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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

farewell to Chief Jack

young men
in blue suits
carry the box
draped in an american flag
which is crisp and neatly made
around its
seriously lacquered exterior

the remains of a man
who spent his life
in dedication
to the safety of others
whose vocation
was to retrieve them
from the cold dark
doorway of death
lies within

he was transported
from the little church
where he searched often
for divine guidance
and strength
to perform his duty
without consideration
for his own safety
or his life

in the highest honor
he rode in the back
of the old red fire engine
where he’d ridden often
as he rushed to perform
the work of rescuers
this time
his last ride
to the emerald green graveyard
was slower, somber and sublime

a priest says a few prayers
for the deliverance of his soul
family members speak
the remembrances of
a selfless man
and in an instant
we are gone

a vacant park-like
field remains
Chief Jack in his box
hovers above
his waiting grave

Thursday, December 2, 2010

No Mo NaNoWriMo

Well the December 1st deadline for NaNoWriMo has come and gone, and I have to admit with no shame that I didn't complete a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. You will note on my NaNoWriMo link to the right, I only completed 20% of the required number of words. This is not an essay about making excuses for not completing, in fact it is with a certain satisfaction that I report here that I failed. Because while I didn't meet the original goal, it was while I was engaged in the flurry of page after page over the first week and a half, that the epiphany of changing my memoir to a fact-based memoir/novel came to me.

NaNoWriMo is intended for writers writing novels, hence the name, but I was using it to help me crank out stories for my memoir. I figured that if there are people out there cranking out a "novel" by typing merely two letters repeatedly until they met the word count goal within the required one-month time frame, I could use it for my non-fiction purposes. Yes, there are apparently people who do that - many people in fact. The rules state that you must type at least two letters of the alphabet in your novel, I guess in order to keep someone from typing merely one letter repeatedly. Not sure what the difference is, but then NaNoWriMo isn't taken seriously by many participants, which to my mind is a good thing. When I began there were more than 172,000 people signed up. I knew I had competition out there, but 172,000???

Anyway, back to my epiphany. Each day I wrote, I found myself thinking I'm cranking out a lot of words, and it feels good from that aspect, but I need to do some good research in order to be true to the stories and their characters. I need to meet the goal!" It was at this point, I realized that the book needed to be a novel, and that I needed to stop and do the research as I go along. Some of you might say "Hey, whip the novel out and do the research later!". But I've encountered something I hadn't fully considered in dealing with these old stories - many of them are from my early career more than 30 years ago. Some are from my childhood - more than fifty years ago. If I don't do the research now, people who can help me with verifying my observations and filling the blanks are leaving this planet. This has already happened to me on a couple of occasions. I can't afford to wait on the research.

But my dear reader, don't despair. I am still writing daily and the direction my book is headed is right where it needs to be. I'm diving in and working hard. Some of the stories come gloriously easy - I sometimes can't write fast enough as they come in a flood. For other stories, I'm a little hazy on the details - hence the need for confirming contacts and other research. And then there is the recall of some of the traumatic memories, which is intense and I find that it sometimes takes me a day or two or three to recover from it emotionally.

The work is good and I'm doing what I was meant to do. As the writer Max Ehrmann said: the universe is unfolding as it should.

Friday, November 5, 2010

NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month

On November 1st I joined this year's NaNoWriMo. The challenge is to write a novel in 30 days of 50,000 words or more. I was astounded to discover that more than 172,000 people took up the challenge. That's one hundred, seventy-two thousand people! I know many people who join up don't take it seriously, but even if you cut that in half that's an amazing number of people hammering out novels all across the US.

I joined so that I could push myself to get more done on My Life On Fire. It's actually helped me become more productive, and it's been great so far. Let's see how it goes for the next twenty-five days. Tune in once in a while and see. You can keep track of the number of words I've written in the little widget over there to the right of this page. Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

on ragland road - patrick kavanagh

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay -
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that's known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay -
When the angel woos the clay he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

woman in a walker

I am distracted as I try to write. I try to concentrate - to put down my first thoughts, to burn through it, but for some reason I’m agitated – my mind is not clear. It is with this frame of mind that during one of my distracted street gazings I witness this scene: an elderly woman, partly crippled, laboring a walker down the sidewalk. She is heavy and her every shuffled step seems more painful than the last. She stops as she nears the coffee shop and bends down with arduous exertion to pick something up from the ground. I immediately assume she is reaching for some lost money. Instead it is a piece of discarded paper. She picks it up and with her shaky, flabby, non-muscled arm, stuffs the trash into the lap pocket of her large, white dress with pink and pastel green stripes. I watch curiously, wondering why she would to this, as she rises up with some difficulty to put both hands back on her walker. I realize then that she must use her pockets to contain loose items in order to maneuver her walker. She does this same trash-gathering act two more times on the walk right outside the window from where I’m observing, then turns herself and her walker around and shuffles about twenty feet to the community garbage can at the edge of the curb, pulls the trash items from her dress, deposits them into it and shambles her large aging body down the walk. I'm wondering how many people, with perfect ambulation,walked right past those items in and out of the busy coffee shop, down that walkway, and made no effort to pick up these scraps - including me. It is acts like this that help me see what life can be, and in a moment, it is.

