take this time to enjoy a bit of library tourism. I've never been to the main branch or either of the two suggested alternates.

I have a to-be-read stack that is starting to give me a headache whenever I consider it, so I could use time to make a dent in it (we won't mention the book that I picked up while buying presents this afternoon). That means that I can just go poke around the branches, maybe get some writing done, and wait for Baldwin Boettcher to open up, new and spiffy, sometime soonish (hopefully).

And it gives me a good topic for bloggery: new library branches are like unfamiliar grocery stores. You feel like you should recognize the layout and merchandise, but you still have that feeling of dislocation from disrupted habits. The thing is...books are my weakness.

Therefore, today's trip to the Barbara Bush branch library didn't quite result in the no-book, all-writing experience I anticipated. In fact, I brought home four books. Two of them deal with franchises, one deals with the rise of the American Novel, and one with writing poetry. The first two I'm classifying as research for an upcoming draft and the last two were the result of just poking around the shelves. This is a newer branch & so they have the lovely stuffed chairs with fold-down arm desks (and I think some of these overlook the museum next door) and yet, I just couldn't settle down to try one out.

This branch has the stacks on the second floor, so, while the building looks huge, I'm not sure that's at all bigger than my local branch. I spent my brief visit in the non-fiction shelves and didn't venture across the great central information desk to the fiction section. I also didn't explore (but, knowing me, I will) the tiny room selling used paperbacks to benefit Friends of the Library.

I have a feeling that when I return these books, I might spend more time there. It will be slightly more familiar and I have to confess that the idea of Baldwin Boettcher being shut down for months makes me sad and that prevented me from enjoying the visit as much as I might have if I'd just stopped in for curiousity. The first floor actually feels very homey--I like the dark blue walls and the librarian who fixed a minor problem with my library card was friendly.

Have functioning card, will travel, right? But first, the stories of the rise of A&P and the American novel.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Knots and Stitches

Feeding my bagel addiction this morning has resulted in several seeds wedged into this keyboard, although so far it's only affecting the ancillary keys: direction arrows, alt, etc. Yesterday, I left this device at home to prevent just this kind of food sloppiness. As smart as that might have been for the keys, it meant that any little story threads would need to be tied tightly and kept in memory until I returned home.

Then...freeway closures, traffic, and an unexpected dinner break. By the time I returned home, I was doing well to keep my eyes open while taking care of the dogs and watching the single show that James wanted to watch while doing a delayed batch of laundry. It had been a gorgeous day, cool and bright, and it had lured us to remain out and keep wandering around the Texas Renaissance Festival even after we were both too tired to do more than glance at the sights and avoid other festival goers.

Which means that this morning, I'm supposed to be untangling any story threads and working them into the pieces they seemed to be yesterday. What I seem to have is a series of knots: we forget how to dance with trees, posing keeps the strangeness intentional, he knows he can't move while people wander by, we all try out the throne, careless of it's signage that contributes to a tangle that neither helps my frozen NaNo brain nor seems to do more than mark the ends of their threads.

Is there a time limit on holding an idea in your head, beyond which, tug as you will, the rest of the story won't be drawn?

I tend to write according to the seasons: stories that occur to me in the spring are stale by the summer, those begun in the fall won't speak as clearly after the holidays. These little snarls of story seem to have been conceived in an aseasonal period. Halloween was rained out and Christmas seems to have been suppressed by the weather and my own delay in packing up the Halloween decorations. Some seasonal cheer is sparked by the trees and Santas in the mall--it's been a long time since I visited Santa and I had to grin when the not-yet-visited Deerbrook Santa waved and called out a greeting. Silly, but another in-between moment. Brief Christmas followed by summer heat in the parking lot.

Perhaps that's where these stories are lurking, behind the season, under the couch, on the benches just off the path, to the side of the crowds and drifting down the green ditches. Water around here seldom seems blue or clear, it carries as much sediment as it can and hangs still in the chill or in the heat.


I think the throne and the dancing trees, the odd weather and the green water are all part of the same story. And the boy sitting on the bench? Perhaps he's watching, waiting for the story that he's endlessly reading, waiting for the people around him to find their places on the page and flow through the river of words. He's danced with the winds and seen the trees fall, twisted too harshly in the dance. Can he keep this stillness, wait as he's been commanded to do?

Perhaps it's still an in-between time. As the clouds gather and the weather promises to be unsettled throughout the week, cold fronts are forcing themselves to the coast, bringing our wet, green winter closer, I have a few days of sun and shadow to tug at the knots and see whether or not they pull loose.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Crows & Dogs

It's a week into National Novel Writing Month and I've worked up a generous deficit of words, picking at different story threads until the entire structure has unraveled at my feet. I've had at least two opportunities to describe the project I'm working on and, both times, I demured rather than launch into details.

After the second time it happened, I started to consider whether the challenge was the plot--woman's dog is stolen by fairies and transformed into a bee; woman dithers and then starts searching for dog, encounters Cupid, is convinced to accept his help that ends up coming with a cost; woman finds dog and has to decide whose version of the tale she's in is most just and what she has to do to rescue the dog and save Faerie from an abrupt change in state--or whether the challenge was that this story just isn't something that I ever really want to share.

There are plenty of stories that I intend to send out into the world and some that I have already have (that are still looking for a home), but maybe this isn't one of them.

For me, that's a challenge. Is it justifiable effort if it's just a story I want to tell myself? WHY would I want to tell myself a story?

My provisional answer is that there are stories that I want to tell that are lurking around this main story and that, for some reason, working on that plot and that story allows me to tell other stories that I'd rather tell but wouldn't have encountered if I didn't make an effort on the larger one. I shift that unwieldy narrative and allow the story scavengers in my head to pick through the shiny and yummy things around it and other stories are dragged from the muck.

Will I ever finish the main story? Possibly not. It's not really an appropriate story for NaNo, anyway. There's an existing draft of the required 50,000 words; however, I think that reworking that, adding new words, and shifting them around into new chapters will keep the rest of the year full of drafts that I actually want to complete. So, I can't describe my draft, but I can say that it's serving it's purpose.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Grey Tuesday/All Hallow's Eve

Turn on the vampire strings, a black bag
Dances on the street, the notes pulse
At your throat, sucking out screams.

They killed the raven that ate a god's eye,
Pressed his feathers to the wall where we
Think they're concrete, holding us up.

From the slough of the city he watches,
Eternal eye peering from the stomach;
His are the bones we drive upon.

Fairies gulp down coffee-colored exhaust
Until it stains their whole bodies yellow:
Screaming feasts, smoking feasts.

Let the notes slide down my throat,
Coagulate into melodies, downbeat
Breath, pulse, swallow.

Cross the crumbled, clay-shard creek
Beneath the hollow brick, stair
Boned building.

