Finding my way back to daily practice is like following altered river banks trying to remember the swimming holes of my youth. The bridges we jumped from without a hint of fear. The sublime melt of being weightless, as our adolescent angst washed away from us (riding bareback with the brookies that haven’t quite yet grown into their colors). The erotic newness of being comfortable in one’s own skin. Tapping into these places and the preserving sap that makes time stand still. I can’t go back--- I’ll churn in these eddies and words until the thrill of the current returns.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Unpacking boxes that have been stored away during this transitional time—since relocating to
Sitting in the dusty loft of our carriage house among bins and unused furniture, paint buckets and window frames, I sifted through pages of writing that seemed vaguely familiar, yet didn’t connect with me in the usual way when I claim ownership, or have an emotive response to the recollection of certain memories.
Not only did these documents strike me as foreign, but the whole sense of the writing was superficial. I saw little of myself on the page, even knowing at one time I had poured my heart and soul into making this writing work. I could see the influences of my past, and in a way the whole thing disturbed me. Who was this woman? Not just the protagonist, but the woman who created her. What was she really trying to say? Who was she trying to be?
Perhaps, I was just suffering from what is described as, First Novel Syndrome—trying to write about everything at once, and managing to write about nothing at all.
Then, I looked at the comments below. Christ! Almost too much to bear, that I had of course, blocked out too (or didn’t want to own up to).
Overly sweet. Romanticized. Peeople don’t converse this way, or really see the world that way. But you can write.
I knew the critique wasn’t meant to be insulting, but it still hurt (even years later) knowing how another writer saw my writing as an extension of me—naïve, incapable of understanding true tension, or anything difficult (what drives us and makes us tick), maybe even a bit entitled, with sunshine blown up my ass, so all I can see was a chaste vision through my rose-colored glasses.
Looking through my old work, almost five years later, it occurs to me what I wished to convey to that peer all along. For all intents and purposes, I’m going to take a stab at it now:
You don’t know me, but I’m fueled by my fears. Seeing beauty in the world has been my way of dealing with all the pain and suffering I know truly exists. The hardest things I know, been exposed to and have experienced first-hand, are not the kinds of details I wish to relive for lurid minds to fetishize, to analyze, or pass on. Tapping into these places draws out old demons, and is like gutting the vulnerable underbelly of a fish. And isn’t that the sort of confessional writing—truth-telling, raw, gritty, disturbing—just another way of romanticizing human dysfunction? If I’m going to be a writer of truth, I must throw out my longings for a contrived world—fiction was once my safehouse from the illusions and terrors that really haunt me, it was my escape and place of finding forgiveness, and it was my hope for imagining something better.
Writing is my version of making love to the world. Because no matter how much pain I feel inside, words give me the means to profess my unconditional devotion to being alive.
There was a time when I couldn’t get out of my own way, or even imagine surviving until older age. I’ve been destructive and fair. For years, I lived in heat and was a fool for the moment, never wishing to record it. Now, I rack my brain for that something real that seems just out of reach—the nuances that defined those amazing or scary moments and haphazardly defined me and my view of the world. The things I’ve said and done that I can’t take back, the unrequited and aimless wanderings of my youth.
So, I say to myself, “Self, give yourself permission. Say, fuck it. Here I am. Take it, or leave it. I don’t care. I believe what it’s about, and I’m not here to prove anything.”
The time has come to admit the things I see in the woodwork, and to unreservedly embark on that soul’s journey, wielding my fear shamelessly.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Compliments make me blush, especially when it comes to being recognized for any sort of achievement. Though, recently my alma mater came out with the most fair-handed press release about my progression as a writer. I don't think I could've asked for a more honest look at where my passion and motivation are derived. To have some of my early insecurities revealed to an audience was truly the best part of me I could offer the public. To have my peers and strangers understand that for me it isn't about recognition paired with opportunity, but it's about the every day inspiration and connection, the things I wrestle with daily (because I am human, first and foremost). And it's also about, what I choose to do with the life experiences I’ve been given—the ones I attempt to draw from for my art, and the ones I wish to share.
Donald Hall, in his eighties, published an essay titled, “A Yeti in the District”. Which speaks volumes of his humble nature, and how out-of-place and uncomfortable he becomes when thrown into the circus of creative expectation. I would not dare to compare my achievement or experiences with such an ingenious man, or his poetic fortitude. But there’s a feeling of solidarity that comes from knowing there are others, like me, for whom the spotlight is as unnatural a position one can be put in and that sometimes words like “industry”, “published” and “awards” can come off sounding quite callous and insensitive to the person living quietly behind the artist.
