Tag Archives: Writing

The Inescapable Nevering

THE INESCAPABLE NEVERING

Close to the half-century mark
I will likely never

Climb Mount Everest
Spend a night in the International Space Station
Star in a Hollywood picture

And I’m okay with that or mostly okay
But there is another never
Far more subtle and harder to accept

Hundreds of beloved books on my bookshelf
that will never be reread
Thousands of favorite songs in my collection
that will never be heard again
And millions of pleasant thoughts in my head
that will never be thought again

Not so much forgotten or ignored
As simply not coming to mind
Buried in the vault of me

That keeps on acquiring
new books to read
new music to hear
new pleasant thoughts to cherish

iTunes tells me I need
(right now)
215.4 days to listen
(to everything)

one      time      through

Music plays while I write this
The whole of it on shuffle

A Teaser from the Trunk

2248_be6c7b094f88532b6c6b35bbcd525ee8

Going through my trunk of completed but never submitted, came across a 23,000 word novella, Camphorville Connection. Later parts likely need revising, but I like the set-up. Enough so, I thought I’d share it here as a teaser.

CAMPHORVILLE CONNECTION
JD Fox

1

This story is true.

Honest Injun. Swear to god. Cross my heart and hope to—

Well, I won’t hope that. Better the verse remains unfinished. The past stays incomplete anyway, all full of flotsam and jetsam.

C’est la vie.

-2-

Month and I hated Camphorville.

I almost wrote ‘with a passion’, but that would understate it. We hated it so completely there was no passion left. We were recurrently dragged there by our parents, being too young to have our votes count. Time there passed in drying coats of paint and construction of malicious sobriquets.

I came up with banal originals such as Boogerman, Zitface, and Greaseomatic.

Month likewise dipped into the oft-mined well of physical attributes, calling me Doughboy, Pudger, and — while pissing next to me in a Denver International Airport bathroom sixty-five miles outside of Camphorville — Dickless.

That last one was a bit harsh. I did have a dick. And still do. It just hadn’t seriously started doing the growing thing a couple more years would bring about.

Of course, compared to Month’s gigantic one, it did look so minuscule it might as well have been nonexistent.

Now, in retrospect, Month’s likely wasn’t any larger than your typical 14-soon-to-be-15-year-old’s, but such is perspective, time and space and mental state affecting such things as they do.

Most of those nicknames were only casual, throwaway ones anyway. Only a couple outlasted all the others and actually passed from the realm of insults to being used as, I guess, endearment of sorts.

Leaving the typical appellations behind, I came up with calling him Month.

I thought his real name, Augusten, was stupid, and the shortened form of August, which the folks favored, even stupider. So did he. I used to call him Aug, or Auggie, but then one day it just came out all sort of spontaneous, like ‘What’s up, Month?’ or “Stop it, Month” or “I don’t wanna, Month” and it stuck.

At first, he used to get mad when I called him that, since that’s what you’re supposed to do at such things, but somehow it seemed to fit better than Augusten, August, Aug, or Auggie.

Mine is harder to explain why it stuck.

Maybe it had such staying power mainly because it was Month who came up with it and I wanted to hold on to it for that purpose, like an amulet around my neck that I never took off. Or maybe like one I couldn’t take off. Such things as cause and effect blur with time and it really amounts to a fourth of one, a quarter of the other.

Month called me Bent.

In lieu of Benjamin, Ben, Benj, or Benjy, all of which my friends and family and enemies used depending on the situation, the gender, and the context.

When my folks would ask him to get me, he would say, “Oh, do you want me to get Bent?” as if that meant something. Apparently it did to him and he would laugh. Apparently it meant something to my parents, too, as they would frown. I seemed to be the only one confused.

I eventually became less confused, if not totally enlightened, thanks to the help of classmate Gary Willicker, who happened to overhear one such exchange during a sleepover at my house. He tended to have a rather cosmopolitan knowledge of slurs, body parts, and other wondrously curious things. I became less confused about other stuff that night as well.

Regardless, Bent and Month stuck and I don’t remember us calling each other anything else, except for the mean-spirited, aforementioned epithets, and ‘Month’ was actually the very last word I said to him. Before he disappeared.

