Auld Lang Syne

Friday, August 26, 2011

Coffee Shop Workin'

Ok, so I get distracted. It's also easy to think how nice it might feel to crawl back under the covers for a long nap. What to do?

The best thing would be to become more doggedly disciplined. But wait... I'm an artist. Thinking on this for a long time, I have come up with a few strategies for gaining discipline. One of them is working in the coffee shop. I can somehow manage to stay on task there. No phones, no soft beds, no one needing me for anything, no distracting sexy husband.

I do have a very nice office set up at home and I love working there. But when I get into a "mode" of easy distraction I just have to come here to Rock City Café and hunker down. That brings me to today. I've been here since about 1030 this morning, bed at home unmade, planning for battening down for Hurricane Irene left to later, sexy husband on the golf course. And voilá, progress. 90% done on a manuscript preparation that needs to happen today! Even a little work done on a poem that has had me flummoxed for a week.

It occurs to me I may have a parking ticket. I may have exceeded the limit on how long one may park in a single spot. Grrr. Guess I'll have to take my undisciplined self home.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Should be "doing" something

It's quiet here this morning and there are so many little things needing to be done I could spend the whole day at them. But here I sit at the blogomachine writing about writing and reading. I've been thinking a bit about Nathaniel Hawthorne (Hathorn) lately and have decided it is about time to dig back into The House of the Seven Gables, my favorite of his novels. Of course EVERYONE ends up reading The Scarlet Letter, and teachers love to teach this too as it has so much in terms of moral rectitude and the "gone astray, but innocent enough and wronged." I taught this book myself when I was still doing that kind of thing (along with the typicals: Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, etc etc). But overall, I prefer House to Letter any day.

Hathorn considered himself to be a romance writer, or a writer of allegory. His tales were always drenched in the supernatural. But in truth he wrote from his own somewhat checkered family history in Salem, Mass. where he fought against the heavy mantle of his Puritan background. The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851) both deal with secrets, sin, shame, and of course revenge. Both deal with curses and witchery or at least suspected, insinuated, witchery. It was the cause celebre of its day. Hathorn was eager to expunge his own family's penchant for the heavily psychic past they experienced, and his novels do that need great justice. He did this with great aplomb through his well-drawn characters and his well-appointed (even when dingy or dilapidated) edifices.

Hathorn had a way with words, a manner of speaking the lives of his characters so that they were not just sympathetic and acceptable, but so a reader wanted to be in those moments with them, to either cheer them on or wag an accusing finger at them. He also had a way of laying out a community so that it might happen that you ended up walking down those cobbled streets in a dream, feel like you could inhabit the houses yourself. That is what happened to me when I first read House back in, oh maybe, 6th grade. I was fascinated by the idea of cottage industry once I'd read the description of the shop where threads were sold, the infamous house on Pyncheon Street. Some call this a gothic novel. In terms of what we now think of as a "gothic" novel, I wouldn't exactly agree although certainly there are gothic (dark) elements to be sure. Yes, the Pyncheon family is cursed due to its lying, cheating, murderous ways. Yes, the house is to be sold off to pay the debts. Yes, the upstart Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon is summoned to the house to stave off this sale, to accuse the innocent Clifford of murdering the patriarch, and furthermore, the family is living under Maule's Curse ( a strange man allegedly murdered by someone in the Pyncheon family long ago) and a "hidden gold in the house" story has flourished over the history of the family and the house. The plot thickens mightily and although Clifford's off to prison for the murder, the house ends up in the legal care of his fiancé, Hepzibah. She kicks Jaffrey out of the house (way to go, Hepzibah!) and settles in for the long haul. Fast forward two decades (or not, as Hathorn never told a story quickly if he could elongate it) and the house is a mess (as it should be in gothic terms) and the old place is being used as a business (again, you have to love the cottage industry thing here!). Hepzibah's endearingly pretty cousin Phoebe and a mysterious boarder, Matthew Holgrave, arrive on the scene. Clifford is released from prison to strange rumors about him. Clifford has some notions on how to get even with the evil brother who sent him to prison and for how to end Maule's Curse and set the family and the house to rights.

