Monthly Archives: December 2006

brain brain

I am feeling strange. My brain is in a weird state right now–a combination of short brain games and lack of memory. While taking on the concept of a brain game earlier today, I suffered a memory overhaul. Now I can’t say what I want to say or remember what I want to remember. It’s just a weird situation.

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Filed under Memories, The Stroke

Book Sentence Meme

From Susan. I thought it was cool. I thought, “neat.” I thought about it. Then I did it. I’m dealing with the aftermath of a weird mini-migraine or head thing. Why not?

Here it is:

Take five books off your bookshelf.
1. Book #1 — first sentence
2. Book #2 — last sentence on page fifty
3. Book #3 — second sentence on page one hundred
4. Book #4 — next to the last sentence on page one hundred fifty
5. Book #5 — final sentence of the book
Make the five sentences into a paragraph:

Believe it or not, I had exactly 5 books with me this week.

Everyone had aways said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. He had every piece of equipment he had ever been issued, ever present he’d received from home: helmet, helmet liner, wool cap, scarf, gloves, cotton undershirt, woolen undershirt, woolen shirt, sweater, blouse, jacket, overcoat, cotton underpants, woolen underpatns, woolen trousers, cotton socks, woolen socks, combat boots, gas mask, canteen, mess kit, first-aid kit, trench knife, blanket, shelter-half, rain-coat, bulletproof Bible, a pamphlet entitled “Know your Enemy,” another pamphlet entitled, “Why we Fight,” and another pamphlet of German phrases rendered in English phonetics, which would enable Weary to ask Germans questions such as “Where is your headquarters?” and “How many howitzers have you?” or to tell them, “Surrender. Your situation is hopeless,” and so on. A compelling style itself retards the action by inviting the reader to linger over the words and sentences. How many years would it take for a dwarfed trunk to become like flexed biceps? He gave her a smile too ad he put her there, right next to him, ascendant, with all the blue sky in the universe crowding in behind her.

The books were:

1. Go Tell It on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
2. Slaughter-House-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
3. 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, by Jane Smiley
4. The Sound of the Mountain, by Yasunari Kawabata
5. Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle

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Filed under Inspiring, Writing

input week

So this is how it feels to hole up somewhere: the snow has come on and off this week, the sun has come and gone and returned, the chilly air outside has the snap of a crisp spring peapod, and all is very peaceful. There is no external stimulation; my life has turned totally inward this week. Reading books, watching DVD after DVD.

No writing (tried). No “work” of any kind.

For some reason, I cannot do this while at “home.”

I guess even writers can take a vacation.

Happy New Year.  I wish everyone many good stories this year!

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Filed under Life

Murakami on The Great Gatsby

My favorite contemporary novelist, Haruki Murakami, talks about his favorite novel (and incidentally my favorite novel of all time since junior high), The Great Gatsby, at PopMatters.

Whenever Murakami speaks, he enlightens me on one matter or another. I was curious as to what he would say about The Great Gatsby, and here is an example of one way he describes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book:

Fitzgerald splits his own point of view into three characters in this novel: protagonist Gatsby, narrator Nick and rival Tom. The portrayal of the three characters is astonishing. This is what any novel should convey.

He ends the interview by saying he aspires to be more like Dostoevsky in his future writing. This is the 2nd time in recent months that he’s mentioned Fyodor Dostoevsky; in a previous interview, he stated that “the best is yet to come,” citing Dostoevsky’ last brilliant works.

But if you ask me about my goal, I’d have to say it’s (19th-century Russian novelist Fyodor) Dostoyevsky. This may be too ambitious, but I guess it’s better to set yourself high goals.

Nobody has gone beyond the deep and comprehensive scope of the stories he created in his later years.

Just like Jay Gatsby gazed at a green light far away on the other side of the river, I will continue to gaze at a similar universe of narratives.

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Filed under Reading

big storm brewing

literally!  not figuratively!  big storm winter snow storm approaches.  woo!  the wind is blowin’!

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Filed under Life, Miscellaneous

the short and the long of it

I have a friend who is a great writer working on a novel that is just brilliant. I have heard her say multiple times that she cannot write a short story. Because she is not the kind to fish for compliments, I accept that she believes she cannot write a short story. Her competence in the long (novel) format coupled with her hesitance with short story writing makes me wonder about the relationship between the two formats.

Is writing a short story like running a 500 yard dash, and a novel like running a marathon? Are there any athletes that can do both? I don’t know of any, do you? Does the short story utilize different “writing muscles” than a novel? There have got to be similarities–plenty of writers write both great short stories and novels (e.g., J.D. Salinger, Isaac Babel, Haruki Murakami, and James Baldwin, for starters) …but then there are novelists like John Irving who admit to not writing short stories. (I read once, and I’m sorry I cannot remember where, that he thinks he writes much better novels than short stories. Having read a collection of his short stories as well as almost all his novels, I concur).

