The part of me that is an artist (and even though I've done plenty of art over the years I've never been comfortable calling myself that) has now separated from the writing part of me (a bit - as much as I am able).
It's taken decades to do this and it's no small thing. And while drawing and writing will always be cousins, it's writing that has carried me along --for the most part--in this pandemic. It's writing and zooming for over a year with folks I would not otherwise know but who are "regulars" to writing events, whether it's generative writing or listening to someone launch a book--whatever. And it's writing that has kept me sane (along my dear cat, Miss P). Otherwise I would truly be at my wit's end.
The part of me that is an artist and always will be what I call 'a doodler' will always be. Full stop. But I've placed that artistic web trail, including photography and drawing, at finleydesignart --where it's been for ages--and will pull out the writing side, creating a new profile; one that exists (already) and always has, but one that has not actually had its own lawn so to speak. So... this site * finleywrite launches this week and finleydesignart stays much as it has been. And sure, there will occasionally be drawings on the writing site, and yes, there will be the occasional terse thought on the drawing site, but they will have their "own-ness." And, I'm a bit terrified to admit that it's fun to see them that way.
In writing, I'm often working on stories and poems and nonfiction at the same time. It was only recently, when I heard someone say they keep their projects on different tables, that I got excited. I've started doing that too. Because when you're working on several things at once it's easy to get overwhelmed. And I am just keeping head above water as it is.
So....I'll go from desk to desk. Maybe I'll even park a hat on one table and help my person of the day slide into her persona, her profile--her way of being. And I'll continue to write and draw, but maybe I'll have more room for each thing. Hoping that is true.
A Monday is a terrible thing if you're stewing about all that you haven't done. But I was able to push out a poem. I'm not saying it's good. It's just a poem. Be gentle. Here 'tis:
I realize all I have
Is the part when I let go
And find myself staring
At the wind’s circumstance
Leaves lifted up like skirts
Or the river’s silver-white glance
I wait, I wait
Soon the weighing down will come
Reminding me of time and loss
It’s blue that cheers me
Your pale eyes remembered
Or in the evening come the moon
Blue or full or even new
In vacancy I view as grief
Could I be bear
To prowl to find that quiet place
And curl up there
Quiet that floats in evening mist
And tells me to forget the rest
Here's the first prompt for the month. I'm sharing this one, but I don't promise to share any others. DAY #1 Prompt: “I remember.”
1. Take five to ten minutes to write “I remember…” lines without stopping. Name specific scenes, moments, descriptions. You might want to try writing this by hand rather than by computer. See the sample poem below for some examples.
2. Consider copying this list and cutting it into separate lines and rearranging them, or rearrange them on your computer document. You could choose your most descriptive or striking or surprising top 10, 20, or 30… Do what you want with these lines to make a poem.
--Keep the “I remember” at the beginning of each line, or don’t. Random and optional word list: test, pleasure, stall, move, path, trace, give, unique, sturdy.
The person who mailed this prompt says this prompt idea came from the book A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry, by Gregory Orr. She sent the prompt to me and all the folks who signed up to write yesterday (for today). She said in her note, "...that way we could think about it in our subconscious," and boy, she was right. By the way, I'm hoping all the poems are not this depressing. If you'd like to get an email of my daily poem why not use my contact page to sign-up and let me know. I'll add that once I stepped into this remembering process it resulted in me remembering a bunch of things I really didn't want to - but that's the way it is with memories. You can't turn them off once loosened up. I'm posting day #1's poem here but that doesn't mean I'll post them all here. Well, anyway, just for today, here it is..a poem.
a small wading pool with triangle corners
my grandparents’ hydrangeas
the black and white movie
of driving to the hospital at night
nosebleeds that wouldn’t stop
how my teachers talked about me in 7th grade
appendicitus at eleven
how my mother dressed me like I was a paper doll
like I was her hobby
skating on new asphalt
new surfaces of survival
**LINK to my fundraising page for the Center for New Americans
A blog is a great concept, but honestly it's not the kind of thing you can do every single day and also write 9 short stories in 139 days (just under 5 months if you're counting from today). Plus, I'm adding in writing a poem every day. Here's the official challenge: write like a demon, like it's a limited time we have on earth, like it's a pandemic...hello, it is.
Time doesn't wait - it just goes on and on and we, whether we're measuring our days with coffee spoons or charging around the planet saving lives, inventing new things and creating our own jet trails; we are ones doing the doing (or not). So, just saying, enough. I may come back to blogging, but for right now I've got work to do and that is the work of writing and not just an hour or two a day. My butt is in the chair. It's the perfect time to lean-in and do everything you always felt you were meant to do. Just saying. Oh, one more thing - I posted the titles of the stories on my banner. Try not to steal them.
When I'm done it will look like this...
