Sunday, April 25, 2010

Practice Makes Art

Hello, blank screen.

We meet again.

I'm getting a little tired of these gatherings.

You mock my existence, and I do whatever I can to shatter yours.

It is an odd cycle.

Don't you agree?


Blank screens are compelling, are they not? Perhaps not as compelling as empty pieces of paper, but close. Both are awkward in their naked state. Embarrassed, even. A piece of paper with a word or two jotted down upon it is at least fulfilling its purpose. The tree, who gave up its life for the purpose, did not perish vainly. The same is true for word processor screens, save that the trees are safer now. A blank screen is empty, lifeless, devoid of art and substance. Put a word on it, however, and it has purpose. Put a second word next to the first and the blank screen isn't blank. It is actually a remarkably easy process - writing. You think words and then you, well, write them. The trouble comes when you say to yourself that you have chosen the "wrong" words. It is not, however, the words which are wrong, but the writer. Confidence is the chief ingredient. The rest--all the rest--can be acquired after. Skill comes with time and with practice. Writing is an art. All arts require practice.

I've never been good at practice. When I was a boy I wanted to play the piano. I didn't want to practice playing the piano. I wanted to play it. I wanted to sit down at the keys and channel Bach or Mozart. I want music to rise up awesomely from my fingers. When this miracle of talent did not happen, I quickly lost interest. I hated to practice. The monotony of sitting hour after hour, day after day, working my fingers into shape, learning the shapes and distinctions of the musical marks, gaining a sense of rhythm, did not appeal to me. I abandoned the piano. I also abandoned the flute, the clarinet, tap dancing, and solo-singing. Math, too, once it required more work than the most basic algebra, I left behind. Anything that required me to practice, I despised. But now, seated as I am in graduate school, staring my dissertation in the face, I realize that I have long been a coward and a fool. For, you see, I must write, and I must write like I have never written before. And writing requires practice.

I still hate to practice, but now, at least, I know why I do. It was not, as I told myself all those years ago, that the subject just didn't interest me. It was because the subject was hard, and I was afraid to fail. If you don't do something, you don't fail at it. If you try, however, you will probably fail at least some of the time. Your fingers will miss a key, or your eyes will miss a note, or you will miss a step in your equation--and that idea, that concept of failure, was so terrifying that I backed away from it. I have run away from everything that was too hard to do. I have permitted myself to move by innate ability, choosing easy things, playing to my strengths, because when I did that I was less afraid of failure. But now that this vast writing project is before me, I have had to come to terms with my fear. I was afraid to fail, but now, I'm afraid not to.

It is a remarkable shift. I fear not-failing, or rather not-doing, more than I fear failing. I would rather fail, for failing means that I tried. I did something! I am tired of not doing anything, of watching while others do things. I want to write. I want to love writing. I want to foster an addiction to writing. I want to be ill with the idea of not-writing, rather than be ill with the idea of writing and writing poorly. I don't care if I write poorly. I can edit. I don't care if I ramble. I can edit. I don't care if my first ideas don't work. I can revise. I can edit. You see, I'm sure, the same pattern that I do. It shouldn't be the blank screen that is compelling, but the one that is filled with my words. Like Michelangelo with marble, a blank screen should burn to be filled, formatted so that a shape emerges from it: the shape of my work. That is what I intend. That is what I will try to do. I accept that I will fail as often as succeed, but at least now I'm practicing, and I'm bloody happy about it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Food Meme -- and I want answers!

Here is a blank meme, from which I want to see answers from YOU. Gimme a comment with your favorite foods. I'll wield it with efficiency whenever you visit. Mwahahaha!

The Food Meme

In everyone's life, there is the potential for the ultimate day of food: a day wherein all foods are favorites, and all sounds are sounds of delight. So go on: wake up! Today is your lucky day.

It's morning. You're still partially asleep when your significant other holds a cup of _________________ under your nose. Best morning drink EVER.

This is followed shortly thereafter by your favorite breakfast, which is _______________________.

Later, at the gym, you need a quick energy snack. Your favorite is ___________________.

What a productive morning! To celebrate, you buy each of your co-workers your favorite sandwich, _________________, and your favorite cold drink, ________________________.

