At 7 billion voices and counting, Spaceship Earth is a noisy place. How can we possibly all hear and be heard above the din? Are we listening?
Mid-winter I enjoy reviewing my previous year and setting goals for the months ahead. Here’s a peek at what I’m up to, plus juicy links for you to sample:
Culture, Food & South Seattle Neighborhoods
My favorite projects of 2011 include writing for South Seattle neighborhoods like White Center and South Park. The best perks of these projects are a) eating good food on my lunch breaks, b) working with awesome people, and c) meeting Seattle merchants and hearing their stories. I use what I learn from each merchant interview to write business profiles, feature articles, and other collateral. Content I write is used for print and web promotions offered throughout the neighborhood and the greater Seattle area.
In White Center I help grocers spread the word about fresh, healthy food available within walking distance. With more than 30,000 residents speaking 50+ languages, White Center boasts many delicious globally-inspired local eats, as well as specialty grocery markets where folks can find ingredients for Southeast Asian, East African, Indian, Latin American, and Eastern European cuisines. (Learn more about activities in White Center neighborhood at the White Center Community Development Association.)
Just a few minutes’ ride from White Center is South Park, an old Seattle neighborhood with a uniquely urban-industrial heritage. Our goal with Catch the Culture is to attract customers to the 30+ retail stores and restaurants along 14th and Cloverdale. These businesses are feeling the squeeze from the closure of the South Park Bridge in 2010, which typically brings some 20,000 vehicles of customers per day to the neighborhood. South Park is a square-mile oasis of nearly 4,000 residents with a school, a farm, community centers, family homes, hundreds of unique businesses, and a pretty stretch of shoreline along Seattle City’s only river, the formidable Duwamish River (we’ll get back to the Duwamish another day – there’s more to say about this river than one paragraph will allow).
PS – That fabulous South Park logo (as well as the Brainripples logo) are the work of graphic designer Kathi “george” Wheeler at Noise w/o Sound. Whether you need design work for print, web, signage, whatever, george is the genius you want. Unless you want something boring and plain–in that case you’re looking for someone else.
Stories, Poetry & Midnight Madness
Whenever I get busy, I write poetry. A work-weary brain can be conducive to the weaving (and mis-weaving) of words. Each year I like to use January through March to mine poems from the previous year’s journals, and select usable pieces for revision and submission. I think I have about eight candidates worth looking at this month.
I may have forgotten to share here that my poem “Shore” won the Spring 2011 poetry contest for issue 3 of Line Zero (“Springtide” also appears in this issue). I’m grateful for the publication in a new indie arts journal, and I’m even more grateful to have discovered the Line Zero community. As my writer friend James Buescher used to remind me, I’m “not a joiner.” But joiner or no, I feel like I’m in good company in the Line Zero pages.
Last summer I made time (read: skipped sleep) to participate in another Clarity of Night Short Fiction Contest hosted by Jason Evans (which, by the way, is a lot of fun for writers at every level). I’ve since taken my flash piece Solarrivum and rewritten it as a complete short story, which is now in its final stages of editing and actually kinda pleases me (which in turn makes me suspicious that it still needs drastic work). Soon I’ll begin the joy of submissions; I have my eye on a couple speculative fiction/slipstream journals. Speaking of which, feel free to join me sending good vibes for the speedy revival of GUD Magazine.
In January I started my latest fiction-in-progress, a story set in a Twilight-Zone-worthy cityscape. I have the basic structure and cast, and I’ve sketched the main character to get a sense for his needs. For this story I’d like to write a few cutthroat characters, so among my winter reading is Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet – an excellent choice I recommend to anyone seeking good examples of strong character voices.
Rot, Mud & Other Good Dirt
2011 left me with almost no time for garden and forest romping (as evidenced by a severe lack of blogging here at Brainripples). While I did get out into the wilderness for occasional recess, I didn’t even plant my cold frames last spring. That’s about to change. Greens, radishes, onions, and carrots are my usual pre-spring starters in the ground, and I’ll need to get a jump on corn and squash in the cold frames for transplanting to the hills once the warm weather returns in May/June. With any luck I will also find the time (and the necessary bandwidth) to blog from the garden in 2012.
Speaking of nature blogging, The Festival of the Trees has sprouted adventitious roots in the rich loam of the home blog. No longer a roving blog carnival, the Festival of the Trees accepts all tree, forest, and wood related submissions for consideration at treeblogging.com. Poet/Editor/Brainiac-at-Large Dave Bonta is diligently keeping the Festival alive, and he’s found some really cool stuff in recent weeks. Case in point: Goths up trees. Nuff said. (No, one more thing – if you want to see another cool project of Dave’s, check out Qarrtsiluni literary journal where he and Beth Adams are Managing Editors).
Which brings us to other good dirt. The compost pile I started moving in 2010 never made a complete relocation, but I did plenty of relocating to make up for it. After a busy 2010 I started 2011 renting the upstairs of a farmhouse in Hobart, where I stayed for six months to be closer to Seattle work. Making time to care for my health continues to be a priority, and I seem to be relearning how good health enables good writing (somehow the rhythm of writing hypnotizes and the mind can forget the needs of the body, like when I continue writing even though I had to pee some 90 minutes ago). It may seem as if an unwavering diet of persistence and sleep deprivation is a recipe for great writing, but to take that path the writer must gamble finished work against impending burnout, and these days I aim for finished work as often as possible (a habit I attribute to the sound recommendations of Seattle storyteller Anita Marie Moscoso). Finished work requires persistence and steady pacing, even if sleep deprivation is still on the docket.
Recently I read an older article in the Guardian about Philip Roth, yet another accomplished author of whose work I have not read enough. Among the best ideas I gathered from the article are Roth’s habits of writing while standing at a lectern (I’ve considered this for months now but have yet to try), and walking one-half mile for every page he writes. This winter I think I’ll count “bring in and stack the wood” in lieu of my half-mile, although if I apply that math retroactively to my current WIPs I’d have to say, there’s a lot of wood to bring in yet (especially if I want to get ahead of the next good snow storm).
Wanna help me shape my spring reading list? Share what’s good on your bookshelf this season, or tell me where I can read/view your latest work.
Here’s to a most excellent 2012 for all!
Editors: Colin Meldrum, Michael James Wilson, Amanda DiSanto, Micah Unice
The hardcopy of A cappella Zoo Issue 5 for today’s review was provided by the editors at A cappella Zoo.
Read selections from A cappella Zoo 5 here.
(And for more fun, read an interview with Editor Colin Meldrum by Jim Harrington at the Six Questions For… blog.)
If I had to describe a theme or a common thread for A cappella Zoo (AZ) issue 5, it would be this: voids, and that which fills them. AZ5 reads like a volume of the Never-Never Encyclopedia of the Esoteric: pages of places both peopled and unpeopled, people without places, people displaced. The contributors for this issue ponder voids of unknown, and speculate on the voices heard within. The result is a collection of literature which ultimately places the sketchbook and pencils in my hand this week – these works are adequately vivid and tangible to fuel your own creative engine through those long, dark nights.
The curtain opens with Showtime by Nancy Gold, winner of the Apospecimen Award for Fiction. Gold’s piece sets the tone for subsequent selections by deftly weaving emotion and imagination with a spindle of belief – the belief that we can be more than the sum of our parts; that our hearts are vessels meant to be filled. This is the first of many pieces which playfully create images that are both impossible and perfectly conceivable. (Read Showtime and just try not to look at your ankles and ponder a few tiny wings about their knobbly bones.)
I never read journals front to back, which is why I next bounce forward to Movie Man by Melissa Ross, telling of “a boy born in the projection booth of a tower in the sky away from the Earth as we know it;” first we are cast into the sky, and next drawn into the intimacy of Earth’s shadows.
In Borges’ Bookstore by David Misialowski smacks of one of my favorite Burgess Meredith Twilight Zones: “Time Enough at Last” (see also Jorge Luis Borges). This maze, void of reason and physical law, wraps upon itself into a complete, neat package. Speaking of neat packages, poetry lovers might like to begin with : sign language : by Joseph A. W. Quintela (whose work I seem to find everywhere these days). The unique composition of this poem is a perfect complement to austere images of solitude, plains, and big, wide sky, cleft open by shared experience.
This completeness is a quality I appreciate throughout AZ5: stories which, while wildly catalyzed, still anchor themselves in some clearly-formed thought. No matter how outrageous our surroundings, each author still affords us a compass with which to navigate the realm. Pestilence by Jason Jordan is such an excellent example: a form of tethered madness.
Many of the AZ5 contributors counterbalance the darker shades of humanity with artful prose and poetry, or a bit of wicked humor. Perhaps the most disturbing yet effective piece is The Crushing by Phillip Neel, which I may have otherwise stopped reading because of the nastiness of the descriptions, had it not been for the clever and poignant entrance to this particular void: that dirty of dirties, the DMV. I’m glad I kept reading – the payoff of this piece is what ranks it among my favorites for this issue.
Similarly The Snake Charmer’s Teeth by Mike Meginnis still haunts me weeks after reading, wherein a cruel story is sculpted with both elegance and requisite gentleness. What the Calf Daughter Knows by Rob Cook is both brutal and beautiful. This persistent poem stands out bone white against the void: completely unignorable.
It’s tough to pick a favorite, especially when I find a journal like A cappella Zoo which is good enough to reread many times. However, the sentimentalist (or perhaps the Japanese lit lover) in me found the deepest connection in A Tale of a Snowy Night by Naoko Awa, translated by Toshiya Kamei. In this story, space is not a function of distance or time, but of empathy. Naoko grounds us in crisp imagery which is as familiar as it is fantastical. Aren’t we all, in some small way, a crate of hopeful apples?
Einstein Plays Guitar by Tania Hershman is also a rewarding read: a well-developed snapshot of those graceful and fleeting whispers of true knowledge. Birds Every Child Should Know by Kate Riedel is another of my favorites from AZ5. I wasn’t sure what to think of it at first; but the more I read Birds, the more I feel the weight of each angelic, warmly feathered lump. In this piece we glimpse the unknown aflutter with spirit, the glittering moments we share with others that spark us on an entirely new path.
Thank you, Theodore Carter, for the tears I cried upon reading the final lines of The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob. With much of speculative fiction favoring the apocalyptic, it’s always helpful to recall with specificity that which we might lose in the aftermath.
If you wish to truly be suspended in the void, begin your journey through AZ5 with Sleepmaps by Barry Napier tucked firmly in your back pocket. Personally, I love dream-inspired art; this poem spares no effort in reaching for the most tangible sensations of the dreaming world, such that I too “never want to wake.”
I want to thank the editors of A cappella Zoo for preparing such an effective cross-section of mind-opening literature for issue 5. Each piece is clearly selected for its creation of both precipice and foothold. What I like most about reading specfic – especially GOOD specfic – is that constant feeling of discovery in each page. I love experiments in literature which keep me guessing and thinking and unraveling, and that’s exactly what you’ll find in A cappella Zoo: a bit of the unknown, made knowable.