Month: March 2002 Page 2 of 5
Opinions. I’m the kind of person who really needs to think before I speak. Sometimes that means I keep my mouth shut. Sometimes that means I Say The Wrong Thing. Sometimes I think as much as I need to think, and people start shaking me by the shoulders: “Are you OK? Are you OK? Anybody in there? Do you need help?” I went to a personality-typing class a month ago, and I found out that this is a normal thing for approximately 6% of the population. Whoo hoo! That’s about 5.98% more normal than I thought I could ever be!
Anyway, one of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is opinions. Not any particular opinion, although I have some, but opinions in general.
How important is it to have opinions? Can you get along with the extremes of “beliefs” and “facts,” simply having nothing that to debate, argue, or question? Is it important to have opinions on every damn thing, or can you form a few opinions about morals or ethics (take your pick; I think there’s an difference, but it doesn’t matter here), called princicples, and operate solely from them?
And how important is it to state your opinion? And how do you know when you’ve stated your opinion too much or too little? Is there any objective (or even subjective) way of telling, or do you just have to depend on peer feedback? Are there times when it’s morally or ethically wrong or bad to keep your opinion to yourself? To speak up? And forget morals and ethics…what’s the wisest way to do it? The most subtle? The cleverest?
What actually constitutes an opinion? Where do you draw the line between belief and opinion (personally, I draw a pretty close line on belief. Unless it’s something you hold to be as important as the ability to breathe in normal conditions (yadda yadda yadda), gravity, etc., then it’s just opinion. Looking at their actions, I’d say that for most people, religion is just an opinion. Although their faith in a god, gods, a goddess, or goddesses might be belief)? Would you die for your opinions–or just for your beliefs?
Oh, man. I had a lot more ideas than this, but I lay down with the bebe for just a moment…nap attack! Two hours later…
Baby news. Yesterday, the banana, i.e., the first non-cereal food ze bébé has tasted. I popped open the top and tasted it. Lee saw me. He was grossed out that I tasted it. Not because of any supposed spit contamination (not that I stuck my tongue in it or anything), but because it was baby food. The tard. It tasted like strained bananas.
I served it up with warmed cereal. It went down all right, a little thicker and a little stickier than normal cereal. No trumpets played at the sound of yet another milestone being sighted, approached, and passed–victory! To tell you the truth, I was a little let down that it went so well. Today she ate the bananas straight. Even better.
The day before yesterday was the first day I knew for sure that Ray could recognize color as a concept. We were reading her baby colors book before bedtime. The first page is “red.” Red tomatoes, red rose, a baby in a red jumper pointing to a book with a red car, red fire engine, red, red, red. We only got the book a couple of days ago, but we’ve read it before. Open the book, turn to the “red” page. She starts slapping the page, breathing heavily, drooling, and putting her fist in her mouth. Sure signs of excitement. Then–and this is the cool part–she grabs a stuffed animal, CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG, and repreatedly bangs his head on the “red” page of the open book.
She doesn’t give a crap about the rest of the pages. Except maybe green.
Jealousy. I’ve decided that reading Mecawilson is a bittersweet experience. Bittersweet? That’s not the word. If there’s some word combining the tang of pickles with the acidic, gut-eating taste of jealousy, then that’s the word I mean to use instead. “Bittersweet.”
He’s funny. I’ve seen a lot of good writers on the net lately, good, solid, dependable writers with witty elements much to be snorted over. They don’t make me jealous. I’d read Mecawilson’s stuff in print. I’d pay money for it. Like I said, jealous.
Why isn’t he getting paid for this stuff?
Oven. An update of my progress in editing “Feather” would read something like this: Crap. And you know what that means. Let’s have a nice learning experience, eh? I’ve finished the first go through the manuscript. I now have beats, which each of them have a beginning, middle, and ending; the story is now twice as long and deadly slow. Boring. The next step is something I haven’t done before consciously; I’m going to go through the story with the idea of working on dramatic tension–the rise and fall of the plot, as it were.
This is taking longer than I thought. Does that mean things were worse than I suspected? Oh, yes.
Do you know the fairy-tale about the princess who’s forced to switch places with her maid, and tells her troubles to the oven? She doesn’t think anyone can hear her. Hello blog. You’re my oven.
Modern writers. The term “modern” gives some people the hives…yet all it is is a sophistication (although perhaps an over-serious one) of the moment when the vaudeville actor leans into the audience and winks. While “modern” poetry seems to be all clever renditions of the song “doom, despair, agony, and woe…WOOOOOE”* (i.e., T.S. Eliot), “modern” fiction seems to be all about the in-joke and the (I can’t think of a better way to describe it) structural pun.
I used to have ambitions of writing nothing but “modern” fiction. “Contemporary” fiction bored me, for the most part, and “genre” fiction seemed like a pigeonhole. Then I started reading Stephen Brust, and I got better. But my love for modern–and postmodern–fiction remains.
“The Modern Word” is a beautiful website all about modern writers, including very good quotes (Borges, in particular, claiming that he would love to pseudonymously trash his own work*), excerpts, bibliographies, and links. Only a few writers as yet have major entries: Beckett, Borges, Eco, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Joyce, and Pynchon. Others forthcome.
P.S. Why should anybody care? Because you love stupid jokes (What did they call Postman Bob after he got fired? Bob) and bad puns, and thus may find modern fiction esthetically pleasing. Because it give the brain a good workout after that Grisham tripe you just finished. Because you’ve already read Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, and so on from the old guys, can’t stand realistic, socally conscious novels, and want some “good literature” to impress people with on your webpage. Because you liked Don Quixote. Because change has been geometrically increasing since the turn of the century, and this is how some people have responded: if science fiction is the genre fiction about the progress of technology, modern fiction is the genre fiction about the progress of our brains.
P.P.S. Ultimately, however, one needs an actual story. Just as Jazz should never be the only kind of music, modern fiction should not be the only kind of literature.
*”Any time something is written against me, I not only share the sentiment but feel I could do the job far better myself. Perhaps I should advise would-be enemies to send me their grievances beforehand, with full assurance that they will receive my every aid and support. I have even secretly longed to write, under a pen name, a merciless tirade against myself.”
— J.L.Borges, Autobiographical essay, 1970.
Sigh. “Avoid clichés.” Including that one.
An old dream. I had this one last year, while I was still pregnant, about August or so.
Two brothers go on a trip to Chicago. They want to see the city from the observation deck of one of the skyscrapers. About halfway up, the elevator stops. The two brothers get out of the elevator and go into the open door of an apartment. The sunlight is beautiful, the apartment reminds me of a grandmother’s house, decorated in yellow gingham. There are no cats. One of the brothers, who is a writer, opens a large toy box sitting on the floor of one of the rooms. In the toy box is a flat-chested fashiion doll. The brother likes the doll, but he doesn’t think she has big enough breasts, so he tries to push the plastic of the doll’s body into the right shape. The plastic bends, moves, and stretches, but he cannot make the plastic into the shape he desires, so he stretches the doll until she is as thin as a pencil and as tall as a woman. The doll says, “If you rescue me, I’ll live with you for one year, and live with your brother for another year. I am enchanted by a witch.” The brothers rescue the doll and leave the city.
The writer-brother keeps the doll for a year, taking his pleasure with her, using her as a muse, writing several successful novels. At the end of the year, he’s reluctant to give the doll (who has fleshed out) to his brother, but…it’s his brother. The other brother, who is a soldier, takes the doll, and turns her into a commando. The soldier-brother and the doll go on many adventures, rescuing prisoners from foreign country, shooting guerillas in the jungle, going on safari. At the end of the year, the soldier-brother refuses to give up the doll. The doll demands her freedom several times, but the soldier-brother refuses, saying that he loves her and can’t release her.
Now, it happens both that the doll turns upon the soldier-brother and tears him to pieces, eating him as she goes along, and that the doll turns into the brother, becoming a plastic soldier-brother doll. When the consumption/transformation is complete, the soldier doll runs away, finally free of his/her enchantment, or so he/she thinks. However, he/she is pregnant, and currently trapped in the form of a soldier-doll, with no way for the baby to get out.
The soldier-doll travels the wilderness, looking for help with his/her condition. Finally, he/she wanders into a hovel that rises out of the mud. Inside is the witch. The part of the doll that is the soldier-brother doesn’t recognize her; the part of the doll that is the doll does. The witch offers to deliver the baby; the soldier-doll accepts. The witch slices open the belly of the soldier-doll, who, being plastic, feels no pain. The witch removes twin babies, which begin as a pair of normal, flesh-babies, but one of them slowly shrivels into the shape of a plastic fashion doll. With this, the soldier-brother becomes himself again, except that he is now female. The witch gives him the flesh-baby, saying that the doll is her responsibility. The witch apologizes to the soldier-brother for the actions of the doll, and sends him away. Finally, the witch packs the doll back into the toybox, saying that she should stop being so cruel to these men, that if she wants her freedom, all she has to do is leave. But the doll says nothing, and the lid closes.
The soldier-brother wanders until he finds his writer-brother, who promises to take care of his brother and his daughter for as long as he lives.
Family. Rachael’s making noise. It’s important. She’s experimenting with her vocal cords. She’s experimenting with her ability to manipulate other people–what’s the best way to get people’s attention? Fussing? Crying? Squealing with delight? Coughing? She alternates, cute with crying, only to discover that pretty much any sound will get my attention. She smiles at me every time I turn to look.
Editing. Something that pisses me off about my English education is that none of the teachers in my creative writing courses had any intention to teach me how to edit. Maybe I had bad teachers. Maybe the policy was “Workshop…and see magic may happen!” Maybe the instructors assumed that all we needed to know about editing, we learned in literature classes. After all, in literature classes, we learned how to analyze stuff. And that’s all you really need to edit, right? Knowing how to analyze character, point-of-view, style, etc., etc.
Bullshit. None of that teaches you how to edit. All it teaches you how to do is describe to other people why it is your stuff sucks. I know that writing is something you have to learn how to do on your own…to some extent. But if it weren’t possible to teach writing, at least the basics, why are their classes? Are “creative writing” courses a con job?
Editing. For me, the first step is breaking down the story into something called beats. You know where I learned to do this? Script analysis, drama. A beat is a small piece of the work that has its own beginning, middle, and ending. Its own mini-plot. Its own goals. For a pop-culture illustration, take the movie Swordfish. From the beginning of the movie to the moment when John Travolta leaves the cafe, that’s a beat. You can break that beat down into smaller parts, but essentially that’s it.
For me the process of editing begins, like I said, with beats. I break the story down into its component beats, read each beat separately, and see what I can do to make each beat stand on its own. Basic stuff. Usually by the time I get done with the beats, I’ve managed to include most of the other changes that I wanted to make. So I lied. My editing process actually begins with doing the literary-analysis thing. And before that, I get feedback from my excellent spouse. But when I sit down to write, I start with the beats.
I once took a community-college writing class (in Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, blah blah blah) from a grad student in the Creative Writing program. I’d been looking forward to, someday, working my ass off with the intention of getting in. The instructor/grad student made fun of me for actually analyzing the work.
We moved to Colorado Springs. Big cry.