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.