If there is a distinct relationship between the short and long formats, it’s interesting to note that MFA programs use short stories as a basis for teaching fiction. MFA programs breed short story writing. From personal experience, I’ll tell you that it’s much easier to workshop a short story than a novel, even if you are taking a workshop focused on novel writing. From the basis of short stories, students are supposed to pick up the principles of novel writing (if that is one’s goal). But is it the only way to teach the longer forms? Is short story writing the best way to teach a novel?

Both formats contain the basic craft elements of fiction: character, plot, language, setting, point of view, etc. It’s clear that examining these elements through short story writing is probably a lot less wieldy. Also, there seem to be a great deal of debut writers publishing short story collections first, and then a novel second–showing that this leap is often made. But I wonder where the gaps might be. For one, I know my gap is in the pure endurance level of writing a novel. I get distracted.

In interviews, Haruki Murakami often speaks of getting into physical shape to write his novels. He needs the fortification he says, to deal with much of what he confronts as he writes the long format. I wonder if he needs the same kind of conditioning and preparation to write his short stories?

Likewise, I wonder about writers who do write both formats. Murakami does not write short stories while he writes his novels. In doing so, I wonder if that’s an acknowledgement of how different short stories are from novels. But then there are writers who can do both concurrently.

While at a writer’s colony, I wanted to focus solely on my novel. I ended up writing a short story while there. I felt guilty about taking my attention away from the novel, but my friend and fellow resident commented, “Your novel will thank you for writing short stories.” She herself had written many short stories while writing her first novel and said it was a blessing.

As always, there seems to be no black and white rules to writing. This holds true for the relationship between short and long writing forms. Who can do one or the other? Who can do both? Can one focus on both at the same time? Just curious.

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Filed under The Novel, Writing

Reviving an Old Fashioned Relationship

moleskine

I love technology. I love writing on a laptop. I think my typing keeps pace with my thoughts, I can barely write any other way. If my laptop were to fizz out on me, I think I’d be paralyzed as a writer for some time. It makes sense that I embrace blogging.

I started blogging nearly ten years ago, before the world called these things “blogs,” and before such things as wordpress, blogger, and movable type. I did the HTML by hand, tweaking a template with a new post each day.

I blogged to connect to the world, to share my thoughts, to get a sense of audience. That sense of connection to people and the world is intensely important to me. I want to be understood. I blogged to keep myself writing, because back then I harbored secret fiction writing dreams. The internet was so small back then, I was once only one of 500 women on the web!

But now I don’t feel so safe on the internet anymore–I take precautions, sure. But I’m talking about emotional safety. What was once a small village, and then a town has become a huge metropolis. There are vandals (the spammers) and though there have always been trolls (people who try to start flame wars, or provoke) on the internet, they have increased in number. These days, I can’t take the heat anymore. Instead of feeling connection, I feel a deep misunderstanding in the world and in one or two cases, hatred towards me. One hating reader, in particular, has escalated to threats against my wellbeing.

Hence, blogging/writing under a pseudonym. And it turns out that when anonymous, I mostly blog about writing. That’s been a surprise to me!

Yet I still have the desire to write about my personal life–but not on a blog anymore. Maybe here, in bits and pieces, but I just don’t feel safe enough to share as much on my more eponymous blog anymore.  I pick my battles, I’d rather wrap up a blog than take chances with my wellbeing.

I came to this decision a few days ago–it was a heartbreaking and bitter decision to change something I’d been doing nearly everyday for nearly ten years. I was bitter because it was not something I really wanted to do, but felt nearly forced to do (say thank you to the stalker guy, everyone). I was so angry. I was stifled. I felt like my voice had been taken away. I had no outlet for this pain. I can’t write on a blog knowing that someone who hates me and actively tries to hurt me, is reading every single post on that other blog with my real name on it.  I’m sad.  It’s not the way I wanted to close out things on that blog.  I always imagined I would slow down my blogging there because I’d had a child and got too busy or some other happy reason.

One idea that occurred to me was that maybe I could write my thoughts down in a journal. I did that at a writing colony once, it was fruitful.

However, I had forgotten to take a beloved moleskine journal up with me here on this vacation in the mountains. I hunted all over this small town for a store that sold them. I ended up going over the mountains over the stateline into a bigger city thirty miles away where I finally found one. I was obsessed–if someone has glued your mouth shut, wouldn’t you search near and far for something that would dissolve the glue? (And ah, my neuroses as a writer that I would not write in anything other than a moleskine! Preferably unlined).

Now I am writing in my journal. The minute my pen touched the paper, I felt a sense of relief. I was writing things I would not write in my blog, ever, even at my most vulnerable. I was writing JUST for ME, not with an awareness of an audience/reader, not with entertainment in mind, and I was connecting with just myself. It felt sort of bittersweet not to be able to click “save” at the end, but I did close the notebook, knowing that my thoughts had found themselves to paper, somehow. They were secret. I would not be hurt or lambasted or criticized for them. I would not be judged.

I think this will be a fruitful relationship.

The first thing I’m noticing, on a physical level, is my penmanship. I rarely write by hand anymore, except for the occasional written correspondence (and holiday cards), and classroom note-taking. My writing is jagged and hesitant. I know how to analyze handwriting–and I see things in my handwriting that surprise me.

But onward with the journey!

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Filed under Life, Writing