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Young Man with Bass Guitar

I close my eyes and I see a lean dark silhouette. His left hand is deftly making the changes and his right thrums the heck out of his first Fender Squier. The awkward auditorium lighting makes the tuning keys especially bright and the fall of mop-hair over the eyes a dull gold. (At some point during this past year, he has grown shoulders.)

He's got the audience clapping the beat. He ups the amp, lets the tiniest bit of distortion creep in. I want to keep that grin on his face.

April 29, 2003 in Music, dailiness, snippets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Three from Frank O'Connor

A group of us have been talking at length in my newsgroup about the structural make-up of scenes. We're wrestling with finding a common terminology — should we use Bickham's "scene" and "sequel," with it's goal-conflict-disaster formula, or something else? I'm a bit partial to set-up-revelation-conflict-aftermath, but this may be splitting hairs. In any event, I'm reminded of this bit from Frank O'Connor:

There are three necessary elements in a story--exposition, development, and drama.

Exposition we may illustrate as "John Fortescue was a solicitor in the little town of X"; development as "One day Mrs. Fortescue told him she was about to leave him for another man"; and drama as "'You will do nothing of the kind,' he said."

—Frank O'Connor,

from The Lonely Voice: a study of the Short Story

April 26, 2003 in if in doubt, quote | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Desk Data: April

  • Number of desks in household, per capita: 1.5
  • Percentage of time individual household members work at a desk in own room: 10
  • Percentage of time household members work at desk in common area: 40
  • Percentage of time household members work on desk-work but not at a desk: 50
  • Inventory of items on the family desktops: desktop and laptop computers, printers, lamps, electric pencil sharpeners, shopping bags full of loose papers, a set of rapidograph pens, sets of colored pencils, set of vanity pencils that say "Hit Those Keys", assorted dirty dishes, CDs, mystery items buried under more paper, empty and half-empty cans/bottles of Diet Coke and spa water, completed manuscript-printouts bound with shoelaces, file folders, bound diaries, eccentric containers holding paper clips and sundries, totem animals and artifacts, books that aren't referenced, but stand watch over the desk owner's activities.
  • Frequency that desktops undergo clearage, per year: 7.4
  • Inventory of items conspicuously absent from family desktops: phones, wide open spaces, clocks, calendars, up-to-date address books, usable writing implements.
  • Percentage of family members who write a minimum of 1000 words a day: 100

April 25, 2003 in indices | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Behind the Counter

Steve, over at OnePotMeal, has really outdone himself today with "Twenty-five short films about Cumberland Farms." I think we all, at some time or another, work a job that is both tedious and in-your-face. One of mine was:

Dry Goods

By ten the shop is preened:
each bolt propped in its niche,
loose ends all wrapped and pinned,
each thread-cabinet slot rigged
so new spools drop fast after old.
The cashier says, "People really make
a mess of their money," and strops
a bill across the counter's edge.
She makes each president-filled oval
do a crisp right-face in the drawer.
There's nothing else to do.
The bell above the street-door
jolts us all into identical
looks of "May-I-help-you?"
The customer stands blinking
while the bleached noon outside
yields to our dim calico twilight.
Measuring lengths of grosgrain
for hair ribbons or hatbands,
my thoughts tuck under them-
selves like a flat-felled seam.
I guess I may quit tomorrow
or keep this job for years.

© 1988,1998 LGF.

April 22, 2003 in dailiness | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Happy earthday-birthday, Martha!

"hippo birdie two ewes"

April 22, 2003 in announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Show/Hide Layers

Jill's post about Hiding behind a blog (itself a very poignant expose of a personal sorrow) has had enormous ripples. It's joined up with so many conversations, too many to reference here, but I've been interested in the ones about why people keep online notebooks, and what sort of assumptions we make (regarding fiction versus fact) when we read these. Shelley Powers over at Burningbird has a long post on this.

Jill's regular readers seem glad she told them; it gave them a chance to say they're sorry she's hurting. As for whether posting sideways about personal matters is a lie of omission, that's just plain silly. It's incredibly naive to assume that any of us refrain from lying, if not saying everything we think (being tactful?) is the criteria for truth. There shouldn't be a rule that you have to spill everything — nor one that says you can't interleave personal and professional voices. Jill's trying out a lot of new voices, and I like to think her readers have encouraged this lyrical one along with many others.

Getting back to Shelley — the Burningbird attracted my attention because one of her readers brings up a passage in Annie Dillard's A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Like Shelley's reader, I use Annie Dillard's words often in my teaching about strong writing. I've always loved the opening of Pilgrim:

I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest.... And some mornings I'd wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I'd been painted with roses.

I looked as though I'd been painted with roses. There's an image. I believe it. However, learning that Dillard "made up" this part about the cat doesn't faze me. Although it's enriched with a good deal of naturalistic data, Pilgrim isn't "about" the natural world — it's about what it felt like to spend time alone in the natural world.

