Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Mavooshen 'puzzle'

Some months ago when I committed myself to another serious round with The Dressy Adventuress, I realized I needed to have an outside consultant who could offer some insights about any number of issues I’d be confronting.  In addition, I figured if I had someone else to report to, perhaps he/she could help hold my feet to the fire to a higher degree and I would see more progress.  

As mentioned in my last blog entry, that academic friend is David Dominic, Earth & Environmental Sciences department chair at Wright State University.  I might mention that David presented at the AWP conference in Boston a couple weeks ago on a panel discussing ‘Knowledge and Manifestation: Science in Contemporary Poetry.’  We are scheduled to meet next week and I’m eager to hear how things went.

I focus on Dr. David today because of an observation he made in an email over the winter that got me to thinking about my writing process.   Here’s what he wrote in response to a comment I made on my difficulty making progress:  

I do know that writing is hard work and is best approached as such. To students, I stress the ability to write non-linearly, by which I mean the opposite of the directive given to the White Rabbit: 'Begin at the beginning,' the King said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'  If you can see the whole, you should be able to write parts of any piece. I think this is critical for getting around ‘blocks.’

That got me to thinking.  Indeed, I have organized The Dressy Adventuress in outline form a number of times now.  Each new iteration seems a bit tighter and I find that a good thing.  And as new/remembered ideas come up in my thinking, I can add them by hand onto the hard copy outline that is my master blueprint.  

Up to now, though, I figured I’d be starting with chapter one and progressing until finished, as the White Rabbit was advised.  With David’s suggestion that writing does not have to work like that, I reset my thinking and came to the conclusion that writing a book can be very much like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.  Assemble the border first [outline], then sort pieces by color and content, working the myriad variables until they find their long lost partners.  

Since David’s suggestion, I have continued my research by reading and note taking, then writing ‘concept pieces’  about that research in three to five page documents.  I liken the process to sorting and organizing the jigsaw pieces.  I figure sometime down the road these segments will come together in some logical order awaiting segues and transitions that will render the book organized, and thus readable.  

Life still consorts to keep me from my book writing tasks.  For the last week I have been in Hilton Head with the lovely Cindy Lou, giving her an opportunity to shed some winter blues and get her feet in some warm sand.  I figured I’d be note taking while she sunbathes, but such hasn’t been the case.  Being this close to the beach is too tempting!  

So upon our return home this weekend I’ll reinstall myself in my basement writing post next week and get back into the process of assembling my Camp Mavooshen puzzle.  Such seems workable.  Stay tuned.    

Today’s elder idea:  Science fiction is more than just our collective dreams for a human race that reaches to the stars.  In many ways, the dreams of yesterday are becoming the realities of today and the path for tomorrow.  

George Takei, from his internet book, Oh Myyy!
Reading Mr. Sulu was more fun that working on my writing this week.

image:  Millicent Todd Bingham cutting birthday cake with long time camp director Carl Buchheister standing by.  (1960)
From the Hog Island Audubon Camp picture archive.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Nurturing the fire

Last week I was lucky enough to get away for some quiet time to Lake Hope State Park where I stayed in a lovely, though rustic, little cabin where I tried to get some work done on my book.  It was cold, indeed, and I even had a morning of snow cover, though it was gone by mid-day.  Felt like a real winter retreat, I’ll say that. 

Lots of state parks in Ohio have rentable cabins.  What makes the Lake Hope dwellings so enticing this time of year is that they have wood burning fire places.  Well, I don’t know if they all do, but it’s clear on the reservation pane.  Mine sure did.  That’s why I picked Lake Hope as my destination in the first place. 

Firewood, of course, is a bit of a sticky wicket in Ohio these days.  With the emerald ash borer doing major damage to native trees, it’s illegal to move firewood from one county to another.  And besides, though I have a stack of wood on the back porch, I really hesitated to take any since I was carrying a full load of books and computer stuff in the first place.  I sure hated to take anything more than I had to.  My firewood solution?  A carton of fire place logs bought at Kroger. 

Still, trying to keep that small, drafty cabin warm, despite setting the thermostat in the upper 60s, was a challenge.  I found myself working under a light blanket most of the week.  Truth was, I needed more wood.  My case of 6 logs worked well evenings in the darkened room, but that didn’t help heat the place during the day.  So off I trundled down the road to the local bait shop to pick up twenty bucks worth of firewood.

I’d just like to go on record as saying I think I tend fireplace blazes pretty well.  Most of the houses I’ve lived in have had a fireplace.  In fact, ‘fireplace’ is one of the first things I consider when picking a house.  No fireplace?  Fat chance I’m even looking at that house.  

So I figured I’d have a pretty easy time with keeping the fire going.  Oh, contrare, amigo.  Truth is, I was pretty humbled by the whole process.  Every time I thought I had the fire going, out it would go.  And a few times during the week when I figured I had lost the flame, I’d go back to work and look back thirty minutes later to find the hearth looking downright cozy with fire.  

My thought for the week was, borrowing that memorable line from Jack London that I learned in high school, ‘One can never be too sure of things.’  Starting point:  I’m a good fireplace tender.  Ending point:  Some hardwoods really need TLC to keep burning.  At this point in my life, I am reminded often that even though I think I know what I’m doing, I shouldn’t be so sure.  There is always more to learn.  So it was with my little fireplace at Lake Hope. 

At the time, I thought ‘nursing the fire’ would be a decent topic to blog about.  Good winter theme, and all, richly experienced in my little cabin.  

But before I could get around to writing about it, just a couple days after returning home, our young neighbors at the end of the street had a house fire that sent Mom and the three kids to the hospital for a smoke-inhalation check, while Dad stood in the front yard, shoeless under a blanket, watching smoke pour out of the first house he ever bought.  Our hearts went out to them right away.  As you faithful readers might remember, it was about ten years ago this spring our house burned.  

Last Thursday Cindy Lou, Noah, and I had been celebrating my Mother’s 92nd birthday with dinner out that evening.  As we returned home, rounding the curve down the street, we were stopped by a whole lot of fire apparatus and a crew laying hose.  We parked down there and walked up to the burning house.  I was able to talk with Gerald a bit, but he was pretty preoccupied, watching smoke pour out from under the eaves.  He had just gotten out of the shower when the family smelled smoke.  Within seconds, it seemed, the family room had erupted into flames as the house filled with smoke.  Some other neighbors led him away soon thereafter, trying to find him some clothes and shoes. 

I am a fan of fire.  I love tending one in the stove down here in my basement.  I truly love sitting out on the back porch on cool evenings watching yellow, orange, and blue flames lick away at the treefall our yard offers.  Sitting watching a fire can be meditative and the stuff of poems and books, I suspect.  I was reminded of that in my cabin last week when all was burning well. 

But burning houses?  Oh, my.  That is the stuff of pain and loss and violation and helplessness.  If you’ve never lived through one of those, great.  Keep it that way.  But if you’ve experienced a loss of a dwelling -- with all your family’s stuff still inside -- it’s a pretty empty feeling.  

Indeed, I love to nurture fire in firepits and stoves and even in my writing.  Fire is so wonderfully elemental.  Nature doesn’t get much more honest than fire.  

But burning family treasures?  It’s one of the things that reminds us how tentative and precious life is. 

PS:  Cindy Lou was able to talk to Gerald the day after the fire.  He said he had already gotten an insurance check to replace toys and clothes.  That’s good.  Oh, but they have a long way to go.... 

Today’s elder idea:   If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.
Emily Dickinson

images:  top:  A lovely fall fire on the back porch.

below:  That same back porch full of fire junk in 2004.  Indeed, that’s Mr. Noah at age 4, contemplating.  An adventure we would have been fine not having.