Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Live Forever Now

Well, I'm heading for West Virginia tomorrow followed by the Appalachian Writers Workshop in Hindman, Kentucky. I'm teaching nonfiction, which I discovered I have more credentials in that I realized. I'm also working on a couple of Appalachian set stories, and my first villanelle maybe ever! Sort of a fun form, especially with the computer so it's easy to make small changes in the repeating lines.

This perfect crystal day with every perfect leaf
Cries, “I am here, I’ve always been–
Live forever now, no fear no grief.”
Sometimes the dim moist days continue in a sheaf
Until, replacing greasy orange and murky green–
This perfect crystal day with every perfect leaf!
But then I stop and think, It is so brief–
To which the brillant day says, so serene:
“Live forever now no fear no grief.”
The world-denying preacher’s firm belief
Dismisses my pagan day and her grand sheen,
My perfect crystal day with every perfect leaf.
Well, someone has to be a lying thief:
Preacher or the seductive day he must demean:
“Live forever, now no fear no grief.”
When we dwell on End of Days, there’s no relief
We’ll never own this white and green
This perfect crystal day with every perfect leaf.
Live forever now, no fear no grief.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

What We Don't Know

This is my sister Chrissie's son Alex's 22nd birthday.

I'm working mostly at home today, and found this beginning-of-an essay:

It is largely blank, or at best some misleading pages, the story of the years ahead of which
we have no previous example. The blank at the end of life, usually conceived of vaguely,
as dark, the dark that falls, the eyelids that close. Fearful or velvety. But the real blank
is not dying, which is in some ways highly imagined, far more familiar than how it feels
to live inside our lives in the years before death. How to be old-- by which I do not mean
ill or frail, but in that period of life that is not under girded with biological optimism: the intrinsically hopeful, forward-aimed fierceness of youth.

Novels, movies, and certainly the advertisers and other students of commercial
demographics are intent on the experience of young adults with their spending power,
their rich blood and resilience, and above all, their genetically programmed belief in the
future. This deep body belief in the future is what fuels sex, and what makes sex useful
in selling. Whatever else we have made of sex (and we’ve made plenty), it is always about
getting individuals of the species to commit resources to making future generations. That’s the engine at the heart of youth – the genetic material demanding replication and continuation.

So when we continue on (the human female I'm told is unique in living many decades beyond her fertility) what is driving us? Partly the habits we learned early on, but also the wonderful generalizing ability; the drive (am I fooling myself here?) to do more for those future generations, one's own descendents, one's own species, perhaps one's own biosphere.

This is my old tune, long may be sing it: learn to make your natural survivalist selfishness include greater and greater circles of beings.

See my brother-in-law's blog entry on getting older:

Saturday, July 14, 2007

New Connections Via the Internet

Hot weather--wet parakeet

Joel and Sarah spent a night with my sister and by all accounts (Joel on cell phone as Sarah drove north, Chrissie by email) it was a happy visit. Joel especially liked the plums that grow in the backyard in San Luis Obispo. They didn't get into Hearst Castle-- too late for reservations-- so maybe if and when Andy and I go out to visit we'll do that with them and see Chrissie and Goro and Alex too.

This is Saturday morning, and Andy is off to run the two town bike ride. I’m trying to get the desk in order, and particularly papers “graded.

I’m increasingly getting from people with personal requests, usually for free critiquing. My writing exercises are now first up if you Google for "writing exercises." I'm proud and astounded, but on the other hand, so far this has translated into no money and various requests for help. This interests me a lot. It is partly an entitled people (I have a lot of trouble with that word: half the time it has to be shaken loose from my head– I get “privileged” but not the one I want, “entitled.”) It’s also partly, of course, how easy and low-risk and email is, but also the intimcacy that the internet fosters. The person doign the writing exercises feels close to me, as if I were an aunt or the lady down the street.

So many things are made easier by email and the internet– getting speakers for Ethical Culture is smoothed out by email, many kinds of quick thank yous and responses, and the instant gratification of photos and sharing an article you read. The down side, pretty obvious, is how easy it is to toss off an angry or ill-considered response to something, to forward a clever comedy routine or ugly political attack to hundreds of people (the virus effect).

I’ve resumed relationships in a meaningful way through email with certain people, but then there are all the strangers asking for free responses, free critiquing, free friendships. It is going to be really interesting to see what shakes out in politics and publishing. Those are the arenas I see most in flux: people writing letters and calling each other on the phone is something we’re familiar with, although maybe I' m underestimating the importance of this part-- I don’t use MySpace (although an article in the Author’s Guild publication suggests maybe I should– some genre authors are really using it in a lucrative way). Maybe I’m missing the friendship web side of this.

