Turningintowintersday’s Childe

Mid-January, night, sound machine on, the dog asleep. This is a narrow path, this writing journey; the isolatory nature of placing words on paper, making some sense of things. I pretend there’s more at stake than there really is, convincing nobody, fooling only myself. Between the two weeks of illness at the holidays and the last two weeks of the school semester, my energy has turned dark, the motivation towards the positive almost invisible.

The new year brought some thought of fresh routine, of yoga classes and a shift in my normal day-to-day manner of getting things done. Third week of the year and I’m in a slump, avoiding exercise, overstressing about finances, contemplating the whys and the wherefores, the what-ifs and the whither-to-now’s. It’s not as if I’m depressed, though my Irish attraction to the dismal doesn’t always serve me too well.

Finally, after months of dipping in and out of it, I finished Anna Burns’ Milkman. I get the hype, the ingenuity of the writer to spin a tale so well, the syntactically complex sentences and the familiar cadences broken into new ones. Still, it was a hard slog, broken up with a fair number of Young Adult graphic novels and some other books. Even the urge to read something new is dimmed. Mary Oliver’s essay collection, Upstream is in my writing bag, and it gives me deep pleasure to read her thoughts about life and nature and mortality.

I have nothing in progress in the writing world, no submissions, no hooks and lines to attend to, rather, there’s little to manage at this point. Supposedly, I’ve a collection of short fiction/prose poetry being looked at, though my radar tells me to harbor little hope of success. One small piece written over the past four weeks might make it out into the world, but that would mean mobilizing and logging on to Submittable.

Instead, I’ve run a bath, made a cup of tea, considered signing up for boot camp tomorrow morning, which I most likely won’t do. Probably in a bit of a slump if I’m honest with myself. For no good reason. Just because. Sometimes it’s from the thick of the woods that the birdsong emerges, and maybe that’s where I’m at right now, in the thicket, hidden by branches, waiting for my voice to return to me.

Mutteringday’s Childe

Darkish mornings, the winds strewing leaves and downed branches over the road, I’m driving through the murkiness to the gym. So much easier to stay in bed, take an extra hour and fifteen to sleep, wake and get to work in plenty of time to be organized for the new week. Instead, I push my body to the limits, or at least what I think are its limits at 5.25am on a Monday.

My head is filled with plans for the week—teaching a cross-disciplinary workshop on Elie Wiesel’s Night, conferencing with freshmen about their essay drafts, how to integrate vocabulary and grammar instruction into the classroom in an organic manner, whether to ditch the ratty blue sectional sofa the kids sprawl on—forgetting that it’s also Halloween and everyone is bound to be on a different wavelength this week.

Letters of recommendation need to be written this week, the November 1 deadline looming, as well as the kick-off to FlashNano, a thirty day exercise in writing process and discipline. I need the structure, the daily prompt that’ll spur me into action to get something creative done in my life. Last year it was the genesis of my 365-days of the Bird project, which lingers at around 265 pages, a good forty days behind schedule, and I excuse myself because of moving house, starting a new school year, all the stresses of life that interrupt the creative path.

I heard from my friend, David, today, and might plan a writing group to meet once a month beginning in a few weeks. This is not something I’ve had since the days at LSU, when my weeks were defined by workshop schedules and performance studies’ projects. And yet, there seems little chance of balancing everything just-so and making such great strides. The layers of stress and overwhelm, the social-emotional burden, the collaborative cycle of inquiry, the thousand small demands of the workday, all make the world a place where “one step at a time” has to be the watchword.

And yet, one step at a time won’t get us closer to where we need to be in this devastating and beautiful work we engage in as teachers. Students are stressed out in a way I’ve not seen before, their family lives and struggles bring layers of trauma that interrupt and many times derail the learning process, yet we carry on; we carry on teaching, listening, understanding, advising, cheerleading, modeling, motivating, and creating.

Shattersday’s Childe

Early morning. Phone call from Ireland, 90-year-old mother in nursing home. Law of diminishing returns. Sun streaming in here, the birds hectic and eager for food. Scrub jays take peanuts from the hand, a wood pigeon perches on a stone bowl filled with water. Spiderweb catches the sun, a golden skein leading to a wicker chair. This is the first Saturday in forever with no demands on our time, no sinks and toilets to plumb into refinished bathroom floors, no windows to be sanded, no this, that, the other to be fulfilled. The world here is quietly returning to some semblance of normal, a figuring out of routine and ritual we must create to make this new home work. The dog paces, eyes on the wandering chickens, their tufted legs tempting morsels. Bubbling fountain by my outdoor writing space brings a sense of Tassajara’s creekside cabins. Workdays are long and a mixture of fulfilling and exhausting at once. Read a poem about an owl, feel the flap of the pigeon’s wings. Small boys visit, the yarbelling of kids a made-up word from a clever daughter. 




Friday’s Childe

July 5th, a day after America’s birthday. Felt like a Monday, not a Friday. Spent the morning clearing weeds from the patio, wondering about the short-cuts taken by the workmen who set the tiles in place. They did a fabulous job, except for putting some sort of cloth between the tiles and the ground to mitigate the weeds. Now, weeds sprout long and lovely and lush and require constant monitoring. Weed-whacking needs to be done in short, manageable chunks.

I’ve fallen off the workout wagon, gone from a three-times a week bootcamper at 5:25am to a lazybones who couldn’t be bothered to get his ass out of bed to work out for love nor money. Next week, I tell myself. Next week I’ll return to rising at 5am and driving the short distance to the gym. Creature of habit, I’m now habituated to laze in bed rather than stir out of it.

I’m editing a new collection of flash fiction/prose poetry, Scatter the Fingerbones and Other Stories. Line by line, page by page, cutting darlings, sometimes whole stories that simply don’t fit in the manuscript. The biggest problem I’ve had to deal with is the formatting of the damn Word file. Section breaks have thrown the page numbering off and I’ve had to painstakingly go through the entire 156 pages and remove all page and section breaks so the page numbering can work correctly.

At some point I’ll get back to writing new material and submitting once more. It’s sobering to look at the Submittable page and see it so empty. When I was working at UCSB I had time and energy to maintain a high level of submissions, track each story and constantly have 20-30 pieces on the move. Now, there’s one solitary story out there in the world, in-progress. Better than none, I suppose.

Had a small book launch for the novel, The Heart Crosswaysat the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, a few weeks ago (on my birthday, actually), and it was a really nice evening. Small crowd of friends and random folk, read from both the novel and my first book, Blood a Cold Blue and repaired to Elsie’s Tavern for drinks afterwards.