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Edited the day after: Sometimes I think that I should simplify my sentences for publication because not everybody will want to dive into my own voice as much as I do. On the other hand, the value of my writings may not lie in being simple.
On the weekends I usually tell myself that I should use that free time to post to the blog. But giving myself this assignment seems not to make me feel good about editing my work, and I think I need to be in an open, receptive mindset in order to edit my work well.
Sometimes I think that there’s more to being alive than simply producing words and ideas, and then those are the times I tend to go and lie next to my dog on the floor and see what he’s paying attention to. Sometimes I just nap. I can be alive without having to write all the time. I live through writing, by writing, but I don’t want to confuse my need to write with anyone else’s need to read my writing. And I’m posting and editing this now so that I can pare back the thoughts of a moment of tired frustration. I may not even like this revision by tomorrow. We’ll see.
Original: I write everyday. I write in complex sentences. Sometimes I think that I should simplify my sentences for publication because not everybody will want to dive into my own voice as much as I do. On the other hand, I’m not sure that my writings have all that much to say, so their value may lie in being an extension of my attention …
I would like to blog things from my writings on the weekends, when I have time and energy to blog. But using the blog as a need to publish, giving myself this priority, this assignment, this deadline, seems not to make me feel good about editing my work, and I think I need to be in an open, receptive mindset in order to edit my work well.
I write every day but sometimes I think that writing is just an arrangement of words and ideas and that there’s more to being alive than simply producing words and ideas, and then those are the times I tend to go and lie next to my dog on the floor and see what he’s paying attention to. Sometimes I just nap. I can be alive without having to write all the time.
I write every day. I write to live. I live by thinking and writing. It’s a decent lifestyle, really it is, but also … I don’t want to confuse my need to write with anyone else’s need to read my writing. And I’m posting this now so I can feel that I did something blogable today.
Weds. 20 July — While walking my dog this morning through a nearby subdivision, I saw a state cop car pull out of a driveway and a water bottle come rolling downhill toward me, as if it’d been on the car when the cop moved it. He soon stopped and got out and I said, “good thing it’s water and not a cup of coffee or something” — or your gun, I thought but didn’t say.
After talking with colleagues about the short-story unit we’ll teach in our sophomore English class, I’m looking at this unit now as teaching kids the form, and how to analyze the form, of the short story. I want students to see the limits and the lies of that form — for example, in that story about a gang-member getting stabbed and bleeding out, we have no way to know what a dying person thinks. I want to teach students to be wary of, or at least aware of, being manipulated by fiction. Though I know some students will probably be fiction fans and I don’t want to break their hearts, and yet … I do want to wake them up.
Got an email this week from a former student from 3 years ago who said that my class opened up her mind, got her thinking. I love to hear that, though of course, I’d also like to know examples of what new thoughts she’s had because of my class. But just the fact that she thinks the class opened up her mind means she’s aware of having an open mind, and that might be the necessary first step — perhaps the only step? — to actually having an open mind, being willing to think about things in new ways, etc.
I don’t want to have to convince someone of the value of my writings. Readers will get it or they won’t.
I wouldn’t say that the texts I write can’t be changed. I know editors greatly altered certain classic words of literature — Kerouac’s, Thomas Wolfe’s, Raymond Carver’s. But there’s something OK about a text being whatever I put in it.
“Hello, it’s me,” said my wife, coming into the great room for the first time this day. “Who are you, Todd Rundgren?” I asked. She said she was about to say something similar.
Even if my edited journals aren’t compelling reads (like, say, a plot-driven thriller is compelling), these posts can be worth reading, can be interesting, at least to some readers.
Developing one’s sensibility: how teachers pick out better quotes to use from a story, and teachers find more things, and more-interesting things, to interpret from literary texts than students generally do — this could be an analogy to, and/or an example of, what I’ve been thinking about how interesting people say interesting things. Interesting people are usually older people, and so, frankly, my own younger-me writings may not be as interesting as my more recent ones are. For example, the literature-analysis essays I wrote as a high-schooler: I could’ve done more-interesting analysis, but I didn’t have the mind to do so at age 17.
