(Insert Your Context Here)

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“Healing is a small and ordinary and very burnt thing. And it’s one thing and one thing only: it’s doing what you have to do.” –Cheryl Strayed, “The Love Of My Life

Winnowing stage directions (trusting the reader)

IMG_9821Often, new writers use extraneous stage directions and phrases that aren’t needed to show characters action. (So do I.) The reason, I think, is similar to my last post: First, the writer needs to see it all happening, in detail. Once that vision is established, however, it’s great to trust the reader to and winnow what’s possibly bloating the sentences.  Here’s an example from my novel:

FIRST VERSION: (I had to figure out where the character was going, and sort of lay it all out, with too much stage business describing what’s happening.)

She stumbled through the fire pit and into the hotel, quietly as she could, and went straight toward the stairs, but was stopped by Mr. Suspenders’ voice from the direction of the kitchen, where there was a light. “Whoever you are, a little help!”

PARED DOWN: (Once I realized I could see it, I pared down.)

She stumbled into the hotel, quietly as possible, and went toward the stairs, but Mr. Suspenders called from the kitchen. “Whoever you are, a little help!”

 

Strata (of a sentence, of a novel)

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subject to change…

I just had that feeling again: Final tweaks to my carnival novel, paper manuscript having been read aloud by me, inked notes having slashed many paragraphs, sentences, and words, now typing it up…

…this novel’s first of its nine lives was so overwritten, so many adjectives…I piled them on until the pile slid down into a word-hoarder’s jumble and hid the story…

…but the feeling I just had, again, slashing, slaying, comes back to TRUSTING THE READER…but also remembering that as writer, first, I had to KNOW (that the goggles were cloudy and tight, the straps were safe, there was “so much wind and motion”)…

…I had to see it & know it before I could show it…

…a very satisfying feeling, knowing now what I don’t need to say on page…

…there must be a word for that feeling…the first-knowing-then-trusting-before-being able-to-do-the-showing…

(to be continued…)

Alice, Although (Come support the Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse)

 

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I sent this letter to the editor of the Yellow Springs News. I’m posting it here I missed the paper’s deadline.

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To The Editor,

If you missed the Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse production of Alice, Although last weekend, you’ll have another opportunity June 30 through July 3. The ambitious show’s focus is on the scandalous and influential life of Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice.

The production features a cast of young eagles, rough riders, reporters, “It” girls, four Alices, the Roosevelt family, and a snake named Emily Spinach. Through creative staging and hard work, the play’s original script by Jill Summerville and music by James Johnston have been brought to life by the children under the guidance of Ara Beal, AnnMarie Saunders, Eilis Price, Melissa Heston, Jennifer Gilchrist, and Barbara Leeds. YSKP is known for its inventive, exuberant productions, and this summer’s offering is no exception. These children are serious about their work, and it shows.

I grew up doing theatre in Yellow Springs, at school and at Center Stage, and studied theatre at Earlham College. But even for those of us who didn’t follow an academic or professional path, the value of community theatre is deeply felt and far-reaching. At its best, creating a theatrical experience nourishes the imagination and builds generations of humans who are capable of imagining the world anew.

Although the YSKP is grateful to receive donations and grants, the organization depends on ticket sales for funding. In addition, YSKP offers scholarships so that a child can participate regardless of a family’s financial circumstances. Packing the amphitheater next weekend is one way to support this gift of building children’s’ confidence and imagination. Collaborating in the expressive arts helps humans learn about cooperation, and helps build empathy in a world where we sorely need more. In our small way, by turning up to watch the show and supporting organizations like the YSKP, we can help make the world better.

So come see the magic emerge against the cyclorama of Washington DC in rosy hues, reminiscent of a Maxfield Parrish sky. Performances continue at 7:30pm at the Antioch College Amphitheatre (moving inside the Foundry Theatre if the weather doesn’t cooperate) Thursday, June 30 through Sunday, July 3. Dinner and dessert will be offered by Sunrise Café—convenient if you have a busy schedule. (Did I mention the peach pie?)

Sincerely,

Rebecca Kuder (YSKP volunteer and parent of an “It” girl)

“Run like hell my dear”

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Years ago, my friend Pegah gave me a book called The Gift, with poems by Hafiz (translated by Daniel Ladinsky). When I need inspiration, this book always helps. As summer solstice approaches, here is something that sparks me. (If I can remember these things, if I can remember and live these things…)

Here it is, from Hafiz (and Ladinsky):

We Have Not Come To Take Prisoners

We have not come here to take prisoners,
But to surrender ever more deeply
To freedom and joy.

We have not come into this exquisite world
To hold ourselves hostage from love.

Run my dear,
From anything
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.

Run like hell my dear,
From anyone likely
To put a sharp knife
Into the sacred, tender vision
Of your beautiful heart.

We have the duty to befriend
Those old aspects of obedience
That stand outside of our house
And shout to our reason
“O please, O please,
Come out and play.”

For we have not come here to take prisoners
Or to confine our wondrous spirits,

But to experience ever and ever more deeply
Our divine courage, freedom, and
Light!

—by Hafiz
(translated by Daniel Ladinsky)

The Telling, by Zoe Zolbrod

The+Telling+FrontThe Telling, by Zoe Zolbrod, is beautifully-crafted and necessary. Woven with her own elegantly written story of child sexual abuse, Zolbrod includes statistics, achieving balance between narrative and resource. Anyone wanting to understand this complex issue will benefit from reading The Telling. Its journey is a deft navigation through the intricacies of the human psyche. In form, the memoir works as a whole and as a series of exquisite chapter-essays (some stand easily on their own.). As a parent, writer, teacher, and survivor of child sexual abuse, I found Zolbrod’s book inspiring and comforting in each cell of my body. One thing that sets this book apart from the traditional survivor narrative is the space Zolbrod gives to examination of the abuse narrative itself—interrogating the notion that abuse and its aftermath must always have one dominant effect on the soft tissue of the spirit. (Life is never quite that simple, as Zolbrod describes.) Zolbrod is unflinchingly candid, while also paying attention on the page to the nuances and boundaries of her various roles (woman, writer, mother, editor, former child). Sometimes it feels like she is looking through a prism at her past (and the issue of sexual abuse) and she is keenly able to discern from all sides, a kind of cumulative truth. In particular I loved reading about how she steers through her past as a protective but not overprotective mother.

There is oxygen in this book. The fact that there is a writer in the world who is doing this sort of soul investigation (and that we have the privilege of reading her generous work) gives me hope for our future.

I used to think I could never reach a self-imposed goal…

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Progress…

…But today I reached page 200 of a final flea-combing through my novel! I love this process: Reading aloud, carefully, slowly enough, making necessary changes, nothing is sacred…all performed within a short-ish (for me) timeframe so the arc of the thing is fresh in my mind. One day ahead of schedule! Now: Can I read 130 more pages between today and tomorrow afternoon? Hmm…

This summer, I will start looking for a publisher. (Even as a volunteer, I love my job.)

A book that might help

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Mountain/small rock, Laguna Beach, California, 4/3/16

Considering the controversy surrounding the Antioch Review’s publication of the article “The Sacred Androgen: The Transgender Debate,” by Daniel Harris, I thought of Maggie Nelson’s genre-bending memoir, The Argonauts. (You can read an overview of the Antioch Review controversy here.)  (And I blogged a tiny bit about The Argonauts here.)

In The Argonauts I find a beautiful work of humanity. Reading it helped open my thinking about gender and the lack of imagination it takes to embrace the too-limiting gender binary. (As a writer and person who celebrates the human imagination, why should we only acknowledge two poles?) (I like to believe my mind and heart were already pretty open, but as a relatively straight, cisgendered woman, with a relatively well-understood path to walk, I have some distance to travel before I can truly understand less straightforward life narratives. As stories will do, reading the story of Maggie Nelson and Harry Dodge helped open me, helped me see a wider vista.) I recommend the book. In addition to its value as a work of social justice (and theory: it is quite accessible even to me, as someone outside of Theory) its lyricism is breathtaking.

What I find in Nelson’s book is a beautiful argument in favor of focusing on the particulars of being human, that specificity. For those of us who write fiction, this is an important part of creating character. (And as we create character in fiction, we have the opportunity to open the minds and hearts of our readers, to allow them to imagine another human’s inside terrain.)

Maybe the Antioch Review could invite Maggie Nelson to write for a future issue!

Experiments with raw

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I’m trying experiments where I don’t overthink some of the writing I release into the world. Where I don’t polish until it’s as perfect as my ego can make it (perfection is overrated and a lie, anyway.). This (below) is a raw something I wrote recently (some even tonight) and I will soon type it onto handmade paper by Sarah Strong for an exhibit called The Power Of Story, so I thought I’d also put it here.

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I am from

1970s Osh Kosh overalls having
too much TV in the afternoon after school
Brady Bunch Courtship of Eddie’s Father, as sad a show as I have ever known.
What else in the afternoon in the house that is no longer there is the driveway even there anymore, I think not.
I am from a fire exercise a house burned down on purpose
it was my house but not really my house because we were renters.
Who did that fire serve, I hope someone, maybe it served my friend whose house burned down later because maybe the firefighters had learned something when they burned down my house.
Did they learn anything.
What did I learn.
Maybe just that stuff needs a place
but if you don’t have a place then
at least keep the stuff keep all the stuff you can from that place
from those days
(and later learn that whether or not you keep one damn thing it doesn’t matter
because stories stick to you better than the shadow to Peter Pan
and don’t need to be reattached by Wendy or anyone else.)

(On apologizing only when necessary) From The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson

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A stunning and exceptional book from Graywolf Press

I’m so grateful that my dear friend Melissa Tinker gave me a copy of Maggie Nelson’s amazing and gorgeous work of humanity otherwise known as The Argonauts. I adore this book, for about a million reasons. I have so much to say about it, and will, when time and thought allow. For now, here’s what I have stolen from the book today.

Sometimes as a writing warm-up, it’s useful to type up someone else’s well-written words. Today I typed up from p. 98 of The Argonauts.  As someone who has struggled all my life with equivocating and unnecessary apologizing, this passage speaks to me.

Maggie Nelson writes:

 

“Afraid of assertion. Always trying to get out of ‘totalizing’ language, i.e., language that rides roughshod over specificity; realizing this is another form of paranoia. Barthes found the exit to this merry-go-round by reminding himself that ‘it is language which is assertive, not he.’ It is absurd, Barthes says, to try to flee from language’s assertive nature by ‘add[ing] to each sentence some little phrase of uncertainty, as if anything that came out of language could make language tremble.’

My writing is riddled with such tics of uncertainty. I have no excuse or solution, save to allow myself the tremblings, then go back in later an slash them out. In this way I edit myself into a boldness that is neither native nor foreign to me.

At times I grow tired of this approach, and all its gendered baggage. Over the years I’ve had to train myself to wipe the sorry off almost any work email I write; otherwise, each might begin, Sorry for the delay, Sorry for the confusion, Sorry for whatever. One only has to read interviews with outstanding women to hear them apologizing. (Monique Wittig). But I don’t intend to denigrate the power of apology: I keep in my sorry when I really mean it. And certainly there are many speakers whom I’d like to see do more trembling, more unknowing, more apologizing.”

—Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts, p. 98