Monthly Archives: August 2016

Why I wrote the poem: “How can you know when you run?”

How can you know when you run? (inspired by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: “How can you run when you know?”)

What are we running from?
Where are we going?
 
My feet hurt, but I don’t have time to rub them
Or cool them in a stream.
Like a deer,
Leaping old barbed wire, and new
 
I bound over smoldering fires
Hotspots,
Always cautious, always anxious for the herd.
I’m like an old dog
 
Showing that I still have it in me
To run and run and run.
Always, always away.
I can barely see the city rushing past.
 
I have wings on my feet.
My sight skims over the bones of things.
I see too much.
I smell the fear . . .
 
But I keep running.
I see the future like a slow-motion wave
Before which I am flying,
Before the crash and foam.
 
What message am I carrying
From god to impotent god?
What silver-winged flight have I achieved
Leaping from mist-draped ledge to fog to cloud?
 
And when will it be my time to rest?
Down there is another valley
Where war has carved a theater
Out of bedrock
 
Where there used to be a paradise.
I hear the echoes of anthems,
The booms of manmade thunder
Trailing off far behind me.
 
And now I hear only the wind in my ears.
I’m evanescent,
Like a falling star
About to flare in the upper atmosphere.
 
Where have I been?
What do I know?
How can I know anything?
I would have to stop to know.
 
Exploding like a harmless bomb
I am rising like a phoenix
Or a firebird
Born from flames, flying.
 

Initially I was reluctant to write a poem inspired by reversing the verb and the object in the iconic Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young lyrics for fear that it might come off as gimmicky but the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. And as soon as I started writing it, I was pulled in by the fantasy of the poet-in-perpetual-motion, not lingering on any one metaphor or detail. This was a chance to write a poem without a resting point. The poet’s spirit is like the Greek god Proteus, constantly transforming from deer to hound to Mercury or Hermes, to the phoenix which rebirths itself in midair.

The world of this poem is a world where everything is blurred by the velocity of the subject. He sees into the bones of things, he sees “too much”; he is moving too fast to focus on any details of architecture or people, but he “smells” fear, which probably spurs him on.

The world depicted by this piece is a world of barbed boundaries and “hotspots”, landscapes to be avoided hollowed by wars that have left only scars and echoes of explosions.

Another thing about the poem is, the pace quickens as the poem progresses and the voice or spirit of the poet, which starts out grounded, lifts off by the sixth stanza:

“But I keep running.
I see the future like a slow-motion wave
Before which I am flying,”
 
And now he is even out-distancing the wave of the future, which is cresting behind him.

What motivated me to write this poem? I think partly it is a confession: I am admitting that I use poetry as an escape . . . But I am also trying to show that poetry can attain transcendence if we let it; we can fly with it. We can be born through it, jettisoning our old self like a rocket that gains height by shedding stages.

The world that the poet is over-leaping or out-pacing is a world in serious trouble, apocalyptic, doomed but, according to this poem, (and here is the main point) that is not this poet’s world. His destiny seems to be all in his transcendence.

Part 2: An open letter to my older brother, urging him to write his memoir

 

(Continued from Part 1)

But Dave, Don’t just dismiss this idea of writing your story. . . . And not as reporting, but as story-telling, because if you can do this with heart it will find an audience and it will last. I think it’s important that we tell our own stories especially because, if there is a future, enough will be known about us (because of whatever writings we leave behind) that future generations will be curious about how we navigated our lives decade by decade, in a time of such upheaval. You might think it is egocentric to write about ourselves. But not if you approach it is as a story. That is not hubris, but not to write our story, because we think it is too self-centered, is hubris. Who are we to say whether our lives make a good story or an important story? Stories are what last when everything else erodes and corrupts and blows away. When we get older and tell our stories at family gatherings,“about the time I . . .” and repeat our stories by rote, that is a feeble effort to do what I’m challenging us to do intentionally. Just telling the stories isn’t good enough in a culture like ours that marginalizes its elders. We have to honor our own memories, breathe life into our experience because no one else will be able to.   

I have done what I am urging you to do but it was a long process with a lot of trial and error. First, as you know, I kept journals that go back to when I was 31. My journals tell lots of stories. They just had to be teased out of the endless narrative of self-reflection that I maintained from age 31 to 44. After age 44, I started writing “books” in an effort to fashion my stories into a tale for our times. The “books” that I wrote were failures. I hadn’t figured out how to write about myself without losing my audience. The first real book I wrote was New Wasichu, Crossing, at the age of 62. The formula, for me, for the type of book I had it in me to write, was almost mathematical. (I think it was Rumi who taught me how to dive into the mirror so deep that you come out the other side!)  I had to strike a balance between the personal and “world”, but to understand that it was OK to be subjective, that there was nothing wrong with sticking to my own perspective. So what I learned was, I had to stay true to my core-self, my voice by figuring out how to let myself be vulnerable without being indulgent. A good story talks about survival. Readers of the genre I am writing in gravitate to stories that pan out; that can be a problem if we don’t believe there is a solution or resolution when we start. I think all writers have to hash this out for themselves. If something is hopeless and doesn’t pan out, in my opinion, it won’t endure and it won’t hold up. That book “Into the Wild”, about a young guy who soloed in Alaska and died because he was so ill-prepared, is a good example of a book where the story failed. (I realize there are plenty of reviews that would disagree with me, but I just found it too depressing to finish.)

