Wednesday, December 31, 2014
December 31. Last day of 2014. At the stroke of midnight tonight it will be 2015, yes, that's how it goes. One number passes into the next and we wish happy new year and believe, in some way that this new year will be a better year than the previous, that this new year will provide magic and only the good will prevail. We are hopeful. But in this hope we miss the humanness of the year before, of all the goods and the not so goods that came into our lives on a daily basis, that added to the being of who we are on this last day of December in the year 2014, how we are now different, stronger, wiser than we were as we sat on the cusp of the last new year. And that is the celebration-- that we are here to look into the new year, to ponder on where we've been, to appreciate where we are at this very moment, and to celebrate how in being human over the past year, we have endured and enjoyed and questioned and worried and loved and hoped and prayed. Our humanity connects us. As 2015 dawns, to hope that it will be a better year is to miss the goodness of the days we have had in the last year. How are we richer because of experience, not how did we make it through? We now know the answer to that is--we did! In our one sweet life each of us is like a double-sided coin, both the obverse and reverse form the whole. Changing the date does not assuredly change the value.
Saturday, May 10, 2014
History, I love it. The setting sun reminds me of the passing of time, the ending of the day. Within that day I've lived history. My own personal history and the stories and events that have happened along with the people who have owned any particular narrative of that day. I am, in that sense, a primary source of the day, my own primary source, and, as I filter what I know of the events of the day and the time, a primary source as I write. Writing and history are thus interwoven in some sort of time dimension that is public. In my own personal history of the day I can tell you who I've talked with, where I've gone, the weather for the day, my impressions of the sights and sounds I've heard, all interpreted by me, but a me that is present and experiencing. If you read my journal, you'd also have a sense of my inner journey for that day, and what I've learned about myself within the world. All of this is history. Personal history. As an observer, I may comment on events I understand are happening outside of myself. Today I might say #bringbackourgirls as the world focuses on the hundreds of kidnapped Nigerian school girls. I can tell the story as I know it and explain the media attention, how the various countries are mobilizing to help. In this sense, I am part of global history, a history that can be examined and brought to light and changed in understanding by many. We can discuss this and see the viewpoints of the many. It is current, fluid, we know more, we know less, it is history in small chunks, history that will stand as an event for future historians to sift through and understand as part of a small individual picture or a larger collective picture. History is dynamic. Not only dates and events, but understanding of the narrative.
I teach an online history class for teachers. One of the tasks is for the students to write their own definition of history. They are not far apart in substance, usually having to do with the past. Some come to the understanding that history can be personal and shared or personal, or a narrative of the past, or some such nuance. The idea for the assignment is that in thinking what history is to a teacher, how history is taught will follow. We're trying to nudge history teachers away from memorizing dates and true/false, multiple choice assessments, to an understanding that history is dynamic and changing and dependent on who chronicles it. Many sides to the story. Her story, his story, our story, their story. It depends. What is the Truth? the truth? Being a detective, finding the clues, making the assumptions and the arguments, applying it to our own lives, to the collective life of a nation, are all wondrous parts of the study of history.
One of my students got me to thinking about the assessments in history that are typically used. What if we applied them not only to global history, but to personal history? What sort of multiple choice or true/false questions would show your depth, your complexity? If we relied on Facebook type information for assessments, history would assume you are always happy and having incredible experiences and that your life is never dull, nor introspective, nor anything but positive. Just sayin'. Our lives are each a mixture of what grows us, and what inhibits our growth, but perhaps needs to simmer so it can become growth. Our history is dynamic. All history is dynamic. Just as we need to examine our own lives to understanding ourselves, so to must we apply this to history in general. It is fascinating as narrative, just as our own personal narrative is fascinating. Teaching history is not reliant on dates and chronology (although some sense of this is important), assessments must not either. History is alive. Personal history, global history. Story, story, story. How can writers not love it?
Saturday, April 26, 2014
As a human being I'm observant. Or, I can be. I try to be. I keep my eyes open, my ears in gear, my senses awake. Mostly. I am often surprised at what I observe in these ways. The shapes in clouds, the birds calling to one another, the wind on my skin. This external observation enhances my internal dialogue and keeps me connected both outward and inward. My point being that observation is not always outward and confined to a sense of sight, although that's what I intend to write about today. I'll see how that goes because my intention as I begin to write often is tempered by some unconscious part of me that moves the writing in another direction. I think that is a wondrous part of writing. I don't know what I'm going to say, at least consciously. I know where I want to start, but where will it go? I've learned to step back and let my characters have their way with me in my stories, because if I try to have my way with them, they often pout and refuse to grow and become like adolescent children demanding to go in the opposite direction, just because they can. Like unsupervised adolescents, my characters often get in trouble. This I've learned. So, I provide some boundaries and follow them along. We usually work it out in the end. Of course if I'm doing academic writing and making points of logic in argumentation of my position, it is not the same. Not quite. I pause more as I'm writing and I wonder if I am not so trusting when it comes to my unconscious then. Although I do have those aha moments that give me smiles and in a kind of Steve Urkle fashion I say, "Did I do that?" Writing can be that way, amazing. The pattern then really is the same no matter what I write. This essay, a short story, a novel, an academic treatise. I start with what I think I know, write to find out what I do. I learn something along the way about the process and end up with a product. It's a trust issue. Like the man who arranged the used tires in the truck. Did he know what a piece of art he would be creating when he started to stack the tires and unconsciously, most likely, understand he must put this one here and that one there? There was, no doubt, no template for tire stacking yet in the end he created a piece both with purpose and of beauty. Like artists who follow their unconscious do the world over. We do, because we are. We do, because we be. We do be do be do. : )
Friday, April 25, 2014
It's not that I haven't been writing, I have. Other kinds of writing. I journal every day. Well, I want to say every day, but it's not like breathing. I breathe every single day. Thankfully. When I say I journal every day I mean that more days than not I write something in my journal. Some days I write brilliant thoughts that fill me with understanding of myself and the world around me. Some days I basically tell myself what I did that day, hoping that another day I can remind myself that I did something other than breathe. It's important to me that I do something every day (actually) in addition to breathing. And sometimes it's important that I remind myself about those things.
Besides the journaling every day (in the special definition), I have, since January first of this year, written a haiku every day. I have actually accomplished this. Like my journal entries, the haikus vary in depth and complexity, but they never (so far) stand as chronicles of what I did on a particular day. I must confine my idea to seventeen syllables, and a listing of my daily doings takes more. I must be more clever in my use of words, no rambling, when I write my haiku. Often I think about the haiku when I take my daily walk (and now I'm back to the use of daily in the sense of journal writing, not the sense of breathing). I started this because a friend proposed a challenge. She said she was going to challenge herself to write a haiku a day for 2014 and did anyone else want to join? At first six or seven of us decided to go along on the journey. I thought it might be a New Year's resolution I may actually follow through with if I had some encouragement. From five or six, the place we post has now grown to over 200 people. If you build it, they will come.
I have been also doing quite a bit of writing, and here I am using the sense of bit as a piece. This kind of writing occurs in the revision of my manuscript. In this case I have revised Base Ball: Coming to the Show. It is, after all, baseball season, so a baseball book is appropriate to get out there in the world. Revision is another part of writing, a necessary part. But it is slow going. Not only must I focus on the gestalt of the story, but on chapters, then paragraphs, then sentences, and words. The way I write stories, in bursts of words that somehow flow along like leaves in a river, is the opposite of the painstaking work of revision. But, slow and lumbersome as it is, I love it as much as the word bursts. Now this bit completed for this book, I'm on to the next.
Since we last connected, and apologies for my absence, I also finished writing a first draft of my new novel What the Women Carried West. I'm excited about this work as it's an historical fiction novel and I love history. Not to say I'm not excited about my memoir, or my baseball book, or my haikus. Or, you know, I might even be a bit excited about my journals. And, I'm excited about revision. I am just a friggin' ball of excitement when it comes to writing!
In this new novel, I was involved in research as I was writing, and this is another part of writing. Notes. I have written a lot of notes from many sources as I completed the writing of this manuscript earlier this year. And now, well soon anyway, I'll be starting on the revision of that work and the shaping of the initial burst of story by revision. I'll need to refer to those notes, likely scribble a few more notes from the notes, and then fold them into the story. More writing.
Over the past few months too I've attended the AWP in Seattle and found it a wonderful experience. I renewed some friendships, made new ones, made my way to the top of the Space Needle. I think this deserves its own blog. I also plan to return to the Mendocino Writers Conference this summer where I'll work on short story writing. I've also got notions of flash fiction writing.
That about gets you, dear readers, up to date in the where in the hell have I been department. As I was writing this I was reminded that I've continued to stay focused on my writing, except for this blog. I'll not judge myself too harshly for this omission, for heaven knows as writers, this is one of our collective downfalls. We all need to be a lot kinder to ourselves in that regard, as well as in general. Thinking of all that goes into being a writer and all of the different areas in which we write, is a start for a collective group hug or high five. And I have to be present for that. I will. I am now reminded: Write. Write? Write! See you tomorrow.