Monday, December 29, 2014

The Art of Walking

I’m heavily into the revision of the water poems that I’ve been posting about for the last year, and trying to get more fully into them. The most important aspect about this part of the project is focus. My poems can’t reach their potential unless I’m focused completely on them and completely in the moment. That means I have a strict policy of not multitasking while writing.

The thing about it is that once people start to multitask, they have a hard time focusing on only one thing. I do. Our minds are always at four places at once, so as I am in my deep revision, I have a policy of not multitasking at all, and I think it’s a policy I’ll keep after I’m done revising too.

This kind of mindfulness is not as easy as it sounds, and it’s been taking me a good deal of practice. One of the activities that I’m getting back into is mindful walking.

For years, I walked. When I lived in the mountains near Lake Arrowhead, I walked up to Strawberry Peak nearly every day with my dog. We loved it. He loved it so much that as soon as the sun began to blue the sky, he’d crawl on my bed and stare at my face. The moment I opened my eyes, he was on me, pulling me out of bed. We had an hour or two every morning to live completely in the moment, to be in nature. When we moved down to the city to be closer to work, he followed the same procedure every morning.

I had loved walking in the forest completely isolated from other people in the dawn hours of the morning for all those years. We’d see bears and other animals. We’d walk through meadows and watch the city from five thousand feet. However, the walks we had when we lived in the city were not worse. They were just as calm, just as introspective, just as interesting because I was turned inward at those points. 

There is a joy, of course, in seeing a bear. The mood of the world changes for that moment, and it passes by quietly or crashing through the underbrush. Either way, I always felt blessed by it. There were a lot of moments like that in the mountains. I saw a coyote playing by himself with a rag, and a bobcat asleep on a warm stone. There were moments in the fog when I’d look around and realize that I was surrounded by a coyote pack, and unafraid of the animals who were there just to check me out, I would talk to them.

However, there were moments in the city as well, the everyday moments that go by and people tend to miss their specialness, like Christmas mornings when I’d always walk through one of the local colleges. These giant building were abandoned completely, and I was left alone in a fully formed ghost town. There were mid-century modern houses that were revelations but whose beauty had been camouflaged by everyday use, and of course, there was the daily walk over the freeway. Where else in the world aside from Los Angeles is that possible.

More important than the special moments were the moments in between when I was able to become fully invested in what life is most of the time. There is beauty and significance in the silence of those moments, and they were what helped me focus.

My dog has gotten old. It’s a trial for him to hobble from one side of the living room to the other, so I stopped walking. It seemed wrong to do without him, but of course, that’s ridiculous. The first and best thing I can do to help my revision is to start walking daily again, and seeing the world for what it is rather than trying to see it through the warped and tragic lens of multitasking, this lens that keeps us always in that place of our worst fears for ourselves, that place where we are always preparing for tragedy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Western Tradition of Mindfulness

Now that I have finished the rough draft of my poetry collection, I’ve moved into revision mode. Rather than discuss the minutia of revision, I’ve decided to discuss the way that I can get into the state of mind that I need to be in in order to revise. My mind needs to be free of pointless distraction and that means mindfulness. I’m not claiming expertise here. I’m muddling through trying to figure things out.

Mindfulness almost always comes with some level of meditation. It’s pretty difficult to do one without the other. A lot of people feel resistance to meditation, but it is not something that is completely divorced from Western culture. We just usually call it something else. There are a number of meditation practices that we do all the time without calling it that.

I come from the tradition of Quakerism. My father and his side of the family were all Quakers who attended unprogrammed meetings. What we call praying is sitting in a large circle silently and not speaking until the spirit of God moves us to speak. I’m not a regular attender, but I go every once in a while, and it has to me a double kind of significance. The first is the communal sense of peace that all congregations strive to achieve. The second, of course, is the benefit that meditation gives any person.

