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The Power of Failure in Memoir

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz YellowstoneBy Jacob Little

Recently I have been translating a book of poetry by the inimitable Antonio Gamoneda. I was nervous when I began, having never attempted any kind of literary translation before. During, I am enveloped in the engaging challenges, the uncommon nuances, the wordplay. And after? I am obsessed with each small failure. I can’t stop thinking about my choices:

Was I right to lean towards meaning over rhythm? I don’t think I got the diction right. I never did get all the connotations of “mosto” in there. Was it okay to translate “ácido prúsico” as “DDT”? Or “Una mentira luminosa” as “a neon lie”? Am I erasing the culture of the original? I kept Spanish in my translation—Will an English reader know that “madre” means “mother”? Will they be able to translate “dulzura” from context as a term of endearment?

These, to me, aren’t just empty obsessions. I…

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That’s Gonna Leave A Mark, #JusJoJan

Whether washable
or indelible,
markers of any kind – just give some to me!

The permanence and impermanence of so many things.

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I could jot down my thoughts, in the spirit of
Just Jot It January
and then go off and take out my bright scented markers, but yesterday was one of those bad eye days.

We’ll see.

Am I losing my remaining sight?

If that’s what’s happening, will it be forever permanent? And, if it were, that wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it? I’m sure I’d survive, but it would leave an indelible impression. It already has.

I ask myself these questions. I miss my markers. A recent Facebook video from Newfoundland, all about the colours of that magical far-off place, made me think I still haven’t let what once was go.

As for my markers, people tell me to draw, to take them out and draw whatever, anyway. Don’t let my lack of seeing what I once did stop me.

Easy for them to say, I say often to myself, about so many things. Note: Must limit such statements of self pity.

I don’t know how the marks some make on the world will ever be erased. Some things, markers and actions, are permanent and other times, it can all be washed away, as if life were one giant dry erase board.

Thanks, Ruth from Image and Words, for such a lovely choice of prompt words. For how you see it, life that is.

Visit her blog at the first link provided in this post. Or, in other words – (or indelible).

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Brevity Podcast Episode #7 Kristen Arnett and Hippocamp

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

I told you we should have stayed home and listened to the Brevity Podcast

When you’re wandering the aisles of the local megastore, already tired of Christmas carols you’ve been hearing since Halloween…it’s time to pop in those earbuds and enjoy the latest Brevity Podcast.

Stream the show right from this post, or click over to iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.

Episode #7 features an interview with Kristen Arnett, author of Felt In The Jaw, on debut authorship, the value of literary social media, and how she got her beloved agent. We also continue our mini-series on conferences with on-the-spot chats from speakers and participants at the Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference.

Show notes and…

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How can you mend a broken heart?

Reading this, hearing this from someone else, from dear Lizzi, it is hard. It’s hard because I know how difficult it is for me to leave someone behind, whether through death or distance or some unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstance. Still, it’s important to share because it is what makes us human.

Considerings

“I can think of younger days when living my life
Was everything a man could want to do.
I could never see tomorrow; I was never told about the sorrow..”

So much of my life has been wasted on sorrow and heartache.

Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? Almost glamourous – as though I were in a movie, staring brokenly through a windowpane with rain dripping slowly down the outside, whilst indoors a tear slips gently down my cheek, leaving a trail of bright agony in soft focus [and fade out].

Real life is so rarely like the movies. I’m pretty sure there’s a sneaky Hollywood conspiracy to take the ‘how we imagine it should be’s of our lives, present them beautifully on screen, then charge us through the nose to see them. They’re onto a winner, that’s for sure.

It might not just be Hollywood, though. It could be every writer/filmmaker/musician/artist/poet/lyricist/photographer EVER…

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The solar eclipse – and what it means

This guy knows his stuff.

Matthew Wright

Eyes across the US will be pointing skywards today as the total solar eclipse sweeps across America – the first visible from the continguous continental US since 1979.

corona The Sun’s corona. Public domain, CC0 license, via http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=170723&picture=corona

There’s been a buzz about fake ‘eclipse glasses’ on the market, which doesn’t surprise me. Humanity has a very dark side and, of late, it hasn’t been much hidden. Personally I wouldn’t trust any glasses . Looking at the sun is dangerous. If anything goes wrong, at best you’ll be dazzled and at worst you’ll do permanent damage (the eye interior doesn’t have pain sensors, so you won’t know you’ve burned your retina until it’s too late. Just saying.)

Instead, do what I did last time there was an eclipse in New Zealand. Use indirect projection. I punched a hole in a card and rigged a piece of white paper a short distance…

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Tornado: Part One, Whirlwind

On this day, 1979, I almost lost more than one of those I love. Nature can be unstoppable and merciless in its force. Around here we never forget that.

Her Headache

For years after it happened my grandma would appear visibly shaken during any summer storm. When the sky would start to darken it was clear she couldn’t help flashing back to the day her world was turned up-side-down.

She was alone in the house on the evening of August 7th, 1979 while my grandfather and my uncle (a teenager at the time) were out in the barn.

My grandparents were simple people, a hard-working dairy farmer and his wife. Their farm was everything to them and a visible sign of all they had built together over the previous thirty years.

***

Woodstock – her electric clock stopped at twenty minutes before seven.
About five minutes after the power failure, the tornado struck.

“It was just terrible,”, Ruby Witzel said Wednesday, fighting back the tears.
“It was a horrible experience – you just can’t express it in words,” she said, her…

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Bucket List, Memoir Monday, Poetry, RIP, TToT

TToT: If You Don’t Control The Narrative, The Narrative Controls You – The Summer Day, #10Thankful

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver “The Summer Day”

Ten Things of Thankful

I am thankful for new pillows.

I’ve been using flat, old, barely there pillows for a long while. It was time for something new.

I decided to go with two different levels of firmness and they look the same. This way, I can switch it up and I learned which one I preferred.

Never underestimate the luxury of a decent pillow.

I am thankful for the laughs we have at my writing group.

We do write, but it was another fun time with the gang. I don’t know if a story is destined to come from this one, not from me this time anyway, but other stories were shared and good times all around.

I am thankful for a surprise gift from my neighbour.

I heard a ticking sound as I sat out on my neighbour’s deck last week. I asked her if it was a clock and she showed me her little sun dial.

Well, she got me one with a sunflower on it. If you put it in the light it moves back and forth. She wanted to congratulate me on getting my writing accepted. It’s nice when someone does something like that, totally unexpectedly.

I am thankful the deal with my essay for Catapult was made official, with contracts and a likely date of publication and everything.

This made my day mid week. The editor wasn’t certain when it would get published, until she suddenly emailed me and said she’d had an opening. I try to stay patient these next four weeks or so and keep in mind that things could change, but this will be exciting when it does happen.

She worked, as my editor, and the final piece that came back had a few changes to the final product, but kept my overall message and voice.

And now there comes my least favourite part: the contracts and paperwork.

I am not complaining, really, but I am no good at all that. Has to be done though. Luckily I have a sister who is better at such things. I will definitely be including her here on the TToT when she helps me with all that here soon.

I am thankful I heard back from Hippocampus and may be getting a short piece published with them soon.

They are on my list of spots where I want to see my writing placed. This one is a small foot in the door, but it’s a step in the right direction at least.

I am thankful for a new yoga teacher who wants to learn from me as much as I learn from her.

She says she is very interested in learning, from me, about the best ways to teach visually impaired and blind students who want to take yoga like me.

There are so many ways to do yoga. I never could have imagined. Of course, like anything, you must be cautious that you don’t push things and cause more pain than that which you were working to help relieve in the first place.

I am highly conscious of this fact. I am taking it slow, but my back has a metal rod in it and might not be able to bend the same way as other people. I don’t want to be careless and make things worse, obviously, but this teacher seems open to suggestion and to not pushing me too hard.

