Archive | February, 2010

Good Writing Makes Sense of the World

25 Feb

I’ve often heard it said that the act of writing helps us make sense of the world.  I quoted Alan Watts yesterday, who says that myth serves the same purpose. Ever since I received D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths as a child, I’ve been drawn to them. As a friend pointed out in the comments, the short piece I posted a few days back, The Body is a Fairy Tale, is a creation story.

Arguably, all good stories help us make sense of the world. The stories I’m drawn to often also illuminate and reveal a particular environment, culture, or time and place. They’re not necessarily mythic, but they’re as much about a specific society or subculture as they are about an individual character. When they’re well done, they pull you in and make you care about that world, while at the same time reflecting back on your own.

Here’s a short list of stories that I love that fit the bill, some of which have elements of myth and fairy tale.

Chinatown (Robert Towne, screenplay)
The Wizard of Oz (Frank L. Baum, novel)
Arcadia (Tom Stoppard, play)
In the Skin of A Lion (Michael Ondaatje, novel)
The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, screenplay)
Dogeaters (Jessica Hagedorn, novel)
Network (Paddy Chayefsky, screenplay)
A Disappearing Number (Complicite Theatre, devised play)
His Dark Materials Trilogy (Phillip Pullman, novels)

What myths, creation, subculture stories do you enjoy? Have you ever tried to write a creation myth?

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Words, Words, Words: Good Quotes…On Myth

24 Feb

ON MYTH

A myth is an image in terms of which we try to make sense of the world.

Alan Watts

It is a myth, not a mandate, a fable not a logic, and symbol rather than a reason by which men are moved.

Irwin Edman

MYTHOLOGY, n. The body of a primitive people’s beliefs concerning its origin, early history, heroes, deities and so forth, as distinguished from the true accounts which it invents later.

Ambrose Bierce, from The Devil’s Dictionary

Poem: The Body is a Fairy Tale

23 Feb

I was reading the dream journals of Jack Kerouac and came across the phrase “peach meat”.  Didn’t care for the dream but found the phrase compelling. I knew that I wanted to freewrite on it and see what it kicked up. Twelve drafts later (!) here it is. Started off as poem and became prose, but I think it’s still a poem at heart.

Let me know what you think.

***

The body is a fairy tale, a story that we tell ourselves that started long ago. Back then, we were mostly mouths that spoke only sometimes and always of our love for each other.  Back then, we had only heads, and no bodies. Our heads rolled around like peaches, happy and unthinking.

Back then, the body was a fairy tale, a story that we told ourselves every day. But one day it came true, as repeated stories often do. We became so enamored of the thought, we stopped our moving, lost in the dream.  Our scalps became rooted to the earth. And the story became a seed that grew, our heads like planting pots, the neck guiding the soft pink stalks upwards, until they became feet that we could walk around on.

That’s when the problems began. We spoke too often and frequently of nothing. We became obsessed with our new bodies, and their strange smells and juices. We began to consume each other with our mouths and with violence.  We learned to spread our juices by spreading our legs and by spreading war. We broke each others bodies in the name of love, and in the name of nations we broke each other bodies to spread the fruit flesh out for all to see, to speak as if with one big mouth: “We are better because we are victorious.”

But the body is a fairy tale, do you not remember? There still are soft reminders: Can you feel it in your cheek, this irritation, where the skin has been rubbed raw by the edge of a tooth? The flap of skin, pink and pulpy and lithe against the teeth. Probe it with your tongue until it peels free and you can hold it in your hands. Dream of a time when our mouths were minor miracles.  I remember this ancient time when I say your name, when I feel the soft stone of you under my tongue.  I speak your name, pit and flesh, and long to return there.

Let us unwrite this fairytale with our fingers. Let us revoke ourselves with silence. With these things we loosen the hold of this dank and slippery meat between our ears and our thighs. Help me put down this body and these words, and let’s drink stone tea together, the bitter taste of which becomes sweeter over time. Let it reduce us until we are bones, whole and forgotten, sleeping, dreaming of something better to grow.

How to Write…Novels (Feat. Tom Robbins)

22 Feb

I’ve never completed one his books, but I’m confident saying that Tom Robbins is one of my favorite writers.  I confess that I stopped half-way through Skinny Legs and All, but not because I didn’t enjoy it.  There was just  a phase I went through I never completed a book (a phase I call college.)

Now, logically, I’ve picked up with a completely different Robbins book,  Jitterbug Perfume, and am about half way done. Despite my commitment issues, I can tell you why my opinion isn’t gonna change. There’s too much about his language to love: he’s playful but tragic, polystylistic but coherent, and his stories are dense but they frickin’ move move move.

So you can’t understand how I was aghast to find out that he writes his novels one word a word at a time.

This begs a question: How in the flaming heck does he do that?  In this interview I found at januarymagazine.com, he explains exactly  how he writes. If I’m honest, I still don’t understand how he pulls it off, but I like what he has to say.  I’ve excerpted the best sections here and put a link to the entire interview at the bottom of the page if you’d like to read the whole thing.

ON HOW HE WRITES

About three and a half years is the average [time to finish book.] This book [Fierce Invalids] took 39 months. Just in the writing of it. Then there’s the editing and all that which probably adds almost another year onto it.