In this kind of praying, which is simply meditation, I notice and acknowledge my thoughts, not judging them but allowing myself to be open to them. If there is a religious message, I am open to it. If not, that’s fine too. The wonderful thing about it is that when people meditate in this way, they become more realistic about what the stresses in their lives really are and should be. It is when we slow down and begin to investigate what life really is that we begin to see things realistically.

Our daily struggles seem to pile up, one on another, until they seem too large to manage. However, each one is really nothing. Of course, there are real problems in our lives and the world at large, but these don’t tend to be the things that weigh us down. At least, that is true for me. When the big things happen to me, I take the time and energy to focus on them and deal with them. They are resolved if they are resolvable, and if they are not, I deal with them emotionally.

The small sniggling things are never resolved until I take the time to focus on the moment and know what their true significance is. That is the role in part of most religions. They give perspective in our lives in order to help us achieve meaning.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Deleting Distractions


If you have been following this blog, you know that I’ve been working on a collection of poems about water. I’ve written those poems, revised many of them as well, but I’m now going into deep revision.

I’m not going to go into how I make the choices I do. That’s personal and trivial. However, the hardest part of revision for me is putting myself in the state of mind I need to be to revise. The difference between one word and the next can make the poem, so I have to be in a place where that can happen.

Instead of writing about revision, I’m going to write about mindfulness and the steps I take to put me in a calm state of mind. I tend to work far too much. With the state of non-pay for professors in California, most of us are scrambling for extra income. I also help to run a non-profit and am trying to gather donations as much as I can. This creates a great deal of anxiety and often depression in my life, and since I tend to eat and drink my emotions, it’s led to weight gain.

I suppose there are any number of ways to define mindfulness, but I think the most important part of it is to be in the present, here at this moment. I began my quest for mindfulness years ago, not by doing anything, but by resisting certain things.

Most importantly, I’ve spent my adult life resisting multitasking. As far as I am concerned, multitasking is the fastest and easiest way to sink into a depressive state. It is the idea that nothing a person could possibly be doing at this moment is good enough and that the best we can possibly achieve is just to be done with our tasks. That’s a dangerous way to approach life. In fact, it is the opposite of the way that life should be approached. Each moment can be a blessing, a meditation, and a prayer. Each task should be approached with complete attention not only because we owe it to ourselves to do things well, but also because there is joy in the completion and in the action.

For me, this has meant resisting some of the pleasures of modern life, the first of which is the cell phone. I shouldn’t be dogmatic about that. I do have a flip phone. It’s a burner phone with no contract and no access to the Internet. Aside from the fact that my cell phone bill is at most $50 a year, I am also never tempted to spend time on the Internet when I am waiting in line or talking to other people. No one breaks my concentration while I am reading. When I am on a walk around the neighborhood, I am there completely.

I would never make the argument that cellphones are bad. People have children to take care of, and jobs with emergencies. That’s just not the reality of my life. I teach English, and I have found that it’s rare that there is a grammar emergency that needs to be taken care of immediately. My wife has my number, and I have no children. I would rather live in the moment than constantly wonder what is happening elsewhere. That way lies madness.

The Internet is a distraction as well. It used to be that I would wake up and immediately check my emails. I would check them before I went to bed at night, making sure that I answered all emails immediately. Most of them were from students. Although I try to return emails within 24 hours now, it’s important that I don’t fill every waking hour with them. Checking them as I did meant that I was effectively working every moment that I was awake including on weekends. That approach to life is insane.

These kinds of communication are distraction, and the kind of subtle approach to writing that I need during revision and really all of my life requires that I am not distracted. It’s impossible to be mindful when I am at work or dealing with other people all day long. Work is important, and other people are important of course, but I cannot be present for either effectively if I am not present for myself.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Mindfulness and The Art of Revision

If you have been following this blog, you know that I’ve been working on a collection of poems about water. I’ve written those poems, revised many of them as well, but I’m now going into deep revision.