I’m not sure that the human race will survive the wilderness of civilization. I can take up that hopelessness in my poetry because metaphors are containers and a good poem is a good container and as such can hold just about anything. It’s alchemical. But a book is different. Books that are air-tight containers make bad books. If it’s too neat and nicely structured with no imperfections, where is the vulnerability? To write a good fiction, you need to come up with a vulnerable protagonist. . . .To write a memoir, you have to go into how you stumbled and messed up and made mistakes, but you work something out, which is why Bob Dylan’s memoir is titled Chronicles, Volume 1. As far as I know there is no Volume 2 and may never be. He couldn’t chronicle his life and live it at the same time. 

So, if you are having trouble writing a memoir, start with Chronicle 1. That’s my advice. It’s the best advice I have for now.

 

 

 

Part 1: An open letter to my older brother, urging him to write his memoir

I want to say something about writing books, which I am somewhat new at but I think I have discovered something worth sharing about my process that certain other writers might find interesting or useful. This impulse to articulate my process and track my learning curve as an author (of what I call self-reflective nonfiction) came up when I decided to try to talk my brother, Dave, into writing a memoir. I thought it was time, not because he is on his last legs but because I think every writer in the second half of life should set aside some time to tell his / her story.

My last post was about cleaning out a storage unit where we were keeping stuff that my recently deceased parents left behind. It was a grueling process that took a few years of conscientious sorting, using various kinds of scales and litmus tests for determining what to salvage.

Anyway, as we took up this work recently, for the last time, hell-bent on finishing, unexpected stories came up. (I have learned that there is a difference between memories and stories, stories being memories that have a soul or that touch us all in some way or another.) When we were done we felt good. After posting a brief account of this experience, I received lots of affirmations from people I don’t normally hear from and even complete strangers, who identified with the work we did and how we approached it. I learned that not only do our family stories need to be remembered and respected but the context of the stories deserves to be preserved if possible. This is very challenging work that borders on artful because sometimes all you get is a flood of memories that are not necessarily share-worthy, so the sorting can take a very private turn. Some branches of the ancestral tree are missing and some have died! (Just for example, there were two miniature tintypes, beautifully framed in little hinged, gold-plated cases of two very old people — brother and sister? Husband and wife? We have no idea who they are, and probably never will, but I know that good money was spent on these photos and the frames, money that could have been spent on food or clothes.)

Accomplishing this labor dovetailed with the release of a book I’ve been writing for the last year: 13 Seeds: Health, Karma and Initiation. (Available at  indiebound.org) In this book I tell stories of my own rites of passage, beginning at age 10. I am happy with it and I guess I was hoping my euphoria of publishing some of my stories would rub off on my brother.

I have always taken my brother seriously as a writer. Dave is a successful author of several books and managing editor of a popular leftist internet journal, Thiscantbehappening.net. He believes in the power of writing and in writers. He founded the National Writers Union. But he does not have that much to say about himself. And yet he has lived a full and active life, and he has never not been outspoken about what he believes in. He has always had the courage to uphold his convictions and words have served him well.

But Dave, Don’t just dismiss this idea of writing your story. (continued, read Part 2)

Democracy? What’s that?

A small group of us in our little rural Vermont town was interested in getting together to watch Michael Moore’s latest film, “Where to Invade Next?”. Someone with a large living room was willing to host the viewing and the evening wound up being entertaining and affirming.

We were all what you might call  Progressives or progressive-leaning. We weren’t really interested in defending Moore’s reasons for making the film but to celebrate his humor and his moxie. In the film he visits other countries, bringing an American flag along,  claiming their social and political achievements for the United States. Each one of the countries he visits  has succeeded in implementing  the ideals, the freedoms and rights of the American Constitution, whereas the United Sates has failed to deliver on the promise of enlightened government articulated by its own founding fathers, such as the right of health, education and equal justice for all

We had such a good time and it felt so good to agree on what we found funny and affirming that we decided to share another film and maybe even make a habit of it.

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Listening for the whisper of the past

This is about how my brother and sister and I just finished a task that my sister rightly described as worthy of Hercules.

Our parents, David Lindorff Sr. and Dorothy Park died a few years ago within a year of each other. Everything that we didn’t quite know what to do with went into a 10 by 20-foot rented storage unit, safely locked and temporarily ignored. A year later we managed to whittle it down to about a third of that and we transferred everything to an 8 by 12-foot unit. Most of the stuff was in boxes. There was some smaller furniture and hard to categorize objects; some of the stuff was 3 – 4 generations old. Most of it whispered stories, but you had to really listen to hear them. And some of it remained mysterious because the story was lost; when that happens you have artifacts and curios like you see in an antique shop, except how can you attach a value to something that so obviously has a story to tell but it’s lost its whisper! You can’t. So, if you are like me, you swallow hard and put it in one of five boxes: “trash”, “recycle”, “thrift store”, “antique”, “keep” (name).

The furniture was easy. If it meant something, we could overlook a creak or a flaw or a rip. The point is, everything was given a chance to make its case.

It was the photos and letters that presented the greatest challenge, and, it goes without saying, the poems, drawings, doodles and diaries of a large extended family — in fact several extended families — that actually communicated over the years and valued creativity and writing. The further back you go, the more people tended to write to each other, in our family at least, and if they didn’t write, everyone turned out something that revealed their personality . . . and if there was nothing creative to show, there were photos.

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