Monday, November 30, 2009

Spacey -- like it that way

Yesterday's On Language column in the NYTimes Magazine was worth reading because I learned things I had never heard before about something I've taken for granted. I love this kind of discovery. Caleb Crain wrote about why we put spaces between our words as we write. So people can read it easily. "Elementary, my dear Watson." Well, yes but there's history. In the earliest writing there were no spaces. Then for an unknown reason spaces were used a short while. But then they were lost again -- we are talking about the Western world. I have no idea what was going on in China or India. Says Mr. Crain, spaces weren't very important because all written language was phonetic and read aloud [to be memorized says he, although I think that's a questionable conjecture].

When the monks of the dark ages set about copying manuscripts, they did so in stone walled cells so they could read aloud as they worked in order to make sense of what they were doing. And so their voices would not distact their colleagues. But in the 7th and 8th century it seems priests reading Latin, in England and Ireland [what about elsewhere? We don't know.] had such a hard time that they began asking for spaces between words. This became the norm. Then, says Crain, reading silently became possible, which let individuals ponder about the meaning of what they were reading. And thus philosophizing came into fashion. Now I"m mutilating Crain's essay a little because I don't know how he knows what he says although I'm willing to accept that one can look at ancient manuscripts and see if they have spaces or not.

I had a taste of how difficult reading writing without spaces is when I read a book last summer called "The Singing Creek Where Willows Grow," which combined a biography of a child prodigy, Opal Whitely, and her childhood diary. She learned to read and write at a very young age and wrote with crayon, pencil, whatever she could find, on whatever paper she could find. There were photos of the actual diaries which were all in caps and without spaces and words ran over to the following line as well. At first glance it was utterly impossible and as I looked at it I saw that I could only begin to read it if I mumbled the words as I went along. Fortunately for the reader, at a later stage Opal actually transcribed her own childhood diaries into readable typescript. The diaries, by the way, were amazing to say the least. She had an incredible imagination and lived a very rough life in a logging community and was often whipped by her mother -- but never seemed to resent it. That is beside the point about spacing. Thank heavens we use spaces now -- but now we're slipping into emoticons and acronyms to the point of near unreadability in some of our communications. But that's another story.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Aged by Culture, Margaret Morgenroth Gullette

Aged by Culture is an academic book and was not an easy read -- in fact, I read only 5 to 10 pages at a go. But sometimes hard books with a goodly share of academic jargon are worth the effort. Gullette analyzes how our culture insidiously assigns an identity to each age; this is not static. It changes as our culture changes. Other people are writing glib books, and wishful books about "aging" but they do not have the perspective and have not done the amount of research Gullette has brought to this book. She describes the "age narratives" that each of us tell ourselves. She calls it our "virtual identity".

A couple of posts ago, Kass replied to something I wrote saying that aging is a matter of loss. I reacted immediately. I know where that feeling comes from -- the cultural narrative that has been assigned to us which Gullette discusses at length. We women, especially, worry about our appearance and the loss of a youthful body and face. If we have vested our physical appearance with our identity, we will lose it unless, like a great many actresses and wealthy women we can afford to constantly pay specialists to make us look younger than we are. When our youthful appearance gives way to a mature face and body, we have not become a different person, we have not lost who we are. We have naturally gained the look of maturity.

The loss that comes with menopause is not a loss of identity, only of child bearing capability and in this age few of us want to have children late in life. The empty nest when children go to college, is not a loss of motherhood. You cannot stop being a mother. If you have raised your children into young adulthood they have become people with whom you can share a loving friendship that is, or can be, the deepest of friendships possible. And then there's that horror that many women fear -- the husband who, because he cannot face his own aging, [or for some other reason] choose a younger woman or a more exotic one. That is a loss of social prestige but can be an enormous gain in freedom and self-possession once the woman realizes that "wife" is a role, not an identity. In our society divorce is often a financial loss for the woman and that is very painful. But many times that financial loss forces her to assess what she needs and how she can live as herself, what resources, talents and skills she has. I do not see maturity as loss in any way -- sometimes it's a forced jettisoning of the unessential.

Yesterday I found a poem I did not know by a poet I know nothing about, David Whyte, the poem is called "Sweet Darkness" and the last lines are:

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is to small for you.

This you appreciate when you are mature enough to know who you are and what you really need -- not what our culture says we are and what we need to be that person culture wants to make us.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

50572 words written in 25 days

Undertaking the NaNoWriMo challenge has been a very odd experience for me. In short it is to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. I was not thinking of doing it until Rachel asked quite innocently [? -- I think] late in October if I were going to do it. I recollected a novel called "Geneva's Quilts" that I once started and put aside. Why not finally write it, I thought. There is now a sub-genre of books about quilters/quilts with a publisher or two who know how to market them at quilt events and in quilt stores, maybe the book could actually be published. So I signed up and I have been writing. This is not a reasonably way to write a book. It has been both seat-of-the-pants and without a strong drive to make a specific statement.

I had no doubt I could produce the words, although I had only a vague idea of a plot. In fact, I've just reread the synopsis I wrote when I signed up and I find almost nothing in it congruent with what I've been writing. I became interested in my main character, Liz, and the men who come into her life because of her interest. Suddenly I'm writing a romance as much as the original story about the quilt stash she has discovered and the aging quilter who plans to give them all away. I'm not a romance writer -- far from it. I'm so far away, in time and experience, from what is being written by and about twenty-something romances today that I'm a blind man describing and elephant. But, I tell myself, people are people and I find these people unusual enough to be interesting if far from typical twenty-somethings.

Today I hit the 50,000 word goal and am maybe half done with a first draft -- a very sketchy draft in need of enormous rewriting -- and rethinking. I feel as if I'm a dinosaur of very little brain standing at the edge of the La Brea tar pit and likely to begin sinking at any moment ... committing months to actually writing this novel. And then more months, maybe years in the search for publication. And then, if the miracle of publication happens in this changing era of the book business, of course, I cannot hope for anything like a reasonable return on the time invested.

My first impulse was to say, "No, I'm not doing NaNoWriMo." Many first impulses are the ones to go with. I gave in to a slightly stronger, secondary impulse, which is to say yes to the challenges that arise. The tar is warm and sticky. I won't starve while I sink, there are plenty of dead bodies around to gnaw on.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery

Coincidence sometimes puts books in my hands that I would not read otherwise. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery came to me that way. When visiting in NYC, Ellen said she had read and liked this book -- she doesn't proclaim it, but I think she's a covert Francophile. The next day at my favorite thrift shop I found it on the shelf. I would not have purchased a book with an adolescent on the cover because it suggests to me that it's going to be a coming of age story in the insipid way I detest, "They say to write what you know and I'm only 20 and all I know is the pain of growing up." No, not at all, this is told by a very grown up and well educated writer although the two women in it are stuck, like adolescents critical of everything their parents do, in their too aware and painfully sharp disgust with the bourgeoisie who inhabit the elegant apartment building where Renee is the concierge and Paloma a sulky 12 year old rich kid.

Renee works hard to be the stereotypical concierge, all but invisible to the building's denizens, except to Manuela, a Portuguese cleaning woman. Most of the story is told in Renee's mind, portions, in different type face, are notes toward a philosophical view of life by Paloma who has decided on suicide on her 13th birthday to escape the pretentiousness she's afraid will be her fate. I had difficulty getting involved with both characters for the first third of the book but was pulled along by Barbery's writing which seemed very "French" and, indeed, elegant as the two philosophized and said senseless things such as that hedgehogs are elegant. Eventually both are befriended by an wealthy Japanese who moves into the building and their protective judgmental attitudes are striped away.

