Articles

I don’t usually do this . . .

Like most of you, I get a fair number of forwarded emails from friends who think that the content is something I should see. Occasionally they are humorous; mostly, they are political. I look upon them as the cyber-equivalent of bumper stickers and usually give them a quick skim.

Sometimes, however, something catches my attention and holds it. This link, sent to me by a reader friend near Seattle, is a prime example. There is something so real, so unselfconscious and unforced about it — something so haunting — that I can’t get it out of my mind. Accept its clumsiness and shapelessness. Those are part of its power.

I’d say, “enjoy,” but that’s not the appropriate word.


Sorry I haven’t written

Sorry I have been so remiss in writing. I’ve been waiting to hear from the family on the headstone. We have collected about $800, which will get us a flat stone with a laminated picture of Tyler and a votive candle holder. I’ve turned the project over to the family. But their life is one of seemingly endless sorrow and bad luck. The oldest son has been in the hospital with a stroke/diabetic complications, the woman herself has just had surgery and is in need of more, and they are doing their best to all survive in a one bedroom home. Of such things are ordinary people’s lives made.

They will be visiting the headstone manufacturer this week. Then I will be able to update you further. They have also said they will write a letter that I can post on the website. Of course, there will be photos when the headstone is installed.

So, bear with us on this. It is coming to pass, due entirely to the generosity and good hearts of you people.

On other fronts, I continue to labor on the Joseph book. My deadline is June first. Someone of you once asked about my writing habits/ritual. Well, here it is:

I get up at about five, brew myself a cappuccino, and wander out to my little writing cabin in my heavy, ragged bathrobe. Sadie, our yellow lab, follows dutifully and scrooges herself under a corner of the desk, where she wheezes and blubbers and has dog dreams while I pull up the previous day’s work on the computer screen.

I lift my as-yet untouched cappuccino in a quiet prayer/salute to the day, then take my first sip and begin reading. If the gods have been with me, what I read engages me. If they haven’t, it seems disconnected and soulless.

On a good day, my mind and imagination immediately inhabit the previous day’s writing, and I come to the end of it as if it were my own current thoughts and voice. If that’s the case, I just pick up and move forward — the literary equivalent of a relay runner receiving the baton in seamless stride.

On a bad day, I either cannot find the voice of the previous day, or the writing seems forced and arch. I go back and begin fiddling and tweaking, knowing that I am not improving what was there, but not having the confidence to throw it away and start over. I try to wedge new facts in; I try to improve phrases; I add sentences or paragraphs that I am convinced are needed, but, upon later reading, prove only to break the rhythm of the narrative voice and the flow of the manuscript.

After about two hours, Sadie and I wander back into the house to make sure that the family is up. I pet the cats, talk to Louise and Nik while they get ready for work and school, then send them off and return to my cabin. By now the day has taken shape. If I’m on, I enter into the writing like a person enters into the reading of a novel. Sentences are not crafted so much as discovered. Thoughts and images cascade, and the whole experience becomes one of excited discovery. I am wandering through a new and unexplored garden, fraught with possibilities and surprising twists and turns.

I ride this wave as long as I can — usually until about noon. Then I stop, have something for lunch, check the emails, and fall asleep in a chair to reclaim the hour of sleep I gave away by getting up at 4:30 or 5. Then I either go back to work or blow off the day. Sometimes I will read — right now it is usually histories or articles on the Nez Perce. But when nothing is on my mind it will usually be Harpers, Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times book review, or something I pull up on the internet.

If my writing has captured me, I will wander in and out of the cabin, adding sentences, goofing with phrasing, maybe sitting down for another hour or two if the work calls out to me. This continues on and off until bed time, though it is rare when I can get much of consequence done in the evening. Between family conversations, irritation at political realities, television droning, or the flat, informational prose of the daily newspapers, I have lost the capacity for flight. I accept this with equanimity. Morning is my time, when the mind, the imagination, the heart, and the day, are fresh.

I happily embrace the ordinary and leave my writing for the following day, when it will once again either become a vehicle of magical transport or a stone that I carry up a hill that I seem unable to climb.

And so it goes. I could go on at length, but that is a good thumbnail. It is also enough for a single blog. I’ll write more soon. With luck, it will be an update on the headstone enterprise as it moves toward a happy conclusion.


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