Foliage rainbows

Alongside a country road an early riser maple tree turns its autumnal red sooner than most. Among the red, yellow, orange and green, is a background of blue sky. The near rainbow complete yet incomplete makes the case that nature has put the other colors of the rainbow that the healthy human eye can see — ROYGBIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet) — somewhere in the leaves
if we just look close enough
but only the luckiest do.

Advice to a budding musician

The more we play, the more we become the instrument and the less it feels like an instrument and the more it becomes an extension of ourselves and the more the music becomes an expression of us and the less it sounds like an instrument we are playing and the more it sounds like something we are part of — a body we have joined in which to rejoice almost as a parishioner in a church, or a congregation, minister, and choir. Our fingers become the ripples in the water rather than merely the things making waves. The sound a reflection of the trees in the water rather than a leaf floating upon it. Musician, score, instrument, sound become one.

How I got into writing

I wasn’t a big reader as a kid. Not like some people I know whose parents read to them every day and they grew up familiar with Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Nancy Drew or other series of books whether they be mysteries or Stephen King. I read a few books that I remember such as “The Outsiders” when I was a kid, but not much other than that. I don’t think any of my immediate family members were big readers actually. I’ll have to ask them.

My local public high school’s biggest challenges for the readers and non-readers was to fill in the blanks on Q&A sheets about our reading assignments. Basically, if you could search through a book fast for answers, you could pass those quizzes, which were all open book as far as I can remember.

It wasn’t until I started going to private high school that I really began to be required to read. They could tell I wasn’t a reader, too, because we had to read three books over the summer and do a report on them just in order to be accepted to the school. They suggested I go back a year and go there for three years instead of two. My family and I insisted that I go for two years. Well, I ended up failing junior English miserably and having to go an extra year to make that up anyway as I had to go home for the summer to work. I think that was part of my family’s ethic, though it was never presented to me in that way. It was just something I had to do. “Don’t go to summer school, you have to come home and work.”

I eventually learned how to write an intro paragraph and three supporting paragraphs and a conclusion, which got me through most English classes. It was my senior year that I got to take a class in Autobiography with Mrs. Schwingel, I think was her name. I remember “This House of Sky” and Frank Conroy’s “Stop Time,” being the most influential books I read that semester.

Part of the class was to keep a journal. I got an A+ on my journal. My teacher loved it and I loved writing things in that journal that weren’t necessarily true, but were modelled after the best writing that I read that year. If I could impress my autobiography teacher as an 18-year-old writing stuff I was just making up off the top of my head, and telling other stories about things that were going on in my life at that time, then I was off and running. This is what I wanted to do.

While I’m still working on my creative writing pursuits, I’ve had my writing published around the world as I did go into journalism to support myself while I tried to write that next Great American Novel. I’m now in a different career, but I’m doing more writing that ever before and learning more than ever before reading such books as The Portable MFA, Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, Creating Fiction (ed. Julie Checkoway), and DIY MFA, by Gabriela Pereira. 

Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book Silent Spring was published on this date in 1962 | The Writer’s Almanac

Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book Silent Spring was published on this date in 1962 (books by this author). Carson was a marine biologist, but she was also a crafter of lyrical prose who contributed to magazines like The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, and who had already published three popular lyrical books about the sea. One of these — The Sea Around Us (1951) — had won the National Book Award. In the course of her work, Carson became aware of the ways that chemical pesticides were harming plants and wildlife. She felt it was important to make the public aware of this, but she was not an investigative journalist and didn’t feel confident enough to write what she called the “poison book.” Continue reading “Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book Silent Spring was published on this date in 1962 | The Writer’s Almanac”

[Memento Mori] | John Ashbery (1927–2017) | Harper’s Magazine

Over the weekend, Pulitzer Prize winning poet John Ashbery passed away at the age of 90. “Part of what makes Ashbery so absurdly good is his faith in the essential goodness of the absurd,” wrote Matthew Bevis in the June 2017 issue of Harper’s Magazine. “He’s one of our most truly encouraging poets on account of his willingness to let himself go, to let the social self (call it ‘character’ or ‘personality’) deliquesce into the anarchic, labile, inner chemistry of selfhood.” Below is a selection of Ashbery’s work, which began appearing in Harper’s in 1969.

“Whatever the Old Man Does is Always Right,” “Commotion of the Birds,” “Featurette,” and “But Seriously” (with an introduction by Ben Lerner), August 2016

• “Absent Agenda,” October 2010

• “The Water Inspector,” February 2000

Source: [Memento Mori] | John Ashbery (1927–2017) | Harper’s Magazine

Happy Birthday to Robert Stone

According to today’s Writer’s Almanac, Stone wrote:

“Writing is lonely. […] But most of the time you are in a room by yourself, you know. Writers spend more time in rooms, staying awake in quiet rooms, than they do hunting lions in Africa. So, it’s a bad life for a person because it’s so lonely and because it consists of such highs and lows, and there’s not always anywhere to take these emotional states. […] It’s a life that’s tough to sustain without falling prey to some kind of beguiling diversion that’s not good for you.”

Can you relate?

Happy Birthday John Steinbeck

It’s the birthday of John Steinbeck. See The Writer’s Almanac for Feb. 27 for more details. 

In Chapter 17 of The Grapes of Wrath, he wrote

The cars of the migrant people crawled out of the side roads onto the great cross-country highway, and they took the migrant way to the West. In the daylight they scuttled like bugs to the westward; and as the dark caught them, they clustered like bugs near to shelter and to water. And because they were lonely and perplexed, because they had all come from a place of sadness and worry and defeat, and because they were all going to a new mysterious place, they huddled together; they talked together; they shared their lives, their food, and the things they hoped for in the new country. Thus it might be that one family camped near a spring, and another camped for the spring and for company, and a third because two families had pioneered the place and found it good. And when the sun went down, perhaps twenty families and twenty cars were there.

In the evening a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream.

Yusef Komunyakaa, Poetry Reading 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23

Where: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, 121 Wall St., New Haven

Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series

Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection

Celebrated for his powerful and carefully crafted poems, Komunyakaa has been awarded numerous prizes and honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and the Louisiana Writers Award. About his work, the poet Toi Derricotte wrote for the Kenyon Review, “[Yusef Komunyakaa] takes on the most complex moral issues, the most harrowing ugly subjects of our American life. His voice, whether it embodies the specific experiences of a black man, a soldier in Vietnam, or a child, is universal. It shows us in ever deeper ways what it is to be human.” The Beinecke Library acquired the papers of Yusef Komunyakaa in 2014.

Contact: nancy.kuhl@yale.edu

Langston Hughes’ birthday today

Today is the birthday of the man known as “The O. Henry of Harlem,” American poet Langston Hughes (1902). In 1926, he was working as a busboy at a hotel in New York City when the poet Vachel Lindsay arrived for dinner. Hughes placed some poems under Lindsay’s dinner plate. Intrigued, Lindsay read them and asked who wrote them. Hughes stepped forward and said, “I did.” And that’s how he came to publish his first volume of poetry, The Weary Blues (1926), at the age of 24.

When asked what he wrote about, Langston Hughes answered, “Workers, roustabouts, and singers, and job hunters on Lenox Avenue in New York, or Seventh Street in Washington or South State in Chicago — people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with roomers to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter — and pawning that suit before the Fourth of July.”

For more visit www.writersalmanac.org.

John Steinbeck’s Six Tips for the Aspiring Writer and His Nobel Prize Speech | Open Culture

Feb. 27 is the birthday of writer John Steinbeck, whose great novel of the 1930s, The Grapes of Wrath, gives an eloquent and sympathetic voice to the dispossessed. In 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.” You can watch him deliver his Nobel speech above.

And for insights into how Steinbeck reached that pinnacle, you can read a collection of his observations on the art of fiction from the Fall, 1975 edition of The Paris Review, including six writing tips jotted down in a letter to a friend the same year he won the Nobel Prize. “The following,” Steinbeck writes, “are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.”

For the entire list of tips and more, visit: John Steinbeck’s Six Tips for the Aspiring Writer and His Nobel Prize Speech | Open Culture

And more tips here:

Here’s one way to become a better writer. Listen to the advice of writers who earn their daily bread with their pens. During the past week, lists of writing commandments by Henry Miller, Elmore Leonard (above) and William Safire have buzzed around Twitter. (Find our Twitter stream here.) So we decided to collect them and add tips from a few other veterans — namely, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman.

