On Writing Blogs

Dear Esteemed Friends and Curious Visitors:
Sorry to be so long away! My apologies if you’ve visited this site and found nothing new. I’d been hoping to write a new blog piece at least twice a month, but look what’s happened! Nothing new here since October and the list of things I WANT to write about grows longer and longer.

Mali4a-Believe me, it’s not for lack of subject material that I’ve been quiet. Quite the opposite. I care so much about so many subjects that I find it difficult to sit down and write a simple piece about, let’s say, coming-of-age novels or the inspiration of fairy tales. Both of these topics are hot on my list to be explored as are Lessons on Limitations: An Education By A Re-homed Golden Retriever; Becoming A Public Author; The Wisdom of Book Groups; Mothers and Daughters: Old Myths, New Realities. Sound good? Stay tuned!

cabininwinter2Just writing out the titles makes me want to drive up to our cabin nestled in the serenity of the Northwoods and dig in. I’m the sort of writer who doesn’t know what something means to her until she thinks about it for a while, or as the great 19th C poet Rilke suggests, until I live with the questions. “… have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.”http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/295Rilkea (Letters To a Young Poet, Marie Rainer Rilke 1903)

Sometimes I wish I could simply dash off a few short paragraphs without much effort but very rarely does this happen. I take to heart that other writers have a similar, laborious process. To paraphrase the British writer E. M. Forster in his wonderful book about the craft of writing Aspects of A Novel: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”EM-Forster2

Exactly! Some of us have to figure out what it is we want to say, and then go about the task of creating sentences to convey our thoughts. After that comes the editing and refining, something I do meticulously (obsessively?) well as a poet. I am a vigilant refiner! (It strikes me now that for some people, writing a blog may be more similar to having a conversation than to writing an essay. I’m a good conversationalist, snappy even, but that quickness doesn’t translate to my writing style.)

ClocksThe biggest problem is Time and not the kind measured by a clock. I’m talking about Time as Space, dream-time or walk-in-the-woods time in which an interlude of fifteen minutes can feel like an hour. It’s the kind of time this writer needs to enter into her thoughts, the kind that has depth and recesses, the kind of time that encourages stillness and contemplation. Couldn’t we all use a little more of it?

At a holiday party last week I was seated across the table from a poised and eloquent thirteen-year-old who was already quite accomplished in the theater arts. She had just written her first novel and was working on something new. We got to talking. “I never know what I’m going to write about until I start writing,” she said. I nodded. “I like to discover what I have to say,” she said. ”Yup, it’s all about discovery,” I said, secretly chanting me, too!

GishJenI love this from Gish Jen’s book, Tiger Writing: The novel knows more than the person writing it.(http://www.gishjen.com/)

I don’t know how my teenage friend came to understand so early in her life that trusting one’s instincts is a necessary foundation for pursuing a creative life, but I imagine the enthusiastic support of her parents have something to do with it. An optimistic temperament doesn’t hurt either.

I’m writing this from my studio. Outside, the sun is hidden behind a sky the color of milk. The falling snow is hypnotic and unrelenting. I can feel myself slipping into reverie. It’s a familiar feeling, difficult to describe because the sensations in my body are subtle and linked to an anticipatory sense that something mysterious is about to happen. (You’re eight years old, in a park, watching a squirrel disappear into a hole in a tree. Where has it gone? You imagine a labyrinth of tunnels, the squirrel’s bedroom complete with a canopy bed and candlestick on the night-table. You stand there blinking and waiting.)

And now I have an idea. I want to stay in touch with you, dear visitors, but until I’m able to write longer, thoughtful pieces, I’ll put up short posts—excerpts from a book I’m reading or something of my own—writing I hope will interest and inspire.

Memory takes up a lot of room in a writer’s toolbox. Here’s an elegiac poem I wrote awhile ago in honor of my father. He died in 1978 in a car crash. Over the years I’ve caught glimpses of him out of the corner of my eye—the same gray overcoat, the same slope of the shoulders, the same easy stride—the only thing missing his fedora.FredCropped3
What is it about the holiday season that brings back ghosts? And not just the ghosts of others. Our own past taps us on the shoulder and says, Remember who you were!
Here’s my poem.


I’m sitting on my bed with Father, thirty years dead.
He’s wiping his wire-rims
linen hanky plucked from a back pocket
like chiffon from a magician’s sleeve—
he’s wearing his lopsided grin.

Outside the wind is March’s anthem,
but inside we’ve broken and entered
memory’s mind. “Are you lonely?” I ask.
He shrugs and puts his glasses on.
Whatever he’s come for tonight he won’t say.

Which was always his way: Mr. Clown, Chaplin’s
Kick-Up-Your-Heels son,
jokes to ward off the cinderblock silence
building inside him,
his eyes so grave I’d have to look away.

I always did. To the blotched galaxy
framed in the bedroom window, one or two orphaned stars
you had to climb on the sill to see.
But the stars weren’t bright enough
to outshine my father’s sorrow.

How old was I then? Five? Six?

Once, snuggling in beside me,
I waited for him to reveal
The Something so sad and terrible
it dragged down the corners of his eyelids,
and made his voice catch like a gate latching shut.

But there never was a story
for the primal sorrow, his heart attack
still years away. Perhaps

he was about to warn me
how he’d come from a long line
of broken-hearted men. Perhaps he saw
that loving him had already shaped the woman
I would become,

and he wanted to call me back
from my future.
But he never said anything
more than it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.
Barbarians in the streets.