August 10, 2010

Prisoners' Justice Day

One of my favourite things about the new thing I’ve been writing is that it has a discernible topic. When somebody asks what it’s about, I can (and do) say, “The death penalty.” How simple is that? No attempt to penetrate arcane family drama or mumbling, “Uh, it’s about this family, uh, these sisters.” (Yes, that’s the current novel. I will figure out how to talk about that one at some point.) Of course, it’s not really about the death penalty so much as it is about a particular set of characters and circumstances…

…But I’m so pleased about this short-form response. Not only has it saved me some embarrassment, it has also allowed me to talk about it in such a way that I can actually receive useful contacts and information! I mentioned it to another writer when I was at Yaddo, and he immediately encouraged me to get in touch with the Innocence Project. I had also mentioned it in passing to another friend of mine, M., who yesterday sent me some emails about Prisoners’ Justice Day, which just happens to be today.

Since most of my research into prisons has been U.S.-based because of the death penalty angle, I haven’t been as frequent a visitor at as I might otherwise have been. Here is the mandate behind Prisoners’ Justice Day:

...August 10, the day prisoners have set aside as a day to fast and refuse to work in a show of solidarity to remember those who have died unnecessarily -- victims of murder, suicide and neglect.

...the day when organizations and individuals in the community hold demonstrations, vigils, worship services and other events in common resistance with prisoners.

...the day to raise issue with the fact that a very high rate of women are in prison for protecting themselves against their abusers. This makes it obvious that the legal system does not protect women who suffer violence at the hands of their partners. the day to remember that there are a disproportionate number of Natives, African-Canadians and other minorities and marginalized people in prisons. Prisons are the ultimate form of oppression against struggles of recognition and self-determination.

...the day to raise public awareness of the demands made by prisoners to change the criminal justice system and the brutal and inhumane conditions that lead to so many prison deaths.

...the day to oppose prison violence, police violence, and violence against women and children.

...the day to publicize that, in their fight for freedom and equality, the actions of many political prisoners have been criminalized by government. As a result, there are false claims that there are no political prisoners in north american prisons.

...the day to raise public awareness of the economic and social costs of a system of criminal justice which punishes for revenge. If there is ever to be social justice, it will only come about using a model of healing justice, connecting people to the crimes and helping offenders take responsibility for their actions.

...the day to renew the struggle for HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment in prison.

...the day to remind people that the criminal justice system and the psychiatric system are mutually reinforcing methods that the state uses to control human beings. There is a lot of brutality by staff committed in the name of treatment. Moreover, many deaths in the psych-prisons remain uninvestigated.

August 8, 2010

I saw this painting a few weeks ago at the Guggenheim. I sat and looked at it for a long time. The image here doesn't do it justice. The colours in the background are so delicate, so finely blended, so, well, pretty. Everything about it is so deliberate; I wanted to know something of what it was trying to say.

I ended up coming home and reading a bit about Kandinsky. He was a pretty far-out dude with an elaborate and esoteric theory of art (involving music, Theosophy, synesthesia). And he had a special thing for triangles. The point of the triangle is the avant garde as it moves into tomorrow, and the artist is living at the tip. Lonely. That sounds about right.

The other thing I learned about Kandinsky is that he didn't begin painting until he was 30. Astounding!

Composition VIII

In other (less random?) news, I wrote this last week about how it felt to be waiting to hear back about my second draft:

I’m waiting to hear back from my agent about my manuscript. I’m not nervous or even excited. Which isn’t to say that if she tells me it’s all garbage I won’t be upset or discouraged. I feel like, no matter what, there is a lot of work ahead. Thinking about it is only going to depress or panic me, so I plan on not thinking about it at all --- just doing it when the time comes.

On Friday, I heard back from her, and I'm relieved to report that the changes I made at Yaddo seem to be working. (Phewf!) She thinks it is perhaps a touch too long (and I agree: the second draft went up to 350 pages), is probably just about ready to submit! I'm going to do one more edit before the first week of September. Right now it has a pacing problem that mirrors the writing process (beginning & middle: slow and steady; ending: rushed).

Now to try and tear myself away from these little poems I've been playing with. My obsessive tendencies mean that I can't really switch between projects with much fluidity. Once I'm back into the draft, that's it.

August 3, 2010

how to make it into the acknowledgements

On the worst, last day of last month's heat wave, my friend J invited me over for a work date. I'd mentioned how I was finding it really hard to write and she told me she'd bought a second air conditioner for her apartment and that I ought to come over. She's working on her Ph.D. thesis (pure brilliance on Heidegger*), and has her own routines and preferences, as well as probably a pretty good sense of my writing quirks, no doubt due to me droning on and on about them now and again in the form of some sort of complaint.

Her invitation went something like this: "Do you prefer a desk or a couch? I've changed the sheets on my bed, so you can have a nap! I'll make us lunch and tea and cool drinks all day long! Here's the wireless password! I don't like music when I work, so it will be quiet. Is that okay?" (Is that okay? Can I kiss you?)

It can't always be easy to be friends with a writer. I have certain anti-social tendencies. I don't always like talking on the phone. (Not a hard and fast rule, by any means, but I've gotten out of the habit of making calls. When I sit down to use the landline at home, I usually catch myself dialing "9" first.) My friendships have adapted. We text. We email. We go on Google chat.

When the writing is going badly, I usually start to feel down and guilty and drop off the map. I miss everyone, but I don't know how to reach out when it feels like every little thing I'm doing is taking me away from the writing and I'm too miserable about it to have anything interesting to say. I'm grateful to know people who don't take this personally (or who can forgive or overlook this awful habit). I'm grateful, too, to have friends who can ask how the novel is going and be satisfied (and not visibly surprised) to receive the same answer, or variations on the same answer, ten times in a row.

I have friends who are writers, too, of course. We write a LOT of emails, then we get together when we can and drink and talk for four hours at a time. Once a month or thereabouts. Sometimes longer.

I've been feeling really lucky lately for the people in my life. I feel like they put up with me, and they prop me up. They inspire me, too. Trying to be a better friend is something that makes it onto my list of resolutions year after year.

J., naturally, was as good as her word. Her apartment was a cool paradise. She made incredible, unearthly food (yummy spicy rice and dumplings), endless tea, and fascinating refreshing tonics involving lime juice and rosewater. We sat and worked quietly (and sometimes talked), as her boyfriend generously left us to our own devices, and I made some critical headway in reading over my manuscript after a lot of days in a row of heat-induced mind mush.

* I have only a passing familiarity with Heidegger, and I haven't read her thesis, but I am assured of its brilliance nonetheless. And I'm certain that when I do read it, I'll find out everything I need to know about the big H.

August 2, 2010

It takes an ocean not to break

Still daydreaming and slacking off. I've been dipping into books and abandoning them around the apartment. Poetry is easier, but I need more suggestions of who to read. Sometimes somebody tweets a poem and I get turned on to someone new. That's when I'm lucky. I'm starting to get a sense of how casual fiction readers must get lost looking for their next book (I get lost, too, but I think from an excess rather than a dearth of knowledge on the subject).

Went to see Winter's Bone, which is apparently based on a book. One of my movie companions leaned over to complain that it was brutally slow, and since he, ahem, woke me up in telling me this, I was hard pressed to disagree, and yet it wasn't an unpleasant slowness. It felt real and hard. And it had an absolutely incredible payoff scene. I left thinking that if you could just come up with one scene like that, the rest of the story could fall into place around it.

I've also been listening non-stop to the National's new album High Violet. I saw them play Osheaga on Saturday and this has had no effect on my singular listening dedication (sometimes I find that seeing a band during the height of an obsession can kind of satiate it, for the time being, or spur it on even further). I'm wondering what kind of effect it might be having on my psyche to keep hearing lyrics like It's a terrible love and I'm walking with spiders or Sorrow found me when I was young / Sorrow waited, sorrow won over and OVER and OVER.