Category: writing

Notes on writing

(a brief summary of) things I’ve learned so far today:

On writing every day: Serious runners run regularly. Writers should try to write daily to get to the story. Do what you need to get to the story (even if it means throwing away 800 words of exposition) and then commit yourself to the form you choose. Once you commit, you’ll need to make more choices within that.

On being deliberate: Poetic lyricism operating at the expense of clarity needs to be deliberate. But probably, you should be clear anyway.

On the reassurance that it’s okay that I gain a lot of inspiration from the poems I read: “Literature is a conversation between writers that crosses the boundaries of genre and time.”

On practicing fluency in multiple genres: The more genres you master, the more freedom you gain no matter what you write. (I liken this to dance: the more forms of dance you master, the more freedom you gain no matter what kind of dance you end up doing.)

On when to write myself into a poem: Poetry is a last resort — in the sense that when you realize you cannot express something in any other way, a poem will be the thing you can turn to. If we don’t have a name for a thing, a poem can help name it.

Ocean Vuong is interviewed by Yen Pham for LitHub and speaks about speaking from the point of view of someone else:

In writing poems like this, Vuong seeks “not necessarily to speak for anyone, but to offer a rendition—in a way a phantom—of what could have been . . . Every attempt to speak is also a grieving of the voice that never arrived.” Speaking for someone who never spoke is also a way of paying homage to the absurdism and surrealism of the myriad mythologies that inspire him, tales which “ignore all rational sense” because they come out of a “nonsensical” world. “I think I stand firmly as an inventor and a mythmaker.”

He also talks about winning prizes in writing:

“Competition, prizes and awards are part of a patriarchal construct that destroys love and creativity,” he recently told The Creative Independent. “If you must use that construct, you use it the way one uses public transport. Get on, then get off at your stop and find your people. Don’t live on the bus, and most importantly, don’t get trapped on it.”

Stephen Burt writes on Literary Style and the Lessons of Memoir:

Yet experiments in the genre continue, many of them, like Maggie Nelson’s breakthrough book, “The Argonauts,” from 2015, intimately connected to the drive toward new forms, and the use of fragments and white space, in contemporary poetry. These memoirs take cues from prose poems and lyrical essays, like those in Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen.” They also use the devices of poetry—interruption, compression, extended metaphor—to pay book-length attention to individual real lives, and, not coincidentally, they come from independent publishers known for their poets and poems.

postscript

I was also reminded that:

– it’s very handy to stash emergency jamón ibérico in the fridge.
– Vietnamese pho is delicious even in the summertime.
– the sky is the color of sapphire only at a very specific time of day; therefore, describing it as such should only be used when you really mean it.

lucky peach

“We suffer each other to have each other a while.”

“I don’t mind suffering as long as it’s really about something. I don’t mind great luck, if it’s really about something. If it’s the hollow stuff, then there’s no gift, one way or the other.”

― Li-Young Lee

I did not mind the heat that clung to our skin and the humidity that made the air gasp for breath. I did not mind the hollow cough that scooped into the insides of my lungs. I did not mind the aching sun, a voyeur peering in through the skylight.

I sat on the ground in front of the chair, head bowed before you. Our hearts islands, the usual bridge nowhere to be seen.

And yet I have minded too much, I thought. I dove back into the wreck when the treasures are what appear now in front of me. What I should have said is: I don’t mind suffering as long as it’s really about something. What I should have said is: I don’t mind suffering if it means we can have each other a while. Suffering and love are both temporary; which lasts longer?

What does forgiveness weigh as it sinks out of reach, and what color is it when finally it floats? The rain broke free from the sagging clouds and waltzed across the windowpanes. Your eyes opened. Adriatic blue.

a birthday post: If not now, when?

rosejumpingpuddles.GIF

I often forget my age. People still indicate their surprise at it, tell me I look “so young.” Which I don’t mind, I hope they will always say that. The edges of my eyes have deeper creases now, but I am happy that they have been carved by the ridges of joy. I still feel young, I still run into the water and leap across puddles when wearing rain boots. The main thing is that I fight harder to get to a place where fear isn’t so large anymore.

Hope is larger.

****

I love the summer: the never-ending daylight, the it’s-too-hot-not-to-eat-ice-cream weather, everything in the middle of bloom.

This is how I feel about my age now. The middle of bloom, and filled with the sort of hope balanced and made wise by the clumsiness of past seasons. It will be a strange, beautiful decade. I am approaching a time when it’s very possible that the life behind me is as much as the life I have ahead of me. I’m more aware of mortality: my family’s and mine.

I’ve arrived at more crossroads than I care to count. This has been a groundbreaking year filled with change and uncertainty. In some ways, I have never felt more grown-up and ready. In others, I have never felt like such a novice.

I keep a list of ongoing resolutions on the last page of my notebook. I don’t make new ones for my birthday, but the one thing I’ll say for this year is: spend time on love. Say it out loud and more often before the day you won’t have a chance to.

As we get older, the number of trials that love puts us through increases. I stumble a lot in finding patience, and I dwell on the past. Forgiveness is difficult, vulnerability sometimes even more so; yet love asks you for both. The awkwardness and tears and stiff moments during which silence hangs in the air like a brick wall: they will all be worth it. No condition lasts forever: the friction we face, the disease that a loved one may survive or not, the agility of our bodies, the argument we initiate, the exhilaration of novelty, this life, this body, this heart, this youth. What will you hope to be (for your loved ones, for yourself) on the other side of it all? Dear Forgiveness, if not now, when?

In the past, I have often let my fear get in the way of love. Not sure who wrote it, but this note captures it well.

“Very often the things we fear most are not only bearable, but transformative.