Source: Writing Tips by Henry Miller, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman & George Orwell | Open Culture

And one tip from me: Don’t get too hung up on tips but write if that is what you want to do. Just write. Your style will develop. Your words will come out. Your story will come out. Try various things. Start at the end. Or start at the beginning. Try outlining if you’re comfortable with it. Or not. Do what comes naturally. If you like what you do, then you’ll find yourself trying to do more. If you don’t like what you do, then read a book and try it again when you feel you’re ready.

Shakespeare and Company, Paris’s famous bookstore where wandering writers are welcome | The Washington Post

By James McAuley, September 27, 2016

This week, the bookstore will release a comprehensive history of the shop which includes 400 pages of text, testimonies, and photographs from the store’s sprawling archive. (James McAuley, Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)
This week, the bookstore will release a comprehensive history of the shop which includes 400 pages of text, testimonies, and photographs from the store’s sprawling archive. (James McAuley, Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

PARIS — Shakespeare and Company, the small, crumbling bookshop on Paris’s Left Bank, may be the most famous bookstore in the world.

It was the first place to publish the entirety of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” when no one else would, and for decades it has been an informal living room — and sometimes a bedroom — for many of the most revered figures in modern literature: ­Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac and ­Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Durrell and Anaïs Nin.

This week, the staff of the multicolored storefront at 37 Rue de la Bucherie released a comprehensive history of the shop that originally opened at another location in 1919. The book was years in the making, nearly 400 pages of text, testimonies and photographs from the store’s sprawling archive, crammed in mismatched boxes in a closet three floors up an uneven staircase. Conceived as a “memoir” instead of a history, the project is essentially a rigorous attempt to explain what, ­exactly, Shakespeare and Company is.

Read the whole story and watch a video here: Shakespeare and Company, Paris’s famous bookstore where wandering writers are welcome – The Washington Post

First freewriting exercise in a long time

I read ““Writing Without Teachers,” by Peter Elbow in college. One of the things he talks about is how a daily freewriting exercise can free the writer’s mind to write better. It involved writing for at least ten minutes and not stopping even to think of the next word you’re going to write. Not thinking of ideas. Not starting in one place and not going to another. So, I tried to get back into the practice, which I used to do regularly, today. Here is the result. Hope you enjoy.

Freewriting. Writing freely. Writing about freedom. Writing to free the thoughts and ideas that sit untapped, stored in a can of sardines on a pallet on a ship in the harbor, a ship with a name of mostly consonants, painted thickly with a reddish pink or pinkish red sea faring paint and stacked with a seemingly infinite variety of colored shipping containers that, once removed, once unpacked, are placed neatly on trucks and indeed become the containers on the trucks – MAERSK and other names that make me, even an adult, curious as to what they contain, where they come from, China probably, where they’re going, various Walmarts or Michael’s probably, how much they’re worth and if we really need them as if they are but another example of the freedom we hold so dear, the same freedom that holds so many others captive and economically enslaved so that we can enjoy our toilet bowl scrubbers, our Christmas ornaments, our multi-colored ink pens and infinite notepad designs like this one made “sustainably” from the waste of the sugar cane manufacturing process, made for and by Staples stores, but still, behind the sugar industry in Florida where maybe some of that material originates, is a political corruption that spoils millions of acres in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars that’s reported on in the Miami Herald but continues despite the corruption that holds migrant families hostage in the Land of the Free.

Freewriting exercise by Christopher J Zurcher.

freewriting-2-cjzurcher

 

Today is the birthday of Gabriel García Márquez

It’s the birthday of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist who said, “I’ve always been convinced that my true profession is that of journalist.” That’s Gabriel García Márquez, born in Aracataca, Colombia, on this day in 1927. He’s the author of one of the most important books in Latin American literature, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967).

He once said: “I learned a lot from James Joyce and Erskine Caldwell and of course from Hemingway … [but the] tricks you need to transform something which appears fantastic, unbelievable into something plausible, credible, those I learned from journalism. The key is to tell it straight. It is done by reporters and by country folk.’’

