Buki Papillon: Writer, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Massage Therapist, Bead Artist.
WRITING CRABWISE. April 2, 2013
You open a fresh page on Word (mind you don’t open the document containing your novel just yet), begin free-writing a scene from the last place you found yourself stuck, and before you know it, you’re in. Just like that.
As The World Turns.
Winter was mild here in Massachusetts. Record-breakingly mild. I wish it could always be like that. My warmth-craving Nigerian self loved it. Many New Englanders, for whom life is not complete unless they are frozen solid for three months and then thawed out, hated it. Global warming? Perhaps. But I do feel that when humanity's time is done on this planet, something (hopefully better) will take our place. The earth will take care of herself if we choose not to take care of her.
I spent a lot of winter polishing and editing my novel. When I wrote those happy words, "The End", at Vermont Studio Center three years ago, I did not know it meant the end of putting the actual story together, and the beginning of a long process of editing, cutting, adding, trimming, tightning. Now that the real end is finally in sight, I hope the gods smile on my offering.
Writing is about telling the story I have inside of me that only I can tell, in this exact manner. It is about trying to give back the joy I have been given thousands of times over by other writers who were brave enough to believe that they had something good to share, even when the whole endeavor must have felt like walking unarmed into a lion's den. Their courage in writing and publishing means that I can crack open their books and within, find comfort, laughter, joy, enlightenment - the list goes on. I hope, one day soon, to do the same for others.
Yoruba Proverb: If you desire to eat the honey in the rock, you must commit to sharpening and weilding your axe until that rock is split open.
Life is a marvelous thing. It is good to remember this when, like me, you are at a major crossroads in life; a time when career and home are riding a rollercoaster. My condo goes on sale today. The stress of selling and buying property has been known to send perfectly sane people to the madhouse. I hope the men in the van have no reason to straightjacket me as my life is shaken like a kaleidoscope before settling into new patterns.
Yesterday, at the Boston ICA, I sat and did not blink for an hour. Or at least, I really did my best not to, because the amazingly powerful modern dance performance by Zoe/Juniper was of the "blink-and-you’ll miss a mind-blowing second of pure joy" variety. I do not know dance parlance, but I do know what moves me. Minutes after the end of the performance, titled; The Devil you know is Better than the Devil you don’t,” I was still shivering with goose-bumps. It was that intense.
Zoe Scofield did impossible-looking things with her body, and, along with four major dancers from the Zoe/Juniper Company, interacted with video installations and music in a way that would have transported the most ardent critic of modern dance. The expressions on their faces were so attuned to their movements that, sitting in the very first row, I felt almost like a voyeur, peeking into the dancers private moments.
They were accompanied by a “Greek chorus” of dance students from Walnut Hill School. Their costumes, all barely there, conveyed an elegant sensuality, and focused the mind on every movement and its corresponding twitch of fabric. The furry knickers and the beribboned tail/bustle of the final dance just made me want to stand up and clap for the designers; Chrissy Wai-Ching, Zoe Schofield and Allison Van Dyck. I also thought, I want to wear that!
Ultimately, though, I was transported. For an hour, all thoughts of career, mortgages, purchase and sale agreements, the troubled writing industry etc, etc, disappeared and I reveled in a heaven staged by man for one uplifting hour.
If you get the opportunity, go see Zoe/Juniper perform, even if Modern Dance is not your thing. “The Devil You See” is not about having a “thing,” it is about escaping earth for a bit.
Exuma, VSC, Obama.
February 03, 2009.
I returned from Exuma in the Bahamas (another day, another story) and shortly afterwards left for a two-week residency at the Vermont Studio Center. It was strange to be away from home, and among strangers (who quickly became friends). My bedroom in Bradley House was spartan, with a hallucinogenic combination of colors (aqua blue and neon green) on the wall – not to mention a probable ghost, if you believe in that sort of thing. My studio in Maverick was, by contrast, a study in comfortable cocooning. Thank you to the Pierce family for sponsoring the John Dos Passos Studio, where I got a lot of work done. There was something in the Johnson air that compelled me to write, write, write. Write Now!