It was a double Cinderella story with a twist to the happily ever after ending as if nothing of equal importance could be told after the sooty clothes are shed, in that sense I was disappointed. Growing up is difficult whether you're 12 or 54, but living as a true adult is even more difficult. Not enough books attempt to show how it's done.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thsi Baby Aint Gone Yet

This is one of two geraniums that were Mother's Day presents and have ever since been hanging at the sides of my postage stamp patio. That is to say, they are almost exactly six months old -- at this location, never mind their starts back in some greenhouse. The leaves, as you can see, are turning red in homage to autumn but the flowers are still pretty perky and there are some buds that might yet open.

I feel both kindness toward and kinship with these geraniums, surely septagenarians in their species. They have not had a soft cushy life, certainly not in the past couple of months as the temperatures drop into the forties and even upper thirties at night. But we have had many very beautiful days in the last week and my geraniums respond with vigor and zest. I take them, for now at least, as totems to my new abode and new life in this very different place than I have lived previously. They were gifts from my daughter and I couldn't have had a better Mother's day gift. Someday snow will fall on them and they will die a natural death -- I am not a gardener who wishes to bring them in and force them to endure a protracted dotage. This is not a covert comment about my own feelings about life's final stages for myself. I'll deal with that when it comes as, of course, is bound to happen. For now I'm feeling at least as vigorous as these flowers and hoping to sprout a few new blooms of my own -- after all, as I've noted in these posts, I'm well into a novel once given up but now taking on new life. It is not an accident, this time around, that two of the characters are octogenarians.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

NaNoWriMo -

All of November I have been in the NaNoWriMo mode -- trying to write 50,000 words of a novel. I don't consider that a great challenge and find I'm averaging about 2500 a day, which puts me a bit ahead even though there was a three-day weekend when I didn't write at all. The organization cheerily sends out pep talks once a week -- the organizers handle it like a great game. I'm to old to play games. I just decided to tackle a once started and then dumped novel idea again and see how it goes. [Google NaNoWriMo if this is a new term to you.]

I've discovered what might be a bell shaped curve. It was steeply up and then a nice plateau of getting on with the story and watching it become more complex. Now, I have either started down the opposite side or hit a dip. I am truly questioning the worth of the story -- no, really the worth of my writing of the story. Now and then I really like a couple of pages, but mostly I think: this is not interesting enough to hold readers' attention this far. The plot is unfolding too slowly.

Yes, yes, I know there's rewriting to do but in NaNoWriMo mode one doesn't rewrite but plunges ahead accumulating words. But in that mode, it's hard to say, well, I'll probably jettison those 5 pages and I need to add X to spice up the story. It's reaching a point when it seems very, very messy. I've got a story mapped out in my head, things that will happen. The plot from that earlier idea that still fascinates me.

This morning I'm thinking of this process like making yeast bread. The first steps are very easy, add the milk or water, the butter, the yeast and eggs if it has them. Beat into a nice batter. That I thought I was doing with the novel. Then one adds flour cup by cup. It takes a bit to add enough flour to make a kneedable dough. At that early stage it is sticky, gooey, it's hard to mix in the flour but not at all pleasant to the hands. When it becomes kneedable it is a joy to work with. One needs to keep adding flour until she can dump it onto the floured surface and turn it into a smooth, elastic ball that feels alive in the hands. Then it can be put to rise and then shaped into loaves and baked until it becomes something delicious and even nutritious.

I'll call this the baker's view of novel writing. I love to bake bread and I love to write. Mostly I trust the methods of both, but I trust novels far less. Everyone needs and loves bread, especially warm from the oven. Novels stop being analogous at that point. Another novel is not needed or wanted [least of all by publishers] and it doesn't necessarily smell good, look good or otherwise appeal. At this point the metaphor is going south and I should drop this line of thinking or I won't get today's 2500 words written.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

By the Waterside

Strolling by the shore I watch
slow waves write a calligraphy of light
refracted down to the sandy bottom
eddies make mottled movement
of shadows in the shallows.
I round a corner and am dazzled
by dancing sparkles, splinters and shards of light.

