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Monday, February 28, 2011

Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood

Negotiating with the Dead

Negotiating with the Dead, by Margaret Atwood is a wonderful book for anyone who has the urge to write, be it novel, short stories or poetry. This book is a series of lectures she gave at Cambridge University on her experiences as a writer. In her introduction, she lists a long list of reasons various writers have said why they write. Here are some of those motives:
·        To record the world as it is.
·        To set down the past before it is forgotten.
·        Th excavate the past because it has been forgotten.
·        To satisfy my desire for revenge.
·        Because Ik new I had to keep writing or else I would die.
·        Because to write is to take risks, and it is only by taking risks that we know that we are alive.
·        To produce order out of chaos.
·        To delight and instruct.
·        To please myself.
·        To express myself.
·        To create a perfect work of art.
·        To hold a mirror up to nature.
·        To hold a mirror up to the reader.
·        To thumb my nose at death.
·        To make money so that my children could have shoes.
·        To show the bastards.
·        Because to create is human.
·         Because to create is Godlike.
·        Because I hated the idea of having a job.
·        To justify my failure in school.
·        To thwart my parents.
·        To amuse and please the reader.
·        To amuse and please myself.
·        Compulsive logorrhea.
·        Because I fell into the embrace of the muse.
·        To experiment with new forms of perception.
·        To cope with depression.
·        For my children.
·        To speak for the dead.

Monday, February 7, 2011


The Building of the Labyrinth

I had no idea, at first; no concept; just a backyard full of mud; hardpan and river rock, and dry as a bone in the summer, covered by a layer of dry dead sod, lying fallow for two years.

What to do, what to do. Build a patio; extend the concrete; level the ground; lots of work; procrastination, think some more. Scrape the sod; screen the soil; separate the rocks and the sod. Level the soil. Still no concept.

Then a voice (Leta’s) whispers, “Build a Labyrinth”.

Yes! I thought. What a great idea! But what shall I use? Bricks? Stone? Tile? What and how?

I found the white Travertine Pavers, beautiful, natural stone cut from a quarry in Italy. I found the design online. Not having any idea how many I would really need, I bought fifty to start just to see. They filled just half of the outside circle, so I knew I would need at least 500. So I bought half a pallet at a time, which was as much weight as my pickup could haul. But before I could put down the pavers I had to put down a layer of sand on top of a layer of weed block. So I hauled home a half cubic yard of sand. I found that the sand would stay in place better if I wet it first.

By renting a gas powered brick saw over the Labor Day weekend, I got it for three days for the price of one. I thought that surely, by working steadily for three days, I could cut all my pavers in that time. WRONG!  Not even close. I had too many distractions that I could not ignore. And when I did use the saw, it was so loud that I was sure I was disturbing the neighbors. I returned the saw on Tuesday with perhaps a third of the pavers cut. I dreaded having to rent the saw again.

As I worked every day on this labyrinth, Leta would tell various friends and neighbors about my most ambitious project. When she mentioned it to Kris Teiche, our good friend and neighbor in Livermore, Kris said, “Frank has a tile saw, I’m sure you could borrow it. I will check with Frank, and let you know”. Frank said he wouldn’t need it for another two months, I was free to use it. I used it almost every day for the next four weeks. The electric saw was lighter weight and far less noisy than the saw I rented, but I still worried about the neighbors.

Four months after I scraped the sod, I finished the labyrinth, and cleaned up my mess. I took pictures, I showed it to friends and neighbors.  I could see it from my bedroom window. Viewing the concentric circles of white stones alternating with dark grey crushed granite through the horizontal venetian blinds was mesmerizing. There is more to it than mere geometry.

And now, the more I look at it the more absorbing it becomes. I am seeing and feeling things I did not design into it. It is a two dimensional model of our spiral galaxy, turning, drawing magnificent stars into its black hole.

Through the blinds I see it turning, turning with the earth, turning with the planets turning with the galaxy. As surely as the plane I am riding in is in motion. The plane window I am looking through is in motion as I watch the mountains and farms and cities pass beneath me, so this set of concentric stones is my window into the universe.

Like a silent mystic eye
Staring back at the zenith sky.

©Harold Gower
December 28, 2010