Friday, March 30, 2012

Fontana, continued

(previously on Fiction first draft...)

All the usual particles get blown out to sea during a Santa Ana.  The light in the valleys, even downtown, doesn't have to struggle so hard to make ordinary things shine.  Everything seems closer and more defined, no cloaking haze to cloud perception.

Tana, who for some reason was thinking of herself as Angela that day, had seen photos of the San Gabriel foothills taken from Los Angeles harbor, back when wooden masts showed in the foreground.  Though they didn't appear in black-and-white, the captions told of brilliant fields of orange poppies climbing up from the valley.  On mornings after a rain, she liked to drive up to where those fields once bloomed and look down at the cities, the view reaching the ocean, Catalina Island and the Pacific horizon.  You sure couldn't see the ocean from Fontana; it was too far and flatly inland and, if it hadn't been, nature could never have scoured its air that clean.

How do we build our definition of love, Tana wondered, driving home through the gusty sundown toward her real or imagined tryst.  What models do we follow?  Was it love that send her grandfather out to take dance lessons after her grandmother's leg was amputated?  Or love that nudged him toward the phone, calling, or so it seemed, every woman he'd ever known and proposing to each of them once her grandmother was dead?  Despair, helplessness, hopelessness or the fact that once he married Helen he'd never had to think again about his daily existence, his upkeep, the details. It was her grandmother who retrieved Joe, their placid marmalade cat, when adolescent Tana found his body in front of the bus stop.  Even in her sightless, prosthetic state, what Helen wanted most was a vacation in Hawaii and not the annual cross-country odyssey of American Legion conventions, looping up through Salt Lake City, then swinging down to New Orleans, home across Texas.  They'd done that for 15, maybe 20 years and not much time remained for a few summer weeks of paradise instead of hours and miles in the car, whatever scant scenery existed passing in a galucoma-induced blur.

It seemed less love than insufficient awareness, the stainless steel mixing bowls, new Teflon skillets and kitchen essentials that Tana wrapped every year as her father's Christmas gifts to her mother, who only wanted one or two pieces of Navajo jewelry.   I know it can be different, Tana thought.  She wished and believed as she rewrote the script in her mind, determined that the exactly right words,  through the sheer wanting of it, would turn what mute  spark existed in Ray into something that would catch and burn.  Sensed but unprovable, she leaned and bent with discomfort toward hope of a heat that could eventually warm them, not singe their already fragile, brittle edges.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

While the writer warms up, a musical interlude

The video shows the wrong date...performance was from 3/28/12.  I like this version with the band and Letterman's obvious enjoyment.  My first knowing of/hearing of Justin Townes Earle.

There will be more fiction.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fiction first draft - why not?

Untitled (Volkswagen) by Don Eddy, 1971 - Photorealism

Who would name their baby girl Fontana?  A place of auto wrecking yards, trucks, a steel mill and original turf of the Hells Angels.  She wore it through grade school, wishing she could outgrow it like the hideous oxblood faux Mary Janes that she didn't pick, would never have picked.  And how come Elizabeth, by the sixth grade, had become Renee and wouldn't turn her head unless you said the new name and said it right?  She could almost live with Tana, with the endless Name Game teasing, Tana Tana bo banna,  bonana fana fo fanna, fee fie mo manna, Tana.   Something genuinely exotic but still weird like Cuernavaca, rhyming with Frere Jacques was out of the question.  She heard them ask, who would name their baby girl Cuernavaca?  Marrakech.  Coeur d'Alene.  Fontana.  Fuck.

If she thought about her name, which she tried, with narrow success, not to do, it still felt like ugly clothes, crap loser blue plastic raincoat, the hand-me-downs from her aunt and not the pretty ones that made her look almost twice her real age, which at the time was 10.  While we're asking questions, who sends a 10-year-old to school in one of her 21-year-old aunt's sheath dresses?  If she had ever once drawn a normal breath, held a normal thought, she couldn't say when.  She imagined the big old freak wagon rolling through town and her being tossed on board with the rest of the trash, her parents laughing after her,  "Write when you get work."  Things like that, they thought were so funny.

