Just What Signal

Events conspire against me, at least in terms of scheduling. I had planned to be up and out of the house early, to work all morning at the office, to have “a regular day at the office,” but Alix called last night as we were all in the middle of going to bed and asked to reschedule Sophia’s horse lesson from Wednesday afternoon (bad for her, good for me) to this morning (good for her, bad for me). So I’m working at home this morning, sending emails, trying to write, et cetera. Everyone’s still asleep, so the quiet is helpful. But it’s not what I wanted.

As is always the case, after a brief burst of creative and inspiring energy comes another burst, a sodden and lower burst, that says to me: You’re doing the wrong thing, you should be doing this other thing, any other thing, and what’s more, this thing that you are doing, you’re doing terribly, it’s embarrassingly bad. So you have to save what shreds of dignity remain and quit right now. Take a week off and I’ll get back to you on what the next project, the real project is.

Meaning, of course, that I’m sick of this blog now. It’s not very funny and I prefer funny blogs to unfunny blogs. It’s not teaching anybody anything, or summarizing the news, or anything like that. It’s just glorified electronic navel-gazing. Who cares that it’s only twenty or twenty-one lines, or modeled on Harry Mathews, or that its only purpose is to get me writing, using words, and then on to other writing.

Other things I could/should be doing right now include but are not limited to: practicing the flute (low D), playing guitar, walking the dogs, writing fiction, writing a journalistic query, finding opportunities to network with people who can help me sell longer nonfiction, reading for Goddard, making work calls, baking muffins, baking bread . . .

Well it’s a brown day. More of the yard visible than not through crusty snow. Logging trucks visible half a mile away beside piles of brown logs. The sky gray , no leaves yet on trees (though the red fuzz of buds visible, at least yesterday out in the woods). Reilly the dog (more blonde than brown) sniffing the wet earth, and car exhaust hanging in the air even though no traffic to be seen on Route 112.

You grow tired of life being a certain way, and realize that to change it requires some effort (but what effort exactly) and a sense of some other way for life to be that isn’t just a dream but more tangible, and then what? Then you wake up in the same bed, same skin, same house, and you can’t figure out for the life of you just what signal the universe is trying to send.

Categorized as Sentences

Thin To A Mystical Degree

I long to be an ascetic, yet when I try to trace this longing backwards – to understand it, better name it – the thread gets thin to a mystical degree.

I don’t remember much about eating as a child. Blueberry pancakes, which I liked. Apple pie – actually, apple pie being made, and me eating the tendril skins sometimes sprinkled with cinnamon, and then licking the bowl where the sliced apples had been tossed with lemon juices and spices. Eating as pleasure came into play only after I learned to read. The Hardy Boys with a bowl of salty buttered popcorn on my lap. That was – remains – a deliverance.

These days I fear hunger, and can’t concentrate for more than a few minutes of prayer, and like the laughter of marriage and kids far too much to talk seriously about embracing ascetism, some kind of faux stay-at-home Christian monasticism. The ascetic thread – a wispy tendril going backwards – is actually quite strong going forwards. If I ate less and simpler then I’d live longer, and I don’t want to die, not at all, and if I could actually sustain some sort of meaningful spiritual practice then I’d be . . . well, I’d have a certain glow maybe. And inner peace. Who doesn’t want to glow and have inner peace.

Early a.m., stars pale behind clouds, the coffee done gurgling and steaming into my mug, the fog and northern lights-colored one with the broken handle that I love so dearly. Yesterday, in line at Staples, the woman behind me was holding a bouquet of bright yellow (I think they were) sunflowers. I complimented them – or her for having them – and she blushed, saying something about how everyone wants to see flowers right now.

Finished Joe Hill – thought I saw him in the supermarket and was going to say hi, then realized I was being goofy – and moved on to Joy Williams, one of those reads that, two or three pages in I had to set aside, because it’s not falling-to-sleep reading but needs to be savored differently, more intensely. As for what I’m writing – besides this – I broke new ground in one of the Worthington essays I long to write, the John and Anna one. “This is not a ghost story.” And: where did that little boy go, the one who smiled on the elephant ride? “He starved to death – I’m his ghost.”

Categorized as Sentences

Once Desire Was Off The Table

Snow adjacent to the Horning’s barn looks pink, sunlight reflected off red walls. Woke up to gems of ice on the edges of branches everywhere, Song and Jake nosing through the backyard, duck tracks frozen in the snow. Jeremiah’s bean plant was tremulous in the kitchen while coffee brewed and the computer whirred starting up. Email, including a kind one from Michael, synchronistic (is that the right word?), thinking yesterday of how I miss talking to him, particularly about the fine line between literature and hack fiction, and how that discussion plays out differently as writer or reader.

