East of the Malpaís: worn yellow sandstone patched with gray lichen, overlooking black lava with gray-green sage and lichen.
When I was small, I dreamed about owning a house carved into a rock. Here it was: a hollowed-out, round cave, just the right size for a child. It was cool inside. The oval doorway framed the extraordinary ordinary lava world outside.
At Zuni Pueblo, a storymaking workshop for 3rd, 4th, 5th graders. Writers can’t be restrained from doodling while they think, so we covered the new library tabletops with yellow butcher paper. When we cleaned up on Friday—the kids long gone—among the smudgy misspellings and graffiti was this drawing, unsigned.
Even when I don’t want to write, if I begin, the flow begins: very steady, like blood, or a river.
Year after year I hiked down Frijoles Canyon to the Rio Grande. The river is always there. In different seasons it is different colors—tan in March, emerald in October—and has different water levels, and the sky above changes color and temperature.
Not just aliens but all speakers of imaginary languages. Think about it. A polytheist who says “My god!” means something quite different than does a monotheist—and wouldn’t capitalize.
In Listening at the Gate I needed an epithet for use by Nondany, the itinerant master folklore collector. I settled on “By life!” I like it so much I want to get a slang wave going.
Recently a librarian nailed me with a steel eye and asked whether there was any “bad language” in the novel. I explained that it took place in an imaginary culture, but since all cultures have profanity, I’d had to invent some. She looked baffled. And bought the book.
“If you ask: Why spend time on a writer of escape literature? please consider for a moment the position that the literature of fantasy and science fiction provides more direct functional access to reality than any other modern work of the intellect. When experience is rendered ineffable by a rate of change that undermines the meanings of language, a literature that has evolved to speak out from the middle of the waterfall of ideas can continue to engage and to convey the most important meanings. And this is not a new discovery. The oldest roots and origins of literature, the epics of Gilgamesh and Innana, the Odyssey, the Iliad, all are either fantasy, if you do not believe in the Gods, or science fiction, if you do.”
Margot Adler, Heretic’s Heart: A Journey Through Spirit and Revolution
Who am I? A writer or an illustrator? Which? Both?
For years I drove myself insane with that question. Sometimes quite theatrically. “Is there a name for somebody who isn’t just an artist and isn’t just a writer but is something that doesn’t really have a name? How do I tell people what I ‘do’? What am I?”
Many a 2 a.m. distress session there. Until a friend clarified things.
He said, “Your nouns are fighting each other: artist vs. writer. If you used verbs instead—I’m painting or I’m writing—then it’s just a question of time allocation.”