How she ended up with her beaming beacon of a son she never knew.  It was one of about two things at the time that made her think maybe God was real and maybe even paid attention.  It was enough to balance all the other evidence that said God?   Who are you kidding?  Two things, her son and her still being alive.  Two not small pieces of evidence, though smaller than, say,  two obsidian bird-point arrowheads, but solid like you could find them in your pocket when you needed to be reassured, which felt like about 14 times a day.

She missed her son, the weeks he stayed over with his dad and usually she worked late,  declaring it bedtime when she got home.  No one to read to, no one who insisted on staging elaborate dramas with his stuffed animals, mentioning from time to time that the voices she did sounded kind of the same.

It was one of those empty house weeks that Ray called and said he'd stop by when she got home.  Even when she knew nothing, like nothing, was going to happen unless you counted a version of messing around that spiraled around itself over, how many? maybe 15, 18 years, if she squinted just so, it almost looked like romance.  In her skin it felt like romance.

That day she had lunch by herself, the Japanese place between the supermarket and the drugstore.  An outside table where she could watch the cars and not feel extraordinarily singular and conspicuous.  It was April and there were Santa Ana winds, air so dry it would curl toast, the sun bouncing off windshields and bumpers as the cars slipped past.  She kept her sunglasses on.

All the usual particles get blown out to sea during a Santa Ana.  The light in the valleys, even downtown, doesn't have to struggle so hard to make ordinary things shine.  Everything seems closer and more defined, no cloaking haze to cloud perception.

(to be continued - I ran out of time today and thought if I didn't post it, I'd talk myself out of it.) 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Singing love songs to the self

Apologies for the ad...they were everywhere.  Listening to Eva Cassidy, with goosebumps, reminded me of a Ry Cooder album called Chicken Skin Music.  Eva, here, = chicken skin.  We'll save Ry Cooder for another day, though his soundtrack for The Long Riders tempted me.

What has been tugging at me is the bafflement of being in a relationship with self, for that is what it is, what we're asked to do.  If only one voice spoke in our heads, if there were only one clear path, one strong, reliable premise.  I do not find that to be the case.  We have dual citizenship, conflicting allegiance, to our separate parts.  What if we sang love songs, read love poems,  to ourselves, brought the disparate sides together with affection?  Who might we become? 

Though not born under the sign of Libra, its influence is strong (and belief in astrology is not a prerequisite to continue here); I seek balance.  It is not a state reached without consideration; it is not always reachable. Who and how we are, to and with ourselves, mirror our external lives, or, more likely,  they are mirrored within, based on how we go through the wider world.

The notion of a love song - for that is what Fields of Gold seems to be - narrowed to exclude any other and instead explore how faithful we may be to ourselves is not something I sought.  It was just, suddenly, there.  I have been working for years to stop seeing myself as a suspicious character, one of the usual suspects when something is amiss.  I work to stop taking myself into the interrogation room, probing motives and explanations, sowing doubt. 

It feels as though I reach my goals slowly, but to what can I reasonably compare my pace?  That I am Ferdinand the Bull in a land founded on the Puritan Ethic has become clear.  That I and my mind wander in several directions at once is no longer shocking news.  Coming to accept life as a more fluid substance than once thought takes getting used to.  Whether or not other - perhaps all - lives have this in common seems possible, though others appear to resist the ebb and flow with more determination than I.  From moment to moment, I now do my best to surrender to a current distantly outside my control.  I don't swim especially well and I suspect that's not the lesson.

"I never made promises lightly
And there have been some that I've broken
But I swear in the days still left
We will walk in fields of gold"

I have not always kept the promises I made to myself; not through indifference, not through cruelty, but because keeping them was simply not possible with the tools I possessed.  I believe that each day, each moment, we have the chance to start fresh, to reevaluate and regroup. It is startling, yet not impossible, to think of myself with a happy ending.  Not the classic movie final shot.  Maybe I'm Claude Raines AND Humphrey Bogart, walking companionably, arm in arm, into the Moroccan night.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Watch some TED talks and see what happens

We watched three different TED lectures on the theme of space the other night, the first of which closed with a reading of the following quote.  I believe this is where we need to be taken, regularly, to acquire and, it is hoped, maintain some sense of proportion, while recommitting to an immeasurable sense of wonder.

In his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, the astronomer Carl Sagan related his thoughts on a deeper meaning of the photograph:
We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

...the baffled king composing hallelujah

Yes, I know you've heard dozens of versions.  k. d. lang is my favorite.  This is the song and hers is the voice I want to hear over the headphones in the middle of the night when I've misplace my center, as I seemed to do yesterday.

