Monday, March 31, 2008
from this book by Joyce Carol Oates
Yesterday I got an email from Mom telling me that she almost forgot how to spell my name, Kathleen, the name she gave to me 45 years ago. She wrote, "I guess that's what to be expected, but that doesn't make it any easier!"
Given that Mom has mid-stage Alzheimer's, I'm continually amazed at how aware she is of what she's losing.
As one geriatric specialist said, Mom is a smart, accomplished woman. Some people who are at her stage might be more debiltated; she might be losing a lot, but she still has a lot to work with.
That said, I'm trying not to obsess over every detail of her disease. Instead, I'm trying to enjoy every moment we have together. Tomorrow we'll go to my sister's house, eat pizza, and watch Idol. My nieces and nephew will be running around, and we'll embrace all we have. And we do have a lot: love, the present moment, and each other.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
from this book by Joyce Carol Oates
I like that. Art embraces and creates mystery, not explanation. It reminds me that as a writer (to paraphrase Foucault), I am freer than I think.
Oops, we forgot to turn out the lights last night. We were watching a movie and looked up and saw it was 8:50 p.m., only ten minutes left of Earth Hour.
Bad, bad earth stewards.
We are now off to atone with a hike in the redwoods. Of course we have to drive to get there.
Um. We put spiral flourescent lightbulbs in our lamps. Does that count?
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Why or why not?
(Annie wants to, so I'm getting the candles ready. Will all the burning candles add more pollution to the atmosphere? Okay, I'll shut up and quit being cynical. I'll just enjoy the silence and the dancing candlelight.)
Friday, March 28, 2008
"'Keeing busy' is the remedy for all the ills in America. It's also the means by which the creative impulse is destroyed."
This speaks to me. I know when I have more writing and thinking time--when I don't allow myself to be pulled into so many different directions--I go deeper with my writing.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
In style and substance, it has a naturalist quality like novels by Zola and Frank Norris.
Since reading Oates' journal, I decided to tackle more of her fiction. I'm going to read probably about six or seven of her novels in chronological order to get a sense of her growth as a writer.
Here's a clip of JCO talking about novel writing. I like what she says about characters--as well as about perseverance.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
It's all over the news now that the story appeared in The Advocate. (The pregnant man, Thomas Beatie, is transgendered.)
But Beatie's case, while uncommon, is not unique. Another transgender man has given birth before, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center obstetrician Dr. Lisa Masterson said on Good Morning America today.
'A transgender man can be pregnant because he has the same organs as a woman,' she said, adding that Beatie should have no problem having a baby."
I'm sure the religious right is going to have a big freak-out. But what's great about it is: they can't stop it. The combination of queer rights and science (combined with backlash) will, no doubt, be continuing to push the gender envelope in all kinds of ways.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Thursday April 17, 6:30 p.m., at the Book Bay Bookstore of the San Francisco Main Library (on Grove Street).
QUEER WRITERS TAKE NOTE:
Seven Kitchens Press announces the 2008 Robin Becker Chapbook Prize for an original, unpublished manuscript in English by a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered writer. For more information, click here.
Monday, March 24, 2008
I have four writerly pals who are going to read it and give me feedback.
I'm nervous about this project, but I want to know the truth. I want to make it the best it can be. I don't want an ounce of it to be sentimental, simplistic or unclear--because it's the most important thing I've ever written.
Now I can give myself some breathing space. Once I get feedback (probably within a month or so), I'll be able to revise with fresh eyes.
In the meantime, I'm going to dive into the research for my historical novel--and to take some time during this break to walk on the beach, have dinner with friends, and to hang out with Annie and my mom.
And I'm staying away from email for a whole week! At least that's the plan. Let's see if I can do it. If not, I might need an intervention.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Isn't it funny how language changes? Just a few years ago, this could not have been a joke. The internet has influenced not only the way we speak and write, but they way we think: more in terms of connections and jumping around link-crazy. A kind of maniacal multi-tasking. Or perhaps nothing changes. Consider the fact that it was about 100 years ago that E.M. Forster implored us to "only connect."