There’s a tin dove hooked onto the window. It’s a window that doesn’t open so it’s a good spot for a bird made of metal that will never fly but which represents flying. I come in to touch it from time to time and pretend I can, like an inoculation, get a bit of bird-ness, of movement and desire to fly high from it. I suppose that’s why it’s there. I’m not even sure where it came from, but it is something that has a power as inanimate objects sometimes do. When I moved here it was in the box and I placed it without too much thought on the old sunroom window. It seems more important than ever now that we’re all stuck in one place.
We do hold onto things. We hold onto memories and objects and hopes and dreams. I carried a whole bunch of my paintings around with me for years, decades, until one day I just let go of them. Things go on until they don’t. I suppose that’s the thought most of all in these pandemic times…when normal is anything but.
The other morning I saw a bit of sunlight on the ceiling and it was bent as if by magnets or magic and it stopped me. I took a photo of it because if light can bend , if bending light is possible, right here in my living room, why not miraculous cures? Why not all kinds of miracles? I find myself thinking of the things one thinks about after a long illness or after a fever of several days. It’s a clean slate of wonder about the world and what is possible if we can truly be ourselves and not the jealous, reactive, sometimes selfish people we have a tendency to become. It’s not like we do it entirely ourselves, but we can try harder. I can, I know that.
The other day I had a conversation with someone and I allowed myself to overreact and I was not happy with myself later. Is it so hard to just allow others to be their weird selves and to be the Dalai Lama in the room; the one who accedes and concedes and smooths out, not the one pulling and tugging and making all the wrinkles? Well, remorseful, I am (Yoda speak). I resolve to try harder to not get all plugged in. But it is a delicate balance between surrendering and giving up. Big difference. On the one hand, you are accepting and contributing and on the other hand you are removing yourself and taking yourself out of the equation; just disappearing. Somewhere in the middle would be good.
Let’s all be the tin bird; not flying, but representing all that we can be. Let’s be persevering but not privately hoping we win. Let’s all value ourselves, but not above others. God, it’s hard to do! I miss Sundays when I used to try to press the reset button. Now, it’s a drifting sort of existence without Sundays or weekends. We’re just all home all the time.
But we can be our own tin bird; each one of us trying to represent and emulate and (+outside of the metaphor) reaching out to others and helping and acknowledging their efforts in the best way possible. It's not as hard as bending light, right? If this is too corny, I’m sorry. I’m a bit fond of corny. Sitting around with my cat has only made it more noticeable.
I don’t know what to make of my new life, seven whole days here*. It’s sunny, the windows are closed to keep in the cool and you can no longer hear the cars going down the Mohawk Trail. I got up at eight o’clock (late for me) and found mold in the coffeemaker from ten days of having left grounds in the filter. It’s so unlike me to not have taken the grounds out and rinsed the pot. I think I was just terrified I would somehow cock-up the chance to be at this (now recently passed) writing conference. I almost did. I almost drove to the wrong airport and had to pull over and go inside a coffee house in Shelburne Falls and try to calm myself down, recheck my emailed notes on travel. Sometimes coffee can do that, calm you down.
And then off I went in my rented car. If they’d given me an eye test they might not have been so happy to rent me the bright red hatchback I dumped at the end of my long drive to the Burlington International Airport. It was actually the hardest part of driving; entering the parking garage, a shift in light from bright to dark and following arrows up and up until I pulled into a spot that seemed like the right place; removing all my luggage; a heavy suitcase with wheels aggressively uncooperative, a large shopping bag with a straw hat and a bathrobe, a purse, a canvas bag with my laptop and what not, standing there for a minute before locating the bridge and elevator. It seems almost surrealistic looking back.
And now, home in my home of newness, a hardback chair pulled up, sitting at my desk, an old pillow used in packing, softening the seat. Lots of empty cartons, lots of opened and not very unpacked boxes, with the exception of my books (sadly a small percentage of what I used to have) and papers; things I had to unpack right away to feel like myself; my turquoise hippo, William (a replica from the Met) and my dad’s statues and a green bowl he used to have, things like that. I feel a little lost but mostly found. It’s like I’ve sketched in my life and haven’t done the inking. I think the conference made me feel steadier about the decision to go out on my own again after decades; always tied to men, to lives that depended on me and now, children grown, it’s just me, kind of like a water witch seeking my way.
There’s a river in my backyard and just knowing it’s there makes me happy. You can see the lawn sloping down in the backyard, although who would call it a backyard with its trees that look like they’ve been there forever, and then further, on the other side of the river, climbing up into a giant hill that I personally would call a small mountain. They call them hills. I guess I haven’t climbed many hills, not like those. The trees look impenetrable, like they’re on a bit of fabric and the darkness between the trees is just painted on. Could be my eyesight, of course.
Pretty soon I’ll have to walk down and get a battery from the little family store. So far, I know about the family store, the general store, the town hall, the post office and a pizza place that has calzone, but you have to wait forty-five minutes for it if you go on a Saturday. Everyone wants to go there because they have a covered deck and it’s on the river side so you can pretend you’re on a riverboat. It doesn’t move, but the river does. It's a nice place.