I’m not going to go into how I make the choices I do. That’s personal and trivial. However, the hardest part of revision for me is putting myself in the state of mind I need to be to revise. The difference between one word and the next can make the poem, so I have to be in a place where that can happen.

Instead of writing about revision, I’m going to write about mindfulness and the steps I take to put me in a calm state of mind. I tend to work far too much. With the state of non-pay for professors in California, most of us are scrambling for extra income. I also help to run a non-profit and am trying to gather donations as much as I can. This creates a great deal of anxiety and often depression in my life, and since I tend to eat and drink my emotions, it’s led to weight gain.

Mindfulness is the idea that if you stay in the present you tend to be less unrealistic about the world around you. My friend Bonnie Hill Hearn gave me the best example of this. She talks about why people become so agitated when they are late for something. What is happening on the top of their minds is that they don’t want to miss a meeting or event. However, what they are worried about really is irrational and terrifying. Behind that fear is the idea that if they miss this meeting a whole string of devastating events will happen:

  • They’ll anger their boss.
  • They’ll lose their jobs.
  • They won’t be able to find a new job.
  • Their spouses will leave them.
  • They’ll lose their homes.

These are the unconscious assumptions that anger and anxiety at being late suggests, and we make these kinds of irrational jumps constantly. It’s part of the human experience.

Anyway, I can’t revise with these kind of fears swirling through my head, so the first job is to learn to be present in the moment. The blogs that follow are going to discuss how I achieve this mindfulness.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Week 37

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m writing a poetry collection about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

This is my last blog post about this project. I have never really thought about the way I approach an artistic project, and I am a little surprised at how much work goes into it. Of course, it’s not really work. It’s mental game play, and if it weren’t, I wouldn’t do it.

Now, I’m going to start revising the collection. I’ve been doing that all along, but I have to do it in a more focused and serious way. I suppose I could chronicle that too, but discussing the minutia that goes into choosing one word over another would be kind of horrible.

These blog posts have saved me and kept me focused. I’ve had to work a lot of overtime in the last year, and I know that I will have to continue to do so until June. These have kept me sane and focused on producing new work even when I’ve been overwhelmed by life. After the poems and short stories appear in magazines, I will start to post them here.

As I go into the revision process, deeply into it, I’m going to start focusing on mindfulness in these blogs rather than the actual work of revision. Why mindfulness? I need to be in a particular mindset to be effective in revision. I need to be calm and not focused on all those little things that make people anxious.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Week 36

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m writing a poetry collection about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

So far on this project, I have written only about the work I am doing, but of course, Ann is working hard too. She has worked through a number of different styles and projects, as I have, in order to come up with what she wants to do.

Some of the early ideas was to do pen and ink sketches to look like my narrator is keeping a notebook and writing and sketching as he goes along. Later, she made some abstract paintings. Then she thought she might illustrate what was happening in the poems.

Ultimately, each of these were unsatisfying, especially the idea that she would illustrate my poems. First, a poem is highly metaphorical and illustrating metaphor completely destroys the power of the metaphor. More importantly, however, doing so places a secondary emphasis on the art, and we wanted this to be a joint effort, two kinds of art working jointly. Each commenting and enhancing the other.

In any case, one of the media that Ann works in is printmaking, so she has been developing prints for the book. She is going to have her own vision of California water through prints. She’s had as many false starts as me, but I think this is a good final product. Here are two of her prints. I hope you love them as I do.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Week 35

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m writing a poetry collection about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.


I’m down to the last few poems here, and I feel there are just a few more things to say about the water. I know there are those who could write about it for years, make an entire career of it, but there are only a few more things for me to say.


This weekend was the 101st anniversary of the day William Mulholland opened the aqueduct to Los Angeles. He was exhausted and went to the opening ceremony to give a speech. The speech he gave was “There it is. Take it.”


