Les Semaines


what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: The Phonosnout


Clarion Head

This week my head has been entirely in the Clarion West administration mode. I just drove back from an evening workshop committee meeting and I was a road hazard--I almost went through a red light because I wasn't thinking and my lizard brain reverted to autopilot which remembered when that light had just been a stop sign. At a four-way stop I totally lost track of whose turn it was. I don't remember most of the half-hour drive home. That's scary.

Tonight was the process of discussing next year's instructors. It was fascinating, the people whose personalities and skills as instructors we had to discuss--who might suit which week best, who we should catch while they were young and hot and build into someone who would continue to teach for us. The discussion was pretty intense and definitely involving. And now we have the start of next year's slate coming into shape. We'll know more once we've talked to a few people, but still we're getting somewhere.

And before that I spent most of the week getting the final scores on this year's applicants, sending out the first rejection slips, making a couple more acceptances, trying to sort out who we might not be being fair to, reading some stories, looking to balance the class in terms of gender and writing interests and deciding sorting through the scholarship applicants. Reading a bunch of stories just to sort through the differences and similarities between people. That was so intense because I keep thinking how powerful an experience going to the workshop was for me, and in so many ways how I hate to deny that experience to anyone. I especially hated writing notes to people I am acquainted with online on their rejection letters, knowing whatever I said wasn't going to soften the blow, hoping that a personal note on the bottom wouldn't make it worse.

I've got a wad of rejection letters behind me on the desk, ready to mail, sneering disappointment at me. I hope their bad karma doesn't colour my life. I hope the acceptance phone calls and letters will outweigh them. I am excited about the class, but I'll be so so so glad when the class membership is set. It should be by next weekend. I'll let you know.

I've even been dreaming about Clarion West, dreaming the classroom and the students in the dorm, and my own class.

It has been eating up so much of my time, almost all of my attention, and all of my psychic energy. I know I'm an obsessive person, but this is ridiculous. I know I'm an impatient person, but really, Neile, settle down. I guess I'll be better next year when I've been through this once already. I certainly hope so.

last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing


This week we are still listening to everything we were listening to last week. Because they're great albums, so the artists and titles bear repeating: Veda Hille, Field Study, Splashdown, Blueshift (which will never be released, alas), Kristin Hersh, Sunny Border Blue, Bonfire Madigan, Saddle The Bridge. I also got the new Ani Difranco, but I don't like it at all so far. Just not my thing. At all.

last week's listening § next week's listening


I've been slowly reading a very strange first novel by David Mitchell called Ghostwritten. It's marketed as mainstream but has a big fantasy idea and another SFnal idea later on in the book. It's a series of very loosely linked stories--there are tiny hooks where the various stories affect the lives of characters in other stories until it builds a kind of a web of connection. But a thin web, even though pulling one thread affects other ones. And there are still a lot of loose ends. The first story is about a member of the Japanese religious sect that released the gas in the subway. He is trying to hide from the authorities. The next section is about a young man just out of high school who works in a jazz collector's record shop who meets a girl. The next is about a man in a securities firm who has been put in the position of laundering money and he's about to get caught. And it goes on. Each story takes place in a different location with a quite different character. Each is just long enough to get a strong feeling for the character, not to get tired of them (except one which I knew the forthcoming disaster and could hardly bear to watch it unfold) and yet be ready to move on when the end of the section comes. Very interesting construction.

Partway through (when I couldn't stand the end of that one section) I picked up Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three because I haven't read it in a long time and it was mentioned in an online journal I was reading (and now I can't remember which one as it's not one I read regularly). It wasn't quite as good as I recalled it being. A little thin. But that might be in contrast to Ghostwritten and how distractible and obsessed I am right now. I'm not giving anything the right kind of attention.

last week's reading § next week's reading


Believe it or not, I did actually work on something this week. I put my long "Auchindrain" poem on my Visor and worked on it a little in various places. It's a little hard to see the flow of anything given the size of the screen but it's not bad for focusing on little sections one at a time, which is exactly what I need to do right now with this poem, so it's working for me. Cool.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

November 1979

1048. Jumping, to begin with
November 21, 1979

I am jumping ahead of myself. I only have one more night to go on this marathon run (hooray!) My exhaustion must count for something. I have half a poem disappearing in my head. Last line: "I no longer believe myself" [1]. It's got to be a long run to make that line work. (O, my life, o my life) what a way to start a clean, new, hot-yet-ragged-edged book. (And my writing is a scrawl...). 10:30 at last, o sleep and pain. A bead of light falls on my page, spreads like water. I touch it with my hand,
it sticks to my finger
then fades.
I look again,
and wonder.
This will be continued, somewhere, somewhen.

