As I’m writing this I’m on a train rolling past green fields and your occasional flock of Irish sheep. We left Dublin at 9:00, and by lunch time we will be in Cork (or Corcaigh to use the Irish name). I’ll mention here some of the literary encounters I had in Dublin. There’s a drugstore called Sweeney’s with a sign in the window, along with bars of yellow soap. The sign says that it was in this store that Leopold Bloom bought lemon soap in the novel Ulysses. On a bus tour of the city, we passed a church where Bram Stoker was married. I thought I saw a bat fly out of a tower. Lastly, but most important to me, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral I saw the grave of Jonathan Swift. And now on to Corcaigh, and I’ll stop this incredibly tedious typing on a phone.
Monthly Archives: September 2015
There is a pronounced tendency these days, among both poetry readers and poets themselves, to think that poetry is supposed to be about the poet. If we read a short story in which a character says, “I hated my father”, it’s that character speaking. If we read a poem in which the narrator says the same thing, we think “Wow, this poet hated his father.” Almost no one seems to recognize the possibility that poetry might be fictional.
So before you read the poem below, I want to clearly make the point that I have not been released from jail on multiple occasions. And feel free to use this poem as needed to help win over the object of your affections.
The Next Time I Get Out of Jail
The next time I get out of jail,
I’ll buy you a pretty dress,
then steal a car and come to you,
just to hear you whisper “yes”.
We’ll celebrate the darkness
with noise and colored lights
and rum and Coke and cigarettes,
with pistol shooting in the night.
The next time I get out of jail,
I’ll bring a case of beer.
When I’ve drunk half and you’ve drunk half,
I’ll whisper in your ear.
Then naked at the window,
we’ll throw chairs out on the lawn.
We’ll sing songs about the Devil
and his cheerful crimson spawn.
The next time I get out of jail,
I’ll wait for a lunar eclipse,
so I can arrive in darkness
to kiss your amazing lips.
Then when the town grows quiet,
we’ll get an open jeep,
turn our music crazy loud,
drive slowly down the street.
The next time I get out of jail,
I hope I’ll look the same
so you can recognize me
when I stand and pray your name.
I’ll write a book about you,
based almost on the facts,
how every time I went away,
you knew that I’d be back.
Next week I will be in Ireland, the graceful land of green and Guinness. I will try to post something from there, but if I do, it will be done from my phone, so don’t be looking for the usual elegant writing of pensive melancholy and wry wit. I’ll be busy with green stuff and Guinness. And if I do not post anything, I’ll be back in two weeks.
We all begin as no one. It’s our natural state. (For the moment, I ignore the philosophical and very true fact that we are all as important as the universe, because nothing like each of us has ever existed or ever will again.)
But here within our brief moment of physicality, we shout repeatedly, “But I’m here. But I’m here!” We are here, for the most part, with very little recognition. And thus we have Alexander the Great naming city after city after himself, not even embarrassed by the raw sad hubris of it. We have medical researchers naming diseases after themselves, unconcerned that the fame their name achieves may be through being linked to a horrible condition resulting in disfiguration, pain, and death.
And we have me, writing my little scribbles, saying “Look! Look! Look what I did!” There are few, of course, who actually do look.
This past week I had a couple of occasions to make my case for being here in the universe. Metaphorically speaking. Labor Day weekend was the Decatur Book Festival, which I’ve written about before, a large and happy affair, except, perhaps, for the anxious writers. The festival is amazing to me, spread throughout the downtown of Decatur and using multiple venues for speakers. There are books everywhere, and it’s possible to hear new writers, “new but been around some” writers, and famous writers, talking about their books in venues of church and hotel and courthouse and under tents.
My own tiny part in the festival was an hour on Saturday morning. I belong to the Atlanta Writers Club, and they had a booth along a busy walkway with tables set up. It you signed up quickly, you could secure a one-hour slot at the table. That wasn’t me. I signed up late, got on a waiting list, but then I got lucky. So there I sat, with a pile of my cute little book in front of me (The Illusion of Being Here, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and I’ll wait while you stop and buy a copy). I also had a poster of the cover, and I had brought a little stand to hold up a copy of the book on the table, so I was doing my best imitation of A Professional Writer.
Plenty of people passed by the booth, and some stopped. I sold three copies of the book, thinking woohoo! Later I saw an email exchange among some of the writers who sat at the table at various times, and some were complaining about only selling four, five, six copies of their book. I thought “What did you really expect?” If anyone had ever heard of you, you would not have been sitting at the same table where I sat.
My second opportunity to walk through the bright beams of glory was—completely by coincidence—the next day, at the Unitarian church I attend. There is a book stall set up there most Sundays, and I heard it was possible for writers in the congregation to get a day for sitting at a table. I asked, and was told I could do it on September 6.
This time of year the church is back to having two services on Sunday morning, so I sat at my little table with a lovely tablecloth that someone else supplied and stacks of books, plus the poster, for 45 minutes between the two services, and then for a while after the second service. I got there just before the first service let out, so I was set up and waiting, and as the doors opened and the first people stepped out into the social area, I thought, “I feel like a fool.”
I tried to relax and not worry about it, knowing that this is how it is for most artists in every field of endeavor. At least I was not a musician playing in a bar where the music could not be heard over the roar of the drunks. I was not an actor making a commercial wearing a costume dressed as a roll of toilet paper. Still, I sat there thinking the only way I could be more ignored would be if I were a teenage girl at a high school dance. But I exaggerate. One friend did buy a book between the services.
I attended the second service, and before it ended I came back out to be sitting at my table again. This time, oh Lordy, people started coming up to me, talking, showing interest. A few friends bought books, but much more importantly, total strangers bought books. A couple of people expressed interest but had no money. (I would have just given them a book, but I was donating half the sales to the church.)
By the end, I had sold 13 books, for a total of 16 during the weekend. In the history of the world, I have not sold that many books in one weekend before. I’m thinking of naming a string of cities after myself.
I’m sure you’re a writer, which I know based on (1) a mysterious spiritual connection that flows through time and space, (2) my magical powers that I use only for good, except that one time, and (3) why else are you reading this when a perfectly good TV is sitting in your house? Since you’re a writer, put your beer down for a minute and let’s have a hug. ((((((((( ))))))))))
In some forms of art, the artist can work with other people, and often they do—musicians, actors, dancers. Some art forms, like sculpture, pottery, or painting, are frequently done alone, but they don’t necessarily have to be. Potters might pottify ensemble. For a writer, however, it’s almost impossible to work if anyone else is around, and some writers will go to extremes to achieve that solitude. In the last few days I heard an interview with a writer who had small children, and she said she would get up at 4:00 a.m. to write. I can’t think about that. That’s….4 a.m. Jeez.
Several years ago, back now in the misty yearnings of memory, I spent two weeks in Vermont at the Vermont Studio Center, a place that houses creative people for a while, so they can just create, or at least think about creating. It was one of the most glorious things I ever did, two weeks with nothing to do but write (whatever that actually meant in practice), eat great meals, and look out the window at the river.
One of the best things about the experience turned out to be a feeling of community, that I was part of a group of creative people—fictionists, poets, sculptors, painters, and so on—an artistic community, or artists colony, as some call it, though what mother country could have planted that colony I cannot imagine. I loved being surrounded by other creative people, being with people who understood, who wanted like me to create, who knew that it is a constant struggle against the world.
As driven as I am to write, I also find it to be a miserably lonely endeavor, and as I said above, it has to be. A writer must sit alone, but in a more metaphysical sense, intentionally or unintentionally, a writer (and many artists, for that matter) often exist alone in the world in some ways. Even with spouse, children, family, friends, if you don’t know other serious writers, then the most important thing you do, the thing that gives meaning to your life, may not be understood by anyone around you. That, dear reader, is lonely.
Some writers actually do know lots of other writers, and maybe they get together and talk about whatever it is writers talk about: agents, whiskey, pencils. I don’t know, because I don’t know many other writers, and serious writers, those who live for it—I know a couple of poets.
Of course it would be nice to have some sense of community in this enterprise. Writing groups, by the way, do not necessarily do this. Some people bring in bad science fiction, others want to write one memoire and then they’ll consider whether or not to write more, and still others are just Christ awful but don’t have any idea (and no, goddamnit, don’t put capital letters in the middle of the names you made up). That is not my community.
I began thinking of all this because I met a writer on Wednesday (at a social salon given just for writers associated with the website ArtsATL.com. I went for networking and hoping there would be some nice food (no, although the cheese was OK). It was still kind of cool, though, to look around and think “These are all writers” at least of a sort (not all fiction writers, the only real writer in my irrationally prejudiced view). All the writers there had published things on the website, and that was nice to think about, like we’d all taken it seriously, a whole roomful of us.
Unexpectedly, I met another fiction writer, who seemed glad to find me. You probably have no trouble imagining someone being glad to find you, but I have to work my imagination to see myself in that scenario. During our conversation we determined that we were very serious about fiction writing. It was a bit as if we were both from another planet and against all odds had found one another on this one.
Just the excitement of discovery was a kind of extraterrestrial hug.