Subscribe: dear strangers
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade B rated
Language: English
book  books  day  don  imagine  long  love  make  much  people  piece  read  reading  things  time  work  working  world  writing 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: dear strangers

dear strangers

Updated: 2018-03-18T05:18:24.111-06:00


tyranny of the quantifiable


are there things you cannot convey with words or even actions?  do you worry that words are never adequate?  that you've never actually expressed yourself with any bit of accuracy?
the tyranny of the quantifiable is partly the failure of language and discourse to describe more complex, subtle, and fluid phenomena, as well as the failure of those who shape opinions and make decisions to understand and value these slipperier things.  it is difficult, sometimes even impossible, to value what cannot be named or described...*
what are you striving to convey?  will language always fail to describe the truly valuable things and, then, it seems, leave us in peril? if we don't describe it, it won't be saved.  money, profits, square footage, gallons--these things are safe in their easily quantifiable jargon.  but, please, tell me where you can buy a ledger to keep track of the tenderness of your daughter's hand in her waning days at home as the sun sets one more glorious time?  and the electricity in your body when you imagine either one of you not existing anymore?  what about the giddiness of playing kickball in the open space when the sprinklers come on without warning?  or the way a drum beat reverberates somewhere deep within your body and makes you want to dance?  there is not a box to check to apply for more of any of that.  more to the point, protecting the beauty of the natural world, and its citizens' ability to dream and think and love without threat will never show up in tidy columns.  so forge on, endeavor to articulate the things that are most important and most difficult to describe.

also, read *rebecca solnit, who does all of that and more.

living through


sometimes the slivers of joy
the little bits you try to collect
just don't feel big enough

sometimes the weight
of disappointment
and displacement
make it difficult to hold
those little slivers

here's what i say:
keep chasing those slivers.
keep working at finding them.
the dark will always be there;
it does not need to be chased.



Blue skies and clear thoughts.  Or is it blue thoughts and clear skies?  Clear, blue thought skies?  You see the struggles?  But when there's calm, when your back is flat on a sun-warmed piece of cement and your children are speaking to each other in their own, youthful language, you feel deeply connected and relaxed.  The trees are beginning to green, the scent of lilacs are everywhere and it does seem possible that although nature does it much better than we do, there may, in fact, be some fresh start.  Make goals, imagine the fruition of those goals.  Words are just small pieces of yourself that you give to the page.    

A whole new world


incognito:  as hazel woods
there's too much catching up to do here, my strange friends.  
what has happened to our world?  what has happened to us?  
in addition to resisting and protesting, my advice is to go deep.  
radical transparence is not just something we should want 
from our government.  
ask it of yourself.  
i will go first:  i sold out.  i published a book i was proud of
under a pseudonym.  why?  long answer forthcoming.  
short answer:  fear.  money.  inertia.
no surprise:  it didn't go so well.  poor hazel woods' p&l
numbers are as disappointing as as meg mullins'.
guess what?  i finally don't give a fuck.
but, i did take an entire year off from writing.
and i did something on my bucket list.
i started a handmade napkin biz.
i loved it.  the napkins are dreamy. (please, don't order any)
turns out, i'm almost as terrible selling napkins
as i am selling books.
so, now what?
i've circled the wagons around 
the boring, predictable, sensitive part
of myself who thinks about success
as some kind of balmy, palm-treed place one reaches
instead of a daily pursuit of kindness and creativity and utility 
and i'm writing.

and i'm trying to laugh at djt.  because i'm guessing
that's what he hates the most.  being taken seriously
is part of the con.  his policies and atrocities are serious and
must be opposed.  but the man?  what a joke.



be soft. do not let the world make you hard. do not let pain make you hate. 
do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. 
take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, 
you still believe 
it to be a beautiful place.

-kurt vonnegut



I'm thinking a lot about time. About the green hills from my childhood summers. Those horses standing atop the hills, whose immense bodies and warm breaths made my smallness smaller. Where do those moments live now? Intuitively I know that they are not gone. Nothing disappears. They exist in my mysterious brain until they don't. And then?  The world vanished with us.  We take it, piece by piece, to the silent place.



When you sit on the park bench in the middle of walking the dog, and a strong breeze tumbles a load of crisp, papery elm seeds at you, have you just interrupted fate?  Have you become that terrible accident of nature that prevents some tender unplanted tree from becoming its intended self? 



why do you look at me with such disgust every time i try to actually parent you?

because it's exactly what i'm supposed to do.

why do you have to do exactly what you're supposed to do?

it's programmed.  or you taught me to.

when i was parenting you back in the days when that didn't make you mad?

pretty much.



