Category Archives: story and writing

page proofs

I just sent off page proofs to New York. This means that not another word of the book I’ve finished will be changed. I did something I didn’t expect. I took what I thought was some worldly wisdom out of the book, deleted it. When I wrote the worldly, warning words, I was adamant about keeping them in. I don’t like sticky sweet romances. I feel like they’re a lie. But in rereading the story again, I decided that I wasn’t being fair to the character, who couldn’t know what he would do in the years ahead, and that I was killing hope, that we begin everything with hope. Time or circumstances may change that, but hope is one of the most beautiful things in our lives. We’ve never dare to anything without it. So I dropped lines that were foreboding, showing what the future would hold. I decided they reflected my own cynicism. I don’t want to be a cynic. I want to keep  aspects of a child, but not deny the wisdom of my years.

What are you looking for when you read? An escape? Realism? Adventure? Why do we read fiction?

singing myself

Words from a Unity prayer caught my attention this week….I go about fulfilling that for which I was designed, which is to sing myself and try to share the loveliness of which I am aware….I was struck by “sing myself” because that’s what writing fiction is, and I often tremble at my own boldness to dare it. I don’t know the song when I begin a new project. I have to pull it all from inside onto the page. The inherent audacity in that frightens some feeble part of me. Interestingly enough, words from Rumi also uncovered themselves from among the stacks of files, books, and papers that are my office:

Today, like every other day, we

wake up empty and frightened.

Don’t open the door to the study

and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss

the ground.

Isn’t that lovely? That our very creativity is a act of kneeling and kissing the ground? That our very life, living it, is also….sharing not the fear and anger, but the loveliness….

shade

I heard an interesting phrase at a meditation retreat this weekend: compassionately let go. The wise man speaking (he runs in Deepak Chopra circles) was answering a question about wanting to help someone by telling them about your meditation practice and/or your God or guru or whatever it is spiritually that is working for you. You must do it without ego and without expectation, as a sharing, he said, as in this worked for me….and then compassionately let go.  I liked that word compassion. I remember the first time I heard about letting go in 12-step….detach with love, was the advice. I could detach, but with love…nope. I was too angry, too fearful, upset by how another’s behavior was hurting me, but too afraid to walk away. Which reminds me of something another wise man once said,  you always have a choice. Always. It’s just that sometimes the choice is between one pain and another. But I was talking about compassionately letting go: of another’s reaction, attitude, addiction, behavior, with compassion toward them. It’s out of our hands. Of course, it always was. Each person has his own path, his own guides and inner light for that path. We can’t make him turn on that light. The word love requires more than I can sometimes give, an energy of engagement that I can’t or won’t summon for various reasons. I can’t always love others. But compassion….I think I can go there, for the other, and also, for myself. Compassion is an interesting shade of love. Less red.

How do you see compassion and how do you see love? And how do you see letting go?

hiccups

I had a haiku hiccup Friday. I was sitting outside; it was morning; I was in pajamas and drinking tea. Wind was high; fall is here–my favorite time of year in Houston. I was attempting to give myself daydream time, nothing specific, just mind rambles, which I think I don’t do often enough. It’s part of an experiment I’m doing around enhancing creativity in a gentle way. (Another part of the experiment is artist’s dates.) As I sat there, I saw a monarch butterfly sail in quietly and land on the green of my jasmine. The monarch didn’t move, not even her wings, once she landed. My mind rambled: she looks like a sailboat, is she tired, sailboats tack, is she dying. And the next thing I knew I had that wonderful urge to write a haiku; only my garden and its small dramas seem to inspire me. So here are my attempts:

off-course a monarch

settles wearily too close—

wind chimes call—dying……………………..

#2

a winter monarch

sails into the yard—off course—

it’s come home to die…………….

Can you make it better? I bet you can. I didn’t play much with sails or tacking nor the monarch’s color nor rest……..but what fun! My haiku hiccup. I need them more often, but I have to be in a receptive, relaxed state; i.e., I must create the opportunity for such states. What feeds your writing soul? Find something and do it often!

just words

I’m surrounded by word tools as I go through the copyedited manuscript of the next book. I have a dictionary, a thesaurus, a synonym finder, and a new old treasure called “The Comprehensive Word Guide,” based on the interlocking and overlapping of meaning, or so it says. I discovered a copy while I was in Taos in the library of the Wurlitzer Foundation and ordered one for myself. As I read myself again (yawn, growl, mutter, mutter), I have to often stop and search for better words, either at the copyeditor’s suggestion or at my own. What richness there is in these books, particularly the word guide. My character can “say” or she can affirm, deliver, give voice, utter, admit, announce, avouch, avow, bawl, counter, insinuate….there are some 124 choices, and then this old, tattered word guide carries any word even further, taking definitions to intricate levels. When I hit thesaurus on the computer, I have choices, but not with this depth. Maybe I just don’t know what to hit…..

But right now, I’m surrounded by the richness of the English language the old-fashioned way, and it’s so vast and beautiful….pleasing, attractive, bonny, comely, ethereal, gorgeous, lovely, ravishing….

