Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Confucius Wept and Other Sorrows

Josh at a crossroads in Idaho.
Rainy night. I am reading Annie Dillard's "For the Time Being" and it's knocking my socks off. Really this book is written true to the form of essay I first fell in love with. It doesn't lead you, it leaps and trusts you know how to follow. She writes of the Xi'an soldiers buried with Emperor Qin...over 10,000 sculpted clay soldiers. "Before me, at my feet, the clay men swam fully formed from walls. Beyond me, in the distance, living farmers worked fields."

She speaks of the dead and the infant as the two ends that might save us but utterly fail. We follow her to a hospital where newborns are washed in conveyor belt fashion before being snugly wrapped and returned to their mothers.

And of death, everything in these first two chapters seems to be swirling softly like a certain river current around the topic.

"Confucius wept. Confucius, when he understood he would soon die, wept." Yes. As we all must.

So much can be said/known in this poetic form of essay; in seemingly abrupt changes of subject we're given the gift of following what I'd call "true-thought" patterns (not to be confused with unedited writing). The mind leaps and turns and curls back around and through this process it brings 'you' the truth of what it first set itself to knowing. Though of course 'you' are the mind. Or, the reader, in this case.

At the cross-roads stood an abandoned house with thorny vines growing up around its glassless windows. The land was too open and treeless, the highway too close, for the house to be any sort of teenager haven, though inside we found graffiti and a couple old beer bottles.

We were on our honey-moon. I was writing stories for Robin Hemley...one about a murdered girl too closely rendered to a sister of mine which Hemley suggested was "too much," the murdering, when in truth I was trying to hurt my father for some old sin of his I was still nurturing.

Two things: One, I briefly read Philip Graham's blog this morning Imaginary Social Worlds and realized that I do live in the past and in the imaginary future most of the day. There are a few exceptions to this, writing, for one. Admittedly, writers seem to be absorbed with imaginary social worlds but in fact I think a lot of writing has to do with creating necessary realities within the strange hodgepodge of our existence, creating truths, and I think in many ways this is a form of survival or a way of surviving.

The second thing: I also read woodbird this morning a blog by former VCFA MFA writing student and Vermonter: In Of One's Own Robin blogs about a cabin in the woods by her house that she built with her father as a 16 year-old. It reminded me of the journey to art that often takes a deeper form in our teenage years. I spent a lot of time painting, followed by a lot of time driving my red Ford Aspire down back-roads of back-roads where I'd just park and smoke cigarettes and write poems, alone. There was nothing else like it. I doubt, actually, there ever will be.

House at the cross-roads

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Poem that Takes a Lifetime—from Last Week


Lois tells me that a writer needs a husband who’s willing to act like a wife. She is from another era though she’d resent me saying so. Sometimes we bicker like sisters; other times she tells me she needs a daughter like me. A few weeks ago, we dug up the front yard and planted daisies, cosmos, tomatoes, basil, lavender, and marigolds to keep the bugs out. I transplanted a tiny rose bush growing in the middle of her front lawn like a tiny ship of briar and loveliness adrift on a sea of green. She says, “I like to put things in the middle of nowhere,” though, this year, she also wanted things to look “chic and sophisticated” in her little Vermont front lawn.

Lois has a long story about the history of things. She tells me she remembers before she was born: I did not want to enter the world, the one I was called into. At a young age she began stealing chocolate from the corner store and later other things just for the thrill of it. She has a picture of herself in a living room with Ray Carver; Tobias Wolff signed her thesis—a collection of beautiful rendered short stories in which she makes the complex simple. “I remember after I’d turned in my thesis and a week or so later Toby Wolff told me that one of the stories I’d written was pretty good, my body felt normal again and I thought this is the way normal people’s bodies feel.”

The first thing I remember her telling me, the thing she said that made me pay attention to her was “writing is really, really hard because it requires that you are emotionally honest with yourself, and that takes a lot out of you.” Yes, I thought, yes. How many more things has she told me… endless things… because there is an endless amount of struggle in this life but there are also endless books to read, poems to speak aloud.

I’m lying on my side snuffling, when she tells me how lucky I am to have a husband who will do the shopping and the laundry and the cooking at least half the time. To have a loving husband you will see is invaluable to a writer. I’m crying about failures and poverty and feeling depressed. I say, listen, I just turned in a thesis paper that I hate. And she says, you’re mourning the shitty little paper; even the shitty little paper we must mourn. I’m saying I’ll never have enough money and she says I have enough right now. Nothing will ever be enough if you let it. 

She has told me that some poems take a lifetime. You sit down and write a poem and it comes out just right, you don't understand how, but realize it took your entire life until now to write that poem.