Keep a File of Good Writing

A funny, perky professor with silver hair and a very large bum in pinstriped pants, who carried a stainless steel briefcase always packed with papers, who was, of course, a dramatist, writer, director, and instructor in the Faculty of Fine Arts gave me this advice. He said, “Keep a file of good writing, samples from all kinds of styles, and when you’re getting ready to write, read something you really like.”

This advice has since stood out in my mind because I had at the time just read John McPhee‘s “Sapidissima” in The New Yorker (August 19 & 26, 2002), and to say that the piece struck me as brilliant is not quite right–it was more like it caught me off guard. I have no big interest in fishing for shad, and none for cooking with bacon (currently when I eat a fish I feel fleshy, emotional, overhungry, and concupiscent, even as I salivate; as for pigs, I would rather eat a baby). But the article put me in a state of attentive objectivity that removed my evaluations of topical interest–almost immediately, wanting to know became only an effect of fascination with McPhee’s semantic precision, his guidance of meaning from each word to the next, as if he had invented the trick of writing.

Pedestals aside, the point is the recognition of when doing becomes being: picking your line down a trail; lifting the voice of the drum from the skin and not banging the drum; focussing one point–not the bird in the tree, not the bird, but the eye of the bird. That connection that sparks the gap, the living metaphor.

This morning, a friend posted an article about Dan Savage that reminded me of all this. My initial intention was simply to share the article here, mainly because of the way author Benjamin Dueholm discusses Savage’s primary concern with ethics–not exactly an easy project, but one that, for Dueholm, Savage seems increasingly keen on pursuing. The way I see it, Savage voices both the utopian impulse, and the struggle, the actual work necessary to map the way between here and some elusive, better place.

Meanwhile, the article itself stands out–as my friend noted, Dueholm “writes like a dream.” I deeply concur. There is a lithe and charging energy in the prose that distracted me from my morning coffee, replaced it with a flute of giddy bubbly, and sped me by the elbow down a bustling cultural corridor all the way back to my funny roundbum professor, and to my own desire for good words. As when I read “Sapidissima,” I found myself rereading sentences, looping round to re-enjoy their heft or buzz or shine. And that inspiration for craft, for beautiful artifice, is a whole other kind of utopian energy, for me.

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Owl and Pussycat

All day I had this song in my head from a ska/punk/roots band I used to love to dance to, for hours and hours, for a few years, until they were gone, along with the rest of the awesome b-circuit bands of the period. Though I submit that Roots Roundup was the awesomest. I miss you guys!

I lost this tape (just dated myself, I’m aware) among a box of tapes left at a friend’s place so long ago. He tried to return that box to me over and over, but I can’t remember what ended up happening to it.

Nostalgia is hitting me hard today, as it has frequently this summer, with this song in my head. This recording doesn’t do the song justice. (But vive l’Internet! So glad it’s there.) Live, it was much more up-tempo, loud, and punk. But the recording is worth a listen, because you might have been at one of those shows, and if you were, you will remember how much fun it was.

Don’t crowd me with your motor car.

Dancing to a song about riding your bike! Remember! Just dancing at live shows. Bands whose members enjoyed each other on stage, who understood transitions and kept the music going, who knew time signatures and sang on pitch, who were sexy even when they took their teeth out to play. Who played SETS. Sets! All the band and all the dance floor in unison pogo. Bouncing on the Commodore Ballroom’s bouncy horsehair-padded floors. Irony-free horn sections. Green rooms crowded with stand up basses, kit cases, Shure 58s, and free beer.

Nostalgia. Memory. Unglued. Unbound. So I got a new bike!

Pussycat, the lime green dream.

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Daughter In Law

Today I am starting a new writing project. I do not know what it is yet, but I have known for three years that it is something, and today I am starting in order to find out.

When my father-in-law Lindy shuffled off to kick the old bitch three years ago, he left behind whatever journals he had not used for firestarter. I have had them in piles and cardboard, shelved near me, along with whatever books he had not either given away or used for firestarter or ripped apart or drawn all over.

I feel wary of revealing the way in which his loud old ghost makes a racket in my heart and mind and the corner of my eye every day, and wakes me up at night, singing, daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law, and wobbling his tall old head and foolish eyes at me. But last night I was told, again, by a person so near to me that sometimes I wonder how he can be real, to own my opinions, and that means my opinionated heart as well. So this declaration is me putting that into practice. It means defenestrating notions of rights, ownership, inheritance, deservedness, and authority. Out the window they go.

So I am transcribing the journals. It is probably going to take a long time. Nothing seems to be dated or organized chronologically, but I will be able to start piecing more of his story together as I type it out.

