Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Friday, March 26, 2010

My Awful Writing.

Writing about Writer's Block is a lot like talking about what a terrible poker player you are while you're playing poker. I think.

Maybe not.

This is part of my issue.

I'm going through a period of time now, in which everything I write, I hate. This not to elicit any courteous or encouraging nudges from readers. I mention this to sort of face the thing head on. Every writer goes through it eventually. Perfectly natural, happens to everybody...Blah blah, further allusions to embarrassing body issues, odors, or uncooperative softness.

Recently, I started wondering if I've become delusional. Letters don't look right. Words disappear from my vocabulary - only to reappear in awkward malaprops. No slurring has occurred yet, so I don't think it's a physical thing.

The more unfortunate complication is my regression in tone. There have been more than a couple of occasions over the last few days when I (Thank Heaven) took a second glance at an email and had the presence of mind to remove something so childish, I can hardly believe I let myself type the whole thing out. One of the worst is reproduced here:

"Tell me who is being mean to you and I will mail them an envelope filled with my own boogers."

What. On. EARTH.

I tell myself that this is merely a phase and that, like anything, I just have to muscle through it. Write through it. Even if I don't want to. Even if it seems I have returned to the age of nine.

We did an exercise in college that required us to move non-stop for an hour. This might not seem like much, but it was gruelling. Through various prompts from our instructor, we were told to move quickly as she called out Sharp, Curve, Straight, Twirl, and finally, Chaos. Chaos was terrible. We couldn't stop moving. Period. If we hit a wall, we had to muster through.

At the end, she said, "Stillness." We were to go straight from Chaos to Stillness. My body was utterly shocked.

My little know-it-all 19 year-old self was willing to call bullshit on this exercise. Now, I am amazed at how often I think of it. After a period of Chaos, it's natural for a system to settle, move into some stillness, and prepare itself for the next whateveryouwannacallit to come along. Maybe nothing will, maybe a lot will.

I've written over 300 entries on this blog. I think it's easy to mistake Chaos for productivity. At first, it can feel like "Hey! Look at what all I did!" Some of it might be great, but some of it might suck, too. It's worth it to slow down a little and shape the stuff worth shaping and let the flotsam of Chaos drift out to sea.

But the key is not to panic. Panic is the worst thing I can do, I think. Panic is the basis of Writer's Block. If I'm still for minute, I can remember that Antimony and Acrimony are NOT the same thing.

And maybe I won't mail these envelopes to the enemies of my loved ones.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Wednesday, March 17, 2010



Thursday, March 11, 2010

Time off.

I passed out for a while and woke up with this taped to my forehead:

I'm taking a break for a few days.

I've been getting really clumsy and unable to articulate myself well - so I have reason to take this seriously. It's not my policy to negotiate with cerebral terrorists, but in this case, I have to make an exception.

See you next week!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Song for a Crappy Tuesday

"I hate you."

You are in the bathroom at work, washing your hands in the never-warm water. Tuesday is shuffling around in the stall behind you. There's the occasional whisper and soft chuckle. You wonder who she's talking to, because it certainly isn't you. Your brain asks the fleeting question, "What on earth is she doing in there?" since she occupied the restroom before you arrived. The question is immediately dismissed for more entertaining thoughts.

You are about to apply a coat of lip gloss, when the toilet flushes at last You try to ram the tube into your pocket and make a speedy exit.

Tuesday emerges from the stall and looks your way.

"I hate you." She says this with some resignation. You turn to face her, still gripping the gloss.

"Beg pardon?"

"I just-I don't know. I hate you, I guess. I thought you should know."

Can this be happening? Your heart races for a moment as your body floods with the queerest sense of relief. You knew it all along, that she despised you. And you despise her, too, though without any concrete reason. Your hate just is.

Now, your hate is just. No more covert cringing, no more self torture. Her hatred of you is a fact, and that is enough to confirm every suspected slight, every imagined undermining sneer. It was all true. You are not crazy.

The relief that buzzes through your head with the wings of a thousand caressing butterflies almost impulses you to love Tuesday. This was pretty forthright of her, after all, to admit such an adolescent notion as simply hating a co-worker for the hell of it. The two of you can regale each other with revenge fantasies and delight in a future of best-friendship. The divide wasn't so wide. In years to come, the inseparable pair of you will relate the story to your children, how your hate blossomed into the dearest bond. Don't judge a book by its cover. Even the ugliest duckling may yet turn into a swan of kinship.

Your hand is still grasping the tube of lip gloss. The two of you are silent. Tuesday erupts into a sudden barking laugh.

"I'm kidding! God, what a terrible thing to say to someone, righ?" (Christ. She never pronounces the T at the end of the word Right.)

"Yes," you muster, "That is." You try to laugh, but the sound is more akin to a chair scooted across the floor. You have squeezed the lip gloss tube to the point of bursting. The ooze of petroleum jelly trickles into your fist.

Tuesday doesn't wash her hands. She clops past you and pats you on the shoulder. "See y'out there!"

From out in the hallway, you can hear her voice cawing to another co-worker, "Guess what I just said!"

You are left in the humid restroom to stew in your own loathing. And lip gloss.

We saw the Magnetic Fields in concert on Sunday. It was a terrific concert. I join the throngs of Stephen Merritt's fans in saying that he is a brilliant lyricist, and the Magnetic Fields' arrangements are truly musically creative.

(Laura Barrett is also someone to check out. The spritely Toronto native is imaginative and has a lovely voice. She occasionally lingers on the Isle of Twee, but a couple of her songs were earnest and beautiful.)

My one complaint is that they didn't play one of my favorite songs.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thoughts about the Magnetic Fields Concert

And opener, Laura Barrett.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes

By Billy Collins
From Picnic, Lightning

First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer's dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women's undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers;
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Random Thoughts

1. This morning, on the train, we saw a security guard and his dog.

The security guard was a young African-American man, and the dog was a muzzled German Shepherd. The two of them were alone, looking across the train platform. A couple of tough archetypes.

The German Shepherd leaned it's fettered snout over and nudged the Guard. He looked down, and the dog looked up at him.

The Guard brought his hand up behind the dog's ear, the still puppy-soft part, and ran his fingers through the dog's fur. The German Shepherd leaned in more, allowing the Guard better access to his coat.

The Guard smiled a little, leaned over just an inch or two, and spoke to the dog.

I was so disarmed by this unexpected moment of tenderness, that I had to look away.

2. Favorite word this week:

also crumb·y (krm)
adj. crum·mi·er also crumb·i·er, crum·mi·est also crumb·i·est Slang
1. Miserable or wretched: a crummy situation in the family.
2. Shabby or cheap: a crummy little rowboat.

[Probably from crumb.]

3. Least favorite word:

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