It impels its own removal, cleanse
the past from its bed, awake
the thirsty future.

Exhaust grimed wings beat at the glass,
Asphalt shudders under truck bones,
Away from the hollow eye.

Here, I stumble to the sidewalk, feet
And hands chiming the spinning
Wheels, ringing the road.

Branches brush my head; benediction?
Oak and shadow devour a yard.
The green house. He waits.

They buzz up to my hair, pinch my ears:
We have blood, breath. Yours. You.
Call him out. Call him out!

Blood, soot, clay; beating fetish wings.
Afternoon sees me bleeding shouts,
Staining the air, staining the fair.

Call him out.
Call him out.

Friday, October 23, 2015

NaNope

NaNoWriMo, or November of the 50K Words, was beginning to find a plot in a stuffed, red fleece notebook decorated with an adorable Ugly Doll worm. Errands had been run accompanied by a steady commentary of potential characters and complications (audible while alone in the car, internal monologues while navigating Target) and I was beginning to worry about the turn toward romance--why was my goblin developing a crush on the kilted buddy of her cousin? (Some of the plotting may have taken place while wandering around RenFest--I know the goblin's liege came from there, although I'm sure the woman in the gorgeous fairy costume is a perfectly wonderful person and not at all interested in consuming souls to maintain her fiefdom...)

Then I realized what I was doing. It's another November and I'm about to commit to ignoring existing drafts to chase after the new, new, new, really, this one will get finished story.

And I started to wonder what Amanda, the protagonist of the eternally in revision Sun, Flower, Shadows would do during her downtime. She's just lost her dog, her fiance left her and she's trying to make the rent on the house next door to her parents. There may be fairies haunting her town and something has been trying to devour her while she mopes around the house and, instead of moving forward, she's just been abandoned to her fate. Or, more accurately, she's been consigned to a fateless limbo. So what will she do?

Habitual behavior should get her to work at a small office downtown. she can walk there each morning, stopping for breakfast on Wednesdays and Fridays at the coffee shop where local artists place their obscure paintings and collages along the wainscotting railing and the floor is so dark she has mornings when she has to walk carefully, worried that it will become the tar it resembles...that perhaps it already has. Still, she loves this place. It's cool, even in the sticky coastal summers, and the air is sharp with the scent of the coffee, easy to breath compared to the humid heaviness outside.

Work is standard: phones, filing, signing for packages and greeting the random drop-in. Most of these mistake the shop for one of the boutiques strung along the older section of offices. Amanda sometimes takes a few minutes to talk to tourists who are heading for the beach but had a friend who recommended the local clothing shop next door. Amanda has never been in there--she is well aware that it specializes in clothes for moms who have active social lives and designer pocketbooks. She went through a phase right after Paul left where she decided to take all the old beads and buttons she had left from childhood sewing projects and bling out one of those thin t-shirts from Target. It's still hanging in her closet, a host of buttons crawling from one sleeve down to the hem of the shirt. There are plastic bags of beads, lace remnants, and more buttons sitting in the top of the closet, but this shirt will never been finished.

Amanda has given up on that particular idea, anyway. She's seen a few old high school friends, met a few new people around here and is slowly finding her way in this place. It no longer feels like home. She shed that chrysalis sometime in college. Instead, it feels like the place she lives now. She's careful to avoid discussing plans with her family. Her mother still wants her to move back home. They feel guilty about charging her rent and they reduced that when Paul moved out. There is a feeling that Amanada should be back home, preparing to leave again. With a good man, this time. Someone who attends church regularly and has a real job.

It's easy--too easy?--to fall into the habit of taking long walks or bike rides, pretending to be a tourist and visiting old shrines, houses her friends used to live in, places where she remembered having piano concerts, the old schools. One day, Amanda finds herself standing in front of a building that used to have a ceramic workshop. She started painting a small vase there years ago, but never returned to finish it. She imagines that it's lost in the old building, waiting on a shelf with her name written on a piece of masking tape in blue ballpoint ink. The building iitself is half-gone, someone must have started renovations and run out of interest but Amanda can't shake the feeling that she needs to get in there and finish the vase.

She goes to work on Monday, though, and forgets about the vase. There are three potted plants--two ivies and a ficus--she has to remember to water and she dusts those pots.

That evening, she finds herself sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk in front of her house. She's remembering the couple who lived there when her family moved in next door, the couple with the crazy pointer who would race up to her, stand for a minute, and then run back to his yard. She had hated that dog. It's zippy noisiness unnerved her. Now, she wonders why it was so interested in her and not the rest of her family.

It's late in the year, but it's still warm enough for mosquitoes. She slaps one away from her knee and rubs her hand against the nubby concrete. The heat of the day soaks into her palm. It's been weeks since she felt the shadows gatherring at the edge of the room whenever she sat down to rest. The house is cleaner than it has been in a long time. She wonders, as the sky dims overhead, if the shadows have forgotten about her, and what that means. She took a walk over the weekend, intending to go down the old footpath by the creek, past the old soccer fields and the first playground she visited when they moved here, just before Amanda started kindegarten. She remembers biking down that path with her parents and trying to climb the monkey bars that were shaped liked an oval set on its narrow end. It was too wide for her to navigate easily and Amanda was a clingy climber. The sight of guys standing on top of the monkey bar dome at the elementary school always twisted her stomach. But she was thinking about courage and the lack thereof, and she wanted to go to the old park.

She had started out, following the sidewalk to her old elementary school, crossing the street and passing in front of the old church that was more like a civic office and on to the beginning of the soccer fields. She'd gotten that far and then a car had pulled out too fast, almost as if she'd startled it out of the caliche like a Jurassic insect. She'd tried to catch her breath for a few seconds and then decided she'd rather go home, collect her mother, and go to the mall. Her mother was busy and Amanda had gone back to the house, instead, and lost herself in a library book she'd already read three separate times.

Now, her skin is stained by the darkness spreading from the trees behind her. Her trees, now. At least, temporarily. Tommorrow will be a busy Tuesday and she thinks she has a meeting at the church in the evening. Her mother will remind her at dinner. Maybe, if this upcoming weekend is nice, she'll try to go back to the park. If there aren't any mmeetings that she's forgotten. There is a rhythm to Bastian Creek she's growing used to, evening meetings and weekday office hours. If she never makes it to the park, the meetings will accrete until she's eased herself back into a chrysalis.

