Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Zen of Writing Redux

I've written before about the zen of writing.

How writing is, for me, a spiritual practice.

Yes, discipline is crucial. The AIC principal-- Ass in Chair--followed daily--or at least three times per week-- will pretty much guarantee you grow as a writer.

But how you approach your writing is just as important.

I often find myself counseling writing students on their schedules. Make writing a priority in your life. Writing comes before Home Depot, reality television shows, Facebook, jobs and dinner parties. Schedule it, and you plan your loyalty.

Easier said than done, I know. But here comes the Zen part.

You sit down to write without expectations. You may find a goal helpful--two hours or 500 words-- but in the end it's your attitude that will open the portal, and welcome the flow.

That means reserving judgement and editing for revision, not drafting.

That means your work can--and often will-- surprise you.

You just walk the path.

I can't say it better than Richard Bausch, in his interview, which I have photocopied and posted near my desk:
When I sit down to write, I'm not thinking about pulling stuff out of myself. I'm thinking about going somewhere, walking around, and seeing what I find. And there's never a time when I sit down and it isn't there. You just walk the path . . . I never worry about whether or not it's good. I don't care, right then. I'm walking the path. I know that if I can bring enough attention to it, and be honest and open to it and not cheat it, it'll be fine. I love William Stafford's advice. Someone asked, 'What do you do about writer's block?' Stafford said, 'Lower my standards and keep on going.' --Richard Bausch, Interviewed in Writer

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stop Me if You've Heard This

Snow really is the great equalizer. Everybody's lawn the same, everybody's car. The snow gobbles up the differences. And it is rare here, rare enough that everything is closed, except a few gas stations.

It is also book weather...forget beach reading, snow reading is the real heavy lifting.

I'm reading ROOM by Emma Donoghue  now. At first I was curios about how the author could pull off first-person point of view from a five-year-old character, and in present tense no less [no reflection from the wise adult later] and in a tiny room.... After one chapter, I'm buying this book on my iPad. I'm hooked. Despite the fact present tense is usually my least favorite POV, and has often left me a grumpy reader.  And a five-year-old narrator has to be damn fascinating to stay with him as a reader.  But it just might work.

I'll leave with some favorite snow quotes:

it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in. --Sylvia Plath

I used to be Snow White, but I drifted-- Mae West

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. --John Ruskin

What's the difference between a snow man and a snow woman?
Snow balls.

To live anywhere in the world today and be against equality because of race or color is like living in Alaska and being against snow. --William Faulkner

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Six-word Stories: wee squib

Can you capture the arc of a narrative in six words?
 You'd be surprised.
Submit to Narrative Magazine if you can.  No need to toil for 80k words or even ten pages.

Forget the micro flash fiction, this is quark genre, freeze dried tales, one scribble from your nib, a wee squib.

Here are two favorite examples they list:

Famous one you've probably heard: 

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn. —Ernest Hemingway

Funny one you probably haven't:

Longed for him. Got him. Shit. —Margaret Atwood

The six-word story is a prose cousin of Haiku. What a family reunion that would be.

Crazy aunt in attic. Hear her?


Tea party? Pass the tofu, Gramps.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Don't Miss "Getting Closer"

In this issue of  The New Yorker: a gorgeous story, "Getting Closer," by Stephen Millhauser.
I admire Millhauser's fiction...he is a fabulist and a minaturist--totally unique voice--nobody writes like him.

This story is rather short, but every sentence glitters with hard beauty like a jewel. And such suspense! You know something is going to happen, something important.

The idea of time--the mind's concept of time-- is explored beautifully through a young boy's ordinary afternoon at his family's picnic.

Satori, the Zen Buddhist term for a flash of sudden awareness--that's what this character experiences.

An excerpt:

Everything has led up to this moment. No, wrong, he isn’t there yet. The moment’s just ahead of him. This is the time before the waiting stops and he crosses over into what he’s been waiting for.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2011/01/03/110103fi_fiction_millhauser#ixzz19ywZwRdj

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy 2011 and Why I'm Eating Beans and Greens

Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous New Year!
I did my part by cooking and eating "a mess of greens and beans." Black-eyed peas and collard greens, which you eat on New Year's Day to bring you good luck and prosperity.  The greens represent cash, and the peas are coins. The cornbread--corn pone-- must represent Debit cards...my cornbread was pretty flat and crusty.

But, surrounded by Yankees at one point, I couldn't explain to them why beans & greens bring prosperity.

So I did a little armchair research--via Google.

From Suite 101: One idea is that, "American slaves stayed up on December 31, 1862 waiting for the bill that President Abraham Lincoln signed - the Emancipation Proclamation – to go into effect. They celebrated with what they had – black eyed peas ad greens."
And the not so exciting theory: " Black eyed pea and greens tradition is shared across cultural and ethnic boundaries, so it seems more likely that black eyed peas which keep well when dried and collards which are seasonal in the South in December/January made sense for a New Year meal."
I've also heard that after the civil war and Sherman's march, there wasn't much left but greens and beans.
Never mind. It's a good meal..beans & greens.
I don't throw in a ham hock, though. I'm vegetarian, so I use olive oil and jalapenos.
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