From Scratch: Breadcrumbs notes

This space is about showing up as a living, breathing, wondering being: with doubts, griefs, questions, and idiosyncrasies. I post here every morning as a way to move from the dream into the day.

This is where I show up daily to practice ways of looking and being.

I used to think I was alone in feeling so much of everything, all the time, everywhere. Then I learned that the stance of a poet is spinning, and it made more sense. Then I noticed that sometimes creative work can be lonely. I may work on a given manuscript for years. This may necessarily involve significant alone time at the page, but I don’t think anyone should have to feel like they’re practicing in isolation. I may be an extreme introvert, but what sustains me is still a sense of sharing in community. Over time, I learned that there were people all around me, also doing creative work, often also feeling alone.

Like me, they were sometimes afflicted with doubt, paralysis, or general malaise. Considering the forces running counter to creative heart-mind work in this world, at this time, I think these symptoms are to be expected, but not surrendered to, because the world needs more people sharing the fruits of their heart-minds. I wondered, what would it be like if we practiced this publicly? Against the machine, in honor of living here, in remembrance of the dead. And in remembrance of some of out initial best impulses, like play and love.

This space is about showing up as a living, breathing, wondering being: with doubts, griefs, questions, and idiosyncrasies. I post here every morning as a way to move from the dream into the day. If I can’t take some of my dream self with me, I’m not much good at the day. Then I go about the living: loving, teaching, and writing longer works for publication. Facing daily fears, doubts, frustrations, and heartaches. Dreaming into a better world.

Doing this each morning is a way to remind myself and hopefully others, that there is always something new to share. Creative work is a practice, and this is where I practice publicly, as an exercise in my faith in the process. To learn and show: there is always something new. The point is wonder, and discovery. Often what I find are more questions.

What do I write about here?

  • It varies because I start from scratch daily (that’s the point!). I have fifteen minutes to think of an idea, fifteen or so to write, with the idea of getting it linked, imaged and published each morning in one hour or less. I need to keep this limit strict, so as not to encroach on space for other commitments, writing and non-writing. I believe in the benefits of self-imposed constraints with creative practice.
  • Favorite themes involve: “this day in history” meditations, found poetry, “Earthling” meditations (in which my avatar, earthling, confronts some aspect of being in this world), remembrances, and the process of creating.
  • When applicable, I will share the process that led to the day’s post, in the spirit of sharing creative approaches.

I hope that some of what you see here will resonate with you. Even more, I hope that you will grow and create in a spirit of love and generosity. The world needs you.

Monster Mash 2: Dr. Blob

What makes him a monster is a matter not of kind, but of degree. The problem with Dr. Blob is that, left unchecked, he has a poor sense of timing, scale, and of the magnitude of his importance.

This is the second installment in the Monster Mash series, in which I profile some of the monsters that may get in the way of creative work. The purpose is to identify the minions working for the Machine (or Resistance, as Steven Pressfield calls it) that can threaten creativity when allowed to go undetected. In part one, I profiled Nothing, the shaggy, one-note solipsist who goes around declaring It’s Nothing! whenever I am trying to do or listen to Something. I am happy to report that he’s been much quieter since I called him out on his shenanigans. 

Today, we move on to another character, Dr. Blob. Dr. Blob is a monster-in-disguise. The disguise is the danger here.  Dr. Blob is a skilled analyst with an impressive C.V. He’s an informed expert, well versed in all technical aspects of craft, structure, literary theories, New Criticism, Old Criticism . . . You name it, he has an opinion, and is happy to share it, along with a phonebook-sized research prospectus, in case you are inclined to doubt the validity of any of what he is saying.

“Egghead Skull” by MattysFlicks on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license

In fact, you are not inclined to doubt the validity of anything he is saying. He knows what he’s talking about. He may even be the best in his many fields. The problem is simply that he doesn’t stop talking. All he can do is analyze, and this means that the people who are trying to create are suddenly thinking about what they are doing, and even if it’s something that once felt like the most natural thing in the world (“Cliché!” announces Blob here, and of course he’s correct), they are now choking and unable to work. 

He’s great when it comes to analyzing the relative advantages and disadvantages of one structure over another, one setting over another, one point-of-view over another, and so on. His expertise is wide-ranging and can be applied to any aspect of a work, at any time: completed, not yet begun, or in-progress.

He is, in fact, an invaluable member of any creative ecosystem. What makes him a monster is a matter not of kind, but of degree. The problem with Dr. Blob is that, left unchecked, he has a poor sense of timing, scale, and of the magnitude of his importance. He was supposed to be on call as an independent contractor, as a consultant whenever needed. But he either didn’t get or didn’t read the initial memo about his duties, so he tends to think of himself as CEO and creator-in-chief of the whole operation. 

He means well, and he wants nothing more than for the work to succeed. But he’s not a creator. He wishes to be, but anything he makes tends to land like a lead balloon (“Another cliché!”), weighed down by too many footnotes, parentheticals, and additional structural tiers. He’ll build so much scaffolding onto a structure-in-progress that no one can see what it’s trying to be. And he makes the little creative sprites (who do actually create great work) get very nervous, because he’s always clicking his pen, tapping it against his clipboard, and announcing the time. Intimidated by his administrative presence, the little sprites go hide in the closet or run down to the park to play on the monkey bars, leaving me alone with Dr. Blob and his endless analysis.

But for all the disaster Dr. Blob can wreak on any project, he is (like many of these monsters) a gentle giant. It is quite possible, come to think of it, that his misunderstanding about his role is a result of my not having delineated its boundaries. 

Fortunately, a simple formal letter, issued as a reminder whenever needed, should be all that is needed to get him out of the way. Dr. Blob is highly receptive to formality and has a high esteem for official mandates.

Something like this should do the trick:

Dear Dr. Blob,
Although your services are extremely valuable to our operation, we are currently undergoing a series of internal restructuring protocols and will need to relocate your office and adjust certain terms of your contract.  Rest assured, your compensation package will not change. As a reward for your exemplary performance, we are upgrading you to an executive-level corner office in a newly remodeled building, with a fine view of the park down the street from our current workspace.  It has wood panels, room for a vast library, numerous filing cabinets, and a lovely swivel chair. Mainly, it affords you space with which to consult with other clients in need of your services. We will contact you from time to time as needed, mainly upon completion of work, and for advice with synopsis, cover letters, reading lists, and the like.  Until then, enjoy your new office and be sure to wave at any sprites if you happen to glimpse them playing on the monkey bars. 

It’s a win-win. Blob gets his own office, and every time he waves at the sprites, they come running back to play here, in the actual workspace, reclaimed from the domineering analyst who means well. Now we can play, discover, and be free to give ourselves over to the process of creating, until the next monster comes rumbling through.

Angling

Writers keep tackle boxes of images, memories, metaphors. Bait the hook. Cast into the dim light of early morning, over the blank page. This loud hunger, shhhh. Try the next metaphor. Vary the retrieve. Look and wait.

I recently came upon a  character who is fishing. I don’t do this, so this means it’s time to research some. What test for what catch, what lure, what line, what basic knots? What bait for bonito, how to prepare guitarfish, how to vary the retrieve when catching halibut. Sometimes you want to move slow and steady. Other times it’s crank, crank, twitch. What I find is supposed to be for these characters, but I can’t help sampling some. I’ve always had it, this waiting pose, looking out. 

“Oceanside Pier 4” by Dmitry Lyakhov on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic license. 

Anglers have their rods and their lines; their lures and their five gallon buckets. Writers keep tackle boxes of images, memories, metaphors. Bait the hook. Cast into the dim light of early morning, over the blank page. This loud hunger, shhhh. Try the next metaphor. Vary the retrieve. Look and wait.

Now I have an excuse to go to the pier, just looking, waiting like the others, but without a line. To watch the angler in the blue jacket, and hold a silent one-way conversation.