Hungry again? Well, it IS time for lunch. What do you have? ______________________.

Well-fortified, you easily make it through the rest of the day, to supper. Or is it dinner? A sage over your shoulder quips that "dinner" is whatever the largest meal of the day is, unless it's breakfast. So what do you tell the sage? When is "dinner" for you? ________________________.

Time for supper! And I'm sure you have an ultimate feast in your mind. What is the best supper (or dinner) you could possibly have waiting for you when you get home? ____________________.

And no day is complete without your favorite desert, right? _______________________.

Ahhhh, bliss. As you slide between the covers, your stomach says that no, it isn't quite bliss without that other favorite food -- the one you couldn't fit in before now. You sigh and walk to the kitchen to have some ________________.

Sweet dreams!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fatherhood: The First Hour

Thorn will be a year old at the end of May.

A year ago, when Fox was nearing the end of her pregnancy, when the fateful moment was weeks and not months away, I made a decision. I decided that I would capture the memories of my first year of fatherhood in a special journal, and then I would share the best parts with whoever would listen. I chose a happy blue journal--we knew Thorn was a boy, and so blue seemed only fitting. Affixed to the front was a lacquer turtle, and, because it was cute, it fit with the sentiment of a father's journal about his son. My pen scratched in some small details of the day Thorn was born, but the rest of the journal is bare.

I never understood how much work it was to raise a child. I knew, of course, that it was work, but the time, the hours, the exhaustion…these were things about which I possessed no accurate sense. I have spent a little time beating myself up for not keeping to my original plan. But that type of self-indulgence just doesn't sit well for long. No, there is no point getting upset about work you haven't done. Don't cry over spilled milk. Clean it up. Dear friends, here is the beginning of that process.


Thorn entered the world eagerly. Weeks ahead of his due date, he decided to squirm his little body out into the bright light of his first day. Unfortunately, his attempts met with little success. Simply put, his head was too large and Fox's bones too delicate and slender. The most exceptional physician knew what to do, and so Fox and Thorn (still wriggling away, perhaps aware that his moments in the womb were swiftly departing) were ushered off to the nearby operating room. Never before in my life had I observed a crew of people move so quickly and so calmly. I, alas, was anything but calm. C-section. Surgery. They were going to cut open my love, and she was out the door before I had time to get the green frock they'd tossed in my direction over my head. I did manage to get garbed. Many thanks are owed to my mother-in-law, who maintained her serenity when I had lost mine to the rush and the winds. The pants were several sizes too large, and so I had to hold up the ensemble with one hand. For minutes (exceedingly long minutes) I waited just outside the operating room. A nurse eventually arrived to convey me to Fox's side. The operating room was small. A huge curtain had been raised above Fox's midsection. The anesthesiologist sat by her head. His small corner of the room was filled with enormous machines that hissed and whistled as they pumped merrily away at their appointed tasks. Another nurse, or perhaps the same who led me in, provided me a folding chair. I sat down, my legs trembling, my breath short, and my heart pounding. The surgery had already started. I could hear it, though blessedly, I couldn't see it. Fox and I comforted one another as best we could, as the most exceptional physician did her work.

We knew the baby was out before we heard him. There is this terrible and intense moment, when, blinded by the curtain, you cannot see the babe they've pulled from your love. You wait, counting heartbeats, straining to hear a breath, a cry, a squeal, anything to confirm that your child is healthy--that your child is alive. There is a sound that comes first, a strange suctioning sound, and then, finally, you hear the intake of breath and the cry. Loud. Throaty. Indignant. Little Thorn wailed to the world that he had arrived and that he didn't think it was as great as he hoped. No doubt it was too bright, too cold, and too crowded with strange and mysterious folk garbed in sterile greens and blues. Thorn was cleaned, placed in a plastic bed atop a cart, and then wheeled over where we got our first look.

He was thin. His long limbs of bone thrashed about while the nurses measured, poked, and prodded to see if all was well. All was well. I think I cried a little, and I kissed Fox, and she kissed me. We were parents. Here was our child. He was red and distressed. His skin was wrinkled and filmy. And yet, he was beautiful.

