Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Cup of Hot Tea

Some folks brew their tea until it’s the deepest color of that particular brew; I let the teabag reach a pale hue and then tug it out of the water. Some folks keep the cover on, or a lid on their cup to keep in the heat. I remove the cover, expose the tea to the air and hope for quick cooling—tepid tea or tea straddling? Does the desire to wait for tea to reach a lukewarm state extend to other ways of looking at the world?

Two days ago I finished reading Reality Hunger by David Shields. Some critics heralded it as a new manifesto, others decreed it a morass of quick jibes at fiction and the writing of narrative. I neither fully embraced his words nor fully dismissed his words. It's bracing to read of someone who wrestles with the "how to" of writing in our era. I do love a story, but I want my story to move away from an "and then and then and then" --moving inch by inch to a preordained conclusion. But I can't jump on the bandwagon; I can walk beside the wagon.


Nancy Drew's 80th birthday must mean something. The Poison Pen Bookstore is throwing a party.

A woman at the small table across from my aerie just said, “It’s quite good, isn't it." Her British accent carries the sentence to a deeper level.

Did she read my mind or is the comment regarding something else? Is this what Shields meant by creating a collage?

"My sister has fifteen more little sheep coming. Yes, she's still in South Wales."

My eavesdropping results in the realization that she sprinkles her sentences with " mustn't it" and "oh, right" and "you see".

"They also do a very nice cup of tea here. They have little pouches."

I never did read a single Nancy Drew book. I do recall borrowing Nobody's Boy and Nobody's Girl by Hector Merlot from our library. At ten, I thought they were masterpieces. I've been afraid to find them and reread them lest an icon be trashed or put in perspective.


Straddling the fence is a national pastime. Wait; let me see what the others say, where my bread will be better buttered. Yet, a pedantic stand has a corrosive effect on relations.

How much did I think about sacred space before reading Mircea Eliade's book: The Sacred and the Profane? When sitting in the Kiva at Chaco Canyon I knew the space felt holy. Did those feelings arise because the space was sacred or because I had read all about the religious rites of the inhabitants of Chaco?

I don't know. I sometimes wish that the big questions came with directions for arriving at definitive answers. Eventually we all need to come down on one side or another, even while holding on to doubts. Doubts are like life preservers tethering us to the profane world, but allowing us to also live in the sacred world.

At times I wish for a cup of hot tea with all the sting of something too hot, yet full bodied.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Goat Prompt

It all started with a goat. Actually it started when I read about a goat. Or more accurately it all began when I read a prompt that started with a goat. I usually eschew prompts, but this time I found myself intrigued. The goat had an unfortunate accident. He stepped on the thorn of a Honey-Locust tree. Not knowing anything about that tree I started to look it up and caught myself before I got lost in link after link connecting me to a myriad of sites offering information ranging from the practical "how to plant" to the historical, mystical, poetic and artistic. Everything has a history.

This particular thorn caused discomfort, then pain, then an infection that weakened the goat. In his debilitated state the goat, while he could still think, pondered ontological questions. He also asked himself what he wanted to do before he died. At this point I began to see where this particular prompt was heading.

Why not state the question without the story? Does knowing the story make it easier to respond? We'll all die and we'll all leave much undone. Is it really possible to answer the question? Is it only possible to answer that question in the quietness of one's heart. Suppose we make it easier and ask what would the goat, staying with the myth, want to do for himself. That rids the respondent of thinking that an answer of that sort shows a callous disregard of others and of the big questions of life.

All the big questions require more time to answer. Who wants to respond off the cuff? I’m reading Zakhor by Yosef Hayim Yerusalmi. In a postscript he refers to a mnemonist who remembers everything he has ever read and I assume seen or experienced. This storehouse of information acts like the web links I feared. Each word the mnemonist reads conjures up other readings, other books, and other experiences. He is mired in his own memory.

The goat can't become stuck wanting to return to another time, a previous experience.

Now if the goat morphs into another creature, which is where this was all going, the same problems persist. The inner critic shouts don't be selfish—go for it. But this is a big question. What do you want to do?

This is the problem with prompts. It's not my wording, not my thought, not my place in the story. My prompt: the goat recovers. Now what or how will he live his life? Time takes on a relative position in the story. We don't know how many days before another, but different ending.


Dennis, a part-tem librarian, just stopped by my table at the coffee shop. He held a wad of newspaper ads.

"I'm going shopping."

We exchanged funny stories about store housing soup to last the winter, our cache of paper goods, the use of coupons, the stock market, and low dividends. The last topic spawned a lengthy discussion about the need of money to make money, the timing of the market, the use of an extra room for books and sale groceries, and the ability to stretch one’s income on and on until the end…

The conversation ended with these words from Dennis:
"When I was younger I thought that it would be nice to get tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal today."

" Is that too much to ask?"

And off he went to stock his cupboards—