A Kind of Love

I could plunk it down for you, a yellow rose, petals opening like labia. Roses are brazen hussies, though, and like a high fashion photographer shooting a fourteen year old girl, we inject a sexuality more like our own with every glance. Roses don’t care. “Pollinate me.” But red ones mean this, and orange ones these three others things, and don’t forget yellow, a most complicated color. Roses, with all those gazes bouncing around, those miscommunications, they’re bad for friends.

No, when love is like a stone, a hard thing you can touch, what is a friendship? Forget flowers. A bridge? The wooden frame of a house? A shadow, maybe. Something that doesn’t stay behind when you leave. Maybe friendship is a Virginia creeper winding round a blasted oak stump: some verdance after the lightning strike. Leaves that conceal and heal.

Lit Bit: Inspiration

These words aren’t about you. They’re about me. I take all the tender moments I have in my life and reduce them to char, and every now and again, a piece might look like a femur, but I assure, it’s all so mixed even with everything else that I can’t separate you from my sister, my dog from my cat. You’re all the same… and not. I use little details to stand in for other things. I might hold you up as a lens through which I can safely explore a dark corner that’s been terrifying me. But that’s about as far as it goes.

That tree? It stands in for all the other trees I know and love. Your face, (“your” being the disjoint you, the multiple you) that you could project onto anybody? You can project it onto anybody. There’s a reason for this. We all want universals and we all want specifics. That’s the point isn’t it? To crossbreed enough experience to come out with strange hybrids of characters that still read true. It’s all a strange and ill-funded project in narrative genetics.

You’re in there and you’re not. Just as I am. Just as my mother is, and my cousins. Just as the gerbil I accidentally starved and the mockingbird outside my window during high school who never learned to shut the hell up. Because you wanted specifics, I will sift and invent, and in the end, I have a grafted olive, a grafted apple, perhaps three colors of hibiscus on one bush. But they grow. They grow strong. And they taste right.

The Problematic Girl

Birds are a problem. Up there, the air is dense with up-fluttering, wheeling ’round, down drafting. It’s deafening. The rustle beat of a thousand ruffled primaries striking a syncopated rhythm that cocks asymmetric after a moment or eight.

The smears on the screen of my cell phone make the shape of a bird skull in oils. A crane’s bill smudged on plastic. It’s well enough. I am a bird some days myself. Not a crane, but a shocky little screech owl…

I should tell you the tale, better this time. It would be easier. He was only my whole hand in size. He did not have flight the night before, struck from the air by a passing something. The good Samaritan who brought him in wouldn’t say, maybe didn’t know.

I thought, I’m not all that different from you, when I reached in with my gloved hand. I thought, you must be terrified, and he blinked.

Birds are a problem.

There were feathers everywhere when he exploded into the room. There were feathers everywhere in the nest he’d left in the back of the kennel cage. He circled the trailer on little wings, silent except where they collided with lights and cabinets and trays full of medicine and meal worms.

Up there, the air was hot because the hospital trailer’s AC was out, and the owl could not be calmed. Don’t open the door, I thought, and the door remained closed a moment more. Don’t open the door, I thought, when the handle, held, turned down.

He wheeled ’round and down, and then there were tiny talons in my scalp. He wound ’round my hair with his claws, and I was deafened with needles; no sound but the chorus of prickles. I could not hear the words the vet spoke as she entered by the door, only the rustle of the owl on my head.

After a moment or eight, I caught the cock of his head in the silver of a tray before he leaned out and down to glide to the operating table. He stood there trembling when my gloved hand caught his tiny legs, those talons that had drawn my blood a moment before.

He knew not what he’d done. Birds are a problem. He and I are not so different. We are, for instance, not so stately as a crane, instead are shocked by the awkward world around us, caught off guard by something which plucks us from the air. We, unable to fly, can only sit at rest, heart pounding, until we test the measure of a wing, or the space in which we’re given to fly.

