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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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Golden Ages

It’s when you’re getting ready for work that you realize
a golden age has passed.You’re scraping lather
and whiskers off your face when suddenly you feel
his absence, your new normal,
but unlike every other moment of the past three months
you understand how much time you’ve wasted
in your whole fleeting life hoping for more,
just like the cliché running diligently through so many songs
and sitcoms and movies and books, a truth familiar to most of us
but with the corners rounded off, because the songs and sitcoms
and movies and books haven’t prepared you for the impact of this truth
that smacks you upside your head. The not-rounded-off metaphor rips into
your forehead and takes a little flesh with it. For all your effort
not to draw blood this morning, it’s happening anyway.

You’re left feeling vulnerable. Isn’t this similar to how sharks
wear down their prey? Take a little skin? Goad a little blood?
Leave us thinking it’s easier to give up than to struggle? The truth
comes back for your gut as you’re reaching for a tissue and a reason to live.
You stand and bleed and breathe, and if you’re lucky, you cry,
surprisingly not drained of tears after months of depletion. You float
in the moment, lather drying on your half-shaven face, no blood
or sharks, not even enough water in the sink to drown although,
if you really want to, you could open the faucet wide.

Finish shaving, brush teeth,
apply deodorant. You’re all dry and combed,
door open, coat dangling from your arm,
a minute from your morning commute when the truth comes back,
now a toothless shark like a child’s puppet that wants you to know
it doesn’t mean to scare you: There are more golden ages to come.
They’ll keep coming and they’ll pass you by
whether or not you believe in them.

MyNaPoWriMo Is Over

As other writers spent November 30 fulfilling their NaNoWriMo obligations of 50,000 words, I have just fulfilled my promise to write a poem a day in November, a.k.a. MyNaPoWriMo. For those keeping score, my friend Devi (whose idea this was in the first place) successfully completed her 30 poems, too. You can read them at Book Writing World.

I planned to write my daily poems rather quickly and continue revising my novel, but I found myself focusing on poetry writing. It was kind of like going back twenty years. Before I wrote anything else, I wrote poetry but have gotten away from it the past few years. I won’t let that happen again.

Here are some of my takeaways:

  • I need the breaks from writing prose, and especially from writing/revising a long project.
  • Cranking out a poem a day allowed me to explore other ideas. Creating a (solid draft of a) product by the end of every day helped me understand how I become inspired. I just need a small bit of something, but that something has got to spark or else I can’t sustain even a short writing and revision process.
  • I enjoyed the openendedness of the process, allowing exploration of form as well as content. I could literally see the shape of each poem. Although that’s harder to do with a novel of a few hundred pages, I need to imagine the structure graphically or as a visual metaphor, not just in terms of an outline or other textual system. But I concerned myself with what shape worked best for the poem rather than what some supposed expert would give me permission to do, as I should do with every project no matter the size.
  • Playing with words is why I like to write and revise. With a novel, the wordplay begins to feel like a job. With a new poem each day for a month, the process is more art-for-art’s-sake. I recognize that when I’m revising to the best of my ability, I’m drawing on my skills as a poet.

MyNaPoWriMo was definitely not a vacation from writing-as-work. Many days I felt a great deal of pressure to produce when I just didn’t feel like, and I had to push myself pretty. But because my poems could be as long as they needed to be, I could devote myself to producing something well done instead of churning out a minimum number of lines or words. And that freedom allowed me to find something enjoyable about writing every day.

A real writer writes every day, but if s/he enjoys doing it, that’s even better. Tomorrow, I’m back to work revising my novel, hopefully bringing some renewed joy to that process.

Alert

Cushioned benches, spaced
to keep sight lines open. Few
chances to neglect baggage or
walk away from responsibilities.
So much white light
to embolden noon glare
and temper comforts.

It has to be this way;
my fellow passengers and I agree.
We avoid eye contact and discussion,
but we’re on the same page:
It’s necessary to be careful.
Despite light-and-airy distractions,
we know what’s going on here,
which makes us glad that nothing goes on.
We wait to go. We thumb through magazines.
We mock pop singers
but stop short of joking about
acts of violence, realizing that’s how
we usually deal with tension outside of secured areas.

Who among these strangers
would dare betray me?

* Continue reading

Practical Grief

After news of death,
prayers, rationalizations
flood inboxes and Facebook walls
from ghouls ready to bleed virtual grief
before numbness has given way
to the tingling pain that must fill you–
a true deluge: plastic as air, heavy
as grease. The pain fades to some dull
awareness that you’ve been occupied. You must
find places to stow it in your body before trudging on.

Even if you’ve felt this burden before
you must feel it again each time
news like that comes while fending off
unsolicited testimony that she’s
no longer in pain
and in a
better place now
. You think
you know how it will feel,
and you want to believe
the ghouls, so numb
with belief and so
busy typing they
have the luxury
of not feeling.

But you know
when you look at her face
that she only looks
like she’s sleeping
. No one is
there anymore. You find
your way to a chair, sway
as you sit, feel the pain collect
into a sebaceous lump
and lodge itself
where it will slow you down but
not throw you off balance
as long as you remember
it’s there.

A Gregarious Introvert’s Guide to Writing

As a tween and early teen, I spent a lot of time alone. Everyone in the family was busy but me, and I got sick of joining them. There were no structured activities that interested me, certainly not sports. In early elementary school, I had tried gymnastics and was the only boy in the class. Once the girls started on the uneven bars, they more or less kicked me out, probably afraid I’d end up odd. (Resisting the obvious follow-up to that.) They didn’t understand that I wanted to give it a try anyway, nor did they care.

I would have gotten into theatre if there had been a program, but there wasn’t. So once I was old enough to stay by myself, I stayed at home most every evening of the week, arriving at my house by bus after school and hanging out until my parents and sister came home, usually 9 p.m. or after. During all that tween time, I did homework, mastered the preparation of boxed macaroni and cheese, discovered the fleeting distraction of masturbation, and organized my life around the prime-time TV schedule. The TV had to be on and blaring. When my hands weren’t otherwise occupied, I wrote in my journal a lot, mostly about how lonely I felt, how I felt I was being punished for something I didn’t understand, sometimes creating abstractions that I wanted so badly to be arty. When my family came home, I didn’t know what to say to them, so I usually grabbed my journal and went to my room. It was about time to go to bed anyway.

In high school, I got into visual art, which was a relatively social experience compared to my experiences with writing. I got to study at the Kansas City Art Institute for three semesters in their high school program and spent a lot of time around black t-shirt-wearing, Cure-adoring teens. Besides being artists, we also had in common that we revised our own clothing with paint and graffiti. Whereas they went for morose colors and patterns, my hacked-up sweatshirts looked like they’d been distressed at a Skittles factory. My arty acquaintances were as kind as they could allow themselves to be without losing their status as non-conformists. They liked my artwork, though, and that was the point.

Socially, it wasn’t much different than being in school. When we weren’t elbow-deep in our art, we stood outside, where they smoked and I coughed. In The Breakfast Club terms, we were overstocked on Ally Sheedies and Judd Nelsons. Meanwhile, I was Anthony Michael Hall’s dorkier younger brother who wasn’t cool enough to get detention but who sneaked in anyway. I waited for something to happen that would make them want to be friends with me, because trying and failing would have devastated me. All of this went into my journal, where I attempted the textual version of the cool, nonconformist thing, albeit while listening to Duran Duran.

Near the end of high school and a few years after, I did theatre. I was constantly around people and usually the backstage dramas didn’t interfere with the feeling of family that develops when a group of people spends a ridiculous number of hours creating what we hoped were works of art. If the audiences and critics hated a show, that was almost better, because then the group could rally around itself, with plenty of self-deprecation and martyrdom to go around. The experience made for war stories our little ad hoc family would share for years. I loved that I was never alone, that I had the luxury of so much time with people that I got sick of some of them, and I even enjoyed the discomfort of missing them when a production ended.

But even then I was writing, and much more compulsively. Even though I was rarely alone, I felt lonely. Filled with angsty ideas, I had to get them out of me. Continue reading

Blood and Rainbows

I feel tentative about reading other writers’ blogs because when their writing is really strong, I get a little depressed. It’s sort of the “wish-I’d-written-that” syndrome, but not necessarily that simple. Reading good writing makes me feel and think with such intensity that I have to stop reading for a while.

There’s something inspiring about that kind of experience. Case in point: I read “Blood Poem” by Lee Houck on his blog Grammar Piano, and for a minute or two wondered why I should bother to write a poem ever again.

Then the feeling transformed. I felt determined to begin writing a poem as quickly as possible. Level of quality didn’t matter. I just had to get back on the horse. Continue reading

Spires

They stuffed their pockets
with divined words,
then, full as ticks,
took to the skies in search
of the Spires that caged
so many piggies, piggies
who rolled in their own
shit before eating it.

They ached to rip through
steel and glass and asbestos, to feel
all of it under their fingernails,
for the taste of blood.
They weren’t prepared to seep
into the rubble, the very stew they made,
while so many piggies
rose like ghosts, like
patient ghosts.

19 September 2001

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