1049. Explanation, for Christina
November 27, 1979

Our pact: the writing will be copies from my journal and then will be sent to you, so sometimes it will be addressed to you (to give it focus) sometimes to myself (as all real letters are), and sometimes to space. (My voice goes nowhere and calls me). When I step into my room I step into a forest. The green of the furnishings soothes me, the blue walls expand me, and the forest in autumn on my walls helps me walk into it [2]. My books take me through the funnels of their covers and drop me into beyond. Their limits define me, and my limits describe the limits of what I can touch in them. Sometimes I swallow the book whole, and sometimes it swallows me.

1050. Reading Day
November 28, 1979

This was a strange day, waking home, then reading in front of so many people. I think I read well, at least I was told so. Strangely, I was not as nervous as I felt I would be--in fact it barely seems as though I did it. It was so brief--five minutes seemed like nothing. I would like to do it again--longer, to get a feeling of what it's really supposed to be like. It was all very good & interesting, but too short. I felt it with the other readers, too. Just time to get used to the voice, and that was it. That's not nearly enough.
     However, I feel that I will be reading my poems again, and I would hope soon. I am going to go somewhere if it kills me. (If it does, at least I went down fighting...). In this precious only endless world I will try many things, and keep on trying. There is so much living I will do because I cannot bear missed opportunities. Knowing who I am is not enough, now that I have begun to know it--now I must begin to become what I can be. It's is too late to allow myself to waste time. I must do as much as I can (that includes my paper on "A&P" [3]--I am drowning at this half-year point, where did I academically leave myself?) I will become, Christina, and I know that you will, too. If there is one thing you can give Mir, give her the knowledge that she can, too [4].

1051. How I feel today
November 29, 1979

I barely know how to exist. In these days when things are late and due, it is all I can do to carry myself from place to place. I am so confused I cannot straighten my thoughts out enough to produce anything. I have no clarity of thought. The days fold into one another, and leave me somehow outside of them. I can barely remember which name I am, where I belong which day. The time that is left compresses itself, is a frighteningly small bundle of sticks--the end of the year approaches too quickly. I am not in depression, I am nowhere. I have lost myself.

1052. I have a headache
Nov. 29

There is a sign sticking out of the garbage can--"please do not remove my clothes when I am sleeping. Only when I ask you to." There is still madness on this campus, and there are still pretty little silly girls who whisper in the library. I am sitting in the library, head aching over "A&P", terrified to blow this one knowing I am not as smart as I would like to think I am, knowing the next few weeks are going to be hell, knowing how I hate this and knowing it is my own fault. I have evaded the countdown for too long (HEA [5] & all that). The radiators are purple ('60s hangover, I guess--not exactly soothing for study). Today I see the sun on the water, and I am cold, and I want oblivion. I am fighting, fighting today, and I will waste all my time. I will go to dinner, then to Lala's workshop [6], and won't pay for my crimes yet. (Why does the earth not swallow me? Soon, it seems, I will be swallowed. I feel I have wasted enough time in this library, I will go and waste it elsewhere.)


1. Never did finish a poem to fit that line.

2. My room in my parents' house had a photomural of an autumnal stream on it, thanks to my first brother-in-law, who was a painter and wallpaper hanger and decided on this as a way to pay back my parents some money he owed them. Very '70s.

3. John Updike's short story, which we were assigned to describe scene by scene, as in the diagram on my extra page from last week.

4. Mir was the child that Christina had a job as a nanny for.

5. HEA = Homework Evasive Action.

6. Lala Heine-Koehn, a poet who was in my last two years of workshops with Robin Skelton, and who has since published several lovely books of poems. For many years she held a workshop in her home, which I attended when I lived in Victoria.

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