Making Things…

Mid-January, the earth is covered with ice and a crunchy snow a few inches deep. The meditative qualities of walking are swallowed up by fear of slipping or the grinding of hard snow beneath boots. People complain. Complaining is a normal winter’s activity, so are ice and snow, and yet — I’ll reiterate for what seems like the hundredth time again — we’ve slipped out of the cog of normalcy.

What I do:

I finish painting the bathroom (one Sunshine wall, the others Vanilla Ice Cream).

I’m diligent at my work.

My daughter and I go out for coffee, struggle through the CSS profile on financial forms, talk and talk and circle around.

I rise early every morning and rewrite my novel, snip, stitch, elaborate, with my imagination and my hands. In the night, I wake and lay more wood on the fire, pieces of my life arising in words: loons and dahlias and betrayal and desire.

On a Jane Alison bender (Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative), I inter-library-loan Alison’s memoir of how her parents switched partners with another couple, The Sisters Antipodes. Alison writes, “Making things helps make you.”

Sunlight on Sunday, a stiff breeze that jangles the wind chimes.

The Shape of Things.

In the early 1600s when Samuel de Champlain was bunking around the fire with people who lived on the shores of an enormous and beautiful lake, Champlain remarked in his journal how surprised he was that these strangers discussed their dreams every morning as if their dreams were as real as the waking world. I’ve been thinking about Champlain’s observance and how easily we can narrow our vision, completely discounting or ignoring pieces of our past and present.

A blog reader who sometimes mails me terrific books sent me Jane Alison’s Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative. As I’m finishing up a draft of my novel, the book has made me look harder at the novel’s structure. As a writer, I can’t help but look at my own tangled story — and those around me — and the way plot lines and patterns, how chance and opportunity, blend and shape our lives.

For Ray Carver fans (and who isn’t a fan, really? if not, you might want to be!), there’s a terrific essay on one of my favorite stories, “Where I’m Calling From.”

So often fictions that experiment formally do so at the expense of feeling. They toy on surfaces or are purely cerebral affairs, don’t explore human complexities. But the mostly unconventional narratives I’ve been discussing have dealt powerfully with core human matters.

— Jane Alison