Inauguration 2017 -The Bad Beginning

On this unpresidented day in American history, we need to take a lesson from literature, specifically A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Today we are all orphans in the charge of Count Olaf. But many of us are inventors and many of us are well-read, while others have sharp, useful teeth that can chew through the ropes. We only need to stick together and not give up.

That is all.

Thoughts on Mary Oliver

“And there is the thing that one does, the needle one plies, the work, and within that work a chance to take thoughts that are hot and formless and to place them slowly and with meticulous effort into some shapely heat-retaining form, even as the gods, or nature, or the soundless wheels of time have made forms all across the soft, curved universe…” – Mary Oliver, Upstream

upstream

 

I’m a big fan of Mary Oliver’s writing. She makes connections, or rather shows connections, that are not obvious on the surface. Her descriptions of nature do more than make you want to re-read the passage. They make you want to go see the world for yourself and then re-read the passage. Her poems are bereft of sentimentality, but full of mindful observation. And I can guarantee there’s some sweat behind those words.

Here’s the thing about writing poetry — it takes work. A surprising number of people don’t seem to know this. I’ve witnessed more than once an acquaintance who, having read only a handful of poems in a lifetime, stumbles upon one of Oliver’s more moving pieces of verse (often Wild Geese) and decides “I, too, will be a poet.” Which is wonderful. It’s wonderful when a writer inspires others to write. But some of these folks harbor the delusion that all it takes to become another Mary Oliver is a walk in the woods, followed by fifteen minutes with a pen, scribbling the first thoughts that come to mind.

I’m not saying it’s a waste of time if you want to do this. It can be a great centering activity and increase your awareness of the world. I am saying not to expect to produce a Great Poem, one that will be anthologized and inspire future generations, without toil. Don’t expect to produce good writing without study, without putting in many hours reading your genre (whether it’s poetry or science fiction or a melding of the two.)

My hope is that everyone with a desire to “write like Mary Oliver” will read her book, Upstream. Notice the phrase “meticulous effort” in the quote above? In Upstream, she speaks a lot about the value of work. She also shares many thoughts about writers who have influenced her – Whitman, Poe, Emerson, Wordsworth. She has read them thoroughly, delving into their techniques and examining the contexts of their lives. She brings the same keen gaze to literature that she does to trees and geese and dogs, looking deeply into the nature of the writing and how it fits into the web of all things.

The woman has put a lot of effort into producing sets of words that stir the souls of her readers. Once we realize this, we can appreciate her even more.

 

 

The Right Princess at the Right Time

Here’s one more among the thousands of tributes being paid to Carrie Fisher. It is possible that there can’t be too many.

I know there was much more to her and her career than the role of Leia Organa. But it’s the character of Leia, first princess and then general, that spoke most to me. She entered my life as I hit adolescence and needed role models. I was raised in a church that wanted females silent and submissive, attributes that were not in my nature. I chafed.Whenever I heard that wives should obey their husbands in all things, my go to thought was “I guess marriage is not for me.”

As a child, my fantasy play never involved being rescued. In my daydreams of adventure, I had agency; I was the rescuer, the hero. And I was just starting to notice women didn’t get those roles in movies or TV. Disney princesses were a whole different breed  from what they are today, let me tell you. But then. Then. I found myself climbing into a car full of siblings to go see Star Wars at the drive-in.

Princess Leia appeared, beseeching Obi-Wan Kenobi for help. But it wasn’t simply “Please rescue me and keep me safe.” No, it was more like “Help me break out of this joint; I’ve got an empire to overthrow.” She had smarts, courage and swagger. Carry Fisher gave her swagger. I liked it. I needed it. WWLD? What would Leia do? Not a bad question to ask as you’re trying to figure out how to grow up. She was there for me throughout my teens, in one Star Wars movie after another.

Which sustained me right up to the brink of menopause, at which time General Leia showed up for me when I needed her most. There she was, leading things, smart, tough, still swaggering. Heartbroken, but confident in herself and her cause. Not disappearing, as society (and especially Hollywood) often expects women to do once they have a laugh line and a gray hair or two.

Thank you Carrie Fisher. Nobody else could have done it the way you did.

“Into the garbage chute, fly boy.”

 

 

 

50,226

Quick note to say that for the first time ever I successfully completed National Novel Writing Month. My verified word total is 50,226.

Celebrating with a pastry.

 

I Have Felt Like This Before

Last night, I lay awake for hours trying to will my heart to stop thumping scarily and erratically. Trying to tame my breath into regularity. Recalling every relaxation technique I’ve ever learned. None of it worked. My body shook.

The unthinkable was happening. My children, ages eighteen and twenty-one, who had been so excited about voting, were both dismayed. I didn’t know what to say to them. I’m sorry your adult lives are beginning this way. It’s not what I wanted for you. My husband and I watched the markets plunged, seeing a future without retirement and without safety nets. We kept asking how this could be. How could so many Americans vote for someone endorsed by the KKK?

An existential fear suffused my being. It felt like the end of everything. I tried to remember when I had ever felt so terrified, so horrible. And the memories surfaced. A handful of times, events in my life had evoked this kind of emotional response for me:

  • The Oklahoma City bombing
  • 9-11
  • Sitting in a hospital while an ultrasound technician ran a wand over the bump on my son’s head and said “I want to check with the radiologist about getting a CT scan of this.”
  • The day my mother died.

I suppose I went on after all of those happenings. I suppose I will go on now. I’m already making plans about how I personally can counteract some of the negatives I expect.

But my feelings have not caught up with my head. This morning I argued with the weather forecaster when he said Today will be sunny. NO IT WON’T I yelled.

For today, this is my soundtrack: 

 

Poem:Seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds

Like holiday poetry? Here’s one I wrote a few years ago for Halloween.

 

Seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds at Age Seven

My mom was there but not — asleep on the couch,
head lolled back, mouth open wide
enough for a parakeet to fly in
had ours not died already.
My dad was gone.

Nobody knew my brother and I
were getting away with something.
Late night TV. The Birds.
We dared each other to watch.

Normally I’d try lifting my mom’s
lower jaw into place once or twice
of an evening; I worried
about moths and things.
But this night I wouldn’t risk waking her.

Later I wished I had,
even months later, an eon of regret in childhood –
when I’d look up from my coloring in the afternoon
having heard a flutter near the window
knowing sharp beaks could slash right through the screen,
when I’d run flat out the three blocks to school
books held over my head as a shield,
and especially when the crows gathered at dusk,
raucous and shifting and crowding, and then
more especially when they settled down,
waiting.

 

(This originally appeared in Well Versed.)