Lit Bit: Recycling

One of the best pieces of advice I have been given as a writer is to never get rid of your work. NEVER. GET. RID. OF. YOUR. WORK. I don’t care how bad you think it is, don’t do it. Don’t consign it to the flames. Don’t toss it out in frustration or delete it because you don’t like it. It’s fuel of a different sort.

A text, every text, is its own beast. You can write the same idea down on different days, and the words will come out differently each time. Each text is unique. You can’t write it the same way twice. That is why each iteration is so important. The record allows you to see foundational weaknesses, underlying strengths, rich bits of alliterative glory, sagging spots of adjectival drag. But if you get rid of it, even if you keep the idea, the words are gone forever. And the words are all that matters. There is no text, not without your words to give it flesh.

Once you have a text, it is editable. Changeable. Once you have the mold, you can make new castings and shape them any way you like. But beyond that, once you have a text, you can always come back to it to mine for more ideas.

There are a million unvoiced notions in each of your writings. And you’d throw them away? Please don’t make me cry like that. Even if your original words never see daylight, you can at least go back to them to harvest new notions as they grow. Your words started in some notion. Your words lead to more new notions. By keeping them, returning to them, you can only expand your ideas.

It’s a form of recycling. Keep your brain green. Don’t get rid of texts.

This has been a public service announcement on behalf my inner child crying for you.

We Are Connected by More Than Silken Threads

I know the spider can’t be greatful to me. Gratefulness is a human emotion, as far as I can tell. I wouldn’t want gratitude. I want the spider to be a spider.

She tickled me. That was how I noticed her, me sipping coffee in the mall, she crawling through the forest of the tiny blond hairs on my arm. I watched her for a bit, making her way, an awkward lean to her spinnerling gait. She was missing a front leg.

I don’t like pity. Pity implies power. Condescension. Her cousins could kill me. She? She was too much like me when I was injured, limping along, but still present in her moment. I’d known successful spiders less a leg, so I carried her from the table in the mall food court to the door, and let her drop on her rappelling silk to the white railing, where she steadied herself as I pulled my anchoring arm away.

She was smaller than a freckle. I felt like her equal in the face of the universe, and really, there isn’t much difference between the two of us. So much shared DNA on this planet. We are both about the same size in comparison to a star.

After? I feel grateful. I am a human, after all, and it was a moment shared.

Lit Bit: When I Was Wild

Mr. Sendak, it has been five years since the last time I cried for the death of a person I never knew personally.  It was  on June 15th 2007, when Don Herbert died.

I have loved your books and art since I was small, like many an American child. But even when I was little, I noticed something about your work that wasn’t present in so many other books aimed at my five-year-old head. It was a basic thing, though I couldn’t name it until I was older. It was a thing that Ursula K. Le Guin pointed out in her writings about writing, something she implied was missing in C. S. Lewis’s writing, when she reviewed The Dark Tower; he one-upped his readers, condescending slightly to write for them. Mr. Sendak, you trusted me. Respected my intelligence. Fuck, you trusted me to read, identify deeply with Max, and to go on his journey with him, trusted me enough to show me that place of wildness and release, unleashed, you trusted me to cut loose, to break free, and arrive back with Max safely. Maybe not safely, but at least mostly whole, and better for the experience. You trusted me, and all of the other children who would read your work, to get it. Because we never didn’t get it.  But try to tell that to all the adults running around.

Don Herbert gave me a sense of empowerment in my ability to do; you gave me a gift just as powerful. You acknowledged my humanness, and instead of moralizing, sugar-coating, or sanitizing, you let me run wild in your pages, fierce and free, and trusted I would do right with this gift.

I hope I did right with this gift.

A Vast Gardenscape

My grandmother, Muriel, was a hard-edged, depression-era woman.  She reused the tinfoil from her lunch wrappings.  It is because of her that I am loathe to waste food, cloth, wood, anything.  It is because of her that when I see large yards filled with nothing but lawn, I cringe.