I'm disconnecting right now, for a few days, from the internet, going to focus on non-virtual reality for a while, going to do things like take long beach walks walks, write and read for hours in the morning, and wander around with my dogs and Annie. I want time to slow down on Spring Break so I really feel it and experience it. I want to "only connect" to life.
Have a great holiday, everyone.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I've taught classes in the past that I've dreaded attending (yes, students aren't the only ones who dread going to class sometimes)--but I don't feel that way at all this semester about either of my groups. I feel lucky.
Spring break is next week. Lots of writing time. I think it's possible I might be able to do a lot of work on a memoir piece I'm working on. The memoir is about the phenomenon of "caretaking" for ill and elderly people. I write about the long-term illness and death of my father, followed almost immediately by my mother's Alzheimer's diagnosis (as well as other "caretaking" stories, such as Annie's caring for her ill mother, and my mom's caring for her parents and my father).
My working title is: Seams of Our Interior Year: A Memoir of Caretaking.
The title comes from a line by Rilke's Duino Elegies:
We wasters of sorrows!
How we stare away into sad endurance beyond them
trying to force their end! Whereas they are nothing else
than our winter foliage, our sombre evergreen, one of the seams of our
interior year—not only season—they’re also place, settlement camp,
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Yesterday I talked to my students a little bit about my process of writing poetry. I read aloud a few of my poems and almost read one about my father, but I decided against it because I wasn't sure I could make it through since (as I wrote in the last entry) yesterday was the one-year mark of my his death.
So I'll post it here, in his memory. (This poem appears in Like All We Love.)
What My Father Gives
The doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists come in
with vials and clipboards and white or black shoes, pushing
buttons like astronauts, speaking words I don’t know. My father’s
lungs are failing, they’ve been failing a long time, twenty-five
years of failing, and I’ve lived my whole life as though I’m not dying.
They’ve asked my mom to take off his wedding band, to pull it off
his finger after forty-seven years, her own fingers white as bone,
his as red as the crushed velvet bedspread on my growing-up bed,
in the room of our new house where my dad built the redwood decks
around the oaks to save them, the house where we had rules like draw
the drapes when the sun shines in the living room so the carpet
won’t fade, like take off your shoes in the entry so you don’t
track in dirt, and when that didn’t work, walk only on the plastic
runners. Those runners had little rubber prongs that dug into the
carpet to stay put, and sometimes I’d turn them over and walk on the
prongs barefoot for a pleasing pinch of the feet. My sister and I
had our own rooms with big windows that looked out onto blue oak
and manzanita and ghost pine. One night I woke to an owl sitting
on a limb at my window. I turned on my light to see her better, but
of course the window turned opaque. Raccoons and possums
fell into the pool, and my dad fished them out with the leaf skimmer,
its handle curving with dead weight. When he started coughing,
I can see now, he was still young, not much older than I am now.
He drove my sister and me to school, one of us folded in the backseat
of his sports car that didn’t really have a backseat. As he shifted gears,
spots of coffee would jump out of his ceramic mug, and the cold morning
air made his cough worse. Around then, the time of the blue sports car,
he started hooking up to a machine in the morning and again at night,
then lying on a slant board for my mom to pound his back and chest
so he’d cough up the phlegm his lungs refused to clear by themselves.
He wears flannel shirts and Birkenstocks, has a full head of dark
hair, just a little gray, and a handlebar mustache they shaved in the
hospital so they could tape still the tubes. When they pulled the tape away,
when he unexpectedly lived, we saw they had shaved only above the lip
so his handlebars remained, unanchored. He has crystal blue eyes that turn
bloodshot when he coughs and coughs, and with my mom on a trip, I’m the one
who pounds him, and when we finish, cleans the machine. I throw out
the fluids still warm from his body, clean the machine with dish soap. Then
I make him breakfast, and he asks for more strawberries or hotter coffee,
and a glass of water in a short glass, not tall. He knocks over the tall ones.