Earlier this week, I published an edited part of my journal [as this post here is also]. I haven’t always felt motivated to start reading others’ journals — say, Camus’s, a book of whose journals I owned back in college, or Thoreau’s, which I looked at in recent years. But Thoreau’s actually were interesting, maybe more than Walden is. But Walden feels like A Big Work, Thoreau’s One Big Work , and so it feels more important to read that book than his journals. But of course, the book doesn’t have to be seen that way.
Lately I’ve been thinking of texts that are written to be published, written for an audience, as performances, and as performances, these texts have a level of artifice that I’d like to question. So what follows below is selections from a text I wrote for myself in my journal. It’s not organized by topic, and it doesn’t fit a typical nonfiction form, but it’s an experiment in editing, in seeing how what final shapes a minimally shaped text can take. I’m wondering why someone might choose to read such an unlabeled, unformed text, and what someone would get from having read it.
At home, a little after 8 a.m. — It’s humid. There’s still much dew-fall on the sliding glass door. More light comes in from the lower half of the door, where rivulets have run.
Just read a piece at New York Times’ The Stone that talked about how brain science seems to suggest that we use the same faculty to look into — to model, presume — our own minds the same way we try to read and model others’ minds. There is no 1st person, the writer says. This piece didn’t upset me in the way that some new theories bother me. I hadn’t thought of it before, but this idea goes along with my previous ideas about the unknowability of my own mind. For example, I don’t know where my ideas or the words that I write come from. “The Greeks” Episode Two talked about Greeks taking ideas from other cultures they met while trading and making colonies. “Ideas” is a word that comes to English directly from the Greek. It suggests that an idea is what could be taken from others without them getting pissed. An idea is not property like a ship or a pot is. Of course, you’re not taking at all but making, making your own concept of what you see others doing.
And perhaps an idea isn’t property (a copyrighted work is “intellectual property” in legal terms, but an idea-qua-idea can’t be copyrighted). But maybe the idea of “the idea” is itself Greek. The notion that we can form ideas, that ideas are things that can be labeled, identified, as much as “rock” or “tree” can be. Though, of course, we still can’t see, touch, or taste ideas.
At Oregon, Ill., McDonalds, seated alongside the wall of windows along the south side of dining room, with a view of cars leaving the drive-thru, about 10 a.m., after dropping my wife off to conduct a real estate closing —
At the diner yesterday, talked to Ashli Waitress’s husband, Jason, who’s working to demolish a building in the Chicago suburbs. There’s a steel structure for moving product inside this old warehouse, and he’s using a hydraulic shears for cutting this steel. The shears can cut steel up to 2 inches thick, he said.
Jason also told me about a former job delivering and repossessing furniture for a rental store in Rockford. How he once had to step over a passed-out dude in the hallway of an apartment building, and how he once got intentionally hit by a woman in a car and he was carried along until his feet got loose, and how he got shot at. Once sofas were repossessed, the employees had a way of opening them with wedges so as to not get stabbed with drug needles. Employees also called cops after discovering certain images on repossessed computers, he said.
“… 40 years old, dropped of a cardiac arrest … they revived her in the hospital after shocking her seven times … she passed a month ago — had her 42nd birthday” at the hospital, said a 60-year-old-ish man to an 80-year-old-ish man sitting at the table west of me.
“I couldn’t hold a frickin’ gallon of milk,” said the 60-ish man, who had slipped and fallen during a winter and thought he’d have to get rotator cuff surgery, but he didn’t.
“Could I get a discount, please?” said McSally. A dark-haired 30-ish McManager came over to a register where another McWorker was on the client side of the counter.
“I’m gonna run up to Rockford. I gotta jump on a conference call,” said 60-year-old guy. “Alright, pop,” said the 60-ish guy. “Alright, kiddo,” said the 80-ish guy as both left their table.
