The Only Way to Build a Road is to Pour Asphalt

I’ve been thinking lately about how difficult it is to make progress on a poem or a story, in my case right now my new novel, SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH. In other words, this is another blog about getting my or your work done. And this week I’ve been remembering something my old, now dead, pal, Hayden Carruth said again and again: The only way to build a road is to pour asphalt. In other words, in order to get the job done you have to work at it. And if you don’t work at it, it don’t get done.
I’ve been pouring some asphalt this week. This has been a good week of work on SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH. They both, I mean Samovar and Zeemahoolah, have become real people for me, er, I mean characters. It is so much fun to watch pigments in my colorful imagination become real and have personalities of their own and do things I don’t expect them to do.
I’ve been surprised, for example, at how much Samovar and Zeemahoolah argue with each other. I had no idea they would do that.
It’s also little things that lead to big things, like for example, at the end of Chapter 2, Samovar and Zeemahoolah are in the FixIt Shop where they are about to take over Zeemahoolah’s mother’s business of fixing lamps now that she has been murdered. Zeemahoolah gets severely depressed by being where his mother worked, and at one point Samovar flits over and sits on his shoulder and rubs up against his neck to comfort him. This leads Samovar to discover how soft and warm Zeemahoolah’s fur is, which leads Samovar later that day, after supper when it’s time to go to bed, to suggest: I hope you won’t think I’m being forward or anything, Zeemahoolah, but today in the FixIt Shop when I landed on your shoulder and rubbed up against your neck, it felt so good, that I was wondering, I was wondering, I was wondering, if I could roost there on your shoulder tonight. It’s warm there. Of course Zeemahoolah agrees. And from that night onward the two of them always sleep together in Zeemahoolah’s bed, Samovar tucked up against Zeemahoolah’s neck and burrowed down in Zeemahoolah’s warm, soft fur.

I had no idea that would happen. It’s little things like that that are such surprises and grow out of the characters themselves, acting on their own, with no help from me and completely outside any outline I might have for them, that makes telling stories so wonderful.

I sure hope next week goes as well as this past week has.

More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill

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You can’t write and run around too.

Some of my longtime friends cannot understand why I don’t travel. Isn’t that what people in their late 60s and early 70s are supposed to do–run around the world leaving as big a carbon footprint as possible? I don’t want to be holier-than-thou, because my desire not to travel isn’t out of some great and altruistic desire to save the planet from the likes of my friends and me. It’s because I’m a writer, and you just can’t write and run around too.
In fact, I sincerely believe, you can’t write at all, at least at all well, if you don’t provide for yourself the space, the emptiness, the quiet and peace, in which you can hear the voices speaking to you, those voices that bring to you from the other side the stories you have to tell. I’m talking here about, obviously, imaginative stories, not non-fiction stories which require research. For those kinds of stories, maybe you can write and run around too. But I know that for stories that come out of the imagination, stories that come “from the other side”, you just can’t write and run around too. Or at least I can’t.

This past week is a good example. On Monday morning I got a page or two of dialogue written for SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH. The rest of Monday was spent preparing for my trip to Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, to see a piece of my play THINGY WORLD! and give a talk about it. Tuesday was spent driving to Amherst, attending rehearsal for the play, then to the president’s house for supper and then to see the play and give my talk.

Wednesday my wife and I went to Northampton to that great Moroccan restaurant, Amanouz, one of the greatest breakfast places in the world. They have the best eggs–I had Mediterranean eggs that come whipped somehow so that two eggs look like six with a red sauce over them–and the best home-fries anywhere, not to mention the Moroccan muffins, and all this washed down with the classic north and west Africa sweet green tea with mint. Then we went to the Smith College Art Museum. It’s an interesting–and large for a college–collection and some of the most beautiful works of art had two legs and were moving from gallery to gallery taking notes on the paintings. Then we came home to northern Vermont.

Thursday I spent trying to settle down, get back into my head, back to that place I was Monday morning, catch up with myself. And since that is so difficult, I spent Thursday writing letters, the usual writer’s escape. By Friday I was just beginning to get back to where I was on Monday morning. Saturday and Sunday were wasted almost completely and I don’t even know why.
I’m going into such detail about this past week, to show how: you can’t run around and write too, at least I can’t.

In other news, HAPPY LIFE fell off the poetry.org bestseller list again for the week of March 4. Easy come; easy go.
More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill

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Will miracles never cease? On the poetry.org bestseller list for February 12th, 19th, and 26th HAPPY LIFE, was back in the top 30, just barely, at #30. Why this has happened after being off the list for a month is anybody’s guess. It surely isn’t because I’ve been running around the country reading from and flogging the book, because I haven’t been. January, February and March are my months to hunker down in the mid-winter and get some new writing done, which I’ve done by rewriting my novel, BROKEN WING and by getting started on a new/old novel, SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH. I’m grateful for those increased HAPPY LIFE sales nonetheless, especially since I had nothing to do with them.

On the other side of the equation–a writer’s life is often like this–my agent shot down my rewrite of my novel, BROKEN WING. She said, “Like THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA the writer guides us to look and learn from the world around us. . . . But unlike the setting and story of Hemingway, the passive musing doesn’t engage in the way I think it needs to for this manuscript to “work:”. . . .The writing is good, strong, and appropriate, but the engagement in the “bigger picture” isn’t yet successfully accomplished.” She may be right, but the thing is, I’ve spent the past few months totally engaged with this story and its rewrite and now I’m off to another story and I don’t have the energy or the inclination to go back to work on BROKEN WING again, even if I did know how to deal the this criticism, which I don’t.

I made pretty good progress on SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH this past week. I’ve got the first couple of chapters drafted: the introduction, the story of the murder of Zeemahoolah’s mother by Narg and Gorn Bap, and how Zeemahoolah and the chickadee–not yet named–get together.

This week I have to take a couple of days out to go down to Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, to see a few minutes of my play, THINGY WORLD!. In 1989 Jonathan Lash commissioned me to write this play when he was Vermont Secretary of Natural Resources. Jonathan is now president of Hampshire College and this play and the other presentations on Wednesday, March 13, are part of his inauguration festivities, culminating on April 27 with the actual inauguration and a keynote address by Al Gore.

And on the PARK SONGS, A POEM/PLAY, front, the book is mostly designed. We’re going to do an unusual thing with this book and have a separate font for each character in the book, 18 characters, 18 different fonts, thinking that may help people keep the characters straight, separate from each other. PARK SONGS, A POEM/PLAY, will be published on the anniversary of The Occupy Movement in September.

More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill

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I finally got around to SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH this past week. Just a beginning. I found my notes for the book, which, according to the notes, I’ve been keeping since sometime in the 1980s. Well, now that I really think about it, I’d say the story began in about 1975, on a trip we took to see friends in Poughkeepsie, New York. It was on that trip, whenever it was, that my now dead son, Gene, invented the name Zeemahoolah; I remember that clearly. I can’t be specific about anything else about when I began this project but I do remember that.

There is a moral, an admonition, in this story. Date your notes! If I had put dates on the notes I’ve taken over the more than 30 years for this story, I’d know exactly when I did what. Why is it so difficult to remember to date notes?

But I did find the file folder full of notes for SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH and it was full of things I had forgotten. So now it’s off to work on this story that I’ve been toying with in my imagination for apparently more than 30 years.

As I mentioned last Monday, I actually did send BROKEN WING to my agent on Monday. I expect it’ll be at least a month until I hear anything and then I think the news will not be good.

Otherwise, it was a hectic week of running to and fro, a private reading from HAPPY LIFE for a men’s reading group, and an appearance on a local radio station, WDEV, to plug HAPPY LIFE, and on Thursday, March 1st, I had a poem on The Writer’s Almanac again.

I am sincerely hoping that this week yields some real work on SAMOVAR AND ZEEMAHOOLAH.
More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill

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