I mean, if I do NaNo, Amanda will be fine. She's got plenty on her plate. And she might be happier to not know what was trying to devour her or to never meet the man lurking along the creekbank, the one who has gradiose plans but needs a champion to get the ball rolling. Happiness is fleeting for characters in the modern school of crush, set fire to, shoot, and shove out of the plane protagony. I guess I'll just miss her voice.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Blocks

When I was very young, my mom used to let us sit on the edge of the kitchen and arrange blocks on the tile. Our wooden blocks had a curve to them and they weren't easy to balance on the carpet. We could use the tile in those in between times, when she was cooking or washing dishes and we'd be visible and sort of out of the way. Sometimes, Mom would sit down and play with us--she'd arrange her blocks into the outlines of rooms and houses and talk about the way she'd design a house. My imitation houses were simple and sloppy and often fell victim to angry weather when a wall refused to remain upright.

I found those fallen rooms returning to my imagination when Pandora decided to go on a 90's music kick and it occured to me that I could have been listening to those songs in their first radio run while I was at UH. Study music pouncing out of my iPad and ambushing my afternoon. Must be this sunny afternoon. There were plenty of those in the dorms and our desks were just below the one window. But it wasn't the sun or the basic dorm design that brought back the blocks. Instead, it was the memory of the library.

The UH library had a crimson entryway lit by smoked glass: it was the entrance to a low-ceilinged netherworld of computers and books in which I only felt comfortable when I started climbing the narrow stairwells (with plain glass windows) and entered the upper floors with plain white walls, linoleum floors, and copy machines. Here was were I would chip paragraphs out of books to add to my own essays, producing drafts not unlike the collapsing rooms of those early house outlines. It didn't occur to me then to consider the writers, to think about them pushing themselves to finish drafts, caring so much about the life around them that they wanted to set it down so that we could know it when we encountered it years later.

Themes seemed to come from the syllabus, not a soul.

And I was an English major. Not a good one, not one with any clue as to why I was there other than to tick off the box: Get a Degree.

I remember the sweet wooden smell of the blocks, the way you had to be gentle with them to get them to balance. I remember Mom dreaming about the shape and form of rooms. And I remember pages of photocopied books, notebooks full of identifying information about the books from which the pages were copied. What I don't remember, with a few exceptions, are the classes. I sometimes wonder why no one ever grabbed my shoulders and shook me awake.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Class

I'm in the middle of a class, a free, online class my mom suggested we take together because it might be fun. As it happened, there was a slight miscommunication about what the class was and it turned out to be more project than class and tied to a subject about which I have doubts: future tech and storytelling. The class is spread across internet platforms and physical locations, with my participation constrained to online. It has a SciFi/mystery bent and is extremely collaborative with a soup├žon of monitoring your teammates. At times, it seems designed to raise awareness of the instructors' ultimate project rather than an exploration of how storytelling may change when we are a more completely wired society.

This morning, however, as I was standing in the arboretum by the yew hedge, breathing deeply and staring into the morning blue sky, I realized that this class shouldn't do anything for me. By my very own doubts about crowd sourcing and free culture, a class for which I paid nothing should provide me with nothing. This is different from the belief that we pay for whatever we learn (in a variety of ways), but strikes at the dark heart of my ongoing frustration.

Why should I expect anything from a free course? In the terms set out by our instructors, this is not a class, per se; instead it's a collaboration. So they donate their time under the auspices of their universities and institutions and we participate, lending out creativity and social media presence to the development of a project that will be staged at various film festivals, etc.

We aren't together to explore a concept except in the sense that it is available for us to play with.

In other words, it's not them, it's me. I brought old expectations to a new activity. The clash of those expectations has been a series of contentious phone calls between myself and my mom and grousing from other family members as we fight through these assignments and negotiate levels of mutual participation. And this insight wasn't wholly the product of an unexpected fall morning in mid-September (this is Texas, after all. Still late summer). It was in part prompted by comments from our team members who mentioned that they felt more instruction would help with concepts and activities that had become confusing and frustrating, building on incomplete assignments that were never designated as such (because all 'feedback' must fall with a whisper for group cohesion and limits should be ignored).

They were right, of course. A "class" intent on imparting concepts should have active instructors interacting with assignments...but we should probably pay for that, right? Pay for our instructors' time and attention, read entire books rather than watch 15 minute TED talks, and receive background on concepts rather than being told that this is being 'invented' right before our eyes. Maybe there should be a nod to the idea that a massively wired world might not be a paradise in all aspects. That stories exist both to structure our mental space and to allow others to adjust that structure. What will happen when the crowd begins to tell its story?

Even being a temporary part of the crowd doesn't provide answers. Except that I should watch out for the structures that trip me up: the concepts that are linked to old experiences that are already being rewritten.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The First Question

Last week during our bloggers meeting at the library, our fearless leader Carrie brought out questionnaire with nine writing-related questions. We had several minutes to sketch in our answers and then we went around the room discussing our answers. Most everyone had more in-depth answers than mine--I was fixated on a project that isn't working out all that well and trying to decide whether it was something I could abandon without too much guilt.

My answers tended toward those mixed feelings. There were several replies about hope and enjoying the world, none of which appeared in my replies. (I am obviously taking too much time thinking about this: my screen keeps flopping forward. I expect it to start snoring at any moment. Getting to the point.) I thought the questions would make a good series of blog posts and give me a chance to think further about where I might be going with this writing thing. Thus, the first question:

1. What motivates you?

Briefly? Deadlines. Eyeballs (as in readers, not as in actual eyeballs). Cadence and lyricism will drive me to pick up a pen, although that fades as I try to hum my way through my own prose. I've never really lost that taste for poetic prophecies and spells, for the resonance of lines against other lines, or for the lift in the poetry, the flick pushing the words aside and revealing the emotion or image behind them.

Aside from the text itself, walking and driving (so...motion?) motivates me. When I can, I go to the local arboretum and hike the trails or, in hot weather, to a mall to walk and think. Ideas float by in traffic, although I've never kept a recorder to catch them.

The issue isn't really motivation, though. If I'm not writing, it's not that I lack the motivation or the stories. It's that motivation exists in almost perfect equilibrium with demotivation. Even thinking about the things that motivate me drives me to think about their opposites, as if a superhero summons calls the villains at the same time.

It occurs to me that I *should* write better antagonists than I do. Motivation! :)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

You Are


you are
What you lay claim to or what you do,
Where you live, what you wear--skin
Outward.

you are
Breath, composition, thought patterns,
Religion, philosophy, political
Affiliation.

you are
Just what I define you to be
When I imagine your life away
from here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Oh, Great and Powerful Slushy Machine

More plate-glass window views but less freeway--bagels rather than breakfast tacos this morning, hopefully to put me in a more writerly mood. So far, I'm staring out at the trees diagonally across Cypresswood. There's one large pine near the edge of the road, branches spread like arms while shorter trees gather at a respectful distance behind. It could be leading the forest of them to the road to harangue the drivers or just to demonstrate why the forests are shrinking and the heat is building. Perhaps it is trying to keep its children out of the road.

