Map for a Forgotten Valley

As promised in earlier posts, my series of lyrical essayistic vignettes, Map for a Forgotten Valley, are now available to be read online at The New Haven Review.

I’m interested to see what readers might make of these dispatches on place, environment, history and local culture.  It’s a very different type of writing I’ve done in these pieces, and I found different muscles engaged while writing them than I usually use for fiction.  It was a good experience, and I’d like to write more of them, to continue writing in this series occasionally.  There is one other vignette in the series soon to be published in Muse, a Cleveland magazine.  I’ll post info on that one when it becomes available too.

The New Haven Review can be found by clicking here.

But you can click right to the pdf file of my pieces by clicking this link too.

Happy Holidays.

Important things

Drove north and east to visit Erie, PA today, where my writing pals Alan DeNiro and Kristin Livdahl were visiting Alan’s parents.  Had a great several hours to talk and catch up with them before having to head back home (and them having to catch a flight back to Minnesota).  But on the way home, I strayed away from the interstate and into the rural back roads that make up the geography of my childhood and adolescence. Which I’ve been writing about lately in a course I’m taking in my MFA program at Chatham University, which focuses on writing about place, nature, and the environment.  Lately I’ve been writing these tiny little lyrical essayistic things–I’m not sure what to call them–that make use of poetic lyricism and imagery and tone to convey more than the controlled logical arguments of a traditional essay, which all center around both the rural environment I grew up in, as well as the post-industrial urban environment I moved into for college.  As I write them, I’m starting to see they may be small word objects that go together as a mosaic collage-like exploration of some of the stranger or anachronistic sites, objects, and experiences that are specific to rural and post-industrial Ohio.

Driving through the place where I spent my formative years, back into Youngstown afterward, provided me with reminders of things I’d forgotten, details and memories evoked from those details, that make me want to explore this type of writing beyond my fiction in the future, regardless of my degree being nearly completed.  I wasn’t sure, to be completely honest, what I would think about a course on Nature and Environmental Writing, but it turns out it provides a rich writing (and reading) experience that I hadn’t expected.  I also hadn’t expected to discover I’d been reading and enjoying a certain amount of that kind of writing for years without knowing that’s what it was.  This past week, for instance, we read a piece by Ursula K. Le Guin that I had read years ago, from her collection, Unlocking the Air, called “The Creatures on My Mind” as a meditative piece on human/non-human life form relationships.  Rereading that, I was also reminded of one of my formative experiences as a writer, reading Le Guin, and how–if I could have my way, and be good enough on top of having my way–I wanted from an early age to be a writer like Ursula Le Guin, who did not do one particular thing, but many different kinds of writing, for children, teens, adults, science fiction and fantasy, magical realism, realism, poetry, nature writing, essays, literary translation.  I admired how she went wherever her material took her, and explored a variety of forms.  So along with being reminded of details and memories from the first twenty years of my life this weekend, I was reminded of my early writerly desire to work in a variety of forms.

It’s been good, lately, to find myself returning to myself, as I must admit that the past two years of being a full time teacher and a half time student has scattered my energies in so many ways that I sometimes lost track of important things.

Looking up

There is a bird in the tree outside my window, singing the same two notes over and over, and I’m beginning to see green appear in patches as the snow melts.

On Twitter, I can practice Japanese in small bites, which keeps me fresh.  Letter writing, at this point, takes too much out of me.  So, Japanese friends, if you are on Twitter, we can tweet in Japanese.  It’s the perfect way for me to keep my Japanese while I’m too busy with teaching and taking classes and book writing to write long letters.

I wrote a story for a new Young Adult anthology that is being edited by Holly Black of Spiderwick fame, and Ellen Kushner of Swordspoint fame, eventually to be released by Random House.  The anthology is called Welcome to Bordertown, and is based on the 80s and 90s series set in that world that the amazing artist and writer and editor Terri Windling invented.  The story is called “We Do Not Come In Peace” which involves an act of terror/revolution by a group of angry folks and a case of vengeful blackmail.  I can’t wait to read the rest of the stories from the other contributors.

Life is good.  Back to work and writing.

Close Encounters

When I woke up this morning and opened the door of my bedroom, my kittens weren’t waiting right there at my feet, which they usually are doing. Yeah, they’re that cute. I stood there, worrying for a moment that something had happened to them, but in the next moment a very frightened bird soared down the hallway, passed me standing in the doorway, and smashed itself against the leaded glass windows at the end of the hall. The kittens then came barreling down the hall in chase. Ah, I thought, well that’s one mystery solved. Now I didn’t have to worry about them, but this bird, which was flapping around on the landing of the stairway now, between the first and second floors. I went down the stairs as it flew down to the first floor, opened the front door for it, but it got scared and flew back up to the second floor. The kittens ran up the stairs after. They were running on pure instinct and that thing we all love–the energy that comes from life being disturbed by something different happening. I went upstairs again, where the bird was perched on the edge of the painting of the buddha I bought on Khao Sahn Road in Bangkok, opened a window at the end of the hall, put on a pair of gloves, and hoped that the thing would let me guide it to the window. What I discovered is that it let me put my hands around its little body and pick it up altogether. It was scared, I could tell, breathing heavy, cocking its head back to look at me and hoping that I wouldn’t destroy it. It dug its talons into the gloves, but not deeply, only to get something to push off from if it had to do that. I carried it down the hall and to the open window, where I sat it down on the brick ledge outside, where it sat, and looked back at me for a long while, and I kept looking at it too. I kept waiting for it to take off, to get the hell out of Dodge, but it was calm now, out in the air, and just wanted to look back at where it had come out of and at me. I went to get my camera, wanting to capture the moment, because it felt like that–that we’d “had a moment” as they say, me and this bird–but when I came back, it was gone, just like these things always happen in a story. And I still don’t know how it found its way inside to liven up my morning. And now the kittens are moping.

Two days of spring in winter

Yesterday and today we’ve had the most gorgeous weather. 65 degrees, mostly sunny. It’s no wonder the squirrel came out to try to get back in before it becomes winter again. This sort of weather makes it feel like spring, or mid-autumn. The light and warmth must send some sort of signal to every living thing’s central nervous system, or something, because not only were the robins out, but I swear I can see buds on certain trees, and the grass feels greener. And me, too. I had the terrible urge to go out and soak up sunlight, to drink my coffee on the front stoop and feel the breeze on my face. A neighbor across the street and several doors down was sitting on her stoop earlier, too, drinking coffee like I was, and behind her, from within her house, black gospel music drifted out and up and down the street for the span of several houses, as if it were a fog or mist of some sort. I smiled and waved at her, and she waved back, smiling. It was that sort of day when neighborly love comes up like the buds on trees and returns like the sighting of a robin on my back fence. In these two days, I’ve felt so spoiled, I will probably feel jilted and rejected when winter returns again very soon. It’s one of those whirlwind romances, a weekend affair, when spring blows through winter for several days, and makes you feel young and full of possibilities again.