I have decided to write about the process for a couple of reasons. One is that it is so personal to go through someone’s journals, and I am scared about what I might read among the rant-and-rave catharsis of heart and history, and I want to give myself a way to deal with the intimacy. I promise to be careful about what I share here. Two is that I hope, by following the process of transcription, that I will create space for the project. Three is that I have been meaning for a long time to write about Lindy here, because he really personifies thegoodbadpeople. And I hope that this will create space for other projects to emerge as well. And when I have questions, you can help me find the answers.

He had a lot of pain, with his body and with the world. He had a lot of lovers. He left a lot of people, or drove them away. He was angry and tender and wounded and impossible and loud, the only real anarchist I have known, who grew gardens and talked to gods and ate poppies and hurt feelings, and wept at hurting, and did not lie about lying, and was impulsive and loving and crazy and full like a bomb. He is the only person I have ever seen die. His arm was so heavy when we tucked him under the sheet. His legacy is private and political and relevant, and writing about it might not be what he wanted. And missing him might not be what he wanted. Because all of these words are just the words people say.

Since the journals are not dated, I will just begin with the one on the top of the stack. I expect it will be plain and glorious and boring and repetitive, and full of cliché and poems and insults, and I will be embarrassed, and criticize myself for romanticizing the obnoxious, and I will express myself anyway, and I both hope and fear that I will be offended, and I will probably write about him in the present tense sometimes, and try to talk myself into realism through neverending metaphors and struggles with the cave.

But this is my space, and this is my heart, and these are my feelings, ever, ever, ever opinionated.

Dear Lindy, I am sorry we forgot your pointiest boots. But I am sure you got a good kick in anyway with your bare feet.

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Catching up on blog reading is a veritable like-fest, as I munch a bowl of shredded beets, which is the only thing to eat in the house after being away. I have a lot more to say. For now, though, THIS.


Don’t forget to watch the Fritz Lang original. One of the most important films, ever.

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Long summer heat

Long summer holiday this year, between the coast and the mountains.

Revisions gave structure to the first weeks, and showed me a new kind of writing in the summer, with a breezy bright focus and a drone of loud peace. It was for me a different way to spend time on Cortes, combating the pull of the lazy lake water and the garden heat with the pull of abstract deadlines, only vaguely articulated, and sometimes prickled with paranoia and overlarge dreams. A little drama with your relaxation, to sharpen your sense and intensify the emotions between your self and your day. And this year we made friends.

The paper(paperpaperpaper) is in, and I am waiting to defend, and oscillating between knowing what to do next and having no idea. Thank you, blog, for being so patient.

What stands out besides being nearly finished are the creative excitements that have emerged this last while. Here a couple of thanks, and links.

Thanks to Erika Grundmann, author of Dark Sun: Te Rapunga and the Quest of George Dibbern, for good conversation about the local (British Columbia) boating types with whom Capi kept company, and about writing and research, and family, and building life by hand, piece by piece. Well met.

Thanks to Clown on Fire, I wrote a guest post about living with ADD on Black Box Warnings. Writing it and putting it out to fend for itself in the blogosphere was a mix of scary and thrilling, and I appreciate all the response. Salut, Le Clown!

Also, this very special new blog was born: pollenbrush. It is pretty slick.

I am sitting in the afternoon mountain heat in Nelson now, before getting back on the road tomorrow morning to drive to Montana. This place is so very very full of my past. Memories and recognition are making crazy overtures to my heart, and to its longings for harmony and jazz and more and more and more long summer heat.

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It happens.

Hours and hours of work, during which you entertain a migraine and feed your salty sea blood to the mosquitos missed by the bats at dusk, last evening and this, during which you try hard to specify what means what; after all, you should know, with the help of the OED Online; all culminating in the realization that the fix is broken, you tried too hard, and some things are better just tossed.

Please god do not let it be my entire master’s degree.

I choose “nomenclature” as the name of my mandatory category here in the first place to avoid the paranoia of trying to categorize these wily offerings, and also to tip my hat (or flip my bird?) at the domineering nag that the naming process can be, especially when too many is too many and too few is too few. Playing around with prescriptions is one thing; relying upon them is heartbreak.

I heard about a cougar hit on the side of the highway today. Tell me, where does that fit in?

I heard about an information superhighway, wingbroke sound barriers, pinpointable in space if you can shut up your mouth and your eyes with your hat on your face at sunset and hear them zip ten inches over dried herring roe, representing more data than you can comprehend. So where does that fit in?

I love you. Get out of the garden.

Exactly where does that fit in? 

*These were taken outside of the garden. But boy do the twins ever put the fence through its paces. 

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