“A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them. That is, he does not draw on a reservoir, he engages in an activity.”
– William Stafford
I was twelve years old, and I was sitting in the sunroom in the apartment that my family rented, at 3305 Harriet Avenue, in South Minneapolis.
The sun room was in the front of the house, just off the living room, on the other side of a set of French glass doors, and adjacent to a three-season porch.
I was sitting in the sunroom, on a wooden chair, a library chair with my hands at a typewriter that I had set up on a folding table, a T.V. stand, that had once belonged to my grandmother Audry, my mother’s mother.
There were other people home. The oldest of my three older sisters, Ann was visiting. She was in the room with me, and she was talking to me about what I was doing. I was beginning to write a book, the first of many books that I began to write but never finished.
It was the Spring of 1981, I was finishing the sixth grade at Lyndale elementary. I was an avid reader. I was beginning work on my own novel, something in the tradition of The Lord of the Rings, or The Chronicles of Narnia, both of which I had read multiple time already.
I was typing.
For the next fifteen years my writing drifted back and forth from typewriter, to notepad to keyboard to note pad.
I do most of writing at the key board now.
When I write with pens or pencils, or a stylus of any kind, I use a backward grip, like a lefty.
It is possible that I was left handed once, because there are other things that I do with that part of my brain; shoot pool, throw darts etc…I might have been one of those lefty kids that was forcibly corrected to the mainstream.
With a note pad at my desk, and a pen in my hand, the writing flows vertically, as if I am pushing the words out, and away from me.
I get some pleasure from writing by hand.
As I have said, I mostly write at the keyboard.
The percussive feeling of typing, of striking the keys, of pushing the buttons is more comforting than pleasing.
It is comforting and familiar to brush my finger tips across the board, to press the desired character, to see it in the corner of my eye, appear on the screen.
On those rare moments that I am writing with pen and paper, sitting at a café, composing my thoughts and musings, that pleasurable sense is akin to nostalgia, a reminiscence that flows over me when I draw out the letters, to illustrate the words, to form sentences in a large flowing script.
It is like the airing out of a dusty room. The cobwebs in my mind are gathered and removed with the point of the instrument.
I write on a computer.
I keep my files in the cloud.
I have a lap-top, but I use a full size keyboard and mouse.
On a shelf by the side of desk are three containers full of pencils and pens, and a notepad on my desk just sitting there like a security blanket.
I have push pins at hand, Scotch tape, 3 x 5 cards, yellow post it notes, paper clips, and other clips, tacks, staples, a stapler and other scraps of paper.
I have all the tools I need for note taking or composition.
I have visual aids to remind me of what processes I will employ, what structures I want to adhere to. They are taped at eye level right in front of my face, and on either side of my monitor.
This place I have constructed for my imagination has changed much since I was a child, and was first learning to read and write, first learning the nature and use of symbols for the mind.
I remember the summer of 1974.
I was five years old and I was about to start kindergarten.
I knew that alphabet song, of course. I liked to sing it backwards.
A few weeks before school started I was very concerned that I did not know how to write my name, and I wanted to learn it, to practice it.
I have three older sisters. The oldest of them, Ann, she helped me. My other two sisters; Darcy, and Raney told me that I did not need to learn to write my name before school started; that is what they would teach me in school, they said.
I remember sitting down with Ann on the dining room floor, with a blue crayon in my hand, and a piece of lined paper. I practiced and practiced.
I wanted Ann to stay there with me and watch me do it, but after she saw me write my name onto the paper three or four times, she saw that I had it down. I knew the letters of my name, she felt that her job was done.
Without an audience, I grew bored as well. It was anti-climactic.
I am not sure exactly how I knew how to spell.
We had a puzzle set with wooden cut outs of the alphabet, I remember placing the cut out pieces into the tray where they belonged, each piece fit into its own spot, the alphabet (all uppercase) and the number line too.
We had alphabet blocks. Each block, a cube with a scored surface on its top and bottom; making it easy to stack them. There was an uppercase and lowercase image of every letter, and a couple of pictures of things whose names started with those letters.
A was for alligator, B for bumble bee.
Playing with those puzzles and blocks, touching them day after day, that must have been how I learned to put in order the letters for my name.
I was not a particularly accomplished hand-writer. I resisted learning cursive in elementary school. Those lessons began in the third grade.
I “printed” most of the homework and classwork that I turned in.
I sped through my cursive lessons as quickly as possible, knowing that when I was done I could move on to reading.
Reading was the most joyful part of my day.
Today my handwriting looks like a mixture of printing and cursive, with printing being the dominant form.
I could never write a whole paragraph in cursive form, though it is possible that I would write a long piece with only printed characters.
The norm for me is for some letters to loop together, and other letters will stand alone…rather than calling it printing or cursive, you might call it prinsive or cursing… I am not sure.
My handwriting has and always has been legible.
I received passing marks on it when I was in school, but never any stars.
We had books at home.
I loved to read: Mother Goose, the Anderson Brothers and the Brothers Grim fairy tales, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Reader’s Digest Versions of Greek and Roman myths, Time Life collections of modern classics; Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson and others.
I was neither encouraged nor discouraged from reading those books, I read them of my own volition.
I began playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was seven years old. I was entering the 2nd Grade.
The game was brand new to the world, all of the rules were written in a couple of thin pamphlets, and in the back pages of a magazine.
I played with my older brother and his friends.
I read the rule books that came along with it. They were mostly charts, with statistics and tables detailing the odds and likelihoods, chances of success, and the consequences of failure.
In the 2nd grade the librarian at Kenwood Elementary would not let me check out books that were above my grade level, which at that time were all picture books.
We had a very nice copy of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, which I began reading in the third grade.
It was hardcover, and dark green, with fine milled pages, and glossy illustrations, and it sat on a shelf in a case for its protection.
It took me a long time to finish it, and when I did, started over, and began to read the Lord of the Rings, and other modern fantasies as well; the Chronicles of Narnia et al…
I read and re-read the books that enjoyed. I read them over and over. I read them in a round, like I was singing Row Row Row Your Boat.
My mom was critical of the fact that I was not reading more broadly, she thought I was stuck on Tolkien and Lewis, or stuck in a science fiction/fantasy genre, she pushed me to read other things
She only knew about the things she saw me reading, She did not know the other things grabbed my attention, and I did not always tell her.
The librarian at the Walker Library gave me a lot of attention.
She talked to me and listened to me tell her about what I was reading and she helped me branch out into unedited/unabridged version of Greek and Roman myths, and especially King Arthur. My relationship with her began in the summer after the 4th grade, when I would stop at the library after the Wednesday afternoon monster matinees at the Uptown Theatre near my house.
The guys who ran the comic shop on 32nd and Hennepin encouraged me to read, not only comics (which I read in abundance), but other authors as well; like George Orwell, Dostoyevsky, the books they were reading in college.
The comic shop was called Comic City then, it is called the college of comic book knowledge now.
I hung out there several days a week usually stopping on my way to and from the library.
I had a big brother from the Big Brothers Corporation of America, his name was John.
He bought me books, and he tried to get me to branch out fantasy, into science fiction, to read authors like Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury.
He gave me a copy of Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave, part one of her Merlin Trilogy, which I read in the summer after the fifth grade.
Reading that book, exposed to me for the first time, a well formed idea of ancient Celtic culture, to the Druids, and to the Roman mystery cult of Mithraism.
This proved to be crucial for my developing interest in religion.
He also encouraged me to read magazines like: Discover, Scientific America, and Omni all of which he subscribed to and he would give me his old copies.
My friend Cecil gave me his copy of the bible, the margins were full of his notes. He gave this to me when I was in the sixth grade. It was the first bible that I ever read from cover to cover (complete with his notes).
My teachers at Lyndale Elementary encouraged me to read, and beginning in about the sixth grade they encouraged me to write.
Starting in the 5th grade they would release me from the classroom during the daily reading time, and let to go to the library where I pursued my own program.
My teacher, Ms. Wangerin heavily encouraged, she devised reading lists for me.
