Jane Eaton Hamilton

"If you want to change your life, you have to change your life." Jane Eaton Hamilton

Hectoring: Yes, I Am

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton, acrylic, 2014

Right now: You people who are walking around with functional bodies, I want you to take off your clothes in front of a mirror and pat yourself all over, and as you go, say, “Mind, you work,” “eyes, you work,” “ears, you work,” “breasts, you work,” “hips, you work,” “knees, you work.” Etc.  And then the rest is up to you.

Jen Pastiloff and the hunt for beauty

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l-r: Jen Pastiloff, Jane Eaton Hamilton

There’s something I can’t get off my mind; it’s been nagging.

A couple months ago, Jen Pastiloff came to town.  She’s the wunderkind behind the online home for great essays, Manifest Station, and a yoga/writing workshop phenom.  I first came to know Jen through her site when she published my essay about Paris, ‘Things That Didn’t Happen,’ which now appears in the Caitlin Press anthology This Place a Stranger, about women traveling solo.

All this is a long-winded introduction to the fact that Jen asked me to attend her yoga workshop here in Vancouver, BC, when she came to town earlier this year at Semperviva Yoga, and, reluctantly, I went.  (Jen knew getting me out of my house was like pulling teeth, but she kept at me.)  Despite a background in dance, I’ve never been a yoga enthusiast, and I’m also an atheist, and morbidly shy, and the whole spiritual thing makes me roll my eyes.  I slid down the wall at the back of the room, gamely played along to the limits of my creaky old body, and kept my eyes and ears open.

And, folks, a bunch of things happened.

She calls the workshop, after all, “On Being Human.”

But the transformative thing, the thing that hasn’t gone away, was this:

Women are hurting.

I’ve started this post several times and dependably backed away because I don’t know how to talk about this.

Folks, these were not my people.  I’m a wanna-be-butch dyke who has always wavered in my gender identity, and I’m old and my body is utterly broken, and the attendees were straight women mostly in their 30s who had maybe tried for:

Meet the guy of your dreams, have 1.6 children and a dog.  Live happily ever after.

And somehow nobody told them the whole freaking enterprise was broken, and that when an enterprise is that broken, it breaks its participants as surely as if they were just sticks.

Crack, crack, crack.

Nobody had told them this, or they were so busy with the job and the kids and the hubby, so overworked and mega-stressed, that they had no time to hear.  All they knew, really, before they landed at Jen’s workshop, was that they got a measure of peace from yoga, and otherwise, they were in trouble, and they were going down the tubes in a big fucking smear of shit.

They couldn’t save themselves.  Anytime they tried, they felt overwhelmed and under-capable and completely lost.  Anytime they tried, the drain just burped up more crap at them.

These were women living under seige.

Make no mistake:  life with a career and young kids (why aren’t they born with volume knobs?) and aging parents and a sputtering relationship and financial problems and medical problems and indecision and no respite bites the big one.

Quiet desperation, which I define as even one fleeting thought about hurting yourself or your kiddos, bites the really big one.  (As an aside, people may know that I decided to kill my children when they were 4 and 1, and wrote about it, and why I made that agonizing decision, and how I did not do it, but how I saved them from a molester instead, in my memoir ‘No More Hurt.’)

Women have always written about our dilemmas.  Remember Charlotte Perkins Gilman and her “The Yellow Wallpaper”?  Nothing here is new, but we’ve ramped it all up lately with the addition of technology and Super-Mothering.  When a woman is under that kind of stress, when it feels like every goddamned new thing that happens is peeling off layers of her skin, it feels new.  Bloody hell, does it feel new.  And it feels like it’s gonna hurt someone.

It feels like someone’s gonna die.

That’s where Jen Pastiloff and her Beauty Hunting come in.

The workshop participants were there to tell Jen that their fairytale broke.  They were there to tell Jen they were profoundly unhappy with their lives, and scared, and broken.

Now let me tell you what transformed me, and what I have not been able to forget or get over:

Women are hurting in huge numbers.  Women at the apexes of their lives are in grave trouble. 