It’s a strangely appropriate speech for the man to give. He had stolen the water from the farmers in the Owens Valley who had stolen it from the Native Americans who lived there before them. It summarizes for me the greed, ambition, and even strength that made Los Angeles what it was. This is a completely inappropriate place for the second largest city in the United States because of the lack of water. If people wanted to live here, that water had to be taken from someone.


Anyway, the place where the water flowed into Los Angeles is usually dry now. There are just better ways to bring it into the city. It is a large concrete sluice that comes down a dry hill with concrete divots along the way to slow the water and aerate it. The effect is a long steep rapids.


Because this was the 101st anniversary, the Department of Water and Power turned it on and invited people to look at it. I did.


What were my impressions? The energy of that much water moving is overwhelming. It is right on top of the freeway, but the dancing water drowns it out. It’s strange. The water seemed to give me energy as I stood there watching it, and afterwards my wife and I didn’t want to go home.

I don’t know what this is going to give me in terms of poetry. Maybe something about the dance that water does through the sluice. Maybe something about its noise and movement. I don’t know. It’s thrilling in its way to be standing there next to all that water moving with all that power. I suppose what’s most thrilling about it is that people have figured out how to control it. That’s beautiful and ugly at the same time.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Week 34

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m writing a poetry collection about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

I have never approached a writing project like this before. I mean, I have never chronicled it in this way. For the last 34 weeks, I have written down the entire process, or at least what was the most interesting idea or event of that week. I always tell people that writing is a lot of work, but I don't believe that myself. I know that I spend a lot of time researching, writing, and revising, but it never feels like work because it's always so much fun. Now, I have a kind of record of what I mean when I say talk about the time and difficulty of writing.

In 34 weeks, I have written 60 useable poems. I don't know how many more I will write. Probably ten or so. It just feels like I'm winding down a bit. I didn't start writing them until about week 20 because I had to do research and to develop a theme.

I started the collection twice. I wrote something like 50 sonnet stanza altogether for those two false starts. It's become a free verse collection  now.

I've read something like 15 books, most of them donated by friends, a lot of them I got from Sean Moore, who runs Gatsby Books in Long Beach, California, my favorite bookstore. I also read all of John Muir's work and admire him less now than when I started. That was a strange twist. His views of Native American populations was a revelation to me. I know that there is much to be admired about him, but he was a human and that means he was flawed. Often, he is seen as a kind of saint of water conservation. He was that, and he was other things as well.

I've interview three water experts, learning what makes water in California so strange and magical. I live in a highly populated desert that doesn't have nearly enough water to support our population. The history of how we accomplish that is terrifying and fascinating.

I've gone to my writing group to work through these poems most weeks. My group meets in Fresno, and I live on the far side of Los Angeles. That's a 400 mile round trip each week, but they are brilliant and have moved my work to a completely new place. I'd drive twice as far to work with Bonnie Hearn Hill, Christopher Allen Poe, Hazel Dixon Cooper, Kathy Puckett, and Brenda Najimian. I've just dropped names so you can check out their books. They're brilliant.

I don't know how much work there is in the future except that I've only just started the revision process. What I have now is raw, and whatever power exists in these poems hasn't seen its full potential.

So what does all of these mean. It means that I've had a great time. None of this has really been work. At its heart, writing should be intellectual game play, and I've enjoyed every bit of this game. Next week, I suppose, I'll probably be done with the first draft completely. That would be melancholy except that I'm already working on my next project and I have a new poetry collection brewing in my head. We'll see how soon I can get to it.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Week 33

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m writing a poetry collection about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

Early on in this project I had envisioned this as a modern epic poem with each of the stanzas a petrarchan sonnet. That would have been great. It would have been sort of an ancient approach to the modern, and I hoped that it would give weight to history of California that is sometimes missing. After all the history of the people who have lived here is just as grand to them as the history of the people who lived in old Greece.

Well, that didn’t work out. The mixture of the epic and the story was just wrong. Maybe I’ll do it in the future. I don’t know. What I’ve been left with is a series of modern poems that has really morphed into my history with water in California. That’s all right. That’s a good subject quite frankly. I’m enjoying it, but it doesn’t have John Muir or William Mulholland or any of those early figures of water that are so fascinating.