I read everything put in front of me, and I wrote book reports for her.
This same year I memorized a poem, and then recited it in front of my class.
I was moving at a very rapid pace beginning to read two or three books at a time, always reading or re-reading something by Tolkien or C. S. Lewis, always reading something new.
In the 6th grade I began to read Tolkien’s more complicated books, his Silmarillion and his Unfinished Tales.
In the 7th grade I was branching out into reference books relating to Middle Earth, and then I read a biography of Tolkien.
When I started reading Tolkien’s autobiography I began to get a picture of what a writer’s life was about.
I wanted to emulate him.
His life story inspired me.
I wanted to read more about all of the authors that I liked, and to learn about how they constructed the worlds they described, and the epics they heralded.
My mom bought me a book of poetry when I was in the 8th grade, I no longer have that book, but the poets name was Kavanaugh.
I began writing poetry that same year, and the following year my sister’s bought me a collection of The Best Loved Poems of the American People, that book is on my shelf still.
I was fairly competent at spelling, but not perfect.
I never entered a competition to test myself against others.
I cannot recall ever being assigned a writing exercise as punishment.
In elementary school I was always willing to stay behind and wash the chalk board.
I enjoyed games like hangman, I always enjoyed using the word “zephyr” on a new group of kids, a word which I had learned from Dungeons & Dragons.
I stopped paying attention in class when it came time to learn how to diagram sentences.
I do not remember doing anything of the sort in elementary or middle school, but it was a part of the 9th grade curriculum, and I was content to never turn in any of that homework, and fail those lessons alltogether.
My grammar is fine, though on occasion I write a long sentence, and I might quibble with an editor over the placement of a comma; I occasionally misuse the semicolon.
I remember once in the 4th grade getting stuck, experiencing a mental block on how to spell the word “use.” I spelled it, “youse” and the teacher called me to her desk about that.
I was embarrassed.
I knew that I was spelling the word wrong even as I was printing it, but for some reason I could not think my way around it.
As an undergraduate I often chaffed when a teacher in a philosophy class or a theology class would take points off a paper for grammar and spelling.
This did not have a huge impact on me but it did have some.
I was especially perturbed when they would do this in areas of grammar where the rules are “gray,” un-fixed, and where the writer has some choice.
I dropped out of high school when I was fifteen years old.
I did not take another writing class or English class, or a class of any kind until I was nineteen.
I started back up at the Minneapolis Community College.
I was enrolled in a remedial writing course.
We were asked to write a couple of paragraphs every day. The first paragraphs that I turned in came back to me covered in red ink. All of the professor’s comments were related to punctuation.
I was embarrassed.
The teacher was very kind, and he explained in very simple terms how to use a comma, period, and a semicolon.
No one else has ever explained it so clearly.
Even I cannot recreate his simple mode of instruction, but following his guidance, every assignment I turned in thereafter was perfect.
a. A period is used to end a complete clause
b. A comma may be used in a place of a period at any time, because a comma can be used in two ways; either to join a complete clause to an incomplete clause, or to join two complete clauses.
c. A semicolon can may be used to join a two complete clauses, in which the subjects or main ideas of each clause are closely related. It may also be used to break up parts of a list.
When I was in my early twenties I read my poetry at open mic readings around town.
I have been doing that again over the last year, now that I am in my late forties.
I read at a little café in town of Twenty-nine Palms, California; when I was in the Navy.
I won a third place prize for composition and recitation.
I still have the little framed plaque, and have listed that achievement on my curriculum vitae:
Third Place, Thornton Desert Poetry Reading and Composition 1993.
I earned an A in my English 110 class at The University of St. Thomas.
The class was taught by Leslie Miller, a poet.
The class had an emphasis on the analysis of poetry and plays. It was a lot of work, and I was very proud of that grade because many of the English majors I spoke to about it were surprised that I had earned an A from Leslie Miller.
I was encouraged, and so I enrolled in a poetry writing class with the same professor.
Later, I had to withdraw from that course, taking a W because, according to Dr. Miller, whatever I was writing in her class, I was not writing poetry.
It was frustrating to hear a professor tell me that what I was writing was not poetry.
I did not understand her.
I told her that there were many thoughts in my head; ideas, arguments, anecdotes that I felt were best expressed poetically, and I asked her if this did not count as poetry.
She said it did not, because I was not working within an established medium (I was not sure how she knew this), she had us read the essay by T. S. Elliot: On Tradition and Individual Talent, and that encapsulated her view of my work.
The following is a piece I presented, and was rejected by her in class.
A Temporary Intervention in the Demise of a Drunk
His hands flail
In jagged arcs
He begs for his Lysol
Thinks it ambrosia
With a carton of cream.
Desperate for death? I ask
don't make me drink kerosene
Until that time I had been quite fond of writing out my random thoughts and feelings in verse, it had sustained me through my teen years and into young adulthood.
I thought of myself as a writer of poetry but not a poet. I knew that even when I was eighteen years old. My friend Josh asked me then whether I saw myself as a poet, or a philosopher. I did not hesitate to say that I was philosopher.
When I finally started college it was philosophy, and theology, and history that I studied.
In my first few years as an undergraduate I still wrote poetry on the side, but after that class with Leslie Miller I stopped writing verse altogether.
For the next fifteen years, hardly a single line escaped my pen.
I began keeping a journal in 1987. I was eighteen years old.
That first journal was essentially a dream journal, though officially it was a journal detailing my experiments with Astral Projection.
My friend Jeff, who was living in Maine at the time, he and I were researching the Astral plane, and through the technique of projection, we were endeavoring to meet one another in that dimension.
We both practiced the same techniques and agreed on certain, specific, visual and spatial cues, and recorded our experiences.
Though I tried, we never synched up.
My efforts resulted in my having a series of extremely vivid and controlled dreams.
The journals I kept concerned those dreams.
I never read someone else’s diary or private writing.
Growing up, watching TV, I saw several shows that outlined the privacy rules for diaries. I can recall episodes of The Brady Bunch, and Little House on the Prairie, which suggested it was a violation to look into someone else’s private world.
I understood that words were powerful.
When I was a teenager, and a political activist I made speeches and rallied people for our causes.
I understood the power of persuasion. I understood how to make people feel included our how to isolate them with words, to use my words to build them, or cut them.
Words both have the power both to harm and to heal.
Words are tricky, they deceive, create illusions.
Words foster our dependencies, they are crutches.
Words are the foundation of identity.
“Words dissemble, words be quick, words resemble walking sticks. Watch them, they will grow, watch them waiver so. I’ll always be a word man, better than a bird man.” Jim Morrison Said.
He was a word man, a writer. As I intended to be.
I have two Master’s Degrees; I completed the first in the study of Theology, with a concentration in Church History and Systematics, at Saint John’s University in Collegeville; The second in Liberal Studies, in Creative Writing Program at Hamline University in Saint Paul.
I am proud of the thesis’ I wrote for those degrees.
My work in theology was the fulfillment of an argument that I had been working on for many years.
When I was young, early in my teens I stumbled on this argument:
If God has the desire to save all people,
And if God has the power to save all people,
Then all people will be saved.
If A and B, then C
A and B, therefore C
The argument struck me as simple and beautiful, and in its simplicity it had great power.
I had tested its power in hundreds of conversations, and found it to be unassailable,
It was the 1980’s, and I was fifteen, hanging out on the street, encountering born-again Christians.
The first time I used this argument, my interlocutor became visibly confused, he could not respond to it, and he left in distress.
I experienced a sense of victory, and I was pleased.
It was not that I had won an argument with this one person, though I had.
I knew at that moment that I had won the argument against the most common understanding of Christianity, and its most harmful dogma.
I had won a historical argument.
I had won a cosmic argument.
I had used my faith that God, the creator of the universe, is a loving being, and destroyed the notion that God condemns anyone to hell.
That simple syllogism did the trick.
I was not satisfied to make this argument on street corners and in cafes. I pursued it into higher education.
I tackled various counterarguments in numerous papers as an undergraduate, while pursuing a double major in Philosophy and Theology at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul.
I took that work with me to Collegeville, and reconstructed for my first Master’s thesis, and the argument in its simplest form remained unchanged, and continued to deliver me victories.
Between 2001 when I finished at Saint John’s, and 2009 when I started at Hamline, I worked intermittently, on a variety of writing projects.
I brought nothing to fruition.
I began work on a couple of novels, I eventually quit them.
They were in the science fiction genre, I worked on them for months before I set them aside.
At that time, I lacked the will to continue, I lacked clarity and purpose, and the daily discipline to sit down and write.
The greatest obstacle in my writing life is me, I lacked sustained commitment. I had a reticence to submit my work for publication.
Poor habits, substance abuse, smoking and drinking, they ate into my time and my creative energy,
I had a fear of being accepted, a fear of not being good enough, of not being recognized.
I kept writing anyway, and eventually enrolled myself in a program to help me take my writing to a new level.
I endeavored to earn another degree, this time not because I had an argument that I wanted to win, an argument that had been driving me.
This time I was in pursuit of writing for the sake of writing, because I felt as if I had something to say, which we all do, a contribution to make.
It was 1974 and I was five years old.
I had walked the one and half blocks to my school, Calhoun Elementary, from the apartment where I lived with my family (my mother, my sisters Ann, Darcy and Raney, and my older Eric).
We lived at 1401 West 32nd Street, In Minneapolis (on the corner of 32nd and Girard).
There were many kids playing on the playground before the start of school.
At the North end of the playground between the school building and some storefronts that faced Lake Street, there was a small area that we called the “Tot Lot.”
On the Tot-Lot there were platforms raised off the ground, on the ends of telephone poles.
The whole Tot-Lot was made from wood, with long ramps leading up to the area where children would play, running around and climbing over them.
On one particular morning there were a couple of older boys playing at the Tot-Lot.
I was in kindergarten, but they knew my sisters, and I joined them for a little while before school started, and then I stayed with them after the bell rang.
We were all still in elementary school. I was just starting and they were ready to move on, but they were smoking.
The Tot-Lot was out of the view of the playground.
When the bell rang and the other kids went into the school building for the start of the day, the boys I was playing with told me to hang out a little while longer, they told me I did not need to go to class.
I stayed for a time. I do not remember how long.
When I finally decided I had to get to class I went inside.
My teacher, Mrs. Crandle, asked me why I was late.
I told her that I had been at the dentist.
It was a private act of prevarication.
I was alone with it and my guilty feelings, though I expect that my teacher knew I was not telling the truth.
It was my first piece of fiction.
Given my ambition, given my desire to be a writer and a thinker, and to be received by the world as such. Given these dreams, which I have had since before I was a teenager, the dumbest thing I ever did was to drop out of school.
I was a model student in grade school, but then after failing the seventh and ninth grades, I quit going to school altogether, just a few months before my sixteenth birthday.
I did not like high school.
I was busy being a punk rocker and a political activist. I was deeply anti-establishment.
I hung around with college kids and college age people. I felt that I was both smarter and more-well read than most of them, and so it was easy to see myself in their place.
My heroes from T.V. land were also anti-establishment types like; Captain James T. Kirk (Star Trek), who was always figuring out ways around the system, and breaking the rules; or Arthur Fonzarelli (Happy Days), who never graduated from high school, but who ended-up being a high school teacher; or Charles Engles (Little House on the Prairie) who never went past the sixth grade, but who could do just about anything, and was a leader in his community.
As funny as it may sound, those TV narratives actually influenced my decision to quit school.
Perhaps more significantly, I was bored.
I never doubted that I would go to college, and I turned out to be correct in that, but the road to higher education, and through it, was more challenging and circuitous than I imagined it would be.
I was shortsighted, uninformed, and full of hubris.
I had no idea about how the world really worked.
With the simplicity of a child, I merely believed that everything would be okay. I believed that I would achieve my ambitions, regardless of how I undermined the ground beneath my feet.
At that time in my life I also believed that I might discover the deepest secrets of the universe and find with me the power to be a Jedi Knight.