It made me sad in a quintessential way and it has not stopped making me incredibly sad.  Every time I hear that Jen is giving another workshop, I flash back to that crowd of 60-odd women in Vancouver speaking about grief and fear and loss, and I imagine more women in trouble, room after room full of more women in trouble.

(A message here for women-in-trouble.  One or two things I know for sure, to plagiarize Dorothy Allison:  It gets better.  If you hurt like this now, it does not mean you will always hurt like this.  It gets a whole lot better.)

Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks.  Here’s the revolutionary thing.

She listens.

She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you.  Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals.  And then she gives them back to you.

Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity.  She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty.  She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves.  She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy.  She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were?  All of that is what it is.  But why it works is because of her kind of listening.

And what her kind of listening does is simple:

It saves lives.

 

 

Ocho again

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detail: La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, Degas, Norton Simon Museum

I am lucky to be included in the spring issue of Ocho, edited by Wendy C Ortiz, author of Excavation: A Memoir, with my flash fiction called “The Commitment.”  I join a talented group:

Charlie Bondhus, Nathan Wade Carter, D Dragonetti, Myriam Gurba, Megan Milks,

Rick Sindt, John Pluecker, and Jai Arun Ravine.
I noted “The Commitment” was written in Paris while my apartment walls were covered foor to ceiling with my art pieces.  It forms part of my flash fiction collection “Soon I Will Be Dead.”

Ocho

 

Thinking about spring

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painting: Jane Eaton Hamilton, acrylic on paper, 2014, Paris

Labyrinth

I go outdoors into the corridors of plum and cherry blossoms, the florid wisterias with their dangling racemes, their whips you must cut back three times a season or they will eat your cat, your car, your house. Here on the street the magnolias lift their cups waiting for spring to pour itself down. I know what’s in there. I know they have crowns, Kinder egg treats, their surprises, their jesters’ hats with dangling gold bells. The air is tinted with scent of hyacinths: Carnegie, City of Harlem, China Pink, Woodstock. They grow ceraceous, stiff along their water-filled stalks, blossoms further apart or closer together depending on light conditions—in my garden with its parsimonious sunshine, they can only try hard, but they give off their kick of perfume, they string it out, they let me have it anyway. Spring is soft as cotton batten, and some moments it goes gaudy as a circus. Watch the chestnut leaf unfurl. Watch the Clematis coil around the stem. Watch the talented beak of the finch as it cracks a sunflower seed. Watch the spotted towhee peck, the variegated thrush as it hurries to hide itself. The sempiternitous sky carves its bowl of the possibilities up beyond the clouds where rockets shoot, where astronauts imagine, where Sally Ride rode her lesbianism into blue space, where Christa McAuliffe exploded when I still lived in the house with the climbing tree.

I kick off my shoes, pull at my socks. The crust of the earth is chilled under my feet, dark, but the wet flock of grass stalks, the brush-cut of green against my toes is a party, takes me into the scrum of childhood when lawns were made for kick-the-can and there was no Round-Up and the measure of a good summer was whether you got enough callouses that you could walk across pebbles without noticing and how big a cannonball splash you could make. I spill my hand over a Kanzan cherry trunk, bark rigid and broken. I unwrap the perianth, the floral envelope. A whole bough is Kyoto in April, the Philosopher’s Path, the wandering maiko in their wooden shoes, pink kimonos and white faces, their elaborate combs. The individual petals in my hands weigh less than air; weigh less than the eyelashes I brushed last weekend against my lover’s rose-pink cheek. The petals are translucent, pink, silky. I don’t lift my arms, but lifting my arms is what I mean, into the symphonic air.