What are you bringing up now? Is that mackerel? Maybe you will filet it yourself when you get home. Maybe there’s someone waiting to add it to a bowl with jalapeños, lime, cilantro, oil, as her mother did when she was a girl. And who taught you what line, and what taught you how to wait, and what longings are behind the eyes you cast over the surface now, reflecting back the deep? And who meets you in the silence of your sunset reverie, and what other shores do you remember, and what aches would you rather forget? What makes you limp when you move now, back to the folding chair? Is it simply stiffness of hard work over time, or something else? There are no grays visible beneath your ball cap, and yet your face is etched with deep lines, like a bronze sculpture. Angler, where are the young promises of new life you once held on your knee, raised up, up! — above your head, just to admire? Who laughed back, cooing, and what is it like to remember them at a distance, and what makes them laugh now, do you know? And who holds them now, and are they gentle, and can you bear to ask?

Reasons to Start Again

Because sometimes the best I can offer any other life, in an age of senseless killing, visible and invisible, is a living reminder that death doesn’t get the last word.

For the breath of new beginning, the stomach-knotting tension of preparing to leap, how it tightens the best web I can make for landing in.  To honor the construction of what is intricately made and yet untested.

For practice protecting the fragile and not-yet-realized: children, the neglected; ancient wisdom and this still-beating heart.

Because when the wind blows a body sideways, sometimes the best way to keep from falling over is by moving with it; because watching a baby learning to walk, not stopping until he hit the next resting place for his hands, or fell down, reminded me of this. 

Because sometimes the best I can offer any other life, in an age of senseless killing, visible and invisible, is a living reminder that death doesn’t get the last word.

Because the opening notes of a familiar song are enough to remind me what music can do. Because I refuse to fail for nothing. Because I want each heartbreak to count for something. 

Because the decaying bits of once-flowering dreams that died on the vine to fall into this soil have left their bodies in it, the inanimate materials of their still-future lives, and I want to bury these hands in their essence and feel what’s still getting ready to be born. 

The Artist and the Curator

How does a curator leverage some knowledge of what will draw people and lead them to be surprised by what they were not looking for, which they may never have thought to seek out?

I had the great fortune of visiting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this weekend, and was profoundly moved by the experience. It had been a long time since I’ve visited an art museum, and the timing is perfect for many reasons. One of these is that I have been considering certain questions related to art: mainly, how “doing it” is often felt to be something separate from bringing people to it. And how the fusion of both roles is essential for the art to reach an audience. 

While visiting the museum, I am noticing the level of intricate thought and care that has gone into the design of the space where people come to see what is called “the work,” ––without which, the work could not be seen and appreciated except in small private groups. I think about what choices are made to lead people in, how curating an exhibit is an art in itself.

I notice what has been considered, from selection and arrangement of pieces, to how people are guided to move through a space.  The frames, what wall colors, behind which pieces, under what lighting?

LACMA by Elliot Harmon on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

American art critic Jerry Saltz said, “Don’t go to a museum with a destination. Museums are wormholes to other worlds. They are ecstasy machines. Follow your eyes to wherever they lead you…and the world should begin to change for you.”

It’s the curator’s job to present an artist’s work in a manner that allows such wormhole experiences to happen–– and, ideally, to encourage that they will.

My own experience teaches me that while some celebrated artists had the great fortune to work with people who recognized the art and matched it with an audience, then cultivated, curated, and nourished the conditions for its reception, most of us working creatives do not have someone like this working along with us. We tend to feel discomfort when it comes to curation. 

This is worth paying attention to. How do you find an audience and welcome them in? What pieces do you arrange in the opening room, what do you save for the inner room of the exhibit? How do you select and display pieces so that they work in dialogue with each other? When a summary is included with the label of a piece, how do you frame it so that connections are encouraged across time and space, to meet the viewer in this space, in this time, looking now?

How does a curator leverage some knowledge of what will draw people and lead them to be surprised by what they were not looking for, which they may never have thought to seek out?

How do you direct the movement in a space while allowing viewers to explore with a sense of freedom and choice?

These are the questions on my mind, and while I may not have much in the way of answers ––yet, at least I have moved beyond thinking of curation as something somehow separate from my work as a writer. Keeping these daily posts are part of this, I know. I’ll stay with these and continue developing other projects as I develop some curating muscles.  