I was fifteen years old, and I still possessed the child’s mind; wonderful and imaginative, and prone to magical distortions.
What I came to discover was this…
My future success, the success of anyone, is not determined by individual talent, or intelligence, but by the relationships they develop with teachers and mentors.
By dropping out of high school I cut myself off from access to that support.
Learning to trust in the support of teachers and mentors becomes the ability to find and trust the support of agents, and editors and publishers. Access to one, becomes access to the other, over time.
Without that rust and support, I was on my own, and there is no doubt that it delayed me on the path toward my goals.
I did go to college. I was not wrong about that.
I went to graduate school, and then more graduate school, earning two Master’s degrees, which is good, but my childhood ambition was not just to go to college, but to go to a college like Oxford, or the University of Chicago.
I thought I would earn more than a couple of Master’s degrees, I wanted a couple of Doctorates. I wanted to teach in those places, and publish books from those places, which is still not out of the question, but looks increasingly unlikely.
The risks I took were great. The road I walked, was long and winding, more difficult than I imagined it would be, and not conducive to my goals.
The sojourn was not unlike a poem I wrote in that time:
A ray of light
A closing door
Enlightens an object
Casts a shadow
Creates a question
The writer must have ambition, there must be an end, a goal, a future they are directed toward.
It does not matter if the ambition is ever realized, the end ever achieved, the goal ever arrived at. The future always remains the future, and the writer’s narrative must always be reaching for it.
After that, the writer must write.
I have multiple ambitions for my writing, my ambition are in the fields of: Philosophy and Theology, History and Social Commentary, Fiction and Poetry.
I have always intended to write in these fields, blending them together.
I have a treatise in the history and philosophy of religion that I hope to fully develop before I die; a Summa Soteriologica. It began as an argument I made against the preaching of born again Christians, on the street corners in my teens. I worked on it as an undergraduate at the University of Saint Thomas. It became my Master’s thesis at Saint John’s University, titled The Reasonableness and Authenticity of the Doctrine of Universal Salvation in the Christian Tradition (RHADUS). That version of it is for sale on Amazon Books, titled: Salvation, The Story of US (buy it for your kindle).
The early versions of this work were written in a specifically Christian and Catholic context. The field of study is called sotieriology, which is the theology of salvation.
I have always intended, to develop this thesis into a treatment of the salvation motif in a total global and historical context, the Summa Soteriologica I mentioned earlier.
That is my ambition, it continues to drive me.
I have a science fiction piece in development. For the past four hundred and sixty three days I have been posting a segment of this work to Twitter https://twitter.com/JayBotten , and or two my writing page on FaceBook https://www.facebook.com/CollectedWriting/ , with a weekly synopsis of the work I have posted going to my Wordpress page https://jaybotten.wordpress.com/ , and my page on Blogger http://www.jaybotten.com/ . This project is scheduled to continue for with daily postings for the remainder of this year, and every day for the 2018 as well.
My ambition drives me.
I wrote a collection of essays, essays in the lyric mode, for my Master’s theses at Hamline University.
The project has changed me as a writer.
City of Water, Essays and Reflections on Life and the City, was initially inspired by a piece of writing I did in 2009, when I first began my program at Hamline University.
I was in my first Semester, we were asked to write a poem based on a website and a piece of work by the poet George Lyon, titled: Where I am From.
I wrote a poem about Minneapolis, titled City of Water, and I was very happy with it. That poem was first I had written since I was an undergraduate at the University of St.
Over the next year I thought about the poem, City of Water, quite a bit. I shared it with friends. I received positive feedback. I knew that I wanted to write more on the subject of Minneapolis, about the lakes and streams that give it it’s character.
Then it sprang into my head, as an idea almost completely formed.
Like Athena springing from the head of Zeus.
I should write a series of poetry about Minneapolis, about growing up here, and about the waters I have lived by my whole life. I would write a series of four poems about each lake in the Chain of Lakes, and I would organize them like an impressionist painting series around the themes of; winter, spring, summer, and fall.
I had my vision, a crystallization of intention that would lead me.
That was the first iteration of my goal.
