Tuesday, April 27, 2010

micah ling.

I just purchased Three Islands by Micah Ling. Its a pretty intersting amalgamation of poetry and exploration of juxtaposed historical characters. I once had an English course with Micah as professor. Hers’ was one of my most memorable courses at University. It felt strangely non-academic, but somehow facilitated some fantastic writing from a handful of the students. I think that the most important take-away was about having something to say. If there is something worth conveying, then the writing just sort of happens. I can’t remember if I came to the realization on my own during the course or if she made a point of it, but craft always follows perspective. It’s the reason for Faulkner’s genius and the existence of high school English teachers.

I remember she never corrected my punctuation, which made me feel pretty good. She did hate the passive voice, I remember, and I’m still pretty lazy about correcting it. To be truthful, I still have to look back at my old grammar handbook that I was forced to purchase five years ago to even realize the difference.

If you want to find someone passionate about what they do, seek out an adjunct professor. I remember one of the greatest feelings I had at school was receiving a paper back from her with no markings until the last page, which just had an A circled in red ink. I am not sure if she was just busy or rushed and didn’t have time to go through the whole thing, but that can make a kid feel pretty stupendous. It was validation for a guy that really wasn’t all that confident yet. I remember that I spent hours and hours pouring over ever sentence and every paragraph the two nights leading up to turning it in, and it wasn’t because I was fascinated with the research or really wanted to learn, but rather, for the first time, I had something to say. Something important, that seemed urgent at the time, the sort of work that made writing feel more like uncovering an artifact that had always been there but no one had ever taken the time to be seen. I entered that essay into the campus literary journal in 2009, and it ended up being my first published work.

I think now of what I want my life to look like in five and ten years. I’ve wondered for a while what book I would choose to write if the opportunity came. I have always wanted to be John Gierach, because I think essays and short stories are so crafty and convey such skill. I guess the novel would be great, but I am not sure that I have the stones for fiction and I’m really not much of a story-teller. More importantly, the question is and should be, what book is your life writing? What do you have to actually say? And I think that I’m ok with ‘I don’t know’ for now.

A review of Three Islands to follow.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

birdnests and circle hooks.

I used the word ‘fleshy’ to describe a fish last night. The Spanish Mackeral flaked off of the smoker and the smells permeated across the yard. It’s a combination of dill weed and salt water that almost brings the ocean home. April offshore trips are perfect. The mornings are cold and it makes you feel more seasoned than you are. The tourists have left, and they will return with the better weather, but for now it feels like the only people here are the ones in on the secret.

The Macks take well and keep you occupied. They are for the smoker, a sort of consolation from the ocean that keeps you fed and relieves the monotony. Beer is God’s consolation for slow fishing. Knots amaze me, as does someone who knows a thing or two about finding and catching the invisible monsters from Earth’s last real wilderness. 

The Pilar was once the world’s most successful offshore sport fishing boat. Hemingway was a successful writer because he was successful at everything else. He didn’t need an imagination; he had already lived it all. He described writing short stories like they had already existed, that all they needed were some words on paper so that others could imagine what he had already accomplished. He didn’t ‘write’ stories, he ‘knew’ stories. I think about what it must have been like on that boat. Imagine the pressure of fishing with a man who believed that the whole world could never really keep up with him. It took a plane crash, a bush fire, and a lifetime long booze binge for the world to finally catch back up.

Captains have an enviable sense of self-reliance. Persistence, accuracy, and faith supplement a concrete belief in systems and cycles. It is Cobia season, and the shit of it is the same as the success: it’s just staring. Staring hard, for hours, looking to find that one brown shark of a fish just close enough for casting. He watches the water, we watch him, like following a guide who has no map. We’re not quite sure what we’re looking for, but this guy seems to think that he does so we might as well shut up and not get left behind.

And it comes together like lightning, and the friends are radioed while the enemy boats are scoffed at. We’ll never know what they caught, but to hell with ‘em while we bask in the ‘fish on.’ You reel in, I’ll keep you fueled with beer and we’ll all meet at the propane fryer to drink too much and fall asleep.

Happy Hunting,


Monday, April 12, 2010

the two in the bush.

We’re lucky to have one of the best urban fly shops in the country here in Tennessee. I find myself just hanging around more often; it’s the one part of the city that doesn’t incubate my nasty little habits. There aren’t any sitting chairs really, but that’s not a terrible thing. I think it is suppose to remind the urban folk to get off of their asses. Urban folks do a lot of running, and its mostly just in a circle, which makes me chuckle a bit, and probably because I’m a means to an end sort of guy. I think that is one reason that a fly shop in the middle of a city is both appropriate and necessary, to remind people like me that there is always something on the end of the line that needs to be stripped in. I don’t think it was designed with that in mind, but nonetheless it holds.

We’re more of a trial by failure pair of anglers, Sam and I. And it’s a process, but little victories keep it moving. The first fish on a new rod is special, a sort of ‘at least the damn thing works’ occurrence. Sam got a new four weight last season, beautiful rod, and he missed six strikes in a row on the Elk the first day he brought it out. I picked it up and switched to a smaller wooly, then landed a respectable ten-inch rainbow in the first five casts. It felt like kissing your best friends sister and then having to tell him that you liked it. At least the damn thing works.

I got my own four-weight this season, and with respect to my own sister, didn’t share it until there was a fish in hand. I suppose I owe him one. Angling is a win some, lose some proposition, and just like hunting, the odds are better when there is someone else around to pick up the slack. When we were trolling for mackerels last summer, I was doubled over barfing up the morning while he made sure we didn’t come home fools. Tiny victories, and maybe we’re even after all.

As for the season, I don’t know that it could improve much more. Life is good. Mean streaks come and go, and the more questions you ask the more you miss the ride. It’s better just to enjoy it. It seems like everyone in my little network of hunting friends is having an amazingswell of spring success. At the Lady’s farm we killed three birds over the Easter holiday. I am not sure how I can tell the story, except to say that two in the hand beats the hell out of one, and that something sure clicked with Alex and the slate call.

It really is beautiful to hunt the wild turkey. I think that Ben Franklin described them as noble, which is hard to argue against. More than any other game animal, the turkey requires a delicate hand and a subtle respect for silence and form. It is a nimble art.  Calling a turkey feels like walking a tight rope, a ‘just enough’ understanding of the razor-thin line between sensuality and violence. And when everything comes together, the early morning taste of tobacco, the whisper of fan feathers dragging across an oak bottom and the smell of gunpowder from a smoking barrel, life if perfect.

photos c/o alex wilson