There was going to be more last night. Instead Noah and Sophie led me into the side yard to our little berm, where we dug our toes in the grass and watched Jupiter rise in the west trailing its chain of moons. It was warm and muggy, pillowed with clouds in the east. Sophie said, [the stars are] like diamonds. Noah said, Yes, and the night’s as warm as skin, don’t you think, Dad?
If my e-mail to friends is the embryo
and my blog post is the (squalling, suckling, sleeping, constantly pooping) infant
and my rough draft is the mischievous child living in a world of his own but still looking for security
and my published story is the worldly teen (but still looking for security)
what becomes the adult Spock with eyebrow raised on the world?
(Damnit, Jim, why does it always come back to Star Trek?)
My scheduled post pre-empted by a late breaking e-mail letter from my sleep-deprived but happy 18 yo travel bug son in S. Korea, where he’s staying at a Buddhist temple and traveling with friends for 6 weeks. His flight last Sunday was delayed midway (with a return to PDX for one day) by a volcanic eruption N. of Japan, and required face masks to help reduce the risk of swine flu during the flight and at the Tokyo airport. This is probably more of interest to family and friends who know about his trip (and the worry it’s caused his mother). Although anyone might appreciate his bemused reading of his surroundings.
We are currently at Tongdosa temple, a rather industrialized temple if I do say so, except for the public baths ^.6
We met the head monk and he is going to take us to see Mama Mia and Chicago, Korean style. They own a suprisingly amount of land and buildings outside of the temple. Aside from that the food is interesting, but a hell of a lot healthier, waking up at 3 makes the day a lot longer, and what we are taught is quite interesting. Tonight we are going to go to another temple in the mountains, but since we ran out of time we are going by car…lame. I am having quite a lot of fun here with these guys, and girls, and the monk that is teaching us is quite amusing, too. We sleep on the floor, all 5 of us guys in one room, but it’s never boring, yet. One thing that I noticed about nature here: their trees are much more beautiful than trees at home. I am the only non-Korean person here–big suprise–except for one of the monks. From all the plane rides and crazy waking schedules I feel like I have been here for weeks. I feel like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, except for my 24 hour interpreter, Minsoo, and his sister. No one here at the temple is racist, so I don’t have to deal with that. It still makes me laugh how much technology is here for being a 1,300 hundred year old temple with priceless artifacts.
Will upload photos soon.
Run run run Flap slap flap
Running feet go flap slap flap
Why do feet go flap slap flap?
I don’t know, go ask your pap
Yesterday afternoon, just before a little typhoon struck and washed away part of the Rose Festival Fun Center (huzzah!), my employer held its first annual side-walk-a-thon to raise money for the Oregon Food Bank. We each circled a large park block in front of the office for up to an hour (not crossing the street avoided the need for a permit and people to hold our hands), some of us running or jogging, some walking, one unicycling, and three–for their last lap–skipping. I ran, slowly, at my 10 minute pace, not intending to stop except for quick water breaks.
If you run, you know that some days your feet roll and knees compress slightly like the well oiled hydraulic machines you imagine them to be (speed of cheetah! gait of gazelle!). Other days you know what it feels like to run like a duck. I ran a few laps like a sleepy gazelle, then the rest like a heavy bottomed duck. That’s how it goes somedays. But I didn’t stop. Sometimes I drafted faster, more athletic participants. Sometimes I ran with others and we talked while we ran. Most laps I ran alone.
Writing is a bit like this. We take the most important step—we show up for a good cause. 90% is showing up—for some people, this is the easy part, and the remaining 10% is a grind. For others, it’s the hard part, but once you’re there, the rest just flows. Some days, it’s all hard, but if you don’t do it, just like people who don’t get food, you starve.
Days when the writing flows like the motion of the ocean, like the gait of a gazelle—they’re rare for me. Most days, my brain flaps and slaps, and I wonder what the hell I showed up for. So I set a goal—word count, hours at the pen or keyboard, and I keep going, no matter what.
There’s no conclusion. Just show up. My daughter’s crying in her sleep–bad dream. Maybe she’s running from something. Time for me to show up.