It’s just a different situation for her, to try her best to describe the positions for my arms, legs, and whatever else, by being as specific as possible. Watching her simply isn’t an option for me. This is new to her just as to me.

I am thankful for more and more representation of visually impaired characters on television.

I caught the final episode of the second season of a show, filmed here, near to me, in Toronto:
Private Eyes

What first drew me to checking it out was the fact that it was filmed in such a familiar place and then there was the reappearance of my favourite 90s television star: Jason Priestley

Then I discovered that Priestley’s teenage daughter on the show is visually impaired. She reads braille books, uses a computer that talks, and a white cane to get around. I try to watch her character, to follow how the creators write her visual impairment into the show. I am so glad there was a second season and that she was featured so often.

But I will be keeping a close “EYE” on how she is portrayed. It’s important blind people are shown in reality, even on screen and in fictional environments, because people have enough stereotypes and don’t need any more.

I will miss the show over the next year or so and cross my fingers a third season happens.

I am thankful to have family who can replace a roof now and again.

The rain has been finding ways in. It was in pretty good shape when I moved in, ten or eleven years ago. Now, however, the need is growing.

First step, install new water heater. Next my uncle and cousin will replace it, both house and garage. Apparently the second one badly needs it. Funny, I have no idea what everyone’s getting so bothered by. Though, I won’t even go inside that garage at all. Not my scene.

My neighbour asked if she could paint something on the side she has to look at from her deck, to help cover up the ugly. I had no problem with that.

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Can you guess what this is?

I am thankful for my parents and neighbour and their kind willingness to help me out with my dog who likes to bark.

He is also terribly attached to me.

My parents watch him when my head is particularly bad. They wouldn’t have to do this, to put up with it, but I hear he’s rather calm and good when he’s with them.

Also, my neighbour opens my door and brings him out when I am away, if she is at home, and ties him up on her deck. He usually is happy to sit quietly while she goes about her day.

Although, this last time, something odd occurred. She just happened to stop by (to give me her gift) right as I was leaving. So we thought she could get Dobby on his leash and just take him with her. Big mistake.

I followed them out the door and left a minute later. As I sat in the car, as we pulled out of the driveway, I could hear him still barking.

It turns out that when he sees me and she physically takes him from me (in his mind), he won’t settle down for her. She soon had to put him back inside my house and then come and get him like she usually does. And that time he settled down on her deck once more and laid quiet.

Huh … hmm. What a dog.

I am thankful for songs like this one, songs that have helped me through difficult times.

“One thing: I don’t know why…it doesn’t even matter how hard you try. Keep that in mind, I designed this rhyme, to explain in due time.”

In The End – Linkin Park

“Time is a valuable thing. Watch it fly by as the pendulum swings. Watch it count down to the end of the day; The clock ticks life away.”

Back around the year 2000 I was in high school and struggling just to keep up. Finally, I couldn’t do it anymore. Daily headaches were making concentrating to do well in my classes supremely hard and nearing impossible. In the end, I took fewer and fewer classes and finally had to quit all together, without graduating. This is not an easy thing for me to speak about, but it’s nagged at me for years ever since and I do plan to finish sometime in my current decade of my thirties.

These lyrics are about getting so far (years and years of school, including missing over 100 days in seventh grade for dialysis and a kidney transplant, almost being held back), but then I ended up catching up in the eighth and graduating, starting high school with my friends and peers, before falling behind all over again. It was a year or so later that things grew worse once more.

“I tried so hard, and got so far. But in the end, it doesn’t even matter. I had to fall, to lose it all. But in the end, it doesn’t even matter.

It felt for years like no matter how hard I tried, it didn’t matter. I was still behind and stuck and lost. This song brings a tear to my eye, even today, even as I am working to jump start my life and writing and things.

RIP Chester Bennington

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