“ . . . I am with fire between my teeth and still nothing but my blank page.” ~ Monique Wittig

André Kertész, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Desk at Bernard Lamotte’s Home, ca 1960

“I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Friday evening. Overcast, feels like rain.

Flannery O'Connor's Desk and Typewriter at Andalusia, GA

I have wanted to write a post for days now, but just haven’t had it in me. I feel completely enervated—weak and listless. It took everything I had to go to the concert on Wednesday, which really sucks. I hate feeling as if I have to steel myself to go somewhere or to do something.

The house is quiet. Corey is at work, and Brett has gone to see his friends Gordon and Tailor. Tillie is hanging out on the couch, looking out the window, and the two Jack Russells are probably on the bed being lazy. Good day for it. Today I’ve consumed Nilla wafers and Pepsi (caffeine free). Just one of those days.

Well, supposedly the world is going to end tomorrow . . . again. The guy who is predicting this also predicted the end of the world sometime in the 90’s, but says that he got his math wrong. Yep. I’m surely going to trust my future to someone who cannot do math properly. Excuse me for being flippant, but if the world is going to end, does that mean that I don’t have to worry about bills any more?

End of the world, you can stockpile books, or you can stockpile canned green beans. I know what I’m hoarding. I can’t eat the books, but I’ll never be bored. Besides, canned vegetables have no nutritional value and taste like tin.

“No one forces you to write. The writer enters the labyrinth voluntarily . . . ” ~ Roberto Bolaño

André Kertész The Way a Poem of Ady’s began on a Café Table in Paris, 1928

So many things to not write about. So many words tumbling around inside me, none floating to the surface. As a child eating alphabet soup, I used to make letters sink by pushing them down with my spoon. That’s how I would rid myself of the excess letters that did not fit the pattern I was trying to make. If only life were still so easily manipulated. Perhaps if I keep writing, something will float to the surface.

Then there were the boxes of animal crackers. Why were they called crackers when they were in fact cookies? Did you ever wonder how they decided which animals to use? Camels? Now there’s an animal you see everyday. Monkeys? If you took the empty box once you had finished biting the heads off the animals, supposedly you could make a circus cage (back in the days when they acknowledged using cages). I never made the cage as I had enough of a moral dilemma in eating the animals. Truly.

I was a complicated child.

Writing, always writing, even before I knew words, I wrote. I would take scraps of paper and write notes to our neighbors in the large apartment building in London. Then I would slip the pieces of paper beneath their doors and wait for them to reply. They never did. Some of the neighbors thought that someone in the building was a bit mental until my mother explained that I was the source of the mysterious notes.

My first poem in first grade. So proud of it. I read it out loud for one of my mother’s friends, who suggested that I jazz it up by adding some more words. I was highly affronted and told her so. Even then I could not abide criticism.

Words. So many words. So much paper. So much that I felt that I needed a satchel to carry them all in. I lost a tooth and convinced my father that instead of a shilling, he should give me 10 shillings so that I could buy the leather book satchel in Mr. Higgins’ store that I had been coveting for months but which my mother would not agree to buy for me. He did, and I ran to the store and bought it. I filled the tan leather briefcase with paper, pencils, and Barbie dolls. I carried the satchel to Flora Gardens school even though the school supplied all of our necessities.

It was the start of my history as a bag lady. In love with words and bags to hold the pens, pencils, and notebooks.

“The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.” ~ Jules Renard

Virginia Woolf's Writing Desk

I think that satchel is still somewhere in my mother’s attic. Wouldn’t that be grand? Wouldn’t it be grand if I opened it and found something that I had written a lifetime ago? Conversely, wouldn’t it be sad if I opened it and found nothing? Perhaps I shan’t look for it after all.

Carl Sandburg once wrote that the past “is a bucket of ashes.” If I remember correctly, that’s one of the first quotes that I collected. The rest of the quote is something about living for the present, ya da ya da ya da, nothing nearly as eloquent as the bucket of ashes. But consider, if we truly relegated our pasts to the ash pile, if we burned the memories, charred the moments, what would we have to build upon?

Everyone needs a foundation upon which to build. That’s what the past is. That’s what my little leather satchel is: all of the words that my young mind possessed at that time and how I committed them to paper in my early attempts to make things last.

This is not to say that I have not thrown moments of my past upon the pyre, that I have wished them to be gone forever, that I have poured enough kerosene to ignite the pages, only to find that my mouth tasted of ashes, but the past was still there, could not be unwritten no matter how hard I tried.

Fire destroys. Fire cleanses. I think that I fear death by fire more than any other kind.

