Writing Practice – 5/11/2018

Telling Stories, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, p 693

Around that time – because of numerous dislocations in the Valley, the abrupt abandoning of homes, for instance – it happened that packs of dogs began to roam around looking for food, particularly by night.

They moved and merged like flocks of sparrows on the wing, turning as if one, ducking down into an alley or crossing a street or huddling under a bridge, in a kind of near-union that the observers, themselves holed up in the remaining places, could never quite fully grasp. Were there ten dogs? Or a hundred? Did they travel mostly at night? Well, some did. Did they hunt or scavenge? Yes, both, and neither. Did they have a leader? A central hub or den? Did they ever pair off and mate, or was this the moment simply for survival, and procreation would be saved for more generous, fatter times?

They watched from their squatting places, huddled upon the third or fifth or eighth floors of the abandoned apartments, doors at the ground level tightly closed and double-locked against the potential for canine invasion.

They waited and watched, and they ate their scavenged foods, and they smoked their improvised cigarettes, and, unlike (or, perhaps, exactly like) the dogs, they fucked, but it was a half-hearted endeavor, one which was more for something to do than to create any new life, for, (and in that way they were exactly like the dogs) they saw in themselves nothing of worth and value to pass onto the next generation, save a fighting, surviving spirit.

Such a spirit would come in useful during lean times. Such a spirit actually was coming in useful during this lean time. And, as nobody really knew much about the outside world anymore, what with radio, television, internet communications cut off and overland travel still too dangerous, nobody bringing news of the lands beyond the city gates had arrived in more than a year. So their isolation grew.

Like a population of animals, separated by a physical boundary, like a river or a mountain, they, too, began to adapt to their unique environment and carve out specializations, niches which gave them slightly better chances of survival.

Nico, he got the cigarettes. Nobody else seemed to be able to find them, but he always had a pack on him. When asked, he would shrug his shoulders, as if they appeared by magic in his pack, but everyone else knew he was just better at that sort of thing.

Kyle excelled at scavenging food. From only partly moldy bread to relatively okay preserved meats and cheeses, they didn’t starve, and time enough had passed that they no longer complained about the steady diet, even if all of them remembered things like chocolate cake, beer, and a napkin.

Tobi and Karen provided the sex. Each one either took or gave as necessary, and it really wasn’t that bad, if your eyes were closed and you pretended it was your girlfriend from before.

And Zenney, she provided the hope. Preached it daily. Stood out on the stoop, eyes wide, arms stretched to the sun, and sang, songs of regeneration, renewal, paradise, whatever she could think to keep the despair at bay for one more sunset.

There were others, too. There were always others. But these were the most special, because they survived the longest, to tell their stories. The rest lived, and died, and were remembered, then forgotten. And that was how it should be.

Writing Practice – 5/1/2018

They say to write very day. But I don’t want to write. I want to go to sleep. I want to quit. I want to give up. I want to stop trying. I want to walk off into the sunset and never look back. I want to win the lottery so I don’t have to work any longer. I want to have a flat stomach for the first time in my life.

I want to be able to do 10 pull-ups. In a row. I want to sing in a choir again. I want to play better chess.

I want to get lost in the jungle for three days in South America, and find my way out only by traveling to the East only in the morning and eventually finding a logging road and following that down the mountain until I come to a poor, rural town that hasn’t seen a primarily English-speaking human in over a decade, and then when i get there I want to fall on the mercies of a local family and beg for food, and so they give me a bowl of stew and some bread, and meat, and we dance, and we sing all night long, because they know old 80’s Rock & Roll from America, because one time two decades ago these Christian Missionaries from Arkansas had spent like three years down there, trying to teach them to be Baptists, but they didn’t want to be baptist, they were already Catholic, so why did they need to believe a different Jesus, they already prayed to God enough so why did they have to use these new books, and the missionaries had a twelve-year-old son who didn’t really believe like they did, he just acted like he was along for the ride, and he smoked their local marijuana with them, and stole sheeps out of the neighboring villages with them, and they shared his music, Billy Joel and Michael Jackson and Madonna, and then the missionaries up and left one day, well, they gave like 2 days notice, and so the son left his tapes behind as a parting gift, and they listened to those over and over and over as they aged, and now those same rebellious teenagers of back then are in their thirties themselves, raising their own kids, trying to make their own lives, sharing generously with this gringo stranger, and so I listen to their story in Spanish, and I can catch only like every third word, because of the super-thick accent, and my own mothballed knowledge of the language, but I’m grateful, I’m gracious, I, too, smoke their pot and party all night, and when we wake up after noon the next day I say “Thanks” and “Gracias” all around, and hitch a ride back to the city with a large, quiet truck driver whose name I’ll forget, but my hosts, I’ll always remember, for their hospitality – no, for their humanity.

That’s what I want.

Writing Practice – 4/11/2018 – Why I Write

A commentor asked me, “Is that not why you write?”

So, why do I write? The perpetual question. I ask this of myself ten times a year, at least. I never been able to answer it to my own satisfaction.

 

I write because I love the feeling of a pen in my hand – I love the feeling of creating, of bringing something out of nothing. I love the idea that my pen is a pregnancy, and my moving it along the page is a birthing, a resurrection, an excavation discovering hidden treasures beneath the surface.

See that blank page down there? Below these lines? That is opportunity. That is promise. That is fear, and hope together in one. That is a myriad of possibilities waiting to be explored, and as I cover the surface, as I bleed out ink onto crushed tree pulp, as I hesitate and start up again, as I continue to seek for the letting go, all of those possibilities that weren’t realized disappear – they break off and float out into the ether, waiting perhaps to be captured by some other stroke of another pen some other time. But – more likely, to continue to drift into the infinity, to expand and fall away, not down, but “away”, for they are further and further from each other.

Farther and farther from everything else, out beyond the reach, out into the solitude, out into the expanse, out into the void, where nothing is, where nothing was, where nothing came and nothing is going. Out there, it is alone, and it is forever alone. Even darkness abandons such places, not to be replaced with light, but taking with it the idea of light, the memory of light, the conception that there could be something other than darkness, not even so much that it is gone but that it never was, never could be, never would have been, never even existed as a potentiality in the minds of the greatest theoreticians this world has ever known.

So – I write to save. I write to redeem at least one idea, one experience, from the cold, pointless, suffering exhaustive death of obscurity, the drifted-away-forever experience. I allow all the other potentialities to suffer. I cannot save them all.

I cannot even save two. But I can save one. I can bring it to the surface. I can expose and create and birth it once, and for myself, and for others, and as a result, I can make the slightest recompense, the single absolution of regret for all those other ideas which I abandoned, with my tiny, insincere, insecure “Sorry, but I just couldn’t,” and they will drift away, they will expand and wave goodbye, resigned to their fates, and I will cradle my idea to my chest. I will love and cherish my actuality, and I will mourn those potentialities, for a moment, for a day, until they are so unceremoniously replaced, once again, with the next –

blank –

sheet.

What Should I Write About?

So, usually my writing practice topics are just made up on the spot. Occasionally I’ll do a series – See “Love Is…” (1) through (10).

Sometimes I’ll take a line from another piece of work and go with that. This is a good example: [from “In The Zoo” by Jean Stanford]

Other times I’ll just start with “I feel…” or “I smell…” and write about what’s immediately around me.

And then there are the lists of writing topics. Usually pretty soon after I start a new notebook I’ll have a day where my writing practice is just “write a list of writing topics”, and when I don’t have something in mind I can come to this page, close my eyes, point a finger somewhere, and see what happens. When I’m writing those lists, they might look like this: (these are all from 3/11/2018)

  • Write about a tree.
  • Write about family trees.
  • Write about family obligations.
  • Write about family reunions.
  • Write about class reunions.
  • Write about low-class reunions.
  • Write about high-class reunions.
  • Write about “putting on airs.”
  • Write about “putting on heirs.”
  • Write about “putting on hairs.”
  • Write about artificiality.
  • Write about superficiality.
  • Write about boob jobs.
  • Why haven’t penis enlargement surgeries received the same kind of market saturation as boob jobs?
  • How far would you go to achieve your happiness?
  • How much of yourself are you willing to change for someone you love?
  • etcetera etcetera …

Obviously I’m not going to write about all of these topics. I probably won’t write about more than 4 or 5 before this notebook is filled and I move to the next one. But the process helps me think of connections, helps to identify associations that might not have been readily present for most people.

So … I want to ask you, readers … What do you think I should write about? Leave a comment, and I’ll use those as prompts in the next couple of weeks. What greatness might we cultivate together?

Writing Practice – 3/18/2018 – Concerning Happiness

Prompt: How far would you go to achieve your happiness?

I admit- this may be limiting me. But I won’t push past the boundaries of another’s satisfaction or happiness in life to achieve my own. If it requires me to leave a wake of destruction in my path to achieve that “happiness”, then I have the wrong idea of happiness or the wrong idea of the ideal.

I should not have to go to such great lengths, either. I should be able to find happiness wherever I am, whenever I am, without needing to search and seek and journey. I should be able to get to a level of happiness by my everyday interactions – by the things I am doing for myself, for my children, for my community, for my nation, for my world.

I should not need to look far. I am and should find happiness in the alarm clock – in the running shoes. In the dirty dishes, that transform themselves under my great care and safe tutelage into sparkling clean ones.

I should find happiness in a well-folded shirt. In an empty e-mail inbox. In a to-do list completely crossed off. In watching my son hit a double. In reading a story my daughter has written. In throwing crusts of bread, in throwing the whole piece out for the squirrels and the chipmunks and the sparrows and chickadees.

I should find happiness in the pen – in using it dry from my words on the push. I should find happiness win a well-covered page. I should find happiness in a well-read book. In a philosophical insight. In a historical lesson I can only now understand.

I should find happiness in ladybugs – in empty wine glasses – in watermelon rinds and runny noses on a winter’s morning. I should find happiness in a lit candle, burning to fend off to ward off to beat away the darkness of night.

I should find happiness in a hug from my mother. In a smile from my brother. In the touch of my lover. In the morning wind, in the stinging rain, in a subway car too full for me to squeeze in. I should find happiness in an evening newscast, and in laying my head on the pillow at night.

And – I should – So I Do.

Writing Practice – 3/14/2018 – Describe revelry

Describe revelry…

It is laughter and dancing. It is shouting with excitement. It is hand-clapping, and hand-slapping, and hand-waving, and hand-wringing. It is dancing in the streets, arms and shoulders and knees and ankles keeping a disjointed, “I-don’t-care-because-there-are-more-important-elements-to-enjoy-than-rhythm” unfocused pattern.

It is eyes sparkling with joy. It is kisses on cheeks, kisses on lips, kisses blown to the crowd, kisses caught by the crowd and returned, a hundredfold, a thousand times, an simplification far greater than any microphone and speaker set the finest money could buy.

It is a celebration with a complete stranger, hugs and camaraderie together at once, a moment, a moment which stretches for minutes, an hour, a moment which becomes an era, a moment that transforms the timeline into “Before” and “After”.

It is a transition, it is a celebration, it is a new way of seeing the world, through not only my own eyes but the compounding effect of a myriad like-minded persons, pooling our experiences together in this one instance to become something more than ourselves, something greater than ourselves, something richer and fuller than the aggregation of individualities.

It is a transsubstantiation, a making of something old out of something new. The old, being togetherness. And the new, the individuals coming together in the experiencing.

It is an overwhelm. It is a superposition. It is a phase change, a sublimation from one state to another. It is a world of difference, encompassed in the minimality of space; it is a universe of symbiosis metamorphosing into one. From the many, to the unity. Unity of purpose. Unity of experience. Unity of vision. Unity of life.

Writing practice – 3/10/18 – Fresh air

Write about fresh air…

It comes with the changing season – winter to spring, spring to summer, summer to autumn, autumn to winter. Freshness is not the smell, or the sound. It is the taste – the taste of newness on the tongue – the taste of renewal, of restoration. Of the passage of time.

You open your mouth to breathe in the newness, the evolution of the air around, and you experience a different sensation than just the day before. Where once was cold, now is growth. Where once was oppressive heat, now is crisp autumn of life. Where once was moderation now comes cold, darkness, bitterness. Where once was a way of life, now is a way of simple sustenance – just making it – just getting by – just being.

To see “fresh” as a quality of the measure of the quality of the air, a hard, scientific measurement of particulates or infectants or smogginess, is to replace the reality of the experience. That is to minimize the way of understanding all that surrounds.

That is a smallening approach. “Air is fresh if the halbenberg index is at 3.0 or less.” Yeah, but is 2.999 not fresh? Is 3.0001 not fresh? How do you measure, with one sensor or a million? Take the average, the lowest or highest, or some percentile? Do you take readings in the morning? Evening? Continuously? Why the simplification of some things that should be complex? How about we recognize that there are a myriad, an uncountable number, of ways to consider this world, and if we are the ones who ruin our enjoyment because of gamification, if we are the ones ruining ourselves and our ways of looking at this world because we are so dependent on someone else to tell us what is a good or what is a bad thing, then we have lost.

We must return to trusting ourselves. We must return to being ourselves. We must recognize that there are more than one perspective in this world, and what is right, good, clean, or fresh for me may not be right, good, clean, or fresh for you. We have numbed ourselves. Our experiencing muscles have atrophied – and so have our decision-making muscles.

We have outsourced all such choosing to others – “Well, it was recommended in my feed, so I’ll try it.” We have absconded abandoned we have abdicated our responsibility to be in charge of our own living, and that has made us weak, simple, joyless, vulnerable, and, ultimately, doomed. We must retake our authority over our lives. We must again decide to decide for ourselves.

We must relinquish the relative ears and comfort of allowing others to decide our lives, and once again take hold of the authoritative reigns of ourselves. We must drive beyond the simplicities of creature comforts, we must push against the bonds holding us back and we must be free, must live, must smell and taste and see for ourselves that the air is good, is clear, is fresh once again.