I’ve kept a journal and written notes for poems, the blog, etc from time to time over my life. I’m watching a Master Class with the great writer, Joyce Carol Oates. This class is on the art of the short story and I’m loving it to death. She has many books of short stories so she knows of what she speaks. I’ve written a few stories over the years, mainly for high school and college classes (even in Spanish), but it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that inclination. I’ve mainly concentrated on poetry and more so of late.  I’m in the process of honing packets of 5 poems or so to send to a number of literary magazines around the country (world). Ms. Oates does make a great point in the Master Class about the importance of finding uninterrupted time and even in retirement that is a problem, especially in pandemic life when I can’t go to the library or because I’m taking care of everything in a relatively small space with my wife and dog, interruptions frequently come in.  Plus the short attention span of the typical American, and mine which is maybe even shorter than many, like a cat or dog chasing what moves, maybe not quite that bad but close,  there are a lot of interruptions. Breaking news, phone,  the dog wanting to go out, etc. That said, I do want to discipline myself to dictate or write a journal entry every single day because I know how fleeting memory can be, I know how it fades, I know that we don’t take the time to notice life as it is happening, to consider the importance and richness of it…even the tiny, quiet, routine moments. We grow a tendency to ignore what doesn’t explode or spin wildly or shine in every direction with a kaleidoscope of color thrown in. As I’m doing this, as if by cue or just to annoy me, I’m having an interruption right this instant of my dog insisting loudly that I take him out immediately.  That it’s an emergency, which it isn’t, but it requires acting like it is. For him but also for me. Drat!  Just to show you what I mean.  I’ve got to GET BACK TO stuff on an ongoing basis.

Although outside always has it’s own rewards and points of interest.  At least for me, who is easily fascinated. HA! Going out I noticed there’s a wind picking up and I know that that always means it’s bringing something…so there’s a bit of mystery to it and who can turn away from mystery… whether it’s a temperature change or precipitation, and I don’t know what this will be, although it is a bit cool, temperature-wise that is. Wookie likes to just stand and let the wind hit him in the face for some reason. I think it brings him lots of scents to interpret and appreciate,  because he kind of snorts when it happens. And I walked to the mailbox because I’m expecting some important medicine delivery for my wife, (I feel like pioneers and homesteaders must have felt out in the undeveloped provinces waiting for something a wagon train or stagecoach might have brought them…a letter from someone back in civilization or some long desired special pattern of cloth.  The medicine hasn’t arrived after all, but the trip wasn’t a waste of time for I noticed on this spread out apartment complex, which is well landscaped with a variety of different types of young trees and bushes (the complex is only five years old), and then just beyond the perimeter of the property there are several gigantic evergreens. Evergreens are popular here in the great Northwest, of course, and I often wonder what would happen if one of them would come down for some reason. It wouldn’t be pretty with all of the structures around them.  There’s no real room for them to fall and not do damage. And there are a few white birch trees on the property with their thin bark peeling off as it does, I don’t know why, is coming down and lying around like sheets of paper. So another interruption but a pleasant little walk to the mailboxes, but all that was there was junk mail and no medicine yet.  The stagecoach moves on again.  And mission accomplished, the dog is calm again, I guess for another two or three hours. He is almost 15 but doesn’t look it at all and doesn’t really act it except that he’s so overly dependent on both of us. We need to be with him all the time or he has anxiety attacks. Plus it’s time to wash the dishes before I can get back to the marvels of Joyce Carol Oates and her worthwhile suggestions.  I must also deal with the junk mail disposal and brewing some tea for the day, just a few of my daily duties and no other humans are involved. Solitary and focused you will notice. I am now vaccinated, but still masking and keeping my distance and waiting for the vaccine to become available for Isabel so maybe the two of us can go out more. But how much will that really happen I wonder and I don’t really feel ready for that yet anyway. Not really into that, not even before the big shutdown. Not social at all, but we did go to restaurants and I did go to the movies, most often alone, you may recall. And to the library. I’d like to also start going to the art museum in Seattle, a fascinating place. In the background right this minute are the sweet voices of The Secret Sisters, a duo I’ve just recently become aware of, as I am drying dishes. By the way I wash all the dishes by hand. We do have a dishwasher in this apartment, but we just use it for snack storage. I know how weird that is, because I know how much my mother depended on her dishwasher, once she had one, because we were years of her doing the dishes by hand too.

As I do what many consider to be monotonous house duties, I always have music on or a podcast (such as Renegades, Barack Obama in significant conversation with his friend, Bruce Springsteen) or I’m thinking of / getting inklings of a poem in my head starting to hammer out some of those details which, thank goodness, just keep coming.

I remember how much regret I have not keeping a journal on all of my hitchhiking journeys. Most of those memories are lost, but not the overall sensations and flashes of images, certain moments. Just the stories are gone…the moments joined together and fleshed out of a human story over days and years… that’s mostly gone and I regret it.

Words are in the air,  pieces of songs for a poem spark poetry in my head, the start of a mini-tangent. That’s how it often works — someone is singing about “keeper of the flame” and I these lines get generated — he is doing his duty/ keeping the mysterious flame/ monotonous critical fascinating hypnotic flame/ warming his bones and skin/
brave duty of keeping the flame for all the rest / while they all sleep or wander / keeping the flame / keeping the night and cool away.

Add to tea poem a rainbow of tea
There are rules and ritual to this it’s not just heated up and sip and swallow there’s more to it than that there’s history and custom of day after day at a certain time

Then move back to Joyce Carol Oates’ class and what she’s talking about keeping a diary or journal, talking about “breathless writing, impressionistic writing nothing elegant or to polished, just getting it down while it happens while it’s fresh”. I think back to Jack Kerouac who is known as “the great rememberer”, called that by one of his colleagues who admired his capacity for this. And is there any greater compliment for a human and a writer. Although I guess there are often things we would rather forget. Our lives that go by so quickly and are so full of distractions.
Ms. Oates says doing these exercises to capture occurrences sharpens your power of observation. They can often seem unimportant and just dashed off, just things you see or hear, but you never know, looking back later they can become significant and ignite ideas for writing. “It may be really worthwhile. Ms. Oates talks a lot about how important memories, some deeply embedded, can be so important for writing…bringing these fragments out later and doing something to them creatively, molding them into a written piece in some format.   I’m convinced of its value.  So here I go.  And I picked up a couple of Joyce Carol Oates’ short story collections to boot.

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