Friday, December 6, 2013

Transition - as a theme in a writer's life

This whole autumn has felt like a transition.

So, I went on that 2-week journey to Alberta in September, the Athabasca River Pilgrimage, with 5 Canadians, a trip into "the heart of a wounded planet" (one of the titles I have given to my presentations). You can go to my last post, astonishingly TWO  months ago (who knows where the time goes, indeed), to read about it and what I learned there.

The transition is this: that journey shifted my direction, altered my path, created new themes and insights to explore in my writing, as well as creating a kind of urgency over getting enough financial support for my 501(c)(3) that I can keep on paying my rent (that annoying challenge for many a writer).

The urgency conflicts with my desire to write - also to speak, to present, to share, to open dialogue on all the disturbing things I learned on the journey - and still to write, to try to write something, every day.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Who knows where the time goes...?

I always loved that song. Now, looking at when I last posted - okay, yes, where did it go?

For those of you who follow both my Spirituality and Ecological Hope project as well as this blog, you can probably guess what happened. With a big adventure coming up in September - a 2-week pilgrimage with 5 Canadian colleagues along Alberta's Athabasca River from the Rocky Mountains to the oil sands industrial site - well, I got a bit distracted.

Not from writing, just from writing about writing...

We created a blog for the pilgrimage and I do hope you might still give it a visit []. Some nice writing happened there and attracted a bit of a following for a while. I think it was a wonderful use of the blogging technology to allow writing, as it emerged from a powerful experience like this, to have an immediacy that moved many people who supported us on this journey. And then it was also about one of the most crucial realities of our times, one in which the course of human life on this planet is at stake.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Like life, revisions really are the hard part

Over and over again...yes, you need to do that, no matter how much your brain is shutting down at times.

You have to do this hard part. You need to go over the same pages - again and again and again. You have to.

Seldom does it get put down in finished form from the beginning. That's the nature of the beast - the writing beast, and then life, too. Requires practice - this business of creative writing, this business of living.

You sense what is either wrong, or at least not quite right, what gets off balance, what, when read by someone else, doesn't quite convey the intended meaning. Or the phrasing was awkward, or you lost a sense of perspective and put something there important to you perhaps, but not at all to a reader. Or you lost the thread, or thread(s) of the narrative because you got distracted, or absorbed somewhere that sent you off center.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Writing is not an even process...

Well, that declaration is nothing new. I have struggled with a regular writing schedule for a month now. That's nothing new either. It has to do with writers needing to do something else to make a living... which is just sad. I mean, there are the lucky few, but most of us struggle along trying to do creative writing at the edges of all the things we need to do to pay our bills, right?

There are many unkind realities of the U.S. culture, and this is one of them.

Okay, but the other thing is getting to this point in the book-writing where I had to clarify for myself once again what this really is. I think I let too much come in from outside to steer me off course at times.

Part of this is my own difficulty in naming the genre (why does this culture so insist on putting things in easy-to-relate-to boxes?). I keep calling it my more-than-memoir, but the use of that genre word has tended to have others put the book in a genre-box, or for my critique group to sometimes expect something from it that was not my real intention.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Revisions, revisions, revisions

It's a lot like life, isn't it? And sometimes just as tedious.

Okay, I have abandoned this blog for a couple weeks. I was in Manhattan for more than half of May, personal reasons, and only managed that one post on May 17. I don't know why it was so hard to write in this blog space because Manhattan inspires a lot for a writer. I think too much input made it hard to reflect in a way that gives way to an essay or a poem.

But it did give me time for revisions...

The prologue and chapter four of the multi-generational memoir needed revising, not just the little ones, the bigger ones. Reading through the manuscript after the first set of revisions, the energy just kind of died in several pages of chapter four, so that's what I took with me to New York. Now I have to read through it again.

And again.

At some point, one has to let it go.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Noon in Manhattan

That's the time as I begin a long-overdue post on my writers blog. I'm staring out at the brick walls across a narrow street in Tribeca, a neighborhood of old factories near the Holland Tunnel entrance that is being rapidly gentrified and becoming some of the most expensive real estate on the island. From the corner windows, I can see down to the Hudson River, where I will walk soon and long on a lovely spring day in Manhattan.

 I've loved this city for a long time. Its buzz is seductive, intense. It's a cultural mecca, and it is also the history of immigrant America, once wild and lawless, always a bit out of control, an entryway for so many of our ancestors. Mine, on both sides of the family, passed through its port to set foot in "America" before heading west where the jobs existed, where a world could still be created out of hard labor and a whole lot of suffering and loss.

Manhattan has also become a city for the rich, and maybe also the very poor who are still rent stabilized and able to access needed services. For the rest of us, it's a great place to visit, but impossible to stay.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Writing from the wounds

by Margaret Swedish
"’s becoming harder and harder not to see pain as a necessity for creating truth with words..."

That was written by Luke Reynolds for an article in The Writers Magazine back in 2011. The magazine's home is outside Boston and re-posting it was a way to express something of what they were feeling in the wake of the marathon bombings. The article is entitled, "Why We Need Pain to Write."

