I went to Iceland in April (I hope to write more about that soon) and increased my government work in May, but I am still a hardworking dog when it comes to freelance writing. Here is what I’ve written since the last one of these posts. Continue reading
In English we say “busy as a bee,” but in Japanese the industrious insect is the dragonfly. Whatever simile you want to use, I’ve been a working bug – as evidenced by the fact that I haven’t posted to published work since April! As the list that follows will demonstrate, that’s not because I haven’t been writing, it’s because I’ve been too busy writing to write about it. There’s a lot of work here that I’m proud of – and I’m proud of how much work there is here. I hope you find something you like.
Since I started hanging out with writers, I’ve discovered that I don’t read the Right Sort of Books. Even though I read all the time, and don’t spend too much time in the genre ghettos, I never seem to have read the authors that everyone is buzzing about, or the ones that get included in MFA curricula, or the ones that authors cite as influences in interviews, or any of the books in those online “how well-read are you” quizzes. Sometimes I’m left wondering, “Well, what have I read?”
Once I took an online quiz about modern Japanese authors, and got a whopping six out of ten – a record for me in online book quizzes. I mentioned it to another writer friend, “I guess what I have been reading is modern Japanese fiction,” I said with some relief (after all, what an impressive niche, right?)
“Ooh,” she responded excitedly, “What did you think about the new Ishiguro?”
“I haven’t read it.” Continue reading
I managed to keep up a deluge of freelance output in April despite a big deadline at my county gig. If you’re interested in what I wrote last month, grab an umbrella and prepare for the wordfall. Continue reading
I really like the Brain Pickings newsletter that shows up in my inbox every Sunday. I like the way you can’t just skim it but have to settle in for a slow Sunday long-read. I love the fact that it’s never about what’s happening, but always about what people – interesting, intelligent people – think, and how their thoughts connect with the thoughts of other interesting, intelligent people. And usually I like that there is often the underlying assumption that you, the reader, are also an interesting, intelligent person, a creative person. Probably a writer.
I don’t always have time to settle in for that slow Sunday read. I certainly didn’t this week, but I had been working – writing – all day and needed a break from the pressure of deadlines. So I started to read this essay,
James Baldwin on the Artist’s Struggle for Integrity and How It Illuminates the Universal Experience of What It Means to Be Human (See what I mean? Even the titles are wonderfully ponderous.)
At first I enjoyed it. I even tweeted out a particularly toothsome quote. But further in, I started to be uncomfortable. Right about here (almost at the end, just like my five-year-old daughter wailing to leave the theater during the scary final fight with the snow leopard in Kung Fu Panda literally seconds before the scene got funny again) right about here, the weight of the artist’s struggle became too much for me.
Most people live in almost total darkness… people, millions of people whom you will never see, who don’t know you, never will know you, people who may try to kill you in the morning, live in a darkness which —if you have that funny terrible thing which every artist can recognize and no artist can define — you are responsible to those people to lighten, and it does not matter what happens to you. You are being used in the way a crab is useful, the way sand certainly has some function. It is impersonal. This force which you didn’t ask for, and this destiny which you must accept, is also your responsibility.
I am a writer. I take my work seriously and I believe it to be creative work. But “that funny terrible thing”? I don’t think I have it. I don’t think I have light to shine on the almost total darkness in which most of mankind lives. I don’t think that I understand better than anyone else “what it is like for anyone who gets to this planet to survive it. What it is like to die, or to have somebody die; what it is like to be glad.”
I think that I have a degree of facility with words that many people lack. When I get out of my own way, I string words together effectively, sometimes rather prettily. Most of the time, I make it easier for people to grasp information because I have ordered my words well.
I don’t think that I am even better than a great many other word stringers. Maybe in the pool of workers with words, there are a great many who do have that funny terrible thing that Baldwin describes (in fact I’m sure of it and I read their work with an awe that can only be held by one who knows exactly how hard it is to do what they accomplish). It’s simply that I am better at stringing words than I am at most other things. So that is where I continue to put my energy. I may not have the function of a crab, or sand, but my work serves some less weighty purpose. It deserves a room of its own and I will call it art, with or without that funny terrible thing.
But then I read something like Ursula K. Le Guin on Being a Man: a journey where the semicolon meets the soul. I’m not sure about my soul; but I love a good semicolon; I even love a half-assed one. Editors are always turning my semicolons into commas. So I read an essay like that, and I feel like a little light switches on in my almost total darkness, and I desperately want whatever that funny terrible thing is.
In March, most of my work involved endless revisions of technical documentation only a solid waste engineer could love. It’s good money and flexes writing muscles I don’t often use anymore, but I don’t think most of you are solid waste engineers, so I’m not going to share any of that here. But as I reviewed my work flow spreadsheets and invoices for the month of March, I was pleased to see that my output of charming web-based articles continued apace, and was reminded that I got to write about some pretty interesting stuff. Continue reading
— Hugo House (@HugoHouse) March 11, 2016
Leaving the house always takes a bit of courage. It’s so much easier to stay home and read a book. But on this night I didn’t hesitate, because I had a ticket to Susan Orlean’s Writerly Autopsy at Hugo House. Continue reading