Gut twisted as if filled with nails, and fatigue. Rolling through dreams again, this time of containers (for text), and the word “contours”. “Does that help to hear?” Whatever one hears while reading, but yes. Pick ten pieces and write them, ten containers say, and call that a novel. But right now the whole point is hack fiction (really? It is?), the joy of a good detective, and who cares about Roland Barthes, John D’Agata, Nabakov, et cetera.

Lists: groceries (“get spinach – we seem to be eating a lot of spinach these days”) and Staples (turbo tax, also laser toner, must be two separate transactions in order to fully benefit from relevant coupons). Tim’s for pet food. We’re going to try regular trash bags instead of litter box liners.

Certain keys stick – the T and the E most noticeably. D. and his boyfriend have a dog named Maggie, making me think of Maggie O’Ryan in was it Galway, and was it nineteen years ago. “I think I’m in love,” utterances over beer, and how easy that was for both of us, after, walking, once desire was off the table. Maybe that’s the objective, how to be easier with desire, or manage it somehow. Sex does seem to work as a metaphor for writing.

Kathy Acker essays, Best of Friends, Henry Hikes to Fitchburg. Yet another pigeon club meeting blown off (ask yourself what you’re avoiding then why). How tired one gets from just a glass of wine.

Categorized as Sentences

Not for Me At This Point A Place

I woke up at 3:40, fifty minutes minutes before the alarm was set to go off. I thought I heard rain, decided I was hearing things, then remembered the forecast and realized it was rain, or snow that was maybe half a degree away from rain. So rose, made coffee, tallied my aches (stomach and hips today, plus a slight headache), looked outside (yes, snow, a blanket of it over everything), came here – the computer, I mean, because a blog is not, for me, at this point, a place, at least not the way a room is.

Reading McMurtry’s When The Light Fades (or goes out, dims, I’m pretty sure fades is right, the book is still on the headboard) which is sentimental indeed, pretty thin writing actually, making me think how these books featuring Duane – did he start out as a stand-in for L.M.? – have gotten progressively worse (“you remind me of a skier – you start at the top and then it’s all down hill” – P. Curro). The Last Picture Show was tight and elegant, Texasville was a loose but joyful romp (for me anyway, easily his second best to Lonesome Dove, I read Jennifer’s copy to shreds), while Duane’s Depressed was more something you (something I) read out of a sense of duty, thinking McMurtry just barely made it out of the trilogy intact, and now this last one which I think hardly stands on its own but rather functions more as a lame coda. Writers of McMurtry’s stature obviously have some cachet that allows them to publish whatever whenever (King admitted at one point he could rewrite the bible and people would buy it), but still. It seems, it reads, as self-indulgent to a high degree.

See Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box (I think that’s the title – it, too, is on the head board) the horror writer not the famous labor leader (included in a poem I wrote, “there is time still to think about the miners/who turned away from that dark hill/to go hear instead Joe Hill”) is satisfying, highly pleasurable, literate and a good story (the “red meat” of plot (and I love the canine reference to AC/DC)), one of those books that is a delight to read, but also makes me think, “I could do that,” or “I want to do that,” or, perhaps more a propos these days, “why am I not doing that?”

C comes in for a visit and we agree the weather sucks, we talk about puberty (Sophia’s doctor visit yesterday), and how sweet Jeremiah is, and yoga and sleep and how much do sleep centers cost. I chop off a few toe nails, check out Nabakov’s Pale Fire on wikipedia (recommended by Douglas in an electronic p.s. to a letter I haven’t received yet) and . . .

Douglas is recommending metafiction – at least the description of Pale Fire is intensely satisfying to me – indicative of one of those texts I long to write but feel I cannot – why – because my writer’s group whines or whatever and also I’m in a rush, a big rush. “Three cheers for digression.” And, of course, the literary school I founded at some point in the past twenty years, the “school of parenthetical afterthought.” As I said to C, at least he doesn’t hate me. And she pats me on the head with a familiar sad look on her face. Well, why not say what one feels, even if it is – and it is – sort of stupidly juvenile. The alternative is to strangle off some part of ourselves. Though I recall what Mark once said to me, “I’m all about the inner child but sometimes you really do have to tell him to shut up and play with his blocks.”

I thought yesterday at some point – or have I already written it, here somewhere – that I start out wondering how the hell am I going to make it to twenty-one sentences – and then near the end think damn I wish I had twenty or twenty-one more. Which is masturbatory of course because what have I said, really? Made a list, tossed a little opinion on it, salted it with some emotional dreck . . . And ended on a metaphor – salad (or a pancake – that’s better, I like pancakes) – that feels lame indeed.