Learning to observe is as important as learning to write.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

mexican home

on a trip to puerto nuevo
we stopped as we always did
at ortega’s
where the gringos ate lobster
and drank much beer
and bragged to their friends
that they’d been there

a place where somehow
we could feed our illusions
of living in the subtropics
on little or no money
coexist with
its indigenes
in the slow motion culture
our frenzied american minds
longed for

leaving the car
i saw a girl
pouring a great deal
of cheap shampoo
directly on her head
her long black hair
lathered up in a clump

her sopping pink shift
clinging to a little girl’s body
on the verge of womanhood
conspicuous garden hose
lain on the ground
running cold water in a river
down the lawnless yard

then she scooped up suds
in great handfuls
and applied them to her dress
and her arms
ingeniously and efficiently
laundering her clothes and her body
the sudsy whiteness
in contrast
with the brownness
of rounded plump face
and muddied feet

without worry
or shame
she stood in prosaic disregard
of the patrons’ comings and goings
at the busy tourista’s icon
next door
it was laundry
and hair washing day
after all

i felt akin to her
and gave her a name
dotie the brazen little Mexican girl
teaching me much
about audacity
taking care of one’s needs
can spurn our vanities
if we will let it

in a moment
dotie rinses herself
in a flood from the hose
then stands stiff
like a scarecrow
wet and shivering
arms wide to help her drip and drain
with the look of
a deep chill
on her face
in the shadow of her home
on a late afternoon in august

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It gets better...

I have nothing to add to the power of this group's video...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ode to Tyler, Carl, Asher and Seth... and a girl named Johanna.

Tonight I was free-writing off a prompt from Natalie Goldberg's "Old Friend From Far Away",based on her writing method for memoirs. Probably because of the recent suicides in our country which have been precipitated by acts of hatred and humiliation, many of the people I've witnessed being treated this way during my life came back to me in a flood. I can remember seeing the agony in their faces, their tears and the reduction of human dignity at the hands of others' harassment right before my eyes.

The prompt was "Write about a memory from Junior High". It immediately brought to mind a girl I went to school with when I was in the 7th grade. I don't remember her real name but the name she was called when she was being taunted, either behind her back or to her face, was Johanna. I don't know where this name came from, but who knows how a junior high school aged kid with a mean-streaked mind comes up with stuff like that.

Johanna was not gay that I know of, but was quite poor. Every day she wore the same dingy, dirty dress - a white dress with little blue flowers all over it, so that it looked like a light blue dress. It was cut unfashionably 3-4 inches below her knees. She always wore the same scuffed up, low-heeled black shoes with no socks. Her ankles were always dirty - like she had sweated and dirt stuck to her sweaty ankles and dried a crusty brown. I remember seeing her show up at school like this in the morning as if she hadn't bathed the night before or even in the morning before school.

Johanna's hair was blonde, but oily and unwashed and hung to her shoulders. She actually had a mildly pretty face, but wore no makeup, which wasn't odd for the times. There were still mothers in those days who would not allow their daughters to wear makeup or rings or earrings until they were of a certain age, say 16 nor so.

Johanna had moved from some other town during the summer, none of us had ever seen her before then, so this alone drew attention to her. The core of the boys who began their taunting of her began as bullies often do - making comments behind her back and out of earshot of her, but attempting to gain support from their peers in the process. Then the little comments about her attire and her lack of cleanliness. Then they began shouting the name they'd chosen for her across the schoolyard when they'd see her.

I can remember noticing the change in her. At first she had no idea that they were mocking her, Johanna wasn't her name after all. I noticed her attempting to make friends with other girls, but her appearance made it so that none of them wanted to be known as a friend to someone like her. But the comments began to sink in with her, especially when they began to be made in the classroom - about her dirty feet and oily hair and the like. Then of course she began to feel the sting of objects being thrown at her - erasers torn from their pencils, paper clips and then spit wads. You could see the pain in her face as she'd sit there and take it, trying to pretend it wasn't happening.

There were times I'd look over at her and see her in tears, but she remained silent, knowing that showing emotion would only make it worse. Or perhaps she felt that if she went along with it in some way, she would eventually be accepted for being a good sport. After class she sometimes tried to spark up a friendly conversation with someone, only to be ignored or quickly moved away from. I used to see her walk slowly away with her head hung low and the saddest look of dejection on her face. She had a spot she'd go to at the farthest place on the compound, in order to stay as inconspicuous as possible. She would still get the fly-bys, when someone would sneak up to her, hiding behind one of the school modulars and throw some object at her, a crumpled up Coke cup or a bag of mustard and yell out from their hiding place "Johanna!". And she would sit there and cry, with no one to turn to and no place to go.

Then one day several boys in the class hurled dozens of spit-wads at her all at the same time about 20 minutes into English class as the teacher was illustrating something at the green board. She broke down completely and began to sob, then ran out of the classroom. I remember she teacher yelling at her to come back to her seat, unaware of the cruel event that had just occurred. I don't know what ever happened to her, I only hope that somewhere on this earth she found someone who was deserving of her love.

Many times in my life I've thought about her and others I've witnessed who'd been the brunt of such immature and painful cruelty. Every time I do, I feel shame for sitting idly by, not rushing to their rescue, mostly out of fear. The fear of being brought into the cruelty and becoming the one they turn their bitterness and ill-placed hatred on. This is a part of the bullying process - the threat of making others feel ostracized as well should they consider intervention in any way.

