Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Prom Night



My friend commemorated a milestone birthday with a prom -- here's Olivia and me. You can't see my po-white-trash tat in the photo, but everyone else did. (Didn't think to buy a shawl to cover it up.)

From Zero to Sixty -- thank you, Abby Frucht

Abby suggested the radical move of whacking out the middle of my novel, because it was taking all kinds of energy away from the rest, it wasn't working. My novel felt like a fallen souffle -- the beginning and ending worked, but the middle sagged.

So carefully saving a copy of the old, I hacked out, excised, whatever you want to call it. And lo, I had something I kind of liked. The color returned to my characters' cheeks. I changed a detail here and there, oriented it in space and time, and the patient sat up and took nourishment.

I have a novel. A genuine, honest to God, first effing draft of a novel. Yawp! I'm going around like Dr. Frankenstein -- "It's alive!"

The protag, a young boy, turned out to be gay so I asked a kid, head of the local college's GSA, to check it out for me. He's excited, un-naturally so in my opinion. Why would he be excited about reading shit written by some middle-aged, mini van driver he doesn't even know? But he is. I tried to fall all over myself thanking him for reading it, but he wouldn't let me. No time. He grabbed the manuscript and headed off to class. He's going to pass it around to his friends!

It felt a little like a drug deal -- "Yeah, yeah, just give me the manuscript, man."

I love this kid. I'm old enough to be his mother, and he's so cute I wanted to pick him up and pinch his cheeks and feed him wholesome food. I might feel that way about anyone who was enthusiastic about reading my novel, but I felt an immediate liking to this kid even before he agreed to read it. I can't wait to see what he and his friends think.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Irony

Olivia's in Daisy Girl Scouts. Monday the leaders were discussing the worldwide sistership of Girl Scouts, and showed them pictures of Scouts from around the world. They put the pictures on a large world map -- Madagascar, England, Australia -- and when they got to Costa Rica -- one little Daisy shouted out "My dress was made in Costa Rica."

Possibly by a girl not much older than she is, I thought but did not say.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

More from Vermont

Larry and the kids went cross-country skiing on Stemple Pass this weekend. The pictures are great. Thank you, honey!

It's cold this morning --- not quite falling to the level of "freezing-ass cold," unless you are from southern climes like some here. Cold enough that frost covers the trees and shrubs. I like the effect, the spare, white twigs reaching to the weak sun.

Ellen Lesser will be my advisor again this semester, and I could not ask for a better teacher. Not only a good writer, she believes teaching is part of her life’s purpose and has genuine passion about helping others.

Am adding to my reading list. New discovery: Edward P. Jones short stories.

Have enjoyed many, many readings and lectures which I will not recap with one exception.

From the informal talk the poet Major Jackson gave on poetry and writing in general:

On maintaining community: “Community pushes us forward and keeps us keeping on.” Jackson's suggestions on keeping one’s love of the art of poetry alive:

Read widely outside the genre, read widely, read systematically
Create an environment for reading – be organized about it in terms of time and space (I got the sense in here, I could be really far off base, that he had been reading everywhere, including at home, all the time and his family got a little tired of it. So that may have provided some impetus for his decision to dedicate specific times and places for reading. In any case, I'm always interested in hearing how other people keep their domestic tranquility index high and still write.)

Draw a line between the work being read and the larger tradition

Learn how to ease into a work – each poem has its own time signature, etc.

Share your discoveries via inventive means; for instance, he recommends memorizing a poem and reciting it over a friend’s voice mail.

He says poems are either windows or mirrors; mirrors reflect back to the writer. Something about writing invites meditation. One should go inward and make connections beyond the obvious, and avoid clich├ęd thinking. Find the courage to be true to one’s own experience and vision, to say what needs to be said, and that’s where voice comes from.

It’s interesting to people-watch at this residency. We’re all writers, here, right? So we are all introspective people who spend varying amounts of time alone, talking to imaginary people and writing down what they tell us. We throw in together for ten days, eating together, living in close quarters, out of our elements. To add to the fun, there’s so much going on, it’s hard to sleep. Some people don’t seem to sleep at all, and instead spend much of the night drinking and much of the morning padding around on tiptoe to avoid jarring their hangover awake to roar and claw at their heads again. There’s a bit of drama about the workshops, when a person doesn’t get what s/he hoped out of the workshop, but that seems to be rare. We seem to be doing really well for such a sensitive, introverted group.

Some people cluster in protective packs, making sure each member of the group has the opportunity to decide on and participate in the group’s activities. Others go from group to group (that’s me) and still others hang off like wolves, eying the pack. People are, to a person, smart, serious and well-read. Most of us are flaming liberals. The conservatives among us are quiet.

We eat at the New England Culinary Institute cafeteria. Lots of apprentice chefs, decked out in pouffy hats and white chef suits practice cooking and serving food. Some of them need more practice, but overall they really care about what they are doing. The salad bar is great.