In some ways that’s disappointing to me. That epic I envisioned is dead for now. Also, I spent all of the spring and most of the summer developing the idea and researching. All that work for a while felt like it had gone to nothing. Of course that’s not true. I like to research, and I loved learning all those new things about California. It’s a fascination.

And now, it’s come back. I’ve started to write short stories about this time. Flash fiction. When I write fiction, I generally have a much longer story. However, these are all coming out in 500 words or so. I think they’re short because I’d been thinking of my research in terms of poems. Now they’re coming up in moments of extreme emotion.

I suppose it goes to show that any work a writer does is going to come back to him. We filter every moment through our writing and this research is absolutely no different. It is a joy, and now I’m loving these short stories the way I have loved my poetry.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Week 32

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m writing a poetry collection about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

The farther I get into this project, the more that this project becomes the filter for my reality. That is always the way. That is the muse, the recognition that whatever a person focuses on, that becomes his or her reality. The muse can be sex, depression, justice, violence, or anything. For me right now, it's the poetry of water.

Each day, each moment prompts my memories of water. This morning has me thinking back to when I lived in the mountains. Someone had plunged a rod into a spring and the water bubbled out of the earth and formed a stream that disappeared into the ground in about twenty-five feet. My dog and I would walk there every day to wait for a bear who would come sometimes to drink. We'd see her once a week or so, and always it was a gift. The dog felt it too. He'd stare at her calmly, the only animal in the forest he didn't feel it wasn't his duty to hunt.

I remember the most dangerous moment of my life as well, when my friend and I had been hiking through the High Sierra. We were way back at the source of the Kern River. It was early summer and the waters were rushing. He and I balanced beamed our way over the waterfall and logs we had pointless faith for. One slip would have meant our death, but it felt so natural we just chatted about our girlfriends as we circus performed our way across.

I remember hiking all day and falling asleep next to Buck Creek, just a nap in the middle of the woods. When I woke up and looked around, I saw a marmot lying near me on his back, imitating my sleep as though he saw me and realized what a good idea it had been.

I remember being cut off from my job by the mudslides that came in an El Nino year after years and years of drought. Every day for a week, all the commuters in town would line our cars up and walk forward so we could stand and chat and worry about not being at work. We all thought about our bosses and clients and how much we would lose and we created a kind of society of anxiety based on how the water had cut us off.

All of these memories and more like them have crammed themselves in my head, and that's the nature of a long term project. It's reframing the way that I look at the world just as all of my novels have and short story collections. It will imprint itself on me, and I know that it will change me forever. How could it not? It has become the new reality of my consciousness.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Week 31

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m writing a poetry collection about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.


I’ve spent so much time researching natural caves that this week I’ve gotten into the idea of gutters and drains. Both of these kind of obsessed me when I was a kid. It took me a few poems, starts and then stops, to kind of understand why.


First, only children really and truly interact with gutters. I mean in a direct way. We have much too much responsibility and dignity to play in them when we’re adults, but when I was a kid, I’d follow water to its source, usually to someone who’d left his hose running in the driveway. There was a gutter that ran through our local park and my brothers and I would make boats and have races on rainy days. I don’t do that very much any longer. I probably should. I’d be better for it.


The drains in the gutter were an obsession too. Without me knowing, they represented the unconscious and everything I was afraid of. I’d seen rats and cats disappear into them, and I imagined a vast civilization of Morlocks living down there. I imagine cave networks and mystery. I imagined balrogs and skinny men with knives.


What better poetic fodder than this. The childhood unconscious where drains on streets were as mysterious and sacred to me as the dark moment in a confessional when, as I waited my turn, I could hear the indistinct mumblings of a priest talking to the sinner on the other side of the confessional.

Also, it occurs to me that I was a strange child for these kinds of games and thoughts, and I’ve likely grown into a strange adult. That’s just fine with me. I’d rather live in a world with balrogs and Morlocks than in one without them. Where else would poetry ever come from?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Week 30

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m going to write a sonnet series about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

When my wife and I were in our twenties and didn't have a lot of money for entertainment, we would spend a $100 a year to get year-long passes to Disneyland. I'm  not a huge fan of Disneyland, but it was a cheap way to get entertainment. We'd smuggle food in backpacks and have something to do on Saturdays and evenings. After a while however, the parks started to lose their charm. There is only so many times a person can enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean after all. It was still the cheapest entertainment around, so we kept going, but we had to change our perspective to make it interesting.

So we started to look at Disneyland from different perspectives. We checked out bird books from the library, and tried to understand their nesting habits and the lives of the feral cats who hid behind the scenes as much as they could. We discussed the art deco elements of the park and flora as well. Suddenly, we became scientists and art historians taking a look at a system that was unlike any other. Any way to resee a familiar place becomes its own fascination.

Our study of water has us seeing our world in a completely new way. At first, developing these poems was relatively easy. I wrote about rivers and the ocean, and how they interplay. But there's only so many ways that I can keep coming back to the same place. I'm looking at this city, which I have lived in now for nearly 40 years, through the lens of water.

What have I discovered?

Water flows under our feet.

Clouds are massively heavy.

The mountains are filled with caves that are full of water. This water is full of species of animals we will never see.

The politics of water is complicated.

Gutters are the world of children. Adults almost never interact with them directly.

Humans are a part of the watershed.

Water is eternal.

When you talk about water, you have to talk about salt.

California history is the history of water.

This and much more. The research is more interesting to me than I expected it to be. I knew that reading about history would be fascinating, but seeing though water has given me a new way to understand this same old place.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Week 29

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m going to write a sonnet series about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.


I have been getting reports and hearing references to something happening in Northern California on the Eel River. The Eel is the river that flows through the Avenue of the Giants, which is a drive full of coastal redwood trees. The Return of the Jedi was filmed in part in that area. If you’ve seen that movie, you know how lush that forest is.


What I’ve been hearing has been so dramatic, it’s been hard for me to believe, but apparently, the Eel River has stopped flowing. In parts, it has completely dried up.


I haven’t viewed this project with my wife as a political action in any way so far, but this news makes me want to do so. The problem has to do with our dry winter in part, and the strangeness of our laws to a large extent.


I live outside of Los Angeles, which is far to the south of the state. In Los Angeles there is little flowing water and a lot of what we use is imported from the south and the north. Each city and town around Los Angeles to some extent makes its own laws about water use, and as arid as it is, some promote using water wise alternatives.


However, some cities want to maintain a particular look, and require lawns. Some cities will fine their home owners if their lawns are not green enough. When we think of water battles and destruction we think of the Owens Valley which dried up nearly 100 years ago because William Mulholland diverted all of its water to Los Angeles. We think of Mono Lake and the battles fought over it 40 years ago.


But the story of water in Los Angeles isn’t just history. It’s going on now, but it’s happening silently.


There is a natural component to what is happening, but there is a political one as well. I’m not really a political writer, but this makes me want to be. Los Angeles is farming hundreds of miles of lawns while small farmers do without, and our rivers are drying.


Follow the link if you like to Tom Sebourn’s video of the Eel River. It’s horrifying.



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Week 28

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m going to write a sonnet series about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

Last week I talked about moving away from looking at water in California as a purely historical force. It remains a force. The thing about it is that Californians and the state have a strange relationship with water. It’s a force of life of course, but it also is a force of destruction.

One of my early memories of water, when I first moved to the state was during an El Nino year. When the streets flooded, some students at USC got boogie boards and rode the flood straight down one of the major streets. And when the city leaders declare that a storm off coast will cause dangerously high waves, surfers take that as a call to action. Sometimes we’ll go down to the beach as well to watch elite athletes at the top of their game doing what they do for the love of their sport. After all, no one pays them to go out into that chaos.

