Forty sheets of paper, four highlighters and one roll of scotch tape = the outline of a shortish, not overly complicated novel. Imagine the organizational mock-up for the more complicated favorites: John Irving. Dickens. It’s a satisfying process to cut apart a first draft and massage it into shape. I’ve sometimes wished away my impulse to impose meaning and order on chaos, to make randomness face front and march. Gardens, children and relationships rebel against too much masterminding; life meanders around the plan and doubles back. But it seems a work of fiction needs (requires?) someone standing in the attic of insanity, rubbing her hands together with glee.
It’s been a long winter in Boston- 108 inches of record-breaking snow, a new baby in our family and most recently, a teaching gig at The Cape Cod Writers’ Center. Although it’s technically spring, almost 30 memoirists-to-be schlepped out in the sleet and wind to attend the Pathways to Publication workshop March 21: Writing your Memoir: Story, Voice, and Vision. It was a point of professional light and a great sandwich: the Hyannis Resort and Conference center makes a mean turkey club. Many thanks to Executive Director and fellow author Nancy Rubin-Stewart for the invitation and opportunity. Here’s a pic of me at the podium. Nothing like a podium to make you feel like a pro.
Ancient Chinese velvet textiles from 1063. The top textile features the chrysanthemum, which is a symbol of female beauty in Chinese culture. The bottom textile features a dragon, representative of strength, goodness and vigilance. Note the use of red, which is representative of the south, fire and the phoenix. This red was often considered sacred in Mongolia, and the color of joy in China.
Written by Rachel Ruha
Many thanks to the members of Mothers and More/ suburban PA who hosted me via the magic of Skype for a great Inner Voice workshop on March 5. There were several writers in the mix so we shared time-management tricks and egged each other on to keep going, despite the inner (and outer) doubters. It was a lively evening and a nice respite from my work on the new novel, which is slowly taking form. I’m letting my background in theater mix with my word love in some new digital literature experiments on Eastern Phoebe, and might even try some DL inspired by this character background work. Stay posted.
Long, long, ago in a galaxy far, far, away, I co-edited the UC Irvine literary journal, Faultline, with the poet Elaine Bleakney. I am thrilled to spread the news of For Another Writing Back, her upcoming book due out in April from Sidebrow Press. Here’s a tiny little piece of the book’s lovely cover and a link to an excerpt in The Believer. GO ELAINE!
Peanut butter, frosting and hope. Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour, a Muslim, was inspired to create a “call to peace” song with Central African Republic singer Idylle Mamba –a Christian. Their hope is that the song will move faster and work more potently than other calls for the citizens and politicians) of the CAR to embrace their new president and lay down their guns and machetes. I can’t find the song, yet, but N’Dour’s belief in the power of a song reminded me of a term digital novelist Kate Pullinger uses with regard to media and content: “viral” suggests negativity and infection, while “spreadable” suggests a knowing hand, a hopeful energy guiding the push. here’s a link to more info about the song, and a link to Kate Pullinger, who’s someone every writer should check out.
The Love Cook
Let me cook you some dinner.
Sit down and take off your shoes
and socks and in fact the rest
of your clothes, have a daiquiri,
turn on some music and dance
Around the house, inside and out,
it’s night and the neighbors
are sleeping, those dolts, and
the stars are shining bright,
and I’ve got the burners lit
For you, you hungry thing.
See the photo and full post on my Tumblr Page!
Poem first printed in Good Poems for Hard Times, Edited by Garrison Keillor, Viking Press, 2005. Photo taken by me in Montreal subway station summer 2013. Translation: “Butter lights up your tastebuds!”
This poem about sticks comes from Seamus Heaney’s The Spirit Level (FSG, 1996). As a parent, I see the sticks of childhood often, and notice their solidness and agency. As a reader—when I type in poems like this– I notice the limits of my own vocabulary. As a prose writer, I notice my offhand regard for punctuation. Poems are about many things; noticing, one of them.
Two Stick Drawings
Claire O’Reilly used her granny’s stick–
A crook-necked one—to snare the highest briars
That always grew the ripest blackberries.
When it came to gathering, Persephone
Was in the halfpenny place compared to Claire.
She’d trespass and climb gates and walk the railway
Where sootflakes blew into convolvulus
And the train tore past with the stoker yelling
Like a balked king from his iron chariot.
With its drovers canes and blackthorns and ashplants,
The ledge of my father’s car
Had turned into a kind of stick-shop window,
But the only one who ever window shopped
Was Jim of the hanging jaw, for Jim was simple
And rain or shine he’s make his desperate rounds
From windscreen to back window, hands held up
O both sides of his face, peering and groaning.
So every now and then the sticks would be
Brought out for him and stood up
Against the front mudguard; and one by one
I would take measure of them, sight
And wield and slice and poke and parry
The unhindering air; until he found
The true extension of himself in one
That made him jubilant. He’d run and crow,
Stooped forward, with his right elbow stuck out
And the stick held horizontal to the ground,
Angled in front of him, as if
He were leashed to it and it drew him on
Like a harness rod of the inexorable.
WORDS (with thanks to Merriam Webster)
Convolvulus: a genus or erect trailing or twining herbs and shrubs
Balk: Hindrance, check (one of 5 definitions)
Drover: one who drives cattle or sheep
Blackthorn: spiny plum
Ashplant: walking stick made from an ash sapling
So American Apparel has a store window up with the work of Petra Collins in it: mannequins with bush, modeling panties. First, this calls to mind the labia-revealing “Onionskin Jeans” in Gary Shteyngarts Super Sad Love Story (great book, brilliant imagination). Secondly, it gets me riled up about prioritization of the visual. Bold actions and public statements about the invisible aspects of womanhood read as more “Womanist” to me: pay, healthcare and health awareness, leave policies, undervalued caregiving, global gender inequity, and others. Yes, there’s something right about desensitization when it comes to anatomy; it’s a shame that Gore is deemed less offensive on TV than Healthy People Parts. And yes, TV and storefront displays are inherently visual and artist Petra Collins in a visual artist. But when we over-prioritize visuals, we alienate ourselves from our other senses, those which sometimes tell us more about our health, comfort, and even subconsciously, how we view our genitalia. Do we think of our bush (or lack thereof) as inherently meant for general public consumption and assessment or is our bush—and all it is designed to protect and conceal—our own property? I don’t mean to be Victorian but here’s what I might do with my window: