Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hotel Thoughts

I am standing at the window and the glass is very heavy, cold on my forehead with a hint of moisture, a suggestion of the atmosphere, the rain-flecked wind, the salty sea.  Imagining other lives in other rooms, the quiet desperation or the buoyant completeness.  Wondering about the completeness, if it exists, and whether it shouldn't be called delusion.  In the endless equation of space, there are finite possibilities.  So that these thoughts, so unique to me (this life)—the smell of wet grass, summer sun on brown shoulders, the starchy dress with sleeves too tight and belt too high, dusty green tennis balls like buried treasure after a climb to the roof, flowers in a closed room, crystalline nights of promise and smoke, the spikes of betrayal, ornate brick buildings brimming with ideas, the gray, gray city with its flashes of light, musical bodies floating and dipping like birds, the soft down of tiny heads, the quick breaths and sweaty faces, the tangled vine, brambles and light, strain and might, leading to a world of make-believe, the rush of endorphins, the illusion of acceptance, flashes of nectar joy, the crush of this life-long burden—all of it duplicated at some point in the endless space.  All of it not-so-unique.  Which brings me back to this window, this room, and all of its comforts.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Crisis Resolution

I went looking this week for the “traditional structure” of a novel, having been told at one point that mine didn’t have it.  I found a nifty graph and spent some time looking at it.  The effect?  Mostly a general buzzing, an expanse of emptiness in my brain.  I don't get it.  Do the crises get resolved as you go along, then?  Who brought math into it, with the X and the Y?  Can we really measure time?
Of course I know about the three act structure of a play; certainly I remember the terms crisis, denouement and resolution.  As well as I remember obtuse triangles, genetic probability and lots of other things that didn’t follow me far past high school.  When I finally got to college, I studied literature.  Lots of it.  At two schools, through two degrees.  That is not to brag, only to explain that I studied many, many, many books.  And I don’t recall ever dissecting any writing in terms of its adherence to a traditional structure.  Instead, we talked about themes and historical context, style and character.  The beauty of the language, the clarity of inspiration.  For me, novels have always been about people and ideas and I actually like when these things remain somewhat unresolved as people and ideas often are. 
It’s hard for me to write with structure in mind when I don’t read that way.
I think about a few of my favorite books, and I can’t seem to fit them into this graph, no matter how hard I try.  In fact, it makes my brain hurt.  Maybe I should have learned a bit more about triangles; maybe I shouldn’t have dropped that Statistics class after the first week.  Science was just never my thing. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Woke this morning to a sparkly kitchen.  Our mischievous puppies, shown above laughing at me, had jumped onto the table during the night and chewed open a small plastic container of silver glitter.  Bright sparkles were on the table and floor, on their black snouts.  Soon and despite my early efforts at containment, human and canine feet carried the glitter into other rooms.  Within an hour, I found a glimmering piece on a couch, several pieces in my hair and a trail of silver on the porch outside.  Two hours later, the glitter has made it upstairs in random, taunting sparks.

As I cleaned in my pre-tea haze, I found myself thinking all types of deep thoughts, about human migration across the continents, about the spread of viruses, about the vitality of an original thought and how it spreads and sometimes, dilutes.  Husband entered the kitchen and noticed the remaining flashes on the tile, mostly in the lines of grout.  “That looks cool,” he said.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Aesthetic Arthritis

 From The Art of Fiction by John Gardner:

"When one begins to be persuaded that certain things must never be done in fiction and certain other things must always be done, one has entered the first stage of aesthetic arthritis, the disease that ends up in pedantic rigidity and the atrophy of intuition.  Every true work of art—and thus every attempt at art--must be judged primarily, though not exclusively, by its own laws.  If it has no laws, or if its laws are incoherent, it fails—usually—on that basis."

And this paragraph encapsulates, I think, the dilemma that keeps many writers, especially writers who are trying to get their work read or published, tossing and turning at night.  In our most fabulous imagining, someone will take our novel at face value.  They’ll understand all the thematic elements, love the pace, totally “get” everything we were trying to do.  It’s like the perfect relationship:  they’ll love everything about it, unconditionally, and they won’t try to change it.

I like thinking about that other type of writer, the one who is merely a product of writing courses, a pious student of things that “must always be done.”  It’s fun to think of him wasting away with the disease of “pedantic rigidity and the atrophy of intuition.”  But then again, he’s probably cashing his checks, too, because he has stayed true to his brand, has given his faithful readers a recognizable plot and familiar characters in each best-selling book.

It is a fine and valiant thing to have a vision for your writing and to remain faithful.  But if you’d like your book to be read (and most of us do), then the difficulty lies in finding a middle road.  Acknowledging an audience and their expectations (even those driven by ideas of what "must always be done") while remembering the cues, the ideas, the inspiration that began the project.  Staying true to your own laws but making them livable for others.  A book is like a party guest.  Make it too aloof, too unlikeable, too tedious, too conceited, etc., etc…and everyone will leave the room.  Of course, a party is a subjective thing.  Some people don't like them at all. 
"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka