An Exploration of Richard Wilbur’s Work And How Poetry Is An Inevitable Expression Of Religious Assertions, Part One

We have lost a lot of greats since 2016. The most recent great who touched my poet’s soul and was among my list of favorite writers left us on October 14th. Upon hearing the news, I reached for the one book of his I own. Later on, I remembered this—a piece written for a poetry assignment back in 2014. Apparently Part Two is still in a notebook somewhere. If you haven’t yet read the poem referenced below, I encourage you to do so.

 

In a 1968 interview, Richard Wilbur said:

 … that poetry is essentially religious in its direction. I know a lot of people, poets, who are not consciously religious, but find themselves forever compromised by their habit of asserting the relevance of all things to each other. A poetry being a kind of truth-telling (it’s pretty hard to lie in poetry), I think that these people must be making, whether they like it or not, what are ultimately religious assertions.

Being a student of poetry, and still an overenthusiastic one if not wholly adequate, this is first what struck home for me. Early on, I developed the expectation of poetry to reveal sacred secrets—I believe poetry’s purpose is to demonstrate, celebrate, and even to evoke individual spiritual awakening. There is no need for a poet to sit down with that expectation from his/her work … it will happen.

As Wilbur touches on in this brief talk, poetry is a truth telling. A writer sits down with words and delves into their center … the writer mines a multitude of meanings and sensual impact and emotive qualities of each word, then combinations of those words in phrases, then the metaphorical weight of those phrases in relation to what is going on in that writer’s life, or memory, or some intellectual or emotional preoccupation.

Human beings simply cannot help “their habit of asserting the relevance of all things to each other”, and creative humans do this with their art. We categorize, define and redefine, poke and prod until the investigation of self becomes spiritual epiphany—the pursuit of language becomes the pursuit of truth, and the pursuit of truth always leads to the revelation of a universe so much greater than ourselves, then somehow, that vast universe turns back on itself to acknowledge the sovereignty of “I”, “me”, “we” .

We simultaneously categorize ourselves as mere human and a Creator’s holy vessels of inspired messages. We are dust and we are ALL. We are immortal and mortal. We are the very language that Earth and Heaven speak and, therefore, both will listen. Of course not every poem will move every reader to the ultimate awakening. Readers are as individual as the writers they read. Real beauty is discovered when one individual stumbles upon the other.

I found Mr. Wilbur quite by accident, running the opposite direction of anything that remotely resembled formalism; I tripped over him and all his billowing, breathless colors confined in the blank verse “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World”. The narrator of this poem, I believe, is caught for a while in that half-dream state we have all experienced—that airy, floating, borderless place where we can observe in quiet astonishment as Heaven flutters among the most mundane Earthly things.

In these precious few moments the narrator saw souls (rather, representations of the human spirit) celebrating the freedom of being loosed from the weight of sinful desire, responsibility of labor, and that all-too human thing, worry. Those precious few moments end with the man who, irreparably human, yawning and waking, makes his Earthly preoccupations clear with a demand for order according to those preoccupations, and so “the soul descends once more in bitter love”.

My own definitions of the words “soul” (the very essence of our humanness that does indeed embody desire, intellect, and will; the very thing that tethers us to this world) and “spirit” (that bit of sovereignty imparted by God that may very well long to be free of the body and soul to reunite with the Creator) defy Mr. Wilbur’s usage. Nonetheless, his depiction of the “soul” does not hinder my enjoyment and understanding of this outstanding poem. In fact, “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World” does it all for my poet soul, and was the first to reveal that spiritual epiphany I had so long desired from poetry.

It is in Mr. Wilbur’s works that I am finally free to admire the simultaneous expression of ecstasy and discipline, of humanity and sovereignty.

 

 

RIP, Mr. Wilbur. Thank you for your words.

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Poems, Privilege, and Untimely Kneeling

It is a rare thing, but once in a great while a poem will write itself. That’s the case with Generation Gap. All the stories my grandparents shared with me throughout my childhood built America for me. In my America fairness and equality cannot be assumed, but always hoped for, striven for. In my America, petty cruelty exists. Women will be shamed by men they do not know for reasons they cannot fathom. Children lacking a respectable surname will be presumed undeserving of respect.

Here in my America, societal rules rarely come written out, so even a kid who learned to read early won’t gain an advantage.

Whether it was intended, or not, my maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather put together a narrative that helped me understand that America has been failing its purpose for quite a long time. And whether it was their intention, or not, they inspired me to learn the details of this nation’s purpose and expect it to one day become a reality. I cherish democracy, but I have never had the luxury of believing it to be without flaws.