Where do those ideas come from (a handout):
- They slither out of the sticky sweet fog at the margins of sleep to hiss snake songs in your ears and flick at your eyes
- They creep like blackberry brambles, sharp and clutching, the fruit not always ripe
- They wait outside the commuter train window for you to pass–a heron poised to strike in the runoff marsh, a thick uprooted tree with one craggly branch reaching over the fence to the highway, a guy in rags shambling along the tracks and swinging his green shopping bag around his head ready for takeoff
- They are geese. Canada geese. They honk, they flock, pair up, inspire us with their unity, then fly south to the marshes where hunters wait shivering up to their bellies in reed blinds
- They’re boogers–if you have a bunch, you can’t stop pickin’ at them
- They can be purchased for a buck a jar from a old troll who lives across the river in a grand house dug into the slopes of an extinct volcano
- They hide in the husks of anise seeds, exploding when you crunch down
- They’re honeybees. Picture that sweet nectar gathering action
- They’re paper wasps, whose accretions have made the page you’re reading
- They’re pranksters, sticking out their tiny legs just as you pass the corner
- They’re eyeflash miracles, flaring when you squeeze your eyes shut and vanishing as soon as someone makes you look
- They’re semen–you have to spend thousands, millions, to fertilize one good story
- They are not other people’s ideas. Except for the traitorous, One Ring kind, ideas tend to stick to their owners, no matter how much owners try to shake them off (see boogers)
When someone asks, “Where do you get your ideas?” they really mean, “Where do you get your implementations?” They just don’t know how to ask. And the answer, well, is sort of boring. So keep the mystery alive–when asked, make stuff up. It’s sort of expected.
Last night Jordan graduated officially from high school. We were up quite late, dropping people off, fetching Noah and Sophie from in-laws, went to bed about 2:00, relieved that It Was Over With.
At 5:30 AM, Debby got up to pick up Jordan from the school sponsored all night party. At 5:35 Noah came into our bedroom. “Dad. (Mmmh.) I sort of forgot to build a float for today’s state fair.” (Each student was supposed to create a “float” representing a state–starting with a shoebox or something similar.)
So, from 5:30 to 7:30 AM, we sat down in the dining room with construction paper, laptop (to look for images), and a vacant ice cream box (former home to 2 half-gallon cartons from CostCo God Bless America), made up a state flag, and created a diarama of cows grazing against a sunflower meadow inside the box (which had cutouts on each end). For good measure, we found a drawing of a cow (zilla) looming over KC (Noah’s state was Kansas) and pasted it atop the flag. I was pretty darn proud of my float. If it wasn’t for him crying, I would have brought it to work to show off.
Seriously, it never ends. And if Noah wasn’t such a great kid who does apply himself, I would have went back to bed and let him deal with the consequences. But there’s a family name to uphold, too.
It’s not over with. It’s never over with. Just in case anyone with kids reading this thought that they had something more peaceful to look forward to.
## Because I’m busy with new prose, I’m reposting this from late spring of ’08 (to show a pulse). And because it’s in the spirit of this blog. ##
Writing a first novel means trying to make every good idea you’ve ever had work in the story.
Then, writing a first novel becomes extracting almost every idea you’ve ever had from the story.
But the longer you take to tell the story, the more you read and live, the more ideas you generate, then the more you have to filter. At first you feel like you’re trapped in a whirlpool (metaphor ends here). But if you’re lucky, filtering/working out the ideas becomes a lot of fun and a lobe-tickling exercise, and even leads to shiny armor clad moments of near religious ecstasy. Joan of Arc moments.
And if there’s a malevolent Lack of Something in your treasured story that nags you in the middle of the night (keeping you from sleep), nags you in the middle of the day (pausing you in the middle of the street facing traffic and a train coming), that nags you just as you’re about to give the most important speech of your life (okay, your day) or tell someone you love the most important thing you can tell them–filtering new ideas that may vanish the Lack can save your life. (No, I’m not being too fucking dramatic–this is serious shit to the first time novelist. Perhaps to repeat offenders, too.) Especially when you’re so deep in the process of telling your story that only your subconcious knows the truth.
So the other day (he says), I was reading Dave Egger’s What is the What–a novelized account of one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan and his trek from Sudan to the United States (and a beautifully written and moving story) and 50 pages in the other I says, Buddy, there’s a character in your own story who you barely mention, who you dropped in and then out for dramatic effect, but who is an important part of the plot and who, if you take a bit of inspiration and information from WITW, can lift your story, give it contrast, depth, and more complexity that intersects more or less neatly and logically with the other threads. And you don’t have to copy Eggers or work in a Lost Boy–you just have to pay attention to what he’s doing and learn from it. (This is where you, as the blog reader, imagine the reimagined character bursting from the forehead of tall geeky near-sighted Zeus.)
Once I recovered from the adrenaline rush, I set to work thinking and writing out how this boy and his journey will take place and, because I had such a strong reaction, whether he really was too strong for the current story. I spent a day doing that and was happy to find that he did fit without turning him into Gumby, that he also extended and tied up frayed plot elements that happen much later, that’d I’d mentally set aside.
He also reminded me that I had another character, an important character, a very complex Mother character, with particular motivations I hadn’t worked out. Maybe it never ends. Just as long as it leads to writing, that’s okay.
## Postscript: I finished the first draft of said work a few months ago, then scrapped it, keeping the useful bits, and restarted on a slightly different, much tighter story, on a shorter timeline. I had too many good ideas and fell into my own trap. Lesson learned–ready for the next one. ##