M is for Meredith Maran…and me

M“…Bend your neck so your head tilts sideways and walk slowly along the stacks of books, reading all the titles out loud, with expression, as if the titles were lines from a poem. Do this until the poem is finished.” –Ruth Ozeki’s prompt #13 in the Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016)

I headed for the Crafts/Home Décor/Arts signage at the Burlington, Washington Library . The section was near the table my wife and I had staked out over which Andrew Carnegie’s portrait presided. I strolled along, whispering the names of three dozen titles and then selected a handful for the following prose poem. The book titles are italicized; the few connecting words are not.

A HARD DAYS WRITE: What is needed: Game Face, Super Focus, Just Look,The Hammer of the Gods, A Life in Color, Energy Flash

What is not needed: Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction,The idiot’s Gide to Playing the Harmonica, Fundamentals of Philately,The Alternative Guide to Cheerleading, and especially Depression Glass

The result: Vanished Smile not Super Better

Having fulfilled the requirements of Ruth Ozeki’s prompt, I can move from me to Meredith Maran, the author of Why We Write: 2o Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do,  a book I recommend to every writer or individual interested in what makes writers write.

Moran asks the question, “Why do writers write? Anyone who’s ever sworn at a blinking cursor has asked herself that question at some point.” The answer for herself is “I write books to answer my own questions. So I made a wish list of authors to interview for this one…” Her goal was “to talk to those who have beaten the odds: writers who have succeeded at both the craft and the commerce of writing, who could offer the greatest insights into the creative urge.”

Moran managed to obtain interviews with a stellar list of authors including Isabel Allende, Susan Orlean, Sue Grafton, Mary Karr, and Armistead Maupin, to name a few. The reader learns about Armistead Maupins favorite teacher Mrs. Peacock, about Sara Gruen’s rejection for Water for Elephants (“Circus books don’t sell”), and David Baldacci’s conviction that he’d be in prison if writing were illegal (“I can’t not write. It’s a compulsion.”)

In addition to essays by the individual writers, Maran has sidebars that list basic information about each author–their birthdays, upbringing, education, honors, books authored, etc.

Version 2I met Maran briefly at the2016 AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference. She participated in the panel Not a Love Story: Owning the Romantic and Domestic in Literary Memoir. Note the word “literary” in the title. Maran and her compatriots want to avoid the relegation of their books to the Chick Lit pile, preferring to emphasize the significance of their content.

For memoir writers, check out her companion volume Why We Write about Ourselves: 20 Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and others) in the name of Literature.

P.S. In the picture to the left, I’ve just bought her book which accounts for the flash of cash and her accommodating smile. I suspect that reading essays by The Twenty, as she calls them, will erase my inclination to write any more Tilted Head Poetry.

Additional Resources: http://www.salon.com/2011/05/08/mothers_ask_where_did_i_go_wrong/



H is for Helen Hiebert & Her Handmade Paper

HGo to a library with dice in your pocket. Roll the dice and write down the numbers until they resemble a Dewey Decimal call number. Find the book with the closest corresponding number and read it as though it were the voice of God. –Ruth Ozeki’s Prompt #6 in the Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016)

The San Luis Obispo Library is an inviting place: a bright-colored mural at the entrance, a friendly person at a reception desk, wi-fi available for out-of-towners, and tables and comfy chairs on the second floor.

The dice clatter when I roll them onto the table. My wife gives me a shushing look, so I execute the next five rolls  by tossing the dice onto with  a pad of paper. Six. Seven. Eight. Eight. One. Ten. 678.810. I amble into the stacks, scrutinizing the numbers on the spines. The books in the 670s are loose on the shelf with a gap between 675.2, The Ultimate Guide to Skinning and Tanning and 680 (no extended decimal numbers), The Craft of Stickmaking. The closest number is 676.22 which, hallelujah, has an abundance of H’s: The Papermaker’s Companion: The Ultimate Guide to Making and Using Handmade Paper by Helen Hiebert.

Now I’m getting scared. How do I find the voice of God in The Papermaker’s Companion? Maybe Helen Hiebert is one of God’s experts; God certainly needs experts to explain the complexities of earth. I find information about her–HH, that is, not God. She lives in Colorado, she was born in 1965, she’s written five books including a fun volume entitled Playing With Pop-ups: the Art of Dimensional, Moving Paper Designs. Her baby pushed her to finish The Papermaker’s Companion because he was due two weeks before her manuscript.

