Writing in the Dark

“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”

Famously, this was written by German poet/playwright Bertolt Brecht during the crisis of Stalin’s purges and Hitler’s rise to power in the first half of the last century. Those were dark times, indeed. Is it hyperbolic to invoke this aphorism on the eve of 2017? I think not. Whatever one had hoped for from the 2016 US political season or the Brexit vote or PM Trudeau in Canada who just approved two oil pipelines, there can be no doubt we are facing unprecedented challenges as a society and as a species. The facts are thus: hate crimes are up and so is the global temperature. Clearly, these syndromes are far larger than the individual so it can seem overwhelming to know what to do on a daily basis. How to live. If to write and if so, what.

I’d love to tell you that I have the answer (as if there’s just one). What I have are more questions. Or is it that my assertions are more truly ambivalent? I have often wrestled with the endeavor of literary writing in a time of such urgency. Today is no different except in the scope or intensity of my ambivalence. That is to say, I am all the more convinced that writing is woefully inadequate and that for those of us who do it, we must.

Whether you view art as part of a resistance as Cathy Hong smartly argues, or you believe as Leslie Scalapino did that it can “go along with” rather than explicitly be a political act, our making can indeed have its part to play. While that seems dangerously close to an answer, it isn’t an easy one. I am not at all easy with the notion of art playing a part is what I mean. Even – perhaps especially – in service of _________, art can be an exploitative process. Adorno has been remembered for his declaration that making poetry after Auschwitz was barbaric. A little further exploration uncovers the context of this statement, which he himself later complicated. When taking into account the full essay within which that thought was proffered, we might read his dictum more in line with Audre Lorde’s you can’t dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools.

We need to be, I think, particularly attuned to the ways in which we make. Dare I say the means of production? I’m not sure business as usual (which is part of Hong’s argument) will do us much good even if the content is, for lack of a better term, revolutionary. However, this is, after all, a time of tremendous transition, and acts of expediency as well as process are to be expected. We can decry Facebook on Facebook. One of these days, perhaps the many cracks we are making with our ball-peen hammers will do the trick.

I myself wrestle with discerning what is unproductive shame that would have me silent from what is right-sized self-criticism of an isolating individualism. To wait until my production is “pure” in motive and enactment will keep me from contributing my two bits. Maybe you, too. So I will continue to advocate for using the work itself to investigate its and my own complicity. To testify. Witness. Observe. Muddle. Meddle. Reflect. Agitate. Meditate. Recollect. Predict. Co-create.

I pivot here to two pieces I’ve written that published this week. One is creative nonfiction called Emerging Markets for the ever amazing Entropy Magazine. In this, I take to the street to meet Other and discover something in the reflection. Well, more than that is considered, but that’s a decent stab at it. I am buoyed by Entropy’s work and find its publishers to be extremely generous in their support of just causes and right writing. The second is Talking about Woman: A Review of La Femme de Gilles by Madeleine Bourdouxhe for 3:AM Magazine. I write about The Second Sex, female pleasure, sexism in politics, and the again timely subject of feminism. Melville House has reissued the work in their Neversink series. Bourdouxhe pulled this book from its original publishers in 1937 for their Nazi sympathies. I worked with ace editor Tristan Foster, and his suggestions made the review better. 3:AM is known for its acumen, smarts, and wit. The pub’s motto? “Whatever it is, we’re against it.”

I wonder what writers in the next century will make of our efforts in these times. Or should I say if.

Madeleine Bourdouxhe



What else to say but on we go because we must. We will write in the dark. We will take in all the information and we will despair and rally and despair again. We will pick each other up and in turn as we ourselves fall we will be picked up. We will rebuff cliches and adages and we will then cling to them. Darkest before the dawn and such. Crisis as opportunity. We will question who is we and we will take care of the me, too. We will take care of the you. The stranger. We will hibernate and we will go to libraries and we will say hello and thank you to the staff. We will say hello and thank you to each other. We will read and write and view better smarter journalism. Because the word matters. I don’t know about beginnings or first light but I do know about tackling the dark with a symbol.


Just call me Helen….

Friendly Fall note here about an upcoming reading by participants in my Short Form Creative Writing Class at The Troy Arts Center. We’ll be in the Black Box Theatre from 7 to 8 PM next Friday, Oct 28 for Troy Night Out. Join us!

Here is the list of readers: Linda Berkery, James Carr, Deborah Hrustich, Dr., Cindy Insero, James Marchetti, Teri Mayor, Rosemarie Nash, Zachary Stewart, and Sara Weeks.

Then the second session of Short Form starts the week after. Spots are still available! I thrive on facilitating the creative writing process and these classes have been so rewarding for all of us. If you’ve been with me or not yet, you can always join because I don’t repeat and there aren’t any prerequisites. Details below.
November 3, 2016 to December 15, 2016 — 06:00 PM to 08:00 PM

In this continuation course, students will keep the pen moving. Once we’ve got writing down, we can look at what form could help us move it along. Poems, blog posts, flash fiction, creative non-fiction, status updates – we’ll make it all. Don’t worry if you think you don’t write in a certain form (or much at all). We will generate new, fresh writing then work with these pieces to create a “finished” piece. *The prerequisite of Short Form I is NOT required to take part II* NO CLASS 11/24


Full Fall

Already! So this will be quick because it’s not even officially Autumn yet. I’ve been waiting for the soil to cool down in order to plant and that is happening any minute. The pots of newbies and envelopes of seeds piling up are ready to go. So let’s just add that to the list.

