Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lost and Found

I want to tell you about something that happened yesterday – or rather, something that didn’t happen, which was finding my college diploma. I took a notion to look for it late yesterday morning and wound up spending the entire day ferreting through every drawer, box and file folder in the house, with no success. Around 3 o’clock I ran out of reasonable places to look, but that didn’t stop me. I hunted through a few unreasonable places before revisiting every possibility I’d already tried. Twice. No diploma.

I did, however, find lots of other things. I found a few ancient Polaroid snapshots of my teenage self, and some incredibly bad pictures I took during a high school trip to Europe. (Venice has never looked so homely.) There were scads of letters, some from people I can’t even remember knowing, and a surprising number of sweet little love notes from my former husband. (Children picking up our bones...)

What really surprised me, though, were the number of stray notebooks and sheets of paper scribbled with bits of my writing. I don’t mean my freelance writing, the stuff I do for hire. I almost never hang onto drafts of articles and reviews once they’ve been published. The things I found were scraps of fiction I’ve written over the years; most of it (judging from the surrounding flotsam) produced during stretches of time when, if asked, I would have denied doing any such writing at all.

Even some of you who have known me since POL days may not know I write fiction. I’ve never had a lot to say about it on the blog. Mostly, that’s because I think there are few things more tedious than a writer of meager accomplishment blathering on about her process, her ideas, her multitude of unfinished projects. Blech. I’d rather be forced to read a thousand bland mommy blogs, and I assume you would, too. So I’ll just say that there have been periods in my life when I worked hard at writing fiction (like now), and periods when I didn’t work at all.

Or so I thought. The bits of work I found yesterday mostly date from the first few years after I moved back to Tennessee from Chicago, and I could have sworn I hadn’t been writing anything then except for a few early freelancing efforts. But there was the evidence, tucked away in one folder or box after another, revealing that I was actually scribbling down little scenes and monologues for stories, or for a long-gestating novel that was first conceived more than 20 years ago. Apparently, I was only half-aware I was doing this even at the time, which is why the scraps wound up hidden in so many unlikely places.

I have to admit that didn’t find any work that was very exciting. The vast majority of it is useless crap. What does kind of thrill me, though, is the knowledge that those thoughts and ideas kept rolling even when I was doing absolutely nothing to push them. The urge to make art was just there, seeking an outlet, without any recognition or encouragement at all. That’s a comforting thought – to me, at least, and I suppose it would be to any writer, because there is always that kernel of doubt about the decision to write. There’s always a part of you that wonders if you are just an attention whore with intellectual pretensions, as opposed to someone with a gift for making stories. (Yes, it is possible to be both, but I’m choosing to look on the bright side here.)

Of course, I am not at all certain that I have a real gift for making stories, but I can’t get around the fact that I have a visceral desire to make them, and that’s good to know. It’s a happy thing to find out what manner of beast you are. Now, if I could just find that diploma...

The Letter Writer Surprised, Gabriel Metsu, 1662

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"You were forever finding some new play"

The Exposed Nest
Robert Frost

You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But ’twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
’Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once—could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven’t any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.

Text from Bartleby.com

"Thekla larks from dorsal," Novitates Zoologicae (Volume 18), 1912

Sunday, March 20, 2011

For the Pagan contingent*

Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars
Makest to teem the many-voyaged main
And fruitful lands- for all of living things
Through thee alone are evermore conceived,
Through thee are risen to visit the great sun-
Before thee, Goddess, and thy coming on,
Flee stormy wind and massy cloud away,
For thee the daedal Earth bears scented flowers,
For thee waters of the unvexed deep
Smile, and the hollows of the serene sky
Glow with diffused radiance for thee!
For soon as comes the springtime face of day,
And procreant gales blow from the West unbarred,
First fowls of air, smit to the heart by thee,
Foretoken thy approach, O thou Divine,
And leap the wild herds round the happy fields
Or swim the bounding torrents. Thus amain,
Seized with the spell, all creatures follow thee
Whithersoever thou walkest forth to lead,
And thence through seas and mountains and swift streams,
Through leafy homes of birds and greening plains,
Kindling the lure of love in every breast,
Thou bringest the eternal generations forth,
Kind after kind.

Lucretius, from On the nature of things (De rerum natura)

Bl├╝hender Apfelbaum, Ilse Heller-Lazard (1884-1934)

*I should have saved this for Beltane but couldn't resist posting today. Happy Spring.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"The moon has brought a shadow..."

Amidst the flowers a jug of wine
I pour alone lacking companionship.
So raising the cup I invite the Moon,
Then turn to my shadow which makes three of us.
Because the Moon does not know how to drink,
My shadow merely follows the movement of my body.
The moon has brought the shadow to keep me company a while,
The practice of mirth should keep pace with spring.
I start a song and the moon begins to reel,
I rise and dance and the shadow moves grotesquely.
While I'm still conscious let's rejoice with one another,
After I'm drunk let each one go his way.
Let us bind ourselves for ever for passionless journeyings.
Let us swear to meet again far in the Milky Way.

"Amidst the flowers a jug of wine" by Li Bai (Li Po), 8th century. Uncredited translation from China Page.

Fragrance of Spring, Ma Lin, 13th century.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Map of terror and pleasure"

Map of terror and pleasure,
ardent junk, passionate congress
filled with the arguments of chemicals,

Echo chamber for the fanatical cries
of stubborn generations, all the quaint invisibles
death has grown a beard on,

labyrinth of desire, playing field of impulse,
factory where decay's silent armies clock in,
philosopher-clown blowing a horn at each epiphany.

From "Body" by Alissa Leigh.

Study from life: Nude male, John Trumbull, 1795-96

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

So much do I remember now:
the pulse of obedient hearts,
hot tongues licking
the night; and I heard,

like a dry wind over leaves,
the scaly rustling of reptiles
coiling and resting . . .
All turned in the lamplight

eyes that never turned from mine
in their bright interrogation
(for I could see them,
and yet they were not there).

And I would speak, my hand
upheld to shield me,
when the shutter clapped
and my lamp blew out—

(was it a natural wind,
or a spirit-breath
lifting the leaves
of heavy trees in the night?)

From "In the Sleep of Reason" by John Haines (1924-2011). The complete poem is here.

Haines's obituary in The New York Times.

A Tornado in the Wilderness, Thomas Cole, 1831