Visualization Time

Seasons change; focus changes. With spring’s arrival, there has been a lot of shifts and opportunities coming, not just for me but for many people that I know. One thing that has been coming to the forefront of my mind is my writing. I’m no longer as content to sit & let myself while away the hours with needle & thread. That doesn’t mean that crocheting or sewing or any other craft isn’t as important to my peace of mind; it just means that my attention has moved on.

Some of this is seasonal. When the weather is cold, my impulse is to be still & passive; to fill the hours in a warm place with someone familiar doing not much more than focusing on the work between my hands. Quiet activity in a quiet season. Writing is lonely & it’s hard to imagine sitting at a desk under a single lamp with the dark on the other side of the curtain, much less stare down the inner critic with pages in hand while my husband is in his kitchen making cookies & humming along to the radio.

But some of this is self-criticism too. After long years of not believing that I could make a “proper” living from writing, that I wasn’t worth listening too, that making something physical was practical, but that no one “needed” to read my words, my head is clearing. & while the idea of making writing my job (which has been my not-so-secret wish since childhood) is still scary, last week I decided to stop separating the things I create onto utilitarian & esoteric categories.

I decided to picture my writing career as a fiber work in progress. Each step, each choice, each class I take or group I run or commission I get is all built on top of each other.

Work In Progress
Thinking Cap

I’m sure that the idea sounds really obvious & it is hard to admit that the realization took me this long. But, when I believed that I couldn’t actually succeed as a writer before, my perception was that I just kept chasing goals or stumbling into chances & every good thing that happened was just chance. I couldn’t control whether or not an editor would like my piece & if things went my way, there was no way to reproduce that success. If they went badly, then clearly it was proof that I was wrong & didn’t deserve anything anyway.

But I don’t believe that any more. I don’t want to believe it any more. & I can see where one choice leads to another & I’m free to make a way for myself just as I’m free to make something out of a needle and thread. At the very least, my writer’s brain is eager to run with the metaphor & find the foundation chain & trace the progress forward. Seasons change; focus changes.


Toronto Fragments

Matthew Good at REBEL Toronto on 3-16-18
Matthew Good at REBEL Toronto on 3-16-18

The drums that open the set like warning shots.  Matt strolling out to his guitar in camo & playing the opening chords with the economy & force of a salute.

Stood still and my memory quit . . . so don’t stop moving. Scream, clap, stamp, dance as much as the crowd allows. Lights strobing across my closed eyelids like a signal to pray & I do: thank you, thank you for the chance to be here. Both in the crowd & under those lights, every word ascends & unfurls like smoke against a mirror, both places at once & permeating the press of people, intoxicating & shocking us with the new setting for familiar words.

Breathe; scream There’s holes up in the sky; breath; scream And no one’s seen your son in days; breathe; scream Goddaaamn!; clap.  Dizziness comes & with it the thought: don’t let me fall, yes, please let me fall.  The split-second faith that nothing will go wrong surrounded by half-drunk strangers in a small space all fixated at one point in front of them.  The quiet break of unseen violins where all the lights go out except of a line of spots that trace a route over our heads & we all wait in expectation of being found.

My husband sheds a few tears quietly but I miss it, waiting for the next note, the next line to find a permanent line to my heart.  I turn toward him & sing Ivory green into his red eyes as if it means everything in the world.

Matt curves his arm against himself & sings Dream of something effortless.  I think of all the small factors that led to this moment: not just finding the club in a strange city or driving to a post office in the middle of nowhere to turn in the passport application, but his failed suicide attempt, my hospitalization, the station in Goldvein that played a bad redirected satellite feed of MuchMusic, his drug cocktail, the nights I couldn’t (& still can’t) sleep wondering why my heart is beating, the fog that lifts before the day breaks, the hospital that became a park, the parent that cared, the parent that didn’t, & the insidious tide of will that keeps us moving forward into life even when we want to quit.

Over it all, snow falls down onto the city with a secret message: Yes, this is the best dream & its yours.

All of us on the floor in the crowd are coming out of our lives & our heads to grasp these words that promised us so much.  We hold each other & sing gleefully despite the irony We’re stuck inside out own machines.  No boats, no lonely sailors, just the ocean crashing forward onto the stage, begging the earth to fall back with us.  During the violins of the last song, as the drummer & the other guitarists throw their picks & sticks into the crowd, Matt stays onstage & sings into our waves Here by my side, it’s heaven over & over again until the playback stops & he braves the pull of our screams before walking away in the dark.

