Tuesday, October 31, 2006

WiFi at Colin's (and he's an artist!)

What Columbus coffeehouse serves a breakfast sandwich named after a deceased barrista (the McRoy - he wasn't dead when they named it)? What Columbus coffeehouse is owned by a guitarist and singer in a rock band (Watershed)? What Columbus coffeehouse has FREE wi-fi AND plenty plenty plenty of electrical outlets (Guess silly!)? What Columbus coffeehouse has ALL THREE? Right! COLIN'S COFFEE.

Colin's Coffee, formerly Brewster's, is alive and well in the Golden Bear Shopping Center at the corner of Fishinger and Riverside in Upper Arlington.

The place has lots of light even on a gray Ohio day, the sound on the TV is turned off (WAHOO!), and space heaters remedy the wind tunnel effect created by the doors at both ends of the coffehouse. And that's not all! The wi-fi's really free. No little cards to buy after an hour. No catch. And lots of electrical outlets.

And Colin's boasts something no other coffeehouse on the planet can offer - COLIN! He's been the personality behind the bar for a decade. He plays guitar and sings with the band (Comfest Favorite) Watershed (check them out on myspace). And now he's the new owner.

"I was gonna be unemployed if the place went under. I live just down the street. I figured I might as well buy the place!"

Makes sense to me. Try the McRoy Breakfast Sandwich (named after a deceased barrista) if you dare. On a cold day the tomato soup and grilled cheese panini combo can't be beat. If neither of those suit you, try the donuts from The Der Dutchman in Plain City. They may not help your writing, but once you're in the sugar coma, you won't notice.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Lawrence's New Mexico Featured in NYT Piece

In an exquisite New York Times travel piece about D.H. Lawrence's love affair with northern New Mexico, Henry Shukman writes:

THERE’S something about the first glimpse of the Taos Mesa as you travel north from Santa Fe, up the narrow canyon of the Rio Grande past Embudo. A series of long, sweeping bends brings you over a brow, and suddenly the view ahead opens out onto empty, bare land, with a smoky gorge cut into it like the Great Rift Valley of Africa. Ten miles off stands a bulk of dark, brooding mountains. One of the biggest, bald Taos Mountain, sits bolted to the plain like a remonstrance. At its foot the town of Taos spreads like litter glinting in the sun.
[from "D.H. Lawrence’s New Mexico: The Ghosts That Grip the Soul of Bohemian Taos," Sunday, October 22, 2006, The New York Times.]

Don't miss the photos, especially the ones of the Mabel Dodge Luhan House where Natalie Goldberg holds most of her classes.

I head out there again on November 8th. Mmmmmmm. I can almost hear the stars twinkling.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

We Teach What We Need to Learn

How many times do I have to be reminded?

I spent a wonderful Saturday with 15 women writers. It didn't matter that they were "students" who had signed up for my class "Writing From the Inside Out." Talking with and listening to these women reminded me of so many lessons I had forgetten! I must write some of it down so I don't forget again. I'll tell you one here today.

"Keep your hand moving." This basic tenet from Natalie Goldberg's classic, Writing Down the Bones, comes back to me over and over. Today I was prompted to tell the story of the woman who went to a week-long writing conference with a famous poet only to have her work torn to shreds. But this student knew about writing practice. So every day after the class, instead of going to the bar to lick her wounds with the other students, she went outside, sat under a tree, and did writing practice. Over and over and over.

On the last day, the student walked into the classroom wearing a large pink bow on her head. She handed the poet her work and sat down.

The poet read it and said, "You wrote this?"

The student nodded.

The poet tore a sheet of paper out of her notebook, wrote down her phone number, handed it to the student and, in front of all the others said, "If you ever need anything, call me."

Who was it that said, "The more I practice, the luckier I get?" Next time a comment from my MFA advisor threatens to derail me, someone remind me of this story (which I had forgotten until today). I just need to get back to work.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Plot Points with Morrie

I just finished reading Tuesdays with Morrie. I didn't want to. She made me. She sort of bribed me by telling me that, despite the lame metaphors, the sickly dialogue, and the unforgivable platitudes, Tuesdays with Morrie would teach me a thing or two about structure. She was right.

In the book, author Mitch Albom has at least five trajectories going. The most obvious is the decline of Morrie's health which ends in his death. Beneath those are several other, more subtle, character and plot developments.

There is the rekindled friendship between Mitch and Morrie which develops. Mitch opens up, begins touching Morrie, tells Morrie about his life and ultimately, Mitch cries the last day he sees Morrie.

Another of the stories is told in flashbacks. Albom takes us back to his college days at Brandeis where and Morrie first bonded. Albom begins this thread (and the whole book) with a conversation between he and Morrie at his college graduation. Then he flashes back to his first class with Morrie. Throughout the book we see their college friendship blossom as Albom carries us back toward his graduation.

Albom also tells about his estrangement from his brother. They are separated emotionally and physically. Throughout the third section of the story, Albom drops little reminders of what is happening. At the end of the book, the issue is resolved with a returned phone call.

Last, and possibly most important, Albom shows the change in his own attitude toward success and his career. It starts when the union at the newspaper where he works goes out on strike. The strike is not resolved before the book ends and Albom's work becomes spreading Morrie's message, a message of hope and a revolutionary attitude toward dying.

