Burying my darlings

Apparently Faulkner didn’t say it, nor did Wilde or Welty or Chekhov. Instead, it was an obscure Cornish writer named Arthur Quiller-Couch who said that you must kill (in his words, “murder”) your darlings.

(Side note: Quiller-Couch published his novels under the pseudonym “Q.” I wonder if the QAnon people know that their long-lived deep-state hero also spent decades as a novelist and literary critic, centuries after writing a lost source for the Gospels. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are fortunate.))

“Kill your darlings” is one of the most hackneyed pieces of writing advice out there, but it’s a cliché only because it’s completely true. To edit well, you must kill your darlings. Delete the little turns of phrase, the scenes, the characters, that you adore but which are weighing down your piece.

It’s way harsh.

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January 25, 2015

The breeze is drawing little crosshatch patterns on the tidewater like skin seen from close up. 

The Sound is so inaccessible but this gap feels like infinite breathing room. Big splooshes of invisible fishes nearby, and waterfowl and bald eagles. We’re still in view of housing developments but we all get a respite anyway. 

There’s the universal smell of saltwater and damp ancient rocks. 

Up days, down days

“How’s it going?”

If you have any answer to this than “it depends,” I want to know your secrets.

This whole situation (you know the one I mean) has been basically this:

Can you relate? I think the only variable is the relative length of time the solid days last vs. the hell zone. Sometimes, honestly, it’s 1-to-1.

Fortunately, I’m a veteran of this crazy-making oscillation, because I make myself write for fun! Writing hell zones are frequent, but on the plus side, the “solid days” are much better than solid.

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Tapping out

Two months ago, I said I’d write a post a day until this was all over.

Fool that I was, I think I expected that it would be clear when it was over. At this point, “it” remains confusing and variable and unlikely to be entirely over any time soon.

I’m not even sure what I think “it” is: the pandemic? The moral imperative to isolate if possible? Stay-at-home orders? Nonessential businesses closed? These all will have different end dates, possibly multiple end dates, and—

Friends, I just can’t post every day for that long.

Fortunately, I checked the tapes, and despite remembering that I said I’d post daily until this ended, here’s what I actually said: “I will be posting something here every day until…someday.”

Clever girl!

So, today is someday. Two months in, I’m tapping out. I’m going to keep posting here a few times a week, but focus more on Book One and Book Three with my writing time.

This has been an interesting experiment. It’s taught me, maybe, that I can trust myself to have ideas and to write stuff, but also to understand that I won’t necessarily do so precisely on cue, and that’s okay. Some days posting was very hard, either because I had nothing to say, or a lot to say and no energy with which to say it, or because I felt so strongly that I was yelling into a void that prefer I stop. And some days, posting was easy. Not to worry either way, I guess.

It was also interesting to watch which posts people seemed to like more than others. What I learned: I have no idea what y’all want. And the bigger lesson there, of course, is that I should just let go of trying to please others and do what I want! Whee!

But yesterday I simply did not post, because I was busy and/or did not feel well, and it was kind of great. It was what I wanted.

In that spirit, what I want right now is to finish this tea, go for a walk/run thing (fingers crossed that this won’t take me to migraine city), and then get on with most this amazing day.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginably You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings

The tyranny of content

An unoriginal observation: the “attention economy” encourages us to become weird versions of ourselves.

If you’re just a regular slob with a social media account, what do you post when your audience includes basically everyone you’ve ever known? Jenny Odell said it well: you imagine what you would say if you walked into a party where the attendees included everyone in your high-school class, plus a few hundred randos you met in college and after, plus your family members across all generations, plus strangers you met through common interests.* And, by the way, all of them will hear whatever you say to some of them, because for some reason you’re miked up.

You probably say something pretty boring.

It’s natural, it’s human, for us to calibrate our conversation to suit who we’re speaking to. But social media asks us to turn this impulse off, and just say “it”—whatever it might be—to everyone at once. This can’t help but change what we say. It tends to make us second-guess our spiciest opinions, which we’d feel comfortable exploring with this group but certainly not if that one is listening in. And then there is a concrete system of reward (likes) and punishment (crickets) that cannot but encourage us to mold all of our expression into whatever the crowd enjoys most loudly.

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December 30, 2014

I’ve started to recognize this mountain like a human face. This strikes me as odd somehow and deeply intimate, although I am not sure why. I am able to recognize city streets, freeway off ramps, curves in a trail. But the mountain, too, has a face. Each of the hulking volcanoes along the Cascades has her own face, and I start to know them all. 

Rainier is the one I see daily. At roughly 8:34 in the morning as I descend St. Helens Avenue, late as always to work, there’s a moment at the old car dealership where Rainier appears. If the morning is even a bit clear, the mountain bellows from the hollow in between the buildings over the Puyallup River. I only have a few seconds of the view before the road again dips between the buildings and it is lost. But temporarily it is a riot of gold, haloed in a cloud or—on the rarest of days—crisply visible to the tip.

This is how I have memorized the ragged top of Rainier. I now recognize it instantly in photos, distinct from Hood or Baker. Rainier has that odd rounded top settled into a crevasse. Is that right? I can’t be sure. Perhaps this knowledge is partly cheating, as I see the mountain on every license plate around me daily. But I also can distinguish it from Hood – that one, a simple triangle. 