I guess there is something appealing to me in a kind of visceral way about this novel, I can feel myself wandering about the house, can almost smell its old smells and hear the creak of the floors under my feet. It may be why my dream was always to live in an old house... a dream that was realized in 2006. I love my old creaky house and its ghosts. I am happy to co-exist with them in such a happy relationship. I guess they know I am glad they have stayed. But I digress. Back to Hathorn and his House. I got to visit it (It is the Turner Mansion in Salem, Mass) and was enthralled immediately. I wanted to live in THAT house. I would love to tuck myself up in one of the rooms and WRITE in that house. I think that places (houses included) are some of the most important stimuli we have as writers. This was certainly true for Hathorn and his ilk. It was all about places and their effects on people. The intertwining of construct and humanity was undeniable. Of course, place is an important feature in The Scarlet Letter too. The town was the underlying character in that novel. Similarly, this many-gabled home is the featured character of The House of the Seven Gables. It breathes its secrets, oozes intrigue, creaks its dangerousness, on nearly every page, and in the human characters' ways of behaving or misbehaving.

So, upshot here is that I am about to get back to The House of the Seven Gables. I downloaded it free to my iPad. I long ago lost my original hard-covered copy with the etchings of the shoppe, the house itself, the Pyncheons. I scour archival bookshops for just the right copy to tuck away here on my very contemporary shelves. I have a secret wish that my grandchildren would read this great novel of the 17th Century. Sigh. Will they? So far, 4 of them are pretty well grown and have not. But they are young men... does that make a difference?

Oh, and did I mention that I am a DISTANT descendant of Hathorn, via his wife Sophia's blood line? There's that.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Boyfriend Project

Disclaimer: I am happily married for over 30 years. Would not change that. Love my hubby.

Now that I have put in my disclaimer:

I have been working on a writing project (and a human project) since one of my old beaux from high school passed away in 2005. I'd just moved home to Maine and heard he had lung cancer and not that long to live. I arranged to go see him. He and I enjoyed an afternoon of reminiscing although he was very weak. I got a chance to meet his wonderful wife of nearly 40 years too. As I drove away, I thought that it it would be a good idea to track down as many of the "boyfriends" I'd had over the span of my life (from Kindergarten crushes to serious "loves" and others I'd simply dated a bit or who were boys my friends had seriously dated). Being a poet, it naturally came to the notion of writing poems about this journey. So The Boyfriend Project was born.

I'm now close to finished with the writing part. I have one more "boy" to find... the boy who was my crush at age 7 and 8. He and I made our First Communion together (I have a photo which might be a nice cover). He is the final stitch in the fabric of the work. I'd like to find him, see how he is after all these years (over 50!) I haven't had much luck so far, but will keep trying. One boyfriend, the one who "taught" me how to kiss, passed away long before I could get in touch with him. He married a girl one class below me in high school and I understand they had a wonderful marriage. I feel good about that and sad for her losing him so young.

I made a few decisions during the writing that are "artistic" ones, most specifically to smooth together some boyfriends into a kind of composite boyfriend. Poetic license is a good thing. It protects identities and incidents get better explained or presented. But the essence, the spirit of the boyfriends is intact. I have also taken poetic license with incidents in the poems, and using "generic" incidents that were not my own experience. Some were experiences of girls and boys I knew well. This is done all the time, though many people thing everything a poet writes about happened TO the poet. Not so, not so.

I made a decision early on to include boyfriends in college and beyond ( I really didn't date that much in high school), to include a poem comparing my first husband to my "real" husband, and to end the manuscript with a poem written specifically for my husband, one I like to read at the end of readings. I've written the dedication page, NOT naming names but giving some background for the manuscript's existence.

These decisions helped greatly to flesh out the manuscript, to give it enough material to BE a whole manuscript.

People in my writing group have really gotten on board with this project, eagerly reading the poems as they have unfolded and giving me great critical advice on them. I have come to realize these wonderful woman have become my sounding board, "editors," and advisors.

So, now I have a poem or two left to write, and it is time to begin the arduous part: determining the order of the poems (not necessarily chronology, but maybe). I also need to decide where to send it. Hmmmm. Any ideas?