anthony dobranski online


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Zombie corn

For the past three years I have composted our household plant waste. Coffee grounds, tea bags, kitchen scraps, forgotten vegetables gone bad. Our pet rabbit’s nitrogen-filled litter. We keep 3 gallons a week out of the waste stream, I have given no leaves for autumn collection since I started. Living lighter on the city land.

It has taken three years to fill, since in the compost the plants’ carbon shells dehydrate. All life is dust without water.

The compost is a green ventilated plastic cylinder 3 feet tall and wide. It has no smell when closed. Most people ignore it. Inside is a dense heavy loam, rich with concentrated organic matter. It has a thriving colony of earthworms and in warm weather is active with insects. Molds blow across like storms.

For the autumn Jackie hung dried corn cobs on our door. When the corn gave way to a wreath I broke the cobs and added them to the compost. The cobs were dry, the kernels stiff as cardboard. They had been washed in purple dye. I worried about chemicals but we had bought them at an orchard.

For a long time they didn’t decompose. Were they plastic? Just tenacious. One is now sprouting, nourished in total darkness by our rotting discards. It is a heady thing to see such life, too much for our scaly urban exteriors, when tickle becomes squirm. Perhaps this is the true collective fear that we stroke with zombie stories — the potential in our waste.

Rick Santorum has it wrong to say we should not serve the earth. It is a creation larger than we are and it houses us. It will be here long after we are gone and our kids will need it too. It is more deserving of love.

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2nd draft editing, part 1

I am taking a class on revising manuscript from Kathryn Johnson, a novelist and writing mentor. Unlike other workshops there is no group critique and little discussion. Johnson has read pages from each of us but it’s about helping us do it ourselves.

She holds us to account at the start of each class on how much work we did. She talks about writing in the abstract, mixing example and anecdote. It’s a Buddhist form of instruction, like a yoga teacher’s suggestions for meditation. Discourses on wordiness, poor writing, fuzzy characters, unhelpful explanations. She raises points gently because they are powerful. Using her techniques I am losing an average of 11% words with no loss of art. (I keep totals on a spreadsheet).

With practice I am getting better at liposuction. Words kink and clog in consistent ways. Now I find their knots faster and correct them semi-automatically. I can probably wring a couple more percent out of the start.

The numbers provide concrete evidence as a tonic to the humbling process. I was sad and cranky about it for a while but I have begun to get over myself. It helps to think of the initial pages as a wall supported by scaffolding. Eventually the wall is strong itself and connected with other walls. What was needed to hold it up may be confidently discarded.

Last week Johnson suggested I break the chapters up and interleave them, alternating my characters every thousand words instead of every ten thousand. (1000 words ~ 4 pages)

It’s an exciting idea but demanding this late in the process. I don’t think the entire book need be interleaved – there are times when the drama will improve by spending a few thousand words in the same setting – but in spots it could free the book. What I thought was spine may have only been a brace.