I Submit to You… a Productive Day


Above is the fruit of over four years of labor – the guts of Delight in Disorder: Meditations from a Bipolar Mind, packaged in an attractive black binder, with a query letter and author’s card attached to the front.  Early tomorrow morning, I will put it in the mail to Jon Pott, Editor-in-Chief at Eerdmans Publishing.

To read more, simply click on the title below…

“I Submit to You… a Productive Day”

Saudi Arabia, Art’s Perspective, and Piranha

This afternoon I attended a reading at Boxcar Books sponsored by the Writer’s Guild at Bloomington.  There were three scheduled readers and an open mic.


Molly Gleeson opened up the program with a reading of her memoir My Heart is a Wilderness about her experiencing teaching English in Saudi Arabia.  Gleeson poignantly depicted the black-robed women as the “walking dead” and the white-robed men as the “ghosts” who haunt them.  She described keeping house in a “palatial” yet “entirely beige” apartment.   She visited with other international teachers, but admitted she felt very much alone – a stranger in a strange land.

Next up was  Beau Vallance.  Vallance has served as education director for major museums.  She explained her approach to encourage students to imagine stories behind the works displayed.  She read examples of this work from an article she had published “The Adventures of Artemis and the Llama”.  The stories told tales of how the art was formed, acquired, moved, misplaced, collected, and finally displayed – both from a narrative point of view and in 1st person (as the work itself).  The Llama as a play companion with a G.I. Joe.  Artemis as a lawn ornament weaved the stories into the narrative of “Toy Story”, reflecting both on the value of being “handled” and being “admired”.


The featured reader, all the way from L.A. (though with roots in Bloomington) was  Frank Montesonti.  Frank read from his 2011 Barrow Street Prize winning collection of poems – Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope.  His poems are vivid and concrete.  They tell a story – at times through dialogue, at times through images.  The titles are descriptive – “Best Deaths” about an ancient Spartan who died after his son won the Olympics and Don Doane from Ravenna, Michigan, who died after bowling a perfect game.  “Those Anomalies at a Party When Everyone Suddenly Falls Silent” and “Inventors of Sadness Learn to Use What They Have the Wrong Ways” and “When You Left I Started a Garden” serve as self-contained stories (and the poems themselves only enhance them).

One of my favorites was “Piranha” – which he said was about teaching creative writing.  I obtained Frank’s permission to reprint it here.  I would encourage you, however, to consider purchasing Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope through Barrow Street Press.


I try to tell my students to use images:

                say, a piranha eating an apple

       or a piranha flying through the air

               and biting a woman’s jugular.

Maybe you could say that when the blood

sprays from the woman’s neck it looks like, hmm,

a red Chinese fan.

When I’m asked what a poem should be like,

I simply state the fact that a full-size cow can walk into a river

and a school of piranha can devour it in two minutes.

They work their way into the belly and eat out the soft organs.

Then the skin and head dance on top of the water.

Frank, do all our poems have to be about piranhas?

a student asks — the piranha.

No, no, not if you don’t want them to be about piranhas,

I tell her, of course

I really don’t see the point

of not writing about piranhas:

that moment when the water starts to break and pop

before the frenzy.


The open mic afterwards went well.  I read the scene “The Walmart Way” from The Pursuit of Happiness.  There were no “amens”, “hallelujahs”, or “preach it, brothers” – but I did get one laugh which felt very nice.

Aimless Longing in “The Other Place” by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood - Moral Disorder and Other Stories

“The Other Place” (found in Moral Disorder and other stories) by Margaret Atwood is more of a character sketch than a sustained story.  It’s not great, but very good, and there is some wonderful writing in it.  Rather than a standard review, I would like to walk through the narrative and display some of the beautiful linguistic scenery along the way.

Told from the perspective of a young woman making her way alone in the world, Atwood describes her longing and sense of powerlessness –

For a long time I wandered aimlessly.  It felt like a long time.  It didn’t feel aimless, however, or not in any carefree way: I was being driven by necessity, by fate, like the characters in the more melodramatic novels I’d read in high school who would rush out into thunderstorms and lurk around on moors.  Like them I had to keep moving.  I couldn’t help it.

She was pressed to pursue… pursue what?  It’s not like she is on a mission.  At the same time, she is distanced from the life laid out for her, handed down through the generations, portrayed by her parents rushing about doing gardening and dishes at home.

They were immersed in mundane affairs, they were not contemplating any higher truths.  I’d feel superior to them.  Then I’d feel homesick.

“Meanwhile, I had to make a living,” she writes.  Fortunately, there were jobs to be found for women with her intellect.

I thought of myself as an itinerant brain– the equivalent of the strolling player of Elizabethan times, or else a troubadour, clutching my university degree like a cheap lute.

At the university gatherings, the male faculty saw her as free game for “trial gropings” while their wives looked on her “as if she had head lice.”  She stood alone, like the cheese in “Hi-ho, the derry-o“.  She fails to find liberation in the sexual revolution, too old for the “love beads and pothead crowd.”  Instead, she lives on the edge – in rooming houses, shared apartments and sublets – filling her space with “makeshift items from thrift stores”.

The objects I chose were designed to hold something, but I didn’t fill them.  They remained empty.  They were little symbolic shrines to thirst.

She manages to land a job teaching grammar to freshmen at a university in Vancouver.  She moves into an upstairs apartment.  She walks through the rooms naked and wears herself out reading late at night.  Sometimes she goes for walks.

A friend introduces her to Owen – a man more desperately alone than she is.  He drops by at night – not really courting her, not really befriending her, just sort of hanging out.

One night Owen tells her his brothers once tried to kill him by locking him in an abandoned refrigerator.  She wonders if this explains his desperate sadness.  Is he suicidal?

I felt I should respond in some empathetic way, declare a firm position, reach out a helping hand.  My eventual murmur of “That’s terrible.” didn’t seem nearly enough.  Worse: I had a shameful desire to laugh, because the thing was so grotesque, as near-tragedies often are.  Surely, I lacked empathy, or even simple kindness.

Owen must have felt so too, because after that evening he never came back.  Or possibly, he’d done what he’d wanted to do: dropped off his anguish, left it with me like a package in the mistaken belief that I would know what to do with it.

If you have a story you’d recommend I read and review, leave a comment or e-mail me: johnprine1982@gmail.com

image above  Sara Benitez in Books Worth Reading

“Life”, “Liberty”, and “The Pursuit of Happiness” Conceived

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness by sea turtle

 After wrapping up a working draft of my short story “The Pursuit of Happiness”, I have conceived of a trilogy of stories – to include the prequels “Life” and “Liberty”.  Today I sketched out 25 scene sentences for “Liberty” and I’m carrying the concept for “Life” in my head now, planning to sketch it out this afternoon.  How about a sneak preview?

In “Life”, we meet high school sweethearts Rachel and Steven the night before she goes to college (the year is 1963).  Steven is going to work at a local factory – Cummins Diesel Engines, and Rachel is going to Indiana University to become a teacher.  As the story progresses, they struggle to maintain their relationship with conflicting values.  Steven is a staunch Presbyterian, believing God brought them together for a purpose.  Rachel is woman of her times, drawn into the fervor of new ideas about love, life, and happiness.

The distance between Rachel and Steven widens and she decides to look for companionship elsewhere.  Steven’s attempts to pursue her go for naught.

In a short while, something significant happens in Rachel’s life that will cause her to question the meaning and purpose of life.  She doesn’t know where to turn.  Will she go back to Steven?  Will he come back to her?  What will be the cost and consequences?

“Liberty” begins at freshman orientation – Hanover College, 1982.  David Johnson comes from a “traditional family” with “traditional values”.  He is struck by the liberty he encounters on campus – particularly sexually and theologically.  He is led to a point of crisis where he must ask such questions as , “Who am I?” and “Does God exist?”.  Along the way he faces the paradox that liberty and bondage are often flipsides of the same coin.

So, I have a story (actually 3 in 1) fully conceived and over 1/3 written.  If I maintain my pace of writing 2 scenes a day, I should finish the trilogy in about a month.

But in addition to a story, I have a dream.  I’ve just messaged a former classmate who is now the theater director at Hanover as well as a former professor and the former theater director (when I went there).   My dream is to ultimately premiere this trilogy at Hanover with various alums and professors (as well as current students) playing a part.  To realize this dream, I’m hoping I can work out  an agreement to become a writer-in-residence (and maybe help teach some writing classes) at Hanover so I could compose the play in a creative environment where I could interact with people who know theater a lot better than I do.

Anyway, that’s my dream.  What’s yours?

(image “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of…” from sea turtle, some rights reserved)

Eight Thrifty Writing Posts on WordPress Today

winter scene

The air is brisk outside.  Ice-encrusted snow continues to make walking hazardous.  It’s been a good day to stay inside.  Listening to George Jones.  Leaning back on this electric recliner.  Being grateful I’m not out filling pot holes or patrolling city streets.

Instead, I’m reading blog posts on writing to share with you.    Here are some good ones you might want to check out.

30 Stories, Day 6: The Door” (The Read Room) offers a review of E.B. White’s “The Door”… “a wonderfully nonsensical story by a renowned grammar nazi!”

7 Lessons Learned From Blogging Every Day of 2012” (Next Practices) reveals some insights gained from a discipline of daily writing.

Thank you, George Washington” (My Teaching Portfolio) shares a class writing assignment and gives an example of one wondrous result.

She Was a Few of His Favorite Things” (charlottesville winter) responds to a writing prompt by celebrating and bemoaning the unrequited love of artist and muse.

“… and our hearts forever” (mothering spirit)  pays tribute to an alma mater – Notre Dame – a place to grow in faith and love as a person and as a writer.

The black in my blood” (Writer Michael Burge) describes one man’s ambivalent journey from the country to the city (and back again).

A Christian Writer’s Confession” (John Erik Patterson) points to the temptation “just below the surface” to lead a wild and reckless life (for which many artists become known).

May All Your Dreams Come True, with No Expiration Date” (Kaye Munroe Writes, Too) details the hard work of one artist realizing her dream of publishing a book.

(image “Ottawa Ontario Canada March 2011” from dugspr — Home for Good, some rights reserved)