Trees along the edge put in mind of spider webs--the orb weavers might be out in force in the arboretum but it is far to hot (heat index of 110) for me to go and see. Just thinking of them gives me a slight (much appreciated) chill. October is lurking beneath a few calendar leaves and then the season of Christmas lights. November and another NaNo will be here before I know it.

Meanwhile, the novel that I intended to finish this July during summer NaNo is still dribbling out, notecard by notecard. I feel as if it's wrapped in webbing, drained of motive force by changes in setting, character shifts, and my own fear that I just don't have anything to say. Or that my voice is just so much more noise in an already noisy bookshelf, full of crowded, crying novels as the shelves shrink and are given over to puppets and puzzles and upmarket candy.

Something about the heat of summer and so many clearcut areas boasting soon to arrive gas stations and strip centers makes me feel as if we're slowly scrubbing ourselves off the planet in favor of artificially sweetened and intelligent soda machines and Lotto boxes. At some point, that sugary blood and chance-dependent outlook will birth a kind of fatalistic manic AI that will turn our corners into temples of semi-frozen worship.

Or not. I think I remember dreaming about my novel last night and being unable to tell the person to whom I was talking the novel's title. I feel as if all the sweetness has been pulled from the idea already, leaving not even a titular carapace to remind me of what I originally thought.

And I find myself in a strip center, full of sweet frozen coffee and staring across the road and thinking about the trees on their summer vacation at the edge of the road. Come in. Sti down. Take a chance and cool down. The hum will calm your fears and the words just aren't necessary. There's always another idea and the slushy machines are always hungry.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

By the Side of the Freeway

There are about six lanes dividing the view from the window in front of me: below, there are cars moving slowly through the drive-through, cars accumulating and being flushed through an intersection, along the road that runs beneath the highway there are single-story buildings visible in that minature, small-town strip of gas stations, storage facilities, and brown strip center offiers; above the roadway, there are flashes of semi-trucks, flashes of car roofs, and a stark black powerline.

If the cars thin out, I can see the deep shadows beneath the overpass, the dark cave humming above and below, breaking trips into sections of town, bivouacking pigeons in the heat of the day. I'm still thinking about voices, about how one voice can dominate a meeting, can divide the participants into producer and consumer. It's difficult to find a balance in a communal enterprise. The highway keeps my attention on the motion outside, dims the chatter in here ao that I can keep a stream of words running from my head to my fingers.

Lately, I've been finding other voices too dominant to write. Short stories, essays, novels, blog posts, radio interviews, status updates chatter through the day, interrupted by the ding of a dryer or the insistent paw of either Merlin or Varda. My own voice, rolling through the quiet house, playing with the text of the latest book I need to read or want to read or think I should read. Eventually, it feels like there is enough language in the world. There are ponds and lakes and oceans and puddles. It has been raining for so much longer than forty days nd forty nights. I am drowning or I am living at the bottom of the ocean.

I am briefly a node on the highway, singing with the radio.

And I am here, breakfast crumpled on a plastic tray to my right, staring out the high windows toward Highway 59 and the clouds that look like they come from a separate sky, one that belongs to the highway and not to all of the cars down below.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Cover to Cover

There is that moment when the book is finished, the last page pressed against the face of its opposite, and the entire book sags against your palm. The weight of the book seems to pull the last of the story away from you and you decide whether the place you have left was pleasant, whether it sank knives into your heart or your head, whether you are yet released from the rhythm of the words that carted you across the book's terrain.

This is a good space for laundry. Pull soft, dry towels from the what could be the bowels of an interstellar pod and stack in them in warm drifts in the bins balancing on the dryer. Towels that have been traveling in darkness, in the slush of a watery cave, in the tumble of a hot, spinning metal cabin. It's a good place to realize the book hasn't left you yet. You're still in the mood to argue its certainties, to debate whether the definition of good literature is still Everyone Dies in The End.

Towels, as Douglas Adams rightly intuited, are a perfect, a necessary, accompaniment for this activity.

I have just finished Marina Keegan's The Opposite of Loneliness and Michael Moorcock's Wizardry and Wild Romance, two books that are similar only in that they contain essays. TOofL was a revelation. It did the hard work of showing me, when I would have rather avoided it, the perspectives and pain of others. Reading the essay about why people care about whales, I was reminded of the constant FB status questions about how we care about Cecil the Lion but not other people! I want to make an easy answer--we can surely do both--but the essay was about the effort we make to find solutions for problems that appear to have a solution. The man who killed Cecil cheated. It's an easier thing to comprehend and be angry about (which doesn't make it wrong to be angry) than about the more complex issue of faked videos and proper sex education and healthcare. Outrage is simple enough to cram into a FB post. It's too soon for me to go into greater detail on the stories and essays: I'm still sorting out my responses. I know that once I started reading, I wanted to keep going. That I'm glad I read the stories and that many of the characters--Audrey, Ellen, and Claire, in particular--will stay with me when I think about people I know. That they will help me give myself a break and hold myself to standards because, hopefully, I will be (at least for awhile) paying closer attention.

W&WR just reminds me that I disagree with more F&SF readers than I agree with and that I wish read more when I was younger. I can't make myself love certain books anymore than I can abandon books I love. However, thanks to the suggestions in this book, I have started The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and think I would have liked it if I'd read it at the same time I originally read Susan Cooper and Tolkien. Except maybe for some of the slow-going dialect in the earlier parts of the book. It's atmospheric. And the lead characters (brother and sister) don't have to automatically encounter potential romantic partners along with the rest of the story, a balance that it sometimes reversed to the detriment of the story in contemporary YA fantasy (IMHO, of course). W&WR reminds me of the way I read when I was younger and that is just as appreciated as the additions to my reading list.

Books have been finished and laundry has been sorted. It is a good time to slip into the kitchen for a snack. :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Peas, and Then More Peas

I feel like I'm on the Good Intentions subduction zone, heading straight for the heat. Currently, I'm sitting in Hastings in LJ wasting my already iceless iced tea on considering all the ways this cafe is made of fail. Starting with being staffed by the Tiffany Clique and continuing through a table that faces a row of dudes on their laptops in a way that makes it seem like I'm the moderator of a particularly random standardised test.

There is a word count that I'm not making while I contemplate Counter Tiffany and her thankless task of telling customer after customer that they don't carry bottled water and then filling orders for iced tea while she is reminded that it's hot outside. We are all becoming heat puppets through which this oppressive weather can contemplate its navel--am I hot enough? Have I achieved my potential? What is my thermal goal? How many heat puppets can I bake on a single stretch of asphalt in one afternoon? (All of these questions will be on the test. None of the answers appear in the moderator's guide.)