I never thought I'd recommend it, but read it - closely. If it doesn't change your life, it will certainly change your writing.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Index Cards

I was sitting in Stauf's Coffee Roasters in Grandview when I read the most recent letter from my Goddard MFA Advisor Aimee Liu. I squealed so loudly that the man at the next table jumped. I now know that Aimee Liu is a writer after my own heart. She suggested color-coded index cards!

Last March, in yet another attempt to get a handle on the memoir I'm writing about my father, I created a 64-page, single-spaced, five-color Chronology of Events gleaned from my journals and from hours of interviews with my sister and mother. Purple for Dad’s illness. Pink for mine. Yellow for our relationship. Green for golf. Blue for anything else important.

April found me creating matching index cards and by May I found software to track it all IN FULL COLOR! The result? 247 CARDS in five colors! They are gorgeous, but when I tried to lay them out and move them around to find a shape for the book, their sheer number overwhelmed me.

Now I see the problem. Aimee wrote, “Each [card] should represent a moment of change or discovery.” I fear I have fallen into the memoir trap of thinking something mattered just because it happened to my father during the relevant time period. In fact, I need to choose a few bright moments and make those tell the story.

Time to try the index card thing again.

Monday, October 09, 2006

More MFA Tidbits from Aimee Liu

Here are the choice tidbits from the letter I received last week from my Goddard MFA Advisor, Aimee Liu in response to my work:

          "The promise [you make to the reader] is a net [that holds the entire book]. If you find yourself writing something that does not support this promise, it may not belong . . . ."

          "[The primary people in the book] need to spring off the page as strong, visible, fully engaged characters."

          "[Even in memoir] you have to tell the reader what your father [my main character] was thinking - or better yet, imply what he was thinking. What happened to him. What he did when you weren't present. You are our authority. This is your book."

          "Tell the truth, not the facts. Dialogue does not have to the literal words you spoke, but should shimmer with the truth of the moment as you remember it or as you now understand it."

          "If the facts of the moment were boring, you must either cut the moment or write it in a way that makes it both interesting and important."

          "When you edit you are primarily doing two things. First cut away the redundant or extraneous. Then you dig deeper and write into the sections that are still superficial or obvious or boring but that you know are important. Write to the deeper meaning. When you edit you are making the text matter."

          "Use all the senses all the time."

          ". . . the biggest challenge is telling the whole truth and risking the reaction of others. . . . Remember to tell the whole truth, not just the facts."

Seems like I thought I knew these things. But knowing them in my head and actually exercising these skills on paper are very different.

I'd better get back to work! More bum glue please.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Margaret Atwood to Speak in Cleveland

Let's give Margaret Atwood a warm Ohio welcome when she comes to Cleveland. It's been more than a decade since she's been there.

Atwood will be featured at the Cleveland Public Library's Writers and Readers Series, Sunday, November 5th at 2:00PM. The event is free and open to the public. It will be held at the Main Library, Louis Stokes Wing Auditorium, E. 6th Street and Superior Avenues. When she sees how friendly we really are, maybe she'll visit more often!

For more information, call 216-623-2800

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

No One Can Help

"No one can help you if you’re stuck in a work. Only you can figure a way out, because only you can see the work's possibilities." - Annie Dillard

When I first read Dillard's statement in the introduction to In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction, I felt slightly ill. If that's true, have I been blindly flailing about by taking writing courses? Have my years with Natalie Goldberg and the MFA classes at Goddard College been for naught? Of course they haven't. But ultimately, no advisor, no teacher, not even a good writing friend can see my book the way I see it in my mind.

Why can no one help us when we're stuck? Aimee Liu, my MFA Advisor, says the only good reason to write a book is because we want to figure something out. In my memoir, Memorial: Our Last Year on the Links, I'm trying to figure out something about the relationship between my father and I. I'm not entirely certain what that is. There are questions like: Who was my dad? Who was he to me and to others? Who was I to him? And the really tough ones: Did he love me? and Who am I? I know the story is there. I feel as if I'm filling out the sketchy scenes and trying to make it work, but it's all still fuzzy like a cloud before I've figured out what animal it resembles.

I remember sitting on a friend's back porch watching clouds. We made them disappear. We each chose one cloud - a small one usually - and we each focused on our cloud with the intent to make it disappear. Sometimes we would do the reverse - pick a small cloud and focus and make it grow. It always worked. Whatever intent either of us directed toward that cloud happened.

It's just like that with a book. The difference is that, instead of just sitting and staring at a book and hoping it will take shape, I have to work. I get in there and muscle around some sentences and some paragraphs and sometimes an entire chapter. I have to be willing to show up with very little besides my sheer determination and a faith that I will see what to do next.

Even if no one can help me with my book, it's all good. All the courses I've taken and the feedback I've gotten and the structure it has created has made me know one thing: I want it bad. That's the bottom line for me. I want to see this book go into print and I want it to tell some truth about us. In the end, my truth is all I have.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Wi-Fi at Caribou

"Free" wi-fi. It's here! It's official! Caribou coffee now has "free" wi-fi.

Sort of.

When you first log-on, you get one hour free whether you buy something or not. After the first hour, you either pay $1.50 or purchase something for that amount to get on-line for another hour.

My maximum productivity Caribou wi-fi schedule is still in the planning stages. Let's see, if I go in and just sit down, I can log-on for an hour. Then I'll purchase my decaf soy one-sweet-n-low extra-foam in-a-mug-for-here latte and get another hour. Then I'll buy a multigrain bagel with cream cheese. That takes care of the morning!

Works for me.