Archive for the ‘Writers’ Category

Presenting: The Present Perfect!

Friday, February 15th, 2019

It’s back!

This sometimes Friday feature examines language quirks and oddities. As I am currently teaching English to international students, I’ve had a lot of exposure to the sometimes random nature of this language.

Present perfect
What a crazy tense this one is. It is among the distinctions of the English language that we have this cool tense. It represents an action that began in the past, and continues right now. It also refers to an action that began in the past and may – or may not – be continued in the present or near future.

I have been to France = I went to France, and I may go again. My life isn’t over yet!
He has eaten breakfast = he just completed it, and we’re still thinking about it right now. I think he’s still wiping the toast crumbs off his face.
Have we got enough money? = We want to do a thing and need to know before we get started.
They haven’t paid = They need to pay right now!

Notice the subtle differences:
I went to France = I went one time and I can tell you about it, but that chapter has closed.
He ate breakfast = so what?
Did we have enough money? = Who cares, it’s over now
They paid = Again, nothing to see here

The present perfect gives a vivid, active connection to the present. That tense enlivens our conversations, and gives our language additional life, vigor, and immediacy.

Next week: More fun English language tenses

When focus is both needed and unwelcome

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

As a writer I’ve often talked about how creativity means letting go of our foothold here, to drift and dwell in vaguely defined places of our mind.

I am nearly finished with a new short story, and yet to execute the last 2,000 words I know I’ll need to leave this place for at least a day, if not two, in order to follow these haunted characters to their conclusion.

In the meantime, here I am, in a way also haunted, by living in this cramped physical world with its requirements and obligations.

Yet to finish it, I must contend with the real-world obligations to make sure I have Internet, power, water, and food. To make sure my animals have their walks, meals, and head pats.

At the same time I need to cut ties with all that and pursue the waking dream I call writing.

As typical in this world, I am walking the tight rope. I hope to publish a draft soon on this blog. Working title: My Secret Song.

I’ve updated my web page too with items from my professional portfolio, as well as the enormous independent study I completed in graduate school. That paper resulted from semester-long research into global laws protecting farmed animals.

Have a look at www.marionblackburn.net

Vortex

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

I’ve written a few times about what it feels like to write fiction, the sensation of falling into darkness, of dissociation, of becoming “unhinged,” or untethered from the concrete world of sensations.

As we await the polar vortex being pressed into the U.S. from the Arctic, as heavy air pushes it down, there we feel time slow down. We feel something coming, and we must wait for it to arrive, with undetermined consequences.

Much like writing, which descends on us, subsumes us, and causes us to wait for the unknown effects. Once it lands on us, if we invite it in, we disappear into its vortex, just as Chicago and the midwest, really into the South, become encased in Arctic temperatures.

The freezing can feel a lot like death, but we know there is life even in the desert of ice. Mostly it holds on for signs of life, and with writing, that is you, Dear Reader.

The Dark Side

Monday, January 28th, 2019

I am working on a short story exploring fears, nightmares, and dark images. It feels uncomfortable to write out thoughts we’d rather hide, images inside us we deny. If we dunk ourselves too much into darkness, can we emerge? Does it change us? That explains why I rarely write about dark thoughts; I fear becoming consumed somehow by them, that they will become real, and take over.

Still, they form a part of my creative mind, and writing at its most interesting examines every part of being human, living as a sentient being part spirit part body part thinker. To see what’s hidden, yet what makes us complex, and to portray it – but artfully.

Another aspect of short story writing is the ability to finish within a clear period of time. Working on the novel for years now it has become almost overwhelming. Every time I pick it back up I have to review my characters, what’s going on, where we are heading. By that time, I’ve used up a half hour at least, and it all seems for naught. And I go wash dishes or walk the dogs instead.

With a short story, I feel able to accomplish, to complete, a work. So I will wrap up this dark story this week, I hope.

The work life-life’s work balance

Friday, January 25th, 2019

I’ve written about the difficulty of writing and having any other type of activities in a day. Another aspect of writing, perhaps less known, is the mental disappearance that can happen.

When we sit down to write, we willingly break with the so-called “real” world, that is, the world that appears solid to us. The world we can touch, smell, hear, see. The world that has bills, meetings, and schedules.

To write means to cut ties with this world, and have the mind entirely free of any other thought. That’s self-evident.

What many people don’t know – including writers, that is, until we’re neck deep into a novel or story – is that writing also requires a break with another world, the world of our own mind. The world of our own sanity. The world where we are in charge, and events happen in someone predictable, or logical ways.

When we let go to submerse ourselves in writing, the break required to really create shifts our inner identity off its base, then shatters the base, and leaves us hanging.

When we are hanging in that way, adrift, maybe terrified, that we find art.

Disappearing Writer

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

One aspect of writing that’s difficult to describe, is that we disappear when we write. That’s one of the toughest requirements, or should I say fallout, from writing. To do so requires a person to vacate their own life, their own mind, their own daily activities. In their place, the writer inserts stories about other people, and their struggles, goals, and nightmares.

In the meantime, the real person, the physical writer, sits at a desk. Hours pass, even days. Dishes accumulate; the floor needs to be vacuumed; the bed sits unmade. Calls go unreturned, and of course, bill pile up.

Life outside the writer’s mind continues.

But the writer agrees to exit life, to create this other thing, this other living body, this story, this novel, this essay.

It’s an uncomfortable choice, but a goal that compels me to it.

Niched

Monday, January 14th, 2019

I’ve started a new short story. It started as a look into a recurring nightmare which over time I realized was also my worst fear.

It seemed interesting to explore it, to examine all the thoughts tied in with that recurring dream. I also described what happened in the dream, as well as my responses to it.

Once I explored the recurring dream, people emerged, deep ideas, fears, and emotions. I found the short story has taken off.

Yet what I’ve figured out is that the story will be a chiller, a “suspense” piece, and clearly a niche work.

Why do we do that? Why do we consider Science Fiction, Horror, Detective, and other types of stories to be “genre” fiction?

Is not one of our greatest writers, Edgar Allen Poe, a “genre” writer? Have you actually read Poe? Today, his work would be shunted into a category, and never see daylight.

So my horror story is in progress. When I have a draft, I’ll put it up.

When Writing Was Everything

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

This phrase came from another writer; how I wish I created it. This phrase served as the title of Alfred Kazin’s autobiography (1915-1998), his stories of editing during the times of Ginsberg, Hart Crane, George Orwell, Flannery O’Connor, Hannah Arendt.

For me the phrase captures my years in Prague, Czech Republic, when writing was everything. I woke up to write before teaching English at 8 a.m.; wrote all day many Saturday and Sundays; and spent holidays writing.

I would sit and dream for hours, writing those stories, about the people whose lives took place in this disconnected time.

To continue yesterday’s post, this dreaming place explains why fiction writing is not for the weak; it requires hours spent dangling in a non-world, capturing unreal, shimmering people, places, and actions that exist in this demi-world between our tangible present, and the unconscious night world.

I left that world behind when my husband and I divorced, mostly for the practical reason that I had to earn double my previous income to keep my house, support my animals, and do the repairs, buy the groceries, and pay race entry fees for marathons twice a year.

So I largely left behind my dream world. I earned a Master of Public Administration, and embraced my love of politics.

Today that’s the work I do … but I am also returning to the novel, The Curing Season, to see if I have enough dream time available in a day to pick it back up.

Where the ‘Road’ Began

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018


Photo courtesy of Google

On Monday I spent several hours researching the places Jack Kerouac visited in Rocky Mount. I am not the first to do this work: John Dorfner of Raleigh, N.C., has done the heavy lifting. My goal is to assemble facets of Kerouac in new ways, while adding new information.