I think of this even more now with the recent rash of suicides occurring across our country as gay men and women are being traumatized for being merely the person they were born to be on this earth.

The immature hatred in our country has got to stop. But how?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Letters Of Sylvia Beach

I recently held an interview with Keri Walsh, whose book "The Letters of Sylvia Beach" has been out since early this year. I have been a Beachophile for some time now. My interest in Sylvia Beach stems from my study of American expatriates in post-World War I Paris - termed "The Lost Generation" by Gertrude Stein, herself an American expat. Keri's book is well edited and is an excellent link between Sylvia's biography "Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation" by Noel Riley Fitch and her memoir "Shakespeare and Company". I found it fascinating reading. These are letters from Sylvia to some of the most influential artists of the last century, which seals even further Sylvia's importance in providing support, friendship and even book production from her little bookshop and lending library in Montparnasse.

The interview will be posted at the Shakespeare and Company page I administer on Facebook soon:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Coltrane and me

"Well, I'm trying to learn, I'm trying to broaden myself melodically and rhythmically too. These things that are coming along now are the culmination of...the things that I'm thinking of in these aspects, rhythmic or melodic. I haven't forgotten about harmony altogether, but I'm not as interested in it as I was two years ago." - John Coltrane - 1963

Thursday, August 19, 2010

late summer

the tock of the clock

a wavering sheer curtain

in a room of old wood

Friday, July 23, 2010

the road

Scottsburg, Indiana

a weariness drives me to go
a subtle pall that builds
from the waiting
and knowing it’s not yet time
a different kind of ache
that eats at your brain
like a cancer
that will not enter remission

i kid myself into believing
there is a cure
but there is none
there is only
the road bound fatigue
that propels me into anxiety
for the perfect vista
the ultimate sweeping corner
that constant human urge
to not live in this moment
but to desire for the next
hoping it will ease the fatigue

my body aches
from the heat and the physical task
of the motorcycle being
not an extension of me
but me
i am not an observer
or a witness
but a part of it
living in it
having it now

i fight the idea that
i will carry the memories of it
for future road lust
as a form of satisfaction
because it is a kind of distancing
then i will miss it
and it will be gone
truly gone

i try to remember
that to experience the road
is to get it all
the love
the lust
the burn in my legs
the pangs in my back
the thirst and exhaustion
from the stunning southern heat
and moving forward
when it feels bad
to do so
it doesn’t matter
i go

Michael B

Sunday, July 11, 2010

love in a dream

i awakened with a start
and the sickening reality
that i was wracked with a feeling
of deliciously rich emotion
in the pit of my stomach
and the hollow of my heart
and somehow it was attached
to a girl i knew
yet had never given
a second thought

my body pelted
with a blast of things
i had not felt
in places i did not know
that i could feel them
i knew it was love
yet it felt so tenuous
like a handful of cotton candy
stuffed in my mouth
the sweetness intense
for a gossamer second
and then it is gone

i was stunned
at love’s abruption
for someone i’d known
yet didn’t know
my whole life
where had love come from?
i had to know how it happened
i had to follow its flow

at once i am on a mission
to seek her daily
with a fidelity i could not control
to see her face
or the cut of her hair
the depth of her eyes
or the softness of her lips
or some other vision
i must have missed

i gave up my bike
and took to my feet
walking always
the long way home
from a friend’s
or from ball practice
so as not to rush by
too quickly
but absorb her
as slowly as i dare

i passed her house by
so many times
i came to know every flower
and every weed in her unkempt yard
and the yapping little dog
who rushed to the fence
each time i wandered by

i even noticed
the window that was cracked
in the front room
that was not the day before
on the white house with the dark green trim
whose paint was peeling
in places
yet i had no idea what i would do
should she walk through that door

i’m drawn to her street
over and over
sometimes twice or thrice each day
the one time in my life
when i hate the summer
and miss the school yard
for there i’d see her every day
without the aching
or the wondering
if today might be the day

and then one morning
hot and windy
ambling up her street
at last i see her
sitting on her porch
with a garden green hose
her perfect hands are wet
from watering her mother’s
straggly pink gardenias

I find myself there
barely breathing
frozen on the spot
on the walk outside her yard
in a place that’s perfect
from which to spy her
as her dark short hair
blows winsome across
the creamy white face
of an angel

something’s changed!
this cannot be
the same gangly legged girl
who once punched my eye
for hitting her so hard
with a red rubber dodge ball
that it left a welt
in a game i could not lose

i’m dazed and i’m gasping
from the river of emotion
that’s washing over me
i feel that i might drown
if i don’t awaken
from the purgatory
i’ve been caught in
midway between
the world and a dream

it must have been an hour
before i came to
when lightly she turned her head
to brush back her hair
gaining her focus
she sees me
and returns with a start
to reoccupy herself
with the watering
of the flowers
i know she does not see

and then i notice
a little smile
spreading slowly across her face
it’s wider now
as she tries to decide
to acknowledge me
or let me go

i hold my ground
and hold my gaze
emboldened by the
numberless days
i’ve lived this moment
right here on this street
in this spot on this walk
in front of this green and white house