The first time I read Let America Be America Again, by Langston Hughes, I thought of Mattie and JD. They knew injustice, prejudice, and inequality from  youth to old age. They knew these words to their bones without every laying eyes on the poem.

Mattie and JD learned the Pledge of Allegiance by heart. They knew the words and weight of the National Anthem, hummed God Bless America. Neither of them ever instilled within their children or grandchildren a distrust of their nation. Quite the opposite. (Wariness of bureaucrats, well, that’s another matter.)

My grandparents had a lot to hope for America’s future. To them, the flag was a symbol of that hope, and so were their grandchildren. Hope is a powerful thing. Nonetheless, even the power of hope without action cannot ensure a child thrives. And so the same applies to a nation.

We are indeed a nation of protesters and rebels, citizen journalists, citizen soldiers, informed voters. All, in my opinion,  something to be proud of. Injustices occur. Injustices will recur. History serves to prove Americans will eventually take a stand, and resistance to Americans who take the stand can get ugly. Violent. Embarrassing. But we persevere.

We’ve got a lot going on within the borders of this country right now. To be blunt, keeping up with all of it is exhausting. Disheartening. What’s most disheartening to me is just how off-track we can get when trying to make a valid point. Social media doesn’t help. There is a lot to enjoy about social media, and I have many types at my fingertips on a daily basis. But I knew we were in trouble that first morning I turned on the TV to find a national morning show REPORTING ON A TRENDING CAT VIDEO. What? High-earning, highly educated, experienced journalists just spent ten minutes of air time talking about a funny cat video, first shared on Facebook.

We’re doomed. Those were the words that played through my mind. We’re doomed.

Little did I suspect at the time that this nation would one day be subjected to a tweeting presidential candidate. It’s bad enough that a sometimes uninformed public has the ability to spread unverifiable news around the world in a matter of seconds, now we’ve got this guy to deal with. Surely our society hasn’t spiraled so out of control that Facebook likes and twitter feeds can influence voters to elect a deliberate antagonist for president.

Yeah.

Rather than a people passionately striving for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are we really becoming lustful for click baited online mudslinging? Instead of striding purposefully toward human equality and peace, are we really this far off the mark?

Following a series of recorded and posted instances of police brutality, parts of this nation lit up with anger and violence that was then recorded, posted, and shared all over the world. Everyone had an opinion, which of course, spurred more anger and violence. Though it is still shocking, massively shared videos that contained undeniable proof of police brutality were not always proof enough to get bad cops convicted.  Some cities spent millions equipping police officers’ uniforms with cameras, and still, video proof did not bring convictions.

Past instances of brutality not filmed, and not shared to social media, were rehashed. Old horror stories came to light. (Although, I think anyone who’s ever lived in a small town where the good-ole-boy network is uniformed and armed can attest that bad behavior has been a thing for decades, the general public was not fully aware.) Protests broke out locally, in capital cities; national news gave some coverage, and a few lawmakers attempted to speak out.  For the most part, though, social media did the reporting. Wild theories, baseless accusations, and knee jerk reactions were difficult to untangle from facts. And our legislative system kept on proving just how out of touch it is.

For a while, social media got distracted with the presidential race and the ensuing fiascoes. Then very quietly and without first being noticed by the national eye, in August of last year, a well paid professional athlete sat during the National Anthem. When finally noticed and asked what was up, he said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color … To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

This season numerous players are showing their agreement with that statement by taking a knee during the National Anthem.  Not surprisingly, thousands, maybe millions, of Americans have taken to social media to complain about privileged millionaires disrespecting the flag. What other country can black kids grow up to become multimillionaire athletes? The divide is growing, and it seems that now social media’s consensus has become that it’s white Republicans that are offended by this protest while only broad-minded Democrats understand these are citizens exercising their constitutional rights.

Here’s the thing: They’re all right. And they’re all wrong.

While some may view such an opinion as hardcore nationalist nonsense, the truth of the matter is the average American takes offense to the flag being disrespected. Regardless of how far we progress, how far we get away from the assumed national morality so strongly promoted after WWII, that flag, that anthem, is HOPE. Remember what happened after 9/11? The flag flew from porches, car windows, apartment balconies, businesses, and churches.

You don’t mess with the flag.

The people who take issue with players taking a knee during the anthem, if asked, take no issue with protesting police brutality or racism. Violence for the sake of violence from those bound to serve and protect is unconscionable, and whether social media is trending with it or not, this nation is angry about the blatant disregard of blue-clad criminal activity. We can’t assume that the argument against protesting during the anthem only comes from white republicans plotting to have black people murdered in the streets. Such assumptions would be prejudice and racism in action.

