Photos: Sunset Watchers and Sunset, A-Bay, Big Island, Hawaii
I love The Sun (http://thesunmagazine.org/). The founding editor Sy Safransky often offers a glimpse into his personal notebook. He has compiled these notebook entries; I read the most recent installment, Many Alarm Clocks, in small selections on an irregular basis. When I do so, I am looking for inspiration for my own writing—and human—practice. The good news: his wisdom suffices for both goals.
In his entry titled, “Three Days in the Wilderness,” he reflects on revision:
Readers sometimes ask how much I edit my own writing. I edit until each paragraph has lost the ten pounds it gained over the winter. I edit until each sentence can survive three days in the wilderness on its own. My father taught me to look at a sentence and, if it didn’t deserve to live, shoot it between the eyes. Ignore the pleas of the women and children. Take no prisoners, he said.
I think about my own quiet father and how he offered no specific advice for a sentence, but what he taught me as he showed me how to break and train a horse, patch a pipeline, or use a sluice box was really about writing, made me ready to revise.
Photos: Dishes from Big Island Grill, Kona, Hawaii
In fifth grade, we had to keep a food diary for a month. It happened to coincide with one of my dad’s food obsessions: We had banana splits for dinner every night for two weeks. Mom even invested in the glass dishes to contain these concoctions. For one week, I reported, Breakfast: Cheerios and milk; Lunch: Bologna sandwich, milk, peanuts, apple; Dinner: Banana split and milk. Mrs. Burgess pulled me aside and said that I should be recording what I was really eating, not what I wanted to eat. So, instead of arguing, I concocted well-balanced, faux meals because I quickly realized that our real eating habits were not what she wanted to hear.
*I am not sharing any specific pieces here, but I have several poems that are drafted from an assignment where a group of writers list a lie or secret (without noting which category the phrase or sentence represents) on a scrap of paper. The ones I have randomly selected have served me well. Plus, it is a lot of fun to hear how my fellow writers have owned my lie—or secret.
Photo: Home in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, Big Island, Hawaii
A taxi, an old enemy, Valentine’s Day, she assessed her situation and decided to fantasize about what could be worse than this slow ride in Friday traffic. Walking two sweaty miles in California’s August sky. Intestinal distress in a wedding gown on a crowded beach. Eating large (fried) grasshoppers to be polite to hosts who’ve offered nothing to drink.
This was a good way to change the subject even though she was still in the cab with him and had no idea where revenge might take her. She thought about opening the door in the traffic and charging into the crowded streets, but every time she grasped the handle, a cyclist or a pedestrian seemed to be in the way. Plus, for this to work, he couldn’t know how anxious he made her. She leaned back, pretending to enjoy the slight breeze; she closed her eyes.
She had the intention of keeping them closed the rest of the way. She had the intention of playing this new game of hers: Getting the flu on a cross-country trip in a full 737; drinking a bottle of rum on a bet after having had too many chili cheese dogs before a fancy birthday party.
She kept her eyes closed even after he snapped on the radio.
She would never forget why she hated him so much. But he didn’t seem to remember how he had, so many years before, driven her here today.
*The prompt was: a taxi, an old enemy, Valentine’s Day, but the fun I had with it came from the layer of: what could be worse.
Photo: CHOICES Poets
Last spring semester, I had the chance to work with a group of poets through CHOICES, a transitional program for individuals with developmental disabilities. Going into the project, I knew I would provide the same poetry lessons I was using in my community college classroom. I want to be clear, this curriculum choice is neither a comment on the level of my community college students nor on the students I had yet to meet. Instead, it is a testament to the power of poetry and creativity and invention. I am pleased to report that trusting the process consistently yields tremendous rewards. Just when my instinct to step in and be too proscriptive was on the verge of flooding out of me, I would witness magic. In fact, in the second before I went to suggest that one student approach her found poem without cutting and pasting entire paragraphs from magazines, she pulled a pink highlighter, like a wand, out of her backpack and showed us the single words she’d fished from the now pages of passages she’d glued into place. And, abracadabra, a poem landed before us. It was as if she assembled a mirror carp; each of the words were polished scales.
Video: Two of the Choices Poets perform on local television: http://gooddaysacramento.cbslocal.com/2015/08/28/crash-test-dummy-poets/
Photo: Quarry, Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, Big Island, Hawaii
How I Came to Know the Color Beige
I bought a sweater that was
like snow in the department store
but, on me, it was sand.
I worked with a pasty woman
who refused to wear makeup
to hide her insomnia.
I lived in a small apartment
with someone I couldn’t love
for half of my young life.
I kissed a man who drank
gallons of coffee; his breath
was stained, too, like the sky
above the crowded city, where
by 4th grade, I realized the crayon
named “flesh” meant the world
*The prompt was simply to start with a color (you could pull a crayon out of a box randomly; you could even have one of those giant boxes of crayons with even more colors).
Photo: Dandelion, Tahoe City, CA
Why I Am Happy
Now has come, an easy time. I let it
roll. There is a lake somewhere
so blue and far nobody owns it.
A wind comes by and a willow listens
I hear all this, every summer. I laugh
and cry for every turn of the world,
its terribly cold, innocent spin.
That lake stays blue and free; it goes
on and on.
And I know where it is.
— William Stafford
Some of the reasons why I am happy:
- There is a young boy called Victor who, when given the fortune to throw a penny into a fountain, wishes for: freedom for all people.
- A (Paul) Bunyanesque dandelion (out of a storybook scene) appears on my path after I ask for a sign I am headed the right way.
- It is, at last, raining in California, and some days it is simultaneously raining and sunny. Everything seems tipped with silver, sparkles.
- Spring semester means creative writing students are collaborating on blogs again:
Please follow these explorers, comment on their words, and like them. I cannot promise they will make you feel happy, but they will make you feel.