That idea of a collection titled City of Water, sat with me for another year or so until I took a course in poetry, titled; Landscape and Memory. During that semester I devoted as much of my class work as I could to writing on this subject, and during that semester, the scope of the project changed, The number of subjects changed. I moved beyond themes of water to include features of Minneapolis.
Then I took another class, titled; The Lyric Essay, and the scope of the project changed again. I now intended to introduce each set of four poems with an essay, an essay in which I would related more personal, familial, and historiographical context to the subjects than I could provide in a poem by itself, and that would also deepen the meaning of the poetry I wrote.
My goal became a broad collection, titled; City of Water, and Wild Places.
Working on this became a daily devotion.
I continued to add to the number of subjects and sections that I would include in the whole work.
I created a document that listed each section, each subject, and the parts of each subject I wanted to write.
This served as an outline, and I plugged into that document all of the writing that I had already done through my class work.
Working this way was groundbreaking. My eyes were opening to new possibilities. I was doing something new, but I was doing it within the scope of my known strengths.
I had outlined several new sections for the project. I knew then that I was onto to something very ambitious, almost certainly too large for a single book. Nevertheless, I wanted to approach the work as a whole.
I determined that each section would begin with a haiku, and that every essay would begin with an epigram, a fragment of writing from a local writer, artist or significant person, who either wrote something about the subject, or were themselves directly related to that subject.
Essays followed the epigrams, and the subject was completed by the series of poetry in the winter, spring, summer, fall impression.
While I was plotting out this grand scheme, and it was evolving. I was at the same time devoted to working on it every day.
I began by locking in the haiku.
I found the epigrams.
I collected research on my family and the city.
I wrote and revised.
I combed through all of the poetry, and other writing I had done throughout my life, anything pertaining to my subjects and integrated with the work I had already begun.
I took this body of material to the beginning of my Theses.
Together with my advisor we selected a small number of subjects to concentrate on; the working title for this became; City of Water, Essays and Reflections on Life in the City.
My vision for my worked was evolving. Guided by it I thought up and committed myself to a process in which the outcome was entirely uncertain. Nevertheless, I believed in it.
I believed that a coherent, unified collection would emerge from the writing that I had already done, and that I would give a full exposition of my subjects by revising them according to a set of themes.
I determined to apply a thematic structure to each piece in the collection. I organized was as follows: thesis, transformation, loss, the city, self, family, friends, lovers, the dead, outsiders, historical perspective, contemporary perspective, mythology, synthesis.
I took the writing that I had already done, and broke it up. I cut and pasted the material into these thematic sections. Not everything fit neatly, and at the end of this process each subject had many sections in which there was no writing in it at all.
I wrote to fill these blank fields. I viewed them as empty buckets, at least one paragraph per day until I filled them all.
When I was done, I had a cumbersome collection of disjointed parts.
I was still uncertain of the outcome, but I had faith that a mature piece of writing was emerge from the process I was employing.
All of those disconnected pieces needed to be harmonized.
I began another major revision, synchronizing a timeline for each piece, eliminating redundancies, “wordsmithing.”
I think of this process as filtering,
The filtering brought me to the end of my thesis, but not to the end of this project,
There are more essay to be completed, and the there is the poetry.
I have other filters I want to employ before the work is concluded.
My vision demands that I pursue them.
I intend to filter the narratives through James Fowlers “Seven Stages of Faith Development,” and through Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” before everything is said and done I will filter them through the Aristotelian catharsis of “deduction-crisis-resolution.”
There are no obstacles standing in the way of these ambitions.
There is only desire, determination, and discipline.
Developing the right relationships with peers and teachers, agents, editors and publishers, these are factors relating to the development of an audience, but they are not obstacles.
Opportunity and timing are factors relating to publication and distribution of my work, but they are not obstacles.
These factors are malleable, you may influence them, but nothing is given that is not worked for. Everything you want for your future must be seized, and to seize it, you must see it, have it in your field vision, run toward it and never stop.
Tell yourself this…
Your goals will shift, keep them goals organized.
Read in public spaces.
Submit work for publication.
Listen to feedback.
My day typically begins at about 2:30 in the morning.
I get out of bed, put on my glasses, turn on a lamp, make the bed. I walk through the house turning on lights in the areas where I will soon be doing work, the living room, the dining room, the bathroom, and the kitchen.
I start some coffee. I feed the cat.
I turn on the television, and I power up my computer.
I wash face.
I pour a cup of coffee.
I sit down at my desk. I read the news page, check the weather, look at my bank account, check my inbox.
I write in my journal.
I work on a research project. For this, I read a passage from Scripture, I write a paragraph or two of commentary.
I post to my FaceBook page https://www.facebook.com/CollectedWriting/ the daily segment for my 55 word a day science fiction novel: Emergence 2.0, I submit a copy of it to the 55 word “super short fiction” contest.
I work at editing future segments of Emergence 2.0, my editing is about a month ahead of the release. The full release runs for 365 days. Version 1.0 was released on Twitter, https://twitter.com/JayBotten over the course of 2016, and simultaneously on FaceBook. Each segment was a perfect 140 character grammatically correct tweet.
I work on Emergence 3.0, to be released in 2018. I draft a full page of writing from each 55 word segment of version 2.0, and so the progression will be; from 140 characters, to 55 words, to one full page.
On Saturday every week, I issue a synopsis of the previous seven days of writing. I post those to my blogs at Wordpress https://jaybotten.wordpress.com/ , and Blogger http://www.jaybotten.com/ ,
I work at editing and revising a piece of poetry for release to my Blogs on Tuesday.
I work at drafting an essay for release to my Blogs on Saturday.
I work at drafting a homily for the Gospel reading on Sunday.
When all of that work is done, I work at my long term writing project City of Water and Wild Places, my autobiographical collection of essays in lyric mode, and poetry that captures the story of my life, and my family and the history of Minneapolis.
I spend between 3 and six hours a day at those writing activities.
I have breakfast.
I go to work.
I typically do not read or write after work.
My daily routine is habitual. I rarely deviate from it.
I won a third place prize for a poetry composition contest in 1993.
It was a local celebration of poetry at the public library in Twenty-nine Palms, CA.
The contest included both composition and reading.
I received a plaque, a pen, some stationary and five dollars.
I received public recognition for my effort and talent.
I was twenty-four years old and I had written these poems at some point in the previous year.
The title of the poems I were: Burned and Currents
I had read in public spaces before. I had received applause, and the accolades of my friends, of people who would be supportive of me no matter I wrote or did.
I had never won a contest or been applauded by a group of total strangers before.
It was heart-warming.
Seven years later, I successfully defended my Master’s thesis in a public setting.
There were about forty people in attendance and there were not quite enough chairs for everyone who came to the small classroom where the event had been scheduled to take place.
I was nervous when it began.
I opened with a prayer, one that I said everyday, because the prayer was so familiar to me
I did not think to write it down.
I called the audience to prayer, I issued the opening lines, and then I stumbled in my words, forgetting where the prayer was going.
My pause and hesitancy were perceptible by the audience.
A few seconds passed, and then a group of my students showed up, they were late, but seeing them filled me with confidence and gave me the opportunity to recover my bearing.
I was able to finish they prayer and continue.
The prayer I recited was this, a Prayer of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Patron Saint of Philosophy:
Grant O’ Merciful God
That We may Ardently Desire
And Perfectly Accomplish
What is Pleasing to You
For the Praise and Glory of Your Name
From there I proceeded to answer a battery of questions, first from my advisors and then from assembly.
When It was completed, I had satisfied the requirements for my Master’s Degree.
It was the culmination of several years of academic work.
There are some who do not see research and academic writing as creative endeavors, but they are wrong.
They both involve the public expression of creative impulses that originate in the privacy of the writer’s thoughts and feelings.
The forms of writing and expression may be different; poetry and academics, but neither of them originate in a vacuum, they emerge in dialog, from observation, after rumination, and a careful articulation of language. Both may include vetting, peer review, research, argument, both attempt to elucidate something, a reality just beyond our senses and common experience.
They are challenging.