My mother has taken a group trip to the other side of the continent. My father
insists on coming to the airport to pick her up, even though it’s cold and late.
When she comes through the gate, her small folded body, her hair cloud-white,
I think she can see that nothing has changed, that my father still wheels his
oxygen, and they kiss. On the trip she met an eighty-three year old woman
who still teaches second grade and who lives in a Manhattan apartment,
and my mom is astonished that some people live their whole lives unlike us,
no backyards or garages or leaf-strewn decks. Ten years ago I fell in love
with a woman, and it seemed an apocalypse, like an atomic blast cremated
the house, incinerated the formal dining room. I was stubborn. There was no
middle ground. My parents grasped at me like the string of a kite in a fierce wind.
My love and I married this February, when the mayor of San Francisco decided
to break the law, and afterward my parents took us to dinner, held up glasses
of wine, rubied in gold candlelight. When we thought he was going to die,
when his breath was like a crack in a sidewalk, my father told my love
that she is like a daughter to him. I saw him holding onto that bed, dying
in his living as he has for years. I have lived as though death belongs to him.
He has owned it for me. That is what he wants, I now see, my immortality.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Am re-reading Peter Nathaniel Malae's story collection Teach the Free Man, since I'm teaching it in my fiction writing class. Peter (who is currently a Steinbeck Fellow on campus)will be visiting my class to talk to my students about writing.
Peter's a force of nature. He's intense. He writes every day from midnight to 4 a.m., or something like that (I'll get the details when he comes to class, I'm sure). He's now working on his second novel, while the first is being seriously considered by a big publisher.
As I was re-reading the stories, I found myself getting tense, even though I'd read them before and knew what happens. He's excellent at building tension through crafting a creeping-up of external and internal conflict.
All of these stories center on California prison inmates or parolees. In the first story, "Turning Point" (which originally appeared in Cimarron Review), you can feel the painful contrast between the outside world and what's going on inside the main character's head. The whole thing simmers, and you're just waiting for the explosion. Fitting, given that violence is integral to prison life.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
The focus of the piece, in part, is women's colleges. What happens when a woman transitions to a man at a single-sex institution? Goes to show how institutions change so glacially that they never quite catch up to social changes.
The transmen quoted in the article are all so articulate and thoughtful about their queernesses. I love the way that Rey, for example, says: “Some transmen want to be seen as men — they want to be accepted as born men. I want to be accepted as a transman — my brain is not gendered. There’s this crazy gender binary that’s built into all of life, that there are just two genders that are acceptable. I don’t want to have to fit into that.”
A: He revealed that McCain was standing on a riser behind his podium.
Q: What prompted Jon Stewart, on "The Daily Show," to ask, "Has John McCain's Straight Talk Express been rereouted through Bullshit Town"?
Friday, March 14, 2008
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Things That Keep Me Writing
* Getting up early and in silence putting on my bathrobe, pouring a cup of coffee and sitting in front of my laptop on my couch.
* Writing on a laptop that doesn't connect to the internet.
* Going to readings; other writers tend to stimulate me to write.
* Blocking out writing time on my calendar.
* During not-writing time, consciously thinking of my writing projects (e.g., not allowing myself solely to obsess over whether or not I signed an invoice, what I plan to say to students about the haiku, if I need to make a dentist appointment, whether or not Ryan Seacrest is really gay, etc.)
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
And, ahem, that's the exact advice I received from an editor of a publisher who is interested in my novel Complementary Colors. The opening was too slow, too focused on setting things up--things that didn't necessarily resonate with the heart of the novel.
I revised the opening, thinking I'd fixed it. A participant in my manuscript group (there are four of us who exchange full manuscript edits, a kind of bartering system) said it still didn't start at the heart of the story. I looked at it again and realized there was still too much "throat clearing." And the first line was boring! It had nothing to do with the true struggles the narrator faces.
So I rewrote it again. The first sentence now has more depth. It carries multiple meanings. And there, on the first page, is a key action that plunges the reader right into the story's "trouble." The "trouble" that leads to transformation.