I am still too close to the experience. It will take a couple of years to filter through my consciousness fully, but I will say this; if you are an artist or writer, run, do not walk to a residency because it frees your mind like nothing else. That freedom from the immediacy of everyday life is precious, priceless. Even if, like me, you are at home (job hunting) or working from home, and you have a great studio/office space etc, the little things that shackle you to earth still remain.
At a residency, you wake up the first morning thinking “I have to…” then you realize that the only word that fits in is; “Create.” That is all you have to do. Not laundry, not cooking, not paying bills, not taking the dog to school or walking the kid.
I wrote the last sentence of my novel while there. I also met so many amazing artists and writers. I just remained in awe that someone (or several someones) think our work is important enough to provide a place for us to do it in peace, uninterrupted, is hugely affirming.
As part of my work scholarship to VSC, I was on kitchen duty (washing dishes) on the afternoon of President Barack Obama’s inauguration. In between carting armloads of plates to their storage closets and polishing silver, I paused to watch his swearing-in on a huge screen set up in the dining room. Everyone was so involved that they mostly forgot to eat, and lunch sat ignored while people alternatively stayed silent as statues or roared and clapped.
As I watched a black (and, yes, white) man take the oath, it occured to me that in a different time, perhaps in this very town of Johnson, Vermont, I would have been doing dishes not as a matter of pride in winning a scholarship, but as a bondswoman, a slave, and he might have been working right alongside me. That contrast hit me like a wave, and I held back tears as I watched the new black family who would live in the White House. I wanted to share what I felt with someone who would "get it" but I was the only black resident at VSC at the time - that I knew of - and suddenly I felt alone and a little lost. It was the first time in my life that I craved the company of another for the color of their skin, rather than for the person they were inside. I am still turning that moment over in my mind.
And so, aftar Thanksgiving, Christmas vacation in Exuma, and VSC, I am finally trying to settle into a routine and reset my internal engine to “chug along” as opposed to “Rev up!”
Peace out and love to you all.
New Year, New You.
January 4, 2009.
2009 promises to be challenging, in the sense of the Chinese curse that purportedly damns its receivers to live in "interesting" times. For writers, as the news gets worse and we hear of the ongoing recession "shredding" the publishing industry and foresee even harder times ahead – as though it was previously a picnic!-- it is time again to "gird your loins," "roll up your sleeves," "put your nose to the grindstone," etc, etc.
Amidst this flurry of resolutions, though, remember to take several moments to wallow in the pleasure of a new beginning; to savor being alive and being part of whatever may come next because however bad it may be, you were blessed to make the leap into 2009. Celebrate today, celebrate yourself, celebrate life. There is only one you - they broke the mold afterwards. Derek Walcott's poem below, is a poignant celebration of life. HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Love After Love
The time will come, when,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door,
in your own mirror.
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, “Sit here, Eat. Relax.”
You will love again this stranger who is your Self.
Give wine. Give bread.
Give back your heart,
to this stranger who has loved you
all your life,
whom you ignored for another,
but who knows you by heart.
Derek Walcott,1996 Nobel Prize winner for literature
POETRY AND ALL THAT JAZZ: The Dave Holland Sextet and Maya Angelou’s “Equality”.
September 22, 2008
At 10pm last Saturday, the Dave Holland Sextet struck up at The RegattaBar in Cambridge, MA. We were packed gill to tail for the sold out show, and, were it not for the miraculous sounds coming off the stage, the occasional garlic sausage burps of the stranger breathing down my neck would have been unbearable.
I arrived at the RegattaBar tired and wrung out from, among other things, searching for employment in a climate where job-hunting writers like me are the statue and the economy is the pigeon that drops rejection upon us like so much crap. I was in the sort of mood where (metaphorically speaking) if someone trod on my foot by accident, they were likely to need an ambulance. In that tired, angry and moody state, having been invited to the Regatta by my husband, I determined to sit through the show and then go home to bed and hug my cuddle-pillow.
