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Archive for the ‘writing life’ Category

The Algebra of Inequality*

Once they enter the algorithms
consult their computer oracles
assigning dollar value to life & limb
with suitable aplomb

In the boardrooms of corporations
where the wolves run free
who will pay due compensation
for the sheep they slay?

 

%22Algebra%22

 

*Title derived from “Report” (short story by Donald Barthelme)

© 2014  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

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100_1034Three weeks of HARD editing.

Down to the grind now, my novel really tightening up and starting to take on a polished appearance.

Just about finished my “Sherron Draft”.

I started this book last August (2013) and, except for a few breaks to work on small side projects or conduct research, I’ve been pounding away on the manuscript ever since, grappling with it, trying to find the shape within the stone (if you know what I mean). When discussing the book with my wife, I’ve spoken only in generalities and other than a broad outline, she really isn’t privy to plot details or my approach to the material. But in 2-3 weeks I’ll print what I have, a complete third draft, 225 pages, and hand it over for her perusal.

Sherron’s a smart, discerning editor and she knows my aesthetic—she’ll spot any lapse, identify shortcomings, ruthlessly point out awkward passages. She’s well read and has a sharp, critical mind. She won’t soft-pedal  or candy-coat her remarks. We both want the same thing: to make this the best possible book and, in that sense, there’s no room for wishy-washy critiques.

No one likes criticism, we all like to feel that every word we commit to paper is the very essence of perfection. Sadly, that isn’t the case.

If you want to know the biggest difference between me and 99.999% of the “self-publishers” and indies out there, it’s the time and effort I lavish on my novels, short stories, poems and essays.

You think those assholes who excrete paranormal romance and shapeshifter erotica will spend over a year going through their work line by line, meticulously editing literally every syllable? And, I want to emphasize, I’m a full-time author, I do this every single day of the year, from eight in the morning until eight at night. Yup, weekends and holidays too. Each paragraph, each individual comma is carefully, endlessly, tirelessly scrutinized and weighed and measured.

And I’m not close to being done yet.

After Sherron’s had a chance to read and comment on the manuscript, there will be yet another complete draft and more editing until the book finally meets my exacting standards. Tentative release date in April, 2015, so I’ve got, by my estimation, five more months of work ahead of me.

And you wonder why writers drink like fish and use every substance known to Nature to soothe their jangled nerves and quiet their raging minds?

I’m a fortunate man to have someone in my life who is able to contribute in such a practical, selfless manner to my obsession and is as serious as I am about my writing and my desire to achieve the status of elite literary author. A world class talent.

We’re a team dedicated to excellence and we will countenance no slapdash writing or unoriginal thinking.

We’re creating literature for the ages.

Nothing else will suffice.

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Want to give a plug to my Twitter page, which is a good way of keeping up with all my projects and latest activities.

You’ll be notified when there’s any new blog posting, either here or over at RedRoom, plus I’ll often toss in quotes and verse and snippets, links to interesting news and people I’m stalking, er, following.

Check it out.

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Dilemma

 

Let’s say I do it, let’s say, dearest,

I tear down this crummy, old fence

of ours—then what?

 

Do I replace it with another fence,

clean and white and perfectly straight,

the wood treated with poison

solvents to keep it from weathering?

 

Perhaps a higher fence, six feet

or more, the boards squeezed close

together to dissuade prying eyes;

a solid wall to keep others out.

 

If I plant some kind of hedge, caragana

or what have you, as has been suggested,

will I feel suitably secure (i.e. is such a flimsy

barrier a credible deterrent against thieves)?

 

The other option is to leave our backyard

wide open and accessible to the alley…but

I’m not comfortable with that.

 

I agree that our fence is worn out,

dilapidated, something of an eyesore;

I apologize if it embarrasses you.

 

But as I’ve just explained, it’s no easy

matter replacing it—and some of your ideas

involve considerable expense. We must not

act hastily, allow emotion to over-rule reason.

 

I think for now I’ll keep propping it up as best

I can, until a practical solution presents itself

or, more likely, the entire goddamned thing finally

collapses, defeated by a horde of years.

 

Fence

 

 * * * * *

Diagnosis

 

Apparently I suffered from a

“cute anxiety”, that’s what Miss Haynes,

the school counselor, told my mother,

which somehow explained the boils,

bed-wetting and frequent crying fits.

 

I remember wondering if this cuteness

was curable and how I got it when I

was such an ugly child, my sisters said

so, and no one else took my side or

stated a contrary view.

 

boy

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flowerpowerI checked the interval since my last post and actually winced, a physical manifestation of my shame.

I must redouble my efforts at keeping this blog up to date. Maintaining contact with my fellow human beings. Not that my life is full of incident—that’s part of the problem, I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything more interesting than Sat at desk, stared off into space, played shoegaze music until inspired to scribble a few words

Writing that over and over again, like Jack Torrance in The Shining.