One odd thing: I avoided having a color CRT and internet access on my computer for a long time for fear I would lose the magic of my computer as a place for writing alone.

I was right: it is suddenly a place where I teach, shop, interact from people, get political pleas, do all kinds of business. And it is indeed a problem to be so connected and less deeply private to follow my own internal tunnels and shady byways. And yet–and yet– I also feel those voices welcoming me, that I am part of something very real, all around.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Heat, Riots, Literature

The heavy heavy heat is modified today by an overcast sky, which makes my office less of an oven, so I'm here today, having spent much of yesterday downstairs with my NYU papers. NYU is tonight, and I've also got a well-subscribed online class underway, followed by Hindman, so altogether it is not a relaxing, let-your-mind wander summer. I'm making a little money, working pretty hard also for the Coalition and the Social Action Committee at Ethical.

Yesterday I also cut grass and biked (slowly), but the extreme heat, up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit or so, doesn't seem to bother me when I'm active, just when I'm sitting at the computer.

There's a really interesting series in the Star-Ledger about the Newark Riots/Rebellion/Insurrection of 1967, just 40 years ago at which point I was finishing up my year in Norfolk as a VISTA volunteer.

I'm reading Orhan Pamuk's Snow, and it is an admirable book, but I'm getting a sense of it's going on too long. Or is it me with my lack of patience for books (see the article in todays New York Times about how Harry Potter fever has not translated into children reading other books). The whole changeover from books as the major form of entertainment is tough going for those of us with marginal careers in literature. On the one hand, if the publishers were making the right connections to small reading publics, we'd probably be doing as well as we were ten or twenty years ago, or forty, but they're not--they're still after the block busters. I'm going to do an issue of my newsletter on this.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Midsummer Again

At Lake Buel

It looks like a hot day, a scorcher maybe, coming at us today. The others have gone to town or perhaps biking, not sure, but it’s me and the parakeet this morning. Andy and I went to Shakespeare & Co.’s latest Midsummer’s Night Dream, rather unhearalded and with a no name cast, except for their new star guy Nigel Gore who did Claudius in their Hamlet last year. They all seemed good enough but somehow uninspired (how could they keep doing this play, especially without the magic of the white pine woods behind Edith Wharton’s house? With how many times they’ve done this) but there was something strange anyhow, even in the first half, I was aware that I was hearing the lines. I’ve been getting better and better at hearing Shakespeare, but last night, it all kind of opened for me, as if an undistinguished but competent production had somehow cracked the code for me and opened the language.

I’ve been seeing more and more Shakespeare and I listened to the cd’s too, with a lot of focus on lines of course, but last night I heard it, Andy did too, said he heard the rhymes. And the second half, after having half a coffee and some trail mix, I began to like the production too. The Helena and Hermia were excellent and their boys athletic and silly, Nigel Gore was an inspired Bottom, the coarse and randy Puck had a good time and so did we. Anyhow, it was a happy experience, nose bleed seats and all.

Calm lake, and I have the homesick feeling, wanting to get back to work. Sometime yesterday it hit me that the solution to my problem of too much to do is simply to suck it up: I'm teaching for the next two days, and doing Coalition stuff. Period. Won’t write, because I’m working. Be glad I don’t have to get up early in a panic and work. At least these will be at home. In the heat. But if I have to, I’ll work in the bedroom with a.c.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Food Court WiFi

Ah the wonders of technology! Andy and I are sitting at a table in a food court at the Prime Outlets in Lee, Massachusetts with a diet pepsi and free wifi. We had brunch at Norm and Nancy's in Otis, rather more of an adventure that we expected because as we drove the mile and a half from the paved highway we came across a dead tree fallen over the road, suspended on telephone wires! We called them by cell, climbed over the tree and started walking, and I simultaneously got a phone call from the Coalition and we began to be chased by two large black labs-- well, I exaggerate. They were actually just friendly barkers. THen Norm picked us up and we had delicious Challah french toast, enjoyed their house in the woods, and now we're here, buying walking shoes and doing email!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Keeping in Touch...

Well, with the wonders of cell phones, Joel has been in touch through West Virginia and Tennessee (they stayed in Memphis and went to Graceland this morning-- even liked the banana flavored Reese's cups ). Tonight they plan to stay in Oklahoma someplace, then make a run through Texas to Flagstaff and go to the Grand Canyon and Sedona. It sounds like a great trip, and eveyrone is cheerful. The crying seems to be over for the moment, and I do have to say that cell phones are helping. Andy and I are heading north tomorrow for the lake, taking the parakeet. That should be interesting.