I could have used The Papermaker’s Companion about twenty five years ago when I gathered my children for a family activity I’d read about in a magazine article. I sent four of them outdoors to gather grass. We threw clippings, wadded up newspapers, and water into a blender to make a pulp and then spread the mess out to dry on a crude window screen. The sunshine dried the materials, but the result was a thick “paper” that would never support a penned, handwritten note.

Hiebert’s recipe for making paper from grass fiber involves steaming, stripping, cleaning, retting (fermenting), scraping, drying and other processes I’m never going to try, but I might try to make paper quilts with my grandchildren, which she details in the Children’s Projects section, and I like reading her words about the history of paper.

Listen to her definition of paper: “True paper is made from a raw material that has been macerated (beaten) and broken down into tiny fibers, mixed with water, and formed into sheets on a screen surface that catches he fibers as the water drains through it. The individual fibers interlock and form a sheet of paper when pressed and dried.”

I think Helen Hiebert may be one of God’s surrogate voices and stewards. After all, didn’t God say  “Let the earth bring forth grass…And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:11-12)

G is for Finding George

GRuth Ozeki offered twenty writing prompts in her preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016) which I am using as my platform for the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Twenty-six letters, twenty prompts, leaving six days unassigned.

I’m not ready for what Ozeki calls her Social Project prompts: “Find a way to end global warming. Make it work” (#16) and “Find a way to end poverty. Make it work. “(#17). When I complete them––I’ll use her library prompts, my favorites, as rewards.

Since I was already planning a library visit, why not make my own prompt?

Go to the history room of the library in your hometown and sleuth out information about Civil War veteran George Reuben Anderson––your great-grandfather. Ask the librarian for help. Never mind about the family tree stuff. Look for personal information.

I made my prompt a nimble container because, sly cover-up artist that I am, I wrote it after conducting research.

I have a binder full of information of basics about George: born in Ohio in 1857, 14 years old when the Civil War broke out, got his parents permission to enlist at 16 in the Kansas Light Artillery, was wounded in two battles, returned to Kansas, worked with his father as a harness maker, was a founding member of the Topeka chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (the GAR, a vets organization that existed into the 1940s), moved to California, married Libby Kent ––my great grandmother––in 1877, fathered eight children one of whom was my grandmother, Martha Louise Anderson, a single woman who adopted my mother, Ruth Raemer Anderson (not a single woman)—she married Leslie Quinby in 1927––and they adopted me.

IMG_4156    At  the History Room in Visalia, library staff member Jennifer Spurlock tracked down a registry of veterans for the local GAR Post 111 and retrieved it from the library’s vault. She pointed to the graceful cursive handwriting of an unknown scribe who, over 130 years ago, had registered new members. My great grandfather’s name was number ten.

She also found photographs, located the original 1899 book containing a two-column biography about G.R., and set me up with Digital Reel, a newspaper database that had dozens of references about G.R. Anderson.

My excitement was instant, palpable, commanding, but the software was exceedingly slow and my time limited. Some articles were difficult to find in the close weave of blurred digitized print. I downloaded some to a flash drive and opted to tease myself with the abbreviated lines that appeared in the electronic index of a now defunct newspaper, The Visalia Daily Times. I offer three, reproduced exactly as they appeared on the screen–enigmatic enough to demand a return trip to prospect for more archival gold.

  • May 8 1908 …G. R. Anderson was presented with a handsome gold watch and chain…
  • April 06, 1905 …told of the hold-up by a young daughter of G.R. Anderson, who had heard the story during the morning…
  • July 30, 1908…to spend some time with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. G.R. Anderson, in this city. Miss Anna is now almost recovered from…

Why did he receive a gold watch and chain? What’s this about a hold-up and which daughter saw it? Was it their daughter Anna, my great aunt, who went to visit G.R. and his wife Libby, and what was she recovering from?

If I have a take-home question it is this: do you have someone in your background, someone you may have never met that you would like to find out about? My take-home answer is this: find a librarian who can assist with your Sherlockian journey. The quest is energizing.