A certain customer will “ask for a senior coffee. He can’t hardly hold it … he should NOT be driving,” said McSally to McKaren, who responded that the old man might cause an accident and not even get hurt himself.
Dark-haired McManager said, “lunchtime” at 10:30. She said it in a low-energy shout, like “Lunch. Time.”
I was thinking this spring that it IS hard — emotionally upsetting — to have one’s beliefs challenged, as I was challenging my high school students’ beliefs during our philosophy unit.
“Can I help you, hun, now that I’m done complaining?” said McKaren to a customer about how she thought the humidity at 6:30 this morning was bad but it’s worse now.
Not that the statement above is such a great quote. Rather, it was a little distracting, so I wanted to get it out of my mind. But also, there’s something about how she really said it — it’s somewhat banal (not entirely, since it does reveal character), but also … I don’t know. I just wanted to record it as a real statement that was really said, a small moment but now it’s recorded. It was made a “moment” by my recording it? That maybe there is something special about me writing real things down — that writing them down, that making a text, is an act that is strange — estranged from? — living life, regular life. It’s normal for me to write, but maybe I forget how weird it is to write, actually.
There was a short-coated dog hanging out a passenger window of an SUV — it looked a little like the RCA Victor dog.
“They got it off Pinterest or somethin’,” said McSally. Pinterest is a thing, now.
I try to figure things out sometimes and shut out — mentally shut out, ignore — my surroundings. Yet, why bother? So many texts are written that way. And when I read, I like to shut out outside input — like, just now, the horn solo of Little River Band’s “Reminiscing” and like McSally saying, “What are cheeseburger cupcakes?” and McDark Hair Manager saying, “They look like cheeseburgers.”
Shutting out one’s surroundings, being able to focus on the text, both as writer and as reader, can be really nice at times. But also, it could be nice to read texts where (like this text), the writer is out in public and includes what he hears and sees going on around him while also writing whatever ideas come into the writer’s head.
A dude asks the McCounter workers — he’s new to the area, he says — and he asks how to get Internet and/or cable. They name some utilities for him, fulfilling their community-information function.
What I write — I’m of this area, this county. I publish on my own blog rather than submitting my writing to edited websites. There’d be a sense in leaving my community, of having to go away to make it big, in submitting my work to others. I saw corn plants in a certain field on the drive to McDonald’s today — Ogle County is cornfields, and is not people and culture. I’ve developed as a writer while living in this rural area, without much influence from other writers, and that lack of influence is perhaps a result of, a mark of, having developed while out here in this open place. Sometimes this place can feel desolate, empty of smart people who share my interests, but this morning I wasn’t feeling that. I was feeling that there’s something meditation-promoting about this cornfield. I didn’t feel desolate. I felt that this corn — tassling out, the row curving — was as good as any. That I could stop and meditate there.
“Do we have cookies back, Sal?” asked McKaren. “I don’t think so,” said McSal. “I’m taking the last of the chocolate chip,” said McKaren, as a client stood at the counter. The client wore pajama pants printed with what looked like heart-shapes with sashes across them, with the sashes reading “LOVE” — upcloser (I used the ruse of getting napkins), I saw that there was a sword through the red shape and a flower and that some of the designs were mirror-imaged (or flipped?) so that “LOVE” was spelled “backwards-E,” “O,” “V,” “backwards-L.”
There’s a sense that people who write about rural areas have to do so in the forms approved y city-dwelling editors — intellectuals, in other words (although right-wing propaganda, less so, I’d think).
Having my own website is less glamorous than publishing with the imprimatur of an imprint, but publishing on my own website is wonderfully direct. These are the words coming directly from this author, without intercession.
At the Diner, noon:05, after having picked up my wife after her real estate closing and taken her to lunch — I could post this day’s writing. I don’t need to write on a topic, so I could put up whatever. But I also don’t need to blurt.
But if the point of publishing isn’t to tell a message but just to share my mind, share a text that comes from my experience, to share a bit of my mind — a mystical aspect of a text.