a speechless connection
i feel her smiling
my heart is smiling wider
then she turns her head
once more to engage me
in her love while
a tear runs down her face
having never seen
someone cry with
a face full of joy

my fear subsides
when at once i’m struck
with the meaning of her tears
i believed i was stuck
all these long summer days
in this mire all alone
but now i see
that the two of us
are stuck
in this endless space

michael bratton

Friday, July 2, 2010

Our new US Poet Laureate: MS Werwin

MS Merwin is one my poet heroes. The US Library of Congress got it right this year by appointing Merwin as Poet Laureate. At 82 years old, he is still going strong as a literary giant and we are all much better off because of it. Merwin's prosy, stream of consciousness style is the style of poetry that I most identify with, and he is the master of it. Here's a sample of one of his best.

For The Anniversary Of My Death by W. S. Merwin

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

Monday, June 28, 2010

The poetry of John Prine

Well, it got so hot last night I swear
you couldn't hardly breathe
a heat lightning burned the sky like alcohol
I sat on the porch without my shoes
and watched the cars roll by
as the headlights raced to the corner of the kitchen wall

Mama dear your boy is here, far across the sea
waiting for that sacred core that burns inside of me
and I feel the storm, all wet and warm, not ten miles away
approaching my Mexican home

'Oh my God', I cried, `it's so hot inside
you could die in your living room'
take a fan from the window
prop the door back with a broom
the cuckoo clock has died of shock and the windows feel no pain
the air's as still as the throttle on a funeral train

Mama dear, your boy is here, far across the sea
waiting for that sacred core that burns inside of me
and I feel a storm, all wet and warm, not ten miles away
approaching my Mexican home

Well my father died on the porch outside
on an August afternoon
I sipped bourbon and cried with a friend by the light of the moon
So it's hurry, hurry, step right up!
It's a matter of life or death
The sun is going down and the moon is just holding its breath

Mama dear your boy is here, far across the sea
waiting for that sacred core that burns inside of me
and I feel a storm, all wet and warm, not ten miles away,
approaching my Mexican home

Saturday, June 19, 2010

a child of the road

the day i gripped the bare metal handlebar
of my friend's mini bike
was the first day i felt
the true wind in my face
the rat tat tat tat of the
little motor that burned my leg
through my gasoline and oil stained pants
its power sluggishly perfect
as i twisted the throttle with my right hand
i knew then i was ruined forever

we ran it up and down
the dirt road to his home
a million times
we'd have to drag our feet to stop it
or sometimes run it up against a tree
we rode hard and laughed harder
until after the sun had set
and kenny's father came out to get him for supper
i'd walk the two dark miles home and feel contented
cleaned out

i soon was to learn
that my father did not share
my love of motorcycles
he forbade me to have one
or to go riding with friends
he hated anything
that traveled on two wheels
or was it that he hated
anything that brought me joy
one more chasm in our widening relationship
for i would find ways to go

one day he caught me
riding a sharp red and white yamaha twin jet
on the outskirts of town
its shiny deep paint
made no difference to him
with anger in his face
he told me to return it
to whoever it belonged to
and to get myself home
he never found out
it was mine

i garnered an ally
a kid being raised
by his brother
so that i could buy the ragged bultaco
with the faded red tank
which barely ran
and hide it there
the first of many
motorcycle mongrels
i'd buy and sell
and hide
until i'd wear out my welcome
and move on

then came bronson
and fonda and hopper
and the long roads became shorter
to me and my bike
i'd sneak myself away
for a day or two
destination not cared
ride to a new place
on the endless black ribbon
that stretched far beyond my front wheel
and sleep in a park
or a campground with no blanket
and live like a gypsy

the first time i rode across the state line
i felt a welcoming arizona furnace
gently roasting my chest and my arms
a benevolent wind blew
dry and different in my face
and made straws of my hair
the arid clean smell
of creosote perspiring
attacking my nostrils
it was then that i learned
the warmth of a smiling heart
trumps the brilliance
of the white desert sand

now when summer approaches
i spend wonderstruck hours
with my nose in a map
no need to make sense
of this arcane lust to wander
for my mind is a child's
awake and wide open
to the newness of every mile
to hear the doctrines and beliefs
of the people i'll meet
the shepherds
the innkeepers
the tavern owners
who will unknowingly teach me
a child of the road

Michael B

Sunday, June 13, 2010

i wonder if

a woman feels

the weakness

a man feels

when they glance

at his face

in the same way

we admire hers

Michael B

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Channeling Hemingway

As I continue to forge forth with my writing of poetry, short stories and my fiction (or memoir - still undecided how it will turn out) I'm finding that the large work is taking a lot of energy. I mean that in two ways: taking a lot of energy to write and taking a lot of energy from me. I also find that that energy is replenished when I can breathe in bits of inspiration.

I have gained so much inspiration from Hemingway. While the literary world will debate Ernest Hemingway for eons beyond my lifespan, no one can dispute - the bastard could write. He saw himself as an author (in contrast to being a writer) long before he was ever published. When I can visualize this - his drive, his dedication to his craft, his writer's eyes and ears, his work ethic and his moxie - I realize it is possible and that I can have that too. Time will tell if there is any talent to go along with all that.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I get the urge for goin'...