For more on Marquez and others : The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor

‘The story really wants to defeat you. You have to be more mulish than the story’ | Writer’s Almanac

It’s the birthday of the novelist Khaled Hosseini (books by this author), born in Kabul, Afghanistan (1965).

Khaled Hosseini said: “There is a romantic notion to writing a novel, especially when you are starting it. You are embarking on this incredibly exciting journey, and you’re going to write your first novel, you’re going to write a book. Until you’re about 50 pages into it, and that romance wears off, and then you’re left with a very stark reality of having to write the rest of this thing […] A lot of 50-page unfinished novels are sitting in a lot of drawers across this country. Well, what it takes at that point is discipline […] You have to be more stubborn than the manuscript, and you have to punch in and punch out every day, regardless of whether it’s going well, regardless of whether it’s going badly […] It’s largely an act of perseverance […] The story really wants to defeat you, and you just have to be more mulish than the story.”

Source: The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Three of my favorite writers’ birthdays are today: Seuss, Irving and Wolfe.

Today is the birthday of three of my favorite writers: Writer and illustrator Dr. Seuss (born Theodor Seuss Geisel) , writer John Irving, and 20th century writer and cultural anthropologist Tom Wolfe.

In the fall of 1936, Geisel was coming home from Europe, stuck below deck during a long rainy stretch. He started making up words to fit the rhythm of the ship’s engine, and the poem he composed in his head became his first children’s book: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937). His manuscript was rejected more than 20 times; editors disliked the fantasy, the exuberant language, and the lack of clear morals. One day, after receiving yet another rejection, he finally decided to give up and burn his manuscript. He was thinking about this as he walked down Madison Avenue in New York, when he bumped into an old classmate from Dartmouth, who had recently become a children’s book editor for Vanguard Press. After hearing his story, the classmate took Geisel back to his office and introduced him to some executives, and it wasn’t long before he had a book deal. He said later: “If I had been walking down the other side of Madison Avenue, I’d be in the dry-cleaning business today.”

John Irving keeps a practiced routine when he writes. He sits at an L-shaped desk surrounded by notepads and notebooks and writes his books by hand before typing them. “I have lots of notebooks around, because one great advantage of writing by hand — in addition to how much it slows you down — is that it makes me write at the speed that I feel I should be composing, rather than faster than I can think, which is what happens to me on any keyboard.”

Irving’s most recent book is Avenue of Mysteries (2015).

He said, “If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”

And while Wolfe had a Ph.D. he decided to be a newspaper reporter. Then, in the early 1960s, there was a newspaper strike in New York City, and the paper he worked for was affected. He was out of a job for a while, and he decided to pitch an idea to Esquire magazine for a story about the hot-rod car culture around Southern California.

The editor agreed, and Wolfe went out to L.A., hung around car shows, drag races, and demolition derbies, and ran up a $750 bill at a Beverly Hills hotel. He’d taken lots and lots of notes, but he couldn’t figure out what the story should be or how to write it up — not even by the night before his magazine deadline. The editor told him to type up his notes, send them, and he’d go ahead and put together the story. Wolfe sat at his typewriter and banged out a letter to his editor with his ideas and observations. His editor liked it so much that he just removed the salutation (“Dear Byron”) at the top and published Wolfe’s notes as a feature article. The story was a huge hit and became the title piece in Wolfe’s first published book, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965).

Read a lot more about these writers here: at The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Overseas jobs online now!

A character in a story I’m working on is surprised at the online availability of jobs in Afghanistan ::::

…. you could literally find a job in Afghanistan online, from the Army’s Civil Logistics Augmentation Program, which sounded like a rational way to contribute to society — or the destruction of one — to truck drivers where employment may be located in “potentially dangerous areas, including combat or war zones,” and where threats to your life could be from “dangerous forces or friendly fire,” and, in case they’re not killed, candidates need to “work well with others, customers and all levels of management.” Or you can become a “final evaluation consultant” for a human rights organization that calls themselves a “movement working to further human rights for all and defeat poverty.”

Many of the jobs can be applied for right from a smart phone, the good thing being that with Google’s locator services, paid for only by the ads they sell (sure, okay, I believe that) they know a lot about you before you even submit your application – they know you’re interested before you even apply because they know you’ve been looking, and they know where they will have to fly you in from.”

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