Friday, October 30, 2009

Ghost stories, anyone?

We've had a ghastly October. It's rained more than half the days, it's been below average temps, and the worst is yet to come. That's what I wanted to write about today. The weather. And how it affects my writing. I've grown up in Minnesota. There are some things about winter I like: the first snow, snow angels, sledding, heated car seats, hot soup, saunas, fires. I also like the way the land looks in winter, more sculpted. I won't bother with my list of what I'm not so crazy about.

But one thing I really love about winter is all the writing I get done. Even in college, winter quarter was always my most productive. I pile my books up around me, get a hot beverage of some sort, and get to work. There's little reason to go outside, less distraction, and a certain blankness in the world that allows my mind to go on a binge. So while my garden goes dormant, my desk seems to be growing projects.

It's Halloween tomorrow. Why don't we all write ghost stories?

Time Flies

At a school visit earlier this week, a third-grade girl complained to me that time was going by too fast. As if proving the point, I had no time to probe for her meaning. Perhaps she mimicked an adult's comment or attitude, but I worried that a child should feel this pressure, a hurriedness that I assume only older folks like me experience. Of course I resented the usual constrictions of time at her age: come-inside-time, bathtime, bedtime. But what I most strikingly recall is that waiting for the good times--my birthdays, Halloweens, summer break--seemed as long as a lifetime. I heard my great grandma say one Fourth of July that Christmas was just around the corner. What?!? Where was that corner?

Learning fractions the next year helped me understand: as an octogenerian, a year was about 1/80th of Great Grandma's life, a mere sliver. But at 9, my tour around the sun was 1/9th, a hulking slab of life, luckily shaved thinner every year. I'd just have to wait a little longer to escalate.

No doubt times were simpler in my own childhood. I didn't have to take charge of much except my pet rabbit Harvey. Nor did I control much of anything. Not my bedtime, or what I ate for dinner, or where I had my birthday party (always in our unfinished basement). But I did have one freedom and that was choosing the books I read. Free run of my parents' bookshelf, unlimited trips to the library, and a good flashlight stalled time within the pages of another world, a private world where the only measure of passing time was how close I was to the end of the story. Time faded as the world of the tale grew larger and never caught up because that's how books were, a dream outside of time. And still are.

To hell with fractions.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Internet Will Save Us All

This week came the news that Scholastic asked Lauren Myracle to change a same-sex couple to a straight one in her new book, Luv Ya Bunches.

When she refused, they opted not to carry the book in their book fairs. A spokesman for Scholastic said the company often asks for changes to “meet the norms of the various communities that host the fairs.” Myracle did not budge.

This is no small thing. Scholastic represents money and sales for children’s book authors. To refuse them is to take money out of your own pocket—both actual and potential. It might not just be an issue of sticking to your guns, but paying for day care or college or simple time to write.

We talk a lot about book banning in children’s literature. Stories of various books getting removed from schools and libraries make the news (including that of our own Lisa Jahn-Clough.) But we don’t often hear about the books that never got through the gatekeepers at all for fear of protest. SLJ had an excellent article about self-censorship--bookstores, schools, libraries that don’t buy a book because they fear a backlash. And it’s not just these gatekeepers, as the Scholastic story indicates, but the publishers, too. A few years ago, Simon and Schuster asked a picture book writer to take out a photo in a fall-themed book of a child dressed as a witch. He refused, and Simon and Schuster released him from his contract and ultimately sold the book to another publisher.

It’s scary, sure. We just want to tell stories, and the prospect of getting removed from shelves--or never getting on those shelves at all--is a terrifying one. But there’s something new happening. A few months ago, a small internet storm exploded over the US edition of Justine Larbalesteir’s Liar, published by Bloomsbury. The protagonist for the book is black, but the publisher put a white girl on the cover. Justine protested, but they did not change their minds and sent out advance copies of the book with that cover. But then people started to read the book, and they (shockingly) noticed the discrepancy and started to talk. And blog. And tweet. Soon the story was all over the kidlitosphere. And after awhile, the noise was too loud, and Liar had a new cover.

And that’s what's happened with Luv Ya Bunches. Within days, Scholastic backtracked. They were scared of angry letters--and they got them, but not from the side they were expecting.