Some things I do not tend to keep at the forefront of my creative practice, as I have previously thought about it: how I want people to find the work.  How much I want to meet them where they are and bring them to it. Or how much it matters to me that people might be reminded back to something they might have wondered about, to revisit what might have been thought lost. How much I want people to see themselves in my work, to be reminded back to their best and most life-giving parts and be moved to nourish and protect those parts in themselves and others. 

It occurs to me as I write this, that I have never articulated any of this before. So, here’s a start. Onward.

Monster Mash 1: It’s Nothing!

He’s big and shaggy, and he goes around shouting: Nothing! That’s nothing! or This is nothing! You’re nothing! This whole project, whatever it is, amounts to nothing!

In yesterday’s post, I described the habit of following and leaving breadcrumbs as a practice I do “If the familiar bogeyman shows up, growling that there’s Nothing to offer.” Later in the day, it occurred to me that I had possibly misrepresented the regularity of the appearance of this character, as a sort of roving Bigfoot figure, of whom I have occasional sightings, whom I nobly fight off whenever he arrives. 

In fact, there is nothing occasional about his appearance. In fact, I can’t remember a creative day without him. In truth, we live together. Always have and probably always will. 

It occurred to me that I should give him some more space. Monsters like when you give them some room. They like to be acknowledged, which is why they growl and lope about breaking things. Given that I’ve already tried everything I can think of to get him to leave, from battle to poison, to attempting to lure him away with some distraction, I’ve decided to make peace with him. I’d rather live with a peaceful monster than an angry one desperate for attention. Besides, he’s surprisingly endearing (in a so-funny-looking-he’s-cute sort of way), all shaggy and one-note, always bumping into things and repeating himself. 

“monster” by Karli Watson on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic license.

“Nothing!” Is what he says, over and over. That’s his name, Nothing. It calls to mind a favorite childhood movie, The Neverending Story, in which a boy goes on a quest to save the known world from The Nothing that is devastating the land. That nothing was terrifying to me, mainly because it rang deeply true. As a child I sensed what I did not have words for at the time, but which was definitely present: a strong anti-life force at loose in the world. Steven Pressfield calls it The Resistance. I sometimes call it The Machine. It’s capacity to destroy comes from its ability to exist undetected. 

This is why I decided to name my monsters. The umbrella title (Resistance, Machine, Evil, etc.) is useful, but the thing to understand about these forces is how they have minions going about doing their bidding for them.  I want to name these, too. 

So, back to Nothing. He’s big and shaggy, and he goes around shouting: Nothing! That’s nothing! or This is nothing! You’re nothing! This whole project, whatever it is, amounts to nothing! 

As you can see, he’s a bit of a solipsist. Poor guy, he really can’t help himself. It’s all he knows.

Yes, I say to him, patting his matted fur. That’s right, this is Nothing. Would you like some milk? 

I like Nothing! he insists, but he will take some milk. I put some out and he’s busy with that for a while, slurping away before he bangs the bowl to the floor, just to punctuate his previous statement. Which was: Nothing!

I even make concessions. I mean, he’s not entirely wrong. I actually don’t have any ideas, most days. So, if asked, “What ideas do you have this morning?” my honest answer is either something like, “I think I’ll fry my eggs instead of boil them today” or “I’ve got Nothing.”

Nothing would like me to submit at this point. But I can acknowledge that while I have no actual ideas most of the time, I am not in need of any, either. I’m here to show up and listen, and the world, as far as I can tell, is full of plenty to offer. All I need to do is look, listen, and describe. 

And be patient. If I didn’t have patience going for me, Nothing would probably win every time. If the question of what to post today (or write later, or how to develop that story or solve the next problem) had to be answered before I began, I definitely wouldn’t be getting anything done. But, as it turns out, it doesn’t. Nothing is big and hairy, smelly and loud, and sometimes just eerily silent, brooding. 

But Something is abundant and vast, full of more than I can possibly take in at any given time.  So, I practice just being in it, dancing with it, and let Something take care of the rest. That’s all I can do. Perhaps those with endless ideas have other ways.  

Maybe some people don’t live with all these monsters around them all the time. I can’t imagine what that’s like, but I can say that I don’t mind looking at these funny-looking guys. It’s quite a menagerie, really.  

You take a monster like this Nothing and you talk to him, pet him and offer some milk, clean up his messes, and after a while you start to notice that actually, he’s more like Something, which would negate the whole supposed threat of his being. 

But I won’t tell him that. Nothing’s got his job, and I have mine.

What’s that? He wants to know.

Oh, it’s Nothing! 

Hmmmmph. He nods, very serious, spewing sulfurous smoke from his nostrils. Nothing!

And then I get back to it. 

Follow-up:  After hanging out with my guy Nothing today, something occurred to me. I think I will do a whole “Monster Mash” series of posts though maybe not necessarily back-to-back. I like the idea of returning to these characters. I think I can assemble quite a cast, over time. I picture something like The Muppets Take Manhattan, another favorite childhood movie.

Why Breadcrumbs?

The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
​Where you are. You must let it find you.

— David Wagoner, “Lost”

I am here to let it find me. To listen, with you. That is enough, or should be, but I am not always as strong as my intentions. So I carry breadcrumbs in my pocket, just in case. I look for more, just in case. I share, just in case. Because someone else is always looking, too.

Wake, make coffee. Open notebook. If the familiar bogeyman shows up,
growling that there’s “Nothing” to offer, call the monster out, and offer anyway. Try memory. Try looking. Try a walk. Try a photograph, a work of art. An old story. Try typing in today’s date. Notice what happened on this day. Notice how you can, if you want, see flickers of all of history in a given day. Blake’s eternity in an hour.

 “Ladder in the Woods” by Claudia Dea on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. 

Gather crumbs: historical events, feast days, holidays you didn’t know about. Who was born, who died. Who did both and then was listed here before you ever knew them. Follow the breadcrumbs they left for you. Trust that they are there. Make notes of what you find. Not forever, just for a few minutes: 5, 15, 30. The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

If an historical figure is involved, you may converse with them. Arrive not
at an end, but some beginning. Or a natural pause. Share the conversation
not like a lecture but like dancing in an open field. No explanation needed.

Go about the rest of the day, noticing how you are changed in a small
but meaningful way, from that small dance in that open space, how doing
so, reminds you of something vital, something about this wild, single life
that the machine would train you to forget. Be grateful for the change.
Repeat. 

This is all. A simple act of faith, connection, communion. Essential in
the unknowingness of it because the point is to be reminded back
to the mystery.

We are here to build the spaces that let us live inside it. We are 
here to welcome others to come in. To say, Here. Look. This
is where we are. In the presence of a powerful stranger. 

This is me, bowing to you, in this strange space. 
I see you. I honor you. Let’s begin. 

Creative Notions

It is a good idea, I read somewhere, to have some other creative practice beyond the main one. Sort of like a cool down from the main event, or tai chi. I have been known to get tunnel vision and overthink, so take this advice to heart and consider some things that do not involve words. Painting might be good, but there are times I’ll do anything to avoid a trip to the store, and this is one. Okay, then.  Well, comes a voice, there are those fabrics you saved, and it’s not like you don’t have what you need for those projects. 

There are people who announce, when something tears, Oh I can fix that that, give it to me! like it’s nothing. Or, I made this dress from a tapestry I used to have in my dorm. Simple! I am not of this tribe. I am, however, very stubborn when it comes to acquiring certain skills, except where cars are involved. I know there’s no test at the end, but still. You meet enough of those made-these-pants people and you think, What am I missing? Maybe this.  

Besides, wasn’t I just thinking how I’d love to do something with all these frayed edges? It turns out I still have the book. I bought it because I had acquired a sewing machine and to let it languish forever seemed like a dangerous form of waste, and the sort of senseless sin that was no fun. I didn’t want any associated karma to infect the baby, so I made a few expandable skirts when I was pregnant with my daughter. The bar for maternity wear was not very high. She’ll be twelve in the fall, and since the skirts, there were also those napkins and aprons, and once a mermaid tail, because she saw a girl with one at the local pool and when I looked into getting one as a Christmas gift, the cost was out of reach, so I thought, Here we go. The key to the success of these, such as it was, was a sense of necessity combined with a commitment to regarding any seams only from a distance, in low light. Or through the eyes of a four-year old, who cared only that she had a tail. 

I spend some time with the book. There’s an essential tool list, but it’s unclear when I will be using any of these things, so I move on. Measuring, the importance, blah blah. Good shears? I have these scissors for opening amazon boxes and trimming split ends. The book explains that steel shears, while more expensive, are more reliable. The lightweight, cheaper ones may feel better in your hand, but could give you trouble. I think, here’s an explanation. 

Now wait: what is this seam sealant? For frayed edges, apparently. That might almost be worth a trip to the store. If available for low cost.  I wonder: a viable replacement for doing the actual hem? I table the question and think, Look at me! I am already exercising new creative muscles. Flex!

Ironing board? Check! Should be padded, they say. Well. I consider. That really depends. It’s covered anyway. A thimble is something I once had. Now it’s just this economy-sized box of band aids. The directions for the machine are rather long-winded with a lot about what part is what. It is unclear what help they can offer, so I suppose I’ll just feel it out like I did last time, when I––wait. Was that really seven years ago already? No wonder I am looking at these parts thinking, what does this do? 

As far as I can remember, my last attempt at feeling my way around also involved a number of expletives, and numerous stops as I attempted to figure why the machine was wildly stitching what amounted to a giant knot about the width of my bandaged thumb. My intention was not a giant knot, but a single line. I know I eventually achieved these lines, however uneven. So now I am trying to remember what I did to bypass this problem. I check the book for clues.  

I love that these things are called notions: the zippers, elastics, pipings, laces. Hah! I think. I have plenty of notions, and chief among these is that I will not be needing any of these accoutrements at this particular point. Just a hem, ma’am. Just a hem.

I am well into this knot collection when I read the part about fabric types and corresponding threads. Also, about how to toggle that lever, whatever it’s called, to make things go forward or back. Well, that’s something!

A place mat vest is something one can make, apparently. And wear. It never occurred. 

There are whole sections on plaids, patterns. Getting them to line up. Hah! I think. If I can say one thing with confidence about this endeavor, it is that the alignment of patterns is not, at this juncture, a concern.

Growing tired of this book, I look around in this basket. Surely that thimble must be in here somewhere. No such luck, but what’s this?! Aha! Hem tape! Now we’re talking!

I think, well, that was a successful review. I may not have done any successful hems––yet, but just wait! I did, however, find occasion to to remember that there is a difference between someone who hacks at a thing on occasion and someone that takes something seriously. Finding the right verb, I have patience for. Endless pages until I find the beginning? No problem. Rewriting a third person passage in first, or from the point of view of the postal worker, or a neighborhood feral cat? Check, check, check.

Lesson learned: there’s little logic to one’s inclination to a particular art, but what inclination there is, can be enough to sustain all manner of frustrations. Without it, there would be nothing but frustrations and a thing that is beginning to feel like a colossal waste of time. 

So, I put the sewing machine back in the closet where it belongs. The basket, too. The scissors I keep right here, for everything else they’re good for.  It’s actually okay if those flour sacks sit there waiting to be made into napkins. It is even possible that I will do so at the next paper towel shortage. But for now, I have other things that need doing.  And I am reminded how any frustrations can be endured when the motivation for doing something is intrinsic, and the trust is in the process and not the outcome. 

Family Albums

You think you know someone, and then here is a whole other person.

One possibility, when it comes to telling what is commonly called one’s “own” story, is to take one’s own memory out entirely, and is to limit yourself to the favorite anecdotes of family members. A person can create childhood memories based entirely on the number of times a given story has been told. 

Parents can be especially amusing sources of these tales. The time you had your mother, eight months pregnant with your sister, just up three flights to the third-floor apartment with the laundry, go back to the basement to retrieve your imaginary friend. Another time you were in hysterics because your father sat on that same friend. 

How you cried when the street sweeping truck came by, the horrible beep-beep truck, you called it. And there was that redheaded boy, do you remember? He would push you down, take your shovel, walk away, and you would sit there, not wailing, just quietly sad.