There’s something fascinating to us about the destructive force of water probably because we see it so rarely. The same goes for earthquakes. After an earthquake, there’s always a kind of holiday mood across the city as everyone talks about what the shaking felt like.

I don’t know exactly why we act like this with our natural forces of destruction. Maybe it’s because we live so closely with these forces all the time. If the rain doesn’t get us in January, then the earthquakes or the traffic will. I don’t know whether the rest of the world has this same sensibility, but my guess is that it doesn’t.

When this drought ends, my guess is that it will happen in one long month of weather straight out of Revelation. And my guess is that my friends and I will greet it with a party.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Week 27


I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m going to write a sonnet series about the creation of California. I’m using the dual stories of William Mulholland and John Muir to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

I’ve been working on the newest version of this collection for a month or two now, and it’s going fairly well. The writing itself is flowing since I spent all those months researching, developing, and drafting. I wrote half an epic, then got rid of it. It wasn’t working. I wrote a third and scrapped that too. What I’m working on now has clicked. It’s good.

The thing is that Muir and Mulholland aren’t in it any longer. There’s one mention of Muir at one point, but other than that, they’ve just disappeared. History has disappeared from it too although a lot of the poem mention pre-human history. I don’t know if that counts as a historical project or not, and I don’t really care.

What I do care about is that the writing works, and that’s no surprise, I guess. Once the writing got started, it took over. What seemed to make sense during the research no longer worked once I sat down behind the computer, and that’s all right. That’s how it should work.

It doesn’t mean that the research was pointless. All of that studying infuses its integrity through my poems. That is good. I’m not going to abandon this iteration of the project. This is what the collection is going to be, and I’ll start working with my wife now on how she wants to illustrate them. She’s a brilliant artist, and I can’t wait to see what she creates.

Finally, I’ll start sending these out to magazines to try to publish them. I can’t post them here because I’m afraid they’ll count as previously published. Some magazines count any posting that way. Twenty-seven weeks into the process, and I’m just starting to get the sense of how to publish the work and where it should go. That sounds about right.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Week 26

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m going to write a sonnet series about the creation of California. I’m using the dual stories of William Mulholland and John Muir to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.


This time of year is strange when we have droughts in California. Right now, I’m staring out the window at dark clouds on a hot day. It’s been six or seven months since we’ve had rain, and the Santa Ana winds have been blowing on and off. They’re a scirroco that come out of the desert drying out our area even more than it was.


But today it’s raining. My friend in Riverside, out near the desert, has been heading a community garden. He’s a water expert and has been helping people to grow flowers and food. The rain came pouring down yesterday. And yesterday, he nearly lost the garden.


Rain in a dry world is a strange thing. The earth needs the water, but has sealed itself off. Most of the dirt has turned into a kind of concrete, hard packed. When the water comes, it doesn’t sink into the ground where it’s needed. It pools and runs off, and we lose it.


Later in the season, the light rains will soften everything up and help the land keep the water. We hope that’s what happens. Right now though, rain is just melancholy, and I sit in my office and watch it run off into the ocean.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been writing about lately. It’s one of those things that shocked Mulholland, and why he put dams all across the L.A. basin.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Week 25

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m going to write a sonnet series about the creation of California. I’m using the dual stories of William Mulholland and John Muir to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

Whenever I write poetry or short fiction, I tend to work in terms of collection rather than individual poems or stories. It’s a technique that I always share with my students.

Why?

It’s about the muse. The muse is a Greek conception of a mysterious force that came down and blessed artists, poets, musicians, and the like, but that vision of the muse is ridiculous. The belief behind it is that there are some people who are simply blessed with inspiration. That’s not true.

Everyone is blessed with inspiration. The trick is making sure that what inspires you is good and productive.