Yeah, I know. I feel the resistance, too. And the truth of it.

Reynolds reminds us of the John Gardner quote: "Art begins in a wound."

Is that true?

I sat for a long while on a bench at the lake shore this morning just after sunrise. The sky was so soft, gentle oranges and grays, rays appearing here and there through the clouds just above the horizon where the sun could find openings, the water still, glowing silver and sparkling, the ducks and gulls busy with life. 
Rays appearing here and there through the clouds where the sun could find openings...

Lake Superior - Photo: Margaret Swedish
Is that what we're trying to do? But to find the openings, we have to observe the clouds, the places blocking out the light. Naming them is part of what it means to be a writer. And then to remember that all of it was what gave beauty to the morning, the contrasts in color and light, the struggle of life as the new day begins.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Our urgent mission to 'gentle the human'

I'm a little surprised to see how long it's been since I've posted here. Many excuses - a conference in Kentucky celebrating the work of Wendell Berry (which I wrote about on my project blog), finishing up the first set of revisions of the memoir (exhausting internal work), fundraising for my project, and then this week...

...this awful week.

Something surreal about watching things unfold this morning. CNN and MSNBC ought to be embarrassed for much of their coverage. On some of the alternative media websites and Facebook pages, there are thoughtful, disturbing, careful back stories to all this that challenge the tendency to knee-jerk responses, automatic stereotyping, and rush to judgment. What cable TV wants is to be there for the shootout, and waiting for that means filling a lot of empty airspace with nonsense. Watching these reporters being semi-hysterical amidst the police presence in Watertown reminds me of the guys who stand in their hip boots and raincoats while being battered by hurricane winds and rain shouting into their microphones, "The wind is really blowing now...!"

Hey, guys, we get it. There's a big storm going on.

Monday, April 1, 2013

National Poetry Month

Well, I certainly didn't start out the writer part of my life writing poetry. It took me decades to even venture into it seriously. But since I have, and since a few poems were published on Verse Wisconsin's online edition last year, and since I will have one or two in a poetry collection from Orbis Books later this year (info to come), and since I have started submitting elsewhere, I have to begin telling myself that I have finally come to poetry and it has sort of welcomed me.

As I have written here before, poetry may have more to say to us than any straight on prose because it touches resonances in the heart and soul that wake up those parts of us that might save us, dominated as we have been trained to be by the rational, logical, understanding mind.

We understand so little, actually, that tapping into these other experiences of knowledge, wisdom, insight, intuitiveness feels crucial to me as we continue our wayward path towards ecological and cultural collapses of various kinds.

Something has gone so wrong with the whole human project on this planet, enormous miscalculations about who we are and our place within life and the universe.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Writing from what you know

I mean, is there anything more toxic within the culture these days than all those people who speak from what they don't know? Watch Sean Hannity for a great example. Of course, a lot of TV news and punditry is just personalities reading scripts on a teleprompter written for them.

They are saying things they do not know.

Or listen to those Sunday morning political shows (I don't anymore, can't, my soul finally rebelled). My Ayn Rand Sen. Ron Johnson is a great example, too. I can still be stunned by someone who apparently has no real understanding of economics trying to yell down a Pulitzer Prize winning economist like Paul Krugman. You don't have to agree with Krugman all the time in order to appreciate how smart he is, but if you are going to engage him in debate, at least know your stuff, right?

Yup, few things more toxic than listening to people speak like confident, strident, experts on things about which they know so little. Wayne LaPierre of the NRA is another great example. Sometimes I gasp at the factually errant things he declares with such practiced righteous anger. What's worse: that he does this, or that the political culture takes his point of view seriously, as part of the "balance" in the debate?

Climate change - don't even get me started on that one.

With that in mind, I was intrigued by this article in the NY Times yesterday: Outside the Citadel, Social Practice Art Is Intended to Nurture. It's about a rising expression in the art world in which art is deeply engaged in the world - not just art for the sake of art, but art embedded in the struggles of humans for dignity, expression, social change, and social transformation, often at a fiercely local level (though with potential repercussions far beyond).
"Known primarily as social practice, its practitioners freely blur the lines among object making, performance, political activism, community organizing, environmentalism and investigative journalism, creating a deeply participatory art that often flourishes outside the gallery and museum system. And in so doing, they push an old question — 'Why is it art?' — as close to the breaking point as contemporary art ever has."
Part of the answer to that question, why is it art, is simple - it is art because it is art: that's the answer. It emerges from the human experience like food from organic gardening, like dreams in the night that simply appear, like air in our lungs or blood in our veins. It is something we need to do to live.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Edges - where things meet

I found myself in the pre-dawn dark this morning thinking about edges. I picked up my pencil and the journal I keep nearby for those moments of inspiration you don't want to lose, and I started writing:
In this one leaf
here at the edge where the pavement
meets grasses, meets wildflowers
and fallen branches
near the water's edge,
a story -
how can I decipher it?
It wanted to be a poem, so I kept writing, and it kept coming, and now it exists, inviting more work, reshaping, edges between lines and words, punctuation marks and spaces...