After sharing his story about being awarded the National Medal of Arts, Hall writes, simply: “The next day I got back to writing. What else was there?”. While at the time, the piercing eye of the press had a field day over his disheveled appearance at the monumental event. What papers missed in their account was that the composure and composition of a man like Hall is made up entirely of character and the historic significance of his life and work. Who the hell cares if his tie was crooked! He had the kahunas and gumption to put himself out there, to trust an audience cut away from the critics and who were ready to embrace what he had to say.
How do we really measure the sum of a person’s worth? I will withhold the James Allen quotes for the time being. There is, however, a story about Chao-Chou in Zen philosophy that I keep coming across in various texts and different forms: In which, a monk draws a portrait of the master. When the portrait is finished and presented to the master, the master studies it and says, “If it’s really the true image of me, then you can kill me. But if it is not, you should burn it.”
I suspect that at the end of the day, Hall felt similarly.
You can read the press release put out by Southern New Hampshire University, here: http://markets.financialcontent.com/mi.idahostatesman/news/read/28983764/Pacing
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Recently, while driving to work, Joni Mitchell’s song “River” came on over the radio. A song I have always loved (especially this time of year), because it reminds me of my mother and the many folk tapes she played in the car when I was a kid. My mother would sing along in a low, heartfelt way touched by the lyrics of one of her favorite artists, sometimes looking like she was on the verge of tears. Or she would sing to me and my sisters at bedtime, songs like “Circle Game” or “Blackbird”.
When I got home later that afternoon, I looked up an interview with Joni Mitchell online. There had been something about the song “River” that I hadn’t really noticed before until that morning commute, and I wanted to learn more about it from the musician’s perspective.
At the beginning of the interview, Ms. Mitchell seems cynical, on-guard, and defensive. She can’t really see her lifetime accomplishments or contributions. But instead, she seems more concerned about how others misinterpret who she is as a person. She chain smokes, as she apprehensively eyes the interviewer, Jian Ghomeshi.
What stood out for me over the course of the interview, was not only the way she was self-aware of her growth as a person and artist, (“I am liquid,” she says, and “I don’t like looking back”) but how she ends on the thought and point that we are all truly alone on this Earth, and let’s face it.
The song “River” begins with the image of people getting ready to celebrate Christmas, which is the kind of connectedness we as a culture get nostalgic over. But as the song continues, she speaks of detachment, too. Like when she says in her interview, “Everything I am, I’m not.”
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with an aging population these days—a mostly forgotten population. I think a lot about how they feel, as sometimes my role is to anticipate their needs in a care-giving way. I wonder if they feel alone, or how they feel about strangers assisting them in the most personal ways imaginable.
When we are young, capable, attractive and independent we just don’t see that one day it could all go away. We are vain and selfish, sometimes superficial, and we are so used to the attention we receive in our youth--trying to stay appealing to others, so that the attention we seek doesn’t fade. But as people grow older and become slower, more dependent and less capable, they are treated as though they are a burden and we as a society are too impatient to give these folks any consideration.
I truly admire cultures who respect their elders. How much richer those people are with all that wisdom and knowledge and stories being passed down to them. How connected they must feel knowing where they came from.
Being aware of this makes me want to be more patient with others, and more appreciative of the time I do have left on this planet. And I know this is an every day practice that will eventually become just a part of who I am. Though right now, I’m as guilty as anyone of being selfish, caught up in my own stuff, demanding more and giving less. I just hope I am graced with a nice, full life so I can make the changes I need to be a better, contributing person and experience how rich in other ways life can be.
Monday, December 1, 2014
Yesterday, I found out that I was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize by The Milo Review for my short story, "We All Come Here From a Long Way Off ". I've been told I need to learn how to celebrate these successes. But so often is the case, publication news and milestones hit me blindsided, because I'm working with my head down (which I have been doing a lot of since relocating to rural Vermont).
I have manuscripts in the works, and that's all I see-- a collection of poetry & a novel. And right now, I'm reliving the whole submission process of trying to find publishers that will consider my work worthy of their time. There's no systematic matrix with this go around, no prayers to a higher power, nor is there the sort of restless anxiety I used to get when I realized a particular piece wasn't quite tight enough or ready to be sent out (but I was impatiently overzealous, and did it anyway). Now, it's all research and simple trial-and-error. I've become a fantastic weeder, understanding where to focus and plot my time, and when to just walk away and let things run their course.
I do, however, want to thank all those small presses that have curated my work over the past couple years: The Citron Review , Cigale Literary , The Tower Journal , DEAD FLOWERS: A Poetry Rag , Vagabond City Journal , and The Voices Project
And I especially want to thank, The Milo Review and WORD PORTLAND, for giving me the opportunity to showcase my work, and for supporting me in ways above and beyond.
check out my Pushcart nom here ----------- > 2016 Pushcart Nominees
to read more about The Prize --------------------- > The Down-low About a Man & His Cart
Thursday, November 20, 2014
I’ve gathered all my nuts and berries for the winter. There’s a storing up process I undertake during the mild, fall months. It’s all intake and experience and documenting—making sure I have a decent amount of material to hold me over through the hibernating months of cold and snow, so I don’t go mad with cabin fever. I used to find humor in imagining the crotchety hermit who holes up and writes by the light of a candle’s flame. Now, I understand why people choose to live in such a way.
In past years, I’ve noticed that I am by far more productive when I don’t have the distraction of wanting to be outside in the woods or fields, or on a mountain or by the ocean side. This was actually the first week I didn’t want to break off freely into the acres around where I live, because hunting season opened and I find it difficult to enjoy my surroundings when rifles are echoing through the valleys. I even purchased my first neon orange hat this year, but I have found it more useful to wear when I’m sitting stationary, chilled and writing in a drafty old house.
Whoever said making art isn’t a war zone too?
Right now, I’m tackling two major manuscripts. They each require abandoning my inhibitions and insecurities to examine new territory. I certainly have my work cut out for me, with many challenges to come and an inexhaustible amount of drafts. But I have time, and recognizing this gives me the patience I need to focus on the tasks at hand.
And this only affirms for me that I will probably never live full-time in a tropical or temperate place (I’ve tried before without much success), because the reality is that the seasons too closely mirror my motivations and moods and development. And so I’m starting to suspect my fate is sealed in these little dynamic quarters I maintain.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Typically, mornings if the weather looks clear, I crawl up on the roof and write with a pot of coffee and a beach chair. There’s a feeling of exposure being up there, having nothing boxing me in or keeping me away from the edges. I watch the birds, and work until the blacktop’s too hot to walk across without any shoes.
On fogless days, there’s a pristine view of the
Casco Bay and its outlying
islands. The sailboats, the ferries and the cargo ships—all out and going since
dawn. And as I discovered from the roof’s vantage point just this last week, the sun
coming up over those waters is more brilliant and perfect than the idea of it.
Even at night, under the milky cataract of moonlight, there is something both serene and surreal that makes me feel removed. But also, invigorated; with energy that comes in on all sides.
I lost two poems off the roof today. The day after heavy rain and there is always a straggling current of air that smells like the stormy day before. I was lost in thought: thinking about how sensually hands shape to organic matter; how they can adjust in force or tenderness, as if they have a mind of their own....I was also listening to the wind blow over the cracked chimney next door, which naturally made the sound of a mouth whistling over a bottle. Two notes: simultaneously high and low.
It was during one of these tailwind gusts, a couple loose-leaf pages—unattached and shoved inside a book I opened too freely—danced right off the roof.
I sat there for a minute, still deciding what to do. I thought maybe it was a sign I wasn’t meant to keep those words permanent, and that I should perhaps move on to something else.
Finally I got up, close to the ledge and looked over.
One page had landed in a neighbor’s yard among their clutter of car parts and kid toys, and the other had landed on a second-story deck beneath a charcoal grill.
Since I was too embarrassed to knock on either door to ask if I could retrieve my poems, I chose to sneak around the building to the more accessible yard, hoping no one would see me or ask why I was trespassing, “For the likely story of a poem,” right?
As I located the piece of paper among a litter of other gutter remnants, I was startled by someone clearing their throat. Looking up to the porch behind me, all I could see was a pair of jeans and a partial eye peeking out from a foreground of tomato and pepper plants.
I waved my hand in greeting, holding the page over my head. “My poem flew off the roof,” I called out. “Just grabbing my poem.”
Instantly, I realized this could’ve been a pet parakeet I was referring to and I probably would’ve gotten the same response, which was:
“These tomatoes. I didn’t think they’d go, but they did. Now look at 'em.”
“They’re beautiful,” I agreed. “Must’ve of been all that rain we just got.”
The man behind the bushes then pointed out to a corner of yard now taken over by a forgotten swing set. “Used to have a garden, there.”
I tried to imagine it, as he moved away from the plants and the balcony so I could see his face. He had sad eyes, and he limped on the stairs.
He looked at me, then back to the wooden boxes full of healthy green vines. “Those are some tomatoes, huh?”
I nodded, and he seemed satisfied with this and went inside.
Walking down his driveway with poem in hand, I knew I wouldn’t be getting the other lost page back, because of what it might entail.
When I returned to the roof to finish my work, curiosity got the best of me and I took a look over to see if the page was still there on the deck beneath the grill.
I discovered that it wasn’t, and it was likely picked up by the residents of the house. I then wondered if they had decided it was trash and threw it out.
It was a short poem, written in a flash of thought. I know I won’t remember the exact words I used, so it’s already a forgotten poem. But I understand that more poems can be formed from even the faintest memory of verse. Just like the man who planted his tomato seeds remembering how he once had a fine garden of his own.