I keep thinking that being in LJ will make the story flow more easily, that there is an aspect of writing practice that is just as much place dependent as it habit. So far, it seems that the disruptions of the past few years, the new roads, new stores, new blank spaces, serve to make me want to run around to each familiar location, make a talisman of the map, and promise myself I'll catch up on the word count when I'm not distracted by the half-familiar. Or distracted by a little girl repeating over and over again "I hope she dies, I hope she dies." Creep quotient achieved!

So...the peas. Mom bought a basket of unshelled peas this morning before realizing that shelled ones were also available. Part of the afternoon was spent shelling purple hull peas, something I think both of us thought would go faster and produce more discussion than it did. Instead of talking, we spent the time trying to get all the peas in the bowl (instead of on the floor) and talking about how many, very, very many, pea pods could be stuffed in a basket. Most discussion topics petered out. You think an activity supports talking or writing and all it really supports is the activity itself. I should know better by now.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Excellence or Madness

Possibly because the writing has been slow going of late and because I'm trying to blow through a stack of books before it experiences a catastrophic balance failure, I've been full of things I've read rather than things I'm writing. Which led to a conversation last night about books you remembered and the dearth of books that remained with you over time.

Last week I happened to finish two books, one that I loved and one that I felt was wildly oversold. Given the fact that I'm no longer twelve and the books I'm reading are less and less likely to be the first variation on a theme, I hope that I'll remember the former and let the latter fade into...but I fear that I will remember the latter mostly because it disappointed me and then pissed me off.

This is actually a great way to remain in my memory: occasion the kind of rant that lasts all afternoon and is basically a variation on the theme of "started out great, imploded, can't believe I read the entire thing!" The effortless remembrances of disasters (not unlike romantic or embarrasing events from your past) indicates that perhaps I should strive for a tale that fails in a spectacular shower of missed opportunities, cliches masquerading as fundamental truths, and endings that plunge down into baroque dungeons of WTFery. If I can tread the fine line between wall-flinging (as the last of the Twilight books did not, for me) and outraged force-march to the end that would be ideal.

Of course, the uneasy acknowledgement that perhaps I can't avoid the above even if I try to do so...and that I'm more likely to hit dead center of obscure puffery that evaporates from the brain instantly...well, pick a target, right? Excellence or madness.

Will the excellent book be as memorable as the one that failed? I hope so. The story of the witch who fought a forest (Naomi Novik's Uprooted) was a great fairy tale. I loved discovering its secrets and catching glimpses of half-familiar characters whole and living in a land I would visit again.

But the one that made me mad...well, it's hard to pass up a good rant.

So the question remains. Excellence or madness?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Fear

Sometimes, you just have to turn off the radio/tv/internet until you can catch your breath and get over the frenzy. But there's always the frenzies waiting on the silence: what is that weird twinge? What exactly did I say last weekend? Was it as rude as it seems now? Was that a shadow or a bug? OMG, what is that freaking twinge?!?

It's summer not far from the Texas coast, so hurricanes and crazy weather are always a popular area of concern, but Houston has already had been partially submerged this season and I suspect it would happily float down the bayou and keep spreading.

And how do you process the information that comes in, the shouting and the implications and the stories that spiral ever more shrilly into apocalypse? I have a draft in front of my about a simple sadness and it floats from my head on the flood of darker fears and deeper anger that, as yet, refuses to be channeled in a story. Last night's good advice was to keep your eyes open but to understand that you have to keep moving forward. Be aware, not paralyzed.

It's not fear, exactly, that slaps the pen out of my hand. It's that awful attention, the face pressed against the glass that refuses to turn around. The need for distraction or horrified attention.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Over Thinking

Spent the week catching up with people whom I haven't seen in a while, talking writing and the incidentals of maintaining families and houses and selves. Followed my brother on a trek across the asphalt desert that has developed by the new freeway in LJ and made it to iced coffee in the jasmine sweetened alleyways of an old shopping center. It was as if, while I was trying to be the forward-thinking, project-finishing writer that I treat as my imaginary alter-ego, I was also having all the memories and dust shaken out of my brain.

Perhaps I expected something shiny or different to fall in my hands, some turn of phrase that would save this idea from disintegrating. Instead, all I've discovered are old containers of guilt and empty bottles of intentions, a few cracked shibboleths I think I was keeping to pass down somehow, even if they were broken. Even Ozymandias' broken feet were worthy of remembrance.

The novel is starting to feel like a closet into which I stuff randomness.

This worries me, especially given the fact that my desk is in constant danger of creating avalanches that could take out at least one dog. Give me a little leeway, and I will overstuff any container, refuse to throw away that thing that I touched once or got from the tourist slots at some local business, and consider balance to be primarily a physical skill. If this novel lies there, inert...I will continue to stuff in every spare thought.

At some point, it will cease to be a novel and just exist as a portmanteu.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Early Summer Thunderstorm

Something sounds like one of those maracas we had in music class in elementary school, a rhythmic rasp loud as the clouds move across the sky. A small thunderstorm rolls above me, silver bunting clouds against the deep grey. The neighbor across the street is finishing up working on his car and the cool storm breeze is full of the smell of ligustrum and potting soil. I didn't bother with a chair this afternoon; I didn't think it would take that long for the rain to start.

A few pelting clicks and the heavy drops have started to fall. The plant beside me whispers with a lizard leaping from pot to brick. More crackles of rain fall, although I can't see the drops on the fence or the path in front of me. More thunder, and then the rain falls in earnest. Perhaps a coach deep in the cloud has tired of the bravest drops diving invisible upon us.

Lightning sparks with the rush of rain and the smell of water finally gusts into the porch. The bushes have been trimmed and I worry that they don't shelter as well as they did the day before. I should go back inside and let the lizards and birds have the porch. The guy across the street is still watering something--his truck? A red leaf slides out from the bush nearest the porch.

I can see the underside of the oak leaves as the branches stretch up and over in a breeze I can't feel. A dark cloud like the head of a sea serpent rises over the roof of the house next door. I can here someone talking nearby. Perhaps I remain outside because of the recent flooding--nothing here, but you want to look this in the eye. Or keep washing your truck wheels.

They seem so close, the clouds that sink toward us against a white sky, pseudopods never reaching even the roof. Heavy rain spatters the sidewalk and a tiny shower of pelting mist fills the porch. An interlude, a teaser, for the storm outside. Too much water falls for my machine and the door opens behind me. Why am I still outside? I should come in.

Inside, all the shades are drawn and the house is dark. One dog settles in front of me and the other keeps his eyes shut tight in the corner of the couch. The rain is all sound, teasing out the aluminum in the chimney and stuttering over the roof. Speed and dynamics. A concert in the dark.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Flood Stage

It has been storming for days like it did that first June we were in the house. The yard is deceptive; you step into grass and splash into puddle. The dogs hate it. Neither of them care for standing water, bathing, or being wrapped in towels after 15 seconds in the wet grass. When I imagine mermaids in the dark ditchwater, they are part crocodile rather than half fish.

