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.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Week 22

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.

Water coming out of the Sierra is strange. You’d think that in drought years it would dry up entirely. We’ve had several arid years in a row now with almost no snow pack and little rain, but the streams keep coming. They’re low this year, but still fuller than you would think.

But water isn’t located in a single source. Looking up at the snow caps and assuming all the water is stored there is natural, and there is a lot of water there, but water also gets trapped in the vegetation and the trees. Every animal is its own watershed. Every person is a reservoir for a short time.

What fascinates me, however, are the caves. The Sierra Nevada is filled with cavities formed by years of water dripping slowly through cracks in subterranean granite and marble. A stream disappears on top of a hill only to reappear halfway down. Or more often, a small part of a stream seeps subtly into the ground, so we have no idea it’s leaking away. Miles later, and years later, it works its way back into the stream.

What spills into the reservoirs is a mix of water that came out of the sky a year ago and many years ago. It’s strange to think of all that ancient water mixing with water that was a part of this year’s rainfall, strange to think about the years it spent being squeezed through the sieve of the mountains.

This is the best part of research for me. I’ve been reading about Muir and Mulholland, but you can’t talk about those two without talking about caves and how water disappears and reappears. The two men had a different relationship with the nature of water. Muir had faith that it was there and would keep flowing. Mulholland was terrified that it would go away. And I got to find something out that neither of them knew.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Week 21

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.

My wife is an artist but also a publishers. She likes to make t-shirts for her authors when their books come out to help promote the books, and we were thinking about this book. Muir and Mulholland were both interesting cats, and they’d make for interesting t-shirt slogans for different types of people.

For example, there’s Muir’s famous, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” People have already put that on t-shirts. It’s kind of a weekend-warrior slogan, which is exactly what I am.

But that misses a lot of readers and a lot of target markets. For example, when Mulholland gave an aqueduct to Los Angeles, his entire speech was, “There it is. Take it.” Now that sounds like a great t-shirt slogan for a communist.

I’m a proud luddite. I don’t even carry a cell phone. A good t-shirt quotation for me and my sisters and brothers might be: “The gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual.”

The sadist in your life might enjoy the response Mulholland gave when asked if he wanted to become the mayor of Los Angeles: “I’d rather give birth to a porcupine. Backward.”

There is a movement in Alaska to cede from the United States. Those people would like Muir’s: “To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”

When Mulholland drained the Owen’s valley, killing its trees, he said, “I half-regretted the demise of so many of the valley’s orchard trees, because now there were no longer enough trees to hang all the troublemakers who live there.” That’s the perfect slogan for the jaunty masochist.

Both men had a flair for their poetic, and all of these quotation are open-source. I think we’re going to make one of these into a t-shirt. Which one do you think we should do? Leave your ideas in the comments below and we’ll post an update when we have a way to go.