My immediate concern–which precedes the backlash of Kaepernick’s sit down–is his deliberate choice to first antagonize, then to make a verbal statement.

When someone chooses to gain attention by challenging heartfelt beliefs (i.e., love of the flag), reactions will be emotional, and any emotional reaction can then be skewed to reinforce aspects of the challenger’s message. Kaepernick protested racism and police violence against citizens of color, therefore–according to ensuing statements made by his supporters–anyone who speaks out against his manner of  protest must be a racist supporter of killer cops.

This, my friends, is neither a logical conclusion, nor a fact.

Speaking of deliberate antagonism:

I would now like to make a plea to the presidential staff and White House officials. Come on, y’all. Someone there must have the influence and authority to determine what speeches are read, and whether they are read ON LIVE TV without benefit of editing. Personally, I’m not impressed if he is a business genius, or if he has the ability and gumption to clean up the national budget. Those are potential  pluses no one will ever pay attention to if he is allowed to continue mouthing off on twitter or on camera.

Our past presidents weren’t all paragons, we know. But at least JFK had the good sense to not televise his penchant for infidelity. Nixon didn’t exactly tell the public na, na, na-na I can do whatever I want, while in front of a bank of national news cameras. Read up on this stuff, will you? Good old fashioned American plainspeak is one thing, publicly poking every voting-age citizen with a stick is something else. Control your guy.

/plea

I have never had the luxury of believing democracy to be without flaws. I did, however, learn from people who had experienced the worst of human behavior that the worst does not have to be accepted as the norm.

It’s easy to sit here, not an African American, not an athlete with or without survivor’s remorse, and say there are a thousand and one ways African American athletes could protest away from the field.  Even so, I would like to point out that inner city/community programs could use your voice, your face, and your dollars to make a difference in the lives of kids who might one day find themselves the focus of a routine traffic stop.

Perhaps, redirecting your energies to local community outreach, speaking at law-enforcement events, joining in fundraisers for the children of brutality victims … perhaps, standing for the flag after helping a real person just might get the results you want.

This country, this flag and all our hopes for what it should mean are not the origin of our problems. This country is made up of soil and man-made borders; the flag is a symbol of all the best possibilities. That anthem is a poem about celebration of victory over oppressors.

The Walking Dead Keep On Walking

Every new season I wrestle with myself over whether to continue watching, and every year–though I hate myself for it–I go ahead and watch. Another season is bearing down, according to continuous facebook reminders yesterday, so I thought of this piece. Rick Struggles To Cope was written a while back for a prompt related to the third season. Here’s my take.

 

How To Cope: Chop Until The Screaming Stops

 

How does one cope with loss after loss after horror after horror in pursuit of one half of a half of a tenth of a percent of humankind’s preservation? Bludgeon a monster. Bludgeon another. Chop, chop. Shoot. Build something. Tear something down. Follow instinct: Hunted become hunter. Hunt for killers and for precious remains to bury. Keep moving.

Keep moving or regret and fear will do terrible things to tender psyches.

Rick is the leader, the father, the enforcer. He’s the guy with the ax, the hammer, the six shooter. He’s the guy responsible for the safety of his family. He cannot fathom a newborn life won by the sacrifice of a woman — that freckled bride he moved heaven and earth to keep alive. Everyone, every member of this tattered, nomadic community who’s followed Rick through rural post-apocalyptic Georgia bears witness to the moment his mind … breaks.

Is Rick a metaphor?

Meanwhile, not so far away from the prison where a redneck warrior and a nubile young couple join forces to defend fencing, daring to count blessings, one of their reluctant fair-haired friends (thought lost months before) is on the verge of learning not all monsters wear decayed flesh and shamble around in search of fresh flesh. Some monsters might drawl and swagger and hold the key to a room accessorized by an aquarium swimming with heads.

Some monsters have lonely smiles and keep a good supply of sipping whisky nearby.

It’s the enigmatic Michonne who reviles that swagger and drawl. Suspicion raises her fight or flight response. Or, maybe she’s just jealous; maybe she wants the blonde all to herself.

Is Michonne a metaphor?

Is the Governor really good at heart, another poor schmuck left alive to mourn the loss of real children and the real world?  Could be he just needs a little patience and trust from a smirky blonde (unfettered by sharp-edged friends) to make him feel all better.

Will the real monsters please stand up?

