27 July 2010

post-it notes and stealing

My dad sent me a link to an article about writing that was in the Los Angeles Times recently.

He sent it from my mom's iPad, which I know he bought for himself under the guise of “Oh, honey, we were going to get you a new computer anyway...and now can you hang on to my old computer for a second while I set up your iPad?”

“He set it up so I can read the Wall Street Journal on there,” my mom told me over the phone two weeks after she/he got the iPad.

“But you don't read the Journal; he does and then he tells you everything he read in there. Is he using the iPad right now?”

My mother spoke loudly and clearly, so I knew she wasn't just talking to me when she said, “Yes, he is using it right now. Every time I go to look for my iPad, he has it!”

Even though I was hours away from Iowa, I knew just what this scene looked like: my parents were sitting in their matching armchairs in the living room with the wall-of-windows view of the Mississippi. They're three feet apart, separated by a custom-built end table that hides the wireless router and a charging station behind Arts and Crafts dark wood charm.

I heard my dad protest too much: “I do not always have your iPad! Sometimes I do. But I got it for you! Here, do you want it now?”

I think he has it always; he at least had it when he emailed “Janet Fitch's 10 rules for writers.” He included a short note with the link: “Thought you might enjoy this. Dad.”

That's the email equivalent of the Post-it Note on the newspaper clipping, something I'm used to getting from my mom.

Wedding announcements of girls I went to high school with.  Tips on what every good cook should have in the kitchen at all times. Once I got a clipping from the Vancouver Sun {my parents were there on vacation} about a 10k race: “We should do this sometime. Love, Mama,” the Post-it told me.

My dad's use of the technological version of the Post-it/newspaper clipping combo makes sense when you consider his surreptitious iPad use. No pen, ink, and tearsheet version for him.

Plus, he doesn't get the Los Angeles Times in Iowa, surprisingly, so it'd be hard for him to mail an actual clipping to me.

I liked the article he sent; I liked that he read something about being a writer and thought of me.

Janet Fitch teaches writing at the University of Southern California, and she's had some books published {White Oleander, for one, which I read in one sitting—one laying, to be more precise—on the beach at Rathtrevor Provincial Park on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The tide went out, but I did not move from that book all day, although I'm sure my mother made me eat something and I bet my dad encouraged me to swim}.

With a connection like that, of course I would listen to what Janet Fitch had to say about being a good writer, and of her 10 tips, I most liked the ones that push me towards being a good reader.

To tell a good story, you have to be able to write good sentences, Fitch says.

And you learn to do that by tuning into other good sentences that have already been written. “Read poetry aloud and try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences. The music of words. I like Dylan Thomas best for this […]. I also like Sexton, Eliot, and Brodsky {I have no idea who that is, that Brodsky person.  Note to self:  research so that you can talk smartly about writer stuff} for the poets and Durrell and Les Plesko for prose {Note to self #2:  figure out who these people are, too.  Seriously, what was my English degree for if I can't recognize writers listed by a woman who made it into Oprah's Book Club?}. A terrific exercise is to take a paragraph of someone's writing who has a really strong style, and using their structure, substitute your own words for theirs, and see how they achieved their effects.”

That is one writing prompt that could keep me busy for years; it could keep me typing away, even when I'm unsure of where to start and the blank page or the blank screen are making me go blank. Wordless.

And scared that wordless means worthless, which I know it doesn't but when you're a writer, those desert spells of wordlessness can sometimes make you feel like you should apologize to everyone, even inanimate objects, for everything.

You know what?  I'm going to try this prompt right now.  Well, not right right now.

Right now, I'm going to the grocery store because I'm having a friend over for dinner tomorrow night, and it's always best to actually have the ingredients on hand for your meals, even if you're only making grilled chicken, corn salad, and roasted new potatoes.

But after the grocery store {a prosaic thing of life}, I'm going to try a little poetical thing of life.  See, there's this poem I adore, one I read after a work day that makes my spine compress.  I read it to assure myself I'm not the only one who needs to decompress.

I'm going to take this poem by Deborah Garrison {I've copied it in below} and try some imitation.  Sincerest form of flattery, you know.  Or so I've heard.

Worked Late on a Tuesday Night

Midtown is blasted out and silent,
drained of the crowd and its doggy day.
I trample the scraps of deli lunches
some ate outdoors as they stared dumbly
or hooted at us career girls—the haggard
beauties, the vivid can-dos, open raincoats aflap
in the March wind as we crossed to and fro
in front of the Public Library.

Never thought you'd be one of them,
did you, little Lady?
Little Miss Phi Beta Kappa,
with your closetful of pleated
skirts, twenty-nine till death do us
part! Don't you see?
The good schoolgirl turns thirty,
forty, singing the song of time management
all day long, lugging the briefcase

home. So at 10:00 PM
you're standing here
with your hand in the air,
cold but too stubborn to reach
into your pocket for a glove, cursing
the freezing rain as though it were
your difficulty. It's pathetic,
and nobody's fault but
your own. Now

the tears,
down into the collar.
Cabs, cabs, but none for hire.
I haven't had dinner; I'm not half
of what I meant to be.
Among other things, the mother
of three. Too tired, tonight,
to seduce the father.

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