Work in Progress, B

A conversation:

Do you like the name?


Why not?

It’s too. . . . hippie.




Don’t you think?

I hadn’t thought of it like that.

It’s not bad, necessarily.  It’s just not my thing. 

I understand. 

But, I don’t know, it’s like you just want to do it, right?, and you don’t care whether or not anyone pays attention to it.  Because if you cared, you would pick a name that would be. . . . better. 

Like what?

Like. . . . The Pelican.

The Pelican.


Why, The Pelican?

Because it’s a cool name. 

I see. 

So. . . . what is it exactly?

I’m not sure. 

Fiction or Nonfiction?

Why does everyone always ask that?

Because it’s nice to know. 


It makes it more exciting, you know, if it really happened. 

What if you believe it’s a true story, and you become totally inspired by the story because it’s true and change your life because of it and then you find out it’s not true. 

Why would it matter?

That’s what I’m saying.


Work in Progress, A

a selection from 
Tranquility and the Revolution

a conversation:

What’s the theme?

How do you mean?

You know, the theme.

I’ve never really understood that very well.

That’s okay, it doesn’t have to have a theme.

It doesn’t?

Well, I mean it does, but . . . .

It’s not always obvious?


But sometimes it’s obvious.

Of course.

Not for me.  

It's like a motif.

A decorative ornamentation?

A dominant idea.

It probably has one, but I have no idea what it is.



Art School Teacher: On Establishing a Ritual

I ask the students to devise a ritual
they can perform each day 
as a way to focus their attention
on their creative practice.

(lighting a candle
drawing a spiral
breathing deeply
what have you)

Then I ask them to represent their ritual
as a collage with colored paper.

Can we use pencils?


Does it have to be about our ritual?


It doesn't even occur to me until much later
when it is much too late
that of course
we should have started
with a ritual.


Black and White on Black

Here, a new book, about a colorless man from Japan.
Here, a new paper, blank and smooth, without doubts, deliberations, desires.
Here, a stack of old worries and senseless struggles when there are so many new and worthy ones.

Even though the front and back cover are plastered with blurbs from famous publications 
declaring the writer brilliant, insightful, and humanizing, I find the dialogue stilted. 
Yesterday, I went to the pool and swam short laps for half an hour.  

In trying to write something important, I write something unimportant.  
The agent is not taking any new work at the moment, no matter the quality of the submission.
The wind is blowing the door open and closed.  Here, a woman, looking so old. 


Art School Teacher: Creative Habit Class, Improvised

Not feeling up for what I have planned, I ask the students if they would rather watch videos than do activities.

But now they are curious.  What kind of activities? they ask.

I don't feel up to explaining, so we just do them.


(as experienced by the audience and performers before a Lawrence University concert that blended movement, writings of ethnomusicologists, and improvised soundscapes)

Stand in a circle, shoulder to shoulder, and pass a sound, person to person, 
letting it change as it moves though you.  
No representational sounds - no words, no animal noises.

One student says he's nervous.

"Why do we get so nervous when asked to make sounds?" I wonder.

"Because we might make an embarrassing one," he says.

So the bold girl makes some embarrassing sounds and we all laugh.

And they do it!, though it keeps breaking down at the most introverted girl who is so pained by the prospect that all she can do is shrug and mumble, "I don't know."


(as imagined the hour before class, wanting to honor a student's suggestion that we all bring in objects this week and wanting to experiment with sound and movement since we so often stick to paper and pen)

Choose an object.
Make up a sound for the object.  
Practice the sound until you are comfortable with it.  
Carrying the object, walk around the room making only the sound of the object.  
When you encounter someone, without talking, teach each other the sounds of your objects.  
Trade objects.  
Walk around with your new object and new sound.  
Continue trading.

They do it!, though the most introverted girl is still so pained that the sound for every object she gets turns into a very quiet "hm?"


Add a movement to go with the sound for the object. 
Walk around trading objects, sounds, and movements with those you encounter.

All is going great, but I'm worrying that they will get bored, wondering perhaps as I am, where is this going?  I cut the activity short and then lose my chutzpah to keep going with the plan to combine objects into compositions; still-lifes with the objects and movement sound sculptures with our bodies.


Instead we sit down and I ask them, what can we do with these objects, sounds, movements?  One girl says we could take one object and stand in a circle and pass the object around and everyone can make a new sound for it.  We try it but abandon it after one round.


Another girl suggests that we make a story, each person adding one word as we go around a circle.  A non sequitor, yes, but everyone seems enthusiastic about the idea.  So we go around adding one word at a time and quickly have a very silly and nonsensical story about a cat, an octopus, a cookie, and a priest.  Everyone seems to enjoy it, except for the terribly shy girl who shrugs every time she must add a word until someone gives her a suggestion which she repeats so quietly, no one can hear.

After several times around, afraid to lose the tenuous hold we have on a story, I wonder if its best to now stop.  The students agree.


But there are still ten minutes left of class.  So I pass out index cards and suggest that we each draw a character from the silly story we collectively wrote.


We put all the portraits in a row on the table and look at them.  No one has anything to say about it, so we stand in silence.

I ask if any of them listen to Welcome to Night Vale which I happened to hear for the first time last week. The bold girl throws both her hands into the air and squeals that she LOVES Welcome to Night Vale.  I don't know why, but in some obtuse way, this reminds me of that.  The bold girl frowns.  The others just shrug.  The introverted girl sits with her head hanging, her hair covering her face.  And then the bell rings.


Little Library Find

Dear Ms. Mendelsohn,

This week I've been reading your book I Was Amelia Earhart, reading it slowly, rereading the particularly haunting parts (the heat wave, the storm) and last night stayed up late finishing it and am now buoyed by its beauty.  I too have tried to imagine what happened on the way to Howland and wrote this poem that we turned into a now lost song:

Fly Amelia Earhart Fly,

To Howland.
To Howland.

Fly Amelia Earhart Fly,

1000 feet high.
1000 feet high.

Fly Amelia Earhart Fly,

The ocean rushing towards the sky.
The ocean rushing towards the sky.

Fly Amelia Earhart Fly.

So, how happy I am to have found your imaginings, mine being so feeble.  I am enthralled by the intermix of first and third person and intrigued by Amelia's ever-after with Noonan and fascinated by your process of writing a straight narrative three times longer before having the insight for your revision.  

I'm looking forward to reading your other books, not looking for more of the same, I understand, but more of these types of visions that bring me closer to my own humanity.  

Thank you for your writings,

Joanna Dane

Ambient Ambivalence

Lately I've been struck by the wrinkling in my hands, how the skin near the knuckles folds over itself without springing back. 

More startling are the eyelids and how when I draw my finger across them, the skin bunches like a wet towel, and pauses. Why spring back when it's easier not to?

My skin sprouts spots, tags, and occasional whiskers I can feel growing, spiraling from my chin.

I write with a purple glitter pen.  It glides smoothly leaving lines that sparkle with the reflection of the gray sky.

I've been gloomy since Thanksgiving when returning to my regular routine forced me to confront my ambivalence about my work. 

I've been taking long walks and reading novels from the little free library.  

I haven't bothered to figure out how to set up my new computer.  

I don't feel like buying Christmas presents.  

Yesterday, I had to hold myself back from weeping at the sweetest little piano performances by tiny children whose feet didn't yet touch the floor.

Menopause? Privileged Middle American Mid-life Crisis? Angst of an Amateur Improviser?

I know it will pass.

I remind myself to sit with it, to be okay with it.

How much attention is enough?  How much is too much?

I drink coffee in Adam's kitchen. We talk about work and how there is something about the Believer that he doesn't get either, though he too enjoys it as a physical object.

I get gloomy when I read the interview with Miranda July not because I am unhappy with her achievements, but rather I am disappointed in mine.

sit to write with the intention of being as honest as I can. I try not to scratch out every word.