The Whelming

1100-2

Spur yourself to muster the power of faith. Regard your survival as wondrous. Employ the strategy of the Lotus Sutra before any other.

Many things in my current slice of Vermont life are overwhelming. Underwhelming, too, as those two words are more collusive than opposing.

All the concrete biggies are in play: Finances, Health, and Security. The existential ones too: Purpose, Meaning, and Creativity.

I am anxious about being able to provide for my family, my dangerous drop in weight, and the uncertainty of the future. I worry about not doing what I was born to do, finding less attached too often to meaning, and words unwritten dying with me.

I take action of course: applying for better, more-suitable employment, like with the Vermont Humanities Council; creating work and putting it out there, like with this post; and continuing my volunteer activities, like with reading submissions for the Mud Season Review.

I take more actions than the above and try to think of what further things I can do, what other steps I can take, to create a life that is something other than “nasty, brutish and short.”

Lately, in addition to chanting, I’ve been reading and rereading Strategy of the Lotus Sutra. It is a short letter, just a page or so, Nichiren wrote to his devout follower Shijō Kingo. It is a reply to a letter Kingo had sent about being ambushed by some of his fellow samurai, encouraging him to remain strong in faith; indeed, for him to become even more resolute.

Faith is difficult for me to muster.

Ribs clearly visible in my gaunt body, I envision the formidable obstacles in any potential roads taken and doubt my abilities. Yet I am still alive to have or not have faith, time passing either way.

“Regard your survival as wondrous” seems to have two meanings. The first as in thinking wow, I survived this horrible attack. How amazing! But also, life in general is a constant struggle to survive, and us being around at any given moment is something quite extraordinary.

The “strategy” of the Lotus Sutra is faith; not just having it but understanding its relation to other things. Faith is not something to be added later, but should come first. It is the foundation upon which all other actions – strategies – are built.

I’ve been trying to chant – and take action – with such thoughts in mind.

Nichiren ends the letter with “A coward cannot have any of his prayers answered.”

I think of this line, too, as I take determined steps forward, despite being very much afraid.

New Poem

sunset, Lake Champlain

sunset, Lake Champlain

Visitation

It comes to me while stocking shelves
by rote, neurons idle.

It comes to me while losing weight
from missed meals, hunger overrated.

It comes to me while stacking bills
against means, tower leaning.

It comes to me while taking pills
for AIDS, or forgetting.

It comes to me while writing poetry
at dawn, before dusk.

Week 17 Thoughts

Time Keeping

It’s difficult to know how to use
this limited time we got.

Better to be a mayfly
searching for a one-day stand
then drop.

Or maybe be a soap bubble
expanding its breath a glorious once
then PoP.

Better to be a rock
enduring millenniums
with stony laughter.

Or maybe an island
keeping to itself a million years
before going underwater.

A human life is only long enough
to realize it’s not.

————-

Notes on poem:

Poets and Writer’s The Time is Now e-newsletter came today. Number 17. It is also week 17 of my second year being underemployed.

The big toenail of each foot has come off during those 69 weeks due to separate cases of being in the wrong spot as I pulled a heavy load. The left one seems to have grown back to semi-normal. The right one, not so much.

I wonder if it will heal. Or if I will see it. I wonder if week 32 will find me in a better place. Or homeless. Or maybe an aneurysm at week 31 will make thoughts of week 32 moot.

At week 17, I still have power to type this. An Electric Disconnect letter makes having such a luxury at week 18 uncertain. I meet with someone today to request assistance. If successful, I can spend week 18, lights on, worrying about week 19 Food and Shelter.

Maybe week 20 I will find a better job. Maybe week 25 I will find Tin House liking the story I sent them. Maybe week 45 I will get a book deal.

Or maybe week 18 is week number 1 in another 69 weeks.

Twice-Baked Bread and Half-Baked Thoughts

zwieback

zwieback toast

zwieback
noun zwie·back \ˈswē-ˌbak, ˈswī-, ˈzwē-, ˈzwī-, -ˌbäk\
: a dry, hard bread that is eaten especially by young children

I lost the Third Annual Cabin Fever Spelling Bee held at the Kellogg Hubbard Library.

Lost early on. The kind of early on that is a tad embarrassing, with tad here meaning “a whole lot.”

