Thursday, January 18, 2007

Pearl Diving

Today, for me, was a frustrating day.

For the past week, rather than toiling away at Ward 6 Review any number of poems, or the novel I've long been promising myself I'll finish drafting someday, I've been spending stolen moments at a nearby restaurant—typically two or three hours just after lunchtime—to pound a few haphazard paragraphs toward a collection of short stories. Until today, the time has been stunningly productive. With no dogs to fret over, no chores staring at me, no television masking the silence I seem to fear each day, and no Internet to peruse, I've managed first drafts of a handful of interesting stories.

Alas, today, I got off to a late start, uncertain which of a number of half-finished drafts I'd tackle. I spent several minutes working with a list, a few minutes staring at a seemingly worthless free-writing exercise where my mind wandered to places that could be only be of interest to an intellectually challenged actuary, and a few minutes trying to take stock of where that aforementioned collection stood (123 pages of double-spaced prose, much of it in need of fairly serious reworking). Of course, such work is worthwhile. We all need time to mark our surroundings before treading too deeply into a dark wood. We all have those lulls in imagination where ideas that once seemed to bloom so frequently that many would rot before they could be properly plucked are nothing more than the sound of a rake scraping the dust-dry earth. Alas, I wanted a story for the day.

Eventually, I did manage to eek out the first few paragraphs of a story, but the narrative—from voice, to setting, to plot—was more forced than a Rush Limbaugh smile would be at the Democratic National Convention.

Perhaps I let such minor failures bother me perhaps too much. But that perpetual annoyance drives me. Now, as it nears 11 at night, my wife is sleeping on one of our sofas. Dixie is curled beneath a blanket, propping her head on Michelle’s leg. Archie, after fighting sleep briefly like an infant, has clambered under the comforter to my left to sleep. The television, at long last, is quiet. The heater shudders and thumps to life. Warm air blows through the vents. In the distance, I can just hear the sound of the washing machine churning a quick load of laundry with filmy soap. Here, at last, is quietude. My mind, at last, feels at ease. I feel, for the moment as though I could write absolutely anything, and you would believe me. I feel, if only for the moment, as though I could dive into the deepest crevices of my imagination, those fetid places reeking with the mildew and mold of shame or regret, chip away at the cracking surfaces and come forth, breathless, with something tiny, glittering, a jewel of sorts—just for you. Perhaps, in a few minutes, I'll step outside into the heavy wind, feel it rush against my face, letting my back tense and uncoil with shivers. Perhaps I’ll gaze out at the hillside where our house rests, studying the sameness of the crested roofs, imagining one or another lifted to the Black Forest, as if for one of Grimm's tales. Perhaps, I'll simply flick on the TV and laugh.

I'm not sure yet.

And even though it occasionally feels ulcer-inducing, it's nice to know I have that option. And so do you.

Each night, after work.

Each morning, after you wake.

There are moments scattered throughout the day where you could lapse into something comforting, like a bowl of rocky road ice cream, or you could step, one foot after the other, into the dark of your imagination, curious about what you will find.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Outside, it is freezing. The hill of my backyard is covered with crystals of ice and hard as stone. My fingers ache still, from a few minutes outside with the dogs. Dixie remains outside, stalking bluebirds and cardinals, there vivid plumage bursting from bare branches like hallucinations.

The long-delayed winter in Cincinnati has finally arrived. Inside, I bundle under a blanket with Archie, our smallest dog. He nuzzles against my side, keeping me warm. It's a new year. Sixteen days into a new year. So many days lay ahead in that space of time delineated by the circling of the sun. So many days remain. Three-hundred-and-forty days stretching forth like a blank canvas. Each new year, like so many of you, I make resolutions. Inevitably, the most of the resolutions—aside from those of the requisite quit smoking, eat better, and get more exercise variety—revolve around writing. Some years, publication has been the goal. Some years, the completion of a long dreamt of novel. Some years, I've had to resolve, merely, to write, to force myself to sit at a desk, on a sofa, in the kitchen, or at a cafe a brisk walk away long enough to let the words flow over me like rain.

In previous years, I've failed miserably at keeping such resolutions. Distractions abound. I've had my guitars to blame, the television, and the constant siren call of video game systems. More, I've given in to the desire to eat, drink, and carouse with friends. I've let the pursuit of a lover seem, for a few moments at least, to be the most important work in my life.

Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with any of these pursuits. Without sacrificing a few moments here and there to the adoration of those we love, a novel or verse of poems might spill forth from your pen, but would you be happy? More, there's a reason why millions of units ship each time a new video game system ships. And of course, who am I to say, like so many others before me, that television is a plague against our intelligence? Regardless of the truth of such a claim, it remains, for many, their primary way to glimpse the world around them.

For a writer, of course, it's different. The passive engagement of television or video games seems far more insidious. Yet, each day, I still flick on the cable and listen to a morning sports program, as though I couldn't bare the silence. Even now, the television is thumping along as background noise—doubtlessly slowing my progress.

Archie is awake again and needs to be petted. Outside, Dixie is cavorting in warm sunlight, chasing her ball, gnawing on golden shafts of bamboo. The crystalline splotches of frost are melting from the lawn, leaving nothing of last night's light snow. Soon, like every last resolution I've made, the frost will be gone.

Yet, I'll still look forward to the year and to filling those seemingly empty spaces with possibility. This could be the year that more stories land, that more poems are published in journals with larger and larger circulation. This could be the year when I finally have something to shop to agents. This could be the year when, at last, I decide that the dream is nothing more than a dream. Who knows?

Still, I'm delighted by the possibilities and, as it seems every year, overcome by hope. I realize, of course, that we ought to make resolutions we can keep. I could resolve, simply, to continue writing and to continue down the path. Perhaps, just through fastidious striving I'll manage to get a manuscript looked at by a few publishers. Perhaps, I'll even manage a few publications that make me gloat a little. Perhaps again, I'll turn to more effective ways to make money out of concern for my family and admit that, for the moment, my writing isn't good enough. But, as I jot these last few sentences, it occurs to me that I don't want to dream small. Life, despite is complexities, is already small enough. No, instead I want my dreams to fill billboards in Times Square. I want my fancies to rove far and wide, like salesmen for pharmaceutical companies. I want, for the moment, to make resolutions so enormous that simply keeping them will be an accomplishment. So, I'm resolving to finish three books this year and have them in the mail being perused by agents and publishers. And, who knows, if all goes well, the royalties will start trickling in and I'll be able to afford, um, more expensive coffee.