Monthly Archives: June 2012

early summer evening

Last night we had guests who talked about why they studied molecular biology,  and the remarkable possibilities bursting the top off the world of biology.  Jefferson,  Azzam and  Low. Amazing, funny and insightful. Brilliant folk. We ate outdoors in our brick side yard under a sky without a moon, the bits of oak buring in the brazier of the weber grill. Grilled Thai lime and ginger chicken, warm homemade whole wheat bread, rosemary sauteed zucchini, basalmic vinegar red peppers, blanched green beans in a wasabi dressing. Most vegetables came from my garden, and we ate fresh strawberry pie for dessert. Sorry, I had to buy the berries because the slugs always eat mine.

What do you know about the microbiome? Fortunately I had seen this  New York Times microbiome article so I had a clue what excited them so. We’re all pretty much used to the idea that the environments around us hold webs of life, with detritivores and carnivores and herbivores, procaryotes and eucaryotes, parasites and all the otes and vores and ites you care to name, right? So what about looking into the miniature complex world on your own skin, or in your own gut, or living happily among the roots of your hair? The idea is that we carry upon us as intricate a web of life as any the macro-world holds, and that the balances and successes of these tiny worlds, which might even be different when you compare what’s on the back of one hand to what’s on the back of your foot, might have a substantive effect upon your health. Of course when we talk about our ectoderms, that actually includes where that ectoderm is infolded to create the gut, so here my ears perk up and I start wondering what the micro-biome might mean, for example, to those among us who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. And that’s where the discussion really took off.

I’m not about to toss out Koch’s postulates though. I’m not going to blame my cold on an unhappy biome in my throat. I’m not a person who likes a single answer for my questions, I tend to have a prejudice that favors complexity. But the possiblities, the idea that indeed the world is so much with us, all the time and so complicated is wonderous. Makes me awed, which rhymes with odd, and very happy.


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I had barely two days at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference because of all the other commitments that came due in my life at this time in the year. I met up with old friends, made new friends, had all kinds of lovely and provocative interactions. Heard some fine writing, and many times said to myself — wish I’d written that!

I wrote in my previous post that I found this conference a delight and I’ll try to say why. You might think that since I have an agent, and I have a contract for my first novel (planned for publication this coming September) I have no need to be haunting the halls of the Hyatt-on-the-beach and staying up until the wee hours in the company of a lot of odd characters.

First of all I’d argue that a good writer will never stop studying the craft. Just as no novel is ever so honed that it that couldn’t be better for another tweak or another jostle, so too,  no writer ever hits a static perfection until death.

Hearing excellent work humbles me, makes me try harder. How wonderful and varied the work of all these other writers! Critiquing makes me think hard about where I’ve made similar errors in my own work, or where I may have stumbled on other wonders as they have, and I realize anew that of all sins, I cannot afford to be lazy. I return to self-editing with new violence.

Yesterday I hesitated in the science fiction/horror class over whether I wanted to read my own piece aloud, a rough draft of a chapter around page 80 in my new horror manuscript I Haven’t Seen Him. Fortunately I opted to have another student read it. He read it superbly, made it sound better than it was, but what I heard convinced me of where I needed to cut, and where I needed to shift the focus. You simply can’t hear your own work the same way if you are trying to juggle your voice and intonation, project, and not stumble….  So one opportunity in a conference is the chance to hear your own words in someone else’s voice, in the company of strangers.

In the critique, various other students and the teacher all gave me advice that I’m going to take far beyond that short chapter. The principles apply. They saw things I didn’t, both strong and weak. Living people have more of an impact on a writer than do all the fine books about writing. We’re still animals, mammals, warm blooded furry creatures that care about our community, so this community of learning from other breathing beings remains important through all our lives. I have favorite books on writing, Browne and King, Stein, Wheat, and Thomas McCormack. They are necessary, not simply valuable, but there is this different thing that happens when you are nervous and excited, (think adrenaline and pulse racing,) when you’re in the company of writers you respect and they are all focused on the product of your labor, all intent on making it even more of what you want it to be. It’s a rush, it’s sometimes acutely embarassing, mortifying, humbling, painful, but nothing else will fast forward you as effectively on the way to become a better writer.

More than this, you will make friends who know what you are talking about when you agonize over issues of violating point of view. On-line writers groups can be arranged. Your best supporters can be discovered, and then they fan back across the world like ambassadors. In the end even writing books comes back to the personal, the relationships we make.

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June 15, 2012 · 8:07 pm

writers writers everywhere!

Spent today at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference having a splendid time listening to some wonderful work and insightful critiques, and meeting up with old friends. I swear I learn more from hearing other peoples’ work than hearing crits of my own pieces. It is about the craft, and if you don’t personally own the material under discussion, you learn without all the emotional baggage of attachment.

The Agents’ Panel was a hoot, the mood lively and the air full of jokes, but educational jokes of course. I have another large dinner party to prep for Wednesday so alas, I don’t think I’ll make it back to the conference until Thursday with luck. But look to your calendars, people, and sign up for next year.

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It’s a foggy Monday morning and I ought to be making sure the house presents a reasonably clean face for Wednesday and Saturday’s dinner guests, not to mention the major party a week from Wednesday. But of all uninspiring things, surely the job of house cleaning must top the list? Won’t our food and conversation scintillate so brilliantly that no one will worry about the dust bunnies? We might strike it lucky and they’ll think we have tiny pets. I’d far rather consider the delights of food.

Oven poached salmon, I think with a variety of sauces. A watermelon and blueberry salad, the pieces of watermelon cut into acute triangles, the raspberry chili dressing sharp enough to bite and set off the crisp sweet of the watermelon. Fresh bread of course. A nice artisan type loaf, all ragged and with big yeasty holes inside. Zucchini cut from the garden in the morning, sautéed simply with garlic and a splash of lemon juice, black pepper scattered on. Maybe a grain salad with lentils and bulgur? Anyone want to come to dinner yet? And what about dessert? I’ve been thinking a very simple cake slathered with fresh strawberries and a white chocolate whipped cream topping. Or should I let our first Golden Dorset apples play into an apple cake with caramel? But what about chocolate? Fudgy dense chocolate to keep the conversation zinging.

See what I mean? Food is fun to imagine about, but who ever had fantasies about how clean he or she could polish the tiles on the fireplace? Give me that man who is not cleaning’s slave and I shall … oh, I guess I already wear that man in my heart’s core. A good husband is that man who brings home diverse guests and only notices the dust bunnies to pet them.

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