We will all, many times over, have to reconcile the life we planned with the life we’ve got. And usually the life we’ve got is better.”

My life at 32 is so different from what I planned it to be, but I would not exchange it. I’m taking the leap, I’m all in.

***

Rose Kuo super Mario

Vulcan

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.

― André Gide

The air carried something damp and anxious, waiting to pounce. The feigning of its innocence was aided by the sun, but we could see right through it. We brought our own shelter, mended it, inspected the stakes. The stakes were too high (so we found a mallet to drive them closer to the ground). I repeated, “The stakes are too high.” Is it better to abandon this shelter, find something apart, something easier, sturdier? Something we won’t have to think about, something we won’t remember but won’t regret either?

We make synonyms out of “heart” and “shelter” and then you point to your chest. You are the window, I have been the door. One day perhaps we can both become the light that falls across when the window and door are open. I remind you that it isn’t just you and me. The whole world is out there, and I stumble across words and history that could break me apart. We wonder if, with what we have built together, we can succeed at shielding ourselves from the tumultuous elements.

So we will try. We crawl in, with the agreement that we are just testing it out. We decide on a backup plan should our shelter not hold up. Inside now: it is dark and dry, your skin is humid, your eyes glisten like a North Star. We lie down side by side. You take my hand in yours, and we stare upwards into the orange darkness while listening to the pounding of rain on the thing we call a home.

Carl Phillips writes:

I have seen how the earth erodes differently
from the way that trust does. Likewise,
I know what it means, to come to love
all over again the very mistakes I
also know, looking back, I might better have
strayed clear of.

What have I achieved with my mistakes, with love, anger, fear, hope, despair? With careful capitalization and punctuation? With the damming of emotion? There is so much I want to tell you about how I feel, but we humans are “civilized” now, we must strive to be calm and collected and productive and rational and calculated. Women are asked to be “more like men” in order to “succeed” in this world.

Yesterday I read about science fiction robots who long to become more human; in this case, the robot decided to take up painting as a way to get closer to humanity. Though we as a species value logic and that which is rational, let us not forget the value of our humanity. We possess the unique ability to feel, to see and create beauty, to despair so that we know what it is to hope.

I am familiar with the color of our trust but I have noticed that it changes when seen from too much distance. From this distance, you tell me I have met the quota for being emotional for today. You say: okay, no more. You say: time’s up. You say: you only get a few chances, and you’ve used yours up. You say: someone else is waiting so I have to go now. You say: I am going to dinner. You say: this was not scheduled on my calendar, to talk to you.

I blink. I feel myself becoming the closing door, not yet the light that falls through it.

I wonder what Rothko would have thought about the robot that takes up painting to be more human. “Untitled,” is what he would have thought about it, maybe. “Brown and Green.” But when you look at the thing that is labeled untitled, the light becomes the story. The story changes, and sometimes it was not scheduled on your calendar to change. So you don’t expect it. But here are the colors as they are right now, at this hour, in front of you, looming. There are things you never noticed before, but it is still the same painting. I try to remind myself that perhaps even fragility can have resilience. That something delicate is not the same as “not strong.” There is a sense that the stories that need telling are hardest to tell, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

How can I combine urgency with delicacy, the way Ocean Vuong does? The stakes are high. To determine whether our shelter can hold, you bring along your roadmaps, measurements, and tallies. There is data, there are ratios, there are cardinal directions, there is a start and an end. As for me: I don’t think we simply strive to arrive. What about how we feel along the way? I threw my compass away years ago. 

There’s a light that can make
finding a thing look more than faintly
like falling across it—you must kneel,
make an offering. I threw my compass away
years ago. I have passed through that light.

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use (National Poetry Month)

It’s been a year since I embarked on a solo road trip along the West Coast and subsequently started a separate blog to jot down travel notes & inspiration. I also recently composed my first poem since 2009, so maybe one day I’ll finally start sharing my own poetry again. I loved what Ayana Mathis wrote about her trajectory as a writer. Like her, I started writing short stories when I was very young, then later I wanted to be a poet and I blogged my own poems in middle and high school. I’m not sure where my interest in writing my own poetry went, and my love of reading poems was sporadic but has never faded. In my day-to-day relationships, up until recently, I rarely mentioned poetry. Friends found it difficult to relate. As Jia Tolentino wrote about teaching poetry, “Not that I talk to anyone about poetry, ever. My relationship to it is sidelong and almost entirely private. I can’t write it; I read it irregularly. […] I could only locate myself as a student, with no authority, no important opinions, no sense that I was ever correct. And that, in the end, is what made me free.” Meanwhile, Ayana Mathis writes:

I was suspicious of all of the things I wanted, writing or otherwise, simply because I wanted them. And so my desires were reduced to beautiful dreams that floated through my adolescent and young adult life, only acted upon in halfhearted fits and starts. Five or six months of furious writing were followed by a year or two in which I didn’t pen a single line. I never made any real attempt at publishing my work. Better a dream deferred than hopes dashed.

I’ll blog more about Ayana’s essay soon. My friends tell me to be braver with my writing, they tell me I’m too cautious. There’s probably truth in that.

***

I collected many more quotes and poems on the other blog I created last year, but I promised to share here during National Poetry Month a few more of the poems I’ve enjoyed.

The masters of information have forgotten about poetry, where words may have a meaning quite different from what the lexicon says, where the metaphoric spark is always one jump ahead of the decoding function, where another, unforeseen reading is always possible.

– J.M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year

Some little tastes of poetry for National Poetry Month after the jump below. By the way, Amazon has lots of deals on classic poetry compilations. You can also get Emily Dickinson’s complete poems on your Kindle for free!

Read More