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Entries in #writers (11)

Wednesday
May142014

For Just a Short Period of Time

A very small group of people began to believe that we were not subject to the greater forces of nature, the planet, the universe. As one of their descendents, I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to let this illusion go, what process we will have to follow, and what we, and our world, might look like at the end of it all.

But I still slip--it's more "the" world than "our" world. We will need a new mythology, a new stack of stories, to help take this all in. I've been wondering if maybe that's where a writer can do her most important work.

More to come on this one. A lot to think about. 

Tuesday
Apr012014

The Loyalty of Water: Towards Another Manifesto

I remember distinctly a particular fall afternoon during my freshman year of college. It was one of those perfect admissions brochures days, early enough so that the weather was still warm and finals held far less weight than the dining hall closing time. I was sprawled out on a lawn with a book and my bag, alternating between reading a few lines and turning my face towards the sun. And yet, as it was fall semester freshman year and none of us had solidified our social spaces, I was also keeping a sharp eye out for anyone I even slightly knew.

That's why I saw her. She wasn't anyone I'd seen before. She was tall and slim, with brilliant red hair, walking across Old Campus with the kind of ease I tried, and failed, to fake. Watching her I remembered that I had always kind of wanted red hair. It was less gentlemen-preferred and conventional than my own blond head (which I refused to dye out of a loyalty to an authenticity that I couldn't quite articulate). And I was immediately jealous of her completely, jealous with the kind of ferocity that you can only really pull off when you're eighteen and in a new place and completely out of your depth. I wanted to be her, and I knew I never could.

But it only lasted for that moment. As soon as I lay back down and looked up into the canopy of the tree above me, my envy vanished into the deep green overhead, and I understood. We were just leaves, she and I, leaves on the same tree, each a beautiful, singular expression of life. 

Liz Green talked about compersion, a feeling that's the opposite of jealousy, and that's what I felt so suddenly and clearly that afternoon. I've been feeling it a lot lately, too. I wouldn't say that I'm growing less ambitious with age--probably the opposite, truth be told. But I'm definitely growing less competitive. One thing I've always loved about creative work is that, whenever we can put aside the frequently uncomfortable fact that we're often competing for the same scarce resources in the form of fellowships or contests or jobs, what I do in my work in no way detracts from what any of these other guest writers have done. This isn't to minimize the very real limitations that exist, but it is to say that the community that we build is more frequently valuable, more sustaining in everyday life, than what we gain by focusing on those competitions.

There will always be someone, whether an individual or institution, ready and willing to place the emphasis on exclusivity, on some arbitrarily set boundary, on fostering a sense of scarcity. It's the dominant narrative of our culture, even as new media begins to chip away at it, ever so slightly, in certain places. I feel more and more strongly with the passage of time that part of my mission as a writer is to push back against that narrative, to stop myself when I begin to think about my peers as nothing more than my competition, and more than that, to insist in my work that each life is valuable. Each life is worthwhile. To remember that we all tell stories, and live lives, each as beautiful, singular, and necessary as the curving edges of any one leaf.

What's a leaf detached from a tree, after all, set aside on its own but cut off from the source of life? Dried up, brittle, and crumbling into dust. 

All this is to say that my community of writers sustains me, keeps me whole, and allows me to do the work that I do in this world. All this is to say, in at least ten times as many words, what the poet I came to adore during the spring semester of my freshman year puts so well:

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Wednesday
Mar262014

The Loyalty of Water: What's in a Name?

Guest post by Martha Gale

To my surprise, the most common question I got after publishing my first novel, Knowing Place, was not “how did you get the idea?” or “is it autobiographical?” It was “why did you use a pseudonym?”

It seemed obvious to me. My day job as Marti G. Parker is research and scientific writing. When I sit down to write fiction as Martha Gale, I change gears. Some people have a special pen or teapot, others have a writing shirt or muse socks. I take on a different name.

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Wednesday
Mar192014

The Loyalty of Water: Fold into Family

Guest post by Liz Green 

Families are the most destructive force on Earth, aside from tornadoes.  A dear friend Ainsley, a member of my chosen family, shared that with me while we were in college. It’s stuck with me.  Only recently did she tell me that it came from the writer Reynolds Price.  Ainsley was the midwife (first editor) for my novel-in-progress. She offered this quip after some young adult bonding about the difficulties of given families.  But even chosen family can pose its own challenges.  It’s rather shocking how many people in my given and chosen family are writers, and what’s more shocking is how I can see family dynamics play out in the all-too-small literary world, ties of kinship or trust aside.  

And so for me, AWP this year was a homecoming.  Not only did I see scores of people I know from various corners of my writing life—colleagues from colleges where I teach, Mills alums, Lambda Literary Fellows, Tin House participants, slam poets—but this year the event took place in Seattle, which is where I made my debut in the world as a wee babe almost 35 years ago.   To top it off, my stepdad is a writer himself (Peter Donahue), and I got to connect with him when he read from his novels at a panel for Northwest writers, and then later, at dinner with my Mom and my friend Billie Mandel from Lambda.   It was a thrilling weekend filled with various families merging and dancing around the bookfair and endless escalators.   Are you on your way up or down the environment seemed to ask constantly.  The answer? Enjoy the ride.

This year I got the message: we need to stick together as writers in this culture.

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Monday
Mar172014

A Question of Loyalty: What is your teapot?

Inspired by the recent Helen Oyeyemi interview that I enjoyed so much, I posed a question to the women writers who have contributed, or plan to contribute, to The Loyalty of Water:

What is your teapot? That is, what is the object that you must have with you when you write?

In no particular order, here are the answers that I received:

  • A Pilot Precise V7 Rolling Ball pen in blue ink, fine point. I like to think of it as my light saber, sonic screwdriver, and wand with a dragon heart-string at the core all rolled into one. 
  • My talismans are practical: my laptop for work, and my cellphone because I’m neurotic and God forbid I’m without it. (I hate talking on the phone, though – go figure.) Headphones are also very useful!
  • Boy, I wish I had one object. Most often, it's just keyboard and mouse, sometimes Mimi, our cat (not helpful) and sometimes a cup of coffee, which sometimes gets cold.
  • There is no single object that I must have with me in order to write. But I find music tremendously helpful to transition my brain from the daily grind of "must get done" to the world of my novel. So I put together a playlist for each new piece I'm working on. Since my novels have tended toward historical fiction, I use music of the era to set the mood. If necessary, I will keep listening to the same song over and over again while I write a particular scene -- picturing the music floating in an open window near my characters, the song getting stuck in their heads.
  • I have a lumberjack scented candle that I keep on my desk since lumberjack fable runs through my manuscript and also gives me a little taste of Colorado while I'm in the bay.  I also have two quotes on index cards taped above my desk for this project:  Faulkner's: "The past is never dead.  It's not even past" and Henry Miller's:  "The happiest people, it is said, are those which have no history."
  • I always have a photo of my Nana and a cork-board with pictures, maps and quotes that pertain to the book.
  • When I am on a residency near home - a place to which I can drive - I pack a little gnome figurine, a Mexican blanket, a selection of poetry books, and my journals.  The poetry books change as do the journals, but the little gnome figurine I've had since I was in college.  I don't remember where or when I found him.  He doesn't have a name, but I've placed him in window sills or near doorways for years.  He's always faced the outside as a ward against evil spirits.  Once and only once did he face the inside of a room; I found him that way in my office after my house had been robbed years ago.  It was as if he had been watching the intruder... (continued)
  • ...As for the Mexican blanket, I've had that since I was about 13.   My mother bought it for me near temple ruins on a family trip we took.  I don't sleep well in new places generally, so the first few nights in a place, I will often wrap myself in the blanket.  It smells like home and allows me to ease into new surroundings.  It opens up my dreams to creative focus, rather than focusing my creativity on the sounds of the night. 
  • I have a Flat Eric stuffed animal that sits on top of my computer screen. He's like a lucky charm. This is Flat Eric...