Saturday, January 31, 2009

don't forget

Have been a bit late in mentioning this, but Clarion is open for applications. If you want to spend an insane, ridiculously intense and wonderful, six weeks writing stories and learning how stories work in the company of a small band of wild and magnificent fellow writers... well, you should apply.

My six weeks at Clarion did three rather extraordinary things for me, and they are as follows:

1. Introduced me to a group of people who I love and adore, who have brains that understand the strange turns imagination takes when presented with a shiny tidbit, and who are absurdly talented, driven, intelligent, and kind.

2. Introduced me to the inner workings of story: the levers and pulleys, the shapes and shadows, the paint and clockwork and bones, that hold a story up and make it walk around of its own accord. Before Clarion, I never seriously considered how a story worked. At Clarion, I read lots of stories several times through, looking desperately for things to say in critique (I was quite terrified the first day of critique. What if my turn came around and I had nothing to say?). At first things were hazy. I knew something wasn't working for me, but I couldn't articulate why. But reading things carefully, and hearing what other people say, and having certain things pointed out for you by six brilliant teachers, makes everything much clearer.

3. Made me want to tell stories. This is huge for me. I always liked stories. I made them up when I was little, wrote a few every now and then when I had spare time or vacation, but that was it really. I'd have ideas sometimes and think, oh that would make a nice story, I wish someone would write it so I could read it. Clarion smacked me in the head and said, WAKE UP, this is something you want to do, something that makes you happier for doing it, something that is worth falling in love with.

Clarion West is also open for applications. You have until the 1st of March. This is a long time. I did my application in four days (including the stories), so if you start now, you'll be well on your way to one that is far more brilliant and polished than mine! Good luck.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I have a bad habit of tearing bits out of magazines, and then either pinning them to my corkboard or leaving them in odd places.

Today, I have discovered:

1. A meticulous description of a bathroom, complete with cut-crystal bottles of unguents.
(torn out from a magazine that uses an oddly spaced serif font, found under the desk blotter)

2. "Bewitch, bewilder. Qualify to sing/Threadwise. Devise no salt, no hempen thing/For the dear instrument to bear."
(learned this is from "First Fight. Then Fiddle" by Gwendolyn Brooks. Pinned beneath a postcard from the Paris Natural History Museum)

3. The phrase: "skippering on a feather bed."
(no idea. Scribbled on a receipt for ice cream.)

4. A photograph of a tray of taxidermied canaries.
(tucked into a stack of letters from beloved friends.)

5. A list of different models of coffins that were available to colonial Americans.
(I've a suspicion that this is part of the material I've been collecting for a story about ghosts and funerals... Little wisps of things that prickle, but haven't gained momentum yet.)

6. A recipe for scones.
(abandoned in a tangle of ribbons and elastics that are meant for pointe shoes.)

Cleaning! It's like a treasure hunt!

Friday, January 23, 2009

touch the art of work

I have a postcard from the SFMOMA on my desk. It has, in gold ink on cream paper, odd combinations of the words PLEASE, DO, NOT, TOUCH, THE, WORK, OF, and ART. My favourites are:



I'm going to work on a story in a minute. It begins with a woman standing behind a man and telling him that he is making one of the ugliest pieces of art that she has ever seen.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

things I like about Minneapolis

1. Kat
How lucky am I to have a friend who is such a splendid collection of different kinds of wonderful? Generous, warm, loving, an excellent conversationalist, a fencer, a beauty, an exceptional brain... did I mention that she writes stories and makes delicious tea?

One day, we are going to write an epistolary novel. We don't know what it will be about yet, but I have no doubt that it will be fun.

2. Neil
Yet another lovely, lovely human being, with a deliciously odd turn of mind. And first-rate hugs. And, actually, all the things I said about Kat, except for the fencing bit and the someday epistolary novel.

3. cats and dogs
Almost every single picture that I took, for the whole five days that I was in Minneapolis, was of either a cat or a dog. Absolutely smitten (how could I help it when wee Siobhan curled up on the end of my bed and slept there for the whole night?).

4. Icicles
I love icicles. They are so alien and strange to my California eyes. They look like glass, or like Christmas decorations, and not like anything that belongs on the edge of a house that's not made of gingerbread.

5. Dreamhaven Books
I bought a copy of LCRW here, and that always makes me happy. Also, some books. I'd have bought more, but greed was tempered by laziness (I hate heavy suitcases).

6. Absurd cold
I don't think I'd want to live in it. But the sheer ridiculous scale of the cold there is kind of amazing. It's like an alien world, so when you go outside, you almost can't believe in it. It feels like a solid thing. It slams into you, and suddenly you're encased in it, and your whole world is just coldness that tries to freeze your lungs into tiny, brittle leaves.

I miss Minneapolis.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

and home again

Got back yesterday from a week in Chicago and Minneapolis, despite the best efforts of United Airlines. There were many bad things about the trip home, and by the time I reached lovely, familiar SFO with its display of pulp-era science fiction magazine covers and shiny robots, I was tired and very grumpy with travel that does not work.

On Friday afternoon, a cheerful automated voice called me to let me know that my flight out of Minneapolis was being cancelled, and wouldn't I be pleased to know that they had already booked me on a new flight that left several hours later and connected in Denver.


On Friday evening, a cheerful flight attendant announced that the flight to Denver was delayed due to mechanical problems. "But you'll be able to make your connections," she reassured us. "You'll just have to walk briskly." (notice the lack of reassurance on actual mechanical issues, ah well.)

On Friday night, after sitting on the runway for an exceedingly long time, the plane finally left Minneapolis and arrived (in one piece) at Denver ten minutes after my connecting flight had departed. An entire plane of grumpy people with missed connections (hardly anybody seemed to actually be staying in Denver) massed in front of the United customer service counter where they handed out hotel vouchers and new itineraries.

At midnight, we crammed into a hotel shuttle. Some people sat on the floor, squished together like well-packed sardines. I'm sure this is some sort of safety or traffic violation. There were definitely no seatbelts involved. The driver seemed to be exceedingly fond of the country music station, set on a volume high enough to shiver the window panes.

At least the hotel had an excellent shower. Lovely miniature soaps that smelled like limes and tropical cocktails.

At four o'clock in the morning, I got back on the country music shuttle and went to the airport, where there was a very foul cup of tea. But I read an issue of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (picked up at Dreamhaven) on the plane, and watched an episode of Chuck, and had an idea for a story that involves telephones at airports, and when I landed in San Francisco, I was too tired to feel anything except vaguely astonished.

The parts in between the transportation were good though, particularly the bits in Minneapolis. I might write some more about the lovely Kat, handsome Sam, the four misstresses of catliness, and gallant Cabal, but for now I'll just share a picture of wee Siobhan. She is a cat and so probably knew that travel would be pointless.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

a very strange experience

Is what I think watching yourself dance on video is. No matter how fantastic something feels while you're doing it, on the flat, glowing screen it always looks less: less interesting, less beautiful, less weighty, less personable. And sometimes, when something feels really, really, incredibly dreadful, you can't even remember why when you watch it later.

A manila envelope showed up in the mailbox yesterday with a dvd of a project I did the summer before last. It was a difficult project. The concept was interesting: a composer took phrases created by a choreographer and arranged them. He composed the dance and the music, and made a video projection to accompany both. It was an incredible exercise in structure. However, it was also really, really hard, mostly because we rehearsed at the end of days when we had already been dancing for six hours. I was always exhausted, or grumpy, or sore, or famished. I was generally not happy. I felt like a scarecrow rattling around to the music. I was absolutely certain that I looked awful.

Watching the video, I can't pick out now what felt so uncomfortable. It looks fine... and this almost irritates me because I felt so intensely awkward. Apparently, my judgement is not to be trusted. Either that, or everything gets ironed flat on film.