Still the revision of the manuscript, which I’m committing to getting to the agent this season (having thought the last one might be it), is always and ever right under my fingertips. The Troy Arts Center Short Form Writing Workshop I’ll be leading in two sessions starts next week on Sept 15. The last weekend of the month I’ll be joining a gaggle of other writers in CT for Courtney Maum’s The Cabins inaugural retreat. For this I’ll be presenting on writing the self, writing the political via views into Teju Cole and Claudia Rankine. Then there’s that book I’ve said I’d review, and I’m mentoring some writing students and clients whose work is heating up. Oh yeah, we’ve got to deal with a whopper of a ground hornets’ nest.

I don’t think this is the species in our yard, but here’s a video of a wasp hauling a cicada up a tree. Enjoy!

courtesy wikicommons

Fall? Fall.

The day after the Summer solstice I feel the turning of my corner of the planet from the sun. It’s always just there over my shoulder: the contraction of days, the purging of nectar that is itself an apotheosis. Yes, it’s still August – and not even fully mid-month as yet! I have travel to come and that manuscript I’m ever revising to finish (I WILL send this back to the agent by end of September, I will). I haven’t got summer semester grades in for gd’s sake. But I sense it, don’t you? It’s coming. We see ourselves in the future before we get there, often with varying degrees of intention. What images come unbidden. Which ones do we devise.

All this to say, if you would like to schedule yourself some writing time in a workshop with yours truly, why not now? Now, that is, for then.

I’m leading two sessions of Short Form writing at The Arts Center in Troy, NY. You can take either or both. I led this last late Winter and it went swimmingly well. In fact, those participants are invited to come back! No repeats, save for the repetition of showing up to the page, to a writing practice, to our memories and imaginations. The first session begins September 15. Here are the details and you can click on the title for more.

Short Form: Writing Creatively Without Worrying What To Call It – I

September 15, 2016 to October 20, 2016 — 06:00 PM to 08:00 PM
Member:151 | Non-Member:168 Enrollment Max: 16

This course is designed to get the pen moving. Once we’ve got writing down, we can look at what form could help us move it along. Poems, blog posts, flash fiction, creative non-fiction, status updates – we’ll make it all. Don’t worry if you think you don’t write in a certain form (or much at all). These exercises are designed to get us to write first, then ask questions later. We’ll come away with a mini-portfolio of short pieces.



Hummingbirds, Moths, & Analogous Convergent Evolution

Astonishing creatures, these nectar sucking fast movers. Every shot I got was not able to capture the wings in anything other than a blur. We’ve had the good fortune to have the company of a ruby-throated hummingbird grace us with frequent visits this summer, so when this particular friend buzzed me as I moved near the Bee Balm one day  I thought it was hummy stopping in for a feeding. Fortunately, I had my tote slung over my shoulder and could wrangle my phone out of the bag to manage a handful of shaky one-handed shots.

The species of this beauty is Hemaris Thysbe and was first described as such by Danish zoologist Johan Christian Fabricius in 1775. It’s likely that the red band on the furry abdomen evoked Thisbe’s blood-stained scarf in Ovid’s Metamorphosis for the insect lover and observer. Ill-fated lovers did not come to mind watching hummoth hover for the nectar in the balm; this passion was surely fulfilled.

The hummingbird moth and the hummingbird are examples of analogous convergent evolution. The latest common ancestor in each did not carry the hovering flight behavior and yet they each, independently, converged on this trait.

Why do I go on about this? It is a note to self to remember there are forces greater than I can imagine at work in the world. But if I get lucky, I get a glimpse.*

*Which is not to give short shrift to the imagination, nor poiesis (humans making), but to bow before mystery. Yes, awe.

Revision Comma June

That is the gig folks. That’s what the writer is doing this summer: revising the current manuscript. Fortunately it’s also gardening season and the similarities are striking. I wheedle my fingers down into the dirt, feel which leaves or shoots need picking off or what roots need more room, scan the yard for where to put all those overflowing pots of lilies and Rose of Sharon sprigs that are taking over. This bodily relating to world with an eye toward shaping is perfect training for writing. In fact, finding wormholes in the manuscript where I can enter, plant, water, pluck feels so kindred to the circling the house I do on a writing break, spade or water can in hand, that the processes are beginning to blend together. If I am stymied in one area (Stymied gardening you might wonder? Why yes. No clue what to do with all those extra lilies – really.), I move to another.

Siri Hustvedt writes about her relationship to these living things, to her garden, in an essay called “Flowers”. For her this engagement is pre-reflective; it precedes language. In this way it is a reprieve from the narrating, naming mind. I quite agree. I love that lingering in the flora of the world helps me to bring my creature-self to the word.

Now, what to do with those lilies. IMG_9055