Confessions of a Tree Murderer

Paper is trees.

How many times have I heard this said since the first Earth Day in 1970? So Yay! for the digital revolution. As a writer, I can now do my part to save the planet by penning everything without a pen…or paper. Yeah, right…until I need to edit. I have yet to find the digital equivalent to scratching out stupid things I’ve written and then scribbling less stupid ones in the margins, and using copious arrows and asterisks to instruct me later when I’m typing in all the changes and have no idea what I had been thinking. I edit on paper and, because I can always find flaws in everything I write, I work multiple drafts.

Observe my stack of tree bones, the horror of it. I could recycle it all once the book comes out, but think of the dissertation potential that would be lost for an eager future doctoral student examining the writing process of a then-dead famous early 20th-century novelist. Of course, that’s presuming I become famous…and die. Immortality is not completely off the table in terms of future possibilities. Sure, I could scan all these drafts and store them in a cloud, but who has time for that? (Immortals) I could insulate the attic, but the R-rating of plain bond paper is probably not as good as the soybean foam we’ve got up there already. So, I stack them on my desk, a paper trunk, as proof of both my productivity and environmental sins. Then someday, like a scene out of E.L. Doctorow’s novel Homer & Langley, I’ll be crushed to death by this constructed tree of hoarded paper. I guess I can live with that.

Drafts of my YA novels guarded by an origami boar my son made.

Drafts guarded by an origami boar my son made.


Slut for Words

I fell out of the blog universe over the holidays, but want to share this guest post I wrote for Brevity while I was in Melbourne for the NonfictioNow 2012 conference.

Is Writing Better then Sex?

words rule

The landscape of the human love words in Melbourne

I find evidence everywhere to at least support the idea that human beings love words.

The Auguries of Innocence

It’s my son’s first day of fifth grade, his last year of elementary school, and I just dropped him in the drop-off line and he walked in without hesitation, just a few neck twitches and head bobs to indicate nerves. It seems so long since I had to sit beside him each morning while he made little movies on my phone instead of venturing out into the playground with all the other kids. I’d still be there standing by the door as he lined up and marched into Mrs G’s half-day kindergarten class, his second go at kindergarten after the disastrous try at Our Lady of Perpetual Stress.

Instead I’m home sitting in the front garden courtyard trying to enjoy a little outside time before the heat descends. It’s already too hot, but I’m out here anyhow. There is a romance in the idea of writing in the garden, letting the words tumble out to the cadence of fountain burble, but in truth I’ve been having hot flashes and any spike in nervous energy sets one off. Just now the admission that the reality of a romantic writing session in the garden like I’m Dorothy Wordsworth scribbling in her journal, her famous writer brother at her elbow, the falseness of it sends my body into a flood of heat and sweat.

Still, it’s lovely the way the slant morning sun illuminates the jacobinia leaves, how thick and tropical these shrubs look despite the desert climate. I can almost ignore the airplanes that roar in and out of Sky Harbor or the workers next door who just arrived to bang metal pipes together. Sound torments the moment, the delusion of the moment, but I’m going to sit here and write and pretend for a few more words that I am Dorothy Wordsworth. It is 1803 and William and I just arrived in the Lakes District to amble about in the glow of the countryside. I’ll scout the dirt roads for ordinary travelers, a fisherman perhaps, for William to build a poem around. One of the workers drops a metal pipe onto the concrete drive and I’m back to being me. Sirens sound in the distance. It’s hot even in the shade of the mesquite that drapes over the courtyard. I’m thinking about ways to club the workers with the seemingly infinite supply of pipes in the back of their truck.

I sit out here to try and disprove the long-standing American myth of wilderness promulgated by Thoreau and Muir, this idea that one can’t find nature until he or she has first lost humanity. Whitman didn’t believe that. Neither did the Wordsworths, though they romanticized the poor, the country bumpkins, turning them into images of virtue, editing out poverty or making it seem honorable to suffer. Somewhere a truck is backing up, beep, beep, beep…Am I wrong about where wilderness exists? Do people, as Muir argued, ruin a true connection between the individual and wilderness? Is the wilderness experience only for lone wanderers like him? Thoreau edited out humanity to make the short walk into the town of Concord seem farther, which in turn made his abode by Walden Pond seem wilder. And nature writing enthusiasts have edited his work further in anthologies to make his rather tame countryside version of wilderness more aligned with the rugged lands in the West. What about that great insight of William Blake in his poem Auguries of Innocence, especially the opening lines?