At this time each year like Joni Mitchell I get the urge for goin'. Unlike in her great song, where she pulls the covers back over herself and goes back to bed, I make my plans and go. "I get the urge for goin' and... I guess I'll have to go."

Happy birthday to me...

It's truly great to have the support of those who are most important in your life. The photo above is the manifestation of that support in my life. In the photo above you will see my wonderful wife's birthday gift to me. She remodeled a spare bedroom in our home to be my den, where I can write and read and ponder the things I want to write more. She did it perfectly. It has my career fire service memorabilia, family mementos and literary stuff. All my favorite and inspirational authors are there. With this great support how can I go wrong?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Be submissive to everything. Open listening - Jack Kerouac

I found these "List of Essentials for Modern Prose" by Jack Kerouac that are some real gems. They seem to apply to today's modern prose as well.

Scribbled secret notebooks and wild typewritten pages for your own joy

Try never get drunk outside your own house

Be in love with your life

Something that you feel will find its own form

Write what you want bottomless - from the bottom of the mind

No time for poetry but exactly what is

Remove literary, grammatical and syntaxical inhibitions

Accept loss forever

Believe in the holy contour of life

No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language and knowledge

In praise of character in the bleak inhuman loneliness

Composing wild undisciplined pure, coming in from under - the crazier the better

You're a genius all the time

Allen Ginsberg and I were born on the same day

This video speaks to who he truly was. A good reminder that faithful dedication and persistence are the keys to any worthwhile pursuit.

Rave on, Allen

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My spiritual writing teacher...

I've been stumbling around with my project, trying to write stories and feeling out of sorts about it all and getting poorly developed ideas down and finishing nothing.

poorly imagined

..and more

But I returned to my roots. I listened to an old audiobook I had on my ipod by my spiritual writing teacher Natalie Goldberg. The book is actually her speaking at a writing seminar somewhere. In just 20 short minutes into the talk, she revealed that when she was preparing to write her novel, Banana Rose, she had been in a terrible writing slump for months. She was trying to write in some formulaic method like she'd learned in high school English class, trying to attack it from an overly organized approach. One day she finally said to hell with it and went to a coffee shop in Santa Fe and did what she'd taught herself and what she'd been preaching to the rest of us: let it rip. Put the pen to paper, don't stop writing, don't edit - let it rip. In that two hours she came up with the persona of her main character, and she wrote the rest of the novel in that way.

Of course! That's it! The same thing I'm going through! So I did that. Went to my writing place - a secret little coffee shop where I do my best work - and let it rip. Two days of that and I now have two of the richest stories I know on paper in raw form that reads well unedited and is the momentum I needed to move this project along.

And it feels great....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The lyrics of Byran Ferry... always take me there...

When the samba takes you
Out of nowhere
And the background's fading
Out of focus
Yes the picture's changing
Every moment
And your destination
You don't know it...


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"The worst crap I ever wrote..." - Me

Today's writing is the worst crap I ever wrote. Yeah, yeah I know I'm supposed to avoid judgment of my creative work, but this ain't judgment, it's reality. The poetry I wrote is so disjointed even I can't make hide nor hair of it. The story I wrote sounded like it was written as a war propaganda narrative, the likes of which you'd hear in one of those 1940s newsreels.

That's not bad though. At least I have enough taste to recognize they're crap. The big question is: can I edit them so that they express what I really want to say in the way I want to say it?

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Up in that room I decided I would write one story about each thing I knew about." - Ernest Hemingway on his writings in Paris

I have mentioned here previously that Sylvia Beach is my muse. However, Hemingway is my driver. His quote above is what I am doing. Writing story after story about everything I know. It's good writer's work and is providing structure in my efforts, but also a kind of cleansing. I guess this coincides well with the last Hemingway quote I posted here: I am sitting at the computer and bleeding (my niece Christina pointed out the dated term of using a typewriter in Hemingway's days).

So I'm cleansing and writing and bleeding.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed - Ernest Hemingway

Canon of Writing Continuity

*Fear is an inevitable part of any creative process. Recognize it but don’t let it get to you. Plow through it.

*The only way to prepare for writing is, undoubtedly, to start writing.

*You can’t expect to flawlessly spill the whole novel onto the page in just one take. Don’t be intimidated by the imperfections of a draft.

*Write, even if you feel you have nothing to say at that particular moment. Stop worrying about structure and trust the pieces will eventually fall into place.

*Be specific about what you want to write about.

Today a very astute classmate in Make Writing A Happy Habit posted the above synopsis of wisdoms she's gathered from thoughts shared on the class blog by our writing coach Cynthia Morris and the other students. They are a perfect gathering of precepts to keep our writing craft moving forward. I am adopting them as my canon, and therefore am calling them my Canon of Writing Continuity.

Thank you Claudia. I have learned so much from you already.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mindmapping experiment....

Above is a photo of an incomplete mind map I worked on this evening. Since I've decided that my primary project will be either my memoir or a fact based fiction, I'm both chomping at the bit to dig in and a bit bewildered by the monumental task ahead. I have only had one experience with mind mapping to sort out some other writing issues and to be honest I don't think it suited me well. But considering that I might just need some additional practice at it, and feeling the need to begin sorting out my ideas (ergo the work to be accomplished) I thought I'd give it another try.

I have to say it seems more to hinder than to help. Of course I've not had any real training in mind mapping, but I have read a bit about it on several websites online and from Wiki, as well as watched several Youtube videos about it, some of which were by the alleged guru of mind mapping in the UK - Tony Buzan. It seems straightforward enough - engage the right and left brains in collaboration of tackling the organizational and artistic undertaking in order to come up with a product that is sorted out in a manageable way.

So far I'm not impressed. There is far too much info to include on even the largest size poster board I could find. Rather than helping to sort things out, I end up feeling like I am confined by the 7 rules of mind mapping and the illustration itself. It feels like perhaps the artistic side of my brain is getting in the way of my organizational side.

Shall I try it again or move on to something that may suit me better without having to learn some obtuse technique?

Ira Glass on Storytelling #3

Cynthia posted this video by Ira Glass on our MWHH blog today, and it is brilliant. Wonderful inspiration that will help me to keep plodding along even when my stuff ain't good.

Monday, May 10, 2010

So today's assignment in MWHH is to identify our gremlin. I knew this part of the class was coming and didn't relish its arrival. Not because I don't think it's a good idea to know who and what our gremlin is. It's just that because it portrays struggle and perhaps some nasty ugliness did I really want to confront it if I didn't have to?
Well the answer to that is of course - only if I want to be a productive and happy writer. So there's my answer and I took on the task.
Cynthia recommended a 15-minute free writing exercise, whereby I should identify my gremlin, discover its characteristics and even give it a name - become more familiar and intimate with it. I scratched my head on this one for about 5 or so minutes, then it began to come to me in a flood. I'm not going to rewrite the exercise here, but I will say that shame, embarrassment, and a bit of impostor fear is at the heart of my gremlin. So I've named him Shameus. A right good Irish name at that, eh? It's a good name for my gremlin and fits quite well.
I was really flying along with writing and identifying it and was able to write for about 20 minutes before I had to leave for an appointment. I feel like I could write more about Shameus and how he affects me and my writing, and probably other areas of my life. I'll squeeze in a little more writing late tonight.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

For some reason it's been an arduous internal struggle but I've come up with my list of 10 priorities for writing projects. I'm listing them here, but I can see that they will need some tweaking in the near future. The biggest news is that the memoir that's been gnawing away at the back of my artistic cave has been brought to the list, and quite near the top of the list.

It was a bit of an agonizing process, not sure what that's about. But it's here. Now that it is, my mind is burning up with ideas - ideas that smack of lots of creative effort and harrowing.

I plan top mind map this on a large piece of butcher paper and see what comes out.

Anyway, here's the list (the top 5 are on equal priority):
  1. Daily free writing
  2. Daily blog
  3. Weekly poetry
  4. Fire service memoir or fact based fiction
  5. Finish writing short story currently under way - Pam and Dennis
  6. A series of fire service novels, each depicting a different protagonist
  7. Short story - several incidents at the beginning of my career
  8. Short story - personal trauma event (write it as a fiction)
  9. Short story - Incident commander on the Harris Fire
  10. Write about my dad
There is a lot of pent up.... stuff in that list.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Poetry Meetup

I'm having a bit of trouble writing today's writing class assignment. Mostly I think because it's late and I'm tired. I've had a full day dealing with the real things in life - things outside my writer's world. So I thought I'd list the two poems I'd written for The Poet's Table poetry Meetup that I missed on Thursday. This week's poetry prompt was Water, Water Everywhere. I didn't get a chance to read them to the group, so here they are.

It’s Raining and I’m a Long Way From Home

the mizzle begins

to wet our faces

and my t-shirt

i stop the old Harley

beneath the underpass

before i make the long winding trek

into the rockies and beyond

shall i stop or shall i go?

a question i’ve asked

a hundred times

as if tlaloc

will answer me

i gaze upward

to find some clue

to what the future holds

for two open-air travelers

who have but one raincoat

yet all i see

is an evergreen mountain

regal and powerful and tall

whose peaks i cannot see

for the sinister black raincloud

has chopped off its head

we wait

and we laugh

to fend off our fear

which we must not show

for surely then the mongrel

shall envelop us in its deluge

and eat us.

she snaps shut the rain suit

and mounts the pad behind me

with a hug that’s tighter and different

i point the old bike into the blackness

like a sword

Somewhere Beyond the Sea

when i stand at the sea

and look westward

something ancient

and organic occurs within

an essence of promise or hope

of something else out there

that’s richer and purer

and beckons me

if only i will come

i have never been saddened

by the setting of the western sun

rather tears of joy in the knowing

that my sunset is the sunrise

of another shore

silently and powerfully

i am beckoned

by the blissful warmth

of what lies beyond

the rolling cold of the sea

and if i look just right

i can see and feel

a thousand ancestors

in two perfectly endless rows

one row looking seaward

the other gazing back

like standing alone

between two mirrors

then it comes to me

i am their proxy

they have stood in this place

and felt what i feel

as they yearned across the ocean

to the setting of the western sun

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Today's lesson: Ideal Writing Conditions

