The same image plays in my mind every time I think about writing this post. Pages full of exquisite words bound with the cover that wears a certain girl’s delicate floral designs are mangled beyond recognition by rough, heavy hands in a scene that calls to mind Of Mice and Men.
Like Lennie Small fretting that mice are so easily broken, I ask too many times if she’s really sure she wants to entrust her book to my clumsy hands because I’m just certain she shouldn’t.
Enduring my doubts, L.L. Barkat answers in her best George Milton voice, “You get another mouse that’s fresh and I’ll let you keep it a while.”
She doesn’t really say that. She just says Yes and gives me permission to write it my way. The invitation and trust embolden me. I look at my hands again, holding the exquisite book with the delicate floral designs. The fingernails might be nibbled down, but otherwise, they’re ordinary, slender hands that see regular lotioning.
Still, I wonder if she knows that when I start playing with Rumors of Water, it might come to something like this:
Is it worrisome
to anyone here?
when they feel
I suspect she has at least an inkling. She knows when I write about her work, it won’t be like you would write about her work.
A piece of writing knows what it wants and needs to be, but we get in the way. We want something serious to be funny, because we notice that funny writers are popular. We can write funny, we want to be popular, so we try to foist humor upon the work. It refuses. We want to be urbane; our writing wants to live in the country. We want a three-hundred page treatise; our words want to be a brief offering on the subject. We want to write sophistication; the work reminds us, “You are currently living a life of dirty frying pans and letter F’s that look like B’s.” (p. 18)
The piece of writing may know what it wants to be, but it delays sharing the secret. I leave for a trip with my apprehension, the work not started and words stalling at grubby hands crumpling floral designs. Days pass. I do not write, and I find myself alone in my car on a 600 mile stretch of highway aware that with all the gifts this book will give me, an excuse is not one.
As a writer, I have learned when a job needs to get done, there is little use fussing about the lack of necessary ingredients. . . . This is the secret of the prolific writer. To agree to use small beans and the ingredients at hand. (p. 34)
In my captivity I consider my options. I have a few ingredients at hand. I’ve lost track of my notebook, but I have fuel receipts in the compartment under the dash. I have a package of brand new pens — easy-fitting with smooth, fast ink. One is even purple, which is not my color. And I have nine hours of open road.
Balancing a slip of paper across the center of the steering wheel, I line up the pen and watch the road, scribbling a list from the first few chapters: beans, water, purple moth, zillion, bad knees, F-word, alien potatoes . . .
And so it begins.
I hide simple beans
in my cupboard. Black,
sometimes pinto — suspicious
of unspellable gypsies who come
and go as they please, one day
adorned with an arbitrary z, the next
casting it off it like
a bitter seed coat, crowing
that the cook set it wrong.
My beans dangle lightheaded
in silver cans, suspended
in dark, formless slip; common
beans who’ve sat a long time
and know only who they are.
We’re talking about the first section of L.L. Barkat’s Rumors of Water, considering ideas like inspiration, flexibility and letting the writing be. I’m just the warm-up act (or the rodeo clown if you prefer), priming the pump for you to share your thoughts as you read along with us. Next week we’ll look at Voice, chapters 9-13.
I started writing this post with a list of images from chapters 1-8. What if you made your own list — could you find a poem in Bishop’s weed? A plastic flute? Or perhaps a glass of mint-infused ice water? Drop us your lines or thoughts in the comment box, or if you write a post related to Rumors of Water include your link in the comments to share with us.
Or maybe you can create your own writing prompt from these chapters. Would you share that in the comments as well? If we gather up a few, perhaps we can compile a listing at the end of our book club.
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