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retrospective: old journal

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Les Semaines



Having to Believe

Sometimes it's hard to believe enough in what you're doing. I'm having this little crisis of confidence in so many areas of my life right now it's starting to feel a little silly.

The biggest area is of course my writing. I say of course because it's the area where I am most vulnerable and have to expose myself to rejection and criticism the most. At least, as long as I want to consider writing for an audience, I do, and I'm one of those people who write to communicate, mostly, so thinking of not sending my words out for possible publication seems to defeat the purpose of using words for my art. My craft and sullen art. My smart. My smarting ego. Not that I've had slapdown comments or rejections, but even the smallest criticism can get you hard on a bad day.

It's not like I've even particularly been getting any of those, recently, but the fear of them, anticipating them, slows me down so much.

So what?

So I'm not working on the novel. Despite the positive feedback. I keep telling myself I believe in this novel enough to finish it--but I'm still not finishing it. So maybe what I'm not believing in is me, not the novel. Not writing makes me not happy. Makes me less confident. Makes me less sure of who the hell I think I am. Why I dare to take up space in the whacky universe, anyway.

Now there's a question to pose to myself, to my characters: "Why do you dare to take up space in this universe?"

The answers might be too alarming.


So much of gaining confidence is pretending you already have it. That's how I taught myself to like giving poetry readings. And people tell me I'm good at them. I like to think so.

So I should just shut up and start working on the damn thing again.

And of course the novel isn't the be all and end all of my quandaries. There's the periodic should I go back and try to focus on the short stories thing. Then the forget fiction entirely and go back and focus on the poetry thing.

And then today I woke with too much to do and a sore throat and headache and haven't been good for much, all certain that I'm coming down with some virus. Just when I'd been saying how great my health had been of course.

But enough of that. Had a busy week. They all seem busy. But somehow I read a lot, quietly. Made dinner for a friend we hadn't seen for a long time, and really enjoyed having him over. Had lunch with Tamar. Went to a play on Wednesday night with another friend I don't see enough of. The play was a little tedious but it was good to see her.

Still not sleeping well, but the black dog seems to have retreated well beyond my immediate vision. I am so grateful for that. And Sophia has been wonderfully friendly recently--lying beside me a lot, or behind me on the chair, and coming back to me with me after she's been scared off by whatever has scared her this time. It's really wonderful. I hope it lasts.

CamelliaA lone camellia blossom braves February and blooms on the bush in our yard.


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



Not much particular listening.

last week's listening § next week's listening



Sherryl Jordan's Secret Sacrament is a young adult fantasy novel, the story of a young healer torn between his own corrupt civilization and that of the original inhabitants of the land he lives in. He defies his family to become a healer, and then is chosen to learn a special kind of healing, in the Citadel above the city. This is an interesting fantasy, but the way it's told--so episodic--makes it a little hard to connect to. I've liked others of her novels better, though this one was more inventive than the others I've read. (See my last week's entry and my January 6, 2002 entry for comments on other books by this author.)

Diane Duane's A Wizard Alone is the most recent in her series of children's books about human wizards who have to keep the universe's entropy at bay. In this the two main protagonists are isolated as one has just lost her mother and is grieving, while the other is trying to find out what is happening with another young autistic wizard. This is an interesting series, and though this is perhaps not the best one in the series, it was an entertaining read and I wouldn't miss any in this series. Except for maybe the side stories about the wizard cats. (See my August 19, 2001 entry for comments about the previous book in the series.)

William Nicholson's Firesong is the third and final book in his children's fantasy series, Wind on Fire (see my February 11, 2001 and June 9, 2002 entries for comments on the previous volumes). This is one of those rare series where each book is better than the previous one. In this the whole band of survivors of the previous adventures are travelling to a new land prophesied by their dying prophet, the mother of the main characters. The route is hazardous, and along the way the people are growing and changing--particularly the two main children. I found this one quite captivating.

Jaclyn Moriorty's realistic young adult novel, feeling sorry for celia, is a romp and a delight. Told entirely through letters and notes, it has an energy that few such epistolatory novels do. It's partly through how the notes and letters reveal the personalities involved, and partly through their self-deprecating humour. In this Elizabeth is feeling confused because her father--who left her mother before she was born--is in town, and also because her best friend has disappeared again. She's not very involved in school but one teacher has assigned them to write letters to students of a nearby school, and Elizabeth finds herself with a pen pal (in addition to her mother, who often communicates with her with notes pinned on the fridge). Just delightful.

I also really enjoyed James A. Hetley's adult fantasy novel, The Summer People. this is the story of a woman who has closed herself off from men because of childhood abuse. One night's she walking home from work and an alarming man is following her. She ducks inside an alley and when he follows her there, she shoots him--but nothing happens, at least until someone else comes up behind him and beheads him. Through this Maureen discovers that she has a blood legacy to The Summer Country, and the denizens there want to use her for power and revenge. A well-told story with strong characters. I really enjoyed this.

Geoff Ryman's novella, V.A.O., is about a group of people in a rest home who find that other old people are subverting a security system (V.A.O., victim activated ordnance) one of them has created and is started a violent old age liberation front. This is affecting the way their living their lives (hacking, etc.) and the police start suspecting them because of their connections to it, so they decide to find out who's doing it. A fun and interesting near-future story, with utterly believable characters.

last week's reading § next week's reading



One of my stories came home yet again, dragging along a "but we'd like to see more from you" note. This seems to be what this story catches, rather than publishing offers. But just in case, I've got it ready to send out again.

Also trying to get some poetry submissions out for the first time in a long, long while.

last week's writing § next week's writing


Retrospective: old journal

December 1987 - January 1988

1529. More than one way in // into the forest
December 6, 1987

Ambition: a poem that is as easy and true as a folk song.

Clouds dark as ocean, as fear
hang like a cathedral dome
above the forest. I can almost make out
the intricate, winding Celtic knots
of the storm inside them. I'm standing
on the rock knoll, above the waterfall of rock,
moss, and wild grasses that tumble down the hillside.
I'm waiting for the wind, and the first
thick fall of rain beads on my face, tears
down. Then the wind comes.
Familiar, angry stranger, I lean into it
wave after wave holds me than lets go,
disappears and calls the branches after it.
Like leashed dogs they keep trying to go.
An eddy of rain spins around me,
twigs hit then stick to my skin. Each gust
of the storm is precious to me. Its wild dance
I dance into, dangerous stranger,
strong unknowable so loveable one, its arms
everywhere, nowhere, the one man unpreventable
alive with cause, alive despite us, to spite us,
to remind us the world is not ours,
this dark, cold, and dancing man
I would take as a lover, takes me. [1]

1530. Nightblind at the window
January 24, 1988

This is my one chance to lose everything.
I slip out of bed on waking and the floor
numbs my feet. Outside the window
it is horribly dark. I can't see anything.
I can believe it is no longer there--the house
around me and all the shadows there are hidden
by the absence outside and my slowly waking mind.
I feel almost free. If I believe my eyes
I am in the most open place I will ever be
nothing surrounds me. I cannot hear
my husband breathing in the bed behind
me. I have only what I want to remember
and the space spreads out before me, I can
breathe my way farther across miles of this
place to a place just the same and no less open.
My limbs are light and naked and nothing
is ever the same The wind on my arms
smells of salt and hollow grass and of
never stopping. Any direction I am moving
is forward. My own breath turns to loam
and to laughter, growing at my feet and
placing me here, learning spread against
the cold plate of the window glass, offering
it all for the chance to be swallowed by
that sky out there, blacker than midnight,
black with neither moon nor star. [2]

1531. From O'Keeffe
January 25, 1988

"It was in the fall of 1915 that I first had the idea that what I had been taught was a little value to me except for the use of my materials as a language...But what to say with them...I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me...so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't occurred to me to put them down. I decided to start anew--to strip away what I had been taught--to accept as true my own thinking. I began with charcoal and paper and decided not to use any color until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white. I believe it was June before I needed blue" [3].
     "So I said to myself--I'll paint what I see--what the flower is to me but I'll paint it big...I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower--and I don't" [4].
     "I find that I have painted my life--things happening in my life--without knowing."
     "I...have picked up sea shells and rocks and pieces of wood...I have used these things to say what is to me the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it."
     The unexplainable thing in nature that makes me feel the world is big far beyond my understand--to understand maybe by trying to put it into form. To find the feeling of infinity on the horizon line or just over the next hill."
     "The black rocks from the road to the Glen Canyon dam seem to have become a symbol to me--of the wideness another of the sky and the world. They have lain there for a long time with the sun and wind and the blowing sand making them into something that is precious to the eye and hand--to find with excitement, to treasure and love."


1. This became the fifth section of "Out of Speech Out of Silence," which appears in Spells for Clear Vision.

2. This became the third section of "Out of Speech Out of Silence."

3. I just trimmed this drastically from the fuller quote I copied in my journal to get to the kernel of it. Reading this helped wake me up. Her ideas about getting away from the learned--and from what other people said was the thing to do--were particularly resonant for me then. And actually for me again now.

4. When you are told what you mean....

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