Dredging Sense: Robert Haas ft. Anne Seaworthy

One of the poems we read in my creative writing course last semester that most thrilled me was “A Story About the Body” by Robert Haas. Here is the original text of the poem:

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The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she mused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.” The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity-like music-withered quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry I don’t think I could.” He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl- she must have swept the corners of her studio-was full of dead bees.

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An exercise – not specifically pertaining to that poem – was to take the exact syllabic pattern and length of any published poem and replace each word with an entirely new set of words, conserving the original rhythm and ebb and flow of the poem while drastically altering the speaker and meaning. The poems don’t have to relate to each other in any way. In this nonsensical story about a woman on an old seafaring vessel, I tried to keep the flowing watery sense of the original poem by Robert Haas while performing the swapping exercise to write completely different content. Here is my work, which may or may not speak to you. Feel free to try the exercise on any poem you choose, and tell me your thoughts!

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A Voyage About the Harbour

The briny mermaid, somewhere en route between Maroc and Zanzibar, had slipped into her chest. Stop your wishy-washy dreaming, voices chided, from her skulldrum’s empty ammonites. I live for dreams, and if waves are rolling lullabies for seagulls, outside things, canvas skies exploding out of clouds as black watercolors, I shall keep them. You’ll see, pounded nightfall that Tuesday, you’ll feel and you’ll want and you’ll taste your breath like salt, you’ll lose your map of the chilled halls. Let me tie your rope, but the climb through this rainstorm will be on your own to sail, and when she didn’t understand, Your vessel sinks. No fairy veil nor trail of baby’s-foot pearls in a cannon nor rain at the stake – no sunset – could absolve it, this the nothingness splattered on her blank book: despite her own eyes could not cry. She flowed down the dim staircase without fear, for all the terror that wrapped her heart in warmth would cocoon her any fall. Her chamber knows she dreamed bells this night, but her son found a corpse at dawn bathed by barnacles blooming moss; he could not find prayer – the sun it seemed had wrung his Bible clean of words – the chest remained closed.

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Image credits in order of appearance:

By Tichnor Bros. Inc., Boston, Mass. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

http://www.pikiwiki.org.il [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

By Camille Bellanger – →This file has an extracted image: File:Die Gartenlaube (1892) 387.jpg., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19165869

By Alberto Prosdocimi (1852-1925) – http://www.dorotheum.at, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15997196

Writing Exercise: Mnemonic Time Travel (+ Bonus Example!)

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Anne Seaworthy may be a published author, but I’m just a college freshman finally taking my first ever course dedicated to Creative Writing. The first week flew by with blizzards of reading I actually didn’t dread plus lots of writing exercises to wash it all down. Not really exercises, but little bursts of freedom, spontaneous sprints of flight above the general tar pit that is boring classes (ahem, Math, I’m talking to you.)

One of the first writing assignments of class was to describe a real event that we couldn’t possibly remember firsthand. Subjects could range from our parents’ marriage to the Big Bang to the assassination of Julius Cesar – they just had to be real historical events or known family occurrences that took place before we were born. We had ten minutes to write.

The context I wrote about is probably obvious to the people who were involved. That said, I want to emphasize that the characters in this piece, while based loosely on real people, are entirely fictional with regards to their caricaturized obnoxiousness and otherwise undesirable descriptions. If you recognize your own personality in this piece, you are most likely NOT my lovely sweet Grandma, effectual Mom, or manageably-obnoxious Dad. 🙂

I’ll call it…

Unrepentant

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The honey-gnarled fingers grip the soft white hand, clearly intent on insulating it from any untoward advances on my part. I can tell the young lady’s mother wants to take her to the Jewish New Year service and back home again, an iron chain always around her neck so she can’t turn her head and see escape opportunities. I can tell her mother doesn’t like me.

I just don’t care.

“Hello,” I say just as cheerily as you please.

“Hello,” she responds uncertainly. “Are you here for the Yom Kippur service?”

“No, I’m just the caterer. Clearly I’m much too well-dressed for temple.” I indicate my mismatched jacket, slacks, and running shoes.

The pretty young lady laughs – a sort of choked laugh, like a bird whose wings have been clipped was trying to sing across the night to her hatchlings.

Granny tugs the sleeve of the lady’s turquoise dress. “They’re already blowing the shofar,” she frets. “I want to see Rachel Stein give the drosh.”

The aquamarine eyes pierce me with innocent kindness. “Why don’t you come sit with us?”

Her mother is pulling that gossamer sleeve with all her might. I want to spend three hours confined in a stuffy room by her side like I want mustard on my ice cream. Still, this might be the beginning of something, this woman – oh, the pretty one, for goodness’ sake, not the old bat fumbling for her ear drops.