Does the computer offer this richness? What program? I question….inquire, grill, interrogate, pry, pump, query……

guilty pleasures

I ‘m a sucker for articles about interesting, creative, pleasing, usually beautiful, sometimes dangerous women who become somebodies in the highest circles of culture, society, and/or politics.  Jennie Churchill, Winston Churchill’s mother is one. Eleanor of Aquitaine is another. So is Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman, who ended up becoming the doyenne of the Democartic Party. Vanity Fair recently hooked me with their profile of the dashing Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, whose life intersected with Yves Saint Laurent and all that was intellectural or artistic in France in the last half of the 20th century.  Is it the gowns, the jewels, the powerful circles in which they move, the fatal beauty or something like beauty and all it can accomplish, that attracts me? Is it that they play outside the rules nearly always? There’s a certain gumption, a certain rashness, a certain boldness, a certain luck that propels them forward and upward with great, great style. I can’t resist that style and must read about it like a dreamy teen.

What can’t you resist?

alchemy

I thought I’d print the Hyacinthe Hill poem Reaching Toward Beauty from last week’s blog. I can find very little about Ms. Hill on the internet. The poem is from the book, When I am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple:

You love declines. You, thinking little lines

aound my eyes are fallen lashes, try

to brush them off. I do exfoliate.

In this autumn of my being, parts of me

fly, like tossed and wintry-blasted leaves.

I don’t regret their passing. I must work

to make a clean and crystal-perfect form.

I, alchemist, and I, philosopher’s stone,

have sacrificed the fat, and froth, and fur

of youth, to walk through fire, leap in the dark,

swim inward rivers, pray at a wailing wall.

The wrinkles, sags, the graying hair are earned.

You mourn like a child over a broken doll.

Only the core of this crone was ever real……….

Wow. This is what I love about poets, their ability to seize some small formation of words and make them explode in the imagination. I tell people who ask me about writing to read poetry to internalize the beauty of language. I tell them to listen to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac on NPR, a poem a day the man reads to us, bless him. Imagine what life might be like if the first thing we heard in the morning was a poem, if we chewed on its meaning all day, instead of what we do chew on.

It was the quest of pre-scientists in the 16th century to turn lead into gold. We are the alchemists of our lives. What brew are you making? Bitter or sweet? Forgiving or vengeful?

bye

Tonight, as I walked home in the dark, I saw a shooting star. A fitting farewell to my artist’s residency in Taos. I begin the drive home to Texas in a day or so. In my mind, I’ve been saying goodbye for days, goodbye to the mountain, goodbye to the cottonwoods and Dutch elms, goodbye to the alfalfa growing in the meadow by the casita I’ve claimed as mine for three months, goodbye to the dark, sturdy dining table that has been my desk, goodbye to the view from the window on my right, goodbye to the hummingbirds that fight over the feeder, goodbye to the other artists and writers who have shared this time, goodbye to the main (and only) drag, goodbye to the stop light everyone has to go through, goodbye to the old pickup trucks that make wide turns and have sun-darkened men at their steering wheels, goodbye to the brilliant night stars, goodbye to the homeless, the runaways, the tourists, the characters who people the streets, goodbye to the spirits that protect the Pueblo.

It’s been lovely. The director of the foundation says he thinks the residency, for its length and location, resonates long after on many levels. I don’t know precisely what I’m taking back, but I know I’ve met a stillness internally and externally that was precious and healing. I’m grateful.

habit

We sat talking tonight….a playwright, two writers, a photographer, and an artist….of our bosses, how cruel they are, what ugly things they say to us. They’re within, these bosses, for we, more or less, work for ourselves. They tell us we don’t do enough, don’t work well enough, fast enough, aren’t going to make it….whatever “it” is. The photographer, the wise one among us, said: you have to learn to ignore those voices. You have to concentrate on the work, on doing the work as best you can. It’s a habit, thinking those harsh thoughts. You must form another habit.

taos even song

I walk several blocks and cross the main road of Taos to go to the grocery store. From the parking lot, I can see the mountains rising up toward sky and a sunset. The sight of them makes me feel safe, in the presence of something large. How great that a grocery store has such a view, I think. On the way back, I meet one of my fellow artists here. We walk down our dirt road, and she stays to have a glass of wine. We sit on my little front porch. The evening is cool, though the day has been hot. We talk about Taos, the characters we’ve met, the friends we’re making, yoga, the art scene in LA and Santa Fe, the economy here, the drugs, the intricate culture of Hispanic, Anglo, and Native. We talk about God. Is there one? We drink wine and eat cheese and crackers, and the evening begins to darken around us. The hummingbirds who have commandeered the feeder buzz us every once in awhile. We hear the sounds of neighbors talking, pulling garbage cans to the curb because sound travels so far here. Night is upon us, and we part, and I walk into my casita feeling rich. I don’t sit on the porch and talk with neighbors in Houston. It’s too hot. We’re all too busy or have to catch the news. I don’t have news here, unless I summon it up on the radio or internet.

Have you ever lived some place slow and easy? That’s how it is here. My other life is on a shelf right now. I know this won’t last, that I’m in a bubble the artist’s residency has created for me. I’ll be picking my other life up soon, but  it feels so good to be soothed by a slower pace and caressed by the sweet ending of a day.