Les Semaines


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


Fourth Week of Clarion

I spent Sunday very quietly as I was felled by cramps and the drugs I take to keep them at bay. Very uncomfortable and nauseous much of the day, until finally in late afternoon I felt much better, happily in time for the class meeting with Connie Willis, which went very well. Connie is focused and very much there for the students.

It was a really intense week--very much one of the legendary fourth weeks for the students where exhaustion and therefore tensions are at their height. Connie Willis was remarkable in handling this, and in giving great lectures particularly on plot points to think of to enhance stories. So rewarding to see several of the students use them right away to good effect.

It's hard for me to say much about this week as I was really too busy to experience it well. I feel like I didn't have any down time, though of course I had a lot, but it evaporates. And I'm writing this late so my memory of the week is evaporating. A sign of this: my tear-off-a-page-a-day Forgotten English calendar by my computer is still stuck on July 11th ("bowdlerize").

The highlights of the week were meeting Connie Willis, watching her in the classroom and hearing her lecture, hearing her reading on Tuesday night, then the party on Friday night.

On Thursday evening I picked Ellen Datlow up at the airport and drove her up to Astrid and Greg Bear's where she was staying the night (fun to see them again). Great to see Ellen again, as she was one of the instructors for my Clarion class five years ago.

Friday I went into my day-job office for a couple of hours just to check on voicemail and postal mail. Dealt with that and then ran a bunch of errands, including buying a used ibook laptop computer from an online acquaintance. I'm very happy to have a working laptop once again--though I like my Visor and keyboard, it's not great for working on the multitude of things i have to do, like The Ectophiles' Guide, and I can't really work on stories on it, though I have carried a poem around on it for the last couple of months and tweaked it there occasionally. Later was the party for Connie Willis, which was a lot of talking and fun.

And then Saturday was the party Astrid and Greg Bear put on annually for the Clarion students. Theirs is such a lovely place, right on a lake north of the city, and it seems a world apart though it really isn't far away and it's not particularly isolated. The students went out kayaking and canoeing and a couple swam, while the rest of us hung out and talked and got a tour of Greg Bear's amazing library: he has a wonderful collection and moveable shelving, which we played with while wanting to take all the books home.

The students also played a few rounds of Mafia, which was interesting to watch for a while, but I'm not really a game player of that sort. And Greg and Ellen talked a little while about professional behaviour and writing careers. Everyone was pretty much exhausted by then, though.

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


Not much listening. I know I meant to.

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Rumer Godden's China Court is a novel from the early 1960s about a family's complex life in a house by that name in Cornwall. It is masterfully, lyrically written and tells its multigenerational tale in a lovely way, interweaving the stories. And the family is interesting--their loves and passions and hatreds, and how one generation influences the next. The main story is how that last of her generation has just died and the family are gathering for her funeral. Most of the family is planning the dismantling of the house and the bit of property that is left, but the matriarch had other plans and knows

Meredith Pierce's Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood is a lovely book. I had loved her Darkangel trilogy enough to re-read it several times, so I was delighted to see that she had a new novel, and I enjoyed it as much as I hoped to. This is a story about a young woman who lives in the Tanglewood. In her hair grow herbs and flowers, which she uses to heal villagers who come to her for help and monthly she harvests to brew a tea for a mysterious sorcerer who lives in the centre of the woods. Gradually she realizes that this cycle drains her of energy and power, and then things begin to change.... This is a beautifully written and deeply imagined book, reminding me of the best of Patricia McKillip,and of course of the wonderful Darkangel trilogy.

Lois McMaster Bujold's Cordelia's Honor consists of her first two Miles Vorkosigan novels, Shards of honor and Barrayar. It's the tale of two enemies who are stranded on a third planet together and who have to cooperate in order to survive and they gradually fall in love but get involved in politics and war and are separated and reunited in unexpected ways. Fun space opera and a pleasant read. People have recommended her books to me for years and so it was good to see a little of what they were talking about, though the consensus is that the series gets better and better as it goes along. I still quite enjoyed this.

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Writing? More like tinkering a tiny bit as I got an odd free moment where I had a bit of brain.

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Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

January 1980

1104. Today's Feature                                                                              January 27th 1980

As its feature presentation this week, Sunday has offered a cold, clear day with chilling wind. The cover of this new book is as cold as this day. My winter books are being used while it's still winter, and even the pages of this book are cold as I drag my hand cross it (after the words).
     Today I had a very pleasant chat with the overseas operator in Montreal. Actually, he's management filling in while the operators are on strike. He was very kind, and complimentary, and I blushed, but we didn't get through to Holland.
     It was my day for pleasant phone calls--with the operator, with John [1], with Harold [2]. A quiet day, featuring little except the weather. It is the kind of day where I enjoy people, enjoy my job, like answering the phone even. Unspectacular, but pleasant, and it is pleasant getting off at three in the afternoon, to go home and rest, or to plan big plans, think about writing poems, and poems writing me. Robin has given us an assignment--to write a poem at least 24 words long using only a variety of 12 words, which means planning carefully and refining to the point of pain. I define the poem and the poem defines me--we are both defined by and define language, which defines us as human beings, who defines life, which defines everything which defines God. What a weight for the poem and me to carry!

1105. House with a breeze                                                                              January 28th 1980

Today, the weather has been just like yesterday. My 6:30 ride in unheated Buglet [3] was perhaps colder than ever before, windier certainly. The chill overwhelms me, makes me aware of shrinking into myself, into the colder and colder day. Perhaps on the mountain, Gillain, the cold becomes everso. Certainly it was hotter in the summer, but I come from a house with a breeze (a visitor forever banging, knocking to come in today). It comes from the water to find me, today to chase me indoors. It means many things in many weathers. Storm, if it is so inclined, knocking bits of fir to the street to be dragged by cars, cedar to gather in all the cracks of the house.
     I would like to find the back of this wind and plant my house there. It would be a good place, where would grow all the things this breeze carries with it--cedar, fir, the ocean, the rain, all the things I love, and that I am or wish to be. The house would be built of wood and stone, and would have no doors, only windows for the wind to knock against. Windows to climb in and out of; windows into several worlds. The wind would be a highway for me to come and go as I pleased. If I wish I could just sit while the wind would carry my poems out for me. Perhaps the wind already does that in my house with a breeze carrying poems from a man at the back of the wind to drop them in my ear, hence to the paper. [4]

1106. Letting things slide                                                                              January 29th 1980

...that is what I have been doing today. I've been going the way my whims took me, only masquerading as a rational person, a person who takes things seriously. Today I have been greedy, lazy, and undisciplined. I will obviously carry on this way and become a tub of lard with a stockpile of books that take too much effort to read, and half a poorly written poem. I need to be obsessed with becoming, I need to lose this habit of taking the pleasantest way of the moment. I need to understand about additions of act and act, and subtraction of things which will have negative results. There are times when I cannot bear to live in me.

1107. However                                                                                     January 29th 1980

...today Robin has taught me things about Wallace Stevens, has introduced me to his real poems, his later ones where his intent becomes more clear and where the poems grow into major constructs, defining he world and each other, making clear the pattern and "The Idea of Order...". The poem describing the world describing the poem again. An idea of order much like I am trying to express in "Seven Robins". It seems I anticipated, in that poem at least, my encounter with Stevens, with the poem and order. The belief to centre my universe on, solipsist as my perception may be, or as universal.

1108. My Map                                                                                     January 30th 1980

     My map
     defines my travel.
     I and my map
     travel distances,
     place from place.

     Each place
     I travel
     defines me, and
     travel defines
     each place.

     On my map
     distances travel
     from me;
     my map
     defines me. [5]

This is my poem with only twelve words. An interesting exercise from Robin, though I could not describe what it taught me. I doubt if I am learning anything right now. I feel like leaves piling up on the grate so the water can't flow, though I also anticipate that something will come to sweep them away, or that the water will work its way and come rushing through. I'm so used to thinking of myself as a wonderchild, and it is my trust that the water will flow again that keeps me sane, though sometimes feel that I have nothing to do with it.

1109. Room with a view                                                                                   January 30th 1980
     House with a Breeze

     It is built
     of wood and stone
     and has no doors,
     simply windows for the wind
     to knock against,
     to climb in
     and out of: windows into
     several worlds.

     The weather each day
     follows the last:
     wind chill,
     the air a sudden

     Bits of fir
     and cedar gather
     in the cracks between
     the floor boards
     and grow.

     The wind is a highway
     that plants here
     all that it carries
     and drifts on.
     Cedar, fir, ocean,
     and the scent of rain
     inhabit this house.

     The wind is a highway
     that dropped me here
     long ago, and now
     carries words
     which I catch here
     and drop onto paper
     to send
     with the wind again. [6]

I feel drained now. Two poems, this last a rush job, take from me. Driving Buglet without brakes takes from me, until this evening I am unsure of what remains. Inventory: physically--behaved almost well, sleepy; mentally--sleepy, as though messages fight through a bog to get through, thoughts, concentration, hazy; emotionally--nothing there, nothing fierce, nothing weak and drifting; spiritually--a bit of a buzz from the two poems, but an empty bad full of air at this moment, until the moment that I am seized again. Writing a poem as an act of worship? Seems to be me. (Lady, I know not seems [7].)
     I am defined by the map that I have drawn for myself, in that way, I define myself. Somehow the map is acted upon by His forces, partly those internal forces inside of me, partly those external. How it all seems to point to some inevitable conclusion I don't wish to face. Maybe Randy's is the Right Way, mine the wrong--still I can only follow my map.


1. Poet John Barton, who is still a good friend.

2. Poet Harold Rhenisch, also still a good friend (but who has appeared in Phonosnout more than John has.

3. My 1966 Volkswagen Beetle, which was a little on the rickety side.

4. The last of this was the seed for the poem "House With a Breeze" which appears in 1109 and in Seven Robins.

5. Well, this sucks, doesn't it?

6. The poem's final version in Seven Robins reads very similarly to that (some linebreaks and phrasing have changed) but the final stanza reads instead:

     The wind is a highway
     that dropped me here
     long ago, this house
     a crossroad
     without direction.

7. Hamlet.

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