A Few Loosely Related Thoughts

comments 30
Reflections

bookcover_mlmAs an update to my previous post, my second poetry book is now generally available. I checked and found it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and stopped there. Henceforth and until it no longer matters, if you live in the United States I would be happy to send you a signed copy for $17, including S/H, provided you are open to delayed gratification. If you live elsewhere I’m also happy to do it but need to research the shipping costs first. If you are interested and aren’t certain how to contact me, you can click on that plus sign (or the link called ‘Contact’) that should be near the header of this site, and contact me via e-mail, and we will make the arrangements.

In terms of new business, I recently finished reading this year’s Man Booker Prize winning novel The Sellout by Paul Beatty, and have begun reading it again. This time I’m taking notes so that when I’m done I can write something intelligent about it. As I make my way more carefully through the text, I am discovering the extent to which it is brimming with insights. It is also brimming with moments that make me laugh, which has made the deeper dive every bit as enjoyable as the first encounter. As an example of Beatty’s humor, consider the moment in which our narrator, who begrudgingly agrees to keep his friend Hominy Jenkins as a slave, at Hominy’s request, bemoans how little work you can actually get out of a slave these days. Particularly one that likes being punished. It’s insane of course, which makes it all the more hilarious.

In Beatty’s writing, humor comes from looking directly at what is and ignoring the most ignominious parts of what you see. Then you realize what you are laughing at and scratch your head. Hominy wants to be beaten because things have changed in his life and he has lost his relevance—what little relevance he once had. Hominy says, “Beat me to within an inch of my worthless black life. Beat me, but don’t kill me, massa. Beat me just enough so I can feel what I’m missing.”

“Isn’t there another way? Isn’t there something else that would make you happy?”

“Bring back Dickens.”

Dickens is the community in which the narrator was raised, and which has basically been forgotten. It has been stricken from the map, the road signs along the highway removed. The narrator can’t commit to bringing back the city, but feels obliged, having asked the question, to take Hominy on as his slave. There’s so much to unearth in this one exchange: the way little absurd loyalties cause us to miss the big picture, the way we manufacture drama to feel alive, the way our desires become distorted and turned inside-out by our desperation, and the way we feel when we are forgotten. I think it takes incredible skill to put so much in play in one construct, and I’ve really enjoyed discovering Paul Beatty’s writing. I look forward to trying to tease out some of the biggest themes of this book in a more thorough review.

Looking back, I’ve read many more authors who are new to me this year than previous years. I think it was because I increased my investment in reading commensurate with my investment into writing. Around this time last year I read White Noise by Don DeLillo, which I loved. I also read Underworld and End Zone, two of DeLillo’s other novels. DeLillo’s writing pushes me along like a blown and giddy leaf, flinging me here and there with the joyful intensity of his sentences. My stepson, who knows far more about these things than I do, once told me that DeLillo writes one paragraph per sheet of paper so that he can really focus on the perfection of the paragraph. His writing has the potent feel you might expect from such a process.

Here is the opening paragraph of End Zone, which is but two sentences in length: “Taft Robinson was the first black student to be enrolled at Logos College in West Texas. They got him for his speed.” Maybe you do not, but I still experience a flicker of euphoria when I read those two simple lines. How does he do that!? End Zone explores intersections and parallels between nuclear war and American football, and there is one chapter of utterly delicious play-by-play of a high stakes college football game.

DeLillo describes his own writing pretty well in this quote I found on Perival.com, “For me, well behaved books with neat plots and worked-out endings seem somewhat quaint in the face of the largely incoherent reality of modern life; and then again fiction, at least as I write it and think of it, is a kind of religious meditation in which language is the final enlightenment, and it is language, in its beauty, its ambiguity and its shifting textures, that drives my work.”

In reflecting on my own enjoyment of reading, I think the beauty inherent in well-crafted prose is indeed something of a revelation, for the words are not the thing, but neither is the thing the thing, really. The thing is this nebulous light, this gossamer thread we see here and there, stitching together the elements of our lives into something beautiful. When we read fiction we are once-removed from its contingencies, freed of the consequences we assign to our own daily affairs, and thus able to see this light as it emerges naturally in the story. Of course what we are seeing is the way our own lives are each more than they seem: currents of narrative and grace that are revealed in the unexpected…

30 Comments

  1. Deep musings that are beyond me tonight. But I appreciate your willingness, dare I say it, determination to dive deeply into life. I enjoy prose for the simple feelings and images evoked, and books for the escape into imagination and alternate lives. I’m reading less personal development and deep reading these days.