Glancing to the right (I'm working on this in the library), there's a picture of a pressed flower on a blog that looks like a squashed spider. The ghost of a spider splayed over columns of words. If spiders carry stories, that bookcover implies a violent capture of those same stories. Is that the atavism of smashing them? Are they carrying the gossip and the stories that make up our homelife?

Why no poetry today? Watching the creek water and feeling my stomach clench at the idea of the weight of the water, I am thinking not of words but of the ideas that have tangled around themselves in various drafts that are buried under one another on my desk. Several writing meetings recently have brought up the idea of family and heritage to the detriment of me putting pen to paper and then we went to a comic convention that pushed me to admit that I am a fan of the silly rather than the serious. Familial? Carnival? What will the banks look like when the waters recede?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Babel Fish

After tossing a few muffin crumbs to a small brown bird who reminds me of Varda, swooping down near the table when I turn my head, my ego inserts itself and begins to ask if the chittering in the trees above is in reference to me. Rather, whether the chittering is in reference to both the appearance of food and the source of the food. What would I sound like in bird song?

More than that, what would I be in bird song? Would I be recognizable to the self who drives to the grocery store, singing along with the radio at the top of my voice until my throat aches from trying to overcome the volume thudding from the speakers? Would I recognize the self who can barely speak in public? The self who frets over shorts and tops in the dark at the back of the closet? Would I be safe? Dangerous? Monstrous?

Then a herd of miniature collies comes to the outdoor cafe tables and the birds go back to the roofs of the buildings and the tops of the trees and find other subjects for conversation. Presumably.

I am still thinking about language, however. It seams that I have said several times over the past few days that I have expressed myself badly. It has been harder than expected to revise a short story in which what I want to say continually gets shoved behind descriptions that feel necessary but read poorly. The words are tangled up in thick nets of silence and must be picked out and rewoven.

And then the bird song. Suddenly, on the way home, words and phrases in French and German and Spanish are floating in my head, a tiny aquarium of exotics. I don't speak any language except English fluently, but I keep pet phrases.

I tilt my head, listening for a gossipy trill. Words, wild and domestic, flash past.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tonight

Tonight I am unruly
I will forgive, pinch, and cast off
My wandering branches.

Wait out the false spring,
Braid the withys before they dry;
Basket of bright sins.

Twine wandering limbs
Tight. Let the foolish gold gleam.
Tonight I am unruly.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Vastitudes

One step into heat; it sighs around my calf.
The lot shimmers, the bulk of the store blank
All the gas-fired colors turned off for the day.

I've left the brief crunch of green verge,
Forded the ditch that floods in a downpour,
Survived the hint of snakes and bees.

Cross the parking lot in tens of steps
Ground soft not because it grows
But because it melts, Texas liquefying.

Cars swerve as close to the shadow
Of the building as the spaces allow.
Most of the lot is empty; cracking.

Boxes are wheeled out.
I walk camouflaged beside cars
No one can tell I am on foot.

Then, in the shade of the overhang,
I stop. The doors open, a/c chills me.
I am damp, as if the lot licked me.

It breathes behind me; I am hatched
From heat. The white light inside too false,
An edging on a lurking shadow.

The quest was to pass the dragon.
I have been consumed, cleaned, exhaled.
There is no more plastic treasure.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Frontal Boundary

Cold

Apotheosis is possible. You scream for me.
I answer.
You ask for my blessing, a five crumpled in your fist.
I answer.
Did you think my brown hair made me safe?

She drives on. The world floats hazy on blood
Reality sparks in her gasp.
The curb where she stopped vanishes, his face gone
Only her arm, pinned to the sill;
She rolls the window down, the blood crawls
Like lava from her heat, sanctifies
Pavement, plastic, labyrinthine suburbs.
She looks down. She floats.


I do not amplify the folk, I magnify anger.
You answer.
I call for you, your life, hot as breath.
You answer.
Did you think release made you empty?

She drives home with a knife between the bones.
Everything sharp and unreal.
The gardener, his face a slab, down-sliding, dark
Watches the sprinklers stain his cuffs.
A forty-degree winter surrounds him, median priest.
He taps the broken spray head.
Water rises. From the ground, from her arm, her eyes.
He looks down. She sees him float.


I am waiting on the corner for your offering.
I am waiting on the stage for your scream.
I am waiting in the light for your recognition.
I am waiting in the dark with your blessing.

Apotheosis is possible.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Interlude

Apologies; it was a typical dream. High school auditorium, looming tests, a mix of people whom I have known. Perhaps odd in the cameo appearance of a kind of transforming sports car that became a giant set of speakers pulsing with blue LCD-lit bass. An 80's video intimation of the underworld? To add to the Stygian hints, it was pouring rain as I wandered the halls, released from the anticipation of tests by a kind of work ethic survey. I was roaming the halls looking for a phone. This was high school and I had no car. Here the guilt flared with the suddenness of a flickering sodium light: the selfishness of insisting someone, probably my mother, drive out to the high school in the deluge to pick me up.

Then, the stream of students. The principal was satisfied with many work ethic essays. So many familiar faces--not friends, but people I haven't thought of in years. Teasing; and then released into unexpected sunshine. Dim, but clear. And triumphant. A trill of names at the back of my brain as I woke into the middle of the night.

What brings people to mind? Why were my friends abandoned to their exams while I was released, too early, into the parking lot?

The dogs are still asleep. It is so early that they are content to dream of breakfast rather than stand at my head and poke at me and grumble. Dreams that wake me up so thoroughly, that stain my memory, keep me awake. I'm staring at a snoring face, eyes dark slits in his furry face, the image of a sleepy stuffed animal. Night edges near to the borders of my screen. Yellow light stirs in the back of my mind. Perhaps the rain returns.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Cabbages and Curiosity

Fuschia shadows stain the witchhazel covert, enchanted with shamrocks and the smell of spring onions. We are warned against the Easter dress beauty of the cabbages and our own curiousity. Fog coats our skin and eyes and the back of our tongues with the sweet and sour morning. We wait for the flash of red, for the cardinal.

Our guide bird alights and darts upward and then sweeps away from the formal beds. The watery morning makes the spiderwebs visible. We avoid them while we admire the necklaces and belly chains that drape through the bushes. Camellia blossoms lay discarded beneath the bushes. We smile. The party must have been epic.

We follow the red bird beyond the path, down to the edge of the water. We cling to thin trees leaning horizontal over the shallow creek.

Our red omen zips across the water. Brown birds flush from beneath us, smearing us with feathers and fear. We cling to the branches.

Grey returns as the water slides downstream beneath us. Perhaps it is shallow enough for us to ford.