I pause to ponder how humankind have lived
beside oceans, river, lakes since earliest times,
at first curious and confused
by these moving sights,
but hungry and searching for fish,
snails,crabs, anything soft within the shell, edible.
Learning to trust water's bounty,
learning too its dangers.
One day Lao Tzu, so I've read,
sat by the river that had run there
longer than memory.
He was struck by a spark of thought --
that river was not the river
he sat by yesterday.
Yesterday's water was far away,
he had never seen this water before.
The river looked the same,
light played the familiar tricks
but it set off different shadows and shards.
Nothing was the same.
He could never step again into yesterday's river.
Lao Tzu was different yesterday,
the sky had different clouds,
the air blew a different breeze.
All was changed, changing, change.
Change the only constant.
He drew words on aspen bark,
despite relentless change
the words remain.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A literary soiree?

At times I know that I have moved to a foreign country -- today is one of them. Part of the foreign country is this earliest part of New England and part of the foreign country is the land of the older persons. We're not in NYC any more, Toto. It doesn't look like Oz, but it sure isn't NYC. I'm befuddled and bemused and somewhat be-saddened.

The so called "literary soiree" of the Adult Lifelong Learning Center of the community college where I am taking classes was this afternoon. An hour after I sat through a very old film of Rigoletto in the opera course. The man introducing the opera read disjointed notes, he gets and E for effort and a D- for delivery. The ancient DVD had a youthful Pavarotti as the Duke in magnificent voice and acting charmingly. A physically unattractive Rigoletto was a fine actor with many emotions on his doughy face that were deeply touching. Gilda was a Russian with a smallish voice and incredibly tiny teeth, as if she had never lost her baby teeth, very bothersome. Meanwhile the Sparafucila was given a set of [I hope] false teeth [or caps] that were grossly deformed, indicative of his evil livelihood. Shot on location in Mantua, the final scene on the river at dawn was very beautiful. What an emotional ride that experience was! And what incredible dullness in the audience! Said the woman next to me, "A very lively story." Another was very confused to discover on the DVD case that the baritone who sang Rigoletto also sang Monterone -- although the credits clearly said it was shot at one time and the music added at another. There's no point in trying to talk to anyone in that class.

So I went to the so-called literary soiree in an emotional muddle because Verdi always ties my emotions in knots and I had seen a magnificent Rigoletto production last spring shot live in Bologna with a Rigoletto who was magnificent -- not handsome, but grand. And not a soul with whom to share and compare.

The soiree certainly did not deserve such a hoity-toity French word. Six authors of self-published books were lined up before rows of folding chairs. There was no attempt at getting to know anyone. Only two readers had a clue how to use the microphone and the woman doing the introductions was even worse, holding the mic well away from her mouth so it served no purpose at all. Only one reading was lively, as I knew it would be by that particular member of the writing class I'm taking. The others, including a poet, mumbled distant from the mike in a monotone. Three readings were of children's books. These are, of course, mostly grandparent age people but sheesh! "Literary soiree?"

I understand self-publishing if you want to share your stuff with a certain limited audience and you understand this is your purpose but these people all seemed to think their work would have a wider audience. One book deserves a wider audience but as the woman said, she sent query letters to 100 publishers none of whom rejected the book because they didn't even ask to see it. That's an attitude other writers might take out of ego-defense. It is worthwhile book but as she said, it's currently available from the trunk of her car.

I am having culture shock where 5 of 6 people are apparently satisfied with -- and proud of -- their self-published efforts. I'm used to people with ambitions and at least some sense of how they compare with the greater world. I feel no greater world exists beyond the Sagamore Bridge which connects mainland Massachusetts with the Cape. Yet, a handful of excellent writers do live here at least part time. But the don't associate with the likes of these even if they are in the proper age bracket.

[the photo above is a stone fence, of Rbt. Frost-ly vintage, once marking fields, now all but lost among a regrown forest. Somehow it seems an apt metaphor]. In a nutshell, I do not wish to vanish among regrown forests.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Age Identity

Now and then I read academic books that are so dense in theory and research that I can only read about 5 pages at a time. One that I'm reading now is Aged by Culture, by age researcher Margaret Morganroth Gullette. This is an important book but not an easy one. She defines her field and she defines much else, it's a heavy meal. I am not coming across pithy things to underline because that is definitely not the style. But the following longish bit seemed something I wanted to share. It's from a section called "Age Identity as an Achievement."
Age identity is a special subset of autobiography -- I understand broadly, as a narrative that anyone can tell about one's self, to self and others, whether informally in conversation or written for archival purposes. No particular level of education is required. Age identity is special because its focus is on the meaning of long time, although it can highlight one-time events or short periods of epiphanies. It's what I report when I stand back to survey where my "historic" trail has led me. From observation and self-report, I think that identity over time can be seen as a sense of an achieved portmanteau "me" -- made up, for each subject, of all its changeable and continuing selves together -- connected in different ways, or intermittently, but sometimes barely at all, to a sensuously material body.

The partially conscious, partially unselfconscious, agglomeration includes private, self-defined traits, relationships, heartbreaks, and desires; the secret my father told me when I was eleven, the secret I told my son when he was twenty-one, stuff I'll never tell about early sex, ambitions relinquished, dreams maintained against the odds. Memories of this kind feel authentic, and if they are not, nothing is.

I think of this above quote especially in relation to the writing class I am in at the local community college where most people are writing memoir pieces. A couple that were read yesterday were particularly memorable. It was interesting that one writer let the work speak for itself which it did powerfully. The other writer had no confidence in his writing -- which was quite vivid and needed not explication. But he talked and talked about the subject before and after reading his work. The former was willing to project identity and trust what he wrote, the latter neither trusted his writing nor was he self-assured enough to feel he had project himself adequately.

[the portrait above is, of course, Georgia O'Keefe]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Write about Everything ...

A friend who is also involved in NaNoWriMo sent me this quote from Sylvia Plath:

"Any by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise."

For a woman raised in the early '50s with the restrictions about being a "good girl" that society was laying on us [I am squarely of her generation], the operative word here is "guts". Most writers have the imagination although they may be afraid to improvise -- a matter of guts again. Nerve could be substituted for guts, if you're a guy you might substitute balls. She's talking about taking chances and not needing to be liked, not caring about the disapproval that will rain down on the writer's head -- far more so back then! -- when writing about a socially unacceptable subject.

Now if a writer reads widely s/he will see that indeed Sylvia was right, everything is writable and someone has had nerve/guts/balls enough to write about it. What one wants is to do it better, more honestly, or more specifically to a situation. There comes the imagination, with skill holding up the umbrella that will deflect the storm of indignation of the good manners police.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Advice from a Pro

I'm well into NaNoWriMo with nearly 17,000 words so far -- will get to 20,000 today I think. I received a card with this quote from Mark Twain: You need not expect to get the book right the first time ... God only exhibits his thunder and lightening at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lightening too much, the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by.

Twain pulled off some wonderful thunder and lightening. I have doubts about what I'm writing being much more than a summer rain; but maybe on rewriting some of it will eventually build up to a bit of rumble in the distance or even a far away flash of light. In any event, I am having fun pouring out my heroine's story and I haven't even got to the most important part yet.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Highline

The Highline is Manhattan's newest urban park. It is on the bed of the elevated rail line that has been closed and unused for decades along the far West Side from the center of the West Village up to 20th street [it will eventually go to 34th or so] This formerly desolate bit of odd real estate was a long stretch of rusting rails and weeds of all sorts, seeded by bird and rat dropping and heaven knows what else. The flora has been left, there is no prettied up plantings. So these dried weeds, looking sculptural are natural there.

One of the most spectacular new buildings along the way is this Frank Gehry office building with a magnificent view of the Hudson and the harbor. No two sides are the same, as is Gehry's style. We are becoming accustomed to the idea that buildings don't have to be geometrically regular. In fact, Gehry's curving buildings are adding excitement all over the world. This one is relatively restrained compared to some of his art museums and concert halls.