I'm quite familiar with my druthers for making my writing environment right. I've spent a lot of time finding the right time, place and implements for it. (When we moved to this new neighborhood las November, I literally drove around for several days covering many miles to find the right coffee shop to plant my butt and write! - and I'm glad I did)

I do not enjoy writing at:

early morning or late at night

any other time is good with me

I like to write when:

I have just eaten or I am neither hungry nor full

I get a lot of writing done:

at home on the veranda

at my desk

at the library (I haven't done this in a long time, but I like to write here)

at my favorite coffee cafe

while on a motorcycle road at night at the end of a day's ride - good chronicling happens here

I write best:

Either after exercising or immediately after having had morning coffee and a good read in the New Yorker

I write best with one of my several Cross medium nib fountain pen with ink converter (for longer time between refills) filled with BLUE ink. I dislike writing with black ink as it seems too impersonal and utilitarian. It's interesting how distracting this is to me. Even in my many years as a fire chief, any ink pen at my desk or in the pocket of my uniform shirt would have blue ink.

I’m a bit surprised to find that I'm writing so well on my new netbook - it was a fear that I'd never be able to have the same flow or mental connection I do with pen and ink. I think that because I can take it to places where I like to write (see above), it seems more free. This is about to get even better for me, because I've just ordered a new Smartphone that will be a 3G wifi hotspot - internet connection wherever I go. This technology constantly blows my mind.

I write best:

In complete silence and solitude, but also do well at my favorite coffee café. Definitely among strangers is best in any away from home setting – writing among friends or family is much of a distraction (love you all, but I gots to concentrate!)

I sometimes like to write with 50s bebop jazz: John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk or later stuff like Pat Metheny or Jeff Oster – something pleasing but not intrusive. Anything that has lyrics is too distracting – I will find myself trying to make sense of the story in the song. Even at that, I find that the tenor of my writing will be influenced by the drama or tension in a musical passage, so I try to avoid music if I can.

I can typically maintain a good writing session for 3-4 hours unless I’m not in a good mental space, but it also depends what I’m writing. Free writing, after 1/12 to 2 hours, I’m pretty spent. I have had times where I have written for 5 minutes and called it a day. I’ve also had times when I do that, but then end up free writing about why I’m unable to write.

When I write, I like to have:

A clean workspace, my netbook (for internet research), my Kindle (which has my Oxford American Dictionary and WordNet3 English Dictionary and Thesaurus loaded), coffee, iced tea or water – no snacks – too much of a distraction. But I know that these things aren’t completely necessary, because I’ve found myself someplace on a road trip in a small town in the middle of the Wyoming prairie and I can just about always find a small notebook and a funky ballpoint pen and still write for quite a while.

So whattaya think: am I in touch with the places, spaces, implements and environment that makes me a happy writer?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My muse and my inspiration...

Pictured here is my muse, Sylvia Beach. Sylvia was an American expatriate who arrived in Paris in the early part of the last century and lived there for the rest of her life. She was an important promoter and supporter of future American, English, Irish and French literary greats. With meager means, little to no resources, little thanks from Joyce, and little recognition she published the first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses from her little Montparnasse bookshop, Shakespeare & Company on the rue de l'Odeon. Her story is a fascinating one, but more importantly she has touched me in ways I would never have guessed.

Making Room

Today's writing lesson is an interesting slant on yesterday's lesson: Making Room to Write

Make a list of things – obligations, attitudes, extras – that you will set aside for the month to make room for your writing.

I hope I’m not being too naïve here, but I think I have things arranged properly so that I don’t have to put much aside. Here’s what I did when I knew that I was committed to this class. I made my spouse aware of the fact that that my writing is going to take up a substantial amount of time. The really great news here is that she is supportive of my passion. As a visual artist, she is aware of how important it is to have adequate time for expression of my art.

I also made the deal with her that things in our day-to-day life won’t suffer, especially as relates to our relationship time. In preparing for this class, there have already been a few brushes with time management. So far all has worked out well. I feel confident that this will continue with communication and making adjustments while keeping writing as a high priority.

Addressing this early is actually perfect because it is my intention to continue to continue daily writing time indefinitely! Getting myself, my family and eventually my friends conditioned to the fact that during certain hours of the day I am unavailable. But afterward, bring it on!

I am a Hemingway fan, and I always admired his commitment to his writing day. Up at 5 am, write through the morning, swim laps in the pool afterward, then rejoin the land of the living! Sounds perfect doesn’t it? (I won’t go into his unfortunate excessive drinking afterward, but you have to hand this to him – as deep as he was into alcoholism, he never drank during writing time). It also won't be 5 am for me, but it will be an early morning writing with a bit of additional time late in the evening in case I need a little more time to finish ujp or perhaps write some poetry.

What makes my happy about setting these things aside?

What makes me happy, no, ecstatic about setting all of this up is that now I’m writing! Every day. There is little I want to do more than that. Well, perhaps my other passion - long distance motorcycle trips. But I’ve got time carved out for that as well, so no worries there. It has been a dream of mine to have daily writing time and now I’m doing it! So I guess you could say that that is my marathon. I may not be the fastest one in the race, but I’ll be in the race.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fear of writing...

A part of today's lessons was to write about fear. Here are some fears I have about writing:

Writing the truth will be harmful or upsetting to others.

