Happy National Poetry month!
A writer without interest or sympathy for the foibles of his fellow man is not conceivable as a writer. ~Joseph Conrad
I often imagine God laughing and slapping His knee as He watches our antics. The Human Condition — our foibles and predilections — those things that make us unique among all other creatures of the earth. We are a comical group of creatures, taken as a whole, and I believe there is more joy than sadness to most lives. So, God being outside the boundaries of time, able to see the years of our existence without limitation, must find us a comedic riot.
I believe He finds writer’s an especially interesting and hilarious group because we so often forget we are human. We berate ourselves and expect the impossible: constant perfection, endless mental energy, and resolute daily writing performance. We forget that writing is a part of us, our social lives, and the world around us. We fall prey to an ill-conceived Ayn Rand vision that I call the Writer-as-Superman-Delusion.
I’ve been pondering this delusional tendency among writer’s since reading the book, The Tea Ceremony: The Uncollected Writings of Gina Berriault, several months ago. In, Don’t I Know You, an interview between Berriault and Bonnie Lyons and Bill Oliver, Berriault is asked a question that touches on the ebb and flow in a writer’s creative output. In this instance, it is the interviewer presupposing the Writer-as-Superman-Delusion:
In your career there’s a big gap between The Son and The Infinite Passion of Expectation. Why?
That’s a question that should never be asked. It opens a wound. What can a writer say about the gaps and silence? The question can’t be answered because the answer involves the circumstances of a lifetime and the condition of the psyche at one time or another. How can a writer possibly answer it without the shame of pleading for understanding of one’s confusions and limitations and fears? You call it a gap, but that’s the time between publications. There is no measurable gap. I never ceased writing….
This is a hauntingly sad and beautiful response to me. Berriault is raw and open in this passage. The wound red and bleeding. We feel the wince. That split-second of dismay as she tries to explain the inexplicable.
Perhaps she was thinking the gaps and silences are where life happens, where the struggle manifests from thought into expression. Or, she may have wondered whether to answer honestly and openly, as she did, or provide a more socially-acceptable response. After all, the mentally disturbed-obsessed writer locked in a room creating his masterpiece is a very popular stereotype!
The more accurate truth about writer’s is that most are normal human beings. A fact wonderfully explored by Daniel Wallace in the post Writing Cycles, Writing Funks on The Incompetent Writer blog. Wallace delves into the normalcy of a writer’s life. His post explores the “artistic well” of creative energy and the “flows of energy and strength” that a writer experiences. I love the truth exposed when he repeats a discussion with author Michelene Wandor, in which she tells him:
…writing is supposed to be a social activity. It’s supposed to have a social function, too–a wider purpose. …writing is supposed to be like everything else, with a rhythm and flow. It’s supposed to interact with life as well as, at times, require a retreat from it.
She makes a vivid and insightful point: writing is life, and not, life is writing. There are no magic Oracles speaking words into the writer’s ear. There is only existence in time and place. The daily life experience of people interacting with other people. Writing occurs within the social context not outside of it.
Could Hemingway be our Hemingway without his experiences and participation in the Spanish Civil War and WWII? Does one imagine Dostoevsky separate from the people, the landscape, and the experiences of Russia? Can one picture Voltaire apart from France? Could Richard Wright give birth to Native Son anyplace other than American soil?
While it is true that writers spend vast amounts of time alone working on their art, it is just as true that these same artists spend time in the world among others enjoying, observing, and participating in life as a whole.
The Writer-as-Superman-Delusion is an illusive dreamscape from which we must wake. Writer’s are simply human beings living and speaking. We mirror our place in world history, we capture the culture of the moment to help understand it in the now and to preserve it for future generations. They will know us through the words we leave behind. And, as Berriault says, in us the future may find a soulmate in the past.
Wonderful and deeply insightful piece on the ebb and flow of being a writer! Please read!
One of the funny things about writing a blog is that you see, on the screen in front of you, plain evidence of the upswings and downswings of your time, inspiration, and urge to write. You know when you haven’t posted much in a while.
It’s a very odd thing, however, how little the conscious mind seems aware of these flows of energy and strength. I might detect, consciously, no reason why I can’t sit down and write another paragraph of a story, or draft that little essay on Paco di Lucia that I had planned, and yet once I’ve been sitting at my desk for a time, and been unable to write much, it suddenly occurs to me that I’ve been away from home three weekends in a row. Simply speaking, I’ve exhausted myself and need to take a break.
My artistic well–which resides somewhere in the brain far…
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I’m late to the party. It’s been a busy few months. Time is always my scarcest commodity. I sit down to write today and notice the calendar on my wall is still on January. Ooops!