The opening song snuck into my spirit and began silently, to put right everything that was wrong. I was reminded that living is for now; the future is not even for the birds. Robin Eubank’s extended trombone solo slowly and patiently urged me away from my fretfulness. Then Eric Harland drummed out of me all the blues I’d been carrying around all day with so much passion that it seemed the drums must break to support his amazing talent. At one point he was just gone, lost in a trance so complete that not even El Greco could have painted a saint this transported. The stress that tightened my back began to ease as Steve Nelson seemed to co-opt each vertebrae for use as his vibraphone. Dave Holland’s play on the fingerboard of the double-bass tugged at a deep dark place in my heart and made it open to Alex Sipiagin on the trumpet, whose sound weaved in and out of each set like gold threads in silk.
Ultimately, though, it was Antonio Hart’s saxophone interpretation of Dave Holland’s “Equality”, written for a poem of the same title by Maya Angelou that suckled and suckled my dry spirit until I felt reborn.
I left the RegattaBar shortly after midnight having by turns been tenderly and forcefully unshackled from the ten-ton load of “human condition” I originally dragged in. I also faithfully promised myself to have a good listen again to Cassandra Wilson's earth-tilting version of "Equality," where she sings the words of Angelou's poem to the same tune. Try it and sing along, see if your heart does not begin to beat free.
EQUALITY by Maya Angelou
You declare you see me dimly
through a glass which will not shine,
though I stand before you boldly,
trim in rank and making time.
You do own to hear me faintly
as a whisper out of range,
while my drums beat out the message
and the rhythms never change.
Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free.
You announce my ways are wanton,
that I fly from man to man,
but if I'm just a shadow to you,
could you ever understand?
We have lived a painful history,
we know the shameful past,
but I keep on marching forward,
and you keep on coming last.
Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free.
Take the blinders from your vision,
take the padding from your ears,
and confess you've heard me crying,
and admit you've seen my tears.
Hear the tempo so compelling,
hear the blood throb through my veins.
Yes, my drums are beating nightly,
and the rhythms never change.
Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free.
Journey Out of The Long Dark Night Of The Writer's Soul.
September 15, 2008
Every writer who has ever seriously put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard in an attempt to coax, coerce or just plain bludgeon the alphabet into a river of words that will flow into the hearts of people they have never met (will likely never know), understands about the long, dark night of the soul.
Getting out of that “miry place” though, is another matter. It is not a place to linger too long because though things that haunt you are ephemeral, the longer you stay there the more those specters assume a solidity drawn from your living breath. Run if you can, or crawl fast toward the speck of light in the distance, because having wallowed awhile in that dank misery, you must find the pool where the water falls from the gathered dew of those who have gone before. These forerunners have left you a trail; a crumb here, a piece of string there, even bloodstains, each in their own unique way. You just have to find it.
The voices in your head might tell you that all that hope you carry inside you is nothing but fiction. Perhaps, but don’t let that stop you. Head right in. Sink into the pool of knowing and let the words of those who came before pour into your ears and twine their way into your soul. Their hands will gently wash off a mark here, a stain there. They will tell you how they did not give up on writing, how they know it is what they do best wherever it might lead them, how writing is the sum of who they are because without it they might cease to breathe. The ones who have ceased breathing in the world where you exist will tell you their words live in their stead.
Then they bid you goodbye and leave you with gifts that would be worthless to anyone but you because these are the gifts that you alone could use - created for you because you went into that deep dark place you would rather not have gone but where you had to go.
When you look up, you are surprised to see that it is day and that you are outside of the dark place and even though the rain falls softly all around you, the air smells good and new and there is an urge inside you to go and tell aloud those things that you now know. You go to your desk; you sit down and pick up your pen or touch your keyboard. You flex your fingers and feel the echoing flex of a million fingers that have done this before you.
You open a fresh page and start to write again.
PS: Like many writers, I learned today that David Foster Wallace ceased breathing in the world we know. He is now one who has gone before but his writing lives on.
Ferry To PTown
I took the Ferry from Boston Harbor to Province Town last weekend. It was packed to near overflowing with men.