If you’ve read On the Road, you know the episode about halfway through where the heart of the novel really begins: “One day when all our Southern relatives were sitting around the parlor in Testament, gaunt men and women with the old Southern soil in their eyes …. a mud-spattered ’49 Hudson drew up in front of the house on the dirt road. … A weary young fellow, muscular and ragged in a T-shirt, unshaven, red-eyed, came to the porch and rang the bell. I opened the door and suddenly realized it was Dean. He had come all the way from San Francisco to my brother Rocco’s door in Virginia, and in an amazingly short time.”

Testament being Rocky Mount, the house is on Tarboro Street. That’s the neighborhood where so many of my friends lived, when I grew up in Edgecombe County. It was 1328 Tarboro Street, just across from the little store where Dad and I used to watch Matchbox car races, about a half mile from Eastern Elementary School, where I attended third and fourth grade. Sycamore Street, Eastern Avenue, and I went to junior high school at Edwards, on Marigold Street.

Changes after desegregation meant that many people left these beautiful neighborhoods – and Edgecombe County became somehow less desirable, in what is called “white flight” – two decades later I returned to my own elementary school to teach French. I loved the children, although the demographics were against them. Their families had few resources; often when I visited their homes I saw roaches, horror movies on play, even in one home a pile of dirt. Parents who drank; and crack that invaded our cities in those days.

We segregate ourselves based on money, skin color, fame. We classify ourselves as “better than,” even when we don’t intend to.

Kerouac knew that. Indeed, On the Road contains the narrative of a man whose first language was French, who never felt he belonged to this or that group; a man who by traveling was able to connect with all people, all places.

The Buddha taught that all life is change. A river is never the same from moment to moment – and yet, it is always the river. On the road, everything always changes, and yet it is always the road.

My World and Jack’s

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

This morning opened with a 6.2-mile run, begun before sunrise and ending just as the day warmed. My friend remarked the moon’s cusp was so bright, the dark half also shone. I get a sense of the physical sphere up there, the Moon as object, when the Dark Side is illuminated. Looking up at the Moon I feel my own life more concretely.

After many years focusing on research, data, and analysis – and really forcing all my right-brain creativity into a narrow left-brain chute – I have emerged on the other side. I opened up the novel files to see if I still cared. Imagine my astonishment: Not only do I still care, but I have so much narrative stored inside that took shape over the last eight years.

Yes, opening those files and reading that opening, I felt my own breath, my own life, return. I am different now than when I started the novel in 2002. Among many other life changes, I am now eight years divorced – as compared with two years’ married. 16 years is a long time, and yet for the life of the novel, what matters is not the years, but my own understanding. And for that, I am grateful. My artistic vision now is more polished. Thanks to many years as a data gal, I am also more focused and disciplined. My thoughts still unmoored in many ways, and yet they are no longer so fragmented and unconnected. I see the thread of narrative now. I respect the tedium of explanation, although it’s still not a strong point.

Back to Kerouac. I revisited his home with a friend in June. I am revisiting that time in his life, roughly 1952-1957, or the years prior to On the Road’s publication.

I’d like to explore those years more, define them. I’m not sure that’s been done. No, I’m not Ann Charters (the amazing Kerouac scholar). But I feel affinity with Kerouac for any number of reasons.

His first language was French, my second, nearly native, is also French. I think, feel, express myself, and experience the world differently in French. I believe he did, as well.

We also share a Christian mysticism, along with curiosity about, and dedication to, Buddhist principles.

Last, there is the mystery of nature which Kerouac embraced. Indeed, it may be at the heart of his travels. His road stories focus on the surroundings, the freedom of space and setting. His stories about Big Sur, his letters about writing often focus on the woods. There’s usually a trail nearby, especially in works outside of On the Road.

I’ll post chapters as I complete them, unedited as they are. “The secret of writing is the rhythm of urgency,” Kerouac said. With this window in my life, there is urgency.