Observers of both sides of this story will undoubtedly wonder how Rick and Michonne might get on … if they ever cross paths. Would Rick and the Governor sip whisky and ponder the burden of losing everything?  Would they, in friendly familiar tones, verbally analyze the sensation of going completely mad?

Back at the prison, there will be possum for dinner. A kid who just killed his mom is reciting names. Lots of names. There’s a one-legged preacher vet standing by silent and wise, and a skinny little girl with the voice of an angel seems to be out of songs.

Rick is wandering in the dark all alone, talking to ghosts, in desperate need of a grave to visit: Here Lies Lori, My Beloved.

How does one cope?

A few miles down the road strangers drink lemonade and play twisted summer games. While an aquarium swims with heads. You’ll want to keep that ax handy, Rick.

Wrigleyville, 2016

Unfortunately, I cannot claim that my first experience at Wrigley Field was amazing. The chills that riddled my body were not caused by the famed ghosts of sports history, or child-like wonder. I was freezing to death. People laugh when I recount that night. It’s not at all funny.

The weather forecast for the evening seemed pleasant, but since my husband and I are accustomed to a southern climate, we bundled up just in case. At sunset, as we were walking to our seats in the upper deck when I realized my mistake in thinking fifty-five degrees with an east wind would be tolerable. Half an hour later, I realized that my brain possesses a deafening alarm in the event of a near death experience—it’s a terrible foghorn of a voice that repeats over and over, You’re Going To Die. You’re Going To Die.

Turns out, fifty-five degrees with a ten mile per hour east wind in Chicago is identical to twelve degrees with a twenty mile per hour north wind in Memphis. I was wearing pantyhose, yoga pants, jeans, a t-shirt, sweater, fleece coat, knit gloves, a scarf, socks and sneakers, and I was dying of exposure.

My husband felt sorry for me once he noticed my teeth were chattering and I’d turned a sick shade of blue, so he spent fifty bucks on a team logo blanket and wrapped it around my torso. The wind cut right through. When I was finally able to form words, they came out in a voice reminiscent of that demon in the original Exorcist—Feed Me Now I’m Starving. My dear husband brought back a fully dressed, freshly cooked hot dog and bottle of water. Somehow the dog was cold and the water warm.

I complained. Tim gifted me with his own knit cap and wandered off to explore the one place he had always longed to visit. This was our twenty-fifth anniversary trip and I sat there resigned to the fact he’d left me to die alone.

For all of one inning I tried to be a trooper, tried to cheer myself up. Maybe Tim would return with coffee and an arctic tent. But he didn’t, so I burrowed into the blanket. Maybe he’d at least notify my family and haul my body back to Tennessee for a dignified funeral. Huddling there, wondering if shivering would keep my blood flowing adequately, I blacked out for a while. It was only the clamor of Take Me Out To The Ballgame that inspired me to poke my head out of the blanket—thank God! The seventh-inning stretch! It’s almost over!

Tim returned just as half the stands were clearing out and asked if I wanted to leave. If my lips weren’t frozen shut, I would have kissed him. Turns out, the horror was not yet over.

We had arrived with a crowd of thousands that poured off the train platform onto Addison. I had marveled over the sight, the sunshine, the sounds of pure joy from children of all ages, souvenir and snack sellers, and oh my, the scents of food wafting out of all the surrounding pubs and restaurants were heavenly! (We had last eaten in Missouri, seven hours before boarding the train.)

There were no glorious sights on our return to the train, only a crushing hoard of large, blue-clad bodies. My chest tightened just watching from the sidewalk. Knowing I must look like a panic-stricken doe, I peered up at Tim and said, I can’t possibly go in there. He was exasperated with me, but I had just survived a near-fatal ballgame so I refused to die of a panic attack on a dirty train station floor.

We walked past the station, and hallelujah! A row of cabs sat idling along the curb one block down! There would be heat in a cab! I walked out onto the street, threw my arm up like all the New Yorkers I’d seen in TV shows and shouted YO! The cab driver was my Moses that night. I will forever revere him.

It wasn’t until our third visit (yes, I was a bit stunned to hear myself agreeing to return) that I finally got to experience the true magnificence of Wrigley. Our first day game on the bleachers the sun was bright and a breeze was at our backs. Everything was beautiful! We stayed the entire game, soaked up the love and exuberance of the crowd, and basked in glow of the first Cubs team every fan agreed just might make it!

With only a few exceptions, the cubbies were young. But all of them, even the thirty-something catcher they all referred to as Grandpa, played with the energy and blissful grins of little leaguers. Up in the bleachers, while I was falling in love with the game all over again, I fell in love with the locals. They sang and shouted and cussed and drank with a proficient abandon I found impressive.

Walking out of the park onto the sidewalk leading to Addison, complete strangers high-fived us. We all congratulated each other as the sound of Go Cubs Go still poured out of Murphy’s open doors. I don’t think the sky had ever been prettier, the air sweeter. We flowed with the crowd toward the train, and I was brave, confident. I was in my hometown away from home, and love inspired hope for more adventure.

Love, Death, and Sweetness

Did episode 4 kick you in the heart, or what?

Jamie finally gets to be a daddy, only to never admit so aloud, and eventually must leave his offspring  behind for the sake of appearances, family honor, and all that. I have to admit, though, even while sinking in all the precious sweetness, I definitely got kicked in the head with more of that deus ex machina. Jamie has that in spades.

Sure, he can’t take his kid back to Lallybroch and introduce him to the rest of the clan, but check it out — he has a son! How? Because a hot young heiress wanted him to be her first. And not once, but three times, he’s told oh yes we know you’re a dirty jacobite, but it’s cool. Hang around as long as you like, leave whenever you like, don’t worry about getting charged for murder, etc., etc. By the way, your good chess buddy, the socially acceptable Englishman, will gladly raise your son for  you. Phew! That worked out so well.

So, we torture Jamie within an inch of his life, then give him everything, then torture him some more. Is this going to go on forever? Meanwhile, I’m nuts about Brianna and that McKenzie lad.

Wasn’t it sweet that after years of cold shoulder, Brianna called Claire Mama! For me, that was more than sweet, it was an actual advancement in the 20th century segment of the story. Brianna feels closer to her mom now, finally seeing her as a complicated woman, rather than a cold-hearted task master, which allows us to see her in a better light. And, since she’s a history geek and young McKenzie is such an adorable history geek, their attraction and affection bring a bit of … I don’t know, maybe it’s plausible normalcy … to the story.

Which leaves me curious: Are these characters well developed in the books? Is their story followed while Jamie is still lonely in the 18th century?

One thing that I expected to see this season was an exploration of that little hint given way back in episode one of the first season. Remember, Claire’s in the quaint Inverness inn and Frank has gone off somewhere. Down on the street is the shadowy form of a fella in obvious highlander garb, peering longingly up at Claire’s window as she brushes her hair. Frank spots the peeper on his way back up and remains so suspicious that once Claire goes missing, he has sketches distributed all over town … sketches that resemble the Dun Bonnet. Jamie went through those damn stones, I just know it! But landed a wee bit too early and feared ruining his reunion with Claire?

I need to see this played out, or at least have it explained.

This episode satisfied me with some much needed story advancements. Now I’m looking forward to the next, instead of sitting here sour-faced hating on Claire.

 

 

Nonfiction: An Introduction, by Ann Patchett

I discovered audio books way back in the 90s, then, books on tape, and almost instantly fell in love. STORIES WHILE DRIVING IS AWESOME! Years later, when I had the opportunity to listen to a book read by its author for the first time, I thought, pffft! Now this is love!

That first opportunity came with Eat Pray Love, read by Elizabeth Gilbert, sent to me from a dear friend in 2012. The author’s voice lent something to the story no one else could have, regardless of their talent. It was the depth of emotion and humor and embarrassment that can only emerge from authenticity. I’d already read the book, and truly liked it, but this audio! Wow. By the end of it, I was 100% a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert.

The next book of hers that I was interested in reading came along several years later, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. In the second chapter, Gilbert goes into detail about her first meeting with Ann Patchett and tells a remarkable story of what transpired between them. These two brilliant authors believe that from their greeting, with a kiss, inspiration for a book was exchanged. Neither of them spoke of the book at the time, which made the end result all the more remarkable. But for me, this passage was even better because I’d rediscovered Ann Patchett!

About a year before picking up Big Magic, I’d participated in an online writing workshop hosted by Southeast Review, in which an audio of Patchett introducing her book, Truth and Beauty, was shared. Oh, my. Her voice! The warmth and depth of emotion describing her friendship with Lucy, describing her life as a young MFA student, and later, exploring her grief over losing Lucy … to say I was moved is a dreadful understatement.

I put off searching for the book to finish the workshop, but I did share that audio with a couple of friends. And I listened to it at least twice more. Time passed and, blah, blah, blah, writing and reading and seeking out more craft pieces got shoved to the wayside. Thankfully, Big Magic brought Ann back to me. I bought Truth and Beauty, read it twice, then, in an unrelated turn of events, became an Audible customer.