For some on that ferry, I was a double “negative,” black and female. I got some glares from those ones.
For others, I was just female and thus in all the preening and looking and watching and sly eyeing that went on, I did not exist one way or another. There is always a fleeting moment of shock when I am among men and it is not in the least bit about me. Yep: that heterosexual sense of privilege, the assumed power of the cleavage, becomes dead in the water. Or at any rate, dead on this P. Town ferry.
That said; I always enjoy the vibe that takes over the moment I realize that I am no longer ‘prey.’ That instant when my brain catches up with my surroundings and understands that the ‘hunter’ aspect of men will no longer focus on me and therefore I can just relax and allow myself to freely enjoy the view…and there is a lot to enjoy, in that museum manner of “look your fill but this is not up for grabs.”
It also feels great to be the one who has something scary (OMG a VJJ!!!) for a change. What that says about my convoluted psyche, I do not know and perhaps should not be sharing but what the heck. Hopefully, one day I’ll get to be seventy and lose my inner censor even more.
Love, rainbows, and peace.
What Does it mean to be American when you really are not? When you are a 'Permanent Resident' and this strange wave of grateful feeling washes over you while watching the 4th of July fireworks in Boston?
I have lived in America for six years. Before that I lived in England for eight years. Before that I was born in Nigeria. I am a nomad, a wanderer, a strolling bone. No moss on me, sir!
And yet the vastness of America means that I can continue to be a wanderer within its confines. When my husband and I arrived wide-eyed in San Francisco airport in June 2002, I wanted to kiss the ground. After the constant gray and drizzle of Northern England, the California sun was like a sudden dizzying gift. We lived at Stanford University. I loved, loved it there. Loved it. Did I say that I loved it?
Then we moved to Boston two years later, and a whole new phase of life began. The winters-- don't get me started. It is also a whole new country. California and New England can comfortably exist as two separate countries, the people are so different. The houses are so different. The accents, the food even, the general way of being. Californians are tree-huggingly wacky, New Englanders are puritanistically uptight. This, of course, is a vast generalization. Still, no smoke without fire.
And so I stood there feeling very moved to be one of the 500,000 lucky people crowded on the shores of the Charles River, listening to the national anthem and then watching the amazing show. Mankind lights up and thunders at the skies.
A very startled bird flew erratically past at some point. I felt like that bird.
Hope you had a happy 4th!
Not So Vanilla
I am bingeing on Joyce Carol Oates at the moment. Some people get off on a tub of Häagen-Dazs but I get off on being mauled by a great big friendly wildcat, which is how I often feel after reading her work. Try her young adult novel “Sexy,” or her creepy short story, “*BD* 11 1 86.” I am currently eyeing her large collection of short stories. Drool...
You see, JC Oates picks you up gently in her teeth by the ruff of your neck and starts to swing you around. It starts off as fun, but by the time she puts you down minutes or hours later, you limp off exhilarated but bleeding from a hundred tiny cuts and bruises you did not realize you’d received.
Her writing is like a hall of mirrors that turns me inside out and keeps me asking questions and second-guessing intentions long after I have switched off my bedside lamp and curled up into the warm comfort of my husband beside me.
Nothing to Wear
My bookshelf is groaning. The books sit three deep. I buy more. I have not even cracked them open yet. There is nothing (and I'm sure everyone who devours books on a daily basis can attest to this) like reading the perfect book for your exact mood at just the right time.
When I read Kaye Gibbon's "Ellen Foster" a few months ago, I never wanted it to end. Ellen kept me such excellent company. Her spunky attitude became mine, her determination to create her own destiny against crazy odds drew an answering war cry within me. It was the right book at the right time. Then I read Edwige Danticat's "Krik Krak?" and pondered on the spare beauty of Danticat's words as they took me into the very skins of those Haitian women.
Recently though, the literary equivalent of the "nothing to wear" virus has invaded my brain. It arrives as a trojan titled "ennui," opens itself and proceeds to shut down all of my receptors.
Perhaps you are still wondering what I am talking about. You see, several times in the last couple of weeks, I have started reading a book and then put it down in despair because, even though one day I will have the luxury of losing myself within its pages, that day is not today. I pick up book after book and come up empty, frantic like a mother searching through a hospital nursery and realizing that her newborn has disappeared, that it is not among those crying to be picked up and held.
And so I am left bereft, naked to the elements. The feeling will last until the next time I crack open a book and, before I realize what is happening, I am already a quarterway through and irredeemably lost. Now that is a wondrous thing, and because I never know when that virus will strike, I do not take my reading health for granted.
MEMO TO ALL STRUGGLING WRITERS: 7 Things To Do In Times of Despair (Writer’s Block, Confusion, Life's Crossroads):
August 19, 2008
1) Rant, rave, cry. Letting it out is supposed to be cathartic. Bash a pillow. Say bad words. (Just do it all when you are alone.)
2) Stay away from any and all substances that promise to help you forget. You do not want to forget. You need to remember why you need to do what you know you have to do, i.e., write.
3) If you can’t stand to write, read. If you can’t stand to read, watch TV. If you can’t stand watching TV, stare at the wall. The wall can, on occasion, be surprisingly inspiring and/or soothing.
4) Understand that it is ok to ask yourself why in the heck you started writing in the first place. It is ok to berate yourself for having been cocky enough to think that it would be, if not necessarily a snap, anything but bloody.
5) Change into footey pajamas (not advisable, though, if it is 90 degrees outside and you have no air-conditioning) and hold onto your favorite cuddly thing…pillow, dog, cat, potted plant, significant other –on the condition that they shut up and offer face mopping services.
6) Grab your worn copy of THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield. It will provide a good kick up the you-know-what and give you courage at the same time.
7) Do all of the above and then return to your desk and start writing. Because this is what you do.
Writing Short Stories: Notes On The Beginning and The End.
August 1, 2008
A story is on to a great start when I am several pages in before I realize that I have begun. The beginning of a story does not work for me when I find myself wondering, around the third paragraph, if my bunny has enough hay to last the week.
The word 'effortless' represents, I think, the doorway into great fiction. In a time when people are ill-willing to put aside their game of Scrabulous and kick back with a book, a short story that demands great pre-immersion efforts will get dumped fast. Effortless? I hear you ask. Should literary works now be reduced to baby pap that the great American readership can suck up through a straw? Well, no.
Effortless does not mean easy. Effortless is Gabriel Garcia Merquez's "100 Years Of Solitude," where you take the first step and before you know it, you're flying. Effortless is ZZ Packer, Edwige Danticat, Junot Diaz hauling your willing self into a short story with the words "...Wait for your brother and your mother to leave the apartment. You've already told them that you are feeling too sick to go to Union City to visit the tia who likes to squeeze your nuts. (He's gotten big, she'll say.)" Effortless is Robert Oren Butler’s “Fairy Tale,” where you are Vietnamese Miss Noi, and you find hidden meaning in those mundane words, 'Once Upon a Time.'
Here is my working theory on how to achieve an effortless beginning. First, write your story as it comes to you. Next, work on the second and even the third drafts with no particular focus on crafting the beginning. Then, read your story aloud to yourself. Wherever your story rings truest, wherever it grabs you by the guts; that is where your story should begin or, at least, where you should find the elements that will begin your story. These elements pave the path to the doorway through which you make the world which you have created ‘effortless’ for readers to enter into. As with most great things this is easier said than done, but worth the time, frustration and tears.
The End is when my questions, especially the ones I did not even know I was asking at the beginning, are answered. This is not to say that everything is necessarily resolved, just that I get the answers that speak to my human experience of the story. The end puts me at peace and stirs me up. The end makes me a new person who recognizes things about myself and about humanity that previously stayed unexpressed. The end illuminates.
If the end of a storyis about illumination; the lighting up of labyrinthine corners of a reader's psyche that have previously stayed dank and unexplored, places to and through which they might never have found their way without the guiding thread of a good story, how then to write that end which illuminates?