    Kudos on your second poetry book Michael. The first one is a delight. May your prose touch many hearts.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Brad. You can say it, man. It’s dogged some days. Other days it flies on its own power. There is of course an escapism element to any form of entertainment, but I think we can learn things and discover things, too. Like you, I’ve gone through phases. I bounce around between fiction and science and science fiction and spiritual and back to where I began. I’ve read more fiction this year for sure, though. I kept a journal of the books and short stories I read this year, and I only read a couple of nonfiction books… The previous year I think it was the opposite!

      Anyway, thanks for your support and friendship, Brad.

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

        • I just did that this year for the first time. It was kind of fun to look back and see what I read. Also to see the many new authors I discovered. Of the full length novels I read, which was only about eighteen this year, fifteen of them were authors I’d never read before… It’s always fun to read or discover new voices that speak to you!

          Peace
          Michael

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Diggin’ the prose Michael and your description of fiction makes me re-consider reading some one day. I rarely stray from non-fiction, biographies, poetry, all things spiritual, and all things astrology.

    Love this quote: The thing is this nebulous light, this gossamer thread we see here and there, stitching together the elements of our lives into something beautiful. When we read fiction we are once-removed from its contingencies, freed of the consequences we assign to our own daily affairs, and thus able to see this light as it emerges naturally in the story. Of course what we are seeing is the way our own lives are each more than they seem: currents of narrative and grace that are revealed in the unexpected… BTW, the giddy leaf reference is cool too.

    Congrats once more on your book. Am I misconstruing your words or are you not involved in where your books get sold? Do you have a distributor? I am not published ( except here) so I don’t know the process.

    blessings, Linda

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Linda! Those were some of the places in writing this piece that really clicked for me, too… 🙂

      So I’ve published both of my poetry books using Lulu, and I’ve taken the steps in each round to ensure the books meet the requirements for general distribution. That allows them to be picked up by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other large booksellers, but none of those outlets do any promotion and neither does Lulu, really. It just makes them available. They won’t be in the store shelves unless a lot of people buy them, which would require not only a more dedicated marketing campaign than I’m able to muster at present, but a resonance with a broad spectrum of people. Little by little… 🙂

      This year has been a bit of a revival for fiction reading for me, and I’ve kept a log as I was telling Brad, of both the books and short stories I’ve read. I read about 18 full length books, and about 120 short stories. Reading the short stories has been really rewarding as I never read many of them, but there are some amazing short story writers out there…

      Thank you for your support!
      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much, David! I’m deeply appreciative of your support, your friendship, and your smiling presence upon this planet we share. Thanks for the unique light you spread!

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Congratulations, my friend! I’m in, for a signed copy of course! (A quick email of where to send a check…?) You truly amaze me, Michael, everything you do…everything you write. It was nice to open my email and you popped right up 🙂 I hope all is super in your world and that the holiday season finds many small pleasures full of blessing. Miss you my friend ♡

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Lorrie,

      Will be in touch re: the book. Thank you for your friendship and support, and hope all is well. I miss you, too–just haven’t been able to keep up of late with WP developments as I once did. But things are good. We have a crust of ice in the driveway, and my wife put up a new bluebird feeder that has been discovered–so now we have a new bird in the backyard! They are amazing… Nature is amazing…

      Hope you are well and have a great holiday. Thinking of you!

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 3 people

      • Hi Michael 🙂 I understand where you are coming from…I have also not been as present here as I like. Enjoy the birds…watch your steps on the ice…and let the love in your soul continue to express as its beautiful self ♡ Merry Christmas season to you and your family!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Bravo – and I’ll be in touch with you directly about ordering a copy, unless someone is planning on building a wall that I am not aware of. Thanks for the insight into the book, I”m always on the hunt for a good read. I am reading Goldfinch by Donna Tartt….the writing is simply sublime – and in the spirit of holiday giving (recommendations) Manchester By The Sea is quite the achievement as a film. Incredible writing – ordinary every day dialogue with plenty of humour clustered around a very sad story and brilliant casting from head to toe. Hope you are feeling a spirit that feels like “holiday”.
    Peace, Harlon

    Liked by 6 people

    • Hi Harlon,

      Thanks, man! I saw a preview for Manchester By the Sea the other night and it looked really good. I will definitely be checking that one out. And consider the Goldfinch has received special treatment, and been made Book One on the Books To Read Next List… 🙂 I look forward to it!

      I’m feeling good. Work has been really busy the past few weeks, but I finished a story I was working on and then I didn’t know what to do next so it has been alright. Just today I had that moment of enthusiasm for a new idea, so I hope to get back to work on a new story soon. Hope you’re feeling that “holiday” feeling as well, my friend.

      Thanks for your support, Harlon!
      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can see the effectiveness of DeLillo’s method; I really think I can, Michael. It likely temporarily takes the author wholly out of the sense of any overarching narrative construct, the need to participate in any sense of, or generate momentum and progression within, the higher level thematic of the narrative. Rather perhaps, there’s a complete focussing on making what is actually to be presented in real-time, pristine to the reader.

    I suppose it may be a sort of throwing of the whole abstraction of ‘writing a story’ out of the window, and after all, who does that in real life, meaning life as it’s actually lived? In lived experience, it’s all ‘just now(s)’, and even the planning and scheduling consist in that. Yes, I think I see it, and whilst prior to this process there must be an intentional sense of what we’re about with the paragraph, then to craft it whilst penetrating the most effective expression of what it may be, seems to demand a patience, a ‘resting with’, that in large part isn’t concerned with ‘what next(s)’, only in making ‘these now(s)’ come alive.

    I do a little editing and proofreading for a friend who’s at times a bit impatient natured, and feel I want to remind them to slow down, that a perfect conception is only perfectly conceived by the reader if great care and precision are conveyed along with it in the crafting. I make no claim to possess these qualities or creative skills in myself, but think I can see what distinguishes the skilled writer from the writer who merely produces output. I don’t think it has necessarily to be a slow creative process, but I do believe that it can’t be done in haste – do you see the difference? A skill perfected isn’t executed slowly, necessarily, but is never executed hastily; rather, it finds it’s own dynamic and tempo, flowing as it will, but not when subjected to will from outside.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Hello Hariod,

      Yes, indeed–I see the difference. I fall victim to rushing my work at times, but it’s part of my process right now I guess. I do the best I can and I send it out. Then it feels complete, and a few weeks later I read it again and see how to make it much better. But the break is an essential part of that process it seems!

      I can see the value in DeLillo’s method for sure, but as you say it is necessary to have a clear understanding of what the paragraph must contain–where it must begin and end, and what belongs in the middle. I think that comes in the editing phase, which I’ve learned takes me at least as long as the initial writing phase. It’s like you rough it in, and then you see what really needs to be told, and you can finally get to the business of telling it… What’s really hard is to finish a draft and to look back and to realize your most favorite piece of prose doesn’t work. This has been happening to me more frequently than I care to describe. It’s so hard to hit delete on the one sentence you can’t live without! Ha! DeLillo’s ability to use language with such finesse and exquisite control, while maintaining the pace and structure of a narrative, is really mind-blowing to me.

      As you rightly say, we don’t live with the whole plot in view. We live in this series of now’s and it is quite something to be sure. Writing is a lot like that for many writers I think. I’ve enjoyed subscribing to Carve Magazine this year, and in the print edition they provide an interview with the author of each of the stories they publish. In listening to writers speak about their process it becomes apparent that few work with the whole thing in plain sight. They enter the immediacy of a now, and one thing leads to the next. The moment of inspiration that marks the start of a new story or a new poem is seldom the complete picture–but just an energetic fragment that reverberates in my heart. Then I try to follow it, often feeling as though I’ve lost it entirely. That’s why the end is so satisfying… After feeling you’ve lost it altogether and made an utter mess of something good, you discover somehow grace pulled you through…

      Peace and Love
      Michael

      Liked by 3 people

      • “I think that comes in the editing phase, which I’ve learned takes me at least as long as the initial writing phase.” – Ain’t that the truth! 😉

        “It’s so hard to hit delete on the one sentence you can’t live without!” – As above. A lifelong friend of mine is a professional painter and she once told me that to be an artist you have to be prepared to throw work away, to destroy it. It’s a painful truth to absorb, and whilst I’m not any kind of artist, I do at times find myself attempting to justify retaining a nicely crafted sentence even though it may be superfluous to the point. It’s silly really, but it feels as though I’ve given birth to something of value, and whilst there’s no one who wants or needs to extract it’s value, I’m still reluctant to discard it.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Given the difficulty in unearthing a turn of phrase that speaks poetically or poignantly to the matter at hand, it is hard to let it go when we find we just can’t make it fit in the whole structure. In a way we have given birth to something of value. Partly I think we tend to harbor the uncertainty “there’s only so much where that came from.” I do sometimes. Discarding it feels wasteful. We’re taught our whole lives not to waste and then here, in this creative act, we have to embrace the largesse of inspiration! It’s madness!

