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.