This article in the Times sort of blew my mind.  Mainly because I am so far away from mathematics, and apparently it is the universe's one true thing.  Whoops.  How can those of us who are not mathemeticians spend our time pursuing completely unprovable truths?  Working to express a unique truth upon which none is meant to agree?  I mean, really.  If mathematics is the truth upon which our system is built, then I am peddling snake oil.  YES!

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one you in all time, this expression is unique.  And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.  The world will not have it.  It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares to other expressions.
-Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille



Are you a hack?  Does this question haunt you?  Does it make you silent for a year? If so, do you also find yourself wondering if, really, there is anything inherently bad about hacks?  Aren’t some of them kind and funny and sometimes smell good?  Aren't some of them not exactly a blossom, but a little pink glove?  And who's to say which one is better?  What if all those folks who claim to know who exactly the hacks are not, are hacks themselves?  I heard George Saunders read last night.  My takeaway:  whether or not you're a hack doesn't really matter.  Just know that the only path to originality is the one that cuts straight through your own heart.  If it's not painful, you're probably taking a short cut through somebody else's heart. [...]



i don't quite know what to do with myself today.  i wish i had these shoes--i would just sit and stare at my own feet.  i've sent my manuscript to my agent.  she will divulge an opinion, which will probably be somewhat cryptic and maddeningly calm.  until then, however, i am free to read.  making my way through the george saunders book.  finishing to kill a mockingbird for the third time because e is reading it and i wanted to be fresh for conversation.  atticus, scout, jem and cal are just about the four most lovable characters i know.  i'm reading slowly, looking for the book's joints and seams.  it makes me happy when i spot one, when i can almost imagine being harper lee and making the choices that would wind up creating such a moving, graceful book.  this reminder--that all books come from people--makes me love people more than i might.



still revising.  my ax is not so pretty.  



well.  the upside to sickness is the quiet.  it's been loads of reading and even long stretches of just thinking.  when does that happen anymore?  just sitting on the couch, staring out the window, noticing everything and nothing.  how the telephone poles seem to come together like knitting needles, where the birds congregate and then fall apart, how the sun hits the mountain and makes the house melancholy.  work enters without a sound, creeping up on me, announcing its urgency and revealing my own.  everything throughout the long, quiet, sick days seems to be instructive.  as though somehow all i needed was to just be quiet.



Here's the question I want to ask all the giants.  Alice Munro, Ali Smith, Anne Enright, William Trevor.    Do you ever love something that you've written as much as books written by others?  I fear I will never, ever love anything as much as I love reading a book that was NOT written by me.  As a result, there is always this dark, let-down feeling that torments me at the end of a project.  Just as it's all coming together--and, yes, there are parts that I like, even moments that I sort of adore--I basically want to toss it all in the fire.  I'd rather read a book in which I don't know the ending.  A book whose sentences don't remind me of all the sweat and tears and cuticles that were destroyed in pursuit of them.  Alas, here I am.



I am not quite sure how to begin.  A draft is finished.  It's already being revised.  I love it and I hate it.  I think it might a tragic waste of time and also a kick-ass book.  I stand in the shower and try to think about what different people would have to say about it.  I imagine the coolest guy from high school, the doctor who is planning two son's weddings, my father, my mother, the exterminator.  None of these images reassures me.  Will anyone like it?

A word on perspective...

I was having a culinary day, roasting a chicken in the dutch oven.  Often enough when I do this, I make stock.  The jars occupy the freezer until needed.  This act feels so utilitarian, so resourceful.  I am wasting nothing!  But last night, long after dinner while the stock is still simmering, E--still in the throes of homework--says, as only a thirteen year old girl can, "Ew.  What is that?  Are you making dead chicken juice?"

Voila.  To some, an artful, resourceful use of a roasted chicken.  To some, dead chicken juice.



oh, happy, happy day.



it's election day.  which means i will try my hardest not to listen to the endless programming created as a grand finale to this gigantic billion-dollar industry.  i only want to hear good news.  i only want to hear that everyone has come their senses:  they can tell a huckster when they see one, regardless of his hair gel, his religion, his portfolio.  he is still just saying whatever he needs to say to move his product.  so i want to turn on the tv tonight and see that barack obama has been reelected by an overwhelming majority.  not just because he's smart and serious.  but because he speaks the values this country is supposed to speak:  equality for all people.  opportunity for all people.  the belief that we are only as strong as our weakest link.

until then, i will reach for my own finish line.  a draft before november 16.  it is close, so close.



when i was ten or so, i imagined that one of the glories of becoming an adult was the freedom to stop by the circle k anytime to buy as many marathon bars as you wanted.  i dreamt of buying ten at a time and eating all but one.  i also imagined staying up late, drinking soda and watching R rated movies would sustain me.

now, however, the candy that sits on the kitchen table doesn't tempt me at all.  no, i want pie and cake and buttery pastry filled with fruit.  i want homemade cookies and bread.  thick pads of salty, cold butter to spread on muffins or scones.  i yearn for an earlier bedtime, dislike soda and never notice a movie's rating unless my own children are involved.

last night e asked me if i would enjoy going back, knowing all that i know now.  would i like to revisit eighth grade and study ancient history and algebraic graphs?  would it all be easier and more enjoyable with the perspective of my adult life?  i couldn't lie to her.  hell, no.      




The Guardian asked Zadie Smith to contribute her 10 Rules For Writing.  I think they're terrific.  

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  3. Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
  4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.



sometimes, on a sunday evening the bedroom is blessedly cool and it seems that life will never be better than it already is.  the sun shone hot that day, like the blazing furnace that it is, but then it sank and the silhouettes of the tree branches against the navy blue sky conjured thoughts of cold winter nights.  there were kisses--all kinds--small triumphs, feats of courage, blasts of creativity, and warm bowls of goodness.  someday the cool sunday evenings may be full of mourning and loneliness, full of illness or pain.  at least, when reminiscing, it won't be a shock to realize how beautiful it all once was.



here's the thing:  i had a brilliant idea yesterday.  that is not a sentence i frequently get to write.  i was working at home, trying something new, trying to write my way out of the fog that has become the book and it hit me!  it was a whole new way to give the book structure, to give the book a raison d'être.  truly, from wherever those strokes of genius come from, it had happened to me.  but then i realized that i have to have more than the brilliant idea.  i have to implement it throughout the entire manuscript and make it live up to its divine inception.  ugh.  i am really hoping that i am more than what you see.



I've been adrift.  Lost.  Looking for direction.  The ideas that want to save you may, in fact, be your undoing.  But the trying may get you somewhere better.  Or it may wreck you.  Make you want to take a match to the pages that have piled up so far.  But since there is no way to tell, no diagnostic that will make you more certain of your method, you must try.  This is what I tell myself, anyway, as I begin to cut a new path towards the end.



There is a hollowed-out feeling that I've only ever felt through reading.  It's like there is a vegetable peeler contoured perfectly to the shape of my stomach, and it is working working working its blade against my flesh.  Why, you ask, would this feeling be so pleasurable as to be among one of the very best sensations I can imagine?  I have no idea.  But it does seem like when it happens, when the words begin to carve at my belly, I have a sense of getting closer to something primal.

Some piece of the very basic places where I began:  My little girl fingers, thick and clumsy, my little girl knees, bruised and knobby, my little girl heart, fresh and plump and eager.  

I read The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo this morning.  Cover to cover in one great big heavy sigh.  It is one of those books.  It began in the very first page to work at my stomach and by the end I was crying. Not because it is sad--though it is--but because it was so right.

Then I found these images, created by theatre artists Watoku Ueno and Makoto Takeuchi for the Long Island City Community Library in Queens.  They are beautiful, don't you think?  Ah, happy hollowed-out day.



sometimes the very best summer day is not one spent in an exotic locale, or even at the beach.  sometimes the very best summer day is one that is surprisingly cloudy; a saturday which you've assigned to the heap of days without work; a day in which the white cover on the bed stretches out alluringly, but you resist; a day in which you can read an entire book about cooking and marvel at its beauty; a day in which you have time to make exactly the meal your littlest has requested; a day in which nothing seems hurried, but the hours are sweetly precious and already you feel nostalgic that it's over.



John Jeremiah Sullivan (what a name!)  had a piece in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine about Absalom! Absalom!  I have always been drawn to the dark, violent messiness of Faulkner, so I read with interest. As I faced diving back into work, a couple of items from the article seemed to holler at me.  Here they are:

1.  The rules Faulkner doesn't ignore in this novel he tends to obliterate.  {Me, on my feet, cheering.}  The plot, for instance.  There is none.  He tells us on the third page (in italics) pretty much everything that will happen in the book, action wise.  {Right, on.  What happens isn't ever the point, is it?}

2.  Sullivan quotes the writer Paul Metcalf, which seems like a rebuttal to revealing your plot all too soon:  "The only real work in creative endeavor is keeping things from falling together too soon."  {Of course!  Suspense involves withholding.  But this is so perfectly put.}

3.  What we discover, though, on advancing into the novel's maze, is that Faulkner has given nothing away, not of the things he most values.  He's not concerned with holding us in suspense over the unearthing of events but in keeping us transfixed as he goes about excavating the soil beneath them. . .

And so, the point is made.  Faulkner did not use the plot to create the necessary suspense, but, rather, the ramifications of plot.  So guess what I'm reading?  Yep.  And as I look at the passages I underlined, it is clear that I was reading with the knowledge that I would have to be writing a paper.  I am hunting for thesis ideas and evidence to throw behind them.  How strange to remember what that kind of reading was like--trying to excavate the excavation.