One year, when I had greatly suffered, when my body was giving itself up, when I had lost all in the world there was to lose, except my life, and was losing that as surely as if I had a hole in my toe through which it drained, I heard a woman playing, on violin, Bach’s Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor, and I was drawn by the threads of music like a rat behind the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and I sank to a bench to listen, and was contrapuntally struck. Terror, relief. Pain, pleasure. Hatred, love. Sour, sweet. The labyrinth we all unwittingly walk, where everything horrible is eventually overwritten by beauty. Everything beautiful is eventually overwritten by horror.  And repeat.  I know this as a simple truth. This is ever reliable.

I was for the first time in a year of fear not trembling.

Instead of writing the composition, the way as a writer I was prone to do, or capturing the composition the way as a photographer and painter I was prone to do, somehow I became the composition indivisibly and then, just as mysteriously, I melded with air and breeze. I was still me, old and challenged and broken, and not me, too. I was as much the musician as I was her audience. The violinist drew her bow under an ornamental plum tree, white-blossomed, through which sunlight dappled and sky showed cerulean, and all of these things merged—Bach, the poise of her wrist, how hard she had worked to stand under this blossoming Vancouver tree on this too-cold spring day, the sunshine, my own sorrow and grief and sour-hearted blood mechanics—and I was saved. I had not been able to live, and now, via this merging of talent and music and blossom and chill, I could, again. Happiness filled me as if the hole in my foot had healed and instead had become a hole in my head, and the filling was as complete as the emptying. Where I had been but a shell, I plumped. My corpuscles danced. My mitochondria laughed.

A couple weeks ago, a friend hurt herself badly. Yesterday, there was a terrible home invasion, a harsh injury, on a street where I love people. Yesterday a friend wrote to say that even so people save themselves with minute beauty. I knew she was right. I have done this over and over and over again through my life, redemption (if you like, though I might call it retrieval, or restitution) through the communion wafer of nature, through the holy drink that is nature. People save themselves on buttercups under chins to say if they like butter. People save themselves with raccoon kits, bees’ wings, and bird babies in the eaves. These accidental evolutionary goodnesses. People save themselves with kittens, and lambs pronging in fields, and the slap of a horse’s mane on their hands as they ride barebacked through meadows. People save themselves with good cups of coffee or food.  People save themselves with tickles, with hand holding, just by meeting someone’s eyes. People save themselves with hikes or bicyling or long runs.  These spices of experience.  Fragments of mercy.

I am as dunderheaded as a person could be, but, yet, even so, even despite my flaws and weaknesses and losses, this reliable lift I feel because of the intricacy of a poppy unfolding crumpled petals, is there, is real, is find-able, is replicable, is mine for the looking. You won’t find it where I find it, because we are not the same person, but someday when the intricacy of terror and ruination lift, you will find it all the same–in a child’s giggle, a moon shadow, or in the way birch bark curls.

It is yours.

 

 

 

Méira Cook asks me questions about “allergy”

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sketch Jane Eaton Hamilton 2006

I once wrote a long poem, “allergy,” about serial murderer Ted Bundy from his (imagined) mother’s perspective.  It was included in my first book of poetry from Brick Books called “Body Rain” in 1991.   The excellent poet Méira Cook, whose new book out from Brick Books this spring, 2015, is the intriguingly-titled “Monologue Dogs,” and I had a conversation about “allergy” last year:

Méira Cook/Jane Eaton Hamilton and allergy

Here is my conversation with Méira about her poem “Adam Father:”

Jane Eaton Hamilton/Méira Cook and Adam Father

Celebrate! We gonna have a good time! Amber Dawn glosas!

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I am a fan of Amber Dawn’s writing and I hope to interview her for the site before too long.  In the meantime, let’s take notice of the launch of her new book!  Here is an excerpt from Plenitude Magazine where she glosas one of my poems.  My poem reads just like notes, and Amber Dawn’s continuation is a work of stunning clarity, surprise and resonance.  I have always been resistant to form poetry, but it is works like this, that speak to my community, my people, that convince me that it is not the play but the player that matters.

“I come from a family of suicides,” says Rene Denfield

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2006

I’ll be interviewing René Denfield, author of “The Enchanted,” her knock-out novel about death-row redemption, soon for this blog, but in the meantime, here is her poignant essay, “The Other Side of Loss,” from my friend Jen Pastiloff’s site, Beauty Hunting.