I’m four months into the new year before starting the traditional New Year blog entry. Okay then, make the best of it. I’ll start a unique tradition of writing my New Year post in April, after having given myself a few months to see how the new year is working out!
Thoughts on a New Year
I don’t do resolutions. I’ve never been very good at them – so it seems ridiculous to set myself up for failure in that way. The popular weight loss/diet objectives are lost on me. I know myself better than that!
The other cliché self-delusions drop to the side and disappear as well – no get-rich-quick schemes, no rearranging my personality, and I’m certainly not going to promise to be nicer to others or better at anything!
Marking time is a way for us to analyze and understand ourselves and our world. The New Year, like a birthday or wedding anniversary, can be a time to celebrate where we are, the gains we’ve made; or it can be a time of sadness, marking the loss of others from our lives or the promise of potential we failed to fulfill or attain. It’s a ritual we love. A way of considering who we’ve been and where we’re going.
So, here’s my takeaway: I’m satisfied with last year and ready for the remainder of this year. Here’s to a new chapter in the book of me that is still being written. Happy Belated New Year!
A Plague of Hackers
Hackers, who I’m convinced are either the evil Jinn of legend or demons from the pits of Hell, have plagued me relentlessly this year. My Yahoo and WordPress accounts are inundated with Acacia Berry Ad emails or other such nonsense with links that friends, coworkers and readers inadvertently open. So, a note to all, I Will NEVER send you links in an email or post a post with ONLY a link. These high-jinks are the work of evil invaders! Beware and do not open or follow!
I’m fighting this horde of evil attackers as best I know how. My accounts have so many levels of protection that I need a notebook filled with directions to use them!
Several friends have mentioned the linking of various social media accounts as an entry point for the evil Jinn. Others say certain astrological signs predestines one to attack! There are tons of crazy theories out there too! Me? I’m simpler than that, I’m here to use the technology not to spend all my time chasing down the forces of evil.
So, I’m hopeful we’ll soon assign this problem to some of our greater minds for the solving. You know, the same guys who figured out how to kill the zombies. Maybe in the near future we’ll be able to buy a Demon-destroying Hacker Survival Kit. With luck, it might be on the market by the end of the year!
Projects Public and Private
A writer works on projects both public and private.
The Blog is a public project – ideally, a straight-from-the-gut type of endeavor that gains a readership due to style and quirkiness as much as content.
Professional Bloggers may disagree with me, along with those in the business and marketing communities, because they see the Blog as the newest, most powerful form of written media in the modern world. They are entitled to that belief. However, as an old fashioned journalistic writer, I see the Blog as a different entity – one as much about style and positioning as content and relevance. It is immediate, live in real-time, and Public by nature.
Literary or journalistic work – such as short stories, essays, memoirs, and novels – are by necessity private projects, requiring hours of alone-time staring out windows and writing three sentences a day for months on end.
A good window is well-known to be the number one requirement for a successful writer. Mental illness, alcoholism, and creativity are always fighting for their places in the kingdom hierarchy (and it’s anyone’s guess which of them wins on a given day), but the window is always the King.
I’ve spent the past eighteen months in front of my window working on those private projects. Writing, crafting, editing, re-writing pieces for publication. It is a consummation that continues and makes me realize the need to apologize to my blog readers – forgive me this time I must take away from public writing.
Thank you for continuing to read when I do post – I will try to write a few more pithy, remarkable pieces for your amusement as time permits!
Watching: It’s What Writers Do
I have a new GSM at work who is delightful and funny. (He’s also intelligent and witty…ahem, in case you’re reading this Charles!)
He prides himself on accurately “reading” people and has mentioned this skill several times. Of course, always a good sport, I felt it necessary to test his abilities.
It was a profound observation because on my “day job” I perform in a vibrant, peacock stage personae. The Colleen of the sales floor a very different person from the Marissa of my writing career. Score a solid point for Charles! Most people are blinded by the false eyes on the feathers and miss the deeper truth of who I am as a complete person!
I cannot remember a time before watching was central to my character. I watch and listen and pay attention to everything. It’s what I did before I ever understood that it’s what writer’s do. It’s one of those “things” that makes a writer different. I believe it might be the most integral and important skill to develop as a writer.
Language, mannerisms, movement — all are necessary elements of story. And all writing is in some sense story. Consider the trend in recent years toward “Creative Nonfiction” in the journalistic realm. Even our news stories are STORIES! We want a little back story, some dramatization of events, and some quirky personal details with our news now, Thank You.
The man burglarized an apartment and stole a necklace, but was quickly arrested by police no longer satisfies our hunger for story.
The young man with biker tattoos on his left arm, a sleeve of skulls and roses, stalked the Burrows house for three hours before finