Archive | December, 2009

Powerful Idea

I’ve always believed in the power of ideas and all the dichotomy ideas provide: good/bad, love/hate, philanthropy/misanthropy, et cetera.  This just puts it in graphic form:

Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right group of people – and getting that right group of people passionate and involved.

On the Art (or lack) of Writing

About six months ago, I came across a lovely woman who quoted McInerney to me, which was a thrilling moment out in the suburbs. Simply stated (according to McInerney), asking a writer about the progress of his work is akin to asking about the progression of a person’s cancer. Which I generally agree with.

But in the several months since that moment, I’ve been afflicted with a terrible case of writer’s block. I’ve determined the root cause at this point (addiction + guilt), and in the process of diagnosis, I’ve compulsively read treatises on how to write, traveled backward to my favorite writers and scenes, traveled forward to expand my knowledge and experience, and even talked with others ad nauseam about this particular issue (which is drastic and something to be avoided). One thing is clear: I’m the writer who likes to dabble around like child with finger paints, or like a jazz musician in his off-moments, playing with words in a playful manner, creating a broad masterpiece (and not something ugly brown & brassy-colored).

I’ve been in the cancer stage too long, unwilling to play and paint – it’s high time to progress toward to the ‘reconstruction of the crime scene’ stage, then to the ‘marathon’ stage, then the ‘hospital visit’ stage. Then the ‘shameless shill’ stage?

But no more brain crack:

Ze Frank on the Expression & Execution of Ideas

A Noiseless, Patient Spider

A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

~ W. Whitman, #208 “Leaves of Grass”

Bar Scene, Travels with Molly

“A nickel for your thoughts.”

“That valuable?”

“Inflation.”

She looked through the wall, slightly upward, in a moment of personal reverence. The windows across the room had clouded due to the incoming humidity and body heat in the small cafe. “Opportunity.”

“Opportunity?”

“Yep.”

He gave her his lop-sided grin. “See, that’s why I love you. You can condense the last two hours of thought into a single concept. An amazing ability, and now I’m even more interested in whatever it is going through your mind. Mostly ’cause it goes straight across your face too.”

She protested. “We’ve been sitting here listening to jazz – three incredible musicians – which is why I can say, in a single idea, what I’m thinking. It’ll cloud up, it’ll get messy, but I can bring it all back to a single theme regardless of whether I have other people along for the ride. A full knowledge of the rules with the impetuousness to break them. So,” she said authoritatively, “conclusion first: opportunity.”

“Break it down for me.”

She almost sighed. “Okay. Opportunity asks two things: that you listen, for one, and for two, that you then accept or reject it. I’m good at the listening part – maybe too good. The accept/reject part I really need to get straighten out. Look at us – we’re both drowning in potential. It drips from our pores constantly. But we need to either accept or reject the opportunity that comes from this potential as it shows itself. The mealy-mouthed, half-assed, one foot out the door isn’t gonna cut it anymore, or we’re never gonna get anything accomplished. We just need a little courage.”

Her voice gained smokiness. “And lately I’ve been in a ‘chase the dream’ mentality, maybe because everyone around me are all so unhappy with their present condition. Dreams deferred in the face of opportunity? I can’t do that anymore. Opportunity should be second fiddle to the dream. Not the other way ’round.”

He sat there in the black leatherette booth, his arm across the back, eyes narrowed, looking upward to the tin ceiling, thinking through the thought.

“Or maybe I just need to grow up. Somehow though, I’ve lived my life with opportunity coming first and I don’t think I can live like that anymore. I envy those who can, don’t get me wrong. I get that I’ve slapped in the face with the silver spoon. But I can’t force myself through this life anymore.” She looked through him, her eyes fiery. “I just can’t.”

More on Molly

(Meanderings mostly)

She opened her eyes, a gradual process. The morning light was shaded by shabby blue cotton curtains, but provided enough to look around the room. A ceiling fan hummed above her; the white walls appeared grey; tumbled stacks of clothes lined the walls; books were piled at the baseboards; hats hung in a row above the closet; jazz records framed on the wall; a saxophone and an ironing board leaned against a door. Two stained wine glasses on the table, clothes strewn all over the floor, and Molly’s cold nose suddenly pressed into her foot, nuzzling it. She blinked several times, trying to piece everything together. Then something next to her moved, groaning. Conrad. It all came rushing back.

They’d closed the cafe together, the two of them talking about their dreams. Over a few glasses of wine, they’d sat on the wood patio, introspectively staring out across the dunes and into the waves. Molly behaved herself, lying next to her chair, watching the two of them interact. It had been comforting smiles, not laughter. After hours had passed, Conrad took her hand, led her back to his bungalow, wine glasses in hand, neither of them speaking. Silently they’d walked, and on arrival, didn’t bother to turn on lights. They stepped through the house, out to the deck, he still leading her, Molly joining. The wind had picked up and clouds hid the moon, and he spoke only a single word: sit. The wine glasses and bottle were placed just so between two vinyl camp chairs, and he returned inside. And she sat, listening to the wind blow around the corner of the house, like a woman humming softly. The ocean appeared navy against the smoky colored clouds, churning. And then the serenade of a saxophone from inside the house. She listened, absorbing the music of the sand, of the water, of the wind, and now of the melancholy sax. It had been his dream to play.

And he played for hours and hours, speaking to her as a friend, a lover, a confidante, through the open windows of the bungalow. And she understood, still looking into the swirling abyss of water, sand and wind. And finally – she smiled, slowly breaking into a grin. The saxophone faded and collectively the world sighed. Several minutes passed before his shadow hung in the doorframe, his fingers outreached to her. Molly was first to enter, prancing and wagging her tail. Elly rose from her chair, taking the glasses and bottle into her hands. He immediately took them from her, setting them on a nearby table. Then took her by the waist, his arm resolute, his hand splayed against her lower back. The wind gusted, enveloping the two of them in their embrace, drawing their bodies closer to the other. This time, though, only the two of them sighed.

Do or Die.

“Now you’ll never see what you’ve done to me
You can take back your memories – they’re no good to me
And here’s all your lies,
You can look me in the eyes
With that sad sad look you wear so well”

And I hope it gives you hell.

It’s said the pen is mightier than the sword. Physicality may have intimidated me over the past couple weeks, if not several months, but no longer. The spell is broken, the magic gone, and the trust no longer there. When it came to blows, it confused me – how could there exist such hatred for me, for my work.

Turns out the nighthawks fear the sunshine, the best disinfectant.

And so I sit here on this conference call, listening to options, interjecting an opinion every now and again. I’ve held off on signing all the contracts, unsure if it was really what I wanted to do. I’ve had the luxury of time, and last night I laid down and read it through word by word, page by page. Made a few changes to characters, mostly to accentuate particular personality traits. Changed the ending yet again. Added an eviscerating afterword. Where I had feared digging too deep, now I cut straight to the bone without a second thought.

And the best change: it’s now mine, not theirs.

Now to decide if sharp-edged exposure or languished obscurity is a better choice.

I just told them I’d know by Monday. Monday, Monday, Monday.

Welcome to the Revolution

Another excerpt from one of my trademark ‘what the hell is wrong with you’ moments:

“Best of times, worst of times – between the two, we’ll really get to see what humanity is.”

“How can you call this mess a ‘best of times’?”

“Because it’s never felt so good to be young, vibrant, smart, full of ideas. This is one of those mish-mash times dreams are realized and accomplished – simply because everything else has drained away. Think about it: prices are at generational lows; interest rates are very low; ideas have to be really good to get any funding right now; there are no shortage of problems that need solutions; the world is quite literally at everyone’s fingertips; and well-laced social networks are abundant. It’s the recipe for success.”

“Or disaster.”

“Yeah, could be disaster if you don’t know how to harness the opportunities right here in front of you. And when people don’t have anything left for themselves, there’s no telling what they’ll do to make it better. Just gotta be vigilant, try to catch those about to jump off the cliff to take the rest of us with ’em.”

“Huh.”

“Yep. Welcome to the revolution.”

Daybreak

This little heart of mine – I’m gonna let it shine.

Last night was a fascinating display of courage and cowardice. I don’t intend to be scientific about it, nor dramatic, nor anything more than a simple statement: it’s surprising who ended up where.

I woke up this morning on my balcony, wine glass empty, and a brief moment of sunshine and a humid dew on my face. I’d seen daybreak, writing furiously following an evening of forced conviviality. It was cowardly of me not to stand up, tell him off – cowardly of me to instead shrink away, display a muted fear, and quite literally hold my breath in my passive monitoring of the situation.

Where my courage shined through was with strangers in a local breakfast shop, all of us brought together for so many different reasons. I love the coffee, was in need of a waffle, and most importantly, to talk with people so different from myself. It rights me, puts it all back into perspective. I’d missed my opportunities for participation all evening long if only because I didn’t want him part of it.

Except that I did. A little, but not in front of the circus. Just an opportunity to talk like we used to, alone in the night, just until daybreak when we part ways.

I don’t know what I expected, but I’m let down for the last time. There is no apology; I won’t put myself through the fear, the hurt, the betrayal – not again. And in a stunning display of callousness, I told him so with a harsh tone deserved only from a father. Then poured myself a glass of wine, turned my headphones to Mahler, and sat outside on my balcony to watch the world awake to Saturday morning, furiously frustrated.

I’m looking over everything now, and it’s all stained with mascara, blurred with salty tears, and somehow it’s the best capture of a moment I’ve ever done.

I don’t know what to do with it. Except chalk it up to daybreak.

Prologue or Epilogue?

“Yeah, but what was so special about the place?” He asked genuinely, honestly, looking plainly at me, awaiting response.

It was a Tuesday, no, Wednesday morning now, cooking dinner together. I, as usual, offered nothing but the best emotional support in the affairs of the stomach.

“I’m sorry, did you miss the part where I wrote a book about the place?”

He turned away from the stove, his blue eyes smiling at me. “Sweet girl, I didn’t ask the effect – just the cause.”

This caught me off-guard.

“Well, I guess,” as I stumbled through my words and thoughts, “its something about the people who inhabit the place, frequent the place. Though it’s the walls too. I spent two hundred pages trying to figure out just what, exactly, made it special. Remarkable really.”

He continued to saute with one hand as I fumbled the question. I knew the answer, but didn’t want to give up the punch line. Not yet.

It was his long look, blue-eyed bullets into the cerebellum that told him better. Silence choked the kitchen as I sat squirming on a bar stool, toes tapping the underside of the bar. I took a short swig of beer straight from the bottle, disregarding his insistent gaze.

“It’s…they saved me,” as my throat cleared through the beer, static and sultry air between us.

“Saved you.”

“Yeah, they saved me. Just let me be me. Didn’t have to figure me out, didn’t ask about my story, just let me be. Me.”

“So its a love story with heroes.”

“Maybe. No. Not really. I mean, they didn’t know they were heroes nor would anyone ever consider them as such. It was the first place I got to be a writer. First place to accept – though not agree with – my radical ideas about life.”

He stepped toward me fully his time, his frame lumbering over mine, the saute pan abandoned, and pulled my beer away from me, setting it well out of reach. “How old are you?”

“Old enough to drink beer. Give it back.”

“No, not with the way you’re talking.” With a half step he was back at the stove, my beer warming in the heat of the summer stove, far away from the comfort of my hands.

“What.” My voice raised a bit, wavered, but never hit questionable status.

“It’s a bar. There are bars everywhere. They serve the same things – ”

“But not the same people – ”

“And you could have gone anywhere for the same result. Created whatever you wanted to create.”