Something Like Nothing

The Believer comes wrapped in plastic unlike the other magazines I get.  I don’t know why.  Is the decision to wrap the magazine in plastic made by one person, or a committee?  Were relationships broken in the making of the decision?  Are some people still bitter about it?  Regretful at how things have turned out? 

The Believer, also unlike other magazines I get, gives me an unsettling feeling.  I don’t know exactly why.  I like the color and shape and design of the cover and the feel of the paper, but the content of the magazine makes me somehow uncomfortable.  And I can’t quite explain why.  There is something there I don’t get and in every issue there is only one article I am able to read.  I don’t know why that is, but it is that way.

One article I was able to read in a past issue was an interview with R. Crumb, and the thing I remember about that article was his comment that he doesn’t understand what the magazine is all about either.  

Still, I rip the plastic off The Believer with an eagerness I can’t explain.  On the back cover, I see the name Miranda July.  I like that name.  I’ve liked it ever since I first saw it on a paperback with a yellow cover.  I can’t remember where I encountered the book but I liked the simple yellow cover and I liked the name: Miranda, my niece’s name, July, a month in the summer.  I read the book and liked it very much, so now I read the interview with Miranda July. 

Meanwhile, The Little Gentleman and my son are giggling in the kitchen.  Last week, they put a  sesame bagel on the fan blade and everyday The Little Gentleman comes over to check if it is still there.  That bagel anonymously spinning around and around makes The Little Gentleman giggle uncontrollably.  My son is annoyed that he wasted an hour of his life watching Judge Judy and announces that it must be the dumbest show ever made.  When I was his age I felt that way about The Love Boat and yet I watched it everyday after school.

The sun is shining but I am glum that the interview with Miranda July is making me glum.  It has nothing to do with Miranda July whose name I so like and has everything to do with me. 


Dear Dear Subscribers,

A Terminal Case of Whimsy is no longer offering subscriptions.

Thank you for your support during this experimental period.

Your contributions were greatly appreciated and used to support other whimsical projects and publications.

Wishing you a beautiful day,



Art School Teacher: On Failure

I bring to class a box full of little clear boxes each containing one tiny item. I have used them before, prompting lively writing assignments. So I spread the little boxes out on the tables and ask the students to walk around and look at them.

They do, but then I realize I don't remember what exactly we did with the little boxes to prompt the lively writing assignments, so I lamely tell them to use the items in the boxes to inspire some sort of art piece.

Some of the students start to write but others just sit looking bored.  I myself have no idea what to write about the items in the boxes.  So I make a list of all the items and think I should have had them make a list of all the items too and then do something with it.  But what?  I can think of nothing.  The room is quiet enough to hear one student sigh, another roll her eyes.  I panic and run to the supply room to gather construction paper, scissors, glue, trying to think of some way to save the class from failure.

Upon returning I try to sound excited challenging them to now transform what they have done so far into something new using the construction paper, scissors, glue.  One girl puts her head on the desk and sleeps; a boy texts with his mother about the two goldfish in a baggie another teacher gave him when I was out of the room; one violently attacks a piece of construction paper with a scissors.  I cut up the list of items I wrote and glue them to black paper hoping it will be interesting.  It is not.    

With ten minutes to go, I try one more time to salvage what little is left of class.

"What can we do with a failure?" I ask.

"We can crumple it up and throw it away," suggests one student.

"We can transform it into something else," says another.

"Or we can just accept it for what it is. Learn from it," offers a third.

I admit to them that I think the class I presented today was a failure. 

They seem surprised.  One student claims she was inspired to write a story about the candy wrapper in the little box and is planning on finishing it at home.  Another observes that everyone was focused and quiet and that was nice.  Another says that she thought it was fun, trying to come up with something creative to do.

Perhaps they're just being kind, but I'll take it as a sign that sometimes what we believe to be failure is not.