In this week's "You Rock" Hall of Fame, Leonard Cohen joins Lynda Barry.  Simply assume they are there every week.   I wish (among so many other things) that I'd written, "...the baffled king composing hallelujah."

Uploaded by on Jan 10, 2009
kd lang's performance of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame induction of Leonard Cohen in 2006. Be sure to watch the entire performance. Leonard is in the audience. I hope you will watch Leonard's induction as well, which I also posted.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Thanks to MG for the gift of this today.


You must always be alone.
But don't beg a soupscrap of charity
or birdcrumb of tolerance.
Shift for yourself.
As furniture heaves off your life
you'll love your deliverance.

Until loneliness slips in, scrawny
and hungry, Miss Loneliness, over the
barrenness, bribing with company.
Restlessness, one of her attendants.
And the drunk twins, of course,
Memory and Remorse.

Refuse them. Stay faithful to Silence, just
Silence, sliding between that breath
and now this breath, severing the tick
from the tock on the alarm clock,
measuring the absence of all else.
And the presence, the privilege.

Anne Stevenson

The first step toward reconsidering (shudder) memoir

Ideas appear for me either in a shout and burst or creep like a thaw so slow the ground only becomes workable in time for the next frost.  On the front page of the LA Times Sunday "Arts and Books" section, a boxed promo mentioned something about a writer returning to memoir.  I haven't yet read the article, but already those few words took me down a different street.

Bits of memoir elbow their way into some posts, usually because one thing reminds me of another and I dig up the shard of history to which it has referred me.  When people-in-writing started to call the telling of one's own story creative non-fiction I thought, with a device like a rib-spreader to open my head, I might be able to fashion such a work.  This was not to be; my stitches were uneven, my seams bunched, and the whole business was amateurish and embarrassing.

Why it had never occurred to me that memoir, rather than being something cathartic or painfully intimate or narcissistic, could be an opportunity for creative writing, a chance to practice writing poetically in prose form, I can't say.  I am very glad that I didn't keep that secret from myself forever.  The awareness is only that; it is not the beginning.  What is does offer, though, is the possibility of approaching a story I didn't feel needed to be told, which it may not.  But what if ordinary - this is where the poets step forward - can be made into something more.  As I attempted it, memoir was a leaden thing that even I couldn't tolerate.  Soon I will drag some of the pieces out of the drawer into which I stuffed them and see if I overlooked a potential for something more; not because it's my story but because I may have discovered a new way in which to see and present it, like any story.  At the very least, it is an option, an opportunity, a sound ecological practice.  Making something pleasing from what looked like residue.  In theory, at least, it doesn't seem impossible.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Love letter to Lynda Barry's mind

This morning I typed Lynda Barry's name in at YouTube, looking for her brief explanation of how one can keep a diary in four minutes a day.  But I found this instead.

Giving us lots of time to prepare, the Academy of American Poets has sent out reminders that April 26 is "Poem In Your Pocket Day."  As they describe it,

"The idea is simple, select a poem you love, carry it with you,  and share it with co-workers, family, and friends..."

WHAT IF  we had poems in our pockets AND had memorized them?  I know this is not new thinking for many of you and I ask your patience with me, still breaking in my poetry shoes, trying to remember that I can wear them for every day and not just save them for good.

Lynda Barry's mind, as expressed in this video and her various works, ought to be declared a national treasure.  That she is aware of the mind, generally, as a pearl of great price makes me feel as though I just woke up from a mediocrity-induced coma.  It is not just what she says, but the uniquely plain-spoken AND sort of revolutionary way she says it.  Poetry traveling to us through time.  My embarrassingly low-brow response is, Duh.

