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You say wind is only wind
& carries nothing nervous
in its teeth.
I do not believe it.

I have seen leaves desist
from moving

although the branches
move, & I

believe a cyclone has secrets
the weather is ignorant of.
I believe
in the violence of not knowing.

I’ve seen a river lose its course
& join itself again,
watched it court
a stream & coax the stream
into its current,

& I have seen
rivers, not unlike
you, that failed to find
their way back.

I believe the rapport
between water & sand, the advent
from mirror to face.

I believe in rain
to cover what mourns,
in hail that revives
& sleet that erodes, believe
whatever falls
is a figure of rain

& now I believe in torrents that take
everything down with them.

The sky calls it quits,
or so I believe,
when air, or earth, or air
has had enough.

I believe in disquiet,
the pressure it plies, believe a cloud
to govern the limits of night.

I say I,
but little is left to say it, much less
mean it—
& yet I do.

Let there be
no mistake:
I do not believe
things are reborn in fire.
They’re consumed by fire

& the fire has a life of its own.

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Before coming home and running the water ice cold in the shower, and before standing at the pharmacy unable to read what the boxes said and the lines were so long and my stomach was roiling so hard that there was no point so I pushed my way out;
before the subway journey home where I gasped for air and heaved and sweat dripped down;
before I found the book I wanted at the library;
before the long dinner with Andrea —
before all that, I read Crush and there was nothing else in the world but that.

I read Richard Siken between Hornstull and Rådmansgatan, oblivious to anything else. There is something special about sinking down into his poetry and letting it engulf you.
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It started as I crossed the street from school to the library, caught on that slip between lanes as I waited for the traffic lights to switch. In my head, the class played on repeat: the students trying their hardest to not understand the simplest instructions, the way the teacher went "you don't know that?!" when people asked questions, the numbers growing and growing as I struggled to not create a mess of my solution (and did anyway, and got it wrong). I felt small and stupid as I huddled in the corner by myself, unable to decipher the messy scrawl on the whiteboard or pick out the voices in the constant hum of forty-five voices whispering at once.

I sprinted across the road and dove into the library, climbing the stairs up to disappear among the English literature shelves. Sometimes just looking at the spines of books is enough, to pull them out and read a few lines. To know that anytime I wish, there is a new place to be transported to, a new set of characters to fall in love with or despise or dissect.

On the train home, bag heavy with books from the library, it came welling up again. I could not stop thinking of the noises, of the way the teacher just kept dismissing all my concerns and worries. Of course it's easy for you, I thought, biting my tongue. Of course. You never spent a year going to school, fighting not to throw yourself on the train tracks each morning. You can filter sensations. You are different from me, and yet you don't respect my differences.

Then I swallowed the lump in my throat and blasted the angriest, screechiest music I could find. I held my chin high. I bought sweets to cheer myself up. I decided, chanting quietly: I will, I will, I will. I will make it.
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I am almost done with Novel in a Year by Louise Doughty and it's a case of good intentions barbed with terribleness. As she gives one good slice of advice (to be a good writer, one must read and read a lot) she also gives this:

“I don’t wish to discourage you from reading the classics – unless it’s Henry James, in which case I would discourage you from even giving him room on the shelves in your toilet.”
Recounting the many funny one-liners she received to a writing exercise leaves us with this indecipherable metaphor:

Amusing as they were, the jokey one-liners I was often sent did make me think of a fat person who deals with their obesity by making jokes about how heavy they are. However much you admire their coping strategy, you can’t help feeling they would be better off if they took their problem seriously and went on a diet.”

And you know, anything but writing a novel isn’t that cool. This isn't so much offensive as just unnecessary.

“That is why, for me, novels are the ultimate written art form, the Himalayas of literature.

Her writing tip is to compose lists of Enemies and Allies to your writing. I like this idea in practice because it's always good to assess what you are actually doing with your versus what you want to be doing (or should), but this...

“But apart from shredding them, what can you do about your Enemies? You probably don’t want to divorce the husband who always makes snide remarks about your writing — not over this issue at least. But you could choose to stop discussing your ambitions with him.

I’ve broken up with people who made snide remarks about my ambitions, so I think it’s a valid reason as any to end a relationship if your partner opts to make snide remarks and be mean about your ambitions rather than support them. These are people who you're intimate with. Do you want them around if they only make rude remarks about your ambitions and dreams and hopes?

There are good bits of advice in it though, but they can be summarized in a few bullet points.
  • Read contemporary writers as all writers are product of their times.
  • Learn to cut and trim. Be ruthless with it.
  • Get to know all your characters, even the minor ones. Write about them, embellish their lives, but recognize what you will actually use in the story and what will not be in there.
  • One exercise I genuinely liked and will have to do a lot since my ultimate weakness is dialogue. "Write six lines of dialogue between two people, giving them three lines each. Have them discuss the refurbishment of the local library. Twist? Convey to the reader through this dialogue that they utterly loathe each other."
  • As you start getting ideas of what it is you want to write, schedule ten weeks where you ruthlessly cut into any tasks or meetings or other events you can decline. Spend your time writing wildly, without care for chronology. Write a whole chapter, write scenes, scattered sentences. Jump around. The most important aspect is that you keep building up a body of work.
  • Spread out the written stuff on a table, the floor or the wall. Organize. If you feel a bit is too thin, make a note of it. Keep going back and forth to add or detract or move things around, but keep in mind that it is still the rough draft version.
  • Learn to rewrite a little even in the draft mode. It's important to get stuff out onto the page, yes, but each day when you start again, look back at what you have written and change a little if it feels necessary.
  • Acknowledge what you do well.
  • Give yourself some time off. Pencil in a week or two where you shut your writing off and don't think about it.
  • Make time for your writing.
Essentially, there's a few bits of genuinely good advice, but it is nothing new or ground-breaking. You have to wade through a lot of the author's own ego to get there, and I don't think it's worth the time and effort for that. There are better books on reading to find out there, and far more writing advice for free online. 


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my name is everything

October 2012

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"We want to be loved; failing that, admired; failing that, feared; failing that, hated and despised. At all costs we want to stir up some sort of feeling in others. Our soul abhors a vacuum. At all costs it longs for contact." — Doctor Glas, Hjalmar Söderberg