Judging from many of the subsequent words, if not early on I would have lost later on. The competition was humbling and props to Robbie Harold who won it. Won it again, I should add. It was amazing hearing her and the other spellers spell, often doing so rapidly and with mind-blowing certainty.

My particular losing word — zwieback — was a word I had never heard before and my misspelling of it revealed that ignorance to the audience. But it also revealed some interesting ways my brain works; though not to the audience, of course, who, being outside of me, could only see its dismal output accompanying a somewhat gormless expression.

My thoughts started with crackers.

Word-Pronouncer Sydney Lea included crackers in his definition of the word. He said a lot of other descriptive words, mentioning them being inedible and how he remembered his grandmother always had them around.

He likely mentioned bread, too, but, after briefly and tangentially thinking of my maternal grandparents, candy orange slices and other weird candies that only seemed to be present at their house and always in little glass dishes,  I zeroed in on crackers.

My mind started sifting through different crackers sold at Shaw’s; specifically, the ones loosely collected in my head under the category “crackers with weird names.” Matzo and wasi came most immediately to mind, along with Melba toast, which sound nothing like zwieback, but still…

Although zwieback didn’t sound familiar, perhaps I had at least glanced at them while stocking items in its shelf vicinity. No matter that for Wasi I should have been thinking Wasa; I could picture the three kinds – multi-grain, sourdough, and light rye – on the shelf and tried to see other neighboring crackers.

But instead Wasi encouraged wasabi to hijack my thinking, tossing me over to a different aisle. Wasabi is a real word, but it is a plant and has nothing to do with crackers. Though wasabi peas are stocked in the oriental foods section, where KA-ME offers three kinds of rice crackers, which are called… er, rice crackers.

No help there…

Abandoning this path, I tried to focus on the sound of the word, hoping to make a good guess. But zwī is not a common sound in English and I couldn’t think of what letters plopped together could create it. The closest I came to the sound was zī as in Zygote, which I knew wasn’t right even as I spelled zwieback Z-Y-B-A-C-K.

Ironically, in a too-late-to-be-of-use fashion, as soon as Sydney started spelling it correctly, Z – W –, my mind partially blocked him out and went “Oh, yeah, duh” recalling my rudimentary college German and proceeding to unhelpfully count in German:

Eins
Zwei
Drei
Vier…

Where the German word for two has both the sound and spelling I had needed. Or so I had thought until I started writing this post and research showed the correct word has I before E, following the infamous except before c English Language rule. So even if I had remembered my German, I would have likely gotten it wrong, catching the beginning zw and messing up the subsequent ie by following Zwei.

Though to be fair, a Google search shows quite a few people mistakenly spelling it zweiback. A mistake perhaps compounded by the word, meaning literally twice-baked, coming from the German word for two, zwei.

On the other hand, one source says zwie is a variant of zwei. Another source even claims the word zwieback comes originally from German zweiback. I cannot yet locate an authoritative source on its true etymology.

But in contemporary usage – eg. Nabisco and Amazon.de, it is I before E.

Still, the pronunciation can be either a long I or a long E sound, adding to the trickiness, with the latter sound appearing in rule-breaking words like seize. Then again, maybe it isn’t so rule-breaking after all; soft C and S sound alike, so I before E, except after a (soft) C sound.

Neither ie nor ei follows C when it is hard, which means when C sounds like K not S.

Kome to think of it, why do we even have a C in our language? Kouldn’t we rely on K’s and S’s?

For CH’s, maybe? If so, why not have it simply – and always — be that sound and dispense with needing the H with it? We could even redesign the letter altogether and call it see-aytch in homage to ß.

Maybe we keep it as is just so we can have the I before E except after C rule.

Though that would be weird.

Marking Our Territory

playground, Lakeside Park

playground, Lakeside Park — Erin Dupuis, photographer

MARKING OUR TERRITORY
JD Fox

Is that a gator from the bayou
ready to take a bite?
Or is it a friend tried and true
standing by your side?

Maybe it’s your faithful steed
waiting for you to take the reins.
Maybe it’s just what you need
to cross uncharted terrains.

Brush off the snow and climb aboard.
No one is rejected.
Let your imagination soar
in ways unexpected.