My most recent purchase was The Story of A Happy Marriage, a collection of essays by Ann Patchett. I didn’t buy it because Patchett is the author, but because she is also the reader!

The first in this collection is, Nonfiction: An Introduction. Without going on any longer about her voice, I’ll say that in this piece, we discover how one writer made writing work for her. Intending to be a novelist since leaving her MFA program, she discovered that working day jobs exhausted her too much to focus on writing an actual novel.

It was laboring over tiny word-count articles that became her bread and butter. After a while Patchett realized that besides paying her rent and buying groceries, writing for demanding editors, being the go-to-girl for various magazines, honed her writing skills. She refers to those years as her apprenticeship. Writing nonfiction, as luck would have it, also left her with plenty of time and energy to focus on getting down to the business of writing those novels.

These writers, Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert, inspire me every time I read them, every time I listen to them. Gilbert always seems to inspire study, while Patchett makes me write! After reading Truth and Beauty, I began to write daily love letters to my dearest ones. After reading The Get Away Car (also shared in the audio essay collection), I began to submit poems for the first time in two years. Since finishing her essay collection, I have edited two of my old essays and started to apply for freelance work.

Can I get anymore of this stuff, please?

How do you say Deus Ex Machina in Gaelic?

Boy howdy! Does Jamie get saved by the hair of that fine, fine chin an awful lot! Sure, he’s suffered terrible treatment over the years, treatment meant to torture the life out of him … but that God in the Machine just keeps on churning out the salvation. (Warning: there are spoilers for Outlander’s Season 3 ahead.)

Last week’s episode was emotional, but I’m not sure it evoked the intended emotions. Fairly certain I hate Claire with a much bigger hate now. But I keep checking that, questioning myself. Trying to (and this may seem a bit beyond the point) see her as a real person, trying to step into her shoes, rather than feeling around the screenwriter’s page for insight. Ok, so let’s think in terms of real life for a moment. It’s true people can over-complicate their situations out of sheer stubbornness, narrow mindedness, emotional pain, etc. True.

Is that what happened with Claire? Why she couldn’t articulate to Frank, hey, I’ve always loved you. When I was stuck in 18th century Scotland that first few months I was utterly miserable and desperate to get back to you, I swear! She’s so perfect in everything except dealing with what’s happening right in front of her face, am I wrong? So there’s poor old Frank dead from drunk driving AND NOW SHE APOLOGIZES? NOW SHE FEELS REMORSE FOR TREATING HIM LIKE SHIT AFTER MAKING AN IMPOSSIBLE BARGAIN?

At this point I can just imagine her going through the stones and reuniting with Jamie only to bitch at him for not coming to find her, or for getting some inlander strange once or twice over the past two decades. Yeah, she’s totally going to find a way to screw that up.

Meanwhile, Jamie’s getting into one near-fatal scrape after another and all the gay boys find him impossibly irresistible. At least the warden wasn’t a sadist. At least. Poor Jamie’s major flaw seems to be his charm. Will it be the death of him before Claire can get there to needlessly over-complicate his life some more?

It seems to me that these characters’ path is twisty enough without the author (or the screenwriters?) creating more perils for them to wrestle out of. Yes, I do prefer a bit of plausibility in my fiction.

Maybe tonight’s episode will convince be, once and for all, if I should succumb to the screenwriters or go ahead and get the books to find out, once and for all, if Claire stupidity and deus ex machina reigned so hard throughout the original pages.

Outlanders & Underdogs

So, here I am two episodes into Season 2 of my favorite TV show since the introduction of Game of Thrones. And I’m miserable.

As with Game of Thrones, I was introduced to the show before knowing about the existence of the books, so I bypassed reading and sit googly eyed for scheduled viewings. (I know, I know. Hush.)

Here’s the main reason I’ve opted to ignore the books, for now: In the past when I’ve read before viewing, murderous rage gets a bit overwhelming. Murderous rage is exhausting. So, yeah, I get why all the fans of Martin’s and Gabaldon’s books sneer and call the shows mere fan fiction. I get it. With that said, leave me to my TV geekgasms. Kthnx.

Or misery, whichever.

What I do see besides utter heartbreak in this season of Outlander, is the attempt to bring Claire out of the muck of Mary Janeness. There were moments in Season 1 that made me quite sick of her. Okay… we get it… she’s a bundle of hotness in bed, she’s a brilliant healer, and a daring feminist among brutal patriarchal assholes. Got it. She’s so awesome she’ll even do favor after favor for the despicable Black Jack. Sure, she’s operating under the guise of ensuring Frank is born centuries later, but come on, anyone can see she’s digging the drama.