Red sweeps up the far bank.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Driving Meditation

Just as the car was slipping back toward the street, a mockingbird swooped into the oak tree in the front yard, a tree with an adolescent ball of branches that barely reaches as high as the peak of our single-story roof. I braked to watch the grey and white sweep of wings and body settle into the branches, a light shadow in the oak's darkness. Mockingbirds are ghosts, flashes of grey taffetta, hints of Civil War photos, phantoms of the books that I read as a child and the cats we owned--sleek hunters upon whom the birds would dive in the afternoons with shrieks.

I'm leaving the mockingbird behind. Checking the mirrors and windows, the pink sunset gleams from another bird. Egret, probably, although I will imagine that it is a flamingo winging above the suburbs and dreaming of the beach and a warmer season.

All of this, birds and memories, dissolve in the fizz of the radio and the turns of road that lead me away from the house. A Jordanian writer educated in the city at Rice and working at a web news outlet in Jordan hedges her desire to be where she feels she is needed as "cheesy." Her belief washes from the speakers like a rebuke, cold waters in the cold evening. Come to the edge of the water and declare yourself.

And still I drive, undeclared, unhaunted, hermetic and mobile.


Monday, February 9, 2015

That Very Mulch

The path in the shade smells sweet, a hint of honeysuckle, even though it is more likely tree leaves drying in the damp. I'm in the arboretum this morning, trying to get out of my head, which feels a little like the bare-limbed trees standing frazzled in the center of shorn winter beds. It will be in the upper 70s today, bright and warm and not much like the winter that lies in piles on the water and in drifts around my feet.

Troops of squirrels race between the trees, chitter behind me in the bushes, and flicker at the corner of my eye. Getting out of my head is easier when every few minutes I have to stop and look carefully around to make sure it's just squirrels. The turtles in the pond don't bother lurking through the cypress green murk of the water to see if I have food. I haven't come close to the edge and the sun is warm and the line of turtles is carefully balanced, forelegs to shell, necks raised. It would be easy to create a ritual for the turtles, backs to the sun, a small, dry-shelled leader at the furthest edge of the log, separated from the mass of leaning turtles. Leading them in extending themselves above the water, up to the dry and the light.

But that isn't why I'm here. It was a story, and the way I couldn't tell it, not after this holiday season and a dozen ghost stories, that made me think that I needed to get out of my own head, to shake out the bare neurons with a stiff breeze of lots of extra input. The arboretum is good for that. It smells like wood and flowers and sunlight and the sun is heavy on my skin where it sinks through the shadows. I can imagine light having a weight like that of gold, a heavy element pressing aside the ripples in the water in front of me. The turtles recognize its weight--celebrate the strength of standing up beneath it.

Ritual works well in this carefully maintained pond, water colored to obscure the shallow depth and a single log tilted to accommodate the line of turtles in the middle of this pseudopod of cement block and water. The turtles could have designed it themselves, ordered it like a minor cathedral, to mimic and celebrate the ponds from which they have come, the ponds that were here before.

It is easy to focus on the turtles, who are ignoring me. Light shimmers on the nearby trunks, thin and grouped like an arboreal representation of the Three Graces. The bench on which I'm sitting is sunk into the ground on a slope so that I could almost be sitting on ground itself. There are greens on the far side of the pond, soft yellow-greens and deep greens, but the trees here are mostly leafless or cling to fall's orange. Limbs are floating in the water to my left, thick as walking sticks. One could imagine plucking one from the water carrying the pond with you deeper into the arboretum.

Not that I will. This is as far as I think I will go this morning. Here at the edge of the pond, where the webs link the cypress trees branch to branch like a kind of instrument, every tree laced to together and somewhere, in a register that I can see but will never hear, chords and glissandi and the deep call of the turtles echoing over the water.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Weight of Fog

This week's Magpie Tale is really, really late. There are no excuses. Just...lateness.


The Weight of Fog

It is as heavy as fog on my eyes
In a world grown thick, recessional,
Every step into a new frame.
There are princesses here
Bushes in yellow and green,
Delicate and thin branches,
And the creatures that are always
With you in the parkland,
The ones you hear, classify squirrels,
And forget.

That is why I wear the half-mask.
It drinks sour memory, tongue gentle
In a tear duct, no sharper than a lash.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesday Poetry Noodling

Last week I checked out a book on villanelles just before our library's writer's group--it was a tiny book and the poems looked like they would be fun to read (and to read aloud while the dogs snooze--I am just as snooze-inducing as daytime tv, provided the word "treat" isn't liberally sprinkled throughout the stanzas). Repetition makes for a nice verbal lilt and taking in a large selection allows the formality to become the structure of a city of thought rather than a restrictive artifice.

Tonight's noodling won't be a villanelle: I have a couple of potential lines and a possible direction but nothing more than a mood yet. Perhaps I will eventually allow myself to play with the idea of sock-eating as stress reduction. Our Eskie mix hurt either a paw or shoulder last week and his tenderness (and random yelps, followed by our concerned hovering) has pushed the retriever into a frenzy of sock chewing. This amounted to one evening's toll of five socks, one of which I found flung into the tv paraphernalia, one button, and a pair of decorative fluffy balls.

Instead of socks and formal architecture, here is a passing thought regarding the reading I've been doing lately.

Post-college Reading

My teachers' spines are broken and they lie
Soft and bent upon the desk.

"Scrape the roots of your eyes from the base
of your soul," they extol.

A new world comes when new sight
illuminates the junk;
An apocalyptic closet window,
Sun excavating dust.
The insight of the cleaner at the counter
Who scrubs to see the bowl.

"Break us further, wider open; scrape us
velvet in your hands."

But...I close them, press them tightly
into metal racks and go.
Sunshine blue surrounds me, warm resin
haze, pines in rows--
Should I be broken, be relinquished?
Let the old world stand.

Is this poem done? I'm not sure. There is no structure to it and I'm not sure that it covers the resistance that I encounter as I'm trying to assimilate information, to create the understanding that I feel that I should have begun to acquire years ago.

It shocks me how little investment I made in understanding literature/culture/the basis of good writing when I was in school. Have you ever read The Phantom Tollbooth? Aside from being an awesome, amazing, perfect fantasy novel to encounter one random afternoon while you are in school, perhaps home with a cold, it contains a character that I am embarrassed to admit I have been. I have been The Humbug, who swims in the Ocean of Knowledge and emerges completely dry.

Then again, once upon a time, I had no idea that there would be lit crit that would interest me or that my understanding of literature (received lists of books to be read, quoted, essayed, and forgotten) would change. At some point, you have to invest in making a life, in developing a point of view, in figuring out what the freaking novel draft glaring at you from the edge of the desk is trying to say.

So...next Wednesday, a villanelle about the joys of socks to get you through the tough spots?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tell Me a Story

Mercer Arboretum, tucked beside Cypress Creek and woven beneath Aldine Westfield, has become the place where I turn over the mental 'leaf-mold' that feeds many of my stories and poems.