It’s a new era. Stories of book banning and related stupidity will spread quickly. There are a ton of kid’s lit blogs out there--writers, editors, librarians, reviewers, and readers--and their audience posts the stories to Facebook with links to online petitions and contact information for the perpetrators. A petition to Scholastic garnered 4000 signatures in 48 hours. Thanks to the internet, we have a voice now--we have thousands of voices. And children’s literature will be stronger for it.

Dystopian Worlds

Off to Canada for a few days later today. My oldest daughter and her husband live in Waterloo, Ontario, and so my husband and I make the trip fairly often. I always look forward to discovering some Canadian writers when I'm browsing the wonderful Words Worth book store in Waterloo.

I checked out the store's site and noticed that this weekend they're having a YA Dystopia fest, celebrating all the YA novels that are set in dystopian worlds. The Giver is perhaps the best known such YA novel. I suppose The Hunger Games would qualify too. Others? Of course, I suppose much YA fiction could fit under that banner because don't so many YA protagonists feel their worlds are far from Utopian?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Honoring language

" . . . the sheer joy of maximum effort for the sake of excellence." Boy, there's a noble idea. And when it comes to writing fiction (for some reason "maximum effort" doesn't seem to resonate me when it comes to poetry), I understand it.

I think it goes back to the idea of enjoying writing. Working hands-on with a chosen medium which is, in our case, language. And making the time spent the end in itself. Nice if a novel or story turns up, but not essential.

I've probably said this before: language likes to be honored for itself and not just just for what it can do. For instance, nouns don't always like to line up with a lot of other words to make a sentence. Nouns sometimes prefer to hang out in front of the convenience store and let adjectives try to bum cigarettes. Sure, it's tempting to hook up with some verbs when those tool up in a convertible. But sometimes they prefer only the company of their peers. Pizza crusts at their feet, beholden to no one and nothing.


Monday, October 26, 2009

S.E. Hinton

I spent Saturday teaching an all-day workshop on writing YA fiction. Fun, but exhausting. At some point during that day we were talking about S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders, a book which continues to echo in so much contemporary YA fiction. A couple of years ago Hinton published a collection of stories for adults and was interviewed at that time by Vanity Fair. In the interview she uses the term "first-person narrative once removed," which I suspect means a peripheral narrator. She also talks about the importance of endings; like our Mary Logue, Hinton savors that final image. I think I'll rustle up a copy of the story collection, Some of Tim's Stories, and acquaint myself with that once-removed first person.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Left with Hope

I think there are "happy" endings and then there are satisfying endings. I'm especially aware of the latter, because when one is writing mysteries, your readers let you know if they don't feel you have answered all the questions.

I would say happy endings are when you come to the end of the book, close it, and feel that there is hope in the world. Which doesn't mean everything has turned out the way you wanted it to at the end of the book. I think an ending should both give a sense of closure--that this story is done, and a sense of the world of the book continuing, that life goes on for these characters.

One thing I'm aware of in writing the end of a book is what is the last image I want to leave the reader with--what is my parting gift to them.


Would someone please care to define "Happy Ending"? What are the elements that are present when you're satisfied with a book's conclusion?

Just asking. Thanks.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dirty Books

I'm reading THE CHEERLEADER, by Ruth Doan MacDougall. I know of many women who came of age in the 70's who say this book was a favorite, primarily because of the sex in the story (set in the 50's, it was published in 1973 and reissued in 1998). Well, yes, there is some, but as someone who discovered Harold Robbins's novels when she was a teen, let me just say MacDougal was a white glove writer when it came to sex.

I'm teaching an all-day workshop this Saturday on writing YA fiction. Prepping for that and reading THE CHEERLEADER has started me thinking about the appeal of adult fiction to teens and the line between YA and adult fiction (and I'm using "adult" in the broad sense, not X-rated, though of course more than a few passages in any Harold Robbins novel might qualify as X-rated). Many teens move back forth so easily; John Grisham, Mary Higgens Clark, and Stephen King are a few of the old guard adult writers who continue to attract a wide teen audience. But do teens read adult fiction for scintillation (and education) anymore? I suspect...not so much.

What were your favorite dirty books during your teen years?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One more...

One more incident from Asilomar, where my wife caught a ripper of a cold.

The students and I had nearly two days together, so we got to know each other pretty well. The members of the Cambria Writing Group are all friends, but they don't cut each other much slack when it comes to analysis. One of the topics that came up was the difference between an autobiographical poem that stuck to the so-called facts and one that took liberties for the health of the poem.

Who'd really argue for the former, right? That goes in a diary. But a couple of the folks were pretty adamant about truth: if in fact somebody went to Walmart he or she shouldn't say Piggly Wiggly Market even though the market has better reverb in the poem.

Here's the interesting part -- one of the gals who strongly favored taking liberties brought in a poem with some guttural-sounding words, and when somebody pointed out that they were at odds with the tone of the piece she said, "But that's what really happened." Of course her friends jumped all over her.

She had a hard time letting go, though, and after dinner took me aside and asked if she couldn't keep those grating consonants. Tongue in cheek, I told her she could keep one. So the next morning there was a revised poem -- a veritable field of daffodils except for the single aloe plant.


Why the Internet Was Invented, Part 376

Via Mo Willems' site, a fan-created poster for the not-upcoming not-release.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hand Work

This is a rug I hooked of my house in Stockholm, WI. The cover of my new book is also a hooked rug of my house, but I don't have a photo of it so this one will have to do.

Just a quick note to all that my new book of poetry, HAND WORK, is hitting the streets this week. And I'm hitting them too--doing readings in all sorts of places like the Textile Center in Minneapolis and even a small rug hooking shop in Minneapolis, not to mention Once Upon a Crime, a mystery bookstore here and a new theater in the very small town of Stockholm, WI. I love doing readings in places where they're not normally done. I think it makes me reconsider what I do. Makes me work a little harder. Reaching out to readers wherever they might be.

Where's the oddest place you've ever done a reading?

Happy National Day on Writing!

The National Council of Teachers of English is sponsoring the National Day on Writing, today, October 20. It is not a Hallmark-card holiday in which you buy your writing mentor cupcakes--though I think that's an excellent idea and should be explored--but rather a celebration of writing in all its forms. The website offers celebrities speaking about writing, and in this glorious world by "celebrities" they mean not the Jonas Brothers, but writing luminaries like Laurie Halse Anderson, James Cross Giblin, Katherine Patterson. You and yours can also submit to the Gallery of Writing. Should we do a Hamline local gallery?

I stopped to question why the NDOW prepositional subcommittee chose on. Yes, the appropriate preposition doesn't announce itself--you can quickly get rid of amongst and betwixt, but why on as opposed to, say, of or for?

On implies something more philosophical, more inquisitive than the functional of or for. On a day of we do. On a day on we meditate, we consider, we discuss. And there's something contemplative about the project; as the site says:

By collecting a cross-section of everyday writing through a National Gallery of Writing, we will better understand what matters to writers today—and when writing really counts. Understanding who writes, when, how, to whom, and for what purposes will lead to production of improved resources for writers, better strategies to nurture and celebrate writers, and improved policy to support writing.

That's a project we can all support. Write on.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Norma Fox Mazer

I taught with Norma Fox Mazer in the Vermont program. I'd heard of her before I ventured to Montpelier. She was a bold and lovely writer, and generous in many ways. I'm not always easy to get along with, but Norma didn't pay any attention to those defensive quirks and we were soon friends.

She was instrumental in getting "The Brimstone Journals" to a friend of hers in the area who was a kind of editor-at-large for Candlewick.

She and Harry had a terrific house just up the road from the Vermont campus, and that's how I like to remember her -- standing on the deck with a glass of wine smiling in that incandescent way she had.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Norma Fox Mazer

Norma Fox Mazer died Friday, October 16. YA novelist, teacher, friend to many in the world of children's literature. Though I never met her, her influence more than rippled into my small corner of the children's book writing world, not least because her books, along with Cynthia Voight's, were among the first I read when I was a newbie writer, discovering the world of YA fiction. Her work was like a green light to my own.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Marketing Plan

No one tells you that writing a book could be the beginning of two careers until you're asked for a marketing plan. Follow the link to The New Yorker's take on it. I don't recall the last time I ever laughed so hard alone. Read it and laugh--or weep.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Workshop stories

So I did go north to, essentially, Pacific Grove, for that workshop. And I used every suggestion I could get from my friends and most of the ones I rely on. The students at Asilomar were a lovely group who'd been meeting off and on for more than 30 years. They knew a lot, but the ghazal seemed new. And the "talismanic word" exercise from a summer ago at Hamline really propelled some interesting dialogue.

We were together for a day and a half, including meals, so we got to talk a lot. One of the things that came up was the number of workshops all over the country. At least a few of these folks had been in others in different parts of the U.S.

That led us into writing poems about workshops (Billy Collins has a beauty) and overnight a few people kept working on theirs. The best one had a very cool image: in a AAA office, the woman had seen a map of America with a little light for every major tourist attraction. So the poet wanted another kind of map, one that had a light for every poetry writing workshop. She said that every time a group met, the light would go on. So that on some nights, the light from the map alone would be bright enough read by.



Lately I've been doing a lot of talking on the subject of writing (as the invited guest at some function, mind you, not just on a corner with a bullhorn). The well goes dry after too much of this, and with more such gigs coming up on my calendar, I've been turning to the How To Write section in my library, 808 on the Dewey Decimal dial. I've lugged a lot of books back and forth. One book that's gotten renewed, however, is an entertaining little collection of short essays that I recommend: Rules of Thumb; 73 authors reveal their fiction writing fixations (edited by Michael Martone and Susan Neville).

Many of the essayist claim to eschew all rules; indeed, a number have a fixation on "no rules." This is not a how-to book in the typical sense; but there is plenty to take away. I especially loved one nugget from a favorite writer of mine, Lydia Davis (profiled this week in The New Yorker, BTW): "A comma or lack of it can be so eloquent."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Dog Blog

Hello. I'm Marsha's new puppy, Scout. I'm the only puppy in the family, but she's not the only writer. The working title of my opus is Bite the Bunny. Edgy stuff. I'm writing in first-puppy for its immediacy, but feel so limited from this point of view. Why not try omniscient while I have the opportunity to create a world and shape its inhabitants?
Here's a synopsis:
Follow the saga of one girl's struggle to Bite the Bunny--only the pink, squeaking bunny--while sorely tempted to bite a kitchen table leg, chicken leg, and pant leg. Will she overcome the trappings of instinct and survival to satisfy her ultimate yearning for family acceptance? Will she bond with the bunny? Bite only the bunny and grow to new dimensions of self-acceptance through bunny bonding?
Character and plot are no problem for me. Voice and tone are more of a challenge because I hear so many nuances. And don't get me started on setting...I'll have to chew on it.

Did Everyone Know About This But Me?

Some documentarians are making a film about children's literature called The Library of the Early Mind. They've posted clips from their interviews on a blog, including interviews with Roger Sutton, Leonard Marcus, Norton Juster, and Hamline's upcoming graduation speaker Jane Yolen. I see what I'll be doing all day today.

Monday, October 12, 2009

On Blogging

I think for the next residency we should have a short seminar/discussion on how to write a blog. I find myself straddling the line between the casual—wanting to tell you what I had for breakfast, how I find myself drifting off into the falling snow (yes, I know it's October 12th)—and the formal—an analysis of the poetic forms in Alice in Wonderland, or how to incorporate flashbacks into contemporary fiction. (Please don't ask me to write about either of those two things--I simply pulled them out of the muddle of my mind.) But you know what I mean.

The word "blog" isn't even in my dictionary, yet I'm supposed to know how to do it.

I like the tone Marsha Q. took in her last missive--the mixture of the tin foil with the neuroscience. Maybe that's it--to mix the two together. To show how the writing life is made up of snow falling and ideas forming on paper, of making a nice omelet and figuring out the scramble of a flashback.

I'm writing today. The snow is falling. I had an omelet for breakfast. I need to write a scene in which a detail in a present moment triggers a seamless flashback.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Brainy writing

I love my hair salon. The owner's husband is a visual artist and the place is really a gallery packed with his work. Plenty of art magazines on hand too. I was getting some work done the other day and reading one of the magazines while the color was cooking (image I'd insert if I had it: middle aged woman in old barber's chair with tin foil on her head). I found a fascinating article in Modern Painter on a neuroscientist, Semir Zeki, who researches the affect of visual stimulation on the brain. According to the article, "All great artists, Zeki believes, are instinctive neuroscientists; they have an innate understanding of how the brain 'sees' the world, and they are fated by this knowledge to constantly try to find a visual language for those concepts." I love that idea of the artist trying to articulate what he or she senses.

The article describes his work--which involves watching how the brain responds to visual stimuli and isolating which spots in the brain respond. I've read about similar studies involving music and the brain. So of course, I wondered, what about the literary arts? Will we someday see precisely where and how the brain responds to what is being read? And what does that mean for writers of children's literature? After all, our readers have developing gray matter. Do readers up to a certain age respond more positively to white space on the page? Does a shimmer of terror caused by a scary scene reverberate only so long and then need another jolt to the brain? Does sentiment cause a less pronounced brain buzz than fear, and does this change at a certain age? Could knowing all this help us make decisions about dialogue, pacing, subject matter?

I'm always split about the "write for an audience" argument. I believe in doing just that and I believe in not doing it. I doubt if I'll change what I do, but I was rather excited by the article and all it suggested. And yes, I response may have been influenced by the tin foil on my head.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Thanks to the friends and colleagues who suggested things for my workshop at Asilomar. I'm mousing around on my own, of course, and found something that I can use and will pass on. It's a series of fill-in-the-blank statements and the cool thing about the series is that it talks about the antagonist. We all hear about the protagonist, but not so much about his shadow. So here's the prompt:

My protagonist's external goal is __________?
My protagonist's interior goal is ___________?
If my protagonist doesn't achieve this goal, then ___________?

My antagonist enters the story when_________?
My antagonist's deepest fear is _____________?
My antagonist's secret is __________________?

I'm the kind of writer who grinds things out daily and my characters' fears and goals bubble up that way. But I can see the value of answering questions like these. I'm sure they'd help anybody simplify a plot.

On another note, the Dodgers won their first play-off game, but it wasn't pretty.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Root, Root, Root for Narrative Beauty

I’m in the middle of doing packets and I have a mound of email to answer, a sick child at home, and out of town husband, and an overarching preschool crisis to deal with (you would not think such things were possible, but, alas, they are.) But, since this is a writing blog, I want to take a moment to talk about baseball.

The Minnesota Twins won a one-game playoff for the division championship last night. The game’s very existence was improbable—the Twins were seven games back a couple of weeks ago, and three games back with four left to play. No one in the history of baseball has done what they did.

Baseball is a narrative. Like good fiction, it lays out its story carefully, slowly, so that at the end of the game you can look back and see that that ending was inevitable all along. A good baseball game has structure and symmetry and poetry. Your job as a fan is to watch the game unfold and try to figure out where it’s taking you.

Last night’s game seemed like it might be a simple story. An opposing player who had just suffered from embarrassing personal revelations hit a big home run early in the game. Suddenly, that guy was going to be the hero, the Twins were never going to be in the game at all, they were going to lose, the dramatic comeback would be for naught. Maybe next year. Then—boom—a midseason pickup for the Twins hit a homerun to give us the lead, and suddenly the comeback was complete, the overarching story of the season writ small, the new teammate earning his stripes along the way.

But this was a story with twists and turns. Every inning a new seemingly-inevitable narrative presented itself. The Twins shut down the Tigers in exhilarating fashion at the top of the ninth—obviously that would carry them to the win the next inning. And then they blew that chance thanks in part to a great defensive play by the Tigers’ shortstop—who then got up in the next inning and hit in the go-ahead run. Ah, yes, this story—the guy who makes the great defensive play in the last inning gets the key hit to win the game.

But it still wasn’t over. We tied the game and would have won—but a bench player who’s never quite lived up to his potential made an elementary baserunning mistake, one woefully in character for him. In the end, it seemed we would lose because the bullpen would fail us—the Twins Achilles’ heel bringing us to our fateful end. But that wasn’t it either. It was that woeful bench player who strode up with two on in the bottom of the twelfth inning, and then this happened:

This story was sprawling and messy, but also absolutely perfect. The ending was earned by all the details scattered over the previous twelve innings. Narrative done well is beautiful. Especially when your team wins.

Writing with Ron

For Ron and anyone interested in writing prompts and/or the workshop experience, I highly recommend Writing Alone and with Others by Pat Schneider. After reading the comments on Ron's query for prose exercises, I recalled what Schneider said about "hot" and "cool" exercises, the former suggesting tone or content and the other, not so much because there are so many options. Bill Kennedy's exercise (see "Comments" under Ron's "Help!" post) falls on the hot side, for example, but the classic prompt to write about an object chosen from a group toward the cool because the variety of objects provides a range of topics and tonalities. One writer might select a hair brush and write about a first hair cut. Another might select the same and explore the indignities of chemotherapy.

Good to consider this writing "temperature" in directed-writing sessions and good to write with Ron. Don't forget the lute.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Still thinking

This past weekend I was on the faculty at the annual Wisconsin SCBWI fall retreat, and I'm still thinking about a lot of things that were batted around in the various sessions. During a faculty panel the last morning we were each asked to give one recommendation based on the manuscripts we saw. There were some general responses ("Write the story that needs to be written") but the three craft-focused ones were interesting: simplify your plots; play more with language; learn to heighten the immediacy of the POV and voice. Those last two are certainly connected; facility with language will always make it easier to increase or decrease immediacy. The comment about tangled plots is my take-away, I think. I wish I'd thought to make the recommendation. So many stories are so, well, big. It was an editor from a large publishing house, BTW, who made the comment and the other editors there nodded their heads. So, there you go: simplify.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Beginning of the Week

Funny how, even though I have no regular job to keep track of the days of the week, when Monday comes around, I feel like I have to gear up.  So what does it mean to gear up?  Find the top of my desk again, go over my calendar, try to clear off my emails (even the ones that have been sitting there for weeks), and, of course, make my list.

Yes, fellow storytellers, I'm a very serious list-maker.  I am even one of those who puts things on the list after I've done them just to be able to check them off.  But one thing I have learned about making a good and satisfying list is to break activities down so I get full credit for every step.  

When it comes to writing a book, that means putting down research I have to do, trips to the library, reading other books, all of these things count.  Then I list the chapters as I'm about to write them.  So for one week I might list two or three chapters, depending on how quickly I'm cruising along.  On a daily list (I know, it's a bit obsessive with the monthly, weekly, daily routine) I will write how many pages. 

This is all about patting myself on the back and giving myself credit for every single task I perform in order to write.  Even running (that's where I think up my ideas). 

I try not to brutalize myself with these lists.  They were signposts, not beat-myself-over-the- head-if-I-don't-do-them duties.  I think my lists are often my companions, supportive.  When you work alone you have to find some ways to praise yourself and shout encouragement.  That red pen slashing through another job done feels mighty good.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

As the Beatles said, "Help!"

I'm running a little writing seminar in/around Big Sur in a week or so, and could use a few prose exercises. I remember Mary L's lovely first line/first page presentation during the summer residency, but could always use others. I have a day and a half with the students, most of whom have written a lot and published here and there. So they're not newbies and I have to keep their minds off the scenery which is supposed to be spectacular. Someone wondered if we could meet outdoors for part of the day and I said that I'd bring my lute. Jesus, the indignities poets suffer!!


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ellen Raskin

I'm getting ready to speak at an SCBWI retreat in Madison, Wisconsin this weekend. I was compiling a list of recommended titles relevant to my subject, which more or less is about linear/non-linear storytelling. One title was The Westing Game. Now I'm not sure that classic fits my list, but it did remind me of a wonderful article on the book I read last summer, and I wanted to commend it to everyone's attention. Daughter Number Three is one of the few blogs I follow and she often writes about children's literature. Her article on The Westing Game is the third or fourth article down. Enjoy.

Get Back in the Water

A. O. Scott calls the new movie ("Bright Star") about Keats and Fanny Brawne "porn for English majors." And there is an awful lot of yearning with their clothes on, some of it in iambic pentameter.

At one point Fanny drops by Keats' place for a lesson in Understanding Poetry. He says to think about it this way: when one goes to a lake and dives in, it isn't just to get to the other shore. It's really to be in the water and to enjoy oneself.

Well, he's the lake she wants to be immersed in, but he's also right. It's more fun to lie on one's back in a poem and look at the sky. If poets wanted meaning to be important we'd all stand around with sandwich boards, each with a message on it. I Love My Wife. People Can Be Cruel. And everybody's favorite: Nobody Understand Me!

And I don't see why the same metaphor couldn't be used on prose writers, many of whom have their eyes on the prizes (looking across the lake at the awards glittering in the sun) rather than at the sensuous body of water lapping at their bare toes.

Let's say you breaststroke across and get the prize. There you stand with a towel over your bare shoulders while everyone applauds. Lookit me, Ma! Then somebody else swims up and the crowd goes crazy. And, wouldn't you know it, her trophy is bigger! A breeze comes up. You start to shiver. That long, arduous swim for two minutes of approbation!

Get back in the water. Take a mouthful and spit it out like you're a little fountain. Wallow around. Then paddle like a dog. Language is our medium, friends. Enjoy it.