Tag: writer

Grave Digger’s Shovel

Sonoma tree

Give over your tools of anger, there’s no room for them here in the banquet hall of the dead. Give over your strangling ropes and your braided whips of mean discipline, there’s no room for them here in the banquet hall of love. Give over your walls built of soot and silt that crash down on sleeping enemies in suffocating sludge tsunamis. You don’t need any of this artifice to express righteous anger. You don’t need any of this destruction to come right-side up in the morning. Slough off the language of hatred while you  bed deep in the bound hay of summer. Let it go down the devil’s road until it burns without your heart for fuel. Give over to love completely like you’ve got the wings of a thousand doves powering your blood through your arteries and your mind above the highest canopy of trees where you can chase the light and the wind that takes you far away from the gravedigger’s shovel.

An Infinite Synonym for Shapes


Many years ago I was a poet in work boots, wool coat, and creepy fur pillbox hat. I believed writing was the key to the universe and the flickering neon sign “Jesus is the Light of the World” that I could see from the window in my cramped one bedroom apartment if I turned my head sideways at an uncomfortable angle was the period at the end of every sentence. I didn’t have to look to feel it there and for my bones to laugh at the spectacle of Jesus not affording good bulbs like everyone else in the Tenderloin.

I have always been a pessimistic optimist.

Or an optimistic pessimist.

Two sides of the same conflicted coin.

I’m listening to Pete Seeger singing “We Shall Overcome”*. I believe I was born singing this in the cruel corners of the One World Family Commune in Berkeley California into which I was born. I must have dreamed the words in my anonymous little cubby on the wall of children’s beds, pretending I didn’t know there was a predator among us.

The words of peace have stuck in my heart.

Words of peace so at odds with the darkness that periodically subsumes me. That also subsumed a few of the unfortunate children who were molested around me. How I was spared when my 5 year old best friend wasn’t I will never know. Might be because I had a reputation for screaming like the devil when upset.**

All these years later and my first language still informs everything I think and write: poetry. My poetry, alone, is not sublime or award-worthy. It was merely my first language. Before English, I understood how color is memory, how scent is emotion, how shape is an infinite synonym for other shapes. I think in abbreviated sentences, sometimes staccato, sometimes soft. Poetry breaks rules and makes rules simultaneously.

Pete Seeger leads me back to Dylan. My favorite Dylan song of all time is “Girl From the North Country” sung with Johnny Cash. I could never be all Death Rocker because of Cash and Dylan. I could never be all anything because of them.

Not long before I’m off my childhood charts.

Today I got a job. You know when you need something desperately and it never materializes? You smash your head against the universe and it continues to close the door on your skull again and again and again until you haven’t got enough bone left to lose?

This wasn’t like that. I had that little nervous breakdown a lot of people witnessed and then I saw this listing on Craigslist. It sounded perfect. An essential oil company here in town needing skills I have? Paying probably enough to make our ends meet? I submitted my funky resume with my earnest cover letter, the way I DO, and waited. I had no faith. Because life has taught me to be cautious and not hope overmuch.

I got the call. I got an interview. I wasn’t scared. I don’t know why as I’m a worrying kind of person in such situations. It felt right the minute I read the listing. It felt right the minute I met the people interviewing me. To the point where I had the strange urge to hug them. I wanted to say “LET’S GET ON WITH THIS PARTY BECAUSE I’M GOING TO WORK MY ASS OFF FOR YOU AND IT’S GOING TO BE GREAT!”

Today I got the position provisionally. For the next week I will work and if they like me and I like them – I will get the job officially.

Nothing feels more right than this.

I want to say that the only thing that would feel more right than this is not needing a part time job at all. But you know when you can feel that an experience is necessary? That whatever is coming is important to you in some way, even if you can’t know how yet? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you wish life could be when you’re dreaming, what we need are experiences that shape us, that help us grow, and enrich us in one way or another. Every job I’ve ever had has given me more experience, more interaction, more stories, and more language.

It always comes back to poetry if I’m willing to see it. If I’m willing to acknowledge it. The mother tongue. The place everything started. My original language.

I haven’t had a pair of work boots in too many years. It bothers me. I have foot problems now and I can’t afford them. But I am, in my soul, a boot girl. Not a fancy boot girl, a work boot girl. I love wool and berets and pea coats. I love eyeliner and red lipstick. I love Scotland and winter. I love trains and other slow transportation. I love efficiency and mail, possibly oxymorons now. I love Fleetwood Mac and Beethoven.

I love dancing to music that’s blasting so loud I can hear it under my own skin.

Tomorrow I’m going to open my damn accordion after I get off work and I’m going to make some incomprehensible noise for the pure joy of it.

