Not so fast…

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 7:30 am by Marion


All week it seems I’ve constantly had something to do next … meetings, phone interviews, bills, dogs to walk.

Because traditionally it’s hard for me to get anywhere on time, I usually feel anxious when I have an appointment.

As I was washing the dishes rapidly before leaving … that’s one of the reasons for being late; the house should be neat before I shut the door … a childhood memory came clearly to mind of a phrase my mother used all the time.

I was in a swivet.

Can this be a real word? I wondered. Or is it just a cooked-up family expression?

Real, it is. And it may be a word that was brand-new in my grandmother’s time, meaning that my mom may have been a second-generation user of the word.

Swivet means a fluster or panic. The origin is unknown, but believed to be late 19th-century. That means my great-grandfather would have been among the first to hear it used, possibly with my grandmother, who laid it on my mom, who used it with me.

Now you might say, why be in a swivet, when you can be in a tizzy?

A tizzy has a slightly different sense of being in a state of nervous excitement; there is a sense of looking forward to something.

An older word you ask? Not at all. Tizzy came into use in the 1930s. You can just imagine the first stars of the silver screen causing people to feel in a tizzy every time a new movie came out.

Speaking of movies, leaving the house was always a production when I was little. We lived several miles outside of town, in the country as we used to say. Going to the mall or downtown required getting things ready … shutting up the house … getting into the car (a big event for us) … and pulling away for our adventure. So mom had lots of expressions to refer to leaving.

One of them I thought was our own … in fact is shared … and it goes like this: Leaving like a terd of hurdles. That dear mixed-up phrase is more common than you’d think.

The real expression goes like this … to leave like a herd of turtles … the image is clear … And they’re off! but apparently the play on words is lots of families’ private joke.

Today, no appointments, thank goodness, but lots of deadlines, so I won’t have to leave the house at an appointed time. I can sit here in my own kind of swivet trying to finish my articles before they’re due.



Posted in Life in general, On writing at 8:48 am by Marion

So after starting the week with the sober topic of revising our work we now turn to an even more important topic in Fiction Dailyland.

Ping. Yes, Ping.

These days a “ping” is a message of some kind, sent from blogs or e-mails or Web sites. It’s a way we connect over the Web, share ideas and give each other props for original thinking.

I love the word. Ping! It sounds so cheerful. It brings a much-needed boost to any business conversation … Don’t worry about the deadline, I’ll ping you when we need it … When I read this item I had to ping you with the link.


Yet there’s another Ping we must honor … and that is Ping, the Duck, created by Marjorie Flack in The Story About Ping the Duck.

Ping was a duck who lived on a ship in China. Everyday, Ping and his family would go out to fish and at night, the fishermen would round them back into the boat. The last duck on board got a swat with a switch. Ping despised the switching, and when he saw he was destined to be last again, he decided to spend the night outside the boat. Adventures ensue!

This dear book still has meaning for me … as I have become a Ping of the adult world. I’m always traipsing around in last place, carrying too much stuff, slowest one, just like Ping.

That little duck is with me today, still swimming just beyond the ship hoping to avoid the sting of the switch.


Washed ashore

Posted in On writing, Writers at 10:31 am by Marion

Some may find today’s entry wandering, and you will probably be right.

You see, among the page hits for this blog, I see what are called “trackbacks.” I have tried to trace them to their sources, but alas, they are anonymous, unsigned messages washing on the shores of Fiction Dailyland.

When readers link to me from their blog, I am notified; others will leave comments (thank you, dear readers).

When these things happen, I receive a “ping” alerting me that someone has linked. The trackbacks, however, just sit there. I can’t figure out what they represent, really. Spam? A fan in Ukraine or Turkey? Random hits from a Googlecrawler?

If you have left me a trackback, I thank you for your interest.

And if you have left me a ping … all the better … am I the only one who remembers the story of Ping, the little duck, from childhood?



Read this please

Posted in On writing, Writers at 8:43 am by Marion

So you’ve written your first poem … short story … novel chapter. You’re dying for someone to read it.

Who’s the first person you show it to? Your mom … sister … boyfriend … girlfriend.

Bad idea.

Oh I’ve done that most of my life, so I’ve learned this one the hard way. It’s just a bad bad idea.

My first short stories and poems were written when I was still a teenager, so it was natural to show them to Mom. She had no idea what I was trying to do, and said, Marion, I get the feeling you take a lot of pleasure in confusing people.

In my 20s, I went through a period of showing my work to people I respected, or who I thought would understand. Baaaaad ideas. One woman, a college professor from eastern North Carolina, sent me a scathing letter criticizing every word I sent her. As if making her point ultra clear, she wrote in conclusion: These poems are unpublishable.

Writing means take big risks and most of us are too afraid. That’s why our All-American novels sit in boxes or never make it onto paper.

A few times in my life I’ve managed to take the kind of risks that pay off in writing. One of them came in 1995 when I sold all of my belongings and moved with my beloved tabby cat, Norma Jeane, to Prague.

There (along with some day-trippers) was a small, serious group who also gave up a lot to move to Prague. It was a priceless time for me to live in a rarefied world where writing was everything.

These days, I have one or two close writer friends with whom I can share my work. They understand what I’m trying to do and respect my voice. They are also professionals who know good writing from bad. They will level with me and not tear me down; give me inspiration without letting me be lazy.

More than anything, writers long for approval and yes, even love. If we really want to write anything of value, we have to give up those ideas completely.


Writing is rewriting

Posted in Kerouac, On writing at 7:19 am by Marion

THIS WEEK: On revisions

Was it E.B. White who said Writing is rewriting? It was a hard lesson for this writer, penning my first stories at 18 and dreaming of my own brilliance … nurtured in college on the Kerouac myth of spontaneous prose and not knowing what I do now about the years of writing Kerouac put in before “On the Road” erupted in a three-week spasm.

There is simply no way to sit down and in a single take write anything worth reading, much less saving. You can stare into the mirror of your own words, but it doesn’t make you beautiful, just vain.

True, there are writers who have energy and fire, such as Hunter Thompson, but there is a vigor there that comes from a worked intensity. It’s not just flinging words around and admiring your own genius.

I believe it was Anais Nin and Henry Miller who conversed about the heat of a first draft: When perched over your own words, you are feeling your own emotion and often deluded into thinking you’ve captured it in prose. When you read it the next day you find it flat. Many times I’ve wanted to throw away what was written the day before.

Even now, I have been working on a feature article for about four weeks and imagined it had verve and energy. Yesterday I printed a copy and it read flat and dull to me. The real work for a writer is to hang in there, to have faith, to polish and deepen in the right places, to add enough and not too much, to know where the heart isn’t beating and get the blood into those places.


Goats & gourds

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 10:44 am by Marion

Yesterday driving home with unexpected relief after a stressful appointment in Chapel Hill (nice people, stressful circumstances), Greg and I had time to let off steam and laugh about things.

At one point he goes, Here’s something that really gets my gourd.

You see Greg has a talent for confounding figures of speech, twisting and mixing them into almost expressions that are still recognizable, but somehow not right. And you can’t figure out why. I’ve heard it called malaphorism, but not sure that’s a real word.

Since we were driving, I did not have a dictionary on me and was forced to sit there and whine, Honey, are you sure that’s right? That doesn’t sound right to me. But I couldn’t think of what it was supposed to be.

Now, armed with my trusty Oxford English Dictionary, I can at last settle the matter.

My husband, I’m afraid, was a little out of his gourd, what with the long drive and stressful situation yesterday when he was trying to express himself.

Out of your gourd means to be out of your mind, or crazy. It also refers to being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

What he meant to say, I believe, was Do you want to know what gets my goat?

I have no idea why we refer to this beleaguered ruminant to express irritation, but that’s the common usage. To get your goat means it gets on your last nerve.

If something gets your last goat, you could say it really galls you. Gall means impudent behavior … coming from the bile-filled organ we affectionately call the gallbladder.

Used as a verb, it is transitive, and means to irritate or even give rise to a sore on the skin, such as when a bridle abrades a horse’s coat.

Of course it it were me chomping at the bit, it would probably get my goat. But that’s a horse of a different color.



Posted in Kerouac, On writing at 10:25 pm by Marion

You aint just whistlin
Dixie, Sea —
Cherson! Cherson!
We calcimine fathers
here below!
Kitchen lights on —
Sea Engines from Russia
seabirding here below —
When rocks outsea froth
I’ll know Hawaii
cracked up and scramble
up my doublelegged cliff
to the silt of
a million years —

Shoo– Shaw—Shirsh
Go on die salt light
You billion yeared
rock knocker

Sad as wife & hill
Loved as mother & fog
Oh! Oh! Oh!
Sea! Osh!
Where’s yr little Neppytune

Excerpt from Sea: Sounds of the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur by Jack Kerouac. 1962, Penguin Books, New York, N.Y.

Sea Poems

Posted in Kerouac, On writing, Writers at 7:01 am by Marion

Of the many unexpected pleasures in reading “Big Sur” by Jack Kerouac … the artful desperation, the chilling hallucinations, the sheer falling apart of a creative, brilliant mind … one of the best comes at the very end.

Having completed the horrible stay at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin south of San Francisco, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Kerouac ends with the car ride out of there, the nightmare at last ending, and the ghoulish girlfriend and demon child on their way back to their apartment and out of his life. Kerouac is going back to Ma Mere, his mom, and will be able to at last grieve in peace for the loss of his cat.

I’ll take Billie home, I’ll say goodbye to her properly, she wont commit no suicide or do anything wrong … I’ll forgive them and explain everything … I’ll stay with Monsanto at his home … and he’ll smile and show me how to be happy awhile….

On soft Spring nights I’ll stand in the yard under the stars — something good will come out of all things yet —

Kerouac had a natural, instinctive feeling for the sound of words. I wrote in a previous entry about this music and in Big Sur, the lilt and grace of his language brings artfulness to his situation, and breakdown.

Then, as you read the final paragraph, thinking all is bleak for Kerouac and the world, you turn the page and find “Sea” — Sounds of the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur.

These are the poems Kerouac wrote listening to the ocean, sitting in the dark hearing words and inventing stories from the crashing waves. Reading them, after the hellish narrative, you realize that Kerouac was powerfully aware of his role as a writer, to bring meaning even to his own horrible downslide.



On Reading ‘Big Sur’

Posted in Kerouac, Writers at 8:14 am by Marion

At 8:30 p.m. last night I took to bed with my copy of “Big Sur” by Jack Kerouac and by 9:30 p.m. it was over.

Those last pages are unbearable, not only for what happens, but because of his profound emotions. He hooks up with one of “Cody’s” (Neal C.) girlfriends in San Francisco, starts drinking nonstop and sits in a chair at her apartment for a solid week. The goldfish die, the chair breaks and everything heads south.

When you think things can’t get worse, he invites her to the cabin, with her son and another couple. You can see how it’s going to go.

Though he’s clear that he’s the deluded one, there is real horror to the situation. The lady friend is a poor mom to her little boy, and in that 50s way she probably can’t be. The little boy represents this unspoken fear of abandonment, as he cries, whines, and torments Kerouac. Meanwhile, his friends are trying to cheer him up, but all he can see is sadness.

He becomes the Phantom of the Opera … once they arrive at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin, you can tell he just wants to be alone … and drunk … his head clears for a while but DTs erupting, he has a full-blown crisis, impossible for him to grasp the ax to cut wood, visions starting.

He remembers his first tranquil, blessed three weeks at the cabin, and those memories come back like a nightmare. The blue jays he fed each day are now harpies; the creek water tastes like kerosene; he believes his friends are trying to poison him. Indeed, the devil walks among them and is trying to send him to hell.

The last night there, he tries to sleep in the yard, but the full moon menaces him, images taunt him. When at last he falls asleep, it is to a vision of a cross.

…when dawn finally comes my mind is just a series of explosions that get louder and more “multiply” broken in pieces some of them big orchestral and then rainbow explosions of sound and sight mixed … the little boy somehow thumped his foot just at the moment of drowse, to instantly wake me up, wide awake, back to my horror which when all is said and done is the horror of all the worlds … being damn well what I deserve anyway with my previous blithe yakkings about the sufferings of others in books ….

TOMORROW: The music of “Big Sur”


Clean ‘slate’

Posted in Kerouac, Life in general, On writing at 6:45 am by Marion

Good morning in Fiction Dailyland from the dashboard of a new laptop. With a new, clean hard drive came an unexpected sense of lightness and freedom, as I leave behind the old one and all that unfinished business.

I overcame my grave fear of major purchases … plowed headlong into the secret, complex, inner sanctum of computer-speak … learned all about things like 64-bit v 32-bit, chips, DRAM, HD, indexing and partitions … and managed to make a decision!

What’s more, rather than keep it in the box long enough for my panic to settle, I actually took it out and began to use it right away.

Things have changed a lot from the early days, when a computer surely meant a headache. There are days when I get quite worked up over some glitch or bug, but it seems the brilliant folks who write programs and engineer chips and the like have done a good job ironing things out.

There were a few scary moments … I had to rebuild my iTunes library … that involved organizing everything on a hard drive, which I should have already done, but let’s face it, not a priority. I had random files of albums … Beatles, Beck, Madonna in one place, podcasts in another, French books yet another place. So I took two or so hours and rounded up all the cattle.

In the process of ordering things, I got rid of Songs of the Week I hated (goodbye, Discovery Singles!) and rediscovered bands I love, such as Boards of Canada. I trimmed away those old playlists and started making a new one.

The best part was saying Aloha to Outlook Express. I downloaded Thunderbird and feel immediately more human somehow. Don’t get me wrong … I applaud the Microsoft folks for their marvelous work creating operating sysetms, such as the 64-bit version of Vista I’m now using. But the human soul needs wildness, a sense of independence, and Mozilla offers a little of that.

Even worse … I had about 10,000 messages stockpiled. I never deleted anything! After a while, it became too overwhelming to start thinning things out, so I created bogus folders such as “2006 First half” and just dumped everything in it.

I’m leaving behind all those old projects … and on this computer, will only keep current projects of the moment. Everything else is banished to the external hard drive!!

Meanwhile, I am closing in on the end of Big Sur by Jack Kerouac. Things are getting bleaker with each page … you can see what’s coming … I remind myself that he not only underwent that breakdown, but then, wrote about it … he had to relive every sorry moment to capture it with immediacy, artfulness and desperation.

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