Sometimes, before you begin writing, you know exactly how your story will end but if you are lost and wondering how to bring your story to a close, the key lies also in that crucial moment that gave your story its beginning. That same moment when your story grabbed you by the guts as you read it aloud. Those key elements will guide you towards what your ending should be.
In "Fairy Tale" by Robert Olen Butler, Miss Noi, at the beginning, states how much she likes the words, 'Once Upon A Time.' In trying to interpret what they mean, she associates those words with a GI in Saigon who once told her he rode upon a bull. A few lines later, Miss Noi concludes that the GI really meant to describe “how you get up on the back of time and ride and you don’t know where it will go or how it will try to throw you.” With this intriguing start, Butler secures the thread of his story (Here is a story about the vagaries of time) and can now unwind it at his leisure. Now the willing reader will follow him tame as a bull led by a nose ring.
Miss Noi’s life proceeds to become a series of ups and downs through which she maintains her positivity until three paragraphs before the story ends, when having at last found a man who is “…not saying any bullshit, that’s for sure,” Miss Noi thinks that she has lost him for ever. Miss Noi says “I sit at the bar with my clothes on and I am upon a time and I wonder if I am going to fall off now.”
But she does not. Miss Noi finally has her fairy tale life. The last paragraph begins "Once upon a time there was a duck with a long neck..." who gives Miss Noi “a nice little house and she is a housewife with a toaster machine and they go fishing together in his little boat…”
The elements sown into "Fairy tale" (The real meaning of words, bull riding, time, apples, war, prostitution etc) right from beginning, unfurl in graceful choreography into the end, at which I realize (illumination) that hope can be untamable, that innocence can persist even through the most sordid of situations, and that grace may be found in the most unlikely place. It reminds me that time is but a temperamental bull.
This is , along with other writers, is what I strive for.
Reading George Saunders and Jonathan Franzen in Tobago
July 21, 2008
I returned from a vacation in Charlotteville last Thursday.
Charlotteville, Tobago, as in Trinidad and Tobago. I am left with such a dizzying swirl of impressions that I do not know which ones to pin down first. The surprisingly religious people? Their barely there welcome for tourists? The sheer overwhelming beauty of waking up to a view that I stare at, slack-jawed, for hours every morning?
Charlotteville is a place to dream and to write. There is nothing more compelling to do than take occasionally walk down to the town square (which would fit comfortably into the average LA mansion) and see what there is to see, namely Charlottevillians hanging out – liming – or going about their business, and lots of very picturesque sea scenes. Here, a slimly muscled young man does a double flip off the pier into the water; there, fishing boats bob gently out to search for the day’s catch. Peace slides into me, subduing any city demons I unwittingly brought along.
On my mornings alone, after my husband has gone diving, I keep company with George Saunders’s “Pastoralia,” and Jonathan Franzen’s "How to Be Alone,” two very different books that are an excellent complement when read back to back or simultaneously. The anti-utopia depicted in “Pastoralia’s” short stories make the simple joys of Charlotteville taste sharply sweet. Franzen’s incisive essays on how mass culture has turned around to bite its own creators make Charlotteville feel like Eden before the snake.
On the flip side, a certain irony about viewing Tobago as “paradise” would fit neatly into either book. Here you have the ultimate lush, tropical island, brimming with pristine sandy coves so hidden you could swim naked (Don't!) Tropical fish flit about as though created for your sole viewing pleasure. Fruit tastes the way fruit was meant to before the USDA standardized it all to death. But then, with a discordance that Saunders would perhaps admire and Franzen would laud, the people of Tobago are so coldly indifferent to the type of pandering expected by tourists that after a couple of attempts at conversation, freezing your tongue on an ice-cube (and then ripping it off) seems like a better idea. It matters not where you are from or what color you are, the Charlottevillian (and largely Tobagonian) contempt for tourists is clear and absolute. Forget any Aruba-style Bon-bini. Tobago is more no-bikini. In this deeply Christian town, a store in Charlotteville (complete, of course, with the requisite drop-dead-blank staring owner) states on a handwritten sign tacked to the wall, “No alcohol, No Cigarettes, No Bare backs!”
