In which I muse and try to draw:

It’s about time I get back to this blog.  Only three years later!

So, I don’t write nearly as much as I used to.  During my last semester at Edinboro, I remember my two favorite and most-respected professors cautioning me that the writing life changes a bit, post-graduation.  When asked to elaborate, one shook his head, smiling, and insisted it gets harder, and can even cease to exist for a few months.  The other professor recounted his career change which took him away from writing for roughly four years until he decided to pursue a PhD in some sort of literature.  I remember thinking this wouldn’t happen to me.  I mean, writing was my life, right?  It was really all I did and was passionate about, save for a couple hobbies. It could never happen to me.  

It did escape me.  Off-and-on for about 2.5 years.  I would have the occasional writing burst, where I would pump out an essay or jot down some wild addition for a fictional universe, but this was all a far cry from the sort of volume I produced back at university.  

I’m not sure if I’ll ever get back to that point.  I’m not sure I want to.  Sure I wrote more, but the content of which was lacking substance and laced with overblown prose; upon reading some old stuff, I am practically nauseated. This is what I thought good writing was?  And I can’t stand that kind of writing anymore.  Something changed my ideas of good writing.  Maybe it was an appreciation for brevity?  Maybe I found narrative-driven writing more appealing?  Or maybe the couple years away allowed me to be objective enough to see where my writing became thin and insubstantial?

It’s terrible, really: leaving behind what you worked four years on, only to come back have grown out of your own work.  There is one constant, though.  And it’s that although I might not write much or didn’t write at all, I still have this impression of myself as a writer.  I know I am a writer.  Because writing, to me, is no longer just about putting one word in front of the next.  It’s also about dreaming, using your imagination to explore ideas you’re interested in and then becoming passionate about that process.  And if not that, writing is about being a critical being–being observant, resistant to accepting the superficial, having the will to dig deeper and to learn more, about people and their thoughts.  Asking questions, asking the right questions.  Accepting nothing less than substance and resting only when you’ve learned.  And most importantly, for me, at this point in my writing career/artistic life, writing is about developing the courage to share your creations with those around you, even if you aren’t completely confident in them.  

Which brings me to this.

I want to try writing a graphic novel memoir.  I’ve had the best luck with my non fiction writing, so it makes sense.  I’m not very good at drawing, but I love doing it and want badly to become better.  And after reading David Small’s Stitches I’ve been inspired try.  The book’s artwork is many things, but simple is what I’m getting at.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously: not every line is accounted for; not shading something perfectly won’t make the scene silly; exaggeration and caricature is encouraged.  And it’s wildly famous and well-received.  If he did it, maybe I can.

So, here’s to trying new things, taking on the courage to display those things publicly, and being artistic again after so long. 

David Small - First Drawing

Shelter From The Rain

At a laundromat at 2 in the morning, taking shelter from the rain.  Perfect silence.  Except for the clock tick-tock and an occasional car passing along on wet asphalt.  Nobody is here.  Just an enormous daddy long leg in the corner of the bathroom ceiling.  And several other dead ones in its web.  Grand (dead) daddy long legs?  One orange yellow light filled with dead flies.  A dusty plunger, no toilet paper (shit!) A paper towel dispenser (thank God) with a corner of brown paper sticking out like a tongue.  Ruined, graffiti’d walls.  

 There are snack machines and tables.  Ever hungry, and all the restaurants are closed–go to the laundromat.  Ever poor and out of toilet paper–steal the laundromat’s.  Ever lonely and unsure of how to inject yourself into social situations–go to the laundromat.  Ever need to take a shit, but the walk home is too far–do so at the laundromat.

 You’ll likely find much of what I’ve already described, except the people in my case.  I didn’t find any of those.  It’s 2 in the morning.  You might also find lots of notes, taped above the doorknobs, light switches, heaters saying things like:

 DO NOT STAND IN FRONT OF OR BLOCK HEATER

 DO NOT PLACE CLOTHING NEAR HEATER

 DO NOT ALLOW SMALL CHILDREN NEAR HEATER

 DO NOT TOUCH HEATER OR CONTROLS

 This among other sparsely and plentifully placed signs either typed or hand-written in ALL CAPSThey are interesting, though, because their collective messages give me the sense that this person is very particular and strict and careful.  I mean, in one sign that is framed and typed, he wrote:

 FIND A STACK OF CUPS FOR YOUR CHANGE TO YOUR LEFT

 And, sure enough, to my left, there was a stack of plastic cups with stickers that branded them as COIN CUPS.  He never intended to move the framed note or the cup depository.  And, despite the note missing a couple letters here and there (just like several of the other notes) I can see this man–Steve Alan, says the framed note, later on–is quite critical of detail.  He owns a cleaning facility, I suppose.

