Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

in the passenger seat,
on a narrow country road,
my window rolled down,
the scent of warm grass thickens the air

beyond a low fence,
a gathering in black wool,
silent but for ritual words,
meaningless intonations of finality

as we draw near,
time congeals like aspic,
heat rises in dreamlike waves,
flowers wilt in reverent clumps

the surrounding faces
are strangers whom I know,
fugitives on the same path,
dogged by the same relentless pursuers

pain, sharp-edged,
a new reality that dawns
as the loved one stolen
is set into the receiving earth

near the center
one mourner stands,
brow blank, eyes questioning:
Who am I, without you?

as we pass
time releases us,
our hearts resume their muffled beat,
and we yearn for the peace of simple things

Read Full Post »

I need a new word
for the conflict that
rages within me

I need a word
for the feeling that hits
when I see
a response to force
so primal
so basic
so innately human
yet
so brave
so admirable
so worthy of honor
that
I become a forge
a crucible filled with
heart and spleen
love for the spirit
hatred for the reason

This alloy of
love and anger
horror and awe
this reactive nexus to
the best
and worst
of humanity
surely deserves
a word of its own

k

Read Full Post »

from beyond our horizon
comes the sound
    tympanic booms
    savage rumbling
    the faraway growl
        of stomachs hungry for
        power
        control
        more

so we fret
with brows furrowed
    in cultivated concern
    whilst
we mumble apologia and
    with clucking tongues
serve imported tea
    at finely-set tables

but that thrum
    that urgent pulsation
to our distant friends
is the pounding of fists
    on skins stretched taut
a percussive temblor
    shaking hearts and lands
a crescendo of chaos
    building
        to the cymbal’s crash
        to rimshot snares
        to the xylophonic dance of bones

once was a time
this selfsame song
danced upon the breeze
    a faint and subtle rhythm
we listened and
    with pallid interest
chose to admire
    the musician’s technique
rather than critique
    the tune

but the cacophony spread
and others took up the noise
until the world shrieked
    through those bloody measures
and millions vanished
    beneath the grinding treads
        of war

in time
we wrote a coda
    to the obscene chorale
having learned
    that for some
    more
    is never
    enough

Read Full Post »

I was in a foul mood all last week, so when a friend offered her opinion of a movie I’d recently enjoyed, deeming it “fairly good, while predictable,” I took it as a passive-aggressive reference to my low-brow viewing choices.

Naturally, she did not mean it that way and (thankfully) I have a strict “reread before hitting enter” policy when posting to social media, so no damage was done, but it did get me thinking.

The movie in question is of the “coming of age” variety and my friend’s evaluation was, to be frank, pretty spot-on. The movie is predictable, as we follow a young man growing up, navigating the pain of early adulthood until, at movie’s end, he comes to terms with his father’s history of absence and utter unreliability.

Predictable. Trite. Cliché. I’ve used these words to describe (in negative terms) both books and movies. I’ve done so here on this blog, and usually I’ve not been kind about it. So, why do I look down my nose at some formulaic works, yet enjoy others? Why do I consider some works to be entertaining, even though they are utterly predictable?

We’re all familiar with the old argument about story archetypes, how many there are, and how old. According to common wisdom, there are only seven archetypal plots (though opinions differ, and widely so). Whether this is true or not, formulas are used to build stories, especially in film—the coming of age plot, the rom-com, the murder mystery—and they are often followed to the point where you can set your watch by what happens on screen. Eighteen minutes into an episode of Murder, She Wrote? A body is going to drop in three . . . two . . . one . . .

Why do we enjoy such stories, even when we know how they’ll work out? And when do we not enjoy them?

I returned to the movie under discussion, and found that my enjoyment had nothing to do with the story’s predictable nature. I knew the boy would grow up and be happy. I knew the boy’s father would remain an irredeemable two-dimensional deadbeat dad. I knew the boy would have some sort of confrontation with his father and, in so doing, accept his own adulthood. I knew all this would happen, and to be honest, those were the least engaging sections of the film.

What grabbed and held my interest were the differences, the ways in which the writers deviated from the expected. As one example, it was how a collection of men—grandfathers, uncles, and pseudo-uncles—cooperated to raise a boy, communal fathers to an abandoned son, a composite role model that was both counterpoint and counterpart to the flawed original. The formula, that’s the foundation on which the whole is built, the scaffolding that supports what is new, but it’s the differences that set it apart.

Absent these differences, that’s when formula is a problem. That’s why the 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Psycho was a flop: simply filming it in color wasn’t enough of a difference.

But with sufficient differences, ah!, now we have variations on a theme, the same story told from a different point of view, and we enjoy the result. Otherwise, we’d never watch another rom-com, see a new staging of Macbeth, or read another mystery novel. We’d be all “Been there; done that,” and set off in search of the totally new (and good luck with that).

Some will argue that there are no original stories; that everything is an interpretation of one of the seven archetypes; or a fanglement, a mash-up of two or more to fashion what merely seems new. I disagree but will allow that, in most cases, it is true. We do tell the same stories, over and over, and we enjoy the retelling, the predictability.