“Darling,” rolling my eyes in high fashion, “that’s simply false. Lemme have my beer.”

“No. Why are you emotionally attached to this place.”

“You’re bordering on cruelty to both of us.”

He laughed loudly, booming pressing through the thin apartment walls. “Answer the question.”

I was running out of defensive maneuvers. “Why are you emotionally attached to me?”

“Because you have an amazing ass and a great vocabulary. And,” said pointedly, “you know who Helen Thomas is,” his lips twitching against one another. “Don’t avoid the question.”

“State secret. Matters of national security. Fifth Amendment.”

“A criminal affair then.”

“Some might say.”

“Bullshit.”

Again, my eyes rolled, this time nearly emptying the sockets. “What restaurant or bar do you know of to keep things fully on the up and up? Mister “I have twenty-five years experience” and you want to tell me there was nothing criminal going on under your ever-growing nose?”

“Objection: relevance. And you’re avoiding the question, counselor.”

He had pushed the final button in the nuclear sequence.

I took a deep breath, annoyance across my face, both elbows on the counter as I leaned over the sink. “Look. When I came back, I didn’t think I could love or be loved.” I continued quickly, feeling the laser scope of his eyes on my forehead. “I’ve lost everyone I’d loved, whether by accident, purpose, genetics, god’s will – whatever reason people come up with to comfort themselves. Really, I’ve heard it all. I thought I was completely tapped out, unable to open my heart ever again. In a figurative sense,” I added as an afterthought.

“And so when I came back, I slept for nearly two weeks, came to the realization that maybe I just didn’t know what it was. So I surrounded myself with it. In times of loss, some go through self-destructive streaks, and I had several moments of brilliance there. Some isolate themselves, and I had plenty of quiet time to reflect in the face of sterile hospital rooms. Still others wither away with whatever grief they have to overcome. There was some of that as well. But instead of burying everything inside of me, I wanted to find my reflection in everyone else’s love, hate, pain, hope, fear – whatever it was they were carrying deep inside, just like me. That isn’t found everywhere – how many blithering idiots have walked into your restaurants, unable to see beyond the shell of their own ignorance? Now give me my damn beer back.”

He wanted to smirk, his dimples desiring to dance. Silently, he handed back the bottle. Stepping back in front of the stove, his voice dripping with sarcasm, he remarked “the Robert Frost of love. I’m dating ‘the road less traveled by’.”

“And that makes all the difference – ’cause I found lots of things. Love, hate, jealousy, lust, gluttony, some of it in me, some directed to me, some in my presence, some just in the old stories.” The beer had warmed considerably, moreso now that it was locked in my palm, fingers wrapped completely around.

He wasn’t convinced. “Heroes because of it?”

“Ordinary people doing extraordinary things?”

“Here we are again: what was so extraordinary.”

Finally, a flash of light in the dark night. I stood up, leaving skin from the back of my legs on the seat of the stool, walking over to the little red backpack I always carried with me, rifling through it. “Find out for yourself,” tossing the manuscript across the counter. “It’s an easy read, you’ll be done by daybreak. Then I’ll take you there, you can see it for yourself, see if I’ve got it right.” I kept my voice even and airy, almost prancing, willing him to take the bait.

He snorted, feigning disinterest. But he couldn’t let the opportunity go to waste. A unique chance to find the way to my young sutured heart and into my reticent mind wouldn’t be passed up. He switched off the gas, transferring the pan to a cool burner. “Serve yourself then. We’ll eat on the balcony, I’ll read until I get bored.” I simply nodded, my turn to hide a smile.

We didn’t go to bed that night. Nor did we speak a word once he was reading.

At daybreak I went for coffee, and on my return, a wry smile and bright eyes met me. “Amazing, my love. When are we going?”

Wanderlust: It’s Time

So I got the fellowship.

And I got the time.

Now to sit down and write.