The most excellent physician restored Fox's body to its closed state, and then they once more wheeled my love away. I remained behind to stand as a witness to the marking of my child. Hospital rules require that each parent and child receive wrist-bands that indicate you belong together. These bands come off only on the day you take your baby home. Fox needed to be in post-surgical recovery, and so I stood, jittery, dancing from foot to foot, as the nurses took samples of blood from Thorn's foot, and then placed identical tags on each of us. I got my first good look at him. He was well-formed. A strong torso and the lungs to inhabit it extended into four bony limbs that twitched and flailed passionately. He had hematite eyes -- I will never forget them, though now they've gone, replaced by browns and lighter grays. His skin was warm and dry when I touched him. I was not permitted to hold him yet, but I longed to. He was my son. My boy. My firstborn. Together, once he was tagged, diapered, and bundled, we went to find his mother in recovery.

I thought the most stressful time was behind me.

Silly me.


More on Fatherhood in a later installment.

Primary Source Hell

There is little worse in the writing world than making bibliographies of eighteenth-century British newspaper clippings. My beloved Chicago simply doesn't have clear enough guidelines for them. I took what otherwise worked and applied it, but there's this nagging feeling that I missed a comma. Or a period. Or a location. Perhaps another level of publisher? Arrrrrgh.

(Thank goodness some of my sources come from this lovely compilation. They aren't precise, but this isn't for a dissertation. And the best part is that Internet sources are so easy to cite.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I have never looked at my vixfey Gmail address at this hour in the morning. Apparently, what happens in my fox-themed tea house background is that three ghost foxes get together the garden to play Go. I find this amusing.

What I did not find amusing was last night. I must have leeched the insomnia from my brother, or perhaps from Sparrow, allowing him to sleep (that at least sounds philanthropic). I could not get comfortable. All of the little lights, so small in the bright sunlight of day, got to me. Even when I blocked them with artful stackings of the comforter, my mind raced. I worry, because it always seems to happen when I have things to write. So here I am, trying to write enough to confound my inner writing-fox, as it were.

I call it my writing-fox, not because everything is fox to me, or because my fox-associated best friend always nudges me to write, or even that the muse of our Unseelie Court is Fox, but because of something earlier, read in a fit of poetry. The Thought-Fox, by Ted Hughes. The poem takes place at night, and concerns writing more than anything else. A blank page becomes printed, and it is an effort, but an animal one, as all nighttime efforts are, in part.

I would like to fall prey to a sleep animal, myself, but my writing-fox is quite the insistent one. It isn't passive, as Hughes's fox. And foxes smell, did you know that? As strongly as a ferret or skunk. So while most folk may maintain the mental image of a fox as a sly creature easily eluding hounds, mine is of a skulking Presence who lurks with intentions known, demanding to be found, hard to see, but obviously there. In more than one tradition, foxes went between the spirit world and this one, so why not make a writing-fox usher of inspirative words? Especially at night. At night, when I would rather sleep and let the feathery martlets guide me to dreams with no grounding. But foxes invade the dreams, give me ideas, make me wake up and write them down lest they, with much gleeful yipping, retreat to torment me at a later time. Not all writing-foxes retreat, however. This one planted himself squarely on my chest and stared. I will need a new animal to push them away and guard my sleep, methinks. A ferocious dachshund...?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Do you ever feel like time is shrink-wrap, conforming to your habits and pushing out your occasional, deviant joys? I don't like having the mere outline of a life. The only thing I can do is to tear at the shrink-wrap, or else make more things habitual.

Writing, for instance. Who says I have to limit myself to the Most Important Matters first? It isn't as though there is a shortage of ink. Writing is positive feedback. The more you write, the more you create an addiction to write. Starting today, I'm tackling all of my backlogged correspondence, my limping blog, and my dusty idea-books. They will be viewed. Written-in. Covered with words in their imperfection. I will not wait until summer to work on sellable fiction. I will feed my sense of wonder until it is a bonfire, until others' firepits spontaneously ignite. Write, my friends, write! Write before you rot!

...and then post something here of your writing. It doesn't have to be more than a phrase. I'm just keeping you honest! Throw a stick onto the fire, eh? It's cold without words.