Useful Stuff

I see a lot of content online that I find useful to me as a writer, inspirational, and worth sharing with other creative people. I usually don’t mention it here in this blog because I’ve come to think of Metaphor as a place only for my own creative output. So I share those things on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Tumblr. (Using Friends+Me to syndicate a single post.)

The thing is, those links don’t get much engagement in those other places. My audience for creative topics is actually here at WordPress. And I used to share a lot of links and thoughts here, about writing tools, computer issues, and a wide variety of topics.

Things changed, so they can change again. So I’ll try a return to sharing things I enjoy – but which were created by others – here in this space. If this material gets some positive feedback, cool; if not, that’s cool too.

Let’s start with a post today by Evernote — part of their NaNoWriMo series — called

How Neil Gaiman Writes with Evernote.

I use Evernote a lot to keep track of ideas for writing, to save interesting ephemera, household flotsam, and for business.

A Chewy Subject

“My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can’t see why a chap should need 30 pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.”

So said a French literary editor to Marcel Proust, on rejecting volume 1 of In Search of Lost Time. It was a century ago and the subject was consciousness, not events or people. One can imagine such a book to be a challenge for the Marketing Department, especially when the writer’s style has all the pop and sizzle of a damp wool carpet.

I’ve not read much Proust. I used to have a 1921 edition of Remembrance of Things Past and I found it oh so dull. As advertised, it was good reading when trying to fall asleep. But my little dog thought the leather cover was tasty, so there went that.

It begs the question, though: if the subject is consciousness, as I think it can be, where can you go with that? Consciousness is the matter with which we are all most intimately familiar, yet we no almost nothing about it. So by means, we writers should explore the inner life.

Two years ago, I posted a flash fiction piece called Shining Leaves. Here it is, complete with audio reading. The second section imagines the consciousness of a dog, its life still touched by subtle joy yet aware of aging and loneliness.

Stalling Death

One wants to tell a story, like Scheherezade, in order not to die. It’s one of the oldest urges in mankind. It’s a way of stalling death.

So said Carlos Fuentes, who failed as do we all, and died in 2012. He was born on November 11, 1928, which is why it’s been brought up now. And you can still read his books, so there’s one way to cheat death if it won’t be deferred.

I confess that when I see the word Scheherezade, I don’t think of the mythical Persian queen. She told stories to the king so he wouldn’t kill her. As much as I’d like a few of my words to live beyond me, I tend to think of Rimsky-Korsakov. He’s dead too, but his music still lives. Well played, Nokolai.

What She Said

Here’s a bit of flash fiction, a scene of departure. Someone I love said the first sentence to me once, years ago, in a much different context. I wrote it in my notebook and in time it morphed into this small piece. An earlier version was previously posted in this space. I think it has improved. 


“You have no idea how much you’ll miss me. Just so you know, you really have no idea.” That’s what she said.

He knew she was right. She stood on the front porch, in the shadowed doorway. He was on the grass in bright sunlight, shielding his face with his hand. He was trying to see her eyes for the last time. Unbelievably blue.

He remembered everything, from the first time he saw her in the park with her dog, wearing a pale yellow sun dress, no shoes. When he spoke to her, she took off her dark glasses so he could see those eyes.

As long as he could remember, his life had gone in the just one direction. He’d heard it was possible to turn a life around, but his kept going the same way – mostly north, into colder country. But then that day in the park, they stopped to talk about dogs. It was like he clapped his hands and everything was new. No, it was like she spoke and he believed.

Now everything had changed again, though he knew she was right, and he had no one to blame but himself.

His pickup was parked at the curb, a battered old thing with faded green paint. It looked like a friend who saw that he’d screwed up again and didn’t care, who loved him anyway, who knew the roads where he might find hope, hot food, and a cheap place to sleep. As he passed in front of it, he felt the heat from the grill. Then finally she slammed the door.

Birds singing. Dogs barking. Maybe her dog, clawing its way up the back of her sofa to curse him through the picture window. A Cessna droned overhead, so he stood for a moment beside the truck to watch it go. As a boy, he liked to lie on his back on the grass and watch the planes. The sound of them could push him to the brink of sleep.

Merging onto the freeway, windows down, the engine growled and worked up through its gears. It drowned out every sound except the rush of air.

Sometimes, the right thing to do is right in front of you, but it’s impossible. The mind stands back and begs for time, and the heart defends its solitude. He hated what he did and said, and he understood that he would pay for it. Of course she was right, and this would be a long hard road to drive all night.

When he reached the coast and saw the sun going down in front of him, he had to bear right at the junction, heading north.

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Create Commons License

Whatever May Be Glowing In Our Lives

We are arriving in that time of the year’s cycle when the trees turn towards their sleep and the animals slow and altogether too much is a metaphor of death. And the poet Galway Kinnell has died today, and that is not a metaphor at all.

Back in about 1982, I was a student of English at Chico State, presumably working on a paper on death in the poetry of Galway Kinnell. I had been reading his poems over and over, for days, I’m sure. I remember, vaguely, being pulled along by the words, surprised and baffled by the strange places they were taking me. This was very special art.

Deep in the stacks of obscure books in the university library, I found a little 20 page book containing the text of a lecture that Kinnell gave at Colorado State in 1969. And it seems I found a couple of helpful passages, which I sat down and transcribed by hand on yellow paper.

Tonight I was going to write to you about how much Kinnell’s poetry meant to me, and quote from a couple of poems. But taking one of his books from the shelf, I found that transcription I made back in college, folded between the pages. You can see a scan of it here:

Galway Kinnell notes re 1969 lecture at Colorado State

“It is perhaps true that a poem entails a struggle with one’s own nature, that it comes partially out of our hunger to be changed – and so may be an act of longing for what we are unable to be…. We can also perhaps feel the suicidal presence, feel it as an essential element in the (his) hymn to earthly life. I doubt that, in serious poems, death and life can be separated at all. It is obvious that poems craving heaven involve a certain death-wish. But in the great poems affirming life we may be even more clearly in the presence of some kind of will to die.” (Page 18.)

“It is part of whatever may be glowing in our lives that we have been able to dream of paradise, that we have glimpsed eternity. It is as much a part of this glory that we are unable to enter paradise or live in eternity. That we endure only for a time, that everyone and everything around us endures only for a time, that we know this, is the thrilling element in every creature, every relationship, every moment.” (Page 20.)

I decided to share this because, while many are undoubtedly quoting his poems, you won’t find this material mentioned. You can’t really find this anywhere, without great difficulty. A bookseller in Wadsworth IL has a copy for sale for $50. I’m sure there are copies in college collections, but it’s obscure and out of print.

Fast forward a dozen years to the release of Imperfect Thirst in 1994. Galway Kinnell came to Santa Barbara to read. I was asked to pick up the cake for the reception at a bakery and take it to the reading. It was a massive sheet cake, the perfect likeness of the cover of his new book.

The reading was at the Victoria Street Theatre in Santa Barbara. It was raining. A few blocks away at the Arlington, Toad the Wet Sprocket was playing. There was nowhere to park. At the front of the Arlington, I couldn’t find anyone to help get the big cake inside. So I had to park far away and carry Galway’s cake in the rain. I know what you’re thinking… no, the cake and I both made it there intact.

victorian_7

The poet had a cold that night but he soldiered on. He read wonderful poems for us, and signed my book that was the perfect likeness of his cake. I remember he was kind and patient, stayed a while to chat before returning to his hotel to battle his cold.

Galway Kinnel Inscription

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s the best we can expect from our poets: that they explore what’s common to us all, give us a chance to contribute a verse (or carry the cake), and leave us something to remember them by.

I have to say that in reading Galway Kinnell’s poems, I’ve always felt the presence of death but not as a terminal imperative; more as a continuum of Being. He hasn’t convinced me that we die, even today.

“I say ‘God’; I believe,
rather, in a music of grace
that we hear, sometimes, playing to us
from the other side of happiness.
When we hear it, when it flows
through our bodies, it lets us live
these days lighted by their vanity
worshipping — as the other animals do,
who live and die in the spirit
of the end — that backward-spreading
brightness.”