So, when I begin to fret that my current work-in-progress is just another old tale retold, I’ll make a point of remembering the differences I’m working into it. Style, setting, sub-plot, backstory, characterization, tone, structure, pacing—differences large and small all adding to a unique outcome.

Formulas just are; it’s how we employ them that determines if they’re worth the time.

k

Read Full Post »


your need is my desire
your desire is my hope
your hope is my dream
your dream is my heart
your heart is my home
your home is my love
your love is my comfort
your comfort is my need

Read Full Post »

Maples at Seattle Arboretum

Well, sometimes the magic works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I’m back from a two-week vacation and, for me, two weeks is the minimum required to feel like I’ve actually had a vacation. The first week I spend powering down—sleeping decent hours, relaxing, reading, puttering—but the second week is when my brain finally looks up, sees the sky, hears the birdsong, smiles, and forgets about the day job.

It was a good stay-at-home fortnight, filled with fall colors (in my gardens and around the Sound), blustery fall weather, rain, walks, movies, and even a bit of socializing. It was a rather creative time, as well. I finished building my hurdy-gurdy, cooked a couple of excellent meals, and managed to craft one or two fairly decent pieces for this blog.

But this week . . . eh, not so much.

Granted, the week back at work after well-spent time off is always difficult, but this one has been quite the challenge. You see, my retirement is out there, waiting. I can smell its heady aroma and hear its quiet song, lofted by the onshore breeze. Going back to the day job gets harder each time, but usually (thankfully) there’s a grace period granted to vacation-returnees: sufficient time to go through the mountains of emails; to catch up on all the changes, gossip, and news; and to ramp back up on the work we’d set aside during our weeks away.

This time, though, it was more of a “hit the ground running” type of week. I was met with an excessively aggressive deadline date (promised during my absence), plus a slew of quarterly meetings that stole a whole day that I really could have used trying to meet that promised deadline.

So, today, when I sat down in front of my blank sheet of paper and tried to come up with a poem or vignette, chicken-scratching my way around the metaphor that’s been in my head for a couple of days (family lineage as a river), I came up empty. Empty, that is, except for lines and stanzas written and then struck out, word clouds that dissipated into thin air, and several crumpled sheets of 11×18 newsprint on my office floor (which at least entertained the cat, if only for a few minutes).

I then compounded that frustration by spending the evening trying to solidify new ideas out of the ether—it’s not as though I had no ideas, just that I could bring none of them into sufficient focus to wrap words around—until, in the end, I cried, “Hold! Enough!”

And so here we are.

If I might torture another metaphor, every farmer knows that letting a field lie fallow for a time benefits the land and the crops. So, seeing as how I’ve been very creative during the past few months, I think I can allow myself a fallow week.

Here’s hoping that my crops rebound after the rest.

k

Read Full Post »

It’s been a week of retrospection, and I mean that in the most literal sense.

We spent most of our week going through old papers—letters, receipts, documents, and such—searching for the most important ones to put a fireproof box. This was our way of jump-starting the Big Adulting task of writing wills, issuing powers of attorney, and all the other things attendant to, well, to our inevitable death.

Naturally, as happens when rummaging through one’s past in this way, we come across a lot that was not what we were looking for, and I mean a shit-ton of it. But for every time I found a manual for an appliance we no longer have, purchased with a now-defunct credit card, issued by a bank that collapsed a decade ago, I also found a photo of my brother in Mali, a 1946 letter from my great-aunt, a receipt for baguettes from the boulangerie around the corner from our Paris walk-up, a love note from my dad to my mom, or a ticket stub from the night I took my girlfriend to the movies in Jerusalem. None of it will mean anything to my heirs (presuming I have any), but for me, each item carries incredible weight.

As I hold that old Oyster Card, I hear my panting breath as I climb the stairs to hear Big Ben strike the noon hour. Picking up that acorn, rattling in the bottom of the cardboard box, I’m hit with the unseasonable heat of Gettysburg in October, surrounded by the humid scent of wild onions as I walk beneath the oaks of Devil’s Den.

It was a long journey, this week, due to the many, many side trips we took while digging through banker’s boxes filled with, okay, filled with a lot of junk, but also a lot of our collective past. I found things I’d merely forgotten about, but I also found things I’d never seen, items turned over en masse by my folks or accreted from their estates; like my 3rd grade school photo, the one with me making a Calvinesque goofball face, the one that pissed off my mother something fierce, the one on the back of which my dad jotted a hidden note: “This is Kurt. He’s smart as a whip, and I have trouble keeping up with him.” When had he written this? And to whom? And why had he kept it so long? And why had he never expressed this thought to me?

These boxes seem filled only with musty paper, small trinkets, and fading photos, but in truth, they’re filled with love, joy, grief, anger, wonder, and history. Should the tragedy of fire strike our home, they’ll not survive—only birth certificates, marriage licenses, wills, deeds, titles, and passports will have that honor—but even if I had a fireproof box the size of a two-car garage, I don’t know that I’d protect them there.

They are my history, sure, but like me, they are transitory, incapable of permanence beyond the time circumscribed by my birth and my death.

And perhaps, this is the way it should be.

we are
ephemeral
mayfly deities
standing at the verge
in sight of the distant shore
ready to leap

k

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: