Revisionings

I’m at this weird moment with my writing.  I am, on one hand, working on very very very (to borrow Anne Lamott’s absolutely perfect term) sh*tty rough drafts.  They’re the kind of drafts that are necessary for the kind of work I’m doing, which is very difficult and very personal and therefore means that I need to write faster than my brain can run, because my brain will just be like, stop stop STOPSTOPSTOP, and nothing will ever get done.  On the other hand, I’m working on almost-to-the-very-end-of-revising-and-beginning-of-submitting revisions.  In other words:

  • I’m cutting large parts of poems out and yelling things like stop trying to make fetch happen at them and then re-writing from the few lines that remain.
  • I’m spending most of a day (well, okay, a week) working on a poem, trying to coax it out of the form I at first forced it into (because it
    Here are some of those notes I was talking about in all of their cryptic glory.

    Here are some of those notes I was talking about in all of their cryptic glory.

    seemed like it wanted to be a pantoum, it really did) and into the form in which (hopefully) it’ll do something close to working.

  • I’m taking three hours to get two lines right.
  • I’m taking out all of the commas and capital letters and then replacing all of the commas and capital letters.
  • I’m changing “the Alabama Shakes’ Boys and Girls” to “that Alabama Shakes album” and realizing that that tiny change revealed exactly what the essay meant all along, and what I needed to do to make it mean that.
  • I’m trying to translate and expand cryptic notes I leave myself on my phone, on my laptop, on my Kindle, on my Post-Its, on the skin beneath my thumb, on a receipt for a McDonald’s smoothie.
  • I’m remembering what I meant by FUNERAL WHAT’S SAID STOPPED WRITING ESP ABOUT BC ALSO THIS ISN’T THE CLIMAX END TO TENSION THAT CHANGES THINGS CATS.
  • I’m taking out all of the commas and capital letters and then replacing all of the commas and capital letters — except for two commas and one capital letter, which finally, finally makes the poem work.

It’s an interesting in-between place.  It’s a good place to be — bringing work into the world, preparing to send work out of the world — but it’s also an uncomfortable place.  And it’s that, that discomfort, exactly, that makes it such a good place.  When the writing gets too comfortable, I start worrying.  I start thinking, this is not good.  Because writing — good writing — requires risk, and that’s far from comfortable.

This has also made me think a lot about my students, who are all in a very similar place.  I’ve often thought that learning how to write is a kind of apprenticeship: you learn the craft from reading and watching someone work, from listening to them talk about how they approach their work, and you learn the art from practicing the craft, from being willing to take risks and sharpen your skills and to work and work and work.  Sometimes, I’ll think of the writing teacher as the leader of the apprenticeship, but more and more, I feel like that isn’t true.  I feel like it can’t be true, because no one can really be a master.  I feel like perhaps the real apprenticeship is to the art itself, to all of its mysteries and wonders, all of its moments of despair and whimsy and confusion.  We’re all in the same boat, in a creative writing classroom, wherever we sit, and I often think that the teacher’s job is to start conversations, to nudge students towards risk, to give them a vocabulary to talk about their work and a way to apply those terms and techniques to their own pieces.  I think it’s also a teacher’s job to learn — both through one’s own work and reading and from one’s teachers.

Every day, I walk to my office with my folder and grade-book and Diet Coke and Altoids and I feel — excited.  Thrilled.  Nervous.  Lucky.  Most of all, lucky.  I’d say that this has been an exceptional semester in which I’ve been lucky enough to teach some exceptional students, but really, there’s nothing exceptional about it.  Instead, it’s been the rule.  I’m continuously grateful to be surrounded by such minds and such energy, such unfailing appetites for learning.  I’m grateful to my students for being willing to talk through the routes they’re taking in this strange landscape language makes for us — and I’m grateful to them for the daily reminder that though we are all making our own way in this landscape, we are, none of us, ever truly alone.

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“Home Is So Sad.”

I’ve found myself, as of late, sort of wandering around town in various levels of being totally disheveled and/or confused about everything, then saying to people, “I’m sorry, I just moved.”  It’s something I’ve said for the past few weeks and something I will probably keep saying for the next few, well, years.  Because, let’s face it, moving is both the best and the worst.  It’s a chance at starting fresh in a new place, one that isn’t packed to the crown molding with memories.  But it also means living in a totally new place, and one that’s unfamiliar, all the way to the crown molding.  Every inch of every corner is a surprise.  And, if you happen to live in a college town, as I do, the surprises aren’t always exactly pleasant.  As in, Surprise!  You can’t use your kitchen cabinets because they smell like the grim specter of death!  Surprise, you can’t use your bathroom cabinet either because DOUBLE SURPRISE, BLACK MOLD!  Surprise, these walls are constructed entirely of asbestos and the bubonic plague!  And so forth.

This isn't my mailman, but it is the post office.  So.

This isn’t my mailman, but it is the post office. So.

There are a lot of things I miss about my old place: the usable cabinets, the absence of the grim specter of death, the screened porch, the frat

boys shooting arrows at a tree outside of my screened porch.  But if there’s one thing I miss more than anything else, it’s my mailman.

How do you even know your mailman? you’re probably thinking.  Well, remember that college town part?  I mean, small college town.  Which means a lack of certain amenities, such as actual grocery stores or Targets.  You know, things that are necessary for basic survival.  Which also means, of course, that I’ve been forced to spend quite a bit of time shopping online.  You know, for basic survival.  It was necessary.  

