Yours too…

I haven’t written in a while, but I’ve been writing. A former professor, whom I very much admire, has a blog that I love to read. He’s a climber and, somehow, his written voice belays the screen as if he’s right there in front of me, one move at a time—as passionate as ever about the important work that writers do. Full stop. The necessary work that writers do. One vital, measly, painfully slow letter, word, or sentence at a time. Are these online homes still called blogs?

Blogs rhymes with blobs. When I think about most blogs, mine included, I picture fashionably understated fonts and blobs of words, many blobs of words. And a lot of ellipses. There are other words—rhyming words, I mean. A lot of writers have letters—or maybe they’re more like updates—sent regularly to their readers via email subscription. This hyperlinked one I enjoy from Mary Gaitskill and it arrives to my inbox bimonthly-ish. As far as that kind of writing, I’m not sure I can hang with that momentum. Not enough urgency for a blob. I mean blog…

For an upcoming art show in which some of my writing will be displayed, I wrote in the blurb something like as an artist I’m fascinated by voice and the rhythm of conversations. Blurb also rhymes with blog and blob. Feels a little heady, but I think that’s close to something real. Blurbs do serve a purpose, but are insanely tough to write sometimes.

A few months back, I said to a student, “your dreams will be achieved.” I think that’s different than saying your dreams will come true, but what do I know? They were going through a tough stretch, the student, I mean. As if the wall before them was smoother than a still pond. There was nothing to take hold of. Just a wall. No traction. I should have given them a poem. A book of poems. A million poems. There’s bound to be at least one poem in that million to help them figure something out, like about kindness or napping or the elasticity of dumplings. Poems, man, poems. Growing up, my Dad always said, “Find a way or make one.” He didn’t necessarily say that to me. It was more of his mantra he shared with anyone who would listen. I think of that line often now. If I could go back to the classroom that one day, I would probably add “one way or another.”

I think a lot about writing when I’m reading. At the moment I’m reading two books. Well, actually, audiobooks are a thing in our house so I’m listening to one book and reading another. The former is Zora Neale Hurston’s Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick (we like the name Zora). The book was published in 2020 though most of the stories were written somewhere around 1925. My God! How did she ever…I wonder if she thought then that the stories she was writing would be read with such vigor and earnest regard, still, almost a hundred years later? And a hundred more from now, for sure. The stories paint such vivid images of a not-so-far-off 1925 and, too, offer silhouettes and snippets of characters and books to come for the young writer. Apart from Hurston’s (profound range of) stories, the book’s foreword by Tayari Jones and the introduction by Genevieve West are spectacular—both are absolute must-reads.

On writing, for me, it’s not mountain climbing, it’s more like chiseling. Some days I need a hammer to break it all down, other days a feather to lightly brush debris out of the way. It’s more pathos than craft. More mood than science, though there is something scientific about a sentence somehow. It’s cocooning. Moth rearing. A very close friend and I have started workshopping again. I don’t particularly like that word workshopping. Sounds stale and boring. And, workshopping rhymes with belly flopping but that’s not quite right either. It’s more like gut checking or marinating ideas. He’s the kind of close friend who won’t judge a very shitty first (and second and third) draft.

The other book I’m actually reading-reading (not, ahem, listening-reading) is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. My friend and colleague-next-door mentioned his interest in re-reading Ellison this past November. We talked about it more and more and then again in between other conversations about 2-3 Zones and Box-and-1 Defense and how those late 80s/early 90s NBA days were rough, really really rough, and about our general admiration for Randy Moss’ game, and how Stockton’s assist record is ridiculous and virtually unbreakable because of all the three-point shooting these days, and we decided we would both take it (the reading) on this January. He’s a Celtics fan but I don’t hold that against him. I haven’t read Invisible Man since my Peace Corps days and as I’m reading it again now, I’m kicking myself. This book is a treasure. Endless are the highlights and squiggly-lined notes in the margins of my copy (a 1990 Vintage International Edition). In the first third of the book, Dr. Bledsoe—who is an easily unlikeable character—shares with the narrator how he’s been “’buked and scorned and all of that,” and in the next few lines advises the narrator to “get yourself power, influence, contacts with powerful and influential people—then stay in the dark and use it!” I want to hate Dr. Bledsoe and yet. And yet is what makes writing, right? Ellison is a master of the and yet, as is Zora. Ellison takes time to flesh out the characters—so real, so visceral, so thoroughly understood and revealed. As far as the writing goes, Ellison makes it all look so effortless. I keep coming back to the commanding tone the narrator projects. He’s leading us through this torrential storm of a world with a mop bucket and spatula and somehow I’m feeling, well, not good, not bad, uneasy for sure, but willing to go along because I have to. I want to see. To live! I want to follow his words—because I trust him and that’s the power of empathetic writing.

The truth is my Submittable account, which is the go-to submission manager for literary presses, contests, and calls for manuscripts, should probably be renamed VeryRejectable. Or, TheBelayRopeIsBrokeAndYourStoryIsFalling. What do you do with rejection. Failure. You keep chiseling, man, you keep chiseling. What else is there to do? Blurb, blog, blob-a-dee-doo-da, keep writing. In the darkness before day, keep writing, because one way or another, you’ll find a way. Or make one…  

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