Fair warning: I'm here to write what it feels like. Often, this is what it feels like to me, but sometimes it's richer when I get to enter imaginatively into another life or experience.

April 21, 2003 in Weblogs, methods | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


If You Were A...

If you were a perfume, what perfume would you be?

April 20, 2003 in blockbusters | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Sabine Farm

My sister asked me a few days ago if I'm planning to polish and publish any of the pieces that appear here on Wild Keys. My answer at the time was, essentially, of course.

But I find myself rummaging through different aspects of the question. I don't take it as an oversight (the pieces have just been published — here they are) but as a statement about their worth: that, knowing me as the lifelong in-print aspirant that I am, Martha wonders if I intend to "do" with these things.

What indeed. Some are tiny slices of larger projects that might someday be print-published works. Some continue thoughts that were started in works that have already been print-published. Since publishing in the traditional sense is only partly within my control, my focus lately has been on everything but publishing. And as I get more and more connected on the web, I find myself caring less about the formality of publishing and more about participating in the larger conversation. I feel less fussed about the ownership of my words and more interested in what got me writing in the first place:

I want to get down (write/tell/show) what it (life/consciousness/dailiness) feels like.

So it caught my attention yesterday when Mark Bernstein pointed out this article which argues that an ideal economic "ecosystem" for the artist is one:

...which looks to a mixture of the traditional amateur, performance, patronage, and commission forms of payment.

Both Mark and "How Does the Artist Get Paid?" author Dan Bricklin raise important issues, but instead of drawing conclusions I am reminded of "The Sabine Farm," a poem in Anthracite Country (which I rate as one of the best single volumes of poetry ever), by Jay Parini:


You spoke of Horace on his Sabine farm...
... Through confident, warm years,
with kingly patrons tending to his needs,
he dug the perfect furrows of his perfect odes.

I know a few of us would surely prize
that farm. ...

My friend, we follow in the Roman colter's
wake but in our own ways, not really farmers,
but poachers on the farm Maecenas granted.
....Caesars in their private jets
want nothing of us now. ...
I pay my debts, as you do, with a shrug
and turn to cultivate the ground, protected
by the barbed-wire fencing of our prose.
Unpatronized, we groom this inward land.

April 16, 2003 in Weblogs, dailiness | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


This Moth

...fragment from an old notebook:

This moth, wings folded, is unrecognizable as a moth. Convinced it is a decomposing leaf, a scrap of newspaper, I nearly grind it into powder with my sneaker. From between my feet it opens wings the startling blue of a robin's egg, rises and is gone.

Although I remember writing this in summer it seems to fit with today. Finally it feels like spring in southern New England. The cardinals have returned to the giant boxwood in the back yard. I forget they are back and then glimpse the male — a vivid wedge of red. It reminds me of when I wrote this:

This morning as I dress, a jay
dives from the gum tree —
the blue streak running through me

April 15, 2003 in snippets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Weblog Central, MSNBC.com

Apr. 15, 2003 — For those who like their TV/blog overlap with a more professional polish, check out the CBS show “Judging Amy,” which I understand from Lisa Firke is featuring a character with a Weblog. This is the first instance I know of a fictional TV character with a blog. Can Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in “You’ve Got Blog!” be far off?"

April 15, 2003 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Owl Pellets

Both kids have brought home owl pellets for dissection for their science classes.

At first, Marian was all, euuwwwwwww, owl vomit. But owl pellets are quite dry and very soft.

And very dense. You have to tease them apart with great gentleness. What at first looks like dryer lint separates into clumps of mouse and vole fur. You find a head — eek. And then, whoa.

There it is: a tiny skull, with teeth. And there's more: mandibles, tiny ribs, tough, tiny spinal joints, claws, the impossibly small bones of a tail.

April 13, 2003 in natural histories | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


(Marshmallow) Peep Show

My friend Nancy Werlin (see sidebar) pointed the way to this Easter peeps version of Romeo and Juliet.

I think it's brilliant, if a bit reductive. It feels like something Scott McCloud ought to reference. I particularly value the notation on scene 6. I like a narrative with insight into its own intentions.

April 12, 2003 in practical theories | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Stable Mom

I've become a Stable Mom. Like a Soccer Mom, only with horses.

The day-to-day fallout from this is not too bad: the stable is only a few miles from our house and there are worse things than having muck-boots littering the front hall. (Ice hockey equipment, for instance, as I know from our years in the dorms, generally takes up more space and smells much worse.)

When I was growing up my parents couldn't have afforded riding lessons and I'm not sure we can either. By having relatively little actual experience with horses, I was able to retain a romantic view of them. Now that I know them better, I realize I didn't really miss anything. I like animals and animals like me, but I'm not a horsewoman.

With Mare, it's different. In the year and a half my daughter's been riding, she's absorbed the ethos of the barn, which is to eschew nail polish and helplessness and instead cultivate a cool indifference to muck and pride in being able to toss a hay bale nearly as big as you are. In the barn, you earn respect by coming early and staying late, by doing the most work, by literally Windexing the floor of your favorite horse's stall.

