I lost a poem last night. Traveling down the great San Joaquin with my parents, under a thirsty waxing crescent of the moon, it appeared in my mind large and promising. I typically get 3 or 4 words of an idea if I’m lucky – just a tiny fuse to light in a stiff wind of distractions. But this was a complete thought, a compound sentence of maybe 10 words. A small stanza, if I’d been in a position to save it. But I was driving. Otherwise, I could have typed it into my iPhone and tonight or tomorrow I might have a new poem to share with you.

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Eat Your Wheaties!

Moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world’s champions.
– Kurt Vonnegut

Is it me, or has the Internet begun to reverse the process? Or, has it just nullified it? Where are the world’s champions now, if they’re not everybody?

I mean, I feel like I’m moderately gifted, but my few fans are scattered far and wee. … No man is a prophet in his own country. … And I’m a big fan of several of you whom I consider gifted, who live at some distance from me. I hope I haven’t failed to let you know. (Which reminds me, I need to update the Blogroll in the right column.)

Where was I going with this? … Oh yeah, check out

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No Less Wit

There is not less wit nor less invention in applying rightly a thought one finds in a book, than in being the first author of that thought.

– Pierre Bayle, philosopher and writer (1647-1706)

Right. Right. I have a few random thoughts on that, I think.

I believe it was Chaucer who said we plant new corn in old fields. An apt metaphor if I’ve ever heard one. And there’s a reason why reading is an imperative facet of writing. But what about other sources, such as music, movies, and even (egads!) TV? 

Gratefuldeadbear crop1A careful reading of the poetry I’ve written over the years will disrobe allusions to The Grateful Dead. And as I’ve been writing my novel, I’ve been thinking about To Kill A Mockingbird – the film version – at least a little. Sometimes I think about The Waltons TV show

Back in October I posted about making mood boards, and how visual imagery plays a part in guiding one’s writing efforts. (My mood board is here.)

As interested as I am in technology, as repulsed and drawn by turns as we are by the lurid lights and shadows of society and politics, I think nothing is more interesting than imagination. Without imagination, there is no invention, obviously no art.

Mission Santa Barbara Also known as  "Queen of the Missions for its graceful beauty."
In a sense, without imagination, there is no God. Because no matter how firmly we believe, and how well seated are doctrines and litanies in our minds, no sane believer can convince me he understands God. The Bible tells us we can’t. We can only try to comprehend Him through our symbolic imagination, and apprehend Him through a miniscule mysticism.

Mostly, we have to deal with life as it is Now – life on life’s term’s – or we wind up as crazy and wild as the Tucson shooter. But when the day is done, a creative person should feel at ease to hold her or his life up to the mirror of art at an angle, to see how the light might break differently then. And that’s a work of imagination. There’s no way to think about the future, otherwise.

What about you? How do non-print media inspire your creative life?

meanwhile, in the shade

I found this in the prefatory text of today’s A Word A Day from

Short story writer Guy de Maupassant once wrote, "Whatever you want to say, there is only one noun to express it, one verb to animate it and one adjective to qualify it." As a master of the short story, Maupassant knew something about finding the right word.

While a word has many synonyms, each synonym has its own shade of meaning. A good writer picks just the right shade to paint a picture with words.

Well, that’s true. That’s what we do. Well, it’s what you do, you good writers. The rest of us stare at the sheet of paper until drops of blood extrude from our foreheads, just trying to imagine the vast array of possibilities. By some accounts, English has over a million words.


The truth is that everyone consults the color palate of words, but writers take it more seriously and pursue it as an art. (Or in the case of business and technical writing, a profession.) There is a poet in every man, just like everyone makes music, even if it’s singing in the shower. We’re not all Beethoven, but we’re somebody.

When my nephew was a baby and learning to talk, he would see a telephone and say tonebach. It was the perfect word. But it’s weird that he chose a sound that was closer to telephone than simply phone, since we rarely use the older, larger word anymore. And he used tonebach for everything from a wall phone to a desk phone to the smallest cell phone. How did he know? Because babies are geniuses, that’s how. Words are an exploration for them.

Writing is always an exploration, whether it’s discovering the hidden lives of characters or the perfect way to say you owe me money, pay up.

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
—Thomas Mann

Oh, that’s right. And there are several reasons. Among them is the fact that it is our art, so we can’t stop until we get it as close to perfection as possible, and the last drop of sanity forces us to abandon it and move on. It’s never simply good enough.

There’s the search for something to write about, and that’s usually hard. Though I admit that sometimes for this blog, I just paste in a quote I find interesting, then see where it leads. That’s what I’m doing now. And isn’t that how inspiration works? Didn’t Van Gogh see a field of wheat and follow it into his mind?

Writing isn’t often fun and it isn’t always done for fun. And that’s an extreme over-generalization. But it has some validity, at least for me when I’m wearing my hat of poet and literary writer. It’s all about practice, just like mastering a musical instrument. And It’s about digging for common groundwater, buried streams that run between our lives. All too frequently, the subterranean shores on which they meet are points of pain and grief. Such feelings are common in the lives of human beings.

When William Faulkner – my ultimate, all-time favorite writer – accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature, he said:

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work–a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before.

Then there’s the solitude, the need to find free hours, and the fact that the people around you don’t appreciate that very much. You go off by yourself for long swaths of time, and come back with very little to show for it. Especially compared to someone whose art is The Well-Tempered Clavier or the well-turned chair.


Well, it’s nobody’s fault but our own, after all. We could’ve made chairs, or birdhouses. Or some nice paintings of mountains, rocky coastline or dogs and cats. (Though people might have more room for books in their lives than for chairs and paintings.) We choose to string words together, finding the right ones and the right order for them, and we’re probably stuck with that choice. It’s a calling too easily accepted, but borne with some difficulty.

There was a strong sense of the sacred in my task. She should be borne from her old bed to her place of rest in one fluid motion, as of a bird in flight. Still I wanted to lay her down so badly, just for a minute to shake out my arms and stretch my back. No. All I have to do is this step, then that step. One after another, the next right thing. Like words in their order, or how you tie a knot. Step by step until I get it done. It’s my burden to bear and mine alone. I should be grateful for the privilege. Not every man has half a day to spend on death, let alone kindness.

— Kyle Kimberlin, Charlie’s Crossing, work in process.