 

Download Free Art Books from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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“You could pay $118 on Amazon for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s catalog The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry. Or you could pay $0 to download it at MetPublications, the site offering “five decades of Met Museum publications on art history available to read, download, and/or search for free.” If that strikes you as an obvious choice, prepare to spend some serious time browsing MetPublications’ collection of free art books and catalogs.” Open Culture

Want to earn a buck or two, essayists?

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Here at Scratch Mag is a compilation of (admittedly American) paying sites.  Have at it.

Richard Bausch, lit hero, reprising tip #35

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painting: Jane Eaton Hamilton, Paris, 2014

Reprise # 35

“Every sentence contains what seems like a thousand possibilities, including not being used at all. Consider that possibility, too. Sometimes you’re striving for something that has stopped being about the story and has become more about what you can do with an English sentence. Trying to make art with the prose is no excuse to forget the importance of FUNCTION in the making of a good story–you can make a perfectly gorgeous array of consecutive pretty sentences that do not add up to anything like a story. And the story’s the thing. If the line won’t come pretty enough, or striking enough, maybe it shouldn’t be there to begin with. What must be there is everything that moves the story to its completion–all that, just that and no more. And I’m not talking about being spare, but about being economical, even if that economy is utilized in the large scale of a big novel.” -Richard Bausch

Want to earn a buck or two, poets?

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Photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2015, Norton Simon Museum

Poet and LA professor Jessica Piazza has put together this great list:

Journals That Pay For Poems: A Resource

I’m all about Lynda Barry

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Run don’t walk if you get a chance to take a writing class with Lynda Barry, cartoonist.  Her fabulosity quotient is crazy high.  Until then, she’s stitched it all up for you in a new book called Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor.  Get a copy now, hopefully from your independent bookseller.

The Adequate Writer: Your work is crap

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

We’ve all been there on the receiving end of rejections that are ill-conceived and thoughtless.  Your work is crap, these notes say, in whatever arguably neutral language they couch this in.  Your work made me vomit.  Go shovel walkways.  Go work at Goonies.  Just go away and please, please, please, and whatever you do, stop writing.

They aren’t actually that bad, and most of them aren’t bad at all.  But we feel like they are, right?

It may be that, in fact, our work is crap.  It happens to the best of us.  After 35 years at this, I still write reams of garbage, and, sometimes, I send it out.  But regardless of the status of my submissions, good or bad or in between, the stats for rejection/acceptance stay about 20-1.  Which means that I get one acceptance per couple dozen rejections.

Does being queer enter into that?  Of course it does.  Pieces aren’t judged only by merit.  Unless there’s a push for affirmative action at a magazine, an article/story/poem that is even tangentially about being queer is often overlooked.  Oh, we published a lesbian piece last month.  Not quite for our demographic.  A little too avant garde for us.

Do I care?  Yeah, a lot.  I hate homophobia, and at my age, it’s a tired old saw.  Go play with knives, already.  Get over yourselves and ask more of your readers.

But even so, if I send a piece out–no matter what kind of piece it is–for long enough, with enough diligence, it will eventually find its home, and that won’t be the bottom of the barrel, that’ll be at a magazine/journal/online site where I’ll be proud to publish and they’ll be proud to have you.

Most of being a writer is showing up, keeping at it, being persistent when the whole damned enterprise seems keyed to shutting you down.

Here’s what I know, though.  You can do one thing better than any other writer anywhere:  you can be yourself.

Authors might have talents and skills you don’t have, but you have talents and skills they don’t have, as well.  That’s the thing that strikes me over and over in this long-game:  No one can write like I do.  Often I whine and grumble about that–how I can’t stop being me for five minutes in order to write as brilliantly as, say, Eudora Welty–but really, ultimately, my uniqueness is a good thing.  In fact, in an over-crowded marketplace, it’s the sum total of what I’ve got.  My idiosyncracies?  Those are my only commodities in publishing-land.