Categorized as Sentences

An Old Game, Maybe Not So Becoming

And so the days continue to unfold like a wet map – slow and weighty, likely to break off in big chunks. Or so it seems. The roller coaster of sleep continues – I actually slept for eight hours last night, a rarity, buffeted by dreams of winning and losing and various rationales for defining each. The images, actually, were vague and don’t linger in my waking mind – a pair of Red Sox shirts, a dim red lamp, a crowded roadhouse in which every word I whispered was visible, tangible, a smoky tear fluttering from my lips.

Sophia’s horse lesson at noon, a desire to walk the dogs en route to the post office, and also make one or two morning phone calls keeps me at home instead of at the office. “At the office.” I’ll head down later – first to Forbes to read and transcribe portions of Dear Hattie, a collection of local correspondence from the nineteenth century, then take Jeremiah to the office to hopefully complete this thing on Ken Goldsmith that I’m working on.

Yesterday I mulled the possibility of breaking the rules here. Posting more than once a day, for example, or allowing each entry to expand considerably. Because of Josh Corey, I think, and the desire to copy and link to some of his thoughts, particularly on the courage necessary to introspection, deep introspection, and its attendant risks – being mocked, getting lost, missing the world, et cetera (he is reading I think Jennifer Moxley).

But I decided – am deciding – not to. Part of the allure of form to me is always to break it. Setting up boundaries, borders for the simple joy (the savage joy?) of just knocking them down, leaping past them, like a yearling maybe, who flees the barn and turnout, just because he can. Yet what happens when we stay inside, allow ourselves the pleasures of, the obligations of, the massaging of, the what of, defined constraints. I can’t say, can only speculate, because I so rarely adhere to them. And since I’ve got so many other venues for writing, and other opportunities to play the wild young thing (an old game, though, maybe not so becoming), I’m going to stick with this. One post a day, twenty or twenty-one lines.

The benefit to me as a writer (a rider I wrote first!), which is not the same thing as the benefit to anyone who happens to read, I don’t think, is that it’s a springboard. I go away from it longing to write more, my brain buzzing with lines and whole paragraphs. A good state in which to embark upon one’s work. And wasn’t that Harry Mathews’ objective in the first place.

Categorized as Sentences

That Safe Comfortable Dance

I should have named this blog Insomnia Ramblings. Or Middle of the Night Musings. As usual, come 1:30 or so, some inner bell clangs and I rise and can’t fall back to sleep for hours, sometimes until after the sun is up. Yet the angst which usually accompanies sleeplessness is more or less absent. In its place is a desire to work – to write, to say something – and also an instinct for clarity. Maybe better to say a yearning for clarity.

Tonight I’m thinking: how fast can I get to my twenty (or is it twenty-one) sentences?

Because I woke on a note Robert left, in one of those rare moments when he agreed to do some of the talking. “In all the years I’ve known you, I’ve always had the feeling there’s something you weren’t telling me.” Van Franz says somewhere in Puer Aeturnus that puers will often hold some key piece of the puzzle behind their back, keep it off the table, hidden in pocket, during analysis. I don’t remember why they do this, according to her.

Writing is a kind of speaking and over the past year I am increasingly unable to do it by skimming – that safe comfortable dance over the surface of what I really need to say at a good clip, never at risk of either authenticity or insight (a terrible word – I mean whatever reward, whatever pleasure, unburdening, release, joy, whatever – that authenticity brings).

Yet saying that – writing that, that way – feels like setting a stage, or worse, actually invoking risk (maybe better to say the possibility of risk?) by walking out on the stage and then . . . what? Writing what? Not this. This can’t be it. But then what?

In The Haunted House (of which I read 100 pages yesterday, sprawled in the musty papasan chair), Rebecca Brown writes, “when you say a thing out loud, and to someone, it’s different from not saying it, or saying it alone. It means you give it a body. Saying makes a thing between the listener and the speaker. It means it’s not a secret any longer.”

Categorized as Sentences

Quite possibly a dense tangle

I spent most of yesterday setting up the office. The purple walls were a softer hue than I’d remembered, and the room was narrower. Also dustier. And the ceilings are sufficiently high that I don’t know how I’m going to dig the cobwebs out of their corners without a step ladder. The kids came down with me the second time. Jeremiah played frozen bubble on the computer and curled up in the somewhat musty papasan chair (stored too long in the basement). Sophia walked around with her journal and took notes, reminding me, as she so often does, of a rural Harriet the Spy.

