Sunday, June 29, 2014

Writing tools

A couple of my colleagues over on the Wyrdsmiths blog have posted on the tools they use when writing.

I have a thing about fancy pens, usually ballpoint pens, though I also have rollerballs and fountain pens.

And I have a thing for Levenger, a catalog company that sells paper, notebooks, pens, briefcases, computer cases... They originally billed themselves as "tools for readers." A friend of mine calls them sex toys for writers.

The last thing I got was a Circa notebook. Circa is a notebook system which allows you to pull pages out and put pages in. So you can have the fancy notebook and not worry about ruining pages.

This one has a bright red leather cover. I got extra pages for it: 300 of them. And I pulled a pen I never use out of the pen display case and tucked it in the notebook. It's a Conklin -- a nice pen, but not equal to a Waterman. I like the feel of it. It's a big pen, easy to hold. And I like the surface: a bold pink, green and black pattern. It doeesn't exactly match the notebook cover, but close enough. All I have to do now is write.

Forks in the Road

About ten years ago, I attended a writing workshop in Iceland given by the wonderful Icelandic-American poet and essayist Bill Holm, who died way too young, and David Arnason, a very fine Icelandic-Canadian fiction writer. One of the exercises David gave us was: imagine a point in your life that was a fork in the road, when you had a choice of going in two different directions. Then write a description of what your life would have been like if you had taken the other road.

I could not do the exercise. I couldn't imagine a point when my life had those kinds of choices. I talked to David afterward. He said he had a very clear point of decision in his life. His father had been a fisherman on Lake Winnipeg. He could have followed in his father's footsteps and become a fisherman. Instead, he went to college and became a professor of English Lit and a writer.

I began writing in grade school, and I've known I wanted to be a writer since I was junior high or high school.

I knew in college that I didn't want to join the professional middle class. This was the 1960s, and the middle class did not have a good rep. I thought they were servants of the ruling class, who earned enough by their servitude to be comfortable when many other people suffered. This was a black-and-white vision. Life is more complex, and many middle class people do good work. But I felt then that the middle class was morally compromised. I also felt that a professional career would interfere with my writing.

I went to graduate school for several years, but quit when I realized I was getting close to an MA. I knew if I got one, I'd take the easy way out and get work in an art museum or teaching at a college. (An MA was worth more in those days.) Since my father was an art historian, I had spent my entire life in art departments and art museums. I wanted to find out what else was in the world.

After college, I worked a long series of crap jobs -- mostly in offices, but some in warehouses. 'Crap' is unfair. I found most of the jobs interesting. But they were poorly paid and not respected.

And I wrote, first poetry and then fiction.

Gradually, over time, I learned to do accounting. I ended by being a bookkeeper or financial manager for several small organizations, mostly nonprofits. This was sort of professional, though I never made much money, and I had no credentials, no degree in accounting or CPA. I did end up with more responsibility than I liked. I have never wanted to be any kind of boss, and I ended up as a supervisor -- a strawboss -- a couple of times.

In 2009 I got laid off. I discovered it was really hard to find a job at my age in a depression. In the end, I retired and became a full-time writer.

So where is the fork in my road? I could have finished my MA, I suppose, and gone on to work in a museum. But I didn't want to.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

From Up On Poppy Hill

From facebook:
We got our own copy of From Up On Poppy Hill a couple of days ago. A very sweet movie. Not directed by Hayao Miyazaki, but he was involved in the planning and co-wrote the script.
One of my faceboook colleagues commented that the backgrounds were fabulous, as they always are in Studio Ghibli movies. I replied:
It isn't just a question of backgrounds. The settings in Ghibli movies surround the characters and become characters themselves. I love the bugs and fishes and flowers, like Japanese scrolls. The skyscapes are amazing. The cityscapes are equally amazing. The mining town in Castle in the Sky. The port city in Kiki's Delivery Service. Yokohama in Poppy Hill. Miyazaki loves planes, of course, but there are also trains and ships and buses, especially the cat bus. And I love the importance of work and working people.

Kiki is about getting a job. So is Spirited Away.

Poppy Hill is about fixing up an old house. There is more scrubbing in a single Ghibli movie than in all of Disney, except maybe Cinderella.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Reminder that I have a new collection coming out this summer: Hidden Folk, stories based on Icelandic literature and folklore. I am currently proofing the galleys and getting an author photo taken. The photo is going to be difficult, because I always freeze up when I am photographed, and I am recovering from a cold. I will be the person with the frozen expression and the red nose...

Big Mama Stories

Eleanor's Big Mama Stories...

Go get this beautiful collection of Big Mama stories..... because: wonderful.

This is a post Lyda Morehouse put up on the Wyrdsmiths blog. I like the image and the sentiment.


13 million x 3.6 is 46.8 million. The US labor force, employed and unemployed, is 156 million. We could employ everyone who wants a job and have jobs left over. This does not count the new construction needed to deal with global warming. I read articles about how robots are going to make everyone unemployed. Long term this might be true. But short term we have to rebuild the world. After that is done, we can worry about unemployment.

Some of this is probably high-tech skilled work, but a lot of it is stuff like insulating houses and planting wind breaks. CCC work.

All the pine forests being destroyed by warm winters and pine beetles are going to have to be replaced with trees that are heat and beetle tolerant... That's a lot of CCC work.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Thought from Facebook

How does one remain aware of the injustice and evil in the world, without becoming consumed with anger and/or despair? My role model in this is Howard Zinn, who was a civil rights activist and anti-war activist, the writer of The People's History of the United States -- a man with an acute sense of what was wrong with the world, but also an optimist and a man with a good sense of humor. Maybe part of the answer is The People's History, which describes what ordinary people have achieved. The dominent culture tells us either (a) everything is fine or (b) the struggles of ordinary people have never achieved anything good or (c) as bad as things are, there is no alternative. We need to be able to see struggle does result in achievement and there is always an alternative.

I don't like anger. Carol Tavris wrote a book many years ago on anger, in which she argued that the purpose of anger is to make us act -- if we don't act, then anger consumes us. Short term it is good as a motivator. (She said anger is our response to injustice, which is interesting.) But if we don't find a way to act, long term it is damaging.

I also don't like despair. Not a useful emotion. Don't mourn. Organize.

Also, pay attention to what is good. Today is lovely, bright and mostly cloudless with a touch of coolness in the wind. The peonies are blooming. Cottonwood fluff is floating in the air.