- Galway Kinnell
from There Are Things I Tell No One

Galway_Kinnell

Garden Window

roses_delano_1960s_1

I always loved music. Trumpets and guitars especially, or a nice clear piano. Dance music or grave ballads, it didn’t matter. But here, only scratching sounds come through my window, like when the record ends and the needle skips against the label. Rats’ feet on dry boards. Not so much sound as the impression of it, the idea of someone whispering about me in a faraway room, about my problems and how I am nothing. So if a sound like music came through, perhaps two or three notes as from a tuba or a vibrating pipe, I could try to have hope.

I remember Saturdays. We would work in the garden with our mother, mow the grass and rake the fallen leaves and fruit. She would give us money, and we children would walk into town. The black tar road was warm, with the smells of wild radish, fennel and dog shit from the verge. The sun would glint from the sides of mobile homes, and bees droned in the bottlebrush. Sometimes we were stung. The road went on, but we left it and took the footpath that dropped along the canal, then crossed beneath the highway.

There was shade and it was cooler there. The traffic over our heads was rhythmic; a great bellows, a groaning of trucks. The water in the stone canal was brackish and warm, jumping with waterbugs, dragonflies.

Coming up beyond the highway, there was a stand of dense bamboo. Once I cut my way to its interior and made a place to hide. Three times I took a girl with me, the summer we were seventeen. We were quiet. We heard the traffic, children throwing stones in the bald and sour canal, airplanes overhead. And no one ever knew.

It’s not far beyond the highway to the town, with its shops and people. Then the flat glassy sea, the smell of which hung and drifted. The sky was painted with oil and salt.

We rode little ponies that walked in a circle, their corral strewn with hay to cut the dust and smell of pony dung. Around and around, four bits a ticket for a ten minute ride, and cowboy music from a speaker on the center pole. We left when the ponies were led away to drink and rest. Everything gets tired.

We went to the café for ice cream, rootbeer floats. The radio on the counter played swing – bright brass, clarinets and drums.

Then the days got shorter and Autumn came, and no one walked the road to town. They closed up the windows of the houses in town and Mother took us shopping in the car. Everything was quieter, except for dogs and crickets, and the calling of crows heading east for their home.

So we came home. For many years, we slept and ate and went to work, and on Saturdays we forgot about the path, the sea and the pony rides. We filled the bird baths in the garden and listened to the footsteps of blue jays on the porch rails, gathering the nuts we set out for them.

We grew old. We sat in the shade outside and let the bushes go wild. I would doze in the afternoon and hear the falling oranges.

In time, everyone else was gone. I stayed inside. I sat on the sofas and chairs and tried to hear songbirds. I moved to the bed and listened for the neighbors’ barking dog and the stale breath of cars going by.

The last time I heard people, I had to stand and try to see. I crossed the room and became the glass panes of this window. There are new people now in my house, but I hide in the glass as I hid in the thicket, and watch their reflections come and go. We do not trouble each other. I just want to stay here a while, and look down on the guava hedge, on the jasmine and bloodleaf begonias, remembering.

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed
Download – PDF

Note on the photo:

The picture of the roses was taken in my grandparents’ back yard in Delano, CA., in the mid-1960s, either by my grandfather or my Dad.
Click the image to see the full size original scan.

Nightland

Scan-023b_back_yard_delano (Medium)

We lived for years and everything
was easy. Our fingers understood
thorns, so we could touch each
other’s hair and roses had a scent
that the mind wasn’t forced to imagine.
Clouds appeared and passed slowly,
so we only had to look up.
In life — Dear God — there were oranges,
rivers, violins, and hours just
waiting for the bread to rise.

In the Nightland, years go by
as we struggle just to remember
those gifts. There is no fruit
no sense of taste, no gentle breeze
to bring the clouds toward us
from the sea. We spend a century
imagining brown hair tucked
behind a girl’s ear, then go on thinking
of papers tacked to a crumbling wall.
Because now we are merely dreams
that never end, forever fading,
slowly forgetting the living world.

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Download in PDF
Creative Commons Licensed

I took the photo above about 30 years ago, in the back yard of my grandparents’ home in Delano, California. As I was editing the poem I began to think about the photo, which I hadn’t seen in years, and about trying to find it in the old albums. All photos start out as images of places, things, or people. But over time, some become images of memories.

The photo has been cropped above. See the original here.