Anyway, I woke up at quarter to five, and am now waiting for enough light to walk the dogs by. Maybe another fifteen minutes. And writing, of course, this writing. My dreams were unusually vivid and easy to return to after those moments when I drifted out of them, briefly awake. Basil and peppermint in a drink named after Hawaii (where Jonas and Liz are going on Thursday), the father of two brothers I knew in high school walking around with no feet, a skateboard I bought for myself (thinking, “I wish I had nothing to do all day but ride around on a skateboard”) and realized I would have to give to Jeremiah as I do have other things to do (and was awkward at best on the board, knocking things over in the department store where I tried it out), me alone at a table, white cloth, two drinks (one wine, one that basil/peppermint thing), and a clock ticking down from 99. As ever I remember Hillman – “Don’t interpret your dreams, let your dreams interpret you.”

There are dreams and then there is the way we tell them. Two narratives with shared imagery. The dream narrative primary and maybe primal, too, the one that even though it originates with us, seems to be constructed/told independent of us. While the second – the one we tell after, the recollection – is full of its own ambiguity, owing to poor memory, the politics of selection (what image have I withheld) and then the skewed agenda inherent in any storytelling (not only what am I keeping out but how am I shading what’s left in, where am I accenting, what interpretation(s) do I favor, which ones do I fear, and what do I want from you, my audience, and why do I want it, and why is this story this way the vehicle by which I am going to try and get it).

C visits to “congratulate me on a good night’s sleep,” and to sync our schedules. When I re-read this entry, and count the sentences, and arrive here (a new paragraph, and the eighteenth or nineteenth sentence) I am thinking about the inclination to record (to tell) as a kind of witnessing – Sophia’s journal, this blog – just as the Tanner’s rooster crows, and the first blue light appears between the maple trees. Storytelling (or witnessing, any necessary sharing of the thing after the thing occurs, say) requires a remove somehow, a step back (or am I wrong and the act of comprising the story is itself a new present equally vital as the events which gave rise to it) that I find both alluring and intimidating.

A dense tangle – quite possibly bullshit – that I am only to happy to leave in favor of walking the dogs.

Categorized as Sentences

This Light Here

I had planned to begin this blog at my new office in Haydenville in about twelve hours but insomnia, devoted companion of late, suggests an earlier, more private inception. This is the prerogative of a blog, no? Public writing at any hour, from any location that affords an internet connection and a word processor. Yet I had hoped to gaze out tall windows at the stately Victorians on the other side of Route Nine, the crusty piles of snow framing the Brassworks parking lot, the lumpy – and given the weather lately, lumpier – sidewalk. Instead there is the moon, a few days on the wane now, low on the horizon so lost in the interstice of the young maple near the driveway, its light tired (or am I projecting here, asking the moonlight to bear me up, to be with me). If I turn the lights on – which I have done, for some reason I find typing in the dark to be inordinately frustrating – then I can’t see much of what the moonlight exposes. This light here makes that light there less present to me. So in the window I see a tremulous version of myself, sitting cross-legged in a swivel chair, with my new haircut, fingers perched over the keyboard like cranes in a low pond, and beyond the bright glintings of the cars in the driveway, the pale blur of the road, and then a mile or more away, someone’s light – perhaps the Pollard’s – fading in and out as some breeze no doubt moves tree limbs back and forth across it.

The objective here is akin to Harry Mathews Twenty Lines A Day. Though I just learned that about an hour ago, when I was still in bed, and wondering if sleep would find me again, or should I just get up. I knew the blog would have some objective – some form or other, one that would preclude a lot of rewriting, and obligate me only to write, not to follow in minute detail other bloggers (i.e. politics), or in any way feel professional. “Writing writing,” as Stein says, and as Douglas reminded me in his last letter. It was Douglas, actually, who suggested Mathews, one of those offhand reading suggestions of his that has proven wonderfully a propos. Peter Handke being the other, and maybe Biting The Error. So that for six months at least (which is the duration of the lease), I would show up here and write (will write, now, twenty lines or so a day) and let them be, more or less.

It seems some kind of comfort, that the blog begins its augmentation pretty much on its terms. Announcing its desire modestly contrary to my intentions for it, and assuming a form that literally hadn’t occurred to me before. Though counting sentences (am I there yet?) feels dubious. I’ve been writing a lot of poems over the past few months that are essentially paragraphs comprised of a predetermined amount of sentences, and have spent as much time counting as creating. Maybe this is what you do as you get older, more mortal – you tally.

Categorized as Sentences