In the barn, your glory is getting to braid manes and tails or paint horse hooves. You find an old horseshoe and paint it a pretty color and mount it over your favorite horse's stall. You take to wearing t-shirts with the barn's logo on them; you get to order one with your name embroidered on the front and the word "staff" on the back. And, finally, you get to show.

A horse show starts days before the actual event. Every bit of saddlery and tack gets oiled or washed. The lint trap of your mother's dryer fills up with hair. If it's warm enough, the horses get a bath under the hose. It's not unlike a car wash, except the horses can kick and or slap wet tails at you.

The day of the show, which begins before dawn, every inch of the horse gets curried and brushed. Crumbs of sleep are gently swabbed out of his eyes. His nostrils get cleaned with baby wipes; his anus gets wiped with baby oil. His nose gets powdered. His chestnuts, the hard horny knots on the insides of his legs, get anointed with Vaseline. When he's finally brushed and braided and tacked up, the rider can attend to her own toilette.

Jods. You gotta have jodhpurs. They must fit tightly, so the judges can see air between you and the saddle when you post. Boots, clean black ones. A white shirt, with a funny backwards collar like a cleric. You must wear a pin in the front of this, even if it's only a humble safety pin.

A smooth-fitting jacket and a black velvet helmet completes the ensemble but you're not done yet. If your hair is long, it gets bundled into a pony tail or a bun; if short it gets caught in a hairnet and tacked sternly behind your ears with bobby pins.

(No, you tell your mother, you can't possibly eat anything.)

Several hours after your arrival at the show grounds, the first event begins. Showmanship. You lead your horse in through the gate and watch the judge. When she nods you trot forward, taking care not to appear to be pulling your horse. You stop on your mark and smile. The judge walks all around the horse; you carefully shift from one side and then the other, never standing between her and the horse. She nods at you and makes notes on her clipboard.

After everyone in the class has gone there's a pause while the judges score the event. Chances are you'll get a ribbon, but what color?

Throughout the day, you'll walk or ride through the gate into the ring. Walk-Trot. Canter. Equitation. Pleasure. Each class has it's own name; sometimes the judges look more at you, the rider, sometimes more at the horse beneath you. It's always over too fast.

Lest you get too stuck on yourself, you'll be reminded it's not all about you. There are other girls from the barn to cheer for. The horses need water, flakes of hay; they must be unbridled and allowed to graze, they must be tacked up again. At the end of the day, the trailer rumbles home decorated with rosettes. It needs mucking out, the horses need food. Every saddle and bridle and pad gets hung on its own peg. The hundreds of tiny braids are picked out and the manes and tails brushed smooth.

You kiss your favorite's whiskery nose before you go, then go back once more and fling your arms around his neck. You leave him a rosette: he worked hard, he earned it.

The blue Danish, your very first one, you take with you, retaining your grip on it even as you fall asleep in the car. At home your mother straightens the boots you leave in the hall and refrains from asking you to walk the dogs. She looks sunburned, how did that happen? You fall asleep again at dinner, your head in your plate. You dream you are a horse and your hair is made of ribbons.

April 8, 2003 in dailiness, snippets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Ubiquity of the blog

A significant subplot of last night's Judging Amy revolved around Donna's blog. My favorite entry was the one about how ants always fall over on the same side.

I was amused to see that blogs have found their way into primetime (which they may have before now, but this is the first time I noticed.)


When I googled to see if this factoid about ants was in fact true, I failed to find any specific reference, but I did discover that some people spend a lot more time thinking about ants than you'd expect:

Consider this entry at LitDotOrg.

One of the biggest blog cliches has to be the lament that "this is the most boring blog ever."

Well, tongue firmly in cheek, here it is:

the dullest blog in the world

Postscript: Best of the Trackbacks

Apr. 15, 2003 -- Weblog Central at MSNBC.com -- For those who like their TV/blog overlap with a more professional polish, check out the CBS show Judging Amy, which I understand from Lisa Firke is featuring a character with a Weblog. This is the first instance I know of a fictional TV character with a blog. Can Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in "Youve Got Blog!" be far off?"

April 2, 2003 in Television, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


The View from Up Here

The challenge for the next issue of The First Line is up and while a little banal still has me thinking:

"The view from up here is incredible and makes me feel ________________."

Up where? Feel what? In case you're not familiar with the premise of The First Line, the editors say:

But what if authors had to share first lines? The purpose of this magazine is to celebrate the first line. ... How many different directions can we go in when we start from the same place?

In these times the possibilities seem espacially poignant.

What's the view from where you are?

Postscript: Best of the Comments

--from Pete:
It's a nice idea. More serious than http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/, though!

--Lisa replied:
I've had a few stories published in this one. It's a nice little market, and a fun writing challenge.

And I agree: Bulwer-Lytton is a hoot.

April 1, 2003 in blockbusters | Permalink | Comments (0)