Later, in the hotel room, I will itch for alcohol, my husband will cry again as I play him another song, & we will stare at Matt’s Instagram newly updated with a picture of his cut open finger.  We all know we are not the same & we walk forward with that knowledge.

Be well, Matt. Rest, heal, create another day.

Off the Shelf: A Wrinkle In Time

A Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meg Murry is in a difficult phase. She feels constantly at odds with the people around her, her father has been missing for months, & her baby brother Charles Wallace seems to be privy to a secret plan with the eccentric Mrs. Whatsit, a newly arrived transient who’s been stealing the neighbor’s sheets. On top of that, another oddball named Calvin has inexplicably found friendship & comfort with the irrepressible Murrys. Meg, Charles Wallace, & Calvin are brought together by three fantastical beings in a quest to find Mr. Murry that will take them beyond the stars.

So, confession time, I knew absolutely nothing about this book, despite it being a touchstone of children’s literature. But once I opened the book, I soon found myself absorbed in Meg’s trials (both practical & supernatural) & struggles to understand the quicksilver changes she observes. I did vaguely know about L’Engle’s Christian concerns & was impressed by her outlining Meg’s struggle to embrace willing compassion. The drama of Wrinkle occurs just as much in the interior of her characters as well as outside them. And I now do wish I had read the series sooner.

The end of the story comes quickly & definitely left me wanting more. After seeing the struggle against the Black Thing & knowing there is much more to be done, I get that L’Engle has many more books to refine her overall goal. But the rescue, return, & reunion of the Murrys takes place so immediately, it’s hard to catch up & accept the end of the story. Onto the next book!

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Off the Shelf: Hamilton: The Revolution

Hamilton: The RevolutionHamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Annotated lyrics, collected research materials, topical essays, production stills & other ephemera make up this weighty, in-depth look at the Hamilton musical from creation to performance & beyond. Since there is so much contained in these pages, it is best to know something about the musical before reading. (Which might not be hard since it seems to be everywhere in 2016.) There are two reasons I gave this book 5 stars: first, despite the zeitgeist-y-ness of Hamilton, Miranda is still able to convey a lot of humor & insight about a play he’s probably talked about way too much at this point & his enthusiasm is infectious. Second, the pure idealism behind the production choices & the absolute hope that many of the players express about their craft is moving & deeply inspiring to this reader, especially in growing cynical times. Even though this is essentially a “making-of” book, there is a lot of heart & creative passion here that elevates it to one of my best books of 2016.

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Off the Shelf: Others of My Kind

Others of My KindOthers of My Kind by James Sallis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jenny Rowan lives an unassuming life in the DC Metro area. She works as an editor at the local news station, helps the homeless in her neighborhood with the occasional box of food, & keeps a low profile as a means of surviving in a chaotic, panic-driven world. Her quiet routine changes once a detective enters her life, asking her to help counsel a girl found in traumatizing circumstances–circumstances not unlike ones Jenny experienced long ago. Sallis’s novella follows Jenny as she weaves together lives of the people she encounters before moving on to an unknown future.

I’ve only read 3 of Sallis’s books so far, not including this one, & while they all have different stories & characters, certain themes echo loudly across his fiction works due to his restrained style. Jenny could easily be a variant of the mysterious female blogger from The Killer Is Dying, someone who has a coherent & redemptive outlook on the world created from fragments of positive encounters or hopeful moments. (Almost the antithesis of something like Cheever’s “The Enormous Radio.”) In a way, Others is sort of Sallis talking about a philosophy or perspective necessary for writing or creativity. In short, this book came to me at the right time, especially since I had some a little Sallis previously. I could easily see myself reading this & thinking Jenny was too pure or one-dimensional for the world around her.

I enjoyed this small book & am curious why Sallis picked the DC area. Maybe it’s because I’ve read too much Pelecanos, but the city does not seem very distinct in the story, other than allowing Jenny a plot-convenient proximity to some powerful people. The idea that there are small, yet important lives taking place amid the hubbub of the Beltway is interesting & does share a concern with writers like Pelecanos or Lippman. Or perhaps Sallis is paying homage to a kind of East Coast noir influence that would compliment his usual West Coast interest. In any case, Others is a compact, curious book but perhaps not for those who are just beginning to explore Sallis’s work.

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