I’ve been thinking lately about wanderlust, mulling over the intricacies and necessary elements to satiate the desire to travel, comparing my own experience with several “historical” (classical?) travelogues. (Yes, I’m speaking of Steinbeck and Kerouac and Bryson and Frost and many others.)

And I’ve been considering a conversation years and years ago (May 2005), saved for this exact occasion:

Anne: do you ever have moments where you just want to run away?

Katherine: run run run run run run
yes

Anne: only i want a really fast car.

Katherine: having a rough day over there?

Anne: see, if this were a movie of my life, i’d head outside and find a classic car sitting outside, keys in the ignition, doors unlocked, essentially waiting for me.

i dunno – it was a very sudden realization.

and i’d drive out to the pike and to seattle

start a new life in a coffee shop out there.

Katherine: ok, but could there be an adorable puppy in the back seat of the car to whom you can make witty and sardonic comments

Anne: and my entire music collection would already be in the car, loaded into an mp3 player (or i’d have a 60GB ipod i could just plug in)

i’d get in the car, find an adorable black lab puppy in the back seat, call the dog molly and tell her we’re going on a trip.

then, “born to be wild” on the stereo as i leave tire tracks across the quad,

and that’d be all my co-workers would ever know of me ever again. i’d be urban legend here.
(and there would occasionally be flashbacks of my job here to slowly explain why i left)

Katherine: I love anne fantasy land

Anne: oh yeah?

Katherine: it’s very plot-driven

Anne: now i’m thinking anne fantasy land needs to be a book. a smart, witty, cut to the bone book with plenty of socio-political commentary and critique and perhaps a quick stop back to my roots in northampton.

Katherine: a la Citizen Girl?

Anne: ’cause when i hit the two hour mark i may be thinking it’s time to turn around – instead, i’ll stop in northampton, come face to face with the ghosts of wanders’ past and realize i need to do this not just for myself, but for all man/women-kind

(and that if worse comes to worse, i can always turn it into funny cocktail party banter when i get back to boston – the “oh, you remember the time when…” type of situation)

the book will be called “travels with molly”

Katherine: I’m liking this

Anne: yeah, i am too.

hmmmmm…. looks like i have a new project


And so I say now, more than four years later: it’s time.

Here’s the vehicle to success as well:

This car needs a name: ideas?

This car needs a name: ideas?

How to Be a Writer – Or Anything Else

Discover who you are before you find the person you need to be

(Originally written 1/24/2004)
From an early age, I’d learned that the best option in those pinching situations (like piano lessons, recitals, competitions, and worst, playing casually for friends) it was best to fake it. There was no getting out of the situation nor much choice in the matter, and to lack confidence in abilities wold be ultimately embarrassing (as friends tend to be insistent about Christmas carols).

Everyone has moments when they fake it – those crucial moments when it’s unclear whether to shoot, pass, or dribble (a ‘triple threat’ in more optimistic terms), so instead instinct kicks in and one fakes it for the cause of the team. Prefer the solo sports? Dating is certainly about faking it – every girl wants a confident, daring guy (at least at first), and every guy wants the pretty, witty girl (at least at first) so both fake it, the girl with makeup (skillfully applied), the guy with good cologne (sparingly, please). Would the world be better if neither faked it at the outset? Maybe – but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Faking it, it seems, is universal. Inconceivable to think of artists’ deep, broad knowledge of subject matter, conversations, settings, and mechanization of a scenario. Where would creativity reside? A happy little thought changing the wallpaper from bright purple to a muted yellow? Even television programs, the most formulaic of the bunch, do that. Faking it doesn’t mean lack of skill; rather, the skills are readily available on request though knowledge may be in short supply. No one can know everything, save the fourth grade smart-aleck. Whether it be a fantastically-skilled suburban teenager, gifted with the ability to write convincingly despite an upbringing in comfort, warmth, love, and money, so long as she can string words into phrases, phrases to sentences, to paragraphs, then sections and essays to accomplish a singular idea, it’s valid.

Is it good writing though?

Probably time to find out.