Do you know what it takes to maintain a lawn?  How many gallons of gasoline per year to keep that grass short clipped?  How much extra water it takes to keep green plants that don’t belong growing in Florida’s climate?  How many types of pesticides to keep at bay the white grubs, the fire ants (damned invaders), the beneficial creatures that no one loves, the wasps and bees and spiders?  It breaks my heart.

What would it look like if every yard were filled instead with native palms and slash pines, with live oaks or sand oaks or laurel?  What would it look like if everyone grew plants that belonged here or edible ones, no lawns for miles, but instead tomatoes and okra and arrowhead and cocoplums?  What if we had neighborhood mills for all those acorns, to blanch and grind into flour?  What if we ate from our yards, even in cities?

So much waste.  I can only hold so many plants on my balcony, wanting to grow hedges of pomegranate,  but only able to keep kitchen herbs.  My tiny pots are at least an inroad.  I will attempt to transform what little space I have into a hanging garden.  I will attempt to keep our bellies full.  I will attempt to gift my growings to others, who likewise see the potential of unwasted space.

Lit Bit: A Short Reading List for Writers

In my years of writing, I’ve run into a lot of books on the topic of writing, how to improve, how to structure your writing, on the nuts and bolts of the craft.  Not all of them have been useful.  In fact, most of them have been awful.  But people like giving advice.

There have been a few I’ve read that have been of great use to me.  My copies are battered and finger smudged from use.  Now, I don’t claim to be a diva of taste, nor the end-all, be-all of literary know how, but for those of you who hare a passion for writing, I wanted to share the three books which have helped me more than anything else to improve my deeply and understand it more deeply.

On writing in general, I have found Natalie Goldberg‘s Writing Down the Bones to be one of the best books I’ve read on the topic.  Goldberg is personal, honest, and engaging.  Most of all, she is human, and her words about words have given me direction when I didn’t yet know how to pull in and focus.

On the narrative art, the writing of prose, Ursula K. Le Guin‘s Steering the Craft has been one of the best collections of exercises meant to hone the techniques of writing, and bring together all the possibilities of written and spoken language.  Le Guin is a true master, and her well-balanced sentences have long held me captivated, begging me to read them aloud.  Her sense of play is apparent throughout the book.  For anyone who wants to better their prose, this book is invaluable.

For poetry, I hold a text book, of all things, in highest regard.  Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry, by John Frederick Nims and David Mason, which ought to be subtitled “The Mechanic’s Guide to Poetry,” is one of the clearest most concise books on the subject.  It’s a delicious read, filled with practicality, and its breadth of covered technique satisfying.

From the Fourth Story, Rain

It’s raining in Miami.  I’m writing this on a Sunday so I can keep it for later, can gift it to you after the fact. I’m writing it about midway between Miami proper and Fort Lauderdale, along the border of the two counties, and I’m watching the sky commingle with a ground.  My balcony garden, mostly herbs, has been unsalvageably droopy, and not for lack of watering.  The extra wet may just kill them.

But I’m more enthralled by the soft grey glow from a flat grey sky, by the cool wet air filling my lungs like cotton batting.  I’m more in love with the trails of wet dripping down the balcony screen and the sound of cars passing through puddles on the road below.

The green pops.  We’ve been without too long.

It’s a light rain, not raucous, not meant for dancing in.  If the sky cracked lightning, and the clouds opened on us with volleys of wet bullets, I’d go play, shrieking and cold.  But it’s a soft rain.  I want to read Ray Bradbury.  I want to keep sitting here, worried for my computer in the wet, pseudo-smoking my cigarette (I never inhale; it’s all about the mouth-feel of the smoke, and it’s why a pack will last me 3 months, even with heavy sharing), sipping on my coffee (a greater vice, unbounded, and it will be my undoing).  There are tin panels on the apartment roof, and the rain striking is music.

I could drink this.  I will record it now to take out later: the cat in my lap despite the damp; the curling smoke; the greening around and below me, lush lush lush.  Days like these were meant for living in.  I’ll live in it more than once.  I’ll invite you, too.