I’ve said it before but I’ll repeat it for the sake of added emphasis: I have no life.

I did manage a trip in to Saskatoon to see a completely whacked film called “A Field in England”, posting about it over at my film blog.

Reading lots. Music constantly thundering away in my office.

And…reflecting…yes, rather a lot of reflecting.

Think I’m still in the process of adjusting to our sons moving out, suffering a bit from “empty nest syndrome”. Occasional bouts of loneliness and melancholia. This house seems awfully bloody empty some days. Feels like I’m transitioning into a new phase in my life, a fifty-something guy whose kids are no longer underfoot, suddenly free of many (not all) of the demands of parenthood. My role, my identity, has undergone a massive change in the past few months and it’s going to take awhile, I think, before I feel comfortable in my skin again.

Will close off with something for the mothers out there—after all, it’s your special day coming up on Sunday.

In his book In Praise of Love, Alain Badiou quotes from a letter philosopher Andre Gorz wrote to his wife, Dorine. It’s one of the most beautiful statements on romantic love I’ve yet encountered, a paean to devotion and eternal, unbreakable bonds:

“You’ll soon be eighty-two. You have shrunk six centimeters, you only weigh forty-five kilos yet you are as beautiful, gracious and desirable as ever. We have now lived together for fifty-eight years and I love you more than ever. In the hollow of my chest I can feel again that ravaging emptiness that can only be filled by the warmth of your body against mine.”

Thank you to our wives and mothers, the wise women and brave sisters who give us life and protect us from the worst aspects of ourselves.

We celebrate and salute you.

leaf

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UnidentifiedFolks:

Sorry. Geez. Talk about belated.

Several weeks since my last post and I offer no excuses, no rationale. Yes, I’ve been editing the third draft of my new novel, going through its 200+ pages over and over, shaping and paring, trying to find a consistent voice, a smooth, narrative flow. And, yes, my days are long and intense and my focus can be downright scary at times. That need to immerse myself (there’s no other word) in the world I’m building, basically from scratch. It’s important to envision that creation in as much detail as I possibly can so that it seems credible and fully formed. I know my readers are pretty discerning people.

You have to understand, at times like this, when I’m going full-bore on a project, it’s easy for the rest of Earth Prime to fade away…and that means all ties, all friendships, all responsibilities become, well, superfluous. Wish I could put it more nicely but that’s just the way it is. Sometimes in order to meet the demands of my work I have to become selfish and solipsistic…it’s one of the least attractive aspects of being a creative artist. When a project reaches this state, I literally have to take a leave of absence from my regular life and that can be hard on family, friends and, yes, my small circle of readers and blog followers.

The end result is a completed novel or short story but getting there, while still retaining contact with the people who mean the most to you…that can be a struggle.

I guess what I’m trying to say is be patient with me, know that I’m operating in the thrall of my Muse, my imagination racing, my brain clicking on all cylinders. If in the performance of my duties I’m negligent in terms of my worldly obligations, it is, for me, a necessary (even mandatory) state of affairs.

You want to know what life is like for a full-time, independent author?

Well, there it is.

**********************

In the pipeline…

Some publication news for you: as well as the novel, this year I’ll  be working on a new edition of my very first book, a short story collection titled Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. The collection was released back in 1990, the entire print run selling out in a matter of months. It’s virtually impossible to lay your hands on a copy of Sex and I’m going to address that by re-issuing it with a new cover, Introduction and Afterword. I’ll be formatting and correcting the manuscript this summer and will publish it through my Black Dog Press imprint either later this year or in early 2015 (the 25th anniversary of its original publication).

The new novel, meanwhile, is slated for a Spring, 2015 release.

Drop in for further updates as the year progresses.

Like Rothko

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Journal 1I’ve kept a journal since 1996. Not regularly, not religiously—Samuel Pepys, I am not.

Usually the entries consist of a few hundred words, an abbreviated emotional weather report. The problem is, I don’t often write about being happy, content with my lot in life. No, it seems like the only time I want to be a diarist is when I feel the need to vent, blow off steam, expound about my frustration and fury and self-loathing and disappointment. Anyone having nothing more than my journals to go on would think me a very petty, thin-skinned, peevish bastard with the prickly disposition of a rabid hedgehog. It is, if I may say, a very distorted portrait.

But on my 49th birthday I started keeping a daily journal, a comprehensive record of “My 50th Year”. It was supposed to conclude on my 50th birthday but there were some pages left over in the second notebook so I probably have about another six weeks’ worth before I wrap things up. I think these two volumes, which will eventually clock in at around 450 handwritten pages, give a far more well-rounded depiction of the life and times of yours truly.