“I don’t think Lucinda cares for him too good,” said a 60-year-old-ish woman to another woman eating across from her in the booth behind my wife.
Back at home, 10:45 p.m. — I typed in some, not all, of today’s journal. I was tempted to cut down what I entered — I had the idea to take just one paragraph’s worth of idea out of any one day’s journal. But then I thought, I’m not sure I should cut down. Give it a try, type in a long piece. There’s no need to include everything from the journal entry, yet I wonder if I’m judging by traditional, too-narrow standards if I cut down my texts. Leave it long, don’t talk yourself out of doing it before you try it.
Of course, what I like is to write. I write for the engaged writing experience — publishing comes second as a priority. But maybe what I want is to have a text that reveals a nimble mind — maybe that’s my organizing guideline. I could even have a long version and a short version (an Abstract, or a “TL;DR” section).
So, last January, about the time Rod McKuen passed away, I picked up his poetry book Lonesome Cities, which I’d obtained long after its publication in the 1960s but which I’d never read. I didn’t really like the poems: their language felt too chatty and their subjects too familiar and too precious.
But alongside each poem was plenty of blank space in which I could rewrite the poems to my own taste, to make the poems sharper and stranger, more surprising. Some of the poems are simple erasures (see also resources here), while others have some words replaced by sound-alike words, and all poems have certain amounts of re-arrangement, editing, and rewriting (however those definitions may overlap).
I debated whether to put my new poems alongside McKuen’s originals. I have chosen not to, partly out of concern not to step on his copyrights (and this writing process felt like authentic creation, but it also prompted questions of what, exactly, copying means). But I also don’t think comparing the new to the old is necessary, as the poems below range far beyond the topics of McKuen’s poems to represent their own questions of consciousness and philosophical inquiry.
Here are my poems, with reference to the titles of the originals the new poems came from:
“An Out,” an erasure of McKuen’s poem “An Outstretched Hand”
Each of us was God.
Some of us grew.
The wind bent.
Love is, is.
Each eye turned sound,
shoulders their feet.
It takes a hand.
“Sting,” an erasure of “Rusting in the Rain”
The old world coming stops as it goes.
Did anybody ever grow older?
Come see where we have been.
“I’ve,” a rewrite of “I’ve Saved the Summer”
I give you to winter when new.
I’ve need. Darkness can feed. I’ve kept your smile.
You were 19. You’re older, you’ll know.
I know no answers. Your way lies somewhere.
But I’ll give you the road.
“Like the Window,” a rewrite of the last 2 stanzas of “It’s Raining”
It’s like the window if we wait.
There’s here now. Don’t be anymore.
It’s the crickets.
Do you think? You love.
“Summer’s It,” an erasure/rewrite of the last 2 stanzas of “Sommerset”
times: summer’s set?
“To Glean Sin from the Crows,” a rewrite of the first two stanzas of “Sommerset” made by replacing each word in poem with a sound-alike word:
Several ways were sunny.
Canned eels’ mouths were made.
Sand heavy birds down a long cane;
that seems to compensate
for muddy ears. Comb fuzzy bats.
Tin filters amore.
Hens heal ivy. Where summer went,
him no team ignores.
Cats rhyme some more. They gored some pigs.
Endure, he knew, but how?
Repair in size our wooden trunks.
Two seen beneath a stall.
Cows mainly hear enough of static
to glean sin from the crows.
Whine was learned, yet summer kept
land-cropping all sender’s snows.
“I Live That, Always,” an erasure of “The Single Man”
I live that, always.
For just a night,
the talk wasn’t a better day.
At home, or in his private cloud, I am
a time I can’t remember.
The house might have been help.
“Cans,” an erasure/creative edit of “Cannes”
Cans waking in the morning
sweep down the street.
The empty bottles go back.
As crossword puzzles on the sidewalk,
a new foundation crawls
back under buildings
to avoid the Jets.
Still adjusting our heads,
we shoe up in the hallway
and lose bed.
Thank God for the coasts.