The Salvaged Poem
Stillness disquiets those who don’t,
or can’t possess it.
And so I walk,
as an act of observance:
A single broken wing,
lying fallen on the sidewalk—
entrancing, like a pretty girl
and a three-legged dog.
Someone calling out to “Redemptus!”
As the sculptor’s plaster splatters,
and the scent of vinegar
comes through a window.
All in a day’s scouring of corners.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
As we move into mid-summer, spoiled by these pristine days, I wondered about other writers who in their time put off work days for a little beach bliss.
Here is a collection of some of my favorite seaside depictions:
Here is a collection of some of my favorite seaside depictions:
|Virginia Woolf & Clive Bell|
Studland Beach, Dorset 1909
|Jack Kerouac, Peter Orlovsky & William S. Burroughs|
Tangier, Morocco 1957
|Hunter S. Thompson|
Thursday, June 19, 2014
I honestly believed that there were bigger and brighter ideas to tackle out there (in the figment of every writer’s world). Things that people really cared about. I already knew some things, and could certainly write my knowledge into the broader spectrum of things. And so it was the end of a proverbial relationship, my manuscript and I were taking a break, and surprisingly I didn’t feel a morsel of remorse over how it all went down.
I joked, It will be my first written, last published piece. Posthumously, of course. Since we all know how the ego loves morbidity.
I’d also forgotten what it was like to be in a relationship with another human being. Not another artist, not another project, but another person who made time for me and deserved my time in return. During the occasional bout of rationale, it seemed essential to shift my energies to what was budding between me and my new love interest. Someone actually wanted to be my partner! I didn’t know what to do with that sort of evidence. And once we got past the I Feel Worthy, You Feel Worthy insecurities, our shared sentiment to let our love run freely and evolve naturally, restored my faith in the organic matter of things. I didn’t realize how regimented I’d become in my personal life and routine, and how much I actually beat myself up over not creating or not producing enough/smarter/profound material; how much I aimed to be better at everything I attempted to an unhealthy degree.
It’s better to be like a ball with no edges, a friend reminded me. You just keep rolling with it, bumping along even the rockiest of terrain. Now, when you find you and your lifestyle are more fashioned like a box, you quickly become stagnant or sedentary, sometimes requiring a forceful budge to get momentum going again.
In less than two weeks, my partner and I will be beginning what we hope is a sustainable, cohabiting future. I confess there were years and years where I questioned if I could ever live with another person. And if I did, how would my art be affected? I worried about falling into one of those scary “comfort zones” in relationships, where self-motivation is muted, and passion gets squeezed out by obligation and the constant proof that unfulfilled individuals seek. I think about that line in the movie Reality Bites, where the character Vickie (played by Gene Garofalo) says, “My parents have been married for 26 years. They’re like brother and sister at this point. She goes to the bathroom with the door open… [Na-ah, I don’t want that. I want passion the whole way through]” And who could blame her?
So, the true test will be finding the balance of honoring the passions I know fulfill me as an individual (because I’m damn good at doing it alone) and melding together with my partner in a sharing of experiences and interests and dreams, and also being able to draw inspiration out of the places I never even thought to look before.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
"Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
They never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weaving of our afternoons." - sunday morning, wallace stevens
On Martha’s Vineyard there is a great thrift store that is unique and not ubiquitous to those I frequent when I’m home in
For those like me, who enjoy picking
through second-hand and consigned merchandise, you know the smell of worn
clothing and loved furniture. It’s a musty scent, like the inside of a tent
after a camping trip. Portland, ME.
However, on the island, my favorite little thrift store is a converted garage just outside Vineyard Haven, tucked away near a dead end road that leads to the salt marshes. On nice weather days, the air circulates from the street where the doors have been pulled up and open, through the building of racks and boxes and shelves, and out to sea.
And the finds that can be dug up! Abandoned paintings and drawings of visiting artists, enough cookware to fill your kitchen, clothing for those who care about labels (and not the price tag), tennis rackets and golf clubs and roller blades, tools of antiquity, and books, books, and more books. I now know to leave extra room in my suitcase, because it is likely I will be returning home with new reading material.
During my latest trip, I lucked out and visited the store when all books were ½ off. This was a real score for me, since my literary budget has been overextended in recent years. I have to say, if I have a sickness for anything, its spending money on books. I just can’t help myself, especially when I come across excellent writing. It’s the equivalent of finding a piece of art hidden or forgotten in a bin, then discovering the $5 sticker. For a moment, I’m saddened by how under-appreciated the work is, but my faith is quickly restored when I know I will find value in absorbing and savoring what the opportunity has afforded me. Acquiring knowledge and being grateful for the beautiful things brought into this world holds a different weight than material gains. This is a truth I know.
All and all, I spent $3 and got three wonderful works for my collection: