04.14.09

In Passing

Posted in Life in general, On writing at 8:32 am by Marion

Grief and loss

A subdued FD today, looking at the unstoppable current of life that sustains itself, but into which we perish. While spring erupts around us, there is an inescapable sadness this season underlying all the color and joy.

I first became aware of it in college when I was working on the undergraduate literary review, Cellar Door. As we read over the stories for the spring edition, I was amazed at their somber tone.

Fall brings love, spring brings death, the editor said to me.

She was right.

T.S. Eliot’s remarkable poem “The Waste Land” begins with that famous line, April is the cruelest month ….

Thinking myself to sleep last night, I was reminded of words of the Buddha, who said, Every thing that is created will die. It is an inevitable aspect of life that it ends, and yet why are we so devastated when it happens?

I lost an uncle earlier this week, and yesterday found myself undone by it. I spent the afternoon trying to make sense of it all. The large body of experiences, drives and energy we call “family” affects us from the time we take our first breath and for good or bad, is the dominant influence on our lives.

We can fight against it, or embrace it, but it is part and parcel of who we are.

So when my uncle died, he took with him all those years and experiences — the framework on which so much of my childhood was built. He was always part of our large family get-togethers at my grandmother’s house, where he would regale us with stories of ghosts that crept in under the door and would rob you of your brain; or of the country “witch” named “Sis Combs” whose toenails were so long she clicked across the floor like a cat.

He passed Easter morning, and though in later years we sometimes found ourselves on opposite sites of many issues, he was nevertheless my flesh and blood, my tribe, my family.

If there are any lessons in loss, I don’t know them yet. I still struggle to find meaning in any given day, being a person who’s always worried so much about obligations I’ve sometimes lost sight of people. Yet if there is one thing that I believe, it’s that every moment is precious, and must be lived carefully and with intention and honesty.

So today unfolds before me covered by the gray veil, with a sun out there somewhere.

04.10.09

Existential Waters

Posted in Book reviews, Figuratively Speaking, On writing at 7:24 am by Marion

theplague.jpg

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

Today, for the first time in several weeks, I’m not sweating blood to meet a deadline, or tearing through piles of receipts for taxes. Heck, I may even have finished the article I’ve been working on for several months!

And so I’m sitting at my desk, getting ready to take out the garbage and recycling, and about to start work on a Web writing assignment. And maybe take a long run later today. And that’s it.

In a big-picture way, I’m feeling pretty “free.”

… but not in the existential sense.

Why not, then, take a look at what we mean by free … and why we never really are.

In college, I was a devoted French major, with a minor in Political Science. I also have a master’s degree in French literature and language. I know, it sounds so, well, frou-frou. But when I was offered a choice in school at age 14 and someone said “French” I knew it was all over.

My French I class was heaven … and I dreamed of the castles and art museums, all the beautiful ladies who lived there, the incredible literature like Eugene Ionesco (The Bald Soprano) and Albert Camus (The Plague, The Stranger, The Fall).

French took me far from the tobacco fields where I grew up, and out of the small town, split by railroad tracks, where I lived. Before it was over, I was living in France. For two years, including a year in Paris.

I was a big fan of Albert Camus. Most of us know him as an “existential” writer, along with Jean Paul Sartre. But the two could not have been more different.

My soft spot for Mr. Camus comes from his masterful novel, The Plague, and the tender way he writes about humankind. On the surface, “The Plague” tells of a deadly disease that strikes a village in Algeria. The main characters are doctors working there.

This novel is often considered the epitome of existential writing, but let me say it’s quite simply a very very excellent book.

What makes it a keystone novel for philosophy is that the characters don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out why the pestilence persists. Nor do they wail about their lot. They accept it, working humbly and without fireworks, saving people, one day at the time.

I’ll never forget the scene in which the doctor goes into the ocean for a swim one night. Exhilarated by the freedom of body and movement in the cool water, he feels a temporary, but profound, sense of joy and release.

That night he is free. The next day, he is back at the bedside of his dying, suffering, patients, working against the overwhelming tide of plague that threatens to overwhelm them.

So today, I take my swim. I will breathe and write without constraints of time or cruel editors. I will take big deep breaths of fresh spring air and not think about anything beyond what’s in eyesight. I will be free.

04.09.09

New feed: @fictiondaily

Posted in Computers & Technology, On writing at 7:23 am by Marion

TECH THURSDAY

Can’t help myself. I started a Twitter feed for Fiction Daily … you can find it by going to @fictiondaily … it serves up “bite-sized bits of fiction each day.”

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Terrified of the Twitterati: Yours truly

Of course I’m wondering how to use it. As I’ve found with Facebook, my status updates are mind-numbingly boring. So I have two Twitter feeds … @marionpb … @fictiondaily … and with all these forums I worry I’m just wasting everyone’s time with mundane thoughts.

Still, I’ve jumped in with both feet. These so-called “new platforms” are valuable places for fiction and so-called literature. Fiction has always been, well, everywhere. From the first days of the printing press fiction has been there … what is the Bible if not a great book of stories? Fiction serves print, which feeds fiction …from tabloids to magazines to books.

Now we have the Internet and fiction will be a part of it. I just can’t get an idea of the right voice. Casual, immediate. Chatty. A perfect place for fiction!

Yet, it seems my @fictiondaily posts come off as pretentious! Trying to say something profound in 140 characters comes across as uppity.

A writer desires nothing more than to be heard. Now, we’re heard, but what will I say @fictiondaily?

I’ve thought about posting single lines of a short story … single lines from the novel … or creating a new novel just on Twitter.

I’ve also wondered if I could start a thread for a novel everyone could participate in. It could be called @greenvillencnovel or something else.

So here I am, floundering around with these new platforms and trying to find a suitable voice … and yet still trying … wherever there are people and voices, there a writer should be, too.

04.08.09

Taxes & Meaning

Posted in Life in general, On writing, Writers at 9:13 am by Marion

CELEBRATING A YEAR OF RECEIPTS

Even after Fiction Daily’s humiliating absence of more than a week, I am still in the weeds with writing obligations. What’s worse, today I am preparing my taxes.

Yet instead of being entirely a drudge, the tax calculations each year are a time to reflect on what I’ve done in a big-picture way. Day after day we go through our lives, spending money, earning our keep, paying mortgages and spending money on books, travel and … well in our case … dogs and cats.

So each year when I add up what I’ve been paid for my work, and compare it with what I’ve paid for the privilege of being a writer, each year it comes out remarkably even. So in that sense, I “balance my books.”

Of course most people work in hopes they’ll actually make some money and many of them do quite well. My income is very modest, but I cannot ask for better work. That’s generally been true for me. Even when I was small, I cared less about apparent gain, than about the value of what I was doing. Many people mistook that for a “lack of ambition,” but inside I always had a plan. It’s just that plan was not necessarily to make money.

I’ve certainly done OK when I’ve had to make money and I don’t mind hard work. More than 20 years, off and on, as a waitress, school teacher and print journalist confirmed again and again the value of honest, hard work.

My work now is just as hard, but not as, well, sellable. How will I ever recoup the past seven years spent developing a novel that is in many ways still in vitro? How can I ever expect compensation for hours spent looking out my window, dreaming of Winterhaven, my fictional estate, along with Delia Lagrace and her sister, Antonia?

Even if it were published, the money would not qualify as “compensation.” It would of course certainly keep me in food and perhaps even allow the purchase of a car to replace my 10-year old one.

Yet the true compensation for the work we do must be in the projects themselves. The engagement we feel while they are under way, and the deep, though fleeing, happiness we feel when we have created something with art and meaning in it.

04.07.09

In Bl-oom

Posted in Life in general, On writing at 7:08 am by Marion

FICTION DAILY RETURNS

Hello out there in Fiction Dailyland. It’s been more than a week now, and though I’d like to tell you I was on a daring mission to save the Crown jewels, rescuing an imprisoned heir, hanging by a rope off a cliff at Big Sur trying to figure out who killed the shady land developer. At the Caribbean seashore saving endangered birds by breaking up a poaching ring. In the mountains of Appalachia protesting mining operations that blow off the tops of those beautiful God-given mountains.

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Trailing arbutus. Photo by MB

Alas. The truth is I am overwhelmed by fairly underwhelming obligations. Yes, yours truly is on the hamster wheel.

Yet today I wake up and look out of the window in front of my desk and see a green world, a slightly overcast sky, and a fresh morning. It’s probably why I became a so-called morning person in college — when I wake my thoughts are orderly and hopeful, and when I see the sun rise and bring a new day, I can tackle whatever seemed so impossible the night before.

So today. Yesterday as I drove through town I realized it’s that moment of the year when everyone who doesn’t live in the South is tragic. Everywhere you look azaleas and dogwoods are blooming. The two open together around here, and everything seems to explode — sprouting leaves are the canvas for the rush of fushia, red, pink and white.

Meanwhile, phlox and sorrel are also in bloom, giving a soft, powder blue and pink tint to lawns and driveway borders.

For wildflowers, the show starts pretty early. No dozing if you want to see trout lily, bloodroot, wood sorel and other dear ones.

Two weekends ago we took a hike at Medoc Mountain State Park. If you’ve never been there, it’s a wonderful place.

Medoc is a trove of wildflowers each spring. You need to start early, however, and our visit March 28 was a bit on the late side. Early March may be better for some flowers, such as Bloodroot.

We did manage to see Trailing Arbutus, a wildflower I’ve always wanted to see blooming. Mom says when it first opens it’s hot pink before fading to white, so maybe next year I’ll catch it. When we saw them, the blooms were white. But so precious.

We also saw trout lilies, some past their peak but others just opening. The main surprise was the degree of flooding … most of the trails were underwater, and in many cases, we walked off trail. I thought it was too early for chiggers, but I did have a few bites. Nothing like it will be this autumn, when you have to coat yourself with spray, and certainly avoid stepping off the trail, or become chigger food.

Medoc is on the to-do list again for May, when Adamasco lilies should be in bloom, and possibly the last of the lady’s slipper (moccasin flower).

We meet with our tax preparer tomorrow afternoon; meanwhile, plenty of work left for me to do on them.

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