Monday, May 30, 2011

The Gift of Writing

A good friend is overwhelmed by illness. Constant concerns about medicine, appointments, pain management and pending surgery and its aftermath have virtually erased her confidence and her sense of self. When I asked what she would like to do if she could, the answers were scarce, still connected to the need to organize a life around her chronic illness. This seems wrong. It happens, though, all too often. An otherwise smart, creative person is absorbed into the role of patient, or as my friend put it, into feeling like someone else's science experiment. As a nurse I saw this time and again. The thing is living with chronic illness is a reality. No magic pill or wand will remove it. How then to get back to some sense of who she is, of getting outside her box of pills and ills?

Here's what I am about to suggest: she might begin an autobiography of sorts, a life told on paper can build a perspective of and a distance from the all-encompassing role of patient-hood. I'm about to take her a loose-leaf binder, some index cards, some fat pens (easier on sore, stiff hands) and a set of suggestions about getting started on her book. I've asked that she commit to morning pages, a la Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. And to create a Life Line--a year by year gleaning of memories and notes that she can, at her pace, enlarge and explore. Oh, yes, and sticky notes--for whatever marking she wants to review later. I've offered to become her writing coach. Not a censor or a critic or a therapist--but someone who helps her develop a process that supports her efforts--looking at whatever interferes with writing daily, what happens when she has an AHA! moment, what resources and tools might make her more productive. What she writes is hers, not mine. After all, it's her life, and I have my own to write about.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Here's to Ebooks

Traditional publishing is languishing; but you probably know that. Borders is closing stores, B&N begs me to buy their stuff, more and more writers now publish with small independent presses, or issue DIY books. More than issuing, they celebrate their freedom to design, print, and distribute their own work, and in the process profit far beyond the traditionally amoebic and anemic royalties. Me too. My next book will be independently published, albeit in print form, not yet an e-book. But that will come. Here's why.

At the May meeting of Colorado Independent Publishers Assoc. (CIPA to its friends and family), the director of library services for Douglas (no relation) County, CO, Jamie LaRue, announced an important change in the way libraries handle e-books. Jamie's library will begin buying, FROM THE AUTHOR, e-books. Until now, the library was, in effect, renting e-books from a middle man. Given the level of technology, the borrowing of e-books will work: one borrower gets the book at a time for a limited use. Software protections will insure that the book cannot be transferred to a device other than the one checking it out. The books will be cataloged and can be signed out by using an interactive hand-held device, like an e-reader. If the book proves wildly popular, the library will buy additional copies FROM THE AUTHOR. If no one checks it out, after a time certain it will be removed from the catalog.

This makes me want to dance! The artist is back in control of her art (I almost wrote heart and that's true too.) It made the whole meeting room happy. We had cake and champagne. We toasted the arrangement that will link selected CIPA members to the library. They will be the first responders in this firestorm of free press. As Jerry LaRue said, millions of books are now blocked from public view because they lack a formal distribution process without the cumbersome system used by traditional publishers. Let freedom reign! Huzzah!

Monday, May 16, 2011


No television, no radio, no phone, no internet. Just me and Duncan the Dog. For three days on retreat I heard no human voice except that of a man who stopped his truck while I was walking the dog. He had lost his two dogs and wanted me to call the number on their tags if I found them. I did not find his dogs. What I found instead was that I am capable of parking the car on Thursday noon and not getting into it again until Sunday noon. That I can compose and revise effectively when there is little chance of interruption or distraction. True, I required breaks for reading, doing crosswords, and--guilty gulp--playing Spider solitaire. But during my time at Bloomsbury West in Silver Cliff, I worked on half a dozen poems, some from notes, a couple of revisions, read two and a half books: David Mason's Ludlow, a novel in verse; Annie Dawid's There Was Darkness Under His Feet; and Leslie Marmon Silko's The Turquoise Ledge. Interestingly, none of this reading intruded on my own writing. So there, no anxiety of influence here.

What did inform the writing was my drive down CO 9, where I had the road pretty much to myself, saw mule deer, elk--still wearing velvet on their antlers--one pronghorn antelope, and a small herd of bison. That last amazed me, about eight of the huge animals silhouetted against a vast snowfield. They were at a distance, so I felt safe in pulling off and staring at them. I could tell from the tracks in the snow, though, that they had inspected the fence line, and the fence was flimsy compared to the bison. A bit later I saw more bison, but in a small, muddy farm yard. Again I pulled over and took the dog out on his leash. He was completely oblivious to the bison, one of which kept its eyes on me with such intensity that, after snapping a couple of poorly framed pictures, I left. There was a fence and a ravine between us, but I doubt that either would have stopped a charge if I angered the herd. There were youngsters there, not small, but still, parental concern is what it is.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Packing List

I'll take non-perishable food for three days, camera, toothbrush and such, sweats, walking shoes, extra pens, pads of paper, my revisions file, Hannah (my net book), enough gasoline to drive 205 miles, notes for the next chapbook (working title Our Girl: childhood poems). Oh, index cards and binoculars. Dog food, leash, dog. I won't need a TV Guide or a wifi card. I won't need a lot of mad money. I'm running away from home for three days, with good intentions to return. Although he's not crazy about riding in the car, Duncan the Dog loves the place we're headed for.

In the Wet Mountain Meadow, in Silver Cliff, CO, sits a sheltering jewel, a tiny house—Bloomsbury West— brightly painted, fenced yard, full view of the awe-inspiring Sangre de Cristo Mountains. There is a fireplace, but no television, no internet, no one I know. This last absence is vital. Because I love/like my family and friends, it's hard at home to withdraw into the solitude that I crave right now. The perfect setting for forgetting the daily distractions and writing. And walking, a little photography (That's fancying up my crude picture taking.), and lounging, eating simply, sleeping when I want, waking when it suits me. So don't look for me in any of my usual haunts from Thursday to Sunday. I am retreating from the battle for a few days.

Monday, May 2, 2011

To Read or Not to Read, No Question!

Of course I read--I even dream of reading. Woke up this morning having dreamed that one of the books on my shelf was in backwards, its leading edges facing out, spine hidden. This is a dream joking with me. In my most recent visit to the library I succumbed to temptation and came home with yet another book about quantum physics. Over the years, I've tried hard to grasp the theory of a subatomic world, but it's like religion: I'm asked to have faith, to believe in things unseen. Things like photons (Well, I suppose they are not unseen, being particles of light.), electrons, muons, quarks, and translocation. Lovely, mysterious words, but without substance or image.

I recognize in the book my own lovely English language, understand the words, but not the sentences. Reading about physics is like trying to learn Urdu or Mandarin by sleeping with a bilingual dictionary under my pillow. It just does not sink in. Maybe I'm missing that higher math gene that leads to an understanding of the space-time continuum. Then again, I don't understand the transmission in my car, but I manage to get places. Why do I fall for the seductive idea that I can understand the universe? Given the huge flock of books that fly out of publishers' warehouses each year, I could easily find more readable candidates to stack on my coffee table. Reading about physics is like eating liver; it's supposed to be good for me, but I don't enjoy it. So, my apologies to Professor Anton Zeilinger, author of Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation. I'm reasonably sure he's a nice man. If Farrar, Straus, Giroux trust him, so should I, but I don't understand his world. So, for now, I'm back to reading English mystery stories and drinking tea. The universe will have to take care of itself.