“Schizophrenia may be a necessary consequence of literacy.” ~ Marshall McLuhan

Do not look for coherence in this post. There is none.

Jane Austen's Writing Table

T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (1922) is heavy upon my mind tonight. Yes, I do think like this sometimes, like the Penelope chapter in James Joyce’s Ulysses—Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, words tumbling out without internal punctuation, stream-of-consciousness, free association and complete nonsense.

Yes, I remember my Eliot, but not by heart, except for the Shakespeherian Rag that Susan (long gone from my life) and I used to recite on our way to Blacksburg. Four hundred thirty-four lines of poetry, prose, prophecy, reflection, repudiation, the parsing of life itself. Just a few, here:

  • “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” (30) — If only fear could be reduced to dust and blown into the wind. I carry my fear with me.
  • “I knew nothing/Looking into the heart of light, the silence” (40-41) — We seek out light, thinking that it will bring truth, but in reality, light is silent, just as dark is silent. The layers in between light and dark harbor the truth.
  • “Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,/Unguent, powered, or liquid” (87-88) — The sense of smell is deeply connected to memory. I inhale essence of spring lilacs and am transported to the side of a mountain, to the cup of fresh lilacs my first husband brought me to atone for his deception. It was a salve, an unguent for my soul.
  • “My nerves are bad to-night. Yes bad. Stay with me./Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.” (111-112) — My nerves are bad tonight, every night, all of the time, some of the time, sometimes. I get so tired of speaking of it.
  • “‘Do/You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember/’Nothing?'” (121-123) — My mother-in-law remembers nothing most of the time, some things, some of the time. I ask Alexis if she sees anything. . .
  • “O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—/It’s so elegant/So intelligent” (128-130) — Can be sung to many different tunes.
  • “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME” “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME” “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME”(141, 152, 165, etc.) — Said in pubs and bars worldwide, but do they ever specify just exactly what it is time for? Time to go? Time to pack up your troubles and smile, smile, smile as we march off to war? Time to make time? Time for change? No more time?
  • “By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .” (182) — From “The Fire Sermon,” not Psalm 137, weeping will not be enough to quench the fires of my soul.
  • “Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.” (432) — Three Da’s: give, be compassionate, be self-controlled. No explanation needed.

Enough already.

Shantih. Shantih. Shantih. (Children of Men, bearded Jasper (Michael Caine) and his strawberry cough.)

More later. Peace.

Music by Damien Rice, “9 Crimes”

                   

From “Miner’s Pond

1

A caver under stalactites,
the moon searches the stars.

In the low field, pools turn to stone.
Starlight scratches the pond,
penetrates in white threads;
in a quick breath, it fogs into ice.
A lava of fish murmurs the tightening film.

The crow is darkness’s calculation;
all absence in that black moment’s ragged span.

.

Above Miner’s Pond, geese break out of the sky’s
pale shell. They speak non-stop, amazed
they’ve returned from the stars,
hundreds of miles to describe.

It’s not that they’re wild, but
their will is the same as desire.
The sky peels back under their blade.

Like a train trestle, something in us rattles.
All November, under their passing.

.

Necks stiff as compass needles,
skeletons filled with air;
osmosis of emptiness, the space in them
equals space.

Their flight is a stria, a certainty;
sexual, one prolonged
reflex.

Cold lacquering speed, feathers oiled by wind,
surface of complete transfluency.
The sky rides with tremors in the night’s milky grain.

.

Windows freeze over like shallow ponds,
hexagonally blooming.
The last syrup of light boils out from under the lid
of clouds; sky the colour of tarnish.
Like paperweights, cows hold down the horizon.

Even in a place you know intimately,
each night’s darkness is different.

They aren’t calling down to us.
We’re nothing to them, unfortunates
in our heaviness.
We watch at the edge of words.

At Miner’s Pond we use the past
to pull ourselves forward; rowing.

~ Anne Michaels

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“Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted.” ~ Jules Renard, Journal, 10 April 1895

  

A Writer Writes About Blogging

The following is taken from an Atlantic article written by Andrew Sullivan (The Daily Dish) in 2008. I thought it worth reprinting as Sullivan’s article provides a keen description of the blogger’s reasons for doing what he or she does as well as a cogent analysis of the genre. For the complete article, click on the Atlantic link. Enjoy.

Why I Blog

For centuries, writers have experimented with forms that evoke the imperfection of thought, the inconstancy of human affairs, and the chastening passage of time. But as blogging evolves as a literary form, it is generating a new and quintessentially postmodern idiom that’s enabling writers to express themselves in ways that have never been seen or understood before. Its truths are provisional, and its ethos collective and messy. Yet the interaction it enables between writer and reader is unprecedented, visceral, and sometimes brutal. And make no mistake: it heralds a golden era for journalism.