Turn a stick into a sword
and slay the dragons around you.
Paint the grass in checkerboard
and play a game of chess or two.

Turn a vacant lot into a town square
and see potential in a wall.
Gather all the artists there
and beckon them to draw.

Have the poets write their lines
on sidewalks of the neighborhood.
It doesn’t matter if they rhyme
(though of course they could).

Have the musicians play all day
keeping music in the air.
May each contribute in their own way
and be heard everywhere.

Such suggestions might seem unsound
when we get down to brass tacks.
But the world is our playground
and our actions are our tracks.

Courtesy Burlington Writers Workshop and PlanBTV South End, I had a wonderful opportunity to work with photographer Erin Dupuis on a mixed media project. The idea was to capture some aspect of the South End that we found inspiring. She took a photograph and I wrote a poem to go along with it.

We had some logistical setbacks, both scheduling-wise and with subjects declining at the eleventh hour. We had originally envisioned the photograph and poem being of a person in action in the South End, but when that fell through, Erin sent me a batch of photographs she had taken at the start of the project.

All the photographs were stunning and inspiring, despite the lack of people inhabiting them. Or maybe more so because of it.

For one of the pictures she sent me was a stark closeup of an empty swing. My mind started whirring with the twin ideas of how sad it is to see a playground not in use and how a playground is full of potential. What was I Iooking at? An abandoned swing, slated for deterioration from apathy? Or something just currently — and temporarily — dormant until kids came out to play.

I thought it looked more like the former and my poetic train of thought turned bleak, as I thought of budget cuts, empty playgrounds, and childhood cut short. But at the same time, my thoughts went a different route, thinking how what things are and what they can be are both up to us.

As I looked at the picture included in this blog, this more affirming, second thought took over. I imagined joyous kids of unlimited potential climbing onto this creature and it becoming whatever they wanted it to be.  In the same way, our reality — our future — is never fixed; we have the power to change it for the better; to make it what we want.

In the picture, notice the tracks in the snow. Someone was there. What did they do? Where did they go? The tracks are evidence; a record of their passing through. What kind of record are we leaving?

Faith and Fortune

In order to save living beings,
as an expedient means I appear to enter nirvana
but in truth I do not pass into extinction.
I am always here, preaching the Law.
I am always here,
but through my transcendental powers
I make it so that living beings in their befuddlement
do not see me even when close by.
When the multitude sees that I have passed into extinction,
far and wide they offer alms to my relics.
All harbor thoughts of yearning
and in their minds thirst to gaze at me.

I’m not much of a person of faith.

My husband is more inclined towards spiritual beliefs, having converted to Nichiren Buddhism when he was 18 and remaining steadfast in practice these nearly three decades since.

I lean more towards philosophy infused by science (“Yeah, sure, buddy, that’s an elegant theory of mind you got there, but if you don’t have a solid grasp of the biological underpinnings of thought, you’re just blathering.”).

But I have been known to pray on occasion. Especially when there seems to be nothing left but faith. Which is probably an awful lot like cheating – or cramming maybe – but like I said, it’s not in my main wiring.

However, feeling like I’m going to short-circuit from befuddlement is present. I am working hard at trying to turn things around for us, but have been having various setbacks. I thirst for solutions to our current situation.

Not knowing what else to do – befuddled indeed! – I started chanting regularly again: Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. A half-hour in the morning and half-hour in the evening. As I chant, the main focus of my mind is on these two parallel thoughts:

I need a door, some door, any door, to open.

How can I be a better person in my current environment?

I’m not chanting or thinking these things to an outside source. For Buddhism teaches the oneness of self and environment; that outer reality can be affected by our inner reality. Another way of saying this without sounding so New Age is that we all have the power inside us to transform our lives.

The most recent thing that needed transformed was rent.

The last week in January I wrote my landlord saying rent would be late, that I would pay it on the fifth. But it turned out that approaching the fifth found me worse off than expected, thinking triage, thinking I’d pay what I could of February rent, which wouldn’t be much, and writing the landlord again saying I would make payments over the next few weeks the best I could, and hoping that would be okay.

