I don’t recall which celebrity had supposedly died, but a wire service had scooped the competition with an obituary and the news spread from there. Soon thereafter the celebrity issued a press release, not as witty as “the report of my death was an exaggeration”, but in the same vein. Red-faced, the news service retracted the obituary. I suspect they eventually republished the obituary more-or-less verbatim when the personality passed away, much like an accountant getting a customer’s credit off the books.
What I do recall is that this celebrity’s obituary was rather lengthy and complete, far too polished to have been the product of a harried all-nighter. This led to my interest in how newspapers craft obits well ahead of the subject’s death. At some point I scribbled this muddled note in my writing notebook: Continue reading
“Writers are a funny breed,” the Jane Siberry song goes. Indeed.
I’ve always admired writers willing—or forced to—abstain from writing for extended periods of time, who go through spurts and then return to the world of the living. I think of Jean Rhys (who didn’t write for years). I think of Toni Morrison—who has talked at length about writing when she could—as a mother. I think of Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams, the two best known “working poets,” squeezing in writing when they could. I think of Ralph Ellison and Harper Lee—one hit wonders who had to struggle with the next thing.
Every writer is a person first. At times we can easily forget this, overly concerned with the writer’s oeuvre, their brand. Yes, Toni Morrison is, in a sense, her own little corporation, but she puts her pants on one leg at a time, also. Continue reading
This morning, I did a thousand sit-ups.
Okay. A hundred sit-ups.
This morning, I did ten very good sit-ups.
Because I’m not getting any younger, I realized this morning, and my window for washboard abs is rapidly closing.
They say writing, like anything else, is a muscle that must be exercised. I’m assuming they say this. I didn’t Google the phrase. What I did Google, however—when I should’ve been outlining my novel (oh yeah, I’m outlining my novel)—was “muscle,” or more specifically, “can muscle disappear?” And while the internet at five in the morning is hesitant to use the word “disappear,” the fact is that without regular use, muscles will shrink, and wither, and like a bear during winter (or in my case, nuclear winter), return to a more dormant state.
Then there’s muscle memory, which, long Google search short, basically means if the muscle was never used in the first place, then good luck conjuring up those eight-pack abs when the kids move out, when the mortgage is paid, when you finally have the time, and resources, to take a crack at the next great American sit-up. Continue reading
In the early 1990s, when I was enrolled in the MFA program at the University of Washington, I sometimes found myself sitting in traffic, chilling out to NPR, when the announcer would butt in to warn us all about a milk spill on I-405, or how a bunch of chickens were running around along Highway 18. For some reason, I always found that these proclamations knocked me out of commuter mode and straight into a poem-making alertness. I began collecting spill stories—cheese, beer, bees. Around that time I was in my usual merging lane onto I-5 South when I was halted by a bunch of guys in hazmat suits hosing down a stretch of road strewn with blood and goopy innards. I grabbed my notebook and scribbled down a few lines about the souls of animals plastered all over the road. Sadly, those notes never materialized into a poem, but I never lost my fondness for road spills, or the memory of how difficult the clean-up job appeared to be. Eighteen years later, I found myself sitting at my desk, gearing up to write. It’s often unpredictable where a writing session will lead me, so I don’t exactly remember what prompted me to Google truck spill. A few clicks, and I found everything from shoes to bull semen. Jackpot! I also had Jesus on my mind that day. I was researching the miracles attributed to him—loaves and fishes, healing the lame, etc. Thanks to the bizarre way my mind works, when I started drafting a poem containing raw sausage and dumped Smuckers, The Savior suddenly appeared as the one in charge of clean-up, though I guess by the end of the poem it’s pretty clear he doesn’t quite have a strong enough Jet Vac to clean up the mess we’ve all managed to make. Continue reading
FLIP (Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty), a literary festival founded by Liz Calder of Bloomsbury Publishing, recently celebrated its 12th year in Paraty, Brazil, a picturesque colonial town on the coast about halfway between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The festival pays homage to a different Brazilian writer every year and this year they honored Brazilian writer Millôr Fernandes.
Paraty, Brazil Continue reading