We are encircled by fires, asked to extinguish the minor blazes of how to fix this, how to heal that, where can we find the money, time or energy for at least nine minor-to-major situations on what seems a daily basis.  Behind those pesky and attention-demanding fires are the others, the real fires, the ones that are not meant to be dampened but fanned.  They are our sources of light; they are our light.  Here we are, back again, caught by the inexpert attempt at balance that is life.  How do we keep our small worlds from falling into the chaos of under-attended ordinary existence AND continue to be flames, or at least embers, of all that is soaring, expanding, contributing and becoming?  We just do because we must. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Weather prompt

Following two days of record winter heat, Los Angeles returned to the sort of overcast morning that reminds us the beach is not far away.  Mornings that others proclaim gloomy have never seemed that way to me.  The sun will be back.  Soon.  Thoughts brought on by the low ceiling,  the deep marine layer - our weather people apparently delight in the naming of things - and a cottony quiet interrupted only by the local parrot flock have Karla Bonoff's bittersweet tunes spooling among the mental trees.   The following has always been my favorite, supported as she is by James Taylor and Garth Hudson of The Band on accordion.

Grace and luck, the difference between them, are playing kick the can down the fog-dimmed street.  Angels, with the Heaven Can Wait image of Warren Beatty symbolizing how, in our earthbound forms, we may be called to deliver messages from ineffable sources,  have sidled into the auditorium, wanting to see how I explain my way around this theme.

I subscribe to a daily email message called Notes from the Universe, offered " remind you of life's magic."  Today it was suggested that I steer my imagination toward what I DO want, rather than what I don't.  Since right now I seem to creak as though my joints were made of wood, I HAVE been giving energy to the unwanted, neglecting visions of success or triumph or the simple accomplishment of, say, a page of illustrated letter forms that might become something.

Lucky is not the first word I would choose to describe myself or my life, nor am I anything approaching unlucky.  What I feel has been a continual presence for me is benevolence, grace by its many definitions, which does not mean life became something other than what it is, fraught at times to the point of seeming almost too much to bear.

Duality stares back at me, no matter where I look.  I walk around with my hands doing the dance that indicates balance, half this, half that.  Seeing the bigger picture, if only occasionally, tips things into grey areas that match today's sky.  The circular path brings me back to where I began but this time with an idea of what unconscious connections were formed between weather and angels.  We'll call Karla Bonoff a bonus, for I can't tie her precisely to the murky theme.  Perhaps it makes sense to you.

Thank you to Beth for her comment yesterday about making herself write - in spite of all that is missing or present.  She helped kick my ass into action this morning.

Monday, March 5, 2012

When the morning voices are silent

“If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed to trap them before they escape.”
Ray Bradbury

“Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.”
Ray Bradbury


WHATEVER THIS IS, it is not a 'dry' spell.  It may be an altered state, like being hit with soft lightning.  Nothing is singed but the circuits seem fried.  Not one thing works the way it did even a few weeks ago; small domestic tasks, creative intentions, simply staying awake, all are beyond my capability.  Do powerful solar flares turn humans, or some of us, into sleepwalkers whose arms and legs have become almost too heavy to lift?  I guess that would produce sleepshufflers.  More accurately, sleepsitters.  Merely considering such a notion probably condemns me to eating lunch at the crop circle table.

Last week I thought I'd caught the end of a thread about a correlation between a lightness of mind - being open and available for enlightenment -  and a perceived greater density of body, slowed movement, reluctant joints, gravity's target demographic.  It would not be shaped into a coherent, familiar form and I thought it needed a new shape, a fresh voice, a reduced self-consciousness to emerge as anything other than half-baked.  It still sits in draft form, abandoned after I tried to force the momentary weightlessness of the entrechat - or an old favorite, jumping as an elevator starts to descend - into a shotgun marriage with the windows (not windmills) of my mind.  An ill-fated union or at least not one for which I had the necessary flair.

I DO stuff myself full of the morsels Mr. Bradbury lists and I know the state of wanting, working to trap what they suggest before anything escapes.   My morning voices feel short on pep, lacking conviction and seem to wonder aloud when they will be allowed to go back to their bed.  It is NOT a dry spell.  It feels more like a too-small house being taken over by too many relatives with boundary issues who didn't bring even the most essential items since they knew they could mooch off me.  I feel like I've been sleeping on the floor of the sunporch, then spending the rest of the day trying to clean the kitchen and not succumb to the vapors, though that would give me an excuse.

Mr. Bradbury, I was certain, would not suffer a whiner nor would he tolerate any excuses.  We are writers, we write.  Since this is what I have in the moment, in keeping with his ethic, this will be what I write today.  I hope tomorrow's morning voices have emerged from their anaesthesia.  I hope my missing parts will be restored.
"The mere attempt to examine my own confusion would consume volumes."
James Agee