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Cocktail Hour

Bad Advice Wednesday: How to Get on a Roll, or, The Value of Momentum

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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I’m re-posting this, one of our very first “Bad Advice” blogs, since it goes with some things I’ve been saying in the “Just Write” class I’m teaching this term.

Momentum.  I say the word so much in my classes that I wouldn’t blame students if they walked out or threw bricks.  But I’ll say it again.  Mo-men-tum. Sometimes it seems to me that the whole writing game–the whole of life?– is contained in that one word.  How do you get in movement and stay in movement?  The question.   How to get rolling and, more importantly, keep rolling?

As for the “keep rolling” aspect (which, momentum being momentum, is the easier part) many people have tricks, usually some variant on Hemingway’s habit of stopping when you know what sentence you’re going to write next.  That’s not for me.  For one thing, if I know the sentence, I’ll write it down while I’ve got it.   For another, it’s just too rational.  “If I know what I’m doing I can’t do it,” said Joan Didion.  That’s closer to it.  Momentum, whether starting it or keeping it, is about the continued thrust into the unknown.  The decision–if it even is a decision– to move forward without or beyond the aid of reason.  Momentum is the march into darkness when your sensible (and fearful) side is telling you stay put in your clean, well-lighted brain.

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Sixty by Sixty: A Meditation in Mosaic Upon the Sixtieth Birthday of the Haystack School of Arts and Crafts, and My Own

categories: Cocktail Hour / Our Best American Essays

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Elysia at Haystack, 2013

Prologue (in Sixty Words, Too: One to Grow On)

This essay is about the power of collaboration. Written in my sixtieth year, it’s a mosaic of sixty juxtaposed sections, each of exactly sixty words, a total of 3,600 tesserae, or assorted bits. The multiples may be read in any order, inviting readerly collaboration. Please number the boxes as you go to create a fresh path for others to follow. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Fight Through the Fear

categories: Cocktail Hour

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ropeAs I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m teaching a graduate class this spring called “Just Write,” the idea being to clear away clutter and get down to the business of actually writing.


Last week, during our first class, I mentioned the “Christmas morning feeling” that early morning feeling writers sometimes get, when they go to sleep early thinking about the next day’s work and wake up excited to get to it. (I think I plagiarized, or half-plagiarized, that phrase from Donald Hall’s great book, Life Work.)


Well, suffice it to say, not every morning is Christmas morning. Over the last week I have woken up with a feeling not of excitement but dread. I suppose I could pin actual reasons on that feeling (an operation on my leg, anxiety about my forthcoming book) but it feels more free-floating than that. That creepy something-bad-is-going-to-happen uneasiness. Or, to put it more simply: fear.

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Wallace Stegner on Largeness

categories: Cocktail Hour

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steg teach        I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years in the company, or at least with the mind and words, of Wallace Stegner. It has been a bracing experience. One thing I’ve noticed about his thinking is that there is always a movement toward the general, an imperative to think more broadly and openly, a preference for the long view over the short, the large over the small. This was not just an intellectual commitment, but a spiritual, or at least a personal, one. “Largeness is a lifelong matter,” he once said. The goal was (and is) magnanimity.

            The “largeness” quote is contained and given context below by Stegner’s answer to this interview question: Should the teacher, in the process of instruction, consciously try to shape a student’s personality or enlarge him or her as a human being?

            Here’s his reply:

           Well, I have some fairly strong feelings about that. I do not believe I can teach anybody to be a bigger or better or more humane person. But I do subscribe to the notion that, in order to write a great poem one should be, in some sense or another, a great poet. This suggests that any writer had better be concerned with the development of his personality and his character. Continue reading →

Lundgren’s Lounge: “Preparation for the Next Life,” by Atticus Lish

categories: Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence

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Atticus Lish

Atticus Lish

The Great American Novel has always been a story about outsiders, people peering in through the gates at a uniquely American dream that seems maddeningly just beyond their reach… from Huck (where it all began), to the Joads and Gatsby and Bigger Thomas and on to McMurphy and Seymour (Swede) Levov, Ignatius J. Reilly and Sethe… these are all characters in pursuit of a mirage shimmering on an ever-receding horizon. Continue reading →

Getting Outside Saturday: A Few More From the Gulf

categories: Cocktail Hour

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Birds and rig on Elmer's Island, LA.

Birds and rig on Elmer’s Island, LA.

This photo and one below by Erik Johnson. All the rest by Mark Honerkamp.

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Ed Abbey’s FBI File

categories: Cocktail Hour

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abbey4I have a new essay in Orion, adapted from my forthcoming book, ALL THE WILD THAT REMAINS. (April 2015.)


It includes these sentences:


“As acting editor of the University of New Mexico’s literary magazine, The Thunderbird, Ed Abbey decides to print an issue with a cover emblazoned with the words: ‘Man will not be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest!’ The quote is from Diderot, but Abbey thinks it funnier to attribute the words to Louisa May Alcott.”


Funny guy, that Abbey.


You can read the whole piece in Orion HERE.

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Getting Outside Saturday: Southern Louisiana Edition

categories: Cocktail Hour

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We have made our way down to Venice in southern Louisiana. Yesterday hooked up with Dave Muth for a Christmas bird count. Amazing amount of birds, several of which Hones and I had never seen before.  Spectacular abundance in the shadow of the oil plants, right off of Halliburton Road. In this place the future seems to be fighting it out. A fragile spit of land, destined to be underwater by the end of the century, full of wildlife and beauty (this morning we watched an otter slink across the road), while also the virtual front lines of our relentless attempts to extract fuel out of earth and sea.  (All photos by Mark Honerkamp.)



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