Les Semaines


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


Fifth Week of Clarion West 2002

Met up with Leslie at Joe and Gay's room in the dorms. They are lovely people, very much here for their time. We went upstairs to meet with the students for the decompression session. I suggested to the students that they push their critiques a little harder, to think about what could help the stories under consideration get beyond the merely good into the extraordinary. Good stories, well, while they're not exactly a dime a dozen are still more common than stories people will remember, stories that make a writer's reputation. Joe and Gay came upstairs and Joe talked for a little while, asked the students some questions, and handed out an assignment: students blindly picked a poetic form and a science-fictional subject to try to write a poem during the week. The students made dinner again, and it was lots of fun. I sat around talking for quite a while afterwards.

I can't remember at all what I did on Monday--I know I worked on "Cruel Sister" (a story I wrote the first draft of during my Clarion West class but that has mostly languished since) but can't remember anything else.

Tuesday Leslie and I were in the classroom, though Leslie had errands to run and was very late, and the person we thought would sub for her didn't get the message that we wanted her to come in. It worked out fine, though.

Joe is low-key in the classroom, but his comments about the stories are perceptive and he offers excellent suggestions for refocusing stories. Gay doesn't say much about the stories there, but I know she reads them and talks with the students afterwards. In class they talked about various things, like marketing and taxes and other writing business matters (Gay) and about work patterns, novel writing, career-building (Joe). They are such fine and caring people it was a delight to have them here.

Besides being in the classroom on Wednesday and Thursday, I came back in the evening for two special events, first on Wednesday a videotaping of a dramatic reading of one of the students' stories, a farce in the form of a tv script, "The Flying Squids of Zonder". It was hilarious and the class had a blast doing it. All of them seem to have a touch of drama in them, and it was so much fun watching them work as an ensemble and to see in action how much they enjoy each other. The second night was a poetry reading of the assignments Joe had handed out on Sunday. It was loads of fun--some of the poems amusing and some quite serious. I was skeptical about a poetry assignment but they seemed to have both fun and some serious learning with it. I know it was painful for some of them to do.

Thursday felt busy and complicated but I managed to go to class, prepare food for a potluck before the poetry reading, and drop off my car at the mechanic's for an oil change and new brakes. That meant that Friday I was grounded, so I spent most of the morning catching up on sleep. I read. Tinkered some more with Gypsy Davey but that's really all. Jim and I ate leftovers for dinner, then I picked up one of the students and we went to the party for the Haldemans. It's getting hard for me to distinguish between the parties, but this was particularly notable, as one of the students who hasn't come to any of the other parties showed up, and as well Paulette and Allan (Rousselle) showed up with their six-day-old son, Alexander.

Saturday was busy, too, as China Miéville was visiting town for readings to promote The Scar, and Leslie arranged for him to come and talk to the class (and some Clarion volunteers) for three hours. Jim came along with me (he had also gone to China's reading last night at the University Bookstore, which I had to miss because of the party). We picked up some snacks to bring for the potluck part. Unfortunately, the instant I had arrived at the dorm the students send me off to buy plate and cups, so I missed China's arrival. Then I had to dash up in the middle of his talk to let another volunteer, who was late, into the building. Then I got caught up in tidying up, etc. and it got all awkward and Jim wanted to leave so we could catch China's reading up in Lake Forest Park so I didn't really get a chance to talk to him or play hostess at all. I confess to being quite disappointed, as I'm the person who made the workshop committee aware of China's work in the first place, and thus set this whole visit in motion. Silly and small of me, but this indeed is life.

And the more important part by far is how impressive China was. He's extremely articulate about his ideas and about his writing and what his process is and what he loves about writing and the whole genre. And opinionated about what he dislikes about the genre as well. I enjoyed hearing him read and his question and answer periods were wonderful, too. He's also a genuinely nice person. He's not intimidating, other than how articulate he is and deeply felt his ideas are. He's intense but doesn't seem to have an attitude about it. I think the students found him inspirational. I know I did.

It was also great that Chuck and Bob came to the later reading, and we got to spend a little time with both of them. It had been a long time.

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


I haven't really been able to focus on much and still seem to be listening to the same discs I have for the last couple of weeks, but I probably should mention that we still have one tape playing in our car as I drive to and from the dorm, parties, evening events, which is Splashdown's Blueshift. I just can't seem to get tired of it, and it keeps me in a good mood. What a great album! It's shocking that it has never been released and probably never will. This really makes me hate the record labels.

last week's listening § next week's listening


At the end of some books you have to just stop for a while and think about the long journey they've taken you on. China Miéville's The Scar is one of those. It's a hard novel to describe. It begins with the main character, Bellis, beginning a letter on her way to exile from her beloved city of New Corazabon. She's earning her escape by acting as a translator, and is immediately swept up in intrigues and mysteries that she doesn't really want to know anything about. But then the ship she is on is attacked, and the pirates commandeer the ship to attach to Armada, their floating city, and the intrigues get more complex. Like his other books, this one is rich with characters, plot, politics, and full of luscious sensory detail. There's one scene in particular that was so vivid to me, that it's haunting me. A fascinating, imaginative tale, and highly recommended. (See my May 14, 2000 entry for comments on Perdido Street Station.)

Juliet Marillier's Child of the Prophecy is the third in her Sevenwaters Trilogy about mythic Ireland (see my June 11, 2000 entry for my comments on the first book and June 3, 2001 for my comments on the second). This is the story of one of the third generation, the daughter of a druid-trained sorcerer and of his half-sister of the house of Sevenwaters. Thus she is the granddaughter both of Sorcha, the heroine of the family and of the sorceress who has tried to destroy them. She is brought up by her father in isolation, learning sorcery. A tinker boy is her only friend. Then her grandmother, the sorceress shows up, and by threatening both her father and the tinker boy, gets Fianne to act on her behalf to attempt to destroy the Sevenwaters family and finally get her revenge. I found I have liked these books steadily less. While they are well-written, this one didn't quite convince me. Though Fianne was young, I didn't understand why she trusted her stepmother not to harm her father and boyfriend whether or not she obeyed her wishes. The stepmother seemed so utterly amoral. I also didn't believe the romance as it seemed rushed over in many ways. I guess I didn't know what the tinker boy saw in Fianne. Or maybe it just suffered in comparison to The Scar.

Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson's Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits is a collection of short stories, three by each of them, that feature water spirits (one only tangentially). Robin McKinley is one of my favourite writers (see my June 11, 2000 entry for comments on her most recent novel), and I really enjoyed Peter Dickinson's last book Ropemaker (see my February 3rd entry for comments on it, and February 11, 2001, and June 17, 2001 for comments on other novels of his). I enjoyed these, but my favourite was probably the last, "A Pool in the Desert" which I found the most haunting. Overall these were entertaining, but I like these writers' novels better.

last week's reading § next week's reading


Well, it took me longer than I thought but I finally got "Cruel Sister" ready to mail. Totally ready, in that all I have to do now is to put stamps on it and put it somewhere that it will get going. This is amazing. This will be the first story I've sent out in four years.

The first four chapters of the novel are crying to me and I know exactly what I have to do with them, and am starting to do it. Working on "Cruel Sister" helped, as in many ways the story is a snapshot of much of the novel--not that the stories are related, but what I'm trying to do with them are, and they both come from ballads and old tales into the contemporary.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

June - December 1984

In which Jim and I have graduated with our MFA's, I spend a summer teaching, and we both get miserable jobs, then Jim gets a somewhat better job. We are still in Missoula. This is not a good thing.

1373. Elytis
June 21, 1984

from Sun The First--epigram--"Often when I'm speaking of the sun a huge all-crimson rose becomes entangled in my tongue, and yet it's not possible for me to stop speaking."

1374. Beginning of Winter
October 21, 1984

A long passage of time and difficult life, which blocked the desire to write even here. Now Sunday morning, Jim's in the bath, and Bryer [1] is bothering him. I had to dry her off, she got so damp. Autumn is already turning to winter--almost all the leaves are off the trees and we've already had our first snow. A dream last night about being in a building in India--it had a stage with rooms behind it, where I thought I might hide. There were women with flowing gowns and hair--professors. I can't remember what the men wore. And a young boy who somehow had done some spying for us. I wish I could remember more.

1375. Dream in November
November 30, 1984

...dream last night, and Jim says I was talking in my sleep. I dreamt he had left me and I didn't know where he was living or what his phone number was and I wanted to reach him. I was already living with another man--tall, sandy hair, bright, strong, and unbending. I felt torn between them, and couldn't find Jim to talk to him. Part of the time we were at my parents' house in Victoria.
     Later--catching me after work now. I've recovered from that incredible exhaustion that hits after a full week at work--at least a little. It has been such a long time since I seriously felt like writing--even here. Work has drained so much out of me (my sense of self, my energy, my desire to keep creating myself). I've come home and felt that need to be without stimulation that I've seen and hated in other people. I know I will never be more than a minor poet, but I want at least to be that.

1376. Truly winter now
December 2, 1984

It is truly winter now--snow has stayed on the ground for several days now. I am having a relaxing weekend. Bryer is now energetic and jumping up in the window to chew the plants.
     Where is the bird of fire? --H.D.
     blood on snow (If I believed in anything it is this, this blood on snow.)
     approaching mid-winter solstice, the year's night
     keep reaching out in solid air/touch snow on the edge of the world
     we sleep in this darkness and wake cold with longing and sleep...
     ("and with what small hands?")
     Hampl--"There's too much symbol in saved things"
     --what could anyone want so much?
     I know several lives worth living--not this
     herons in the mud--memory
     Lilith--the wife Adam had before the vengeful gods [2]

1377. Cats are asleep
December 9, 1984

As though flame could be an entrance into something other than flame.
     night before last dream of a cabin I wanted to mention. At the time and now.
     Winter, keep saying it, it's quiet and cats are breathing sleep in their quiet corners of the room
     smell of fresh bread I spent some hours making & my belly full of it and tea
     one lamp in the far side of the room keeps drawing my eyes.
     traffic outside, stray bark of a dog, sound of the heater flickering gas and the clock
     room strewn with books and records
     read some Graham (W.S. and Jorie)
     I am remembering who I am.

1378. Ending the year
December 26, 1984

Such a quiet Christmas, Jim and I and our cats in this apartment. It was lovely and quiet, but I am unbearably, irrationally moody, and unkind to Jim with it. It's that there has been such a lapse in my self, that I have lost such a lot of myself in the last months. Taken twenty steps backward, and none ahead. Not even a constructive kind of lying fallow.
     I am going to start working again, even if only a little--just to get moving again out of this hollow I've fallen in. My biggest problem is that at times like these I can't see what there is to write about, or to share with anyone. I'd like to be able to see.

1379. Dear Christina:
December 26, 1984

...thinking how to define my life and days and myself:
It's cold and the sky has sealed
the snow in like a veil of smoke
over the city. We are all indoor
animals now, the cats and I,
curled and wintering on blankets
in the corners where the cushions
meet. Strange intersections we huddle
into this time of year, plump and sleeping.
Mother says you called were home
to "rest" and you spoke about your brother's
children and it's a distant world.
You mother can't dream of who you are.
None of this matters. We're still young
and have done nothing yet to define our lives.
This isn't working out. I haven't seen you
in years. You haven't even met my husband,
my cats, my dreams, Montana winter.
I miss the coast and you in Toronto.
My friends head east to look for something
new. Maybe even we will.
I read letters from the floating world,
eat snow, read...Bryer's a ball of black
on an electric blue blanket. I love her
too much. My husband I hardly know
at all sometimes--love to well and not
nearly well enough.
     Enough. [3]


1. My new black kitten. She was named after Bryher, H.D.'s lover.

2. Some of these fragments appeared in later poems.

3. Another never went anywhere attempt at writing.

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