However, at this point I must confess I’m second-guessing myself, wondering if I’ve done the right thing. Because I have to say, there are definite drawbacks to keeping a daily record of your…activities.

First, one has to determine what to put in and what to leave out. Usually I write in my journal quite late in the day so I tend not to be too long-winded. I don’t waste time composing my thoughts, just scribble down what I’m feeling at that moment, what events of the day stand out most. It’s all very internalized, world news and current affairs largely superfluous. I might have alluded to Nelson Mandela’s death last month but, to be honest, I’m not sure. Authorial license or a shameful omission?

Second, one has to assess just how candid and uninhibited one can be. Obviously a journal or diary is intended to be personal and private, but I’m also aware of how many authors and artists have had their most intimate thoughts exposed to the world (with or without their consent). If I don’t end up destroying these notebooks before my death, I have to count on them being read by some curious party. How much detail regarding my life do I want to impart to a complete stranger?

Finally, when keeping a regular journal you soon come face-to-face with just how bloody boring and without incident Journal 2your life is. I mean, I’m no Graham Greene, jet-setting about, playing baccarat with Kim Philby one day and having lunch with Fidel the next. I’m not even in the league of John Cheever, who wrestled with his sexuality and emotional highs and lows with admirable clarity and candor. I’m more like, well, Walter Mitty—living in fantasy realms of my own invention, with little relation to reality. My self-made universe, fraught with wonky physics, shifting dreamscapes and enticing might-have-beens. When I’m deeply immersed in a writing project, I spend most of my waking hours there.

The transition back to the real world can be unsettling.

I’m a full-time author, stay-at-home husband and father. I don’t really do much of anything. I write (obsessively). I hang out with my family. I read. I watch the occasional good movie. Listen to music. Socialize (infrequently). That’s it. Try journaling about that for over a year. Sitting down each night, opening the notebook to a new, unmarked page and coming up with yet another pithy way of expressing “Wrote today, not much else”. It’s a daunting task, even for someone blessed with my fertile imagination.

I’ve taken to heart Flaubert’s advice to be “regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work”. Perhaps too much to heart.

This past year of being a daily diarist has opened my eyes. In my view, my life has become too constricted, too orderly and mundane. I can’t begrudge the hours I spend engrossed in a project but I must do something about the time when I’m “off duty”. Now that our sons are no longer at home and I’m no longer their steward and caregiver, I can direct my energies toward other interests.

Certainly the desire to travel has taken on new significance. Currently, we’re saving money for a trip, putting away whatever we can so that, one day, we can take off and see some place we’ve never been. Locales we’ve always dreamed of visiting.

Rome. Athens. Constantinople.

Thermopylae. Epidaurus. Troy.

Time to spread my wings, seek inspiration farther afield.

My first view of the Mediterranean or the Aegean, storied seas celebrated by the likes of Homer and Shelley and Byron. Possessing a blue, they say, like no other.

What dreams, what tales and verse and images, will our travels stimulate?

Will the ancient, historical lands we traverse seem strange, exotic…or will it be more like coming home?

wall (abstract)

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Abstract 1“Out with the old, in with the new”, that seems to be the sentiment around Casa Burns these days.

Our youngest kid has now flown the coop and we are, officially, empty nesters. The house seems damn strange without our boys pounding up and down the steps, blasting music or bellowing at their video games in their basement hidey-hole. The silence, as they say, is deafening. But they’re both ready to be out in the world, anxious to be on their own. They’ll have their tough days, intervals when it seems like the whole universe has lined up against them. But they’ll make it. They’re tough and resourceful and bloody smart. Which gives them a leg up in any society.

So we begin 2014, Sherron and I, somewhat sorrowful, missing the lads but eager to get on with the next phase of our lives; back to being a couple again, exploring the world together, seeing where our dreams take us.

I’m fifty years old, as of last October, and that’s also made a difference. I thought any change or transformation would be largely symbolic but turning fifty combined with our sons’ departure has put a whole new slant on things. I feel like another man.

To start with, I realize that more than half my life is gone and if I’m lucky I could have twenty or twenty-five healthy years ahead of me (with my genetics, that might be pushing it).  That’s not a lot of time. As a result, I’m not going to waste any of it on stupid discussions, movies, books, music, feuds or anything that doesn’t further my pursuit of wisdom, joy and matters relating to the spirit.

I did a considerable amount of writing in 2013 (not unexpected) but I also found myself exploring other media, employing a variety of means to express myself. As a result, I created more visual pieces than ever before: acrylic paintings, charcoal drawings, lots of photographs, ambient soundscapes, even a short film. Will this trend continue in 2014 or were all these non-literary ventures merely an aberration? Experiments, nothing more.

We shall see.

I know that for some time I’ve occasionally experienced a certain amount of frustration with the limits of language and wish to communicate via non-narrative, non-Abstract 2linear means. Abstraction invites collaboration, interpretation, input from the audience/viewer. The vast majority of my visual work frustrates literal-mindedness—the equivalent of Rorschach Tests, shapes demanding speculation and discussion.

Not for everyone.

Obviously, one of the high points of 2013 was the release of my short story collection Exceptions and Deceptions. The book features what I think is our best cover thus far and includes a batch of stories drawn from the past fifteen years, a couple of them previously unpublished and available nowhere else. Every time I glance up and see it on my shelf, I get a tingle. Fans of Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Jonathan Carroll, Neil Gaiman take note: this one’ll rock your socks off. Trust me.

Another fun experience was collaborating with my son Sam on an instrumental number which he then incorporated into a short film for Sherron’s “Agassiz” mask/puppet production, debuting later this month. Sam’s film is a gem and as soon as he uploads it to YouTube or Vimeo, I’ll post a link.

Let’s see, what else…in November I was astonished to learn my volume New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) was shortlisted for a ReLit independent press award. My bizarre verse? Really?

Managed to read one hundred books in 2013, though at one point I didn’t think I’d make it to #80. A big surge in November-December put me over the top. The 100th book, completed December 30th? Italo Calvino’s Under the Jaguar Sun. What a way to finish off the year.

I’ve been noticing how much my reading tastes have changed over the past number of years—hardly any genre stuff these days, except for a bit of SF and the odd mystery/thriller by LeHane or Philip Kerr. Much less fiction, overall. Gimme a fat, juicy history book any day.

We don’t have cable, so we don’t watch television. Have no idea what shows are popular on the boob tube and couldn’t care less. Ditto with movies. By far the best movie I saw last year was Peter Strickland’s “Berberian Sound Studio”. Haven’t heard of it? Tsk, tsk. Grab it off NetFlix, buy or rent it from Amazon, do not miss this flick.

Music?  The new Queens of the Stone Age, as well as Nine Inch Nails (live), Steven Wilson, Mogwai, Benjamin Britten and Gene Autry’s Greatest Hits. Keepin’ it diverse.

Looking ahead: I’ll be working on my new novel, as well as prepping…ah, well, mustn’t give too much away. Let’s just say that Black Dog Press has a number of releases pending in the next eighteen months and there will be further information announced in the days to come.

All the best in 2014.

Thanks, as always, for dropping by and hanging out awhile.

Voyeur

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fireplaceGene Autry crooning from the CD player, the Christmas tree filling the house with its pine scent, wood popping in the fireplace…ah, yes, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Those who follow this blog are aware that I love Christmas and still cling to the faint possibility of Santa Claus (hey, the cookies I leave out are always eaten when I get up in the morning, explain that).

This year possesses an extra poignancy, I suspect, because it’s our last Christmas before our youngest lad moves out, leaving us with ye olde empty nest. And a much smaller food bill (but I digress).

Hectic around here, as it is for everybody else this time of year. Trying to finish last minute shopping, get parcels away to relatives and loved ones, keeping the walk shoveled and the house warm during some recent cold snaps.

I’ll probably do a year end review at some point but not on this occasion.

Instead I want to announce a special Christmas treat:

I’ve created, with the help of those over-priced buggers at Cafe Press, some pins/buttons. The button with the smallest print reads “Frustrate algorithms.” Sorry, despite my best efforts, I remain mediocre at taking still photos.

Button

(Click on images to enlarge)

These pins reflect aspects of my personal philosophy, that subversive, non–conformist attitude I’ve had for as far back as I can remember.

I’m giving away three sets of pins along with three personally inscribed copies of my latest book, Exceptions & Deceptions, for the best questions or comments submitted in the next month. Post your remarks, then, if you want to be eligible for a prize, send your particulars (address, etc.) to blackdogpress@yahoo.ca. I’ll make my choices sometime in mid-January and post the names of winners at that time.

Feeling very positive as this year comes to a close. There’s a desire now that I’m fifty to start living a more spiritually and aesthetically fulfilling life, to continue to expand my horizons by exposing myself to smart, daring books and films and music, eschewing the trivial and formulaic. Off with the old skin, on with the new.

“…Identity is the daughter of birth,
but in the end, the invention of its owner,
not an heirloom from the past.”

-Mahmoud Darwish, from Almond Blossoms & Beyond
(Translated by Mohammad Shaheen)

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Poems:CoverThis just in:

My volume of New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) has been shortlisted for a 2013 ReLit Award.

Read about it here.

The ReLits celebrate the best books released from independent Canadian presses and I’m pleased to make the final roster and delighted to be in the company of some really fine writers.

My thanks to the administrators and sponsors and all involved.

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