“Form,” an erasure of “For Bimby”
Some things you can put down.
Sheep grazing on the airport stale February days.
Smile balloons look to me.
Surprises held in the day.
A blaze with tourists and cats ruins time.
Her smile is elaboration lost
“The cross Atlantic,” erasure/edit of “Atlantic Crossing”
I gave up a while.
I had written songs to my family’s safe for years.
Had some women liked my animals in luxury?
I’d miss me, but they’d be it.
The way did much paint.
I’ll admit there were eyes I’d keep.
All in all, I was ready, so I pray more.
God had frightened years.
He first did run down.
We’d play together if we weren’t one another.
“Beaching Manhattan,” an edit-rewrite of “Manhattan Beach” as a prose poem
I’m working in a house at Manhattan Beach. Eddie came by last weekend with two women and some books. The books and the women were stacked. (Ha!)
I sleep and breathe the waves. I think of my breathing. I mist my attention on the traffic. Familiar rooms sink past my songs. A half-packed suitcase buys me oughts.
My dog does stuff up on the beach–she doesn’t seem to care that this is the very end of the land. My friends may as well be weathered sticks or bottles sans notes. My dog smells of the smells she smells; they settle on her fur.
Boats fill harbors in a dance stretching back 10 years in a morning. I live mostly in afternoons.
I nearly died. Fever made doubt or walks along. I stayed alive. Letters came, and “I” was the island I would go for. The asshole rides me to see the dog embark a seal.
“Four for Hands,” an erasure-rewrite of “Concerto for four hands”
Shadows time me.
“Now You’re Even,” an erasure-edit of “New Year’s Eve”
The old die.
I am the green ground.
I have faces.
I need,–I know.
The town slopes
The next room waits.
Villages rain like celebrations.
“Urban Herb,” an erasure-edit of “Suburb”
The mountain winds around petals. A desert country like smoke. Those electric-nows pine for perfume towns. The smile is smiles. Centurions anticipate chopping. Down the trees and down the hills, ants make flat.
“Bag Age,” an erasure-edit of “Baggage”
Only one day shoulders disappearing.
Room crowds your face.
Help me suppose it gone.
Leave me so I stand.
“Boa Rid,” erasure-rewrite of “Boat Ride”
The boredom drove.
God was full.
You were Texas.
Your tongue, again, knows.
Your arms water time, privately.
“In Dian’s Summer,” an erasure-rewrite of “Indians”
In Dian’s summer,
Every thicket beds flowers.
Sunshine does the painting.
The hills buy the buffalo tower
and fence. Off the factories,
we’ll build shadows.
Men die but gray.
“Engineer of Pallidity,” an erasure and inversion of “Venice” (pages 34 through 31)
a whole long moment meets time.
I am handsome; a mirror could have a hope.
Find a way to own my reflection.
I excite you with motor cuisine. You, I’ll never smile.
The glance—once—keeps you. I buy. You coin the world, and back a secret.
The sun targets me. The sun beaches you.
My hair lies. I’m your engineer of pallidity.
Tomorrow, sun ends home, shade.
Waiting, the birds.
Feeding. Ignoring me, you, chattering, the pigeons.
Coming. Moving. Eating. Chewing.
“These,” a selection-rewrite of “Three”
I face country tablecloths.
I index fingers.
I till now.
I paint 20 minutes.
Your eyes say grapefruit.
I ruin mornings.
I draw evenings.
I even drawings.
“Tuesday,” an erasure/sound-replacing rewrite of “Two”
Back to look—I, you. No!
Understand: I speak same as I bathe,
with a winnowing and a leafing through.
The heat throws. Off, we wormed each other
into tarps in different booths.
Turning me, months mediate a simile.
In the laboratory at the lakefront,
there were some seaweeds in a hair curler—
my mind looked at them—
I had drained my face from the stairs.
“When,” an erasure/rewrite of “One”
When you corner change
and wrinkle it into day,
you and lovers lose
water to leaded crystal.