*My friend Kele is responsible for reuniting me with this track.

**My nickname in the commune was “Devilina”

Writing Crisis Management

It doesn’t look like an action shot, but it is.  See the tiara falling?

One thing I have learned in my life is that you need good friends.  Maybe you only need one, or two, but you need them.  This is universally true for everyone.  Even if you aren’t a crazy writer like myself prone to sudden evil bouts of self annihilation, you will at some point require a bit of Crisis Mangagement.  This is not something you can do yourself.  It requires that a very firm hand (not your own) comes in from left field with a smack worthy of Joan Crawford that lands in your face and shocks some sense into you.

Or possibly a less violent version of Crisis Management would do the trick, but it must be firm, swift, and merciless enough to freeze your rising hysteria.

I have such a person who happens to be only slightly less mad than myself, a stalwart friend and fellow writer who, from her gorgeous blog full of pretty things, you’d never imagine could execute such a tactical blow to one’s head.  Angela talked to me at great length on Sunday during the worst of my writing and personal crisis.  The crisis was not as sudden as it may have appeared but its force was pretty breathtaking.  Angela spent at least an hour IMing me (what a modernist I really am) and I knew that all she said was sensible and to anyone less intent on implosion, must have made me feel instantly better.

It didn’t.  Because I had to feel bad just a little longer.  However, all of Angela’s words, and the warm care she offered in friendship did get through to me and when I was much calmer I was left with some homing questions to answer and some reassurance that I’m not suited to a life as a grave digger or steel mill worker.  Once I stopped crying (I suppose this was my annual crying jag) all her words did their work.

Even better than that she read my last version of chapter one and the newest one to compare them and offer her own opinion, which is very trustworthy.  It turns out I was right.  The newest chapter is a piece of crap compared to the last version.  (She did NOT use such words, those are mine)  The outcome is that she thought all I needed was to add a very FEW more pieces of information to set the whole story up than I have now and might possibly benefit from a prologue.  In fact, her verdict was very encouraging.

Conclusion: trust my gut or I’ll rewrite the entire book into one huge festival of pulp.  She gave me some practical suggestions on how to achieve the goal and I have taken notes.

She also asked important questions:

  • Why do I feel it’s so important to finish this book right now instead of letting it rest and starting a new project?  (Hold the phone!  I have to write more than one book?!)

This was the most important question of all.  I have been pushing and pushing myself very hard.  What’s the rush?  Other than my middle age being upon me and knowing that getting anything published (unless you do it yourself) is a torturously long process, I need to have one finished book to be actively submitting to agents and publishers.  I need to write the kick-ass query and since it probably won’t be kick-ass going out of the gate, I need to practice.  I want to practice with a real finished project.  While working on the next book I need to have one to be actively pushing.  I can’t bear to have a string of unfinished books with nothing to show for the unbelievable amount of hours I’ve put into them.  If someone says “You wrote a book?  Can I read it?” I want to be able to let them read a manuscript that is good enough for an editor.*  Once I have an editor ready manuscript to work at selling I will be fine having several unfinished projects to work on.

  • Most authors don’t get their first or second book published but more likely their third or fourth (point is, it takes a lot of practice for most authors to write something good enough to get printed) so am I pinning all my hopes on this one getting published?

I am NOT.  This book will get published.  It will get published because I believe it needs to be in print and available for people to read.  If no publisher will take it on I will print it myself later on and make it available in very small numbers directly through me.  I don’t expect this book to be snatched up and if it is published by a publisher I don’t expect it to make me a fortune.  That would obviously be very helpful, what with my house and health care situation, but I have very low expectations as far as that is concerned.  But I’ll tell you what- I do think it will get published and I do think if it gets a chance and any publicity at all, it will do reasonably well.

  • Am I going to freak out like this every single time I have to write a third draft and if so, can I please provide chocolate for the event?

Yes, I absolutely anticipate freaking out every single time and I will try to be more thoughtful next time and provide chocolate.  I tried to be one of them new-fangled mellow authors who aren’t hair pulling mental cases with a strong taste for liquor, but I am, it turns out, quite traditional.  (Though beer is my poison of choice, not something more awesome like whiskey or gin)  Apparently I have a writing breakdown that makes me want to engage in very bad behavior like punching windows out with my bare hands or throwing my laptop from the roof about every sixth chapter.

My advice to you, if you are a writer in the classic style, is to have a writing friend with infinite patience and the calm good sense to talk you out of smashing your laptop with that hammer you keep swinging around.

*I don’t propose to get my manuscript to what I would call a “perfect” place because the second and editor gets their hands on it they will change things and force a clean up of the most minute details, there is no point in agonizing to that degree before it ever gets in the hands of an editor.