I've now sent it back to the editor. I'll let you know if she thinks I was successful.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Interesting and harrowing. I couldn't put the books down, but I'm glad they're over. Addiction to meth is not a pretty thing.
In addition to being about addiction, both books, in essence, are California books, taking place mostly in the Bay Area. Not New York, imagine that.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
It just so happened that Marilyn Hacker was slated to speak at Antioch University, so Annie and I decided to go see one of my favorite poets in the flesh. We were not disappointed.
When she reads her work, you can hear the passion of her ideas and the music of her language.
She also shared a lot of fascinating information as she spoke, such as the fact that the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova , who was persecuted by the Stalinist government, would write poems on paper, memorize them, then burn them. (Akhamatova is portrayed in this 1914 painting by Nathan Altman.)
Hacker read some great poems. One of them was a glosa, a Spanish form that involves "glossing" someone else's poem--in essence, borrowing lines from another poem. (For more detail, click here.) I'm going to try one soon, probably borrowing from Hacker!
But the poem that has been haunting me the most is "Rune of the Finland Woman." Hacker explained that the poem builds on the lives of two characters: one fictitious, one real. The fictitious one is the the young girl who saves her friend who was kidnapped by the Snow Queen in the Hans Christian Anderson story, “The Snow Queen.”
The real person the poem "calls on" is Sára Karig, a Hungarian woman who during WWII helped to save the lives of a few thousand children who had been orphaned by their deported parents.
Later, Karig on she spent some time in a Stalinist prison camp in Siberia for being a Trotskyist. She survived and became a poet, dying just a few years ago in her eighties.
Here's the poem:
Rune of the Finland Woman (by Marilyn Hacker )
For Sára Karig
"You are so wise," the reindeer said, "you can bind the winds of the world in a single strand."—H. C. Andersen, "The Snow Queen"
She could bind the world's winds in a single strand.
She could find the world's words in a singing wind.
She could lend a weird will to a mottled hand.
She could wind a willed word from a muddled mind.
She could wend the wild woods on a saddled hind.
She could sound a wellspring with a rowan wand.
She could bind the wolf's wounds in a swaddling band.
She could bind a banned book in a silken skin.
She could spend a world war on invaded land.
She could pound the dry roots to a kind of bread.
She could feed a road gang on invented food.
She could find the spare parts of the severed dead.
She could find the stone limbs in a waste of sand.
She could stand the pit cold with a withered lung.
She could handle bad puns in the slang she learned.
She could dandle foundlings in their mother tongue.
She could plait a child's hair with a fishbone comb.
She could tend a coal fire in the Arctic wind.
She could mend an engine with a sewing pin.
She could warm the dark feet of a dying man.
She could drink the stone soup from a doubtful well.
She could breathe the green stink of a trench latrine.
She could drink a queen's share of important wine.
She could think a few things she would never tell.
She could learn the hand code of the deaf and blind.
She could earn the iron keys of the frozen queen.
She could wander uphill with a drunken friend.
She could bind the world's winds in a single strand.
After the reading, Joyce Jenkins (of Poetry Flash) and Eloise Klein Healy (founding faculty of the Antioch MFA and editor of Arktoi Books) joined Marilyn for a panel discussion about small press publishing, editing, and how the heck to make money in the arts (which was never clarified).
It was a pleasure to meet and talk to Eloise--a very generous woman who is doing a lot of good things in the world, such as promoting poetry, lesbian writing, and eco-arts.
Friday, March 7, 2008
Her most recent collection, The Narrow Road to the Interior, is a surprising, intriguing mix of prose and lineated fragments that weave together, to my ear, in a surprisingly holistic way.
She draws on, "and even reinvents, classic forms and techniques used by women writers in and , including the zuihitsu, or pillow book, and nu shu, a nearly extinct script Chinese women used to correspond with one another."
Hahn was born in 1955 in Mt. Kisco, , the child of artists, a Japanese American mother from and a German American father from .
She is a Distinguished Professor in the English department at Queens College/CUNY and has won a ton of awards.