These daisies are just a few of the hearty flowers still looking good the first weekend of November -- there were some weedy blue flowers that were absolutely spectacular [no photo, alas] I was in NYC for just some 40 hours but packed a lot in, including this walk on the Highline with what seemed like a large portion of the population. It was a magnificent blue sky day with temperatures around 60. I had never known that part of the city, when I first moved to NYC nearly 30 years ago it was a place a woman did not go alone -- nor, for that matter, did anyone who didn't have a connection with someone there. Now, just north of the Highline, over the last 15 or fewer years most of the art galleries that were in Soho, and many that are newish have moved into the west 20s. They've totally changed the neighborhood. There was time for looking at several, including seeing David Hockney's wildly vivid landscapes of his home area in England -- this is a man who is not becoming more conservative as he ages. He's getting bolder and brighter. There were two new Frank Stella steel constructions, hugh mazes which awe even as they cause claustrophobia. And a couple of shows by people whose names were unknown to me but who had fascinating work.

This is just one opportunity to look between the buildings at the river and New Jersey across the way. I'm told the park is lighted with low lights within the weeds at night and closes at some point. Like all good NYC public spaces there are many benches and toward the middle is a snack vender and quite a lot of seating, including in one strip with wooden chaises such as are sometimes found on beaches, wide enough for couples to sit side by side and sun. It's a thoroughly delightful place. Another reason to love NYC, another reason, although I don't need to pile up the reasons, to return whenever I can manage it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ready to be given away

At last this is finished and I'm about to take it to NYC to give it to the Empire Quilt Guild -- I'm going to the meeting on Sunday -- for their project of providing quilts for a homeless shelter for vets in the city. This is exactly the same pattern as the quilt below which I made for the same charity. I like the one below better. When I was making it I saw that the centers of the pattern were stars and wondered what would happen if they were all a different color than the diamond shapes that separate the squares. This is the result.
NOTE: I really meant this post for my other blog, Calender Pages, and maybe there's a way to move it but I don't know it and it's very early in the morning when, obviously, I'm not exactly in high gear anyway. Just an explanation of what's going on here.

Interesting that one pattern can look so very different. And I can imagine that if I had chosen to make every star different and all the bordering pieces, which here are a great variety of scraps mostly in the brown family, it would be yet again very different. Well, I'm not going that far, I'm tired of sewing this particular design. And it's off to a worthy home. And I'll be on to some of the other projects that I listed a couple of weeks ago.

Meanwhile I"m very much looking forward to the guild meeting even though I will have to leave a bit early to catch my homeward bus. So much to do, so little time -- always the story. Not a bad problem, really a rather nice one.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

When You're Having Fun ...

The question asked about my last post was how do I find time? For one thing, I'm retired so I can spend the time. But secondly when you're having fun it creates energy.

And I am truly having fun, I'm almost sorry that I'm going to NYC for the weekend and have decided I will not take the laptop so I'll have a three day hiatus. What I thought was going to be a fairly straightforward little story is getting more complex. It seemed all women for a while but suddenly the protagonist has two men in her life, well one is jogging in place in my brain because he just materialized as I was writing earlier today but hasn't walked through the door yet -- after dinner I'll have another go at it and see what he's going to say for himself. This is why I don't outline. I love when there are surprises.

All of which does not say this is going to be a successful novel. I can't tell. Could become a mere clump of bytes in the memory of a computer never to see the light of day. Or it could eventually let me know it needs to be the same only very different. That's for much later. For now it's just fun.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

OVer 10,000 words

The sun was just coming up - with change in time I'll always be up for dawn but it won't always be so glorious.