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

This seems to imply a wilderness that can exist in small spaces, like my front courtyard garden, but then the poem goes on to rail against humanity, how each attempt to wrestle nature into domestic control results in the silencing of angels. To anger an ox is to be spurned forever by the love of any woman. Who wants that? Blake singles out war, greed, licentiousness and most of all doubt as reasons human beings stray from God and subsequently denigrate the natural world. “He who Doubts from what he sees/Will ne’er believe, do what you Please,” writes Blake, which seems to me to mean that all the ways in which people destroy nature that Blake called out prior to these lines are problems of lack of faith. The idea that God put all this nature on earth for humans to do what they please is a flawed interpretation of God’s will, so Blake seems to say. Rather consider the innocent vision of children, and damned be those who don’t, as he warns:

He who mocks the Infant’s Faith
Shall be mock’d in Age & Death.
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall ne’er get out.
He who respects the Infant’s faith
Triumph’s over Hell & Death.

Jack hammers in my neighbor’s back yard win. And another hot flash has made the warming morning air feel like a sauna right after a fellow naked steamer has poured cold water on the hot lava rocks. I’m going in, which for me has never held inverse truth of Muir’s observation that going out is really going in. Going in is not going out for me. The door will shut and even a view from the window won’t connect me to the dove that just now is tipping its head to drink from the fountain. Romantic, yes, as though it’s sent from Dorothy herself. The automatic sprinklers just clicked on and drenched my laptop. I’ll take that as a sign to go inside to ponder the meaning of wilderness further and wait for school to let out.

hands of me and my son, image by me
BTW all moms have an extra set of hands for just such occasions

Auguries of Innocence
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill’d with doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.
A dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus’d upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
A Skylark wounded in the wing,
A Cherubim does cease to sing.
The Game Cock clipp’d and arm’d for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright.
Every Wolf’s & Lion’s howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul.
The wild deer, wand’ring here & there,
Keeps the Human Soul from Care.
The Lamb misus’d breeds public strife
And yet forgives the Butcher’s Knife.
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that won’t believe.
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbeliever’s fright.
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belov’d by Men.
He who the Ox to wrath has mov’d
Shall never be by Woman lov’d.
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spider’s enmity.
He who torments the Chafer’s sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night.
The Caterpillar on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mother’s grief.
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly,
For the Last Judgement draweth nigh.
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar.
The Beggar’s Dog & Widow’s Cat,
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat.
The Gnat that sings his Summer’s song
Poison gets from Slander’s tongue.
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envy’s Foot.
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artist’s Jealousy.
The Prince’s Robes & Beggars’ Rags
Are Toadstools on the Miser’s Bags.
A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for Joy & Woe;
And when this we rightly know
Thro’ the World we safely go.
Joy & Woe are woven fine,
A Clothing for the Soul divine;
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
The Babe is more than swaddling Bands;
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made, & born were hands,
Every Farmer Understands.
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity.
This is caught by Females bright
And return’d to its own delight.
The Bleat, the Bark, Bellow & Roar
Are Waves that Beat on Heaven’s Shore.
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of death.
The Beggar’s Rags, fluttering in Air,
Does to Rags the Heavens tear.
The Soldier arm’d with Sword & Gun,
Palsied strikes the Summer’s Sun.
The poor Man’s Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Afric’s Shore.
One Mite wrung from the Labrer’s hands
Shall buy & sell the Miser’s lands:
Or, if protected from on high,
Does that whole Nation sell & buy.
He who mocks the Infant’s Faith
Shall be mock’d in Age & Death.
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall ne’er get out.
He who respects the Infant’s faith
Triumph’s over Hell & Death.
The Child’s Toys & the Old Man’s Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons.
The Questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to Reply.
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out.
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesar’s Laurel Crown.
Nought can deform the Human Race
Like the Armour’s iron brace.
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow.
A Riddle or the Cricket’s Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply.
The Emmet’s Inch & Eagle’s Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile.
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will ne’er believe, do what you Please.
If the Sun & Moon should doubt
They’d immediately Go out.
To be in a Passion you Good may do,
But no Good if a Passion is in you.
The Whore & Gambler, by the State
Licenc’d, build that Nation’s Fate
The Harlot’s cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old England’s winding Sheet.
The Winner’s Shout, the Loser’s Curse,
Dance before dead England’s Hearse.
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Morn & every Night
Some are Born to sweet Delight.
Some are Born to sweet Delight,
Some are born to Endless Night.
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro’ the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to Perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light.
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in the Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.