The person who thinks about making money tends to see money making opportunities everywhere she looks. The person is ready to have children sees kids stuff everywhere. A person’s muse can be education, depression, alcohol, what other people are saying about him, or joy.

The muse is simply the acknowledgement that what we tend to concentrate on dominates our thoughts when we’re not focused. For me, teaching takes up a lot of my mental focus even when I’m not in class.

Writing does too.

It’s why I write everyday, and why I like to think in terms of collection rather than individual pieces. Not only now is everything in my consciousness being filtered through the medium of poetry, so every encounter is a potential moment of inspiration, but I tend to be focused on water. And water seems to be everywhere right now. It’s all anyone around me is talking about. It’s all through what I’m reading.

In actuality, it’s just all I’m concentrating on. The rest tends to blow away.

It’s not a bad thing to be focused on something like poetry. Considering the pain and evil throughout our world. Poetry is a great alternative.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Week 24

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m going to write a sonnet series about the creation of California. I’m using the dual stories of William Mulholland and John Muir to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

The poetry project is going in kind of strange direction right now. I’ve always known that all people are interconnected, just as all living things on Earth are. I mean that in an environmental and spiritual kind of way, but it turns out that people living in the Los Angeles area are a whole lot more interconnected than other people.

I was talking to my buddy in the water department months ago, taking notes and listening to what he had to say about water because he has a lot of interesting things to say on the subject. He’s worked with water for years and thought about it deeply.

Anyway, one note I had said that water goes through three people before it hits the sea. I hadn’t remembered writing it. It was fairly clear, but it also kind of shocked me. I had to write him back to see if that meant what I thought it did.

It turns out that water is scarce in the Los Angeles area. No surprise there. It turns out that each area more or less has its own discrete system for collecting and sanitizing water, and each city is getting as much water as it can out of the ground. What that means is that if a drop of water falls on the mountains, it passes through three or four city water systems, so yeah, it often will pass through three human beings.

There are some fairly disgusting implications to this, but some interesting ones as well. First we’re interconnected. Physically. And water picks up salt and the two are hard to separate. Those of you living down in Long Beach are likely carrying my salt and water in your bodies.

I’ll try to be a little more healthy.

More interesting to me, however, is that we all become our own little watershed. It’s surprising that in dry years rivers continue to run, but of course, water is caught in reservoirs, underground caves and aquifers, and the vegetation of the mountain. What I’d never thought of before is that we’re storing all that water as well. Briefly, sure, but it has to pass through three of us, so longer than it seems.

Who could want a more poetic subject, but it has to be handled correctly. Otherwise, this could turn into a gross kind of collection of poems.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Week 23

It’s a teardown, again.


I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m going to write a sonnet series about the creation of California. I’m using the dual stories of William Mulholland and John Muir to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.


Here’s the thing about a series like this. It’s really difficult to write. That’s no surprise, but I think I have what’s going to be the structure of it finally. So far, I’ve started the epic. Twice. The first time I was about a quarter of the way through it. I had envisioned it as the story of Harrison as he dreams of Mulholland and Muir.


It was a good idea.


It didn’t work. That’s a lot of sonnets to throw away, but I’ll save them in a file, I suppose, for possible later use.


The problem was that the story just wasn’t active enough. That happens. If the narrative doesn’t have both major conflict and interlocking scene goals then it’s not going to work as a narrative.


The second version was pretty awful. The narrative was good, but it didn’t match the poetry of the non-narrative parts. I made the difficult decision this Saturday to tear down that one too.


So where does that leave me? Well, who said that it needs to be narrative? Not me. And who said that it needs to be sonnets? What I need is a discussion of the history of California, a way to locate what California is.


I think it needs to follow the tradition of the poetry collection that is loosely narrative but not dependent on that narrative.


How many times have I built up and torn down in the past? Every novel, every story goes through this process. I’m writing at first to figure out what it is that I know, and what I want to say.

I think I have it now. We’ll see.