My writings are sometimes exposing parts of my inner self that I may not want to have exposed to others.

I will be criticized: for my thoughts; for spending time writing rather than doing things that others may feel are more important; for putting so much energy I may not have a real talent for; I'm sure there are others...

Fear of embarrassment

An old fear connected with my father: You're not good enough! (a voice I hear)

Fear of failure - (failing what... or whom?)

Fear that my love of writing and poetry will be seen as non-masculine

Stage fright: having to read my writings to others

Fear that I may not write well or properly - grammatically or the use of proper English

Fear that I may not meet others' needs - or that they perceive I am not meeting them (desires rather than true needs)

I have had these fears for a long time. It has kept me from exposing my writings to others for more than 20 years! The good news is that I seem to be working through this. I've noticed this in the last couple of months. My behavioral changes indicate this. Joining this wonderful writing class is one. Finally going to a poetry Meetup group last week and actually reading my work was another - I have belonged to this group as a "lurker" for more than four years! I am also more protective of my writing time. This is a big one. Why should I have to put this aside for others' desires? I understand that some things that others need may occasionally take precedence by necessity. But not always.

It feels good to be working through these fears and advocating for myself when it's the right thing to do rather than always putting others first. I am comfortable with the fact that I do a lot of positive things for others. It may not always be what they would like from me, but attempting balance while still trying to meet all of our wants and needs is a perpetual - but it's worth it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dreams of Mexico

As poetry is once again flowing from within, I thought I'd post a series of poems I wrote some years ago about memories of my time as a teen and later as young man along the Baja coast. These are my favorites and express something deep within me.


i have dreams of mexico

being with friends

making our way

down the baja coast

stopping occasionally

from point to cove

to play in the water

and laugh like children

and hugging a woman

as we gaze out

at emerald sea

feeling her love

and her heartbeat

and the smell of her hair

molten sun

sinks to mother sea

our hearts beating slower

as our life and our love

are honored and celebrated

with the movement of our earth

around the sun

the chill of the moist sea air

drives us under the blankets

to hold each other and warm each other

we make love to the pulse of the splashing sea

water into foam at the shoreline

me into her in our bed

hard loving kiss

grasping embrace

our day has ended



nowhere to be

except here


no place else exists

only the warmth of the sun

on our sea-salted backs

a clarity of soul

our nostrils breathe in

the light moist air

as our hair dries

with the cool onshore breeze

I close my eyes

and feel it

really feel it

the sand stuck to the backs of my legs

cool drips of water run

over them

from my cold wet trunks

we are here

we shall never be here



a cliff

looking westward

on cool breezy morning

jackrabbit scrambles from brush to briar

i stand and I watch

a dozen chocolate-skinned boys

as they hold their kites

leaning in toward the sea

the smell of strong coffee

and burning driftwood

as she tends to the fire

Lesson 1 - 15 minute free writing exercise

So here is the raw, 15-minute free writing from the first writing exercise on day one of Making Writing a Happy Habit:

Make Writing A Happy Habit – Lesson 1

Free writing exercise

I write because….

I write because of several reasons. The expression of my thoughts and feelings is so satisfying! Painting a picture with my pen and seeing it flow out onto the page in a form that’s well-written is marvelous. Sometimes when I read what I’ve written I can’t believe it was me that wrote it! It gives me a mirror of a part of me that I imagine others see of me, which is sometimes startling, but often times satisfying. I have always felt an affinity for the written word, even though I was a miserable student in high school and hated any English class I was in. (I know now that it wasn’t English, nor the class that I hated, but that I was in a tumultuous time in my life and wasn’t going to like anything I was supposed to do).

I write because I feel like I have some talent for it. Of course it’s so difficult to know what that talent truly is as an observer of myself, but hopefully through exposing my writings like I will now through writing class and poetry Meetup, I can begin to get a better snapshot of what others see – positive or negative – in my writings. Then I know that it will be so important accept criticism and use it as necessary to hone my writer’s craft. And yes, it is a craft! That alone makes me happy. I have a craft. But not just any craft, a writer’s craft! I’m a writer! I know that being a writer is much different than being a published author. But I sometimes wonder – do I really want to be a published author? Or will I merely be happy writing as a hobby? I remember learning a valuable lesson in my martial arts days: what’s important is to do it. Day in and day out, without judging, without labeling my efforts. But make the effort! That is the true value of your art or your craft. Doing it. Expressing it. If I write, then I am a writer, no?

There feels like such joy and such dignity in just being a writer. And by not exposing it, there is little ego involved. At least no exchange of egos and no need to consider whether others will praise me for it (boosting my ego!).

Another reason: it makes me feel good! Even if I’m feeling like crap, or dreading the subject matter or even dreading the writing itself. Afterward I can’t think of a time when it didn’t help me in some way after I’ve written.

I write because I like to read well-written stuff. I like writers! I like to read about writers. I love those who promote writers! I like the idea that writers are a slice of humanity that comes from all walks of life. EVERYONE has something to say and the good news is, that in a free society we get to express our opinions, desires, loves, likes, dislikes, whatever!

I write because it brings me dignity and joy!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

OK, so now I've created my blog. Writing class with Cynthia and the rest of the group starts Monday, May 3. Ready to dig in!