Sunday, February 26, 2012

Imaginary Weather (running and writing)

I have gone back to a draft of a story that takes place on a hot day. A really hot day. 

Today is not a hot day, not where I live, and it is taking a strenuous effort to muscle my imagination anywhere near air shimmering over asphalt, t-shirts sweaty around necklines, glare that makes you squint. Anything more inventive than the clichéd sizzle of eggs on the pavement.

If I want to sweat today, I have to run. If I run, under (or over) the sweatiness, I will be cold. Not freeze-your-eyelashes-together cold (thank goodness I no longer live in that climate) but throat-stinging cold, tug-my-fleece-beanie-a-little-lower-on-my-ears cold. Most of all, mud puddle cold. Only in the winter is the much vaunted ventilation of my running shoes really evident. The air goes right through them, along with the water when I inevitably misjudge as solid one of the floating islands that decorate the jogging-trail-cum-mud-wallow where we crazies congregate. Kind of the local variation on mad dogs and Englishmen, here where there's not much midday sun this time of year.

So, I'm going to run (because it clears my head even if it sogs my toes) and I'm going to try, flexing my leg muscles, to push that mental muscle back toward that hot afternoon when my story is supposed to start, the heat that is somehow motivating to my character (how? when has she ever experienced heat that would make you choose? where does she live, anyway?). 

I know that more than a few of my brilliant insights-while-running are lost among the woodchips before I get home--how else to explain the recalcitrance of certain drafts that stubbornly resist revision? So I don't run too fast, hoping any laggard inspiration might have the chance to catch me up before I round the bend. But as a plan, a run right now seems more promising than one more sunny-side-up stuck on the metal bus stop bench in my little urban desert that refuses, today, to be more than a mirage.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sounds of Water

When it rains here in our favorite deluge style, the gutters on the front of my house sound as if they might soon tear away from the roof, though I choose to believe that's just the sound of water cascading over the edge. My own little waterfall--no need to leave home. The back gutters are easy to clean from a stepladder and I do so fairly regularly. The front gutters require outside help.

 It rains in Argentina, too; I slopped through Buenos Aires, cold and bedraggled, feeling a little sorry for myself but accustomed, after years of northwest rain, to going out in the downpour--what else was I going to do?

But the sound of water I remember--and the memory is clearer than the recording, though I recorded a short video, just to get the sound--the sound of water I remember from the trip is the roar of Iguazú Falls.

We took the long, long bus trip up from Rosario with the full group of students, stopping for supper at a gas station convenience store (a full array of options: ham and cheese empanadas, ham and cheese pizza, ham and cheese sandwiches), overnight and stiff, one bad movie after another at full volume, because the speakers only worked on one side of the bus.

No matter. I traced the route on a map so I'd know where I'd been, but the point this time, more than the journey, was the destination.

Magnificent, stunning, immense, imposing, thunderous, rushing, loud, awe-inspiring. . . it's a good place for adjectives of excess, of speechlessness (words fail me), big broad strokes that don't quite cover it.

It's a good place for a lover of detail. Practical soul that I am, I was impressed by the catwalks, long, almost delicate-looking metal pathways suspended across river channels and above muddy hollows, allowing thousands upon thousands of visitors to creep up close enough to peek over the falls without turning the forest into one big mud wallow, every day just a bit wider.

It's a good place for a waterfall collector. The main falls, the side channels--they're all stunning. They're all loud. And the sound, as in the repeated yet varied motion I never tire of watching, is also one big sameness, an indecipherable, indistinguishable roar--but it's also a thousand bells and shouts and hollow roars that, one by one, almost separable, always identical yet faintly distinct, make up the whole.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Reading at Winter's Hill

This weekend, we celebrated the 2nd annual Wine and Word tasting at Winter's Hill Vineyard. I wrote about last year's reading here, and the pairing of wine--or food--with texts. It's natural, I think, to bring them together; say what you will about eating only at a table with cutlery and dishes, sipping while reading (or nibbling while reading) is comfortable, comforting--fun.

Reading aloud and in company is also about listening. I knew the work of the day's readers prior to the event, but I hadn't heard every poem, every observation. Even those poems I had read myself or heard the poet read before were new, read in a new context, new surroundings. The inflections were new, as Saturday's voice is not precisely Friday's, or Monday's. 

I read a selection from Beyond the Islands, my translation of Alicia Yánez Cossío's Más allá de las islas. It's one my of my favorite bits, in which the poet Alirio, his muse fled, finds himself speechless before the big, big sea, repeating the (likely apocryphal) words of one historical figure or another that were drilled into his brain in 4th grade social studies. I also read a bit of my novel manuscript, Fishbowl. It was the first time I'd taken it out on the road, so to speak, reading to other than a hand-picked audience of friends and critique partners. 

I love reading aloud. Maybe I just like the sound of my own voice. Maybe I'm trying to fill the void left by children who now read their bedtime stories to themselves. But I enjoy the performance, the theatricality, and the living, breathing audience right there. It's a kind of instant gratification, after months of working on a manuscript quietly, alone. 

As before, we prepared tasting notes. The poets organized their poems into flights, much as winemakers and sommeliers might present a selection of wines for sampling. These are my tasting notes for the Beyond the Islands:

Beyond the Islands is set in the Galápagos, and also beyond: these are the Galápagos reinvented. Pair the rich and varied cast of characters (pirates, settlers, tourists, botanists) with a lush and many-layered Pinot Noir like the Winter's Hill 2006 Dundee Hills. Hints of dark cherry, pepper, and musk resonate with the adventurers who try to make a place for themselves in the inhospitable islands; the complex flavors of the wine will warm the cold February evening you might spend in the company of Alirio, a prodigious poet anxious to recover his muse.

Thanks to all who came out to join us, and thanks to Beroldingen Cheese and Full Circle Creamery for sharing luscious artisanal cheeses with readers and guests. And if you missed it, the books are available through the following links:

Kelly Terwilliger, A Glimpse of Oranges (Finishing Line Press)
Barbara Drake, Peace at Heart (Oregon State UP);  Driving One Hundred (Windfall Press)
Karen McPherson, Sketching Elise (Finishing Line Press)
Amalia Gladhart (trans.), Alicia Yánez Cossío, Beyond the Islands (UNO Press)