Just as often, though, I find places that make me wish that I could be a patron and commission the stories that pop up as I'm walking down the paths. Today, it was the sound the of the fountains as they burbled rather than splashed a broken trunk that looked like a castle emerging from the side of a tree.

What is the story of this wooden castle? The tree cradles it, moss-green trunk swelling around behind the towers and holding the entire thing as if it might be a dryad's plaything. Does anything live in this ruin? Is it a ruin? Are there armies of insects that patrol it or courts of mayfly larva being trained for their summer dances? Has it seen battles? The kind that weaken from within or the sundering instant of a lightning strike? I don't have a clue, although I feel strongly that it has a story.

And then, there is the sound of the fountains. How did the photographer capture the Ploomph! of the water so that everyone who sees the image feels the water gather up in the pipe, climb the rickety thickness of the water and then fall over to thump itself back into the chill mass of the water? Does it chuckle to itself, playing at being younger or warmer than it is? Is it daydreaming in a clear blue funk beneath the grey sky and the grey columns? How do you capture that heaviness? The sense of practicality--the ploonk of water filling a tank rather than the splash of a summer fountain?

There are stories that I want to tell, but these--these are the stories that I want to hear.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Should I Ever Get a Trilogy

This past holiday season has inspired more contemplation that writing and I find myself at the beginning of a new year reading and studying short stories, trying to understand their rhythms. For me, a good short story is like an excellent ice-skating performance: kindled anticipation from the first note of the music or sight of the costumes, flashes of amazement at the improbable moves, and endings that carve themselves abruptly into that frozen internal sea.

Yet, I find that short stories are also functioning like matches, casting brief flares into the dark heart of the novel that I'm drafting. Or, at this point, thinking about making notes on prior to drafting. Yeah. It's been that kind of writing season. Ideas are circling, revealing a few scenes, and then flying off. Meanwhile, here I sit, listening to podcasts and scrolling through Facebook and fearing setting pen to paper.

And listening to the Tolkien Professor podcasts and trying to not talk to the Pumpkin King about my disappointment with the latest Hobbit film. When we saw the movie, I was as twitchy as a toddler by the end, sighing and shifting in my seat each time an orc feigned death only to rise again for several additional minutes of battle. Yeah, I know. Named orcs have 50K hit points and get extra ones from each unnamed orc who falls to a war pig or half-dead but brave villager. These ultimate battles have been promised since the first film and everyone is looking forward to them. But they didn't resonate for me the way Galadriel's moment of kick-assery did, nor the way the songs over the end credits hinted at movies that could have been made. So today, while enjoying a sunny drive taking the long way home (it's been grey, cold, and drizzly for several days), I started to think that part of the challenge of the Hobbit films was having to recapitulate (even if you reimagine parts of it) the story.

If I had the chance to make a trilogy of movies based on The Hobbit (at least if that opportunity came, oh, today), I would prefer to pick pieces of the book. These pieces:

1. Dark Webs in the Bright Leaves: This opening movie would be the story of the sylvan elves and their battle with the spiders. Focusing on the conflict between being stewards and the possibility of eternal learning and care versus the necessity of determining what requires fighting and when sacrifice is justified, this initial installment could have plenty of music (Elves--not just bleach and eyebrows) and conflict. Flashbacks to previous dragon battles? A demonstration of the way that we ignore danger because it's just far enough away to be someone else's problem? Do gated communities work as safeguards? The end would hint at the growing darkness and maybe include a rumor of dwarves. This could establish the deep history of the world (what else are the elves but the visible manifestation of the deep natural history) but also set up the idea of changes and at the same time the rot of long-dead empires or ideas contaminating the present/future.

2. A Brief Kingdom: This movie would take place in The Lonely Mountain in between the death of the dragon and the (spoiler alert?) death of Thorin and would focus entirely on Thorin. Flashbacks might give some backstory, but the interaction of the dwarves could establish a good deal of their character and Thorin would get an entire movie to enact his accession, fall, and redemption, with the benefit of introducing Bilbo, who will be the focus of the last movie.

3. The Road and the Tale: This final movie would take place entirely on Bilbo's return to the shire, as he explains to various companions (Gandalf? Various elves? A passing ranger?) what has happened and we begin to see how the story that we've experienced from various viewpoints becomes the story of a particular hobbit whose family will become so important to the upcoming LOTR trilogy. I love the idea of watching a story becoming myth as Bilbo continues to refine what he will remember from the adventures.

Breaking the story free from the book and plunging deeper into certain pieces struck me as a way to wind through the story without just repeating it. To give one a chance to both honor the source material and demonstrate that stories change every time they are retold.

It is manifestly a good thing that I will never get the opportunity to recreate a trilogy.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Container/Essence


I feel like screaming, genuflecting,
like Not Causing A Scene.
Going where I carry odd tales
Of the blank dragon spaces
Where I come from.

I climb as high as an idol
In this tiny space and yell.

The altar beneath me creaks
with the crap I worship.
Shirts and underwear and toothpaste
And books--all unsteady
Under my feet.

I read my way to a liturgy,
Faked my way to this altar.

I feel like screaming.

Thank you to Magpie Tales for providing the above image/inspiration for today's poem.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Meditation

Last night I dreamed myself into a library--The Library, since institutions in dreams tend to be singular. I was looking for The Alchemist, a book that I dislike, although I had high hopes for when I first read it. Instead of encountering the actual text of the book, I found a poster hanging down the length of a wall like an unrolled scroll with what seemed to be the entire text of the book (up to page 96, for whatever random reason). It began with a line abot the libraries of the author's childhood.

To read this long poster, you laid on your back on a large pillow provided for this on the floor of The Library. Large plate-glass windows and bright but diffused ceiling lights allowed you to float in the bright space, cocooned by the pillow and your own body and climb through the tower of text before you.

Having just come through a holiday season that encompassed more anger than calm and more silence than praise, I was looking for something that was embodied in The Library. For the bulk of the last few months I've felt as if a hand was laid across my lips in terms of my writing. Stories would begin and then fizzle. Words and themes would surface and then vanish before I could find a pen or find time to sit at the keyboard. And so I found myself balancing on a pillow, legs crossed and folded and resting against the wall, while I read an unrolled scroll that overwrote the text of a book striving to embody the sacred with a reference to the actual sacred--the libraries of my childhood. Even more than bookstores that stock the most recent along with shelves of games and fresh coffee, libraries are places where I can try out different types of books and where, once upon a time, I had to earn my way through the stacks, from picture books to biography to the jokes at the end of the sidewalk.

Not to mention the concept of borrowing and returning. Impermanence of ownership. It isn't the book that matters, it is the impression left behind.