It surprises me that it surprises me that I should become aware of my surroundings like this. 

The mountain with the mothers, 2016.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Content overload

It’s coming up on two months of posting “content” daily.

Friends, why did I say I’d do this until it all ended? We still barely know what it is, and when it will end is…

Danger thoughts. Don’t go there. 

In any event, I know the answer to why I did this thing to me: it was mid-March, and every hour brought some fresh surprising hell, and I woke up one morning feeling like hot compost and a little inspiration hovered before me glittering like a diamond: I could write more. I could escape the black hole that threatened to swallow me by giving myself a new project. A little structure to the day. And how hard could it be?

The answer, seven or so weeks in, is: not that hard, but also, somehow, quite hard, in sheer terms of time I could otherwise be spending on other things.*

(The other major reason I did this is, of course, I was such an idiotic boob back then.)

The problem is, trying to post every day means I’m always running.** This doesn’t always result in the best content. (I mean, it probably usually does, but just not always.)

It doesn’t allow me time to let the thoughts sit and marinate, as they used to do when I was posting about once or twice a week. (This is largely because the time I optimistically allocate daily for brainstorming and free-writing, 7-9am, tends to turn into just sleep-in time before the harrowing commute from the bedroom into the living room office.)

Writing time, whenever it occurs (right now: quarter to 11pm, which is to say, past my brain’s daily expiration date) is either very slow, very scattered writing (every fourth day or so), or else depleting the ol’ partially-written post archives, much like eating through all the emergency beans in the emergency bean cabinet (the other three days).

On that every-fourth-day when I somehow write a lot, I meander back and forth between twelve different ideas, popping in little details here and there in a kind of Frankenstein’s monster of an outline that I know future me will be able to clean up.

Future me never seems as certain about what past me meant as past me was. But she was enthusiastic; I can give her that.

The end result is something like having several different stews cooking on various burners, and I’m spicing them occasionally, often forgetting which one was the curry and which one the sour broth, and then I hear a bell and it’s dinner time and I grab one of the stews and serve it up to you.

And some days, like today, right as I’m about to serve it I take a look in the bowl and go, hmm.

*Ironically, the most time-consuming part is all the posting and cross-posting to Instagram and Facebook and occasionally Twitter, each of which demands a slight reformat and various buttons to be pressed from various devices. I guess I could just stop doing that, but then I’d really be shouting into the void. 

**Not literally. Although I also feel like an idiotic boob every time I run.

Thoughts on “content”

If you’ve been on the internet in the last five years, you may have noticed that all of a sudden, “content” is everywhere. There’s new content, great content, content overload, and there are content creators keeping the whole operation going.

The word “content,” of course, has many meanings across all parts of speech, but the one I’m referring to is the third noun entry here: “the principal substance (such as written matter, illustrations, or music) offered by a website.”

Let me concede off the bat that “content” in its internet usage is a “real word.”*

Look upon my content, ye Mighty, and despair!

HOWEVER.

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The Sort: Part Two

This is the second half of a short story. The first half is here.

I move in that weekend. He lives in this sweet little town in the mountains and owns a house that looks cozy and big to my cramped city eyes. I fill out the transferal paperwork online for my job. Moving locations due to a sort is one of the few things they’re able to process basically immediately. That’s one of the reasons the system works so well. Congress made it really clear that the public-health benefits of everyone’s commitment to proper sorting would basically set the economy on fire. If we’re all happily coupled with the person that we all know is perfect for us, that takes away a lot of the romantic drama and longing and heartbreak that reduce productivity. It’s a win-win. 

It certainly feels that way for me. There’s a lightness in my heart of the kind I haven’t felt in years. My general sense of worry, of insufficiency, goes quiet, even as I’m packing all my boxes with Alex’s help and leaving the place I’ve called home since college. 

That night we have sex for the first time. Alex makes it clear that he’s happy to wait for as long as I want, because again, there’s no rush at all. But I pull him into bed, shaking my head, and kiss him hard. As I should have expected, it works out. Really well. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but really only a bit. The system works. We smile at each other like giddy co-conspirators before turning out the lights for the night.

A few weeks later, we introduce each other to our families. First mine come to our house, because they’re RVing around the country and it works out pretty well. I’m nervous about how they’re going to act, because they’ve always been a little weird around my exes. Alex squeezes my hand and I know what he means: It’s going to be okay, because it’s going to be okay. 

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The Sort: Part One

Below is the first half of a short story I wrote recently. I’ll post the rest tomorrow. (Update: it’s here.) Let me know what you think!

Sitting down with my phone, I think: my chances are now about as good as they’ll ever be with Chris. There’s so much going for us. Similar taste in music (equal parts Baroque and Top-40); movies (anything with a good balance of comedy and drama, but nothing at either extreme); and activities (generally bookish, but also running). Such a good match. 

I would generally be paranoid about thinking things like this, because you never know nowadays whether your thoughts are going to stay private or whether you’ll see them echoed back to you online, but now I’m letting myself hope openly about our connection. After all, I’ve been in love with him for, what, eight months now? “Love” might be a bit strong given that nothing has actually happened, but I’m not sure what else to call it when I get indigestion with anticipation of seeing him, try hard to figure out how to ask my friends about the status of his relationship, and start planning my whole life around how to accidentally run into him. Basically, it’s time to close this deal. 

And tonight is my chance.

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