(Written years and years ago, these manifestos used to reside on a static page on this website, but they don’t need to be centered in the same way as before. Rather than omitting them fully, I decided to file them below in case they are needed in the future.)
—but the version of me who wrote the words appearing below was more concerned with being an artist (whatever that means) than I am now. Now I would revise, expand…change artist to human, so: “this watching and naming of raindrops as they flow down the car window is one way of being a human.” In the past, I would shrink or hide parts of myself, even old fragments like what follows. Now I see with more clarity that like everyone, I am made of many parts, and all the parts are okay and relevant. No part is unimportant; no part merits ignoring. The parts are what makes me (or a character, or any of us) complex and full. Human.
I am interested in shining light into the shadows.
Sometimes in shadows you find something you thought lost forever, something smaller than a half a dime…like when I lost my horse charm in a corner in the kitchen, between the cabinet and the plywood under the vinyl tiles. I thought the charm was gone, fallen through the floor, into the invisible tunnel that must exist under my house and continued, where else, to the center of the earth. But my husband Robert put on his caving helmet, turned on the headlight, and found the tiny horse, in a space I didn’t know existed.
That horse was from a junk store. I was nineteen. It cost fifty cents. I was born in the year of the horse. Fourteen years later, patina of years on myself and on the horse, this half-dime-sized charm bore the weight of poetry. The horse was lost. Then there was the light. Then the horse was found. It was romantic; Robert was my hero.
Those vinyl tiles covered a floor I’d had installed after my last Christmas with my ex-husband, after he had moved three thousand miles away…I was able to choose my own floor, black and white tiles, very hard to keep clean, a friend warned me. (She was right.) The previous floor was squishy under the cat food bowl; I was so absorbed in the break-up, it was awhile before I noticed, but a small leak under the sink had pooled until it saturated the sub floor. The floor’s structure and the vinyl sheeting needed to be replaced. Like the marriage, but infinitely less heartbreaking.
(I didn’t know, couldn’t, that thereafter, I would be haunted by flood dreams.)
Robert shined a light and found the horse, in a place I didn’t know existed.
I think in metaphors, and stories. I think about things like:
raindrops and how they collect on the car window; sitting in the back seat as a child, I would watch raindrops cling to the window, and I’d name each drop, as it ran down to meet the others and became bigger and bigger and they all merged into a blob, a community of raindrops, joining, then diving together, collaboratively, into the well at the bottom, where the window goes when you roll it down, back in the days when you had to turn a handle to roll down a car window… and when one of the raindrops would begin its descent, it seemed the raindrop had become brave, and started the eventual adventure to the place it ultimately had to go, gravity being non-negotiable, but still, each drop seemed to choose when it would go, pick a path to follow. Some ambled, some sped ahead, fearless. I’m sure it was simple science, the water in the drop would reach a certain mass and the wind outside the car plus gravity would act upon the drop, and it would run down the only path it could, based on its specific calculations.
Okay: one, two, three, go!
As a child, I would spend time, in a sense, with each drop, by naming them. It seemed important. Watching, witnessing their courage.
It occurs to me that this watching and naming of raindrops as they flow down the car window is one way of being an artist.
So observe the tiny poetry of nature, of physics, and mark time as it passes.
The hands of a storyteller
“The first sentence of every novel should be: ‘Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.’ Meander if you want to get to town.” –-Michael Ondaatje
This is from Michael Ondaatje’s book, In The Skin Of A Lion, which I blogged about here. When I first read this passage, years ago, I realized this is the kind of fiction I want to write, and this proclamation provides comfort.
There’s a beautiful feeling I sometimes get when I’m reading. It’s the moment I realize I’m in the hands of a good storyteller. I’ve had that feeling sometimes reading “great” books, and sometimes reading unpublished student work. The feeling helps me relax and be along for the journey, and I crave that feeling in everything I read. This is not to say that I want what I read to soothe me–on the contrary. (As the fabulous Joy Williams wrote in her essay “Uncanny the Singing That Comes From Certain Husks,” “Good writing never soothes or comforts. It is no prescription, neither is it diversionary, although it can and should enchant while it explodes in the reader’s face.”) But that somewhat unnamable awareness that I’m in good hands as I read is always welcome. It has to do, maybe, with an amount of confidence (and sincerity) in the writer, because I don’t get that feeling, usually, when I read an overly clever or cynical voice–a narrative stance that, to me, usually feels insincere. I think the feeling I’m pondering might be called “trust.” As I notice it, something changes in my body; I relax a little (even if the story is unsettling, exploding in my face) because I understand an agreement the writer is making with me, and I am making with the writer: I trust that the writer will uphold whatever rules and aesthetics the story (or poem) requires, and I trust that the writer’s choices were made in earnest, and with honor behind them.
I want to give that same feeling to my readers. With my words, I want to craft a net, a web, or a hammock, to catch, or lull them into a place, a moment, a thought. Myself I want to quiet down to what’s essential, and I want the reader to witness (with me) that silver drop of water on a leaf, or that strange knocking sound that’s just too far off to identify but too close to ignore.