After I get over my initial shock…where are the cocktails and the smiling happy people? I begin to appreciate that this place would never be overrun by seekers of the mundane; that tourists would never become more important than the people of the land, that everything in Tobago would always belong to Trinbagonians. Those thoughts make me smile at Charlottevillians even if they do not smile back. I want to say: “You are doing everything right. Loss of self and heritage always begins when you smile at invaders and make them feel comfortable. Years from now, your beaches will still be pristine and your children will still dive semi-naked into the water from a beach unmarred by rows of grilling bodies in deckchairs.”
All the same, I smiled like a loon when the nice, burly, gun-packing immigration officer at Miami airport handed me back my Residency Permit and bade me “Welcome Home.”
The longest day of the year makes me feel happy. Not because of any ritual associated with it, but because the sun shines just that much longer, and the light lingers. It means winter is far away still, and that the sun will not desert us yet.
Until I moved to New England and experienced my first brutal winter, I never sought to understand sun worship. Now I have a slim understanding of why an ancient civilization would have filled their world with the warm bloody stench of human sacrifice for fear that if they did not, the sun would never shine again.
AN MFA IS LIKE A STONE…
June 21, 2008
Today I was at my literary Alma Mater, Lesley University, participating (as an alumni) in a panel. I looked around at the soon to be graduating students and was struck by the fervor with which they wanted to get it right, to make the best of this gift of time to write. I was in that same position only a year previously. June 2007 seems so far away now.
It has been one year since I graduated from Lesley’s MFA program, and that year has flown. I have had plenty of time to reflect on the whole idea of an MFA and what it means in the life of a writer, or an aspiring writer.
Here is my take. An MFA is a great gift of time. You get out of it what you put into it. Picture, if you will, your life as glass full of water (the water being everything else you have to deal with on a daily basis: job, significant other, kids, laundry, etc) and then picture your MFA time as a collection of semi-precious stones. Every time you drop a gem in the glass, you have to lose some water. You cannot keep both the stone and the corresponding volume of water in the same space. In other words, something has to give. I did a low-residency MFA, and I have concluded that while the low residency model allows for life as usual to go on, it can also allow life as usual to stand in the way of your precious gift of writing time.
To all the MFA hopefuls out there, I say, budget your stone to water ratio wisely. Those two years go by so fast that if you do not focus on what is vital, all might soon after be lost.
Killing Teenagers Softly...with culture?
June 9, 2008
According to a recent New York Times Editorial, 25 teenagers broke into Robert Frost’s summer house and trashed it. Their punishment? One week of Poetry classes with Frost Biographer, Jay Parini, and several hours of community service. The result? The teenagers were left quite “shaken.”
It reminds me of another article I read months ago in The Independent (UK) about “yobs” -- which is what Brits call those groups of mostly white teenagers who lurk like a pox in public spaces, emanating menace. Their easiest targets are “wrinklies,” senoirs who live in cold fear of having their bags snatched. Yobs will occassionally leave a wrinkly bleeding.
And so when businesses began to lose customers, they happened upon a neat solution. Any guesses? Classical music - blared out of huge speakers in place of the elevator or pop music they had played before. Apparently the “yobs” cleared away in a matter of minutes. One great successes was a train station in London where the drivers previously refused to stop because of teenage gang activity. Pavarotti roared to the rescue with impressive results. Assault, robberies and vandalism fell by a huge percentage. The great tenor may be gone but the power of his voice lives on, affecting people one way or another.
I now wonder how next these Weapons of Youth Preclusion will be deployed. How culture will again be wielded as a big stick to inspire teenagers to rise above their “hormone-icidal” tendencies or take them elsewhere. Watch out, kids, here comes the big, bad ballet!
June 4 2008.
First day, first page. I'm sitting in front of my computer, hands hovering over the keyboard like birds unsure where to alight. What is there to say that has not already been said? There is nothing new under the sun and everything old is new again. Welcome to The Literary Hammock, where I ponder my fingernails and think deep thoughts life and stuff. Yes, stuff.
*Art by Ann Hirsch