Archive | August, 2012

Dreaming: Australian Aboriginal Art

31 Aug

Last night, I finally caught the SAM’s special exhibit Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art, and I’m really glad I did. “Bush Hen Dreaming, Sandhill Country,” by Abie Loy Kamerre, a swirl of lines that suggest “the bush hen’s search for seeds, plums, and tomatoes” made me want to sweep my hands over it, feel the grains of richly colored sands. “Leaves” by Gloria Tamen Petayarr, a dark background with lush splotches of white displaying incredible movement and life brought on a similar reaction. Actually, more than wanting to run my hands through the leaves, I wanted to bury my face in them, imagining them the texture of lamb’s-ears. And, “Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming – Winter Storm,” by Kathleen Petayarr, a black canvas dotted gold (applied with a satay stick!) resembled billions of fire flies in the night sky, though a shape taking up nearly one quarter of the painting, somewhat like an outline of an elongated eye or a pea pod, seemed to be a tear in the universe.

All this to say, if you have a chance to see the show this weekend, go, go! It closes this Sunday, September 2, and there are many more wonderful pieces that I can possibly write about here, and, I hope, they will make you as happy as they made me.

On Reading

22 Aug

View from San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – can you find Waldo? Sometimes sifting through reading and ideas for stories feels a bit like this.

Twice this week, I thought, “this is *just* the thing I need to be reading.” It’s a curious and satisfying sensation, especially when that reading is incidental or meets a need in an unexpected way. I picked up Mark Doty’s slim book Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects and Intimacy in preparation for a class I’m teaching at Hugo House in October.  In my notebook, I ended up copying long passages from it (and I’m still reading it, so perhaps more on this later), but the kernel that first caught my attention will also, I think, help a lot with my in-progress short story collection, “More Like Home Than Home,” which explores themes of migration:

“[…]why resist intimacy, why seem to flee it? A powerful countercurrent pulls against our drive toward connection; we also desire individuation, separateness, freedom. On one side of the balance is a need for home, for the deep solid roots of place and belonging; on the other is the desire for travel and motion, for the single separate spark of the self freely moving forward, out into time, into the great absorbing stream of the world [….] We long to connect; we fear that if we do, our freedom and individuality will disappear.” (p.6-7)

Doty goes on to explore how to “think through things” – how attending to precise detail in objects is more than just that, how “intimacy seems to confront its opposite, which is the immensity of time” (p. 21).

Mark Slouka’s “The Hare’s Mask,” in Best American Short Stories 2011,  is the second item that set off little internal bells that said “yes, this.” It’s a multi-generational story, from the perspective of an adult thinking back to his childhood understanding of his father’s life, surviving the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia while his parents and sister had not. The story jumps in time to different ages when the narrator picks up details of his father’s story about a refugee hiding in his parents’ rabbit hutch in Brno, and his father’s struggle with the weekly task of slaughtering a rabbit for dinner. The central object of the story, a hare’s mask used by the narrator’s father in fly fishing, contains both that sense of intimacy and that immensity of time. In the contributor’s notes (which, in BASS, can sometimes be enormously helpful in a practical sense, and can sometimes a source of solace), Slouka writes:

“I had to warm the actual event, knead and stretch it until it became malleable to the imagination. The basic material is historical fact [….] Who knows where these things begin, really? [….] I sensed a story about history’s losses, time’s compensations, a child’s ability to misread the world. To get at it, I had to mix three generations. It was easy enough; in my heart, they were already blurred.” (p.343-344)

Reading these three texts – Doty’s essay, “The Hare’s Mask,” and Slouka’s note on the story – rearranged something subtly in my mind. I’m not sure it would’ve happened if I hadn’t read all three in close proximity to each other. I read Slouka’s story today before my morning walk and writing time. When I finished, without knowing exactly how, I just knew it would help me with a short story I’ve been struggling with, that I’d been spending too much space summarizing. It’s not totally explicable (who knows how these things begin, indeed), but, huffing up to north Capitol Hill, where it’s quiet and where the moss takes over the sidewalk, specific images started coming to my mind, enlivening what I worried was static and making sense of other images and ideas that had seemed disconnected and hazy. I realized that something in her past, in her family’s past, was heightening those conflicting desires Doty writes about, that need for both intimacy and freedom.

Two men in orange vests were at an intersection (this is not an image my story but what I actually saw on my walk today). One of them knelt on the asphalt and was pointing at a small divot in the road, possibly a hole. “This looks strange,” he was saying. He brought his eye to the street, peering toward a storm drain. I realized there was a divot in my story, that thing in her past, something to look at more closely. I haven’t decided yet whether to yank it open for the reader to see what’s beneath it, or whether to draw the reader’s attention to the divot itself and what it suggests. My guess is that I’ll have to yank it open for myself and then decided how much needs to be buried again.

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2. Glass Steak

3. Summer

Favorite Tips on the Writing Life

17 Aug

My Hugo to the Henry class wrapped up last night, and we ended the quarter by swapping favorite revision strategies and general craft advice. From time to time, I think back over the advice I’ve picked up from my writing teachers over the years, especially the ones that helped me through draft after draft of my novel, or helped me continue on in a general sense, and think, wouldn’t it be nice to gather them in one place? Well, here I go:

  • “Just trust yourself and write.”  -Jonathan Raban
  • “Every character you write is both you and not-you.” – Sonia Pilcer
  • “Wherever you feel closest to your writing, double the length of that paragraph.” – Shawn Wong
  • “There is no hierarchy of suffering.” – Chris Abani
  • “Plot is sequences with consequences. In a story, decisions matter because they will either make a difference or a character thinks they will make a difference.” – David Bosworth
  • “Whenever you get stuck with a piece of writing, do whatever is most unholy.”  -Heather McHugh
  • On grants & fellowships: “Apply and apply and apply and apply.” — also: sentence diagramming! – Maya Sonenberg
  • “Stop counting on your fingers.”  – Mrs. Rosenburger, first grade.

What writing advice have you found helpful? Add your own in the comments!

The Furnace & More Like Home Than Home &

8 Aug

Kicking off The Furnace Reading Series last week was wonderful. The space was cozy and the crowd friendly, and I’m looking forward to coming back in October to help out with Buffy Aakaash’s radio play, “The Last Night at Manuela’s”. In the meantime, check out audio and video from my reading on Seattle poet Greg Bem’s website , a very lovely review of the event over at City Arts, and Morgan’s Martini Hour, the gracious on-air host of The Furnace.

In other collaborative-art-project news, I’m participating in Art & Words, a show curated by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam down in Fort Worth, Texas on October 6. Eleven writers and eleven visual artists are exchanging work and creating forty-four collaborative pieces. I’m excited about the new piece I wrote for it, and I can’t wait to see what gets created based on my short-short “A Meal”. Bonnie’s got a Kickstarter going to help make the event extra special. Prizes include discounted art, a commissioned jazz composition, or haikus, dactyls, limericks, or pieces of flash fiction written just for you!

Launching The Furnace

1 Aug

Tonight we’re launching The Furnace, and I’m very excited to be reading my story “More Like Home Than Home”. Corinne asked me a question about that story over on The Furnace’s blog, giving a little taste for the evening’s festivities, and over at Hollow Earth Radio’s blog there’s a nice round up of all the write ups we’ve gotten thus far.  And here’s the Facebook invite. Hooray! Hope to see you tonight!

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