On the fifth, I had the day off. Among other things, I chanted a half hour, wrote an hour on a novel-in-progress (The Tulip Tree), and checked e-mail. I went to the Montpelier Food Pantry (Thank you, Montpelier; much, much appreciated!), read with my Everybody Wins VT! student, and stopped by the library to pick up books for the daycare for which I do library outreach each week, bringing books and reading to the kids.

Afterwards I took care of some household tasks and picked up some needed items from town.

Late in the afternoon I sat down to do what I’d been dreading: checking accounts that hardly had anything in them to check, and see what I could pay of my current onslaught of bills, including rent.

I got this welcome surprise: tax refunds had posted, both federal and state.

Now it wasn’t a huge amount by any means. But it was enough, along with what I had, to pay rent in full for the month. I still have many other bills, but it felt wonderful to know that at least our shelter has been paid up for another month.

So not really a door opening fully. Just ajar, just enough to let some light in, and maybe just for this month. But still…

Coincidence?

Like I said, I’m not a man of faith and tend to be cautious in assigning causality. But I did find the timing interesting.

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Journal 101

Those who believe in the Lotus Sutra are as if in winter, but winter always turns to spring. Never, from ancient times on, has anyone heard or seen of winter turning back to autumn.

I sure hope so. Winter in Vermont means below zero temperatures. In Montpelier it is -16 degrees. In the harsh weather of my current circumstances it is considerably chillier.

Can’t do much about the Sun, but towards climate improvement of the latter I keep trying to think of new things I can do; new efforts I can put forth. I also am working on keeping my internal state focused on a future spring. Towards that end I’ve decided to start keeping a journal again.

I haven’t kept a journal regularly in a long time, largely because of the aforementioned – and ongoing — circumstances overwhelming me. Recording of such things seemed like an exercise in self-torture.

This journaling gap is ironic of course. For anyone who journals knows that such situations are when you probably need to journal the most; hardships tend to form the meatiest parts of your life. You are partly writing for yourself – as therapy, as clarification, or as just pure output, artistic or otherwise — but you are also writing for your future self.

A self that is shaped by the words you put on the page even if they are never read again.

For thoughts lead to other thoughts, lines lead to other lines, and days lead to other days as we continue with our life’s revisions.

I crack open the cellophane on a hardbound journal I had in storage. I’ve used various notebooks over the years. Many of them are cheap, spiral bound ones of various dimensions and page counts. The one just opened is a nicer one and is the last one I have on hand.

The journal I kept before this one was journal number 100.

 

 

2015

How do you make the old year new?

You can’t really. That’s what makes New Year’s Day and all the sanguine emphases on fresh starts, resolutions, and clean slates a bunch of malarkey.

Debt, sickness, and other concerns that were serious issues at the end of the old year will likely — barring some Lifetime Movie Miracle — still remain issues in the beginning of the New Year; the unbroken flight of the temporal arrow shooting through our arbitrary divisions with indifference.

I made a pledge when we moved out here to “get involved” and I have pushed myself harder than I ever have before.

2014 did have some good points, the kind of points of which my husband tells me I should be proud: my writing has gotten more exposure; I’ve been involved with numerous non-profits, boards, and committees; and I’m now an assistant editor for a literary journal.

All of the above, though, are non-paying.

My current full-time paying work doesn’t pay enough – not even close – and is physically, emotionally, and psychologically draining. I’ve had worse adherence to my medication regimen than I’ve had in years, I’ve unintentionally lost about 30lbs so far, and my finance-related stress is at an all-time high.

Yeah, sure, money isn’t everything and lack of it shouldn’t diminish the value of other things, the things that truly matter. And it doesn’t. But it certainly overshadows them, eclipsing the joy they bring as I stare into a new year that is simply the old year continued.

So how do you start a New Year when you are still wounded and bleeding from the previous year without a tourniquet in sight?

One-half of that start I reckon is waking up. Not everyone does. Not everyone did.

Another half is staying up. Not everyone does that either.

Although “the thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night,” it is day now. I’m both awake and plan to stay up.

So I regroup, write this post, and try to think of ways I can push myself even harder in 2015.

I check my e-mail and see a creative prompt from Poets and Writers: the first one of the year in their weekly writing exercises series The Time is Now.

It always is, isn’t it?

Until it’s not.