The word blog is a conflation of two words: Web and log. It contains in its four letters a concise and accurate self-description: it is a log of thoughts and writing posted publicly on the World Wide Web. In the monosyllabic vernacular of the Internet, Web log soon became the word blog.

This form of instant and global self-publishing, made possible by technology widely available only for the past decade or so, allows for no retroactive editing (apart from fixing minor typos or small glitches) and removes from the act of writing any considered or lengthy review. It is the spontaneous expression of instant thought—impermanent beyond even the ephemera of daily journalism. It is accountable in immediate and unavoidable ways to readers and other bloggers, and linked via hypertext to continuously multiplying references and sources. Unlike any single piece of print journalism, its borders are extremely porous and its truth inherently transitory. The consequences of this for the act of writing are still sinking in.

A [ship’s] log provided as accurate an account as could be gleaned in real time . . . 

As you read a log, you have the curious sense of moving backward in time as you move forward in pages—the opposite of a book. As you piece together a narrative that was never intended as one, it seems—and is—more truthful. Logs, in this sense, were a form of human self-correction. They amended for hindsight, for the ways in which human beings order and tidy and construct the story of their lives as they look back on them. Logs require a letting-go of narrative because they do not allow for a knowledge of the ending. So they have plot as well as dramatic irony—the reader will know the ending before the writer did.

Anyone who has blogged his thoughts for an extended time will recognize this world. We bloggers have scant opportunity to collect our thoughts, to wait until events have settled and a clear pattern emerges. We blog now—as news reaches us, as facts emerge. This is partly true for all journalism, which is, as its etymology suggests, daily writing, always subject to subsequent revision. And a good columnist will adjust position and judgment and even political loyalty over time, depending on events. But a blog is not so much daily writing as hourly writing. And with that level of timeliness, the provisionality of every word is even more pressing—and the risk of error or the thrill of prescience that much greater.Click here to find out more!

No columnist or reporter or novelist will have his minute shifts or constant small contradictions exposed as mercilessly as a blogger’s are. A columnist can ignore or duck a subject less noticeably than a blogger committing thoughts to pixels several times a day. A reporter can wait—must wait—until every source has confirmed. A novelist can spend months or years before committing words to the world. For bloggers, the deadline is always now. Blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.

You end up writing about yourself, since you are a relatively fixed point in this constant interaction with the ideas and facts of the exterior world. And in this sense, the historic form closest to blogs is the diary. But with this difference: a diary is almost always a private matter. Its raw honesty, its dedication to marking life as it happens and remembering life as it was, makes it a terrestrial log. A few diaries are meant to be read by others, of course, just as correspondence could be—but usually posthumously, or as a way to compile facts for a more considered autobiographical rendering. But a blog, unlike a diary, is instantly public. It transforms this most personal and retrospective of forms into a painfully public and immediate one. It combines the confessional genre with the log form and exposes the author in a manner no author has ever been exposed before.

. . . It was obvious from the start that it was revolutionary. Every writer since the printing press has longed for a means to publish himself and reach—instantly—any reader on Earth. Every professional writer has paid some dues waiting for an editor’s nod, or enduring a publisher’s incompetence, or being ground to literary dust by a legion of fact-checkers and copy editors. If you added up the time a writer once had to spend finding an outlet, impressing editors, sucking up to proprietors, and proofreading edits, you’d find another lifetime buried in the interstices. But with one click of the Publish Now button, all these troubles evaporated.

Alas, as I soon discovered, this sudden freedom from above was immediately replaced by insurrection from below. Within minutes of my posting something, even in the earliest days, readers responded. E-mail seemed to unleash their inner beast. They were more brutal than any editor, more persnickety than any copy editor, and more emotionally unstable than any colleague.

Again, it’s hard to overrate how different this is. Writers can be sensitive, vain souls, requiring gentle nurturing from editors, and oddly susceptible to the blows delivered by reviewers. They survive, for the most part, but the thinness of their skins is legendary. Moreover, before the blogosphere, reporters and columnists were largely shielded from this kind of direct hazing. Yes, letters to the editor would arrive in due course and subscriptions would be canceled. But reporters and columnists tended to operate in a relative sanctuary, answerable mainly to their editors, not readers. For a long time, columns were essentially monologues published to applause, muffled murmurs, silence, or a distant heckle. I’d gotten blowback from pieces before—but in an amorphous, time-delayed, distant way. Now the feedback was instant, personal, and brutal.

More later. Peace.

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