The sun is about as completely up -- maybe more so -- as I am in this new novel undertaking. I've topped 10,000 words. The number sounds bit to those who don't write much but it's only about a tenth of a typical novel of something in the neighborhood of 300 pages. I feel like it's mostly scene setting at this point but the wonderful thing about writing a novel is one can take time to explore the characters and setting and situation. Things are happening but slowly. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut said as a refrain in Slaughterhouse Five.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Off to a decent start

Two days into NaNoWriMo with the goal of 50,000 words -- I've done over 5,000, more than 10%. But this weekend will be a blank so I'm hoping to get ahead. And I'm asking myself -- so what? This a purely voluntary writing exercise. I can tell myself it's important to reach the goal but I know it doesn't make a bit of difference in the long run, not to the world [most certainly!] and not really to my ego. It's a game and I am usually a bad game player because winning is never very important to me. The "Competitive" screw in my personality is loose, maybe got lost along life's way.

Anyway, I'm discovering things as I write -- various unexpected facts about the characters as I first describe them. Some people do all that in advance. I like to surprise myself, which pieces of my own background/reading/experience I can draw on. It's fun. My main character has taught school in Mongolia. This sets her apart from the potentially insipid person I originally had in mind. Her aunt is a retired school teacher who likes the "warhorses of middle school poetry" -- that offers some potential for dialog. These little bits are fun.

The big discovery is that I'm not writing the genre piece I said to myself I would write. Currently there is a minor genre of books that feature quilts or quilters, sweet stories, some of them historical, mostly, I take it [not having read any] well plotted and well researched. My research, from immersion in the subject, is pretty solid, but I'm not writing an easy-to-read genre piece. I don't think I can do that for any genre. I have never in my life wanted to write what people want -- thus I refused to study journalism in college. The questions looming in my mind are already bigger -- art questions, art versus craft questions, intention of folk artists. And then there's a trio of old ladies -- two among the old-old, over 85, one hearty seeming and the other frail. I don't know yet, but one or maybe both will die. My young character will have to deal with that, too.

The photo is a quilt of mine that is not quite the kind of wild, mostly unlovely -- or so the locals think -- quilts that feature in the story. But this one is on the "wild" side -- too much so for me to want to live with, so I gave it to Leslie who liked it. But then she lives in California and the sensibility is a bit different out on the Left Coast. Time to go back to my NaNo work.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Can Do It

I read, recently, on another blog this quote from Picasso "I always do what I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it." This seems the general motto of NaNoWriMo -- challenge yourself to do what you cannot do, i.e., write a novel in a month. I have heard of some acclaimed novelists who were said to be able to do this [short novels, of course] and produce novels they did not rewrite. I can't remember if those were people who wrote formulaic work like murder mysteries. Such geniuses in music have existed, Mozart was said to be able to write a symphony in a week or two without revision.

I don't expect to write a whole, and certainly not a polished, finished novel in the month of November but I wrote the introductory 1800+ words yesterday and truly enjoyed it I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer. I do not start with a plot or with notes about my characters. I have a very simple plot in my mind: protagonist has a goal, goal seems attainable, complications arise, goal seems unlikely to be attained, goal is attained but probably in a somewhat different manner than was originally envisioned. I'm being very general because I know things will change as I wrote.

Mainly yesterday, and today -- in a few minutes when I go to that file and start writing -- I am setting the physical scenery, and describing the characters. I haven't yet had Liz, the protagonist meet Geneva, who is a sort of antagonist. For me the delight in working from the seat-of-the-pants is discovery as I write. I set it in the part of rural southern Indiana where I grew up. It's a landscape that is easy to write about and enjoyable. The characters are the type of people I have known although none are based on my actual family or people I know. A certain dialect is spoken there that I enjoy using to give flavor to dialog.

Many people doing this exercise [they are all over the world. I haven't looked at the total number, but I'm sure it's on the website] are working more "traditionally" with outlines and laborious notes they made in the last few weeks. Good luck to them. It's a matter of temperament -- and possibly of age and experience. I know words flow easily and I do not have ego issues at stake. This is a story I attempted once possibly twenty years ago, maybe more, I now have a different perspective and more experience so I can write in greater detail. I'm having fun. That's an important factor. I strongly suspect Picasso had fun every time he took up pen or paintbrush, he couldn't have kept going for so long and produced so much art if it weren't a great pleasure.