Thursday, June 26, 2008

Here's the Smoke. There's the Fire.

The sun rose today a vibrant tangerine fuzz-ball in the thick haze of smoke like something out of a sci-fi flick. Fires to the east, fires to the northwest, fires to the south; just no fires exactly here. But we got the smoke, greasy grey and thick as Hades. Over 7,000 lightening strikes in California last weekend, over 800 1,000 fires still rage. The fire brigades are stretched thin and work ceaselessly; they are overwhelmed. Only one or two of the largest blazes are more than 20% contained; the smoke that fills our valley could be here for weeks, they say, depending on wind patterns.

Though I'm more or less okay while I'm inside, the coughing starts as soon as I open the front door. I've been abusing my albuterol inhaler over the past three days to avoid asthmatic hacking; I'll be moving onto the harder stuff tonight. Everyone's breathing is compromised, eyes are red and itchy, throats are sore. The air reeks like the bars of yore, without the underlying hints of spilled beer and wayward piss; it is unhealthy; it is downright nasty at times. Closer to the fires, roads are closed because of the wretchedly poor visibility; deer, foxes, raccoons fleeing the fires crash down the canyons, across roads and highways.

All day the sky hangs low, Sonoma Mountain invisible behind the murk. An eerie red sun sinks down the thick leaden sky, limning the world in a peculiar rosy-gold. Planes fly overhead, low and weary, returning to home bases for the night. They will fly out again tomorrow in the peachy-amber light of another smokey dawn.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin 1937 - 2008

Today, in honor of George Carlin, I used all seven words you can't say on TV (or radio), quarreled with God on the way he's running the damn Universe ( the Goddess, imho, could do so much better with 6 of her 8 hands tied behind her back, two toddlers and guests coming over for diner) and moved a bunch of my stuff to a better stuff-location. Even in my sorrow, I was laughing.

wtf. We've lost one of the best: a giant among comedians; a word-smith extraordinaire; an intelligence to be admired. Even as he skewered us on our pretensions and un-considered habits, we were peeing our pants and gasping for breath from laughter. He nailed us in all our bad habits of thought and entranced us with the sheer poetry of his own mind and word-wizardry. And even as our guts cramped up from guffawing, we knew he was right on.

Bye, George, thanks for the laughs.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

100 Things Challenge

So have you heard about this particular challenge to our madcrazy consumeristic world? It's a movement, as some call it, to limit our personal belongings to 100 things. But really, it's a guy named Dave, blogging at stuckinstuff (click post title for link) He's concerned about the rampant, unconscious, unconsidered consumerism we suffer from and the small mountains of stuff that subsequently accrete around each and every one of us (cue George Carlin on Stuff:

Doing his bit for Less Stuff = More Fun, Dave's been working on purging his own pile.

But as any of us who have repeatedly failed De-Cluttering 101, purging is a helluva lot harder than acquiring. So Dave gave himself this challenge: pare down to 100 personal items. Yes, faint if you must, because I just about did. I mean, I have at least 50 tchotchkes on my desk right now. Maybe, just maybe, I could get down to 1000 items, if there was like, money involved, say $10 an item disposed of..... What I find more interesting in conversations with friends and online are the things that are immediately declared off limits to the decree: books, dvds, records, tools, shoes, unders, paintings, photographs, bug collections, car paraphernalia, inherited ancestral stuff. Where would you draw the line?

And then what to do with the stuff you can finally bear to part with?

I certainly don't want to just dump stuff, especially indestructible plastic, into the waste-stream. This guy named Dave has managed to donate, sell and recycle most of his stuff (not all of it was junk, that helped) and I could probably do the same with some of it. But, getting beyond the question of why I still have this crapola, consider what I wouldn't want to just toss and no one in their right mind could possibly want: old analog tapes, Beta tapes, teething rings, cracked Tupperware, parts of machines the kids took apart, plastic doodads, thingamajigs, lick'em-ups and wham-whams. Guess I could stuff it all into boxes and then store them in the basement? Yikes, isn't this where we started? Wouldn't those those boxes have to be declared off limits. too?

It is all a bit much. Perhaps I'll resort to an old practice and just try to remove at least one thing from my household per day by whatever means possible: recycle, sell, donate. That too is harder than it sounds. I tried this a few years ago and I only lasted two weeks.

Say, anyone interested in a hot tub?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Point Reyes National Seashore is a treasure of the first order, which most people who have been there know. That space between ocean and land, water and air has the power to create change. In my notebook from the retreat there two (three?) weekends ago, I found this response to being there.

On Pelicans

They glide silently and in snug formation with barely a wing beat--just an acute sense of wind and upwelling, sometimes a mere foot or two over the rocking water. Their necks are crooked back, their prehistoric pouchy beaks furled tight underneath. One wing beat, two, ripples the fluid line; they skim along the bluff below, wheel the corner, skim back-- a mottled brown and white necklace sailing loose and flung free

Something in me, that feathered thing perhaps, rises with them as they flash over the rim of the bluff and float swiftly onward over the land of water, on an ocean of air.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

heckled fetlock

(sometimes you get these bogus snake-oil emails touting remedies for the-dysfunction-of-the-moment that have their own poetry within; see below for an almost direct quote. The title is word-for-word real. lk)

Ever tell you I saw him once?
Dude, had a good lol time.
said I could have other employment than lacemaking.bayeux@home.
Gothither, o king, in all thy prosperity, he said. He stood on the earthdam before me.
Think I want a fresh hogshead of beer, the lowenbrau, I answered.
I refuse to marry you. Is that clear? he shouted, citing the basic principles of self-government in the territories.
We heckled the fetlock into a twee dawn; then he was flew the little deuce coop.

rearranged by Lakin Khan

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Blogcast, Publishing and the Rejection Carousel

For writers, publication is the holy grail, the magic elixir that gives meaning to the slogging drudgery required to finish a manuscript. Suddenly, it was all worthwhile, every gnashed tooth, every smacked forehead, every expletive. In fact, the agony is often forgotten altogether, like childbirth. (Oh, yeah, took me only 40 months, not too bad, no back labor, just shooting pains in the wrists and a threatened divorce. No, no, everything's fine now; it's a healthy little book.)

But as anyone who has sent their babies out on the Rejection Carousel can testify, publication itself seems more like a crap shoot than a reflection of the quality of our little darlings. Unfortunately, publication is our proof of the pudding; it is the accepted way writers, as artists, are acknowledged. Our words exist primarily as a private conversation between us and the keyboard, either ephemerally as bytes on a hard drive or more tangibly as weighty reams of recycled paper, serving most usefully as a doorstop for our studio or fodder for our writers group. Unless some other entity agrees to publish, it doesn’t exist for a larger audience. Without that tangible published work (no matter where or by whom) to wave and crow about our endless hours in studio can look like more like an excuse to be willfully anti-social.

The way I see it, most other artists don't need an intermediary to produce their work. Artists who paint, draw or sculpt always have the object that represents their thousands of studio hours ; they can point to it, display it, hang it on a wall. Musicians, after their years of scales and practice, can pull out an instrument and play tunes, whether at a gig, a party or their home where it can be heard by another person instantaneiously. (I agree, the professional part is a bit different, but bear with me.) A dancer can reveal his or her ability on any dance floor. But the writer? We are still bound to a feudal system in which we create the work and then seek a second party for it's manitestation. Except for occassional readings, impromptu recitations or odd requests by Aunt Agatha for a sweet piece for Bertie's engagement party, we are invisible. Without the concrete proof of a published work, no one knows what the hell we’re doing secluded in a studio while the rest of the world parties, goes to movies, takes their first baby steps, graduates cum laude, or blows itself to smithereens.

And so our struggle is two-fold: to make the best work possible and then convince someone to take it.

But I see this changing even as I type. Although I'll continue to submit work, now for the first time, writers can dodge the editors, the arbiters of what will and won’t get published. We can blog, e-publish, podcast and let the audiences be the judge. No more second guessing, no more trying to please some old crotchety guy in Wichita; now we can work to please our own standards, high, low or inbetween, and our own niche-y audience. Maybe we’ll only have 15 readers, but that’s 15 more than we would have had, working the old system.

Don’t get me wrong, if someone agrees to publish any of my stuff, I’d come unglued, salivate like a starving boxer at a barbeque and I agree to just about any terms (yes, you can just call me Print Slut anytime now). But until then,I'll blog, blog away and let the publishers take the hindmost. For these days, the proof is in the blogcast.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

What's Writing Got To Do With It?

What's writing but second-hand emotions--or, as it's been said, re-living your experiences with commentary and editing? Just a passing comment...

Lately, the conversation in various webby-circles has turned to rejection, perseverance and why the hell we do this thing called writing anyway. First of all, you have to sit down and produce anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 words, not just any words, but the "right word in the right place," as Mark Twain said. We won't speculate on the amount of time this might take, you all know it's far more than anyone would pay you for a real job. At the end of this you have maybe a ream of paper with endless lines of tiny black marks or the more ephemeral billions of bytes. But as an object, it doesn't have much of an existence to be shared as a communication... until it's been published.

Wherein lies the rub. After you've bled all over the keyboard, bored your friends to tears, strained/wrecked your marriage, provided fodder for your children's abandonment issues and consequently expensive therapist, after all that, now you get to send it out on the Rejection Carousel. Here's an eloquent page on that subject from ZYZZYVASPEAKS: Passed On

It only stands to reason, then, that after the 20th, 30th or even 50th rejection, we pause to give ourselves a reality check. Why should we want to continue?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

E-Flash News: Semi-finalists Gather for World's First Annual Post-Kegger Belching Contest.

At least that's what it sounded like, down on the beach of Drake's Bay in the Pt Reyes National Seashore, about a mile or two from a recently established elephant seal rookery. Those guys are way loud, even though at this time of year only the weaned pups (merely a few hundred pounds) were still lurking about. Twenty-five of us gathered last weekend for a Writing Retreat Field Seminar at the refurbished Lifeboat Station, just below Chimney Rock, somewhat south-east of the Pt Reyes Lighthouse. We were here to commune with nature, write ourselves silly and talk shop. The elephant seals trolled along the small beach, watching us wander around with notebooks in hand and our minds off in left field. Whether their explosive guttural outbursts were comments on our looniness, or a mere fact of biology was, at times, a bit difficult to determine.

The elephant seals were not the only creatures around. With the low tide, the sea stars and sea anemones were exposed among the kelpy rocks, seagulls hovered about hoping for handouts, and pelicans, those prehistoric-looking birds, floated by in long banners. And of course, us writers, soaking up sensations and inspiration, working on prompts and/or our own stuff, listening to the ocean, the world, our words, ourselves.

The leaders, Patti Trimble and Susan Bono, did a magnificent job with the diverse range of writing experience and orientations, giving us all room to roam and time to report back. On the first day, they took us on a hike up to the top of the bluff; in the mizzle and mist, we stood there, on the spine of the world, eye-level with the pelicans, one side ocean, the other side bay. The mournful foghorns, the booming waves and the long, low, loud belches filled our ears.

Nature: isn't it grand?

Here's the link to the Pt Reyes Field Seminars, though the Writing Retreat, since it's over, is no longer listed. But there's tons of other seminars .... and there's always next year. Keep your eyes peeled!