Stage of Isolation: Triage
Today’s Pandemic Writing Exercise
Feels not so much like pushing
against the walls but like trying to breathe
life into creatures of the sea.
Not sharks with their proficient teeth
or whales with their dizzying
or dolphins in their clamorous play,
but an aggregation of manatees.
Endangered, gazing down
toward their bellies,
like bloated ballerinas
drifting to the shore
where I’m helpless
but to watch them beach.
I have one, solitary cup
to dip and pour
over their parching skin.
–> Micki Blenkush
Kiss the Bottle
here, kiss the bottle for good luck
you too, Jenny
glass kisses are cold comfort, we know
colder than unanswered letters
and colder now than ever
plop! thin ice shatters
the sea shivers
in need of an old woolen coat, furry boots
and an alpaca scarf
but we can’t spare any
our cheeks are bright pink, and we hold back white breath
our last-ditch message sent by frosted bottle
bobbing in slushy seawater, spinning in waves
rolling atop bridges of black ice
oh, we try to use our minds
to push that bottle through
like a maritime icebreaker traversing the Arctic winter
chug, chug, chugging along
(isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?)
“keep spinning!” we shout to the bottle
“keep your feet moving!” Jenny cries—
no, mutters more like
red-rosy nose buried deep in her wools and furs
dancing from one foot to the other
on hoary rime
as it bobs out of sight, we
blow farewell kisses with mittened hands
in reply, the intrepid glass glints
in pale, winter sunlight
–> Gretchen Tessmer
A Fiction Writer’s Progress
First, read a short novel that used simple words and became a bestseller.
Say to yourself, “I could do that. In about a month.”
Write several thousand words in a couple hours. Base it on your life.
Feel that they are very, very good.
It’s hard to write simple sentences. Aren’t complex ones more interesting and impressive? Write 10,000 long, complex sentences.
Advertise for a novel writers’ group.
Invite the four most promising respondents to your place.
Sit close together on the loveseat and chair crammed into your apartment living room.
Be happy everyone likes your tea.
Be troubled that no one likes your fancy sentences.
Wonder why one person approves of a sentence about cut-up carrots on a wooden board or likes the smell of Vicks Vapo-rub.
Be troubled that someone points out a run-on sentence that actually isn’t one.
Be troubled when someone sharply attacks another’s apparent political position.
Listen to the best writer: Don’t describe; Render!
Wonder how to render.
After the second meeting, hear writer X tell you she can’t stand Writer Y.
Worry but do nothing: Writer Y shows up and brings wine.
Drink wine with Writer Y and talk without giving feedback.
Go to workshops about finding agents and negotiating film rights.
Subscribe to Writers Digest.
Start receiving a slew of scam contests and phony opportunities in the mail.
Pay three hundred dollars for a class. Get postcards from your mentor alerting you to her books and appearances.
Get vague encouraging words and a Xeroxed list of punctuation tips.
Be afraid to speak up.
Take a college writing class in which each student reads her story aloud so the prof doesn’t have to read them outside of class. Try to decipher his two scribbled sentences on your last page.
Be amazed at one gifted student. Be amazed at three weird students.
Do not attend the after-hours erotic writing session involving a bottle of whiskey.
Take an online class. Get excellent feedback and learn a ton. Feel connected to your mentor. After three weeks, get a new mentor. Ask what happened to your first mentor. Get the impression it is mental illness. Get the impression it is permanent.
Get a third mentor. Eventually receive all your work and responses in one envelope.
Go to a conference. Discover excellent writers you have never heard of.
Unsubscribe from Writers Digest.
Recognize that your novel is actually an essay. At best, experimental or post-modern. You hate experimental, post-modern novels. Recognize that your novel includes many opinions but no plot. Feel despair.
Learn to be ruthless. Cut, cut, cut. Begin to grasp what a scene is. Respect carrots on a cutting board. Respect the smell of Vicks Vapo-Rub. Respect how excruciatingly hard it is to write a short good book made of simple words and sentences
“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes.”― My Life in France
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”―
You manage to built a small, passable shelter made of bent young trees, vines, palm fronds and thatch. While felling the trees you come across what looks like the remains of another shelter, long-since abandoned. Within the remains you uncover a journal bearing a regal insignia and the word: Prestonia.
Read the Journal