Edges - where one thing meets another.

Monday, February 25, 2013

My guest blog at Stoneboat - Writing at the End of the World

I was invited by writing colleagues to contribute a post to the blog of the literary journal, Stoneboat.

The post is entitled, Writing at the End of the World, a theme you have seen often here. Hope you'll give it a read.

This morning, I took my cup of coffee down to the Lake Michigan shore to watch the sunrise. The air was crisp and cold, a winter haze settled over downtown and a bank of clouds out in the distance over the lake.The water was so, so still. I could tell the slow motion of swells rising and falling not by the water itself, but rather by the movement of the clouds' reflection in the clear ice covering the water, back and forth, back and forth. Could make you dizzy. Much of the surface had a thin layer of ice that made crinkling sounds as the sheets bumped gently into one another. Out in the small spaces of open water, geese and ducks flocked. Every now and then I could hear the clear sounds of wings sloshing in the water as they moved about.

It was magic, always magic, this world we are ruining... How is it possible we are ruining this world?

What does it mean to be a writer (speaker, too) in such a time?

Meanwhile, this was posted on Upworthy today, which is how I discovered it. Give yourself a gift. Take 20 minutes to watch this, then sit for a moment and feel the change, let it come, speak it, even if you are alone. Don't let the moment just pass; dont get up right away and do something else. Sit with it. Feel what changes within you.

How can we go on like this - knowing what we know?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Culture of violence: what does that mean?

Writers search for voice and commitment. It is important to me to bring those two things together. The authenticity of voice roots itself in a stand one takes, a space where one situates oneself, a vantage point from which the writer looks out on the world and tries to articulate what one sees there.

And for me, this other point - to tell the truth about it. I don't just mean factual or objective truth, but truth that rests in the integrity of what one sees, interprets, describes. The reason why writing and art are so endlessly rich is because in this sense truth is as varied, diverse, and dynamic as the world in which we live.

Okay, to the topic here. A question: relevant to a reflection on the meaning of the phrase "culture of violence," what, at its heart, is the difference between these two stories?

Friday, February 1, 2013

As the old order collapses, what's a writer to do?

Jack Frost left me a note one morning
Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the scale of the changes swirling around us. For a time, a brief few generations, a certain kind of stability enshrouded much of our society here, along with the emergence of the American Dream, this mythical overhang that clouds our view, always with a bit of a mystical edge to it, that our "standard of living" was on the rise - and always will be forever.

The U.S. emerged from World War II with quite a grandiose sense of itself - that we had somehow saved the world, as if the world that was saved was the only one that existed, and we had done that all on our own. Listen to the debates in Washington and you hear those voices of the old world order having a hard time letting this go, this sense that we are the center of the world and that we can always and forever determine the course of history (Romney said that pretty explicitly during his campaign).

Look around the world right now, in former Soviet Republics, in the Middle East and Northern Africa, in Kashmir and along the India/Pakistan border... An "order" patched together by various forms of western imperialist powers, especially from the days of colonialism, is coming apart after one brutal repressive government after another collapses

Friday, January 25, 2013

Inaugural poem - the poet was the significance

It's hard to write a poem for a president's inauguration. Poetry may not work all that well in this setting. Expectations are high - including the expectations for patriotic praise, nationalistic uplift, inspiration, reaching a mass audience.

So there's lots of critique of Richard Blanco's poem. Some of the lines were lovely, lyrical. 
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Racism on my mind

I've got racism on my writer's brain today. Have been reading Michelle Alexander's disturbing, The New Jim Crow - Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, watched part one of the new series about the abolitionists on PBS's American Experience, then all the hoopla around the brilliant film "Lincoln," and the awareness that I live in the nation's most segregated city, and the racist vitriol from some gun rights nuts who cannot believe the "black man" in the White House wants to limit access to assault rifles and huge ammo clips and are preparing for the uprising against the federal government...

yea, and on and on and on... Hard to get away from it these days.

Local writer Barbara J. Miner wrote a long piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Sunday Crossroads section entitled, Segregation and a tragic silence. The connection here between deeply embedded racism  and entrenched poverty spreading out from the city's northwest neighborhoods is beyond obvious; it's the plan, the intention, of far too many of our citizens around these parts (is it the Germans? the Slavic descendants? I have that blood in me and I know my people only too well).

Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing amidst the noise and din

Being a writer now is a very different challenge than being a writer even 20 years ago. We are being crushed by words, by communications, by verbal noise, a steady din, within which a poet, a story-teller, an essayist attempts to be heard.

Trying to find the way to be heard amidst all that background noise, so much of it noise for its own sake, is not easy. Even more, being heard and impacting the culture - no, not easy.

There was a time when sitting together telling stories, reading poems, singing songs of a people's mythology and/or history was the way culture itself took shape, provided meaning, communicated a coherent cosmology that held a tribe or village or empire together.