But let's cut to the chase. Here are two of her poems:
I want to return to the moment
father and I brought the canister of mother's ashes
to the temple in some odd shopping bag.
We then dropped off the remains
to leave for a couple slices down the block
but the reverend pulled a robe
over her jeans and blouse,
picked up prayer beads
and suggested which was not a question
we say a sutra. Which one was it?
I only recall I didn't have a tissue;
that the incense which I so dislike
felt sweet wafting into my sweater
and hair; that my whole body
shook without pause
though I did not make a sound
and tears and mucus covered my face and
sleeves because father did not know
I needed the handkerchief
mother had pressed a week earlier.
At times the loss felt like an organ
one could excise with a razor.
Initial Correspondence to L . . .
I am looking for clues
on how to stay a woman, not
a middle-aged woman
who sings all those girl-group lyrics
over the dash
but a woman since
I've earned that title over years of (honey, you know — )
among my girlfriends and boyfriends.
Here's the subtext:
at poetry readings
are so exquisite they might be
fashioned of wax, even
the blemishes. I realize now
how lithe I was when I thought
I was the ugly daughter — how
tremulous my beauty. I didn't know.
I just knew
I wanted to fuck my professor
(Chaucer 8:30 am M/W)
and boys from Chinese History
wearing blue caps. Nixon
was still President.
The war was nearly over.
And the young now listen
to fifty-year-old rockers.
No wonder they don't think
they invented sex. Fuckin-A
And what I want at some moment
in my forties
is not an affair —
that would rip my breast open —
I would like to wrap my arms around a guy
(I guess a guy)
for a lengthy kiss.
Standing up. In the dark.
Pulse at the boiling point
from those irretrievable initial encounters.
L, send me advice quick.
I send these words to you
across the frozen continent,
through waning light
and steam rising off rivers.
(c) Kimiko Hahn. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
This is the essence of a gorgeously-written memoir piece by poet Honor Moore in the most recent New Yorker (and available online here).
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Since I'm working on a memoir and an historical novel that relates to addiction, I think these are must-reads for me. Besides, I'm intrigued by the idea of reading two very different perspectives on the same family saga.
Other "memoir" news:
A best-selling Holocaust memoir has been revealed to be a fake. The author was never trapped in the Warsaw ghetto. Neither was she adopted by wolves who protected her from the Nazis, nor did she trek 1,900 miles across Europe in search of her deported parents or kill a German soldier in self-defense. She wasn’t even Jewish, The Associated Press reported. Misha Defonseca, 71, right, a Belgian writer living in Dudley, Mass., about 60 miles southwest of Boston, admitted through her lawyers last week that her book, “Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years,” translated into 18 language and adapted for the French feature film “Surviving With Wolves,” was a fantasy.
I'd love it if we had an out gay/lesbian/queer Idol...and there are a number of possibilities this year.
Tonight's episode should be interesting given that the news recently broke that contestant David Hernandez--who had an outstanding performance last week--worked for years as a stripper at a gay club.
And whoa, Danny, I wish you'd wear this makeup and show this same attitude on TV! (But of course the internet is already being filled up with a bunch of homophobic rantings about these guys ... )
Monday, March 3, 2008
* lesson planning
* CLA minutae
* paying bills online
* shopping and cooking and vacuuming and cleaning out the cat box and other things I must attend to for daily living
* email, email, email
* aqua sky after weeks of clouds
* dogs under my feet, begging for a walk
* research for my historical novel (very easy to get lost in)
* insecurity about what I'm writing
* blogging (oh, I guess that means I should stop the list here)...
What keeps you from writing?
Collin tagged me to pick up the work of fiction closest to where I'm sitting right now that has 123 pages or more, turn to page 123, find the fifth sentence, then post it and the next three sentences.
Book: Norton Anthology of Short Fiction (1738 bible-thin pages)
Page 123: "Silver Water" by Amy Bloom
"Nicely put," my mother said.
"Indeed," my father said.
"Fuckin' A," Rose said.
I tag anyone who will have fun with this.