I don’t have any comfortable chairs yet. There’s a window ledge in the sunroom and I sit in the corner between windows and have coffee. It’s my new favorite thing to do. I’ll be damned if I will order a recliner. I hate recliners (they’re so ugly!) and they remind me of when my son was spinning on a particularly dreadful one and slipped and fell into something. Everything was sharp back then, including my father-in-law who as an ex-navy commander controlled even our thoughts. I’m glad he’s dead. Not because I hate him so much; hate having somehow mutated into just plain sorrow and pity; two perfectly good sons he ruined, and cut into and almost ruined, partly ruined, my son who perseveres. My daughter somehow was able to stand up to him as I was in the beginning.
My brother and his wife are a tonic to be near. The reclusive life I’ve set up for myself is punctuated by visits to their home up Legate Hill despite my fear of their giant pig who walks around the living room groaning when he’s not pooping in the shallow pan that is four times the size of a cat box, or shuffling his blanket around on the oversized doggie bed he clearly loves. He’ll come, my brother, and fetch me since I’ve dropped driving as an occupation and skill. I love driving and I’m a better driver than he is because I’m dispassionate. I let go of anger so quickly I barely feel it. I’ve had plenty of practice. It’s a kindness, the fetching. I haven’t figured out how to get around. There should be a weekend shuttle to Greenfield, I think.
But this is the country and everyone has cars. Surely there must be people like me whose eyesight is crappy. Is there a support group for people who are going to get new corneas from a dead person but haven’t gotten around to it yet? I pour that thought away like yesterday’s coffee; both in denial and procrastination. I happen to think those are good skills.
*posted this after 20 days (vs. 7). Still feel the same.
I had wanted (please note past perfect) to go to the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) May conference (since I have 3 children's book projects underway; one nonfiction) and I haven't gone to many of the local meet-ups. Back in January, I said to myself, I'll be ready (to meet an agent) by spring. I saw the email about the conference and then I let a couple of weeks slip by. Big mistake! It's obviously like signing up for classes in college. You have to jump on it right away or you'll be stuck with the phrenology of warts or something. By the time I finally clicked over to look at registration, every single opportunity to make a pitch, meet an agent and have someone review your first 20 pages was gone. Sigh. Double sigh. On the up side, however, I did learn my lesson. I did sign up for Willamette Writers Conference coming this August. The registration opened today at 8:00am and there I was at 8:17am looking through all the choices and getting registration done. Unlike my love life, where I make the same mistakes over and over again, my #writinglife has a better learning curve. But now the panic sets in with a vengeance!
I realize I have about a month and a half to get my writing finished, polished and ready for scrutiny (you have to send it in about a month ahead of the conference). And, while I write every day, I go through spurts of organization, calendaring, other misc. admin tasks and finding submission "homes" (for short stories and poetry) maybe once a month. God bless submittable. Now, I feel a hand on my back pushing me to get it together. It's kind of like cleaning when you know company is coming. It gives you motivation.
There's a woman I met at the #OoliganPress #w2p2018 workshop at #PSU who I need to thank for restoring my faith in publishing and publishers. It's Kathlene Postma. Her poetry, fiction and visual art has appeared in Hawaii Review, willow Springs, Zyzzyva, Los Angeles Review and more. What's delightful is that she's such a wonderfully down-to-earth person and has such a diverse creative background. As professor of creative writing at Pacific University, she shared that her students had influenced her with their entrepreneurial spirit, which in turn inspired her to delve into adult fairy tales. She spoke about how her art (doing art) had invited her to find "a childlike intuitive space."
The conversations centered for the most part on publishing. Kathlene spoke of the "nugget of the story" and how stories can be told in many ways nowadays, and in many forms, including lots of media that wasn't around before. The panel that Ms. Postma was on (with Finn J.D. John, and Matthew Simek with moderator Taylor Thompson - also valuable contributors) was called: "Under One Banner: Writing Mediums and Submitting to Literary Journals." There was a lively discussion on the best way to know where to submit something (actually, that's my personal nemesis) and some strategies were discussed that deserve mention. Besides reading the journal you are planning on submitting to (to see if your work is a good fit) Kathlene suggests looking at some of the small presses. "See what their focus is," she advises. Poetry and Fiction are tough markets now, "..there's tons of poetry," she notes. She advises writers to "..write what you care about." [always good advice] She also suggests looking into creative nonfiction as an option.
The panel was asked, "What do you wish you would have known starting out?" Kathlene advises writers to "Be yourself. Don't worry, you'll find your tribe." [I love that] and to "write for yourself," [always good advice]. She adds, "Maybe go rogue.." meaning you have other options than traditional publishing - maybe consider self-publishing. It was partly due to her remarks that I come to be in the position of re-launching myself into myself, that is to say a more leaned in "out there" version of myself. So thank you, Kathlene. Much obliged! Oh, and there is a wonderful page on the SilkRoad website with interviews with people like Dorianne Laux and Robert Boswell. Good reading!
C. D. Finley
Opinionated, wry, sometimes corny, observational humor mostly about writing, but you never know.