 There’s an ancient television hanging from a dark corner of the laundromat.  It has knobs and is branded by the word Zenith.  You know a television is old when it has knobs instead of buttons.  It’s screen is gray–not black–and I can see its pixels from my little plastic chair.  There are cobwebs and dust motes and bugs tangled around the knobs and I truly doubt that the thing even works.  A note, taped under the knobs says:

 DO NOT CHANGE CHANNELS – TV GETS ONLY ONE CHANNEL – CONTROLLED FROM OFFICE

Televisions, at one point, only ‘got’ one channel?  But the channel knob inscribed with numbers into the double digits says otherwise.  And, as I look around, I see three doors: one which I entered through, the bathroom door, and an emergency exit which is big gray and dented.  An office, I wonder.  

 There are strange copper wires twisted together with thick white and black wires in the back of the Zenith, and I’m not sure what they do.  I’ve never seen such wires on a TV, but apparently Steve Alan knows what he’s doing.

 The walls are cement and well-painted.  One wall is wallpapered baby blue with tan squares.  Most of the washers have notes on them saying they are broken, not to have children touch the, to use another washer known as the Maytag, which I later discovered is a washer that is, too

 OUT OF ORDER

 There are modern cameras, several of them, fixed to the ceiling–little black eyes.  I wonder what the viewer of these cameras’ recordings will think when he sees me walking around the place in my black hoodie, hands behind my back carrying a small black notepad, not touching anything, but leaning close to study the place.  He’ll see–Steve Alan, that is–me writing and wonder what I’m writing.  Maybe he’ll wonder–maybe he won’t.  Maybe he’ll wonder, most paranoid, what I was doing–what I was stealing or breaking–when none of the cameras could see me.  Maybe he’ll wonder as much about me–this nameless figure in black, stalking his facility–as I wonder about him, Steve Alan, this careful, particular, detail-oriented man who owns a laundromat in Edinboro, Pennsylvania and occasionally omits letters in his notes.  

 Somehow, I don’t think this place would have the same effect on me in the daylight as it does, now at 3 in the morning, when I should be a half-mile away, sleeping.  In the dead of night, with all the absence and stillness and silence, only the tick-tock of the wall clock of this perhaps-70s-erected laundromat and Steve Alan’s life story in teacherly notes around the place, this place is comforting to me for reasons I’m not yet clear on.  There’s memory here.  I can feel it in this dusty, dryer-sheet air–lots and lots of memory and happenings.  

 I’m like a fly on the wall, watching what may or may not have been over time, imprinting myself here only as much as the fly leaves–it’s six footprints smaller than needle heads.

 There’s lots of memory here, and it charges me like the dead are quickened by the night.  And during the day, this place would not exist to me in this way.

 But look, it’s stopped raining.

Time

Sometimes, I push myself back in my rolly chair, away from my notepad, and I look at the time.  I realize that I’ve been sitting here for hours, and all I have to show for it is a few messy paragraphs on a white sheet of paper.  It’s times like these when I ask myself what am I doing? Shouldn’t I be out doing something?

So I sit there for a while longer, waiting for me to answer my own question.  It eventually comes, with a smile, with me scooting my rolly chair back to my notepad, and with me continuing to happily write, realizing that I have been sitting here for hours, intimately acquainting myself with just a few words in a way that you really can’t with a human.

This week:

I wrote an 11 page book review, a 6 page explication of a 44-word poem, a sonnet, a sestina, and a free-verse poem.  I read four short stories, took three quizzes (all of which received 100%), set up four programs, attended three meetings, ran out of food on Thursday, curbed the hunger with coffee Thursday, watched two movies, got a haircut, went out to eat twice, took two walks, worked out three times, cleaned the laundry, dishes, room–and I’m probably forgetting a couple things.  Week. From. Hell.

Now that it’s all done, I’m going to get on a poem I’ve been working on for a month or so.  Time to crack open a new legal pad after blowing through two in less than a month.

First Print Publication!

A few months ago, I submitted three pieces of writing to various magazines–in total, something like 25 submissions.  That’s 25 possibilities for publication.  Since that day, I’ve been getting a steady flow of rejection letters in the mail–all of which, except one, having been a generic letter that each rejected author receives.  The exception was a very encouraging from “Slice Magazine” who said something like:

 

“Your writing is lovely and you have talent, but this piece isn’t for us.  Please send more work!”

 

That felt wonderful.  But the dozen or so rejections since that point sort of dulled that feeling until it felt like I couldn’t even smile thinking about the pieces I’d sent.  

 

I’m not exaggerating: after being told you’re “not good enough” each day, however subtle or formal, it begins to stack, quite literally.  It starts with just a little slip of paper, then eventually becomes a leaning stack of envelopes and form rejections: a collabortive manuscript from all the editors you’d sent work to, telling you that you’re writing is not good enough.  It got to the point where I began ignoring the fact that I was to be getting mail, and I just stopped showing up to pick up the inevitable rejections.  That is, until one letter found its way into my email.  It said “yes.”

 

Of all the journals brandishing some sort of mascot, the one whose mascot was a bird–fittingly enough; I love birds–is publishing me!  Black Warriors and Glimmering Trains and fancy Rivers and Lanterns and the sort all said no.  But “Kestrel,” the little falcon is interested in my piece!  Their letter was even more encouraging.

 

Truly, after that one–just that one little acceptance, I feel empowered again to try sending out more material.  And, really–if I remember right, which I probably don’t–Stephen King had something interesting to say about his rejection/acceptance-letter process.  He said something like, he got so many rejection letters that their collective weight between the wall and the pin skewering them was too great that they began falling onto the floor.  Then, he replaced the pin with a nail, hammering them into the wall.  Somewhere around there, he got an acceptance letter.  Me, it’s only been maybe 10 or so such letters.  Maybe I shouldn’t have bitched at all.  

 

Here’s the letter, in full, with personal contact information edited out:

 

Dear Brandon,

 

We are pleased to accept your essay, “The Death of the Fly–After Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Death of the Moth'” for publication in Kestrel. We particularly appreciate the authority about flies in combination with lyrical prose and lovely imagery.

 

Please confirm that the piece is still available and unpublished; if so, please send an electronic copy of the essay along with a brief biographical note.

 

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Best,

Kestrel Editors

 

kestrel@fairmontstate.edu

Wind Worm

I went to a writing festival last weekend, at Penn State Behrend.  It was a decent time, the highlights being listening to Scott Russell Sanders read his essays and give us seemingly endless information on the natural world, meeting George Looney (one of my favorite poets), and getting the chance to walk around at Presque Isle with a bunch of other writers, notebooks in-hand.

We were prompted to spread out individually around the beaches, taking with us our notepads and pens and such, and to observe something ‘small’ and in ‘nature’ for a while.  Then, we would write about it, and reconvene later to talk about the experience.  Sadly, although the writing was nice, it existed only for the individual writer.  I wanted to share what I’d written, and I wanted to hear others’ writings, too.  A little pointless.  So, here’s what I came up with in a few minutes, sitting in a weedy sand dune behind a few trees which blocked some of the wind:

Wind Worm

I’m supposed to write about something small first, for 10–

It looked like a bit of grass stuck between the folds of my pants.  I’d just sat down in the roiling wind–a 65 degree day on the beach, post rain and black-cadillac clouds, which at such a location felt more like 55 degrees–and not a minute later, the little bit of grass appeared on my knee.  Then, it moved–not from the wind, not from gravity, but from its own locomotion.

It’s small, so I’m writing about it.  It is in nature, so I’m writing about it.  It is a caterpillar, maybe an inch long and a stretch of yellow and green and brown along its length, though you wouldn’t notice the individual colors unless you looked at it up close.  The moment I did so, it stopped on my knee and it hasn’t moved since; it’s still suctioned to my knee as I sit cross-legged in the tall weeds and in the sand and against the wind.

I can’t see his eyes–if it’s a he at all, or if it has eyes.  Caterpillars have eyes, right?  Surely they do, but this one doesn’t, unless they are underneath its little sliver of a body.

Gender aside, eyes or not aside, I like him and almost feel I’ve bonded with him as his at-least-20-suction-cup legs stick to my knee.  But–oh no!

Now, he’s flailing in the wind–gripping my denim knee with his back end and whipping the rest of his body around in the wind.  A moment ago, he was serene and still–leaching the warmth from my leg; now he’s seemingly angry or terrified or excited of some sort, reaching from leaf to stick to sand in the power of the wind.  But, ah, maybe it’s not anger, but the way he navigates!  No eyes, afterall.  The gulls and buzzards, in the strong beach winds, spread their wings into the wind and let it take them, beveling their bodies slightly to keep near land.  They know their little wings are sails in the wind, and they couldn’t choose their destination, couldn’t fight the wind if they tried.  They accept the path the wind chooses for them.  Maybe this caterpillar is the same–the no-eyed wind worm who, like seeds and spores, transport themselves, propagate themselves by the power of the wind.

And as quickly as he deposited himself upon my leg, he’s gone–somewhere in the sand and the sticks.