And so, I got to know my mailman.  He was always kind and never judged and agreed that yes, one can never have enough shoes.  He realized

that I tended to write on my back porch in the summer and so he brought me my packages there.  One day, he caught me crying after a Very Bad Telephone Conversation and he asked how I was.  He said he didn’t know what was going on, but he could promise that it’d get better — and he came by to ask how I was the next day.  When I broke my foot, he asked how I was and even sometimes brought my non-package-style mail to me, if it looked important.  He asked about my cats, who eventually even stopped running away and acted like completely insane beasts when he knocked.  When I had surgery, he told my mother that he’d been worried because no one had answered the door for a while.  He asked how I was every time she answered the door.  He always smiled, he always said hello, and he was always incredibly kind.

This is how things are going with my new mailman so far.  Sigh.

This is how things are going with my new mailman so far. Sigh.

They were all small things, just very small things, but they made a very big difference in my life, and at a time in my life when I felt very lost.  And maybe, in the end, it’s the small things that matter — because, when you think of it, a life of such small kindnesses is a very big thing.

The jury’s still out on my new mailman.  He seems very nice and he always smiles.  Still, I can’t help but miss my old mailman — and I can’t help but wish I would’ve thanked him more often for all of the kind things he probably didn’t even realize he was doing — which makes him all the more deserving of thanks.

There is no Frigate like Book

There are a few small but appreciable benefits from dealing with Circumstances, and all stem from the fact that Circumstances tend to make one re-evaluate and re-think — and Circumstances often give one the time one needs to re-evaluate and re-think.

That sentence was hella awkward.

In less vague and oddly formal third-person terms, I guess I could say that, every so often, it seems like I go through Circumstances that require me to sit back and think about what I’m doing with and in my life, about what really matters to me and on/with what I need to spend the precious-beyond-precious time I have.  And for me, time and time again, the answer is always the same answer: words.

NOTE: Gertrude Stein does not necessarily share my enthusiasm for all things bookish.

NOTE: Gertrude Stein does not necessarily share my enthusiasm for all things bookish.

I think that most, if not all, writers come to write because they love words, which means they love to read.  Most, if not all, of us have a moment tucked inside of us, a moment when words suddenly became more than words, when words unfurled inside the mind into something as enormous and wonderful and even slightly frightening as Jack’s beanstalk, and with its power to transport.

That’s the frightening part — the power — and also the tremendously beautiful part.  It’s what every writer, I think, is, in the end, chasing: the power to transport herself and someone else, in the same was as she herself has been transported, through words.  When I was a little girl, my father took me to the library every weekend, and I remember walking from shelf to shelf, pulling books off the shelves and opening them into Vs, reading random paragraphs to find which ones I wanted to take home.  I always knew when I found the right one: the shelves vanished, the library vanished, the entire state of Alabama vanished, and I vanished with them.  It was just the words, the world that they made.

The Circumstances through which I’m currently moving and living have given me, wondrously, the quiet time I needed to spend with words — both with my own and with others’.  It’s the kind of quiet time I need, from time to time, to recharge.  I think it’s very easy, especially if you’re a person who’s trying to get published or whose job related to words, to get discouraged, to let the rejections overtake you, to lose faith in your own language.  Or, at least, that’s what happens to me, and it happens far more easily and frequently than I often admit.  It’s also very easy to get so wrapped up in publishing and competition and ego (or lack thereof) to the point where your own words aren’t necessarily your own.  It’s easy to forget the small miracle that happens every time a pen hits a page.  It’s easy to forget that more often than not, the writer isn’t the one in control.  The words are.  A writer’s place isn’t in speaking.  It’s in listening.

Reading — living, for a few hundred pages or so, in another’s world, living and listening and loving through and in their words — is the way I remember this.  It’s the way I return, again and again, to the sense of awe that made me begin writing myself.  I mean this in several senses of the word: amazement, yes, but also fear, and the sense of reverence that comes from wonder and terror.  I mean this in the sense of respect of language itself, of how letters and words and sentences build upon themselves, seemingly of their own volition and power.

Though the Circumstances I’m dealing with this summer aren’t necessarily the most pleasant Circumstances, I’m very grateful for them.  They’ve given me the space I need to sit and be quiet and read.  They’ve given me the space I need to remember: I’m still the girl standing somewhere in the vacuum of vanished space and time, a book an open bird in my hand.  I’m still there, in awe of the words, of the world they make.

It’s that time again, folks.

Needless to say, I haven’t been blogging.

I haven’t been blogging because EverythingIsHappeningAndAllAtOnceHolyGodAlmightyKnows.  There’s been life stuff and writing stuff and teaching stuff and job stuff and personal stuff and health stuff and angry feline companion stuff and just — well, stuff.  There is, in fact, so much stuff I can’t even really think of words to express all of the stuff, so I thought I would instead offer a visual that represents how the end of a semester, especially spring semester, always seems to feel.

Slide1

That?  That’s it.  That’s pretty much basically exactly IT.

The good thing is that there will hopefully soon also be this —

I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE YELLED AT A GIRL LIKE THIS.

— because really, at this point in my life, I’m at peace with the fact that I will never be able to recuperate after a long, hard haul through an academic year and all of its attendant stuff without Tyra Banks yelling through the television screen that her mama yells at her like that because she loves her.