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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Oh, for the language of birds!

I also would like to learn the language of birds.
People in fairy tales sometimes have the luck of it.
(Illumination by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for Glimmerglass.)
I've never spoke a second language well, though I'm perfectly willing to give the thing a go when I only have a couple of pages of phrases mastered. So in Cambodian, I spoke a little Khmer / Cambodian, and in Thailand, some Thai. One thing that surprised me in Cambodia is that absolutely everybody seemed to be learning English in order to to better themselves, and so I could have conversations where I inflicted Khmer on people while they tried out English on me. Great fun, much laughter. In Japan, I expected everyone would know English, but only a very few did, especially on Sado Island, but I managed enough Japanese (thank you to my daughter, whose love for all things Japanese meant she could critique my pronunciation) to have odd little conversations and laugh with strangers. In Paris, my schoolgirl French, mostly forgotten, had a tiny revival. And for a trip to Chile, Peru, and Mexico, I had no time at all to study, so listened to recordings the day before and took a list of phrases with me. It's surprising how much communication is possible with fifty phrases and a little boldness and rhythm-mimicry. I did take a little Russian in school (from a colorful White Russian woman who adored the class members so much she didn't push us) but have forgotten it, just as much as I forgot the French or more--and I've never been to Russia. When the the eventual next trip comes along, I'll need a smattering of German, and maybe another language.

My lightly-considered opinion of my brain on the language-learning front is that I don't have a fabulous memory but I'm pretty good with sounds (well, excluding the impossible, twisty language of Wales!) and with picking up vocabulary. I don't retain if I don't continue laboring at it, though. That pesky memory at work...

But I would like to know a second language well, and think I will start studying daily once I decide what language it should be. And there's the question. What's a good second language for an American novelist and poet? Should it be something where there's a great need of translation, so when I'm an ancient, doddery old crone (if I am lucky enough to endure so long) with the risk of having no inspiration, I can always translate? So far I can't really imagine not having the impetus to play with words and make stories and poems, but evidently it happens to many people and therefore may happen to me. Should the language be Spanish because there are so many Spanish speakers? Should it just be a language I love? But they're all so different and interesting, crammed full of wondrous words.

If you have an opinion, tell me! I'll definitely ponder it.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The rage against tips!

An interior illumination
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for my long-poem and epic adventure,
Thaliad (Phoenicia Publishing)
Amazon reviews: paperback
Hardcover only here
Why on earth do I sometimes fiddle around an answer a question on Quora when I could and probably should do a blog post? Who knows? Here's a Quora question I answered a moment ago, perhaps partly because I'm in a good mood and just wrote a poem when I should have been doing something else entirely, and perhaps partly because I still didn't want to do what I should have been doing.

(And here you can find more Quora-fritterings by me.)

"What are some tips on staying motivated enough to finish writing a book?"

Marly Youmans, novelist and poet
Answered 2m ago

I’m feeling a bit allergic to the word tips: no tip can make you finish writing a book. Only whatever it takes for you can make you finish. And only you can answer the question of what it is that might be whatever it takes for you. That is, you will (or will not, as it turns out) make use of your own inner drive, passion for playing with words, impetus, dogged refusal to stop, anger, joy, or whatever it is that lives and burns in you and will take you to the close.

But I will say that I have known some wonderfully gifted people who began many books and stories and never could finish anything. This was a sadness to me, but they lived other lives, and perhaps it was not a sadness to them. They gave writing books a try and then moved on.

The grand thing about finishing is not having a completed manuscript; it is that you are somehow larger on the inside than you were at the start, and also that only bringing a thing to completion teaches you what you need to know in order to write that book. That sounds circular, and it is. In the realm of making books, much is mysterious.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Family memories

Not the right movie, but the image will do--
1959, Castle's The Tingler 
with Vincent Price.
I've been sorting through boxes of papers, tossing much and often stopping to laugh at some child's drawing or my own notes on a past conversation or an old letter. Here's a note with Nate, my third child, age 5, dated 24 September, 2002. He's almost 21, so I guess that I can quit referring to him as Child no. 3 in blog posts!

                 *     *     *

When I took Nate to kindergarten this morning, I asked him if he wanted to put on his jacket.

Nate:  When my teeth are going up and down, it means I am cold. When my teeth are not going up and down, I'm not cold.

The beginning of wisdom, or something. Scarce as hens' teeth.

Also, some hours earlier, in bed:

Me: Hrrump?

Nate climbs in.

Me: Whassamatter?

Nate: I thought there were ghostes [GHOST-ez, Nate-plural of ghost]  sitting on the bed.

I burble comforting nonsense and go back to sleep.

Nate, still thinking hard, wakes me up: What are you afraid of?


(No doubt I am semi-comatose, as befits a mother of three after a long day.)

Nate: Buffaloes?

I wake up enough to laugh.

Nate: Or moving skeletons?

Which is odd because that's exactly what I was afraid of at the age of 5, my babysitters in Baton Rouge (a childless couple, friends of my parents) having let me see a movie about that very thing... Or was it Gramercy, and I a bit younger?

We didn't have a t.v. at our house, so I suppose it was pretty potent stuff for me, all those glarey-white bones clattering around on the screen. I remember clearly the hospital setting, a skeleton in the back seat of a car coming into life behind the doctor and a pretty nurse, and skeletons pushing baby carriages over a cliff. I expect that was especially horrifying, as I wasn't so many years out of being a baby myself.

Monday, April 09, 2018

The Prince of Egypt and the Sphinx

"The Prince of Egypt and the Sphinx" is up today at Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, where you can read poems, share, like--and where you can also find some other poems by me: "I Met My True Love Walking," "Epistle to F. D.," "Icarus, Icarus, Paratrooper," and "Landscape with Icefall." Thank you to editor Christine Klocek-Lim.

Today at Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY: The Prince of Egypt and the Sphinx by Marly Youmans#poem #formalverse
The Prince of Egypt and the Sphinx On the northern and the southern roads, He reveled, shooting at a bronze target, Pursuing lions and vast herds of beasts Until his chariot was a gold blur And horses changed to coursers of the wind. At noon, the young prince napped between the paws Of Horus-in-the-horizon, the Sphinx Who guards the sun and gates to the beyond. [ 138 more words ]

The Prince of Egypt and the Sphinx On the northern and the southern roads, He reveled, shooting at a bronze target, Pursuing lions and vast herds of beasts Until his chariot was a…

Wednesday, April 04, 2018


Matt Haig ‏ Verified account @matthaig1 Mar 29 More
Be nice if one day people realised writing fiction
was as hard as other art forms.
No celebrity says, hey, I'll write
a piano quartet for the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra,
or I'll join Cirque du Soleil.
Always 'I'll write a novel'. *  **


* Tweet of the day.
** Little pleasures of the obscure mid-list writer.
*** “Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe.” 
― Flannery O'Connor. Or some Carroll: "Callooh! Callay!" / He chortled in his joy. Or maybe more O'Connor: “There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”