I set myself a goal of two pages a day. Some days I get it, some days I don’t. If I’m writing dialog I can usually get more than that because I can write dialog fairly quickly. But the descriptive passages, the philosophical passages where I’m paying even more attention to imagery and to metaphors and similes and figures of speech, that comes very slow. I write very, very slowly and I try never to leave a sentence until I think that it’s as perfect as I can make it. So I’ll just go sentence to sentence, almost word to word. Plug along.

ON PLOTTING

When I begin a book I have only the vaguest sense of how the plot is going to shape itself and no sense at all how it’s going to end. You wouldn’t know that from reading this book, because the end ties in with the beginning, I think, absolutely seamlessly and smoothly.

But I have no idea. When I introduced those themes at the beginning of the book I had no idea where it was going to take me. And that’s the adventure of it, for me. That’s the fun of it. That’s what keeps me doing it every day. But in order to do that and to make it appear as if I knew everything in the beginning it demands a tremendous amount of concentration and energy. At the end of every writing day I feel like I’ve been wrestling in radioactive quicksand with Xena the Warrior Princess and her five fat uncles.

ON WHAT HE WANTS TO ACCOMPLISH

What I try to do, among other things, is to mix fantasy and spirituality, sexuality, humor and poetry in combinations that have never quite been seen before in literature. And I guess when a reader finishes one of my books — provided the reader does finish the book — I would like for him or her to be in the state that they would be in after a Fellini film or a Grateful Dead concert. Which is to say that they’ve encountered the lifeforce in a large, irrepressible and unpredictable way and as a result their sense of wonder has been awakened and all of their possibilities have been expanded.

At the same time, I don’t think that a novel is supposed to be a guide book to happiness any more than it’s supposed to be a journal of one’s personal pain and frustration, which most novels are today, unfortunately. I think the novels that are most important are those that are more on the order of those coyotes that howl on the hills outside of town. Something mysterious and wild and hypnotic.

The whole interview can be found at: http://januarymagazine.com/profiles/robbins.html.

Excerpts from Daily Practice: Week of 15 Feb 2010

19 Feb

As mentioned previously, I write in timed chunks every day. Most of this material is raw, so I won’t post it here; it wouldn’t make for very compelling reading.  That said, part of the purpose of this blog is to get my writing in front of people. My plan: to take certain passages, revise them briefly for coherency, and post them here.

Here are the lines for this week:

***

I am sitting at the dining room table. My wrists ache because the table top is too high.  One foot is on the ground, the other curled like a cat in the crook of the table leg.

***

Me am dog. Me spit out heat all day, grinningly.  At night, me am quiet. So quiet. You cannot hear me. Me am dog ninja! Except when moon shines fully. Then me cannot resist.  You get wrong about that. We am not howling at moon. We just like the acoustics full moon provides. Our voices carry farther in moonlight, and the songs are sweeter. Me will sing down moon. Someday.

***

Cold rage envelopes her. Nobody else notices, but she feels it like a cyclone locked tight in her heart.  Can’t let them see me crack, she thinks. She shifts but her whole body is tensed, electric;  it takes everything she’s got to contain herself. She tries to let a little bit of it go. To just note it, like the Buddhists do. But the feeling won’t budge.   With a thin sigh she chooses to leave her body. Lord knows, if I have one talent, it’s that. She lets go, and it’s as easy falling; she become mindless, slack, and despondent. Doubt they’ll notice. When she comes back a few minutes later, some of the feeling has evaporated; the hungry edge of it has eased, and she is ready to speak.

Poem: Opening Presents

18 Feb

(My commentary posted to comments below.)

***

OPENING PRESENTS

What is this? A tie tack? Did you buy me a tie tack for Christmas?
It’s fine.
It’s just. This is not at all in my style or my taste. And,
further, doesn’t our relationship amount to more than this, a tie tack,
bought where at Sears?

But even if it’s a fancy tie tack,
what does it say about us? Look at what I got you, open it now, just
tear the paper. Look,
Look at the care I put into this gift.
Look at the many layers of meaning and personal resonance.
I thought about this. I wanted to get something for you that would be cherished for years to come. Time immemorial, if I could pull it off.

And you got me a tie tack.

Shit. This makes me want to question the strength of our relationship
the rapport and kismet I thought we have together
if you felt it appropriate to get me a piece of tie

jewelry.

Well, yes, it’s practical. But your gift is MEANINGFUL.
What do you mean, what is it?
It’s an ode to our relationship. To us! Don’t you see,
these shells represent that first time we kissed at the beach.
The figurines there are us, I admit, a bit fanciful, but you used to almost look like that, and I thought it would be romantic.
And those pictures of our faces, I’ve used for the heads, from your father’s wedding, because we were so happy then. Drunk as skunks, and happy. You see, it took time and thought and it’s not a stupid tie tack.

Shit.
I’m sorry,
I’m sorry. You know
how critical I get during the holiday. And
being around your mother makes me tetchy.
I know,
I’m sorry, baby. Please, stay here. Please hold me.
I am afraid to be alone.

Writing: An Ebullient Apologia

16 Feb

God, i love writing,

That’s how I feel right now, and I’m sticking to it. As far I’m concerned, writing can heal lepers, bring about world peace, and make the perfect milkshake. It’s just. that. good.

Why the happy happy? Well, that’s complicated. And very simple. The reasons are as  follows: Continue reading