So I smile and take the woman’s other hand. Like two jailors me and Granny lead her into the atrium, where a geezer in a groovy suit stands blowing into a ram’s horn.

“My name is David, by the way.”

She has dimples, too.

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Image credits in order of appearance:

By Terabass – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11848016

By Nerium_oleander20090811_025.jpg: Bff derivative work: Bff (Nerium_oleander20090811_025.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Jozef Israëls [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Finding My Pindependence

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image from http://blog.tdstelecom.com/news/pinterest-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/attachment/pinterest-logo-2-1074×1067/

On Saturday I was working on a ballroom battle scene in my latest yarn. Without giving away too much (in case this eventually becomes an ebook or bestseller or hit movie) I needed two contrasting colors of dress for two contrasting teenage girls who would take turns dancing with their exotic instructor, himself undebatably garbed in cool lavender. Furthermore, Izadora’s dress would need to be conducive to the waltz’s transition into a physical struggle over a dagger ending in… well, I won’t tell you how it ends. Besides, all this is subject to change at this stage. Brutus might end up playing French horn out of his left ear instead of bugle, or Molière might have a spatula for a hand at some point. But that’s another story.

Anyway, I was trying to write the scene, and it occurred to me that I would have a better picture in my head of the dance-fight if I added a couple ball gown pictures to the appropriate Pinboard. Should be a breeze, right? No longer than a five-minute affair, a few keystrokes to make.

Well. Apparently my fellow Pinners’ idea of a ball gown is like a prom dress except with nothing to prevent the top from popping off and exposing some skin that I don’t feel like writing about. A mother crocodile already de-robed this character in an earlier scene; I think once is enough for now.

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image from http://waofashion.com/victorian-ball-gowns-for-formal-outfit/

I searched vintage, Victorian, princess, medieval, dance gowns… everything I could find was either a dusty relic languishing in someone’s grandmother’s closet of shame, or some modern, sexy Etsy interpretation of what princess dresses would have been like if princesses had been allowed to show skin (and if the last glacial period hadn’t been going on at the time in the case of the “medieval” dresses.) While some of the dresses I found were artistic, none of them matched the specific image I had in my head.

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image from http://outfit4girls.com/dresses-collection/stylish-ball-gowns-for-prom-party.php/attachment/red-color-prom-dress-ball-gown

I half-heartedly pinned a couple, toyed with changing the colors in the scene to match the pictures I could find, then I went crazy. I deleted all those useless Pins and broke out the colored pencils. No, I’m not an artist, but with some of my favorite quirky songs on I did a pretty good rendition of the dresses my specific characters need. After all, they didn’t have carbon-copy prom dress factories churning out crowd-pleasing happy mediums between vulgar and manically glittery back in the 1700s.

ball gown colored pencil art red/black/purple

While this ended up being longer than a five-minute affair, I was really proud of the results. I don’t claim to be an artist; certainly I don’t delude myself that this chicken-scratch looks like a real photograph or anything like art really. But what it got me to do was think really hard about how the situation and the characters’ personalities influenced their clothing. I made my eyes see details my brain couldn’t picture before, like the anchor charm hanging on this red one’s skirt. It also gave me an opportunity to connect with my project outside of writing time in a relaxing, fun and different way. Drawing always gets me excited about my ideas, and so for a moment I was reminded of how exciting this story was when it was just in my head and there was no dumpy rough draft on a Word document. I know my best shot at ever finishing this project is to remember the enthusiasm of my honeymoon stage with the book, and carry it in some form through to the final proofread.

Meanwhile, I have found a way to provide for my imagination what the Internet occasionally fails to. Try drawing if you’re interested in a taste of the Pindependent life. (Not that I would ever stop using Pinterest altogether; it’s indispensable for most creative purposes.)

This red/purple/black dress is for the main character, who could have been a princess had she not been kidnapped by bumbling pirates at the age of two. Below is the hemline, decorated with pink and black ribbons, a chain of shoreline rocks, sharks’ teeth and seashells.

hemline of red/black/purple pirate dress design

I added a silver chain and a tiny anchor for style. She might not really look quite this fancy in the actual scene if we’re being realistic… but we’re not. So there.

bodice of red/black/purple pirate ball gown drawing

The sleeves may be kind of hard to understand, but they are supposed to indicate flowy, translucent fabric held in place by pink and black ribbons tied with gold bows around the elbow area. The demure, yet silently malevolent twin sister’s dress is the same style:

ball gown dress drawing turquoise gold pink

The theme of this dress is a little less oceanic, but they still live on the island of Zabuba so the hem has some seafaring chains and is even crafted with layers of shaped fabric that suggest ocean waves, though I doubt Magdilène would dare dip a toe in the tide.

detail - hem of turquoise and pink ball gown drawing

She has a butterfly on her chest to help promote the girly, wimpy façade.

butterfly bodice ball gown drawing turquoise/pink

If a real artist is looking at this – you did it to yourself. If you want you can draw me a better one and send it to me…?

Confessions of Your Writer’s Block

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Hi. I am that little beast that lives in your head when you feel like your brain has withered to a gray stone raisin that falls heavy on any thought of creation and crushes it.

What you call “writer’s block” is really just me minding my own business, slurping an iced tea so loudly you can’t hear your own epiphanies striking up symphonies in the background.

When you’re staring at a blank computer screen for hours, making no progress – yeah, that would be the steam from my jacuzzi within the vitreous gel. If I don’t bathe twice a day I stink like sweaty pickles. An unfortunate side effect of my good hygiene: you can’t see the literary masterpieces exploding on your cornea and melting into meaningless ink splotches on a white document.

Sometimes I see the Thoughts coalescing in your brain like baby stars gathering dust, growing to sparkly mini-galaxies between neurons, and those things give me the willies. I mean they’re so unpredictable and who knows what germs they’re carrying. So I usually crush them with a shoe or catch them in a jar and hold them there ’til they fizzle out. I might feel bad afterward, but a girl can’t be expected to cohabit with Ideas, now can she?

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I know I’m not welcome. I’ve heard you complaining, seen your Tweets that I’m “annoying” and “inconvenient” (and some other exotic words you wouldn’t publish in one of your books.) Frankly, I don’t want to hang around your brain either. But the thing is, I’ve got nowhere else to go when Feeling-School lets out.

My parents, Stage Fright and The Blues, are always at work somewhere in the world, and they won’t give me a key to the house – Fright’s afraid I’ll jingle when I walk through the school hallways; Blues thinks the money would be better spent on life insurance.

Pretty ridiculous that such misery, such pain and heartbreak, must be inflicted for petty reasons like embarrassment or momentary depression.

Such misery, that I am forced to wander the brains of homo sapiens simpletons, always being cursed and feeling unwanted. Perhaps someone will read this confession and build me a house somewhere in Antarctica – I’d love to live far away from people and their Ideas, thank you very much.

Until then, I’ll take another double iced tea and a hot bath, please!

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Image credits in order of appearance:

By U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Grace Lee [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Logarhitmic radial photo of the universe by pablo budassi 9MFK” by Pablo Carlos Budassi – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Logarhitmic_radial_photo_of_the_universe_by_pablo_budassi_9MFK.jpg#/media/File:Logarhitmic_radial_photo_of_the_universe_by_pablo_budassi_9MFK.jpg

By Bvld11 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Electronic Imagination

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Pinterest can be a time-sink. Or it can be a treasure trove of amazing inspiration, leading you to discover passions and capabilities within yourself that you never knew you had. It’s all up to you.

I love using Pinterest to waste time visualize my stories. For instance, I just created a board for the Love Life Series, the first book of which is coming soon to Amazon and Smashwords. Check it out if you’re ready to delve into Dreams with a capital D…

http://www.pinterest.com/natureloverpins/love-life-series/

Image from http://genius.com/1315461/The-bravery-believe/Waiting-for-our-ship-to-come-but-our-ships-not-coming-back

Braving the Title

You’ve written your masterpiece, edited down to the last detail, gotten approval from your beta-readers, and now you’re ready to publish. But wait – you need a title!

Some people will agonize for eternity over the title, thinking every idea they come up with is stupid or cliché. My best advice is to be nice to yourself while going through this process. And be accepting of all your ideas, too. Write down every single idea that comes into your mind, no matter how stupid it seems. That’s how you’ll eventually get to the good ideas.

Another tip is to reread your own work. Look for key phrases. What characters or situations are central to the plot? For instance, I noticed in my first book that the characters refer to mermaids as “people with fishtails” multiple times. That became the title: People with Fishtails. It may not be perfect, but it expresses the idea of the book.

Finally, look for a title that highlights the integral figure or concept of your book. It can be tempting to settle for a title that describes events in the story, such as “The Mystycetii Colony” for one of my stories about England sending colonists to a mermaid-dominated island. I ended up calling that story “The Red Siren,” because a red-tailed mermaid lures the main character to his eventual fate. (“The Red Siren” is the first of three short mermaid stories published in Three Mermaid Tales.)

Now, get out your Paperblanks journal and start jotting down titles! And no, they’re not all stupid!

Writing Tools

When I turned the last page of my Paperblanks journal, I was heartbroken. I immediately ordered another one, with another pretty picture on the cover. I’ll always cherish the one I filled with stupid and brilliant ideas, side by side.

I explained my Paperblanks addiction to my mother, who is also an author. She told me, “It’s important to know what tools help you write. For me, those blue pens are so helpful.” Our house is filled with blue pens. Now I know why.

What are your writing tools?