Do I wish I had other styles, other skills, other talents?  Of course I do.  Absolutely I do.  If I could write like Arundhati Roy, or Karrie Higgins, or poetry like, say, Alice Anderson or Jane Hirschfield or Marilyn Hacker, or essays like Roxanne Gay, or one true sentence the way Ray Carver could, or a Lidia Yuknavich short chapter, I would die a perfectly fulfilled human being.  If I could turn a sentence like Rebecca Brown or Lorrie Moore or Mavis Gallant or Toni Morrison I would be incandescent.  But I can’t.  That’s them.  That’s their kick at the can.  It’s not supposed to be mine.

Mine is the bit I got.

And that’s a lucky thing.  Because if we all wrote like each other, reading would be a grim task indeed.

Your work is crap?  Make more crap.  Do it the Beckett way:  If you’re going to fail–and you are going to fail–fail better.

 

Amy Hempel interview

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

Here, at the Paris Review.

Write, Erase, Do It Over: On Failure, Risk and Writing Outside Yourself

IMG_0271sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2015

 

Toni Morrison interviewed on failure, risk and writing here at the American Theatre by Rebecca Gross.

Poet Jane Hirschfield

 

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sketch Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

Poet Jane Hirschfield is a favourite of mine, and she is interviewed here on San Francisco Gate by Anisse Gross.

 

 

Book of Kells: Contemporary Women Poets

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2015

Here is a list of contemporary women poets compiled by Kelli Russell Agodon.  Work-in-progress.  But here we can find many authors whose work in which we will be happy to dip our toes.

Book of Kells

 

 

The Norton Simon Museum

I am in LA in order to do readings at Cal State Channel Islands and yesterday, I went to Pasedena to see the Huntingdon Art Museum,  and then, after that to the mind-blowing Norton Simon Museum.  I could not get enough, and closed the place down at 8.

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The sculpture garden

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Henry Moore

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Pablo Picasso, detail

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Diego Rivera

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Amadeo Modigliani

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Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 3.18.56 PMVincent van Gogh

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Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 3.20.07 PMEdgar Degas, including Le Petit Danseuse de14 ans

 

 

All photography: Jane Eaton Hamilton, iPhone

CBC fiction contest longlist

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The CBC announced the longlist for this year’s CBC Short Story Prize. I was pleased that my story “The River of Running Sand” garnered a nomination.

“The River of Running Sand” is set in northern Thailand at a human zoo where tourists come to gawk at hill tribe villagers.  The protagonist is a teenager longing to emigrate to Canada, but she is kept stateless, without papers, and can only emigrate for humanitarian purposes–or because she cheats her way out of the country.

The CBC Short Story Prize is Canada’s most prestigious award for a single piece of short fiction.

CBC Short Story Award Longlist

 

 

 

Richard Bausch #28

Cristina and Vania Perez urban shoot

photo by: Jane Eaton Hamilton: orchid

“In an experiment in NY in the mid sixties, they asked elementary school children to draw their parents. They were too young to have any attitudes or opinions; they saw things directly, from experience. They came up with the most amazing symbolic drawings: Dad’s big as a barrel, with beer cans on his stomach; Mom’s tiny, standing next to a Matterhorn of laundry. The symbols were vivid and stunningly revealing. This is what Flannery O’Connor was talking about when she said a good story is literal in the same sense that a child’s drawing is literal. From this idea you take the faith that what you are really after in describing experience is to recover the direct gaze of the child, to be an infant with speech. The symbols and even the meaning will take care of themselves, if you can be simply, straightly clear. Forget everything you think you know and just try to be clear, try to render exactly what your direct gaze gives you to say about the instance you’ve created. It will have so much less to do with what you think than it will with what you ARE. And you may not even be particularly aware of it; in fact, it’s probably better if you aren’t, even though what it amounts to finally is something that others will call your vision. Trust that. It’s the most beautiful thing about this work.”  Richard Bausch

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