“Disbelief,” a re-make of “Morning, Three”
At any “and,”
disbelief smiles “yet, “or.”
An AVClub article had this statement — “The New World unfolds less in acts than in movements” — and reading that statement prompted in my mind a thought not about the movie but about my own concept of writing: that a piece of writing doesn’t have to follow conventions like having acts, but further, it doesn’t need to be efficient. That may not be the best word for this vague notion that I’m trying to put into words, but here’s trying:
Last weekend, I posted about taking out, editing out, the dull parts of any text. This week, I’ve noticed myself telling anecdotes about recent experiences, and I notice that my telling of these anecdotes has gotten more efficient. To be specific, lately I’ve been writing down (in my pocket-pages) particular things I’ve overheard while at the school where I teach, and in order for these statements to be sensible when I read them later, or when I read these to others, I write also some explanation of the context in which the statement was made. I realize that I’ve gotten pretty efficient in telling what needs to be told to convey a story, and not telling more. This efficiency may have come through the practice of repeatedly telling stories, but it wasn’t particularly intentional — I haven’t been sitting around and editing-down my stories.
But the stories have gotten slim and efficiently told, for the purpose, I suppose, of communicating to others (my future self and any people I’d later read these to) why I found these statements particularly note-worthy. In order to communicate effectively, I want to tell spare stories — almost more like jokes, these brief anecdotes, where certain information must be related upfront so the punchline (the overheard quote) produces the same reaction in my listeners as the reaction I had on first overhearing the statement.
But I’ve also been thinking that with this efficiency of storytelling, I may be getting too efficient. I may be turning these overheard bits into performable material, and I’m not sure that’s a great thing, in the sense that I may become likely to start to see much of my experience as material ready for shaping into anecdotes.
The danger here, and this is where the quote from the AVClub article comes in, is that a story structure becomes a way of seeing the world. (Maybe this is overstating this phenomenon a bit, but I’m pushing through here.) In a sense, I was glad to be reminded, when I read the quote, that interpretations of reality, interpretations of one’s experience, are necessarily leaving things out, and maybe that’s worth remembering. I mentioned in the previous post about editing “dull” things out — but since my brain tends to do that anyway (in daily living and also in storytelling), maybe it’s also worth remembering that we don’t have to be editing our experience at all. We don’t really even have to be remembering it. If I edit out those parts which don’t contribute to the particular story I’m telling, that may improve the story itself, but there’s nothing inherently boring which any moment of experience, of course.
I assigned my creative writing students to go do a nonfiction freewriting while they were in some public place (like a restaurant, mall, library, park, etc.) where they could watch and listen to others. One student did his freewriting in a quiet school study hall, and the text he produced described such mundane things as how other students swung their legs as they did other things or nothing at all. No particular act or statement that was profound or amusing made it into his prose, and yet, the student had created a sorta wonderful record of study-hall boringness, mundanity. He had noticed routine things, and somehow this led to a document that was interesting to read. It was a record of what that student had noticed as he was desperately searching for exciting things to notice.
If we’re only looking for grand events, or easily quoted overheard speech, we are only looking for those moments when our conscious experience matches our mental models of what an amusing story is — when, of course, we could also be noticing experiences that are not so easily told as stories, those experiences that could challenge these existing models, too. Movies don’t have to be structured in three acts, and my stories don’t always have to be efficient or amusing.
Not that all of my stories I tell to students and friends need to be amusing, but that tends to be my default. If I were a cable channel, I’d be more like Comedy Central than I would be Bravo or Food Network or NatGeo. But I’ve found myself getting bored lately with Hollywood movies whose story outlines are overly familiar to me. I understand that Hollywood too wants to tell stories efficiently to as big an audience as possible, but I guess I just want to see different kinds of stories, different ways of thinking about experience, which thinking will lead me to having different experiences. Instead of just asking commercial storytellers to come up with new story-forms to amuse me, I could come up with some of my own. And I could check out The New World, which I haven’t seen yet but which, the AVClub article pointed out, did try some of these new ideas.