“Bubbling” by Kimli on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

And the gravy! How you loved it with croutons from a box. Your concerns over the new baby, over your mother getting up and down the stairs. Your favorite hiding place behind the couch. How you could speak nonstop or not at all.

Huh, I think, remembering by power of suggestion what it would never have occurred to me to know on my own. You think you know someone, and then here is a whole other person. The fact that there were even specific moments to remember is what really gets me. I recall only a constant susurration of light and color, sound and touch. It lends credence to the idea that a person may have parallel simultaneous lives: the one they remembered, and the one I felt I was living. They have images, even pictures, and there I am, and it must have been me in that bowl haircut with those eyes looking back, holding the garden hose, but all I remember is the colors of light filtering through shallow water, and the way I would fly in my dreams. Palms and fingers in bright paint, and the hollow space among bushes in the back yard. How I would go in and wait there. The sense that I had of finding a secret, tiny room in an endless forever, and it was quiet all around, and safe except for the possibility of snakes and other monsters I had not seen except on TV and in books.

Funny, the pictures they show. This is what is, this is what was. They shaped me then, as they do still, these stills. But the image I had was constant, and I wasn’t in it because there was me watching, squinting sometimes, as I took in was the shifting light and colors on the surface of an ever-moving stream, wondering about the world just beneath it. 

Story and Mystery (Part 1)

Real life, unadulterated, is an endless stream. A story is something else by necessity, a constructed thing.

I’m thinking about stories this week, because I am in the phase where I am generating energy and dreaming into new ones. I know I’ll be leaping before I have answers, because that’s the only way a project can start to emerge and start answering. That said, I’m in all the questions now.

Today I am wondering about memory and how someone, I can’t remember who, called it the first fiction. Also, how many have said, of fiction, that the best of it is “more true than real life.” A paradox, of course, but a useful one. Real life, unadulterated, is an endless stream. A story is something else by necessity, a constructed thing. An artifice, some would say, as if to minimize.  Perhaps, I think, but then again, the shelters we build to live in may also be considered artificial and I wouldn’t want to do without these in the name of being real.

If the best of fiction is truer than true, and its building materials essentially invented or borrowed from the wilds called “real,” one might imagine that the most authentic parts of a person are those falling outside most given collections of facts, and these in turn will tend to vary, depending on the source and the context.  Others have observed that truth may in fact be something that can only be known via collective effort. When the facts in one context overlap with the experience in another, and another, and another, then we have what we can call true. Maybe great fiction does this, by layering perspectives and viewpoints in deliberate ways in a concentrated space.  And of course, by leaving out a great deal of the noise and extraneous events. But are any events extraneous, really? I mean, of course they must be, to the story. But which ones? I obsess on this question.

 Ricardo Cuppini on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

Many a writer has been taken to trial for altering facts. If you do this in a million little ways, as with any catalogue of events gathered through a given lens, it is expected; even invisible. But one big way is out of bounds, except when consciously indicated. And yet, a conscious mind, consciously growing, seems to be always trespassing its previous borders.

Some call storytelling the most natural thing we do, and while I can believe this, I take issue with those who would equate natural with easy. As of course it may be, sometimes, as with breathing––until it isn’t; as with laughing––until it isn’t. Death is quite natural, although we generally understand the term “unnatural death.” Childbirth is perhaps quintessentially natural, and it is a loaded matter of life and death, aside from being an historically deadly event for many women. Perhaps what is most natural for humans is not at all what comes most easily and reliably, but what reminds us we are walking always along a precipice between life and death.

Everyone has their obsessions, and this is one of mine. It’s kin to other obsessions: who and what gets to matter? Who and what gets to feature? I can’t help these wonderings as I am always thinking about who and what gets conventionally erased by dominant conventions of storytelling and seeing. No doubt some of this includes the parts of ourselves that we have consciously or unconsciously erased or let go, in the making of a given kind of sense. I expect to continue wondering about this. 

Has the light turned yet? is a good question to answer before moving across a road, but these are not that sort of question. I could spin in them endlessly and wind up totally paralyzed, which would serve no one well. Still, they are worth pausing before, as one might before some sacred relic or holy place, to revisit the mystery.