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The fountain murmuring of sleep,

A drowsy tune;

The flickering green of leaves that keep

The light of June;

Peace, through a slumbering afternoon,

The peace of June.

 

A waiting ghost, in the blue sky,

The white curved moon;

June, hushed and breathless, waits, and I

Wait too, with June;

Come, through the lingering afternoon,

Soon, love, come soon.  

 

           ~ Arthur William Symons (1865-1945)

 

"Undine" by John William Waterhouse, 1872

“Undine” by John William Waterhouse, 1872

The first lily of June opens its red mouth.

All over the sand road where we walk

multiflora rose climbs trees cascading

white or pink blossoms, simple, intense

the scene drifting like colored mist.

 

The arrowhead is spreading its creamy

clumps of flower and the blackberries

are blooming in the thickets.  Season of

joy for the bee.  The green will never

again be so green, so purely and lushly

 

new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads

into the wind.  Rich fresh wine

of June, we stagger into you smeared

with pollen, overcome as the turtle

laying her eggs in roadside sand.

 

    ~ Marge Piercy

 

"Girl with Lilies" by John White Alexander, 1889

“Girl with Lilies” by John White Alexander, 1889

 

 

Since making my lifelong desire to write known within my immediate professional and social circle, I have come face to face with the quizzical expressions and misconceptions I encountered as a child who lived primarily in an imaginary world. While undoubtedly supportive and well-meaning, many friends are simply unable to conceal their lack of understanding for a “hobby” that requires solitude and a “sacrifice” of social interaction.  They applaud my weekend efforts at my computer (the abstruse Bakhtinian analyses of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the works of Virginia Woolf, and Gertrude Stein’s Ida notwithstanding), acknowledging the virtue of, say, an MFA thesis or a novel chapter, but can’t resist urging me to “not forget to make time for myself and have fun now and then.”

Don’t they see I’m having the time of my life?

I suppose I can appreciate their puzzlement.  In today’s hypersocial society, activities done alone are generally considered to be inferior to activities shared with others.  For every customarily unaccompanied occupation, a club or Meetup group is now available to take the ostensible sting of isolation out of it.  To opt deliberately for tedious exertions done in seclusion, such as reading novels and writing, in lieu of more interactive and invigorating pastimes often prompts questions of physical or mental well-being or, more awkwardly, elicits unwarranted sympathy.  Besides, creative writing is purportedly an enterprise of the right cerebral hemisphere, and I have a left brain job.  Or so I thought.

Over time, as my colleagues began to learn what I was doing when I wasn’t analyzing financial statements and operating the real estate, a few divulged (with, I’m certain I detected, a measure of wistfulness) that they, too, had dabbled in the literary or visual arts in a prior life, revealing an unobtrusive community of hemispheric fissure straddlers – former and would-be authors, poets, painters, and other creative thinkers making their mark in a distinctly analytic arena.  Most of us probably still have the proof of a dormant poetic self – musty journals in boxes in the garage, old files of yellowed paper scraps and cocktail napkins on which bits of prose and poetry are scrawled, or references to particularly resonant passages in the margins of Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights.

Upon learning the secret identities of the accountant-sculptor, lawyer-philosopher, and engineer-memoirist, I was exhilarated by the proximity of this dichotomous kindred.  There was neither bemusement nor pity from these individuals; they understood the need to retreat to a quiet space to create, alone.  As we talked, I saw a light flicker in their eyes, a memory, perhaps, of what used to stir their soul before the freneticism of modern life anesthetized its Ache, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had returned home that night and started digging for the evidence of their own writer within.  At least, I imagine they did.  And if after reading this you go digging, too, write and let me know.

 

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

 

"Schreibender Knabe" ("Writing Boy") by Albert Anker, circa 1908

“Schreibender Knabe” (“Writing Boy”) by Albert Anker, circa 1908

 

 

It is the thirtieth of May,

the thirtieth of November,

a beginning or an end,

we are moving into the solstice

and there is so much here

I still do not understand.

If I could make sense of how

my life is still tangled

with dead weeds, thistles,

enormous burdocks, burdens

slowly shifting under

this first fall of snow,

beaten by this early, racking rain

calling all new life to declare itself strong

or die

if I could know

in what language to address

the spirits that claim a place

beneath these low and simple ceilings,

tenants that neither speak nor stir

yet dwell in mute insistence

till I can feel utterly ghosted in this house.

 

             ~ from “Toward the Solstice” by Adrienne Rich

 

"A Woman in Bed" by Rembrandt, 1645

“A Woman in Bed” by Rembrandt, 1645

Late Echo

Alone with our madness and favorite flower

We see that there really is nothing left to write about.

Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things

In the same way, repeating the same things over and over

For love to continue and be gradually different.

 

Beehives and ants have to be re-examined eternally

And the color of the day put in

Hundreds of times and varied from summer to winter

For it to get slowed down to the pace of an authentic

Saraband and huddle there, alive and resting.

 

Only then can the chronic inattention

Of our lives drape itself around us, conciliatory

And with one eye on those long tan plush shadows

That speak so deeply into our unprepared knowledge

Of ourselves, the talking engines of our day.

 

                                                   ~ John Ashbery

 

Leonid Pasternak

Leonid Pasternak

 

Glimmer Train’s June Fiction Open is accepting fiction submissions between 2,000 and 20,000 words until midnight (PST) on June 30, 2015.  This biannual opportunity is open to all writers and all subjects and themes.  Unpublished novel excerpts are considered, provided they feel like complete stories.  Up to four multiple submissions are also accepted.  The reading fee for each submission is $20.

The first place winner will receive $2,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and twenty copies of that issue.  The second and third place winners will receive $1,000 and $600, respectively.  Results will be announced on September 1.  For more information or to submit your work, visit the website at http://www.glimmertrain.com/fictionopen.html.

 

glimmertrain_2110_32931396

Last month I attended the Orange County Christian Writers Conference.  Having attended the event previously in 2012, I had vacillated before registering earlier this year.  My experience three years ago was a high point in my writing life, as an excerpt from my developing novel caught the attention of publishers and editors and won three fiction awards.  Astonished and elated, I had vowed to dedicate all my free time to completing the book and pursuing publication before the end of the year.

Within weeks, however, the demands of my career and graduate school and life thwarted all my good writerly intentions.  With my creative energy allocated to finishing my course work at Chapman University and numerous guest columns and blog posts, progress on my novel stalled.  There was simply no time to write more than a few chapters for my MFA workshops, and I labored over those small accomplishments.  While I did return to the novel at full speed in 2014 in order to fulfill my 150-page thesis requirement, I have often felt disappointing and even disobedient to God by not finding a way to finish.  Even worse, as the years passed, I began to diminish the merits of the recognition my excerpt had received and question what I had believed was my lifelong calling.  It shouldn’t be this hard, I thought.  Perhaps I heard God wrong.

I had a multitude of excuses for not attending this year’s conference, but a niggling feeling urging me to go prevailed.  I decided to register and attend Friday night’s activities.  I could always skip the Saturday workshops and appointments I had scheduled if I felt at all uncomfortable or out of step with the other attendees.  After checking in, I helped myself to a paper cup of coffee, said hello to my tablemates, and settled in for the keynote address by Sharon Elliott.

I liked her immediately.  She was boisterous and frank, assuring us that rejection and self-doubt would unquestionably be part of our writing and publishing quest, just as they were for countless bestselling authors.  And then she said the most powerful words of the night, the weekend, and probably my year: “Relax.  You heard right.  You’re in the right place.”  Wait, what was that?  Is she talking to me?  In case we missed it, she said it again: “You heard right.  You’re in the right place.”  And at that moment, I knew that I had and that I was.

The rest of the conference was just as propitious and exciting.  Significant connections and new friends were made, and complicated questions about the current publishing industry were answered.  I left on Saturday evening knowing exactly what I needed to do to continue the narrative I began so many years ago.  I heard about platform-building and social media optimization and online branding.  I learned how to submit to magazine editors and why it’s prudent to always maintain film rights.  I was even convinced to…wait for it…tweet, something I vowed I would never do.  Most importantly, I know that I haven’t imagined or misunderstood my calling.  I can relax, because I heard right.  He said “Write.”

 

ENFANT~1

 

This post was published first on the American Christian Fiction Writers website on May 14, 2015.  

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