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Archive for the ‘the craft of writing’ Category

The primal flux

Henry Miller is to writing what Tom Waits is to music. Guttural, gritty, bold in a visceral way. Each of them glistens with Life and something unreachable between the words.

Tom Waits pours out his world in throaty punctuations as if his next breath might be the best one yet. Henry Miller plows out his world in articulate and scathing detail, some of which is too lurid to reiterate here.

But this, about creating — writing in particular — isn’t:

“…the original creation, which is taking place all the time, whether one writes or doesn’t write, belongs to the primal flux: it has no dimensions, no form, no time element. In this preliminary state, which is creation and not birth, what disappears suffers no destruction; something which was already there, something imperishable, like memory, or matter, or [the divine]…is summoned and in it one flings himself like a twig into a torrent. Words, sentences, ideas, no matter how subtle or ingenious, the maddest flights of poetry, the most profound dreams, the most hallucinating visions, are but crude hieroglyphs chiseled in pain and sorrow to commemorate an event which is untransmissible….A great work of art, if it accomplishes anything, serves to remind us…of all that is fluid and intangible…It cannot be understood, it can only be accepted or rejected. If accepted, we are revitalized; if rejected we are diminished. Whatever it purports to be, it is not: it is always something more for which the last word will never be said…”
~from “Sexus”, Book 1 of the Rosy Crucifixion
(and yes, it is called Sexus for a good reason)

HMsexus

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To begin: two women — two writers, two different centuries and countries.
Both make light of their societies. One was beloved, sought after and continues to enthrall people to this day in ways I fail to appreciate.

The other damages reputations with a whip and wit as sharp as the edge of a cliff. She cracks me up.

I’m afraid I have no sense of mass appeal because the first writer is everyone’s sweetheart: Jane Austen.

The second one is Dorothy Parker. To me, her prose sizzles.  She doesn’t waste words or effort explaining stories that are full of sentimental creatures mooning over unattainable men who end up being attainable, in set-up circumstances so similar from one story to another, that all you need to do is wash down the names and locations, white-out a few character differences, and you’ve got a new story with a slightly different flavour.

Like Austen. (O dear.  Now I’ve done it.  Defies reason, almost.  Because I admire Elizabeth Gaskell and her cronies.)

Clearly, I have no idea what makes Austen appealing. I’ve tried, believe me. “Northanger Abbey” was my first. It is clear to me why the publisher who bought it refused to publish it for a long time. Wasn’t it posthumously published? I won’t bother to regale anyone with the plot–it is trite and wasteful, predictable and Austen plunges through its climax as if it were an afterthought. I get it. It’s a bald chase mocking the frivolity of Austen’s world. I just don’t know how someone could write story after story of the same thing, dressed up in different gowns, among different friends, in different (or sometimes, the same) towns.

But then, on a tangential note, Stephen King has made quite a career of this. After “Salem’s Lot”, “It”, and “The Body”, I had my fill of the King, with the exception of “Needful Things”. I know people who love him, and it’s no dig on them, but a little King goes a long way with me. Maybe it’s the monster in all of our childhoods that I prefer to leave sleeping. Who knows?

In most cases though, prolific doesn’t equate quality. Out of the few prolific writers I’ve been able to sink my teeth into, Daphne DuMaurier stands out, and God help me, I like Mary Stewart. I have an affinity for Agatha Christie, thanks to my grandmother. (I like how Christie referred to her method of writing as a “sausage factory”. Clearly, the woman humored herself, all the while owning her craft like few others.)

Another author I find delightful: Charles Dickens. Then I made the mistake of reading his biography. The mere idea that Dickens’ character, Flora Finching in “Little Dorrit” (a story I really liked), was based on his real-life first love, sickened me. How dare a writer presume to be so arrogant as to use a person in such a way? (I know it happens all the time. Still, it sickens me.)

But I digress. Obviously.

Back to Dorothy Parker. A recent discovery. And a welcome one. She adds levity to her writing. Anyone who is quoted as saying, when asked to use “horticulture” in a sentence, “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think”, collapses me in giggles and admiration. Not that I am anyone notable enough from which to seek out admiration. But still, this is a writer whom I needed, just about now. Short stories like the hysterical “The Waltz”, poems that don’t take themselves too seriously, like “Bric-A-Brac”, and letters in which her brevity is charged with honest criticisms of her own work–she knows she doesn’t run with the F. Scott Fitzgeralds.  But with her bold wit and clever honesty, she is refreshing.  Light, talented, and poignant.
Dorothy Parker

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“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ~ Neil Gaiman

on the hanging lake trail
I grew up playing in the wrinkles of the Rocky Mountains. On winter ski lifts, the fierce contrast framed snow against evergreens as far as I could see, my lips frozen beyond speech. In summer, rugged sun-spangled cliffs slashed by falling rivers, danced in the light. Too many times I hung over the rushing creek dangling my shoes from the thick branch that offered me a place to sit and memorize the earth, the clouds, the dreams alive before my eyes. Till one time my shoe leapt into the froth below. What was a girl to do? Kick the other one in to join its mate. Having ridiculously tender footsoles, I hobbled painfully home never regretting my loss.

Now, the remembrance of the footpath, the tree, the bridge over the wide creek throws me into clarity. And fairytales become real again. Dragons can be conquered, but I have to remember that.

Earlier than Neil Gaiman, G.K. Chesterton took it deeper. He said, “Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey….”

I didn’t get to read fairytales until I was old enough to read for myself. I didn’t have access to them until I was out of grade-school. (Maybe that’s why the bogeyman wouldn’t ever go away.) By then, I considered myself too mature for them. Finally, I grew old enough again to read them. And like a pent-up wind released, they gave my imagination somewhere to go.

Then, I wanted to waste nothing in the making of tales. Poetry came first. I never thought I’d be able to commit to a novel, even though it ran through my brain over and over. Poetry is a quick glance, a smile, a nod, an embrace and then you’re done. Maybe a re-visit here and there to tweak it. But a novel, now that’s a marriage. Too many novels turn pretentious at some point, woody at others, and the risk to make every single word draw the story out, seemed so daunting. When I read “Fugitive Pieces” by Anne Michaels, I knew I had to at least try.

Anne said in an interview, “You spend your time when you’re writing erasing yourself. The idea is to get out of the way of it.”

I knew I could do that…get myself out of the way.

About poetry, she said…
“…it’s such a good discipline for a novelist: it makes you aware that even if you have four or five hundred pages to play with, you mustn’t waste a single word.”

Since poetry’s my practice, this, too, seemed possible. I was aching to try. In the folds of life, word by word, Delicate winked its way out. Part gothic, part myth, history, love and revenge, it’s a fairytale that brushes against the mystic. (But isn’t that the nature of all fairytales?)

Now it’s out there, and wherever it travels, may it ignite the facets of adventure in whoever reads it.
Gryphon

“I Knew You Were Waiting” ~ Aretha and George

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“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” ― Anaïs Nin

“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” ― Anaïs Nin

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.” ― Anaïs Nin

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” ― Anaïs Nin

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” ― Anaïs Nin

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