Old Moon

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

And then there's the question of questions...

The Question Is…

 I believe I was rather a curious child. Now that I’m in my eighth decade, it seems to me that I have hundreds  more questions than I ever did when I was young. Even allowing for all the facts and means of coping that no child is born knowing, now that most of those concerns are taken care ofwell enough, half my waking hours are taken up wondering, Where’s that wisdom that just still being here is supposed to confer? (You see what I mean.)

Too many of those questions seem to spring out of the past and its list of things done and things left undone, in the wording of The Book of Common Prayer. I’m not talking about “what ifs.”  I’m afraid what I mean has more to do with how we might do or react to things at a different stage of our lives than the ones we had reached when it became necessary to meet crises and puzzles and ecstasy head-on.  How much do we fail at or forget to allow to sink in just because we haven’t had enough experience to see in three dimensions or how to judge perspective? 

Now that I’ve developed a kind of habit of rendering into words what swirls around so relentlessly inside my cranium, I come up against another big question. Namely:  if I put the time and effort into expressing all this, what’s the point? 

I’ve discovered one thing that puts me at odds with what used to be the establishment of writing instructors, and that is that there’s no joy in doing all that work for oneself. A writer doesn’t write, darn it, for him or herself; that labor goes to satisfy a reader, or more accurately, many readers. Maybe we don’t expect to make a living at it, much less get rich doing it, but we bother in the hope that there will be a few minds elsewhere that might crack open far enough to let us in, and if they do, that they may enjoy themselves or learn something from what that poor benighted writer tapped out on a keyboard.

The examples of people who have spent even brief lifetimes entertaining and enlightening everyone who could read are daunting and inspiring. One of these nagging questions of mine has to do with whether someone with no credentials known beyond what personal acquaintances have heard, and from nothing much more than general living has any business taking up a pose that might make someone think competition is a motive. Honestly, I know my limitations and respect the expertise of legions not only from the past, but of today. A conversation with one of my college-age grandchildren gives me pause. I learned the meaning of “hubris” even before I was in college.

You’re thinking, “She’s just another wannabe with no chance of a big contract, and she’s just feeling sorry for herself.” Half true. On the other hand, if you suffer from this compulsion to put things on paper, I’d honestly like to find out before my last breath if even a couple of dozen readers are enough to legitimize all this angst, not to mention ink and paper and postage.

On the third hand, sometimes you just do what you gotta do.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Small Case of Literary Schizophrenia

In the past year it has dawned on me that my writing life is fractured. I wonder if that's a good thing or a bad one. When writing a book review, there's an imperative to be clear, evenhanded, as uncomplicated as possible. If an essay is the task at hand, the same precision in diction is required as for the review, but this time I must take a position from which to make whatever the point may be.

My trouble is that for a couple of years I've been concentrating on poetry. Not just the rather formalized, often rhymed verse I enjoyed so much when I was younger, but the kind of free-flung, authority-challenging sort of thing contemporary poets seem to be selling these days. I admit to the commercial ambition as well as the artistic. Then I read some Robert Frost or Al Maginnis, for instance, and wonder why I bother.

If you have something to get across to a reader in prose, as a general rule you strive for simplicity (not necessarily short words so much as the right words) in order to leave as little room for doubt about your intention as possible. It's a whole different ball game with poetry. Not that the diction doesn't need as much concentrated effort in making choices -- the choices have to be made with almost opposite goals in mind.

A poem seems to require the opening of broad interpretations, almost unlimited possibilities for revelations, however minute they may be. A poet needs to feel the possibility of something even broader than s/he initially intended when putting those words down. Some instinct says to a poet that the work must be different from and more than its author was aware of, while still fulfilling the first intention. The challenge is no longer for clarity, but for suggestion, for implication. The poet's mind has to have slipped a kind of leash of logic and wandered off the trodden path to point out a new wilderness for the reader to want to explore.

Shifting gears is getting more difficult to do and isn't (as with driving a car) automatic.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Trying to Keep Up

Without the Net I couldn't vent here; without the Net I'd submit perhaps ten percent of what I can afford to submit on line; most important, without the Net I would never have met nearly all my writerly friends and supporters.

Without the Net, I'd never keep up with my children (all some 800 miles away), and my grandchildren.

Without the Net the USPS would hold me in thrall and ruin what little I have in the way of a budget; in addition, I'd have to wait months for a reply to any letters I write.

Why do I have half a dozen old friends who pride themselves on not knowing "how to turn a computer on?"

When desperate, I resort to the telephone, but while it's lovely to hear a voice and chat if I catch them at home, too often the timing is wrong.

Finally, without the Net I doubt anything I've written would be out there where someone might read it and respond. My editor, publishers, and reviewers have come to me via the Net.

It's enough to make a person sentimental about technology!

Monday, March 7, 2011

You Could Have Knocked Me over with a Feather...

Once the kitchen cleanup, the bed making, and the cat litter are taken care of, I head for the laptop and email. Imagine my surprise...

Last Friday I sent a follow-up note to a publisher I'd queried and received a request to forward the hard copy of my ms in October. He replied quickly with a request to get it in electronic form because he'd read it sooner. So this morning (Monday) I wasn't prepared to find what looked like two replies without any text--just attachments. One was a proposed cover for the book, and the other was a letter of agreement and the galley.

Of course, I had to find someone to crow to, which I did in short order. So now, my heartfelt thanks to March Street Press (Greensboro, NC) and R. Bixby. It would have been lovely to have found them thirty years ago, but there would have been fewer stories for him to read. Never too late!

I'll undoubtedly be posting the cover once it's been finalized unless he objects.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Support Group

Because I wanted to show my gratitude for the invitation,  I attended a bereavement "support group" yesterday. The facilitator is a talented lady who managed to open the proceedings (after the obligatory prayer) with a prompt that had everyone in stitches. Who knew that we could each think of something funny in our married lives that would strike others the same way?

In the aftermath of important loss, is there always something waiting to be remembered that will make us laugh? Even one thing is a boon not to be refused.

I doubt if I'll return next month, but maybe I'll have thought of something else funny to share. There will surely be more widows and widowers there for that second meeting. There's an awful lot of that going around where I live. Sometimes I think it would be easier if the world were a little less with us...

So now, I need to sit down and write something for someone else to find resonance with that might revive a comforting recollection, and maybe even a funny one. You know the old saying about having to laugh or else you'll cry.