Poetry: Fantasizing in Memoriam With Nancy D. (1942 – 2012)

Issue 1.2

by William C. Blome

I forget how much she could make a collar itch,
and I slipped her an invitation to join me watching shadows
jumping rafters in the bunkhouse, though in practically zero
time, we took off our boots and socks and stretched out to edit
herky-jerky pictures of her coming out of loud blue water
at the country club pool and soon losing her swimsuit top
to an aluminum-siding huckster. I can’t detour bragging about
her paint-chip green eyes and tits that pushed out to the county
line, though in a heavy voice she assured me “being semi-naked
among the rich and poor is almost never a problem,” and so
we looked at and listened to her engage the huckster
in pornographic conversation about Prince Souphanouvong
and his two worthless brothers, and the Charles-Atlas-strong
need for better roads in and out of Vientiane, in and out of all
of Laos, for that matter. O I sympathize with the scratched-up
salesman as he tried mightily to widen the discourse to include
bits-o-banter about which recent years had produced
swell vintages in far-off, well-known Burgundy, but of course,
it really didn’t have to be me, anyone could have seen Nancy
stay stubborn in her radical and happy way and heard her
refuse to let the tin man consider “any year later than 1954
and the glory months of Panmunjom and Dien Bien Phu.”


William C. Blome writes poetry and short fiction. He lives wedged between Baltimore and Washington, DC and is a Master’s graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. His work has appeared in Amarillo Bay, PRISM International, Fiction Southeast, Roanoke Review, Salted Feathers and The California Quarterly.

Be Your Best Writing Self

After attending several readings of authors (among them Bonnie Jo Campbell and other award winners), I’ve learned that the majority of writers in my life are hungry for the answer to an elusive question: when is the most productive time to write?

The answer is usually: it depends!

If I were answering this question, I’d say the exact same thing. But it was one man who gave myself and my colleagues a real answer, a solid, tangible thing to grasp onto. His name was Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son and winner of the Nation Book Award. After an outstanding verbal performance of his short fiction, Johnson was asked what habits make the most productive writer.

He paused. He thought. And then he descended over a group of eager minds like a fabled savior.

Johnson said something the effect that when he was first writing, he would log the times, dates, and words that he’d write. He’d note everything in order to discover a pattern – all collected in a document as simple as Microsoft Excel. We were in awe, having expected the same answer we’d gotten many times – it just depends. In a way, this was the same answer, but told in a way that had opened our eyes.

It really does depend. But Adam Johnson’s advice is to find your own pattern and then to exploit the moments where you are most productive.

As we sat, staring at the mighty words of a mighty man hanging in the air, he continued. He said that when he tracks his word count every day – particularly the amount of words that he writes and that actually make it into a final draft – the days of missing writing are like missing teeth. They’re unsightly and leave you feeling bereft.

Motivation drives the success. There is no other way but to finish. Finishing needs productivity. After so many years of haphazard, thoughtless advice, Johnson has awakened us all.

Perhaps this is something we could have thought of on our own. But with all the ideas swirling inside us, wrapping up into our daily functions until are we nothing but decaying artists, it’s difficult to always know the way.

What Neil Gaiman taught me about writing

I’ll start this by saying I’ve never met or spoken Mr. Gaiman. However, for the last 12 years, he has been my shadowed mentor.

When I was 10 years old, I picked up Coraline in one of my classrooms. I just wanted something to read. I was always reading. Years after the fact of middle school, teachers would identify me as the girl who always had her nose in a book. Coraline wasn’t the first book I’d read, and it wasn’t the last. But, Coraline was the most important book I’d ever and will ever read. I can identify the moment I first read Neil Gaiman’s writing as the moment I realized I wanted to be a writer.

Since I’ve read that book, I’ve attempted to collect anything and everything Gaiman has ever written. But it wasn’t only that I enjoyed his writing that I became such a fan. it was how much I wished to model my own writing after his. Gaiman is sparse – well, in everything but American Gods – and funny. He is whimsical like Alice Hoffman but with more thrilling ideas and fantastical worlds. He is everything that has made me a writer.

Gaiman receives questions all the time about writing, and my favorite thing about him is that he is also sparse in his responses. The conclusion Neil Gaiman usually comes to is that in order to write you need to just do it. Stop asking questions. Stop trying to bypass the process. Write. Write more. And keep writing. As a writer myself, I know that this is the hardest part of the process. But if you can’t write, you aren’t a writer, period.

Check out Neil’s online journal.

A better reason to read in order to write

There are several phrases that have become writer mantras. I could skip meditation all together and “om” myself with them into sleepy bliss. I’ve heard them so many times, they almost don’t mean anything to me anymore. Today, I had a revelation about one such phrase.

In order to be a good writer, you must read a lot.

I was reading The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty when this phrase came to mind, and I realized how true it was. However, previously, I had thought that reading meant reading for the words on the page. Reading was a way to analyze how others had managed to create compelling stories. It was a mathematical way to separate a formula from plot. It was everything that writing is not.

For most of us, writing is feeling. It isn’t done because we have to. It’s done because we want to. Therefor, I say that instead of quantifying your reading experience by deducing the various equations that make up your chosen genre, qualify your reading by how it makes you feel. Read something you enjoy, and do it every day. This exercises your imagination, which is the tool that got you into this authorial mess to begin with.

With the imagination and creative excitement you felt when you first picked up the pen, perhaps you will become the writer you wish to be.

 

Tell me, English major, what do you do all day?

Sometimes I wonder if other human beings believe that all I do is sit in a classroom of five or six other fellow English scholars and discuss why curtains are blue in chapter six of x story. I have been outright scoffed at when it was revealed that my degree will be in English. To practical human beings, we are the lazy facet of society, not quite crazy enough to be artists but still very much of a similar caliber. Artists are the shot guns and we English people are the pistols.

People argue the value of art, but no one denies the value of beauty. We care so much about beauty that we’ve dedicated entire empires of commerce to it. We complain about the altering of it in the media. We obsess over the lives of those able to achieve it. But more often is Kim Kardashian discussed in the news than Margaret Atwood. If Atwood had Kim’s ass, how much do you want to bet more people in the media would pay attention to her? But Atwood is still pretty sexy in that picture, isn’t she?

What is the value of the English degree?

If you have absolutely no imagination or drive, there is absolutely no value in an English degree. But the same is true for an entrepreneur. A business doesn’t thrive without diligence and innovation. Neither does the literary community. I won’t tell you to get any sort of degree if you are incapable of imagining a path for yourself that requires it.

The value of the English degree for myself is the first stepping stone to my future. I want to be a writer. But being a writer is not a good day job. I don’t enjoy poverty, as I suspect most people don’t. Therefor it was the closest I could come to my dream career without starving. This first stone was one of several in a series.

So we come back to what it is I do all day.

I read. I really do read alllllllllllllll day. Some of us write too. Some of us play dungeons and dragons. The truth is, we are a diverse bunch. And we spend an ostensibly long time learning about how to read rather than what to read. The purpose of our education isn’t just to have read the most classics offered on Amazon. The purpose of our education is to require us to comprehend what we read, and then to funnel our eureka moments into a feasible argument that supports our theories.

Even English majors complain about having to write papers. Unfortunately, I have no sympathy for these particular people. Becoming an English major is a guarantee that you are going to spend a good portion of your time theorizing ways to not have to write six 20-page papers all due on the same day. I knew this well when I signed up for this major.

As I come to the close of my undergraduate education, I see it as a whole entity. I don’t just sit around reading books all day. I sit around imagining. I read. I think. I connect. I imagine. I stimulate my mind with the possibilities of all of the information I am capable of obtaining. The only difference between myself and a medical student is, I can pretend to be a doctor in my books and get away with it. All I need is knowledge.

And therefor, to be whatever I choose to be, I need knowledge.

I don’t write in a vacuum. I don’t have an exclusively placed cabin in the woods where I can escape to. I don’t sit with a pipe in front of a fireplace reciting Shakespeare to myself.

I imagine.