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Michael, I so liked this piece and it made me think of quite a few things. It is heartwarming to see you enjoy reading and writing fiction and poetry. Some of my life’s best memories are from spending two weeks confined to a hospital bed, missing school, but reading piles and piles of books, or spending this past long summer evenings (and it stays light in Lithuania until 10 pm) with open windows and warm breezes digging into my sister’s library, or getting completely lost in a used book store in Vermont, taking in that addictive smell of well-used books. 🙂

    It is very interesting in what your stepson pointed out about DeLillo. I am in the middle of Thomas Merton’s “Seven Storey Mountain” now, and when he first presented the book, some critics were asking him to ‘obey silence wows and shut up’ in quiet contemplation (!!!), but those in support pointed out that writing IS contemplation!
    And that argument about style (see here too between Merton and Waugh: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/issues/april-3rd-2015/book-review-why-evelyn-waugh-wanted-thomas-merton-to-shut-up/ ) seems as long lasting as the chicken and the egg. Perhaps as readers we have our leanings toward either simplicity or eloquence, but when a writer hits that perfect angle of simple eloquence, then it really sings.

    I very much look forward to your analysis of Beatty’s work. May you have fun in your Santa workshop packing and sending out your new book, I will be requesting one soon. Thank you yet again for expanding my horizons. 🙂
    Kristina

    Liked by 5 people

    • Hi Kristina,

      Thank you for your support and for this lovely note. You’ve hit on something important I think–when a writer gets it write, and finds the balance that is their own, it sings. It’s not easy to do. I think I’ve gained a lot this year from tightening paragraphs–in exploring for the best way to say something I think at times I’ve had a tendency to say the same thing two or three different ways instead of moving from one sensation to the next. But there are these tendrils of awareness–these subtleties of the heart–I don’t wish to leave unattended. So it is a balancing act.

      I think writers can succeed on both ends of the spectrum though, and I’m glad we have both. There are writers who strive for brevity and writers who tend to write in a little more grandiose style. Thomas Pynchon comes to mind as one who is anything but succinct, but who is quite impressive–profound even–in his offerings. The one thing all these writers seem to do is use their words meaningfully. Whether they are more succinct or more verbose, they are always plying their words with intent, and lacing them with beauty and innovation…

      Reading books by a 10 PM sunset sounds utterly lovely. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your presence here! It is much appreciated.

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you very much, Barbara! I appreciate your enthusiasm and support, and your lending your lovely positivity to the endeavors here!

      Peace and Love
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  7. ….” the unexpected revealed ” …so profound dear friend . Where does it all come from and who is the director of these mysteries ? I believe it is the Divine trying to show us something vast yet within all of us like an ache sometimes , like love . Yet to read other authors ways of expression with differing styles makes for feelings and thoughts of pure awe at how diversely beautiful beauty really is ….and how huge .
    Sending love , meg

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    I just ordered some of your suggested books. They sound interesting.
    Though, I plan to buy several of YOUR new poetry book (Yaaaaay!!!) for gifts, please also put me down for a signed copy. I can’t wait to see it, hold it, read it slowly, each image like a truffle to be savored with delight.
    Happy New Year!
    Love,
    Mary

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Mary,

      Thank you for the support and enthusiasm. I will get one off shortly! And I do hope you enjoy a few of those other ones!

      Peace!
      Happy New Year!
      Michael

      Like

  9. Congrats on your book, Michael. Thank you for sharing your insights on Don Delillo. I read Underworld years ago, and remember how not-well-behaved it was. It’s important for writers to find writers who inspire them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Julie! Yes it is necessary to find those resonant voices for sure. I like your description of Underworld–I think looking back at it that it didn’t necessarily follow a conventional how-to guide for producing a novel. But I did enjoy it very much. I found the individual pages so well-constructed the whole was free to wander where it needed to… 🙂

      Michael

      Like

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