Then there’s Jamie’s own threat of Mary Janeness … he’s a bit much sometimes as well. It’s often in the moments of his inexplicable perfection that I long to read the books. Claire, one would think, is the intended protagonist of this story, this series. But it seems to me the directors and writers of the show just might be all about Team Jaime. I don’t see a thing wrong with this, but still, I wonder what was intended by Gabaldon. Seriously, just how much of an underdog can one character be?

More than a few acquaintances on social media have made remarks in past weeks along the lines of “but what about Frank? While all you sluts are swooning over Jamie, take a minute to think about how amazing Frank is!” I agree, to an extent. Still, Frank will never come off as an underdog. Maybe it’s the way he tilts his head when he speaks in that English accent — nobility on the verge of utter snobbery. This guy isn’t going to humble himself. Not completely. Whereas Jamie would, has, will. And so, in this respect anyway, the underdog wins it all.

After a couple decades of soul-crushing misery anyway.

Right?

While I’m twisting here in the conflict of to read or not to read before the series finale, the question of whether or not I could write such an underdog niggles in the back of my mind. Early on in my writing, I found out just how easy it is to write a Mary Jane all the while thinking this was an amazing, complicated, brilliant character. (Totally not, as it turned out.)

She was an underdog that eventually overcame three rather nasty plot twists. But could I, without setting out to, write an underdog of Jamie’s stature? Would I stop myself one day and say, WAIT. How many self-sacrifices do I actually need in this 50k word count? Why am I doing this?

What would be the goal of writing such a character, other than making certain another character, either his foil or one true love, survived to be called hero?

I’ve done really well, remained absolutely strong in avoiding book spoilers and online book reviews/analysis. I’ll stay strong and stick to a promise I made myself in the third season of Game of Thrones — I’ll get the books about five minutes after the series finale.

Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness.

Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them.

Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed.

Until then, I’ll be sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule. The map will not include by-ways of procrastination. No guilt over a messy abode. No worries for not having a “real job”, no panic attacks, no sense of failure. The road will be clear, wide-open, as endless as my dark little heart desires. On day one, in those wee hours when the birds haven’t yet gathered their voices, I will walk my dog, do a few chores wearing earbuds from which the wisdom of memoir and literary journalism themed audibles will enter my brain and trickle down to build muscle memory. Once satisfied that dawn will break any moment, I’ll put away the earbuds, turn on some music, shower then dress, and take breakfast to my desk.

For eight hours I will rip away lines from old poets, paste them to the titles and endings of younger lesser-knowns, weed out genius word by word by line from dreamy-eyed dead folk and weave it all between the lines of contemporary feminists. With one hand I’ll keep an ink and white stack of citations, with the other, I will type and type, compile new work from the old and famous. Eight hours a day, for forty days will make a masterpiece that outshines my first attempts at a cento collection the same way the sun outshines a 40 watt bulb. But that’s just the first eight hours of the first in a forty-day stint.

An hour will be spent stretching the stiffness from unused muscles, feeding my dog, giving the hubby a loving phone call. Then, with a dinner plate next to the laptop. I’ll stand at that cute little pub table in the dining room, surrounded by Van Gogh reproductions, facing a window looking out toward a wink of the river. There, I will have dinner and get to that essay a small paying publication is anxiously awaiting. This will pay the rent and there might be some left over for the best doggy treats on the market. I will hit the send button and yawn. That’s a good day right there.

Day one will be so impressive that years later I will chronicle it an anthology piece, the opening to a brief synopsis of my success story. Just imagine what could be accomplished on day two, three, ten! I’ll need a bit of help, of course. A professional editor for the poetry collections. And once I’ve dug out those old pieces of speculative fiction and essays, saved them from languishing away in the dark, I’ll be keeping that editor so busy she will have to quit her day job. The essays will sell quickest. Let’s face it, readers are absolutely inundated with speculative fiction these days. And poetry, well, most people grimace when the P-Word is mentioned. Nevertheless, after the three collections are out in the wind and a dozen or so lit mags pick up individual pieces, who knows? The P-Word might be pronounced without a grimace by a few less readers. A few. But I won’t concern myself with that now. What’s important is the work. Do the work.

That’s what one of my favorite professors used to say. Be loyal to the work. She also said that I should send off Emancipation and I Am Not an Evangelist right away — that was four years ago. I never sent them anywhere. It’s as if when that class ended, when I no longer had reason to receive or send emails to that professor, I no longer had reason to consider what life those words would have outside the confines of my files. These messy files that have been packed and repacked, hauled from one end of the country to the other, digitized then lost, transcribed in the middle of the night, then shoved into the corner.

Why? Lots of things kept getting in the way. Mostly, basic survival. The last four years showed me something contrary to what that professor declared to be the ultimate truth, the ultimate goal of every creative. Sure, be loyal to the work … when it’s actually paying the rent. Or, if some benevolent deep pocket is paying the rent. For those of us who don’t have deep pockets dishing out the basic necessities, there’s forty hour weeks to be put in elsewhere. And to get through those, of course, there must be distractions. Distractions become as necessary paying the rent when a creative is punching a time clock, and spending distraction hours on poetry seems to make poetry less somehow. A shot of good whiskey and an hour of TV can save a life. Don’t waste breath in argument. It’s fact.

Before the next random person can spout a tired old platitude or start jabbering on about first world problems, four years have blinked by and here I sit with boxes of old notebooks and no real body of work. Before I can fully recall just what I took away from that brief university lecture about the importance of avoiding sentimentality in art, I realize that I can no longer introduce myself as a writer, or a student. I don’t write, I don’t study. I’ve got a job that affords me the opportunity to do neither. But the lights are on. The rent is paid. I’ve run Netflix out of good distractions. The whiskey bottle hasn’t been touched in months, and I’m sick of being a non-writer.

Lately I’ve filled free moments with fantasizing about putting in a 30-day notice and driving home to sit at my desk and start a new chapter, so to speak. It’s past 10:30 p.m., and tomorrow is coming at me way too fast. But I won’t concern myself with all that now. The work is priority.

So, let’s get to mapping out that schedule.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.

Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness.

Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them.

Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed.

Until then, I’ll be sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule. The map will not include by-ways of procrastination. No guilt over a messy abode. No worries for not having a “real job”, no panic attacks, no sense of failure. The road will be clear, wide-open, as endless as my dark little heart desires. On day one, in those wee hours when the birds haven’t yet gathered their voices, I will walk my dog, do a few chores wearing earbuds from which the wisdom of memoir and literary journalism themed audibles will enter my brain and trickle down to build muscle memory. Once satisfied that dawn will break any moment, I’ll put away the earbuds, turn on some music, shower then dress, and take breakfast to my desk.

For eight hours I will rip away lines from old poets, paste them to the titles and endings of younger lesser-knowns, weed out genius word by word by line from dreamy-eyed dead folk and weave it all between the lines of contemporary feminists. With one hand I’ll keep an ink and white stack of citations, with the other, I will type and type, compile new work from the old and famous. Eight hours a day, for forty days will make a masterpiece that outshines my first attempts at a cento collection the same way the sun outshines a 40 watt bulb. But that’s just the first eight hours of the first in a forty-day stint.

An hour will be spent stretching the stiffness from unused muscles, feeding my dog, giving the hubby a loving phone call. Then, with a dinner plate next to the laptop. I’ll stand at that cute little pub table in the dining room, surrounded by Van Gogh reproductions, facing a window looking out toward a wink of the river. There, I will have dinner and get to that essay a small paying publication is anxiously awaiting. This will pay the rent and there might be some left over for the best doggy treats on the market. I will hit the send button and yawn. That’s a good day right there.

Day one will be so impressive that years later I will chronicle it an anthology piece, the opening to a brief synopsis of my success story. Just imagine what could be accomplished on day two, three, ten! I’ll need a bit of help, of course. A professional editor for the poetry collections. And once I’ve dug out those old pieces of speculative fiction and essays, saved them from languishing away in the dark, I’ll be keeping that editor so busy she will have to quit her day job. The essays will sell quickest. Let’s face it, readers are absolutely inundated with speculative fiction these days. And poetry, well, most people grimace when the P-Word is mentioned. Nevertheless, after the three collections are out in the wind and a dozen or so lit mags pick up individual pieces, who knows? The P-Word might be pronounced without a grimace by a few less readers. A few. But I won’t concern myself with that now. What’s important is the work. Do the work.

That’s what one of my favorite professors used to say. Be loyal to the work. She also said that I should send off Emancipation and I Am Not an Evangelist right away — that was four years ago. I never sent them anywhere. It’s as if when that class ended, when I no longer had reason to receive or send emails to that professor, I no longer had reason to consider what life those words would have outside the confines of my files. These messy files that have been packed and repacked, hauled from one end of the country to the other, digitized then lost, transcribed in the middle of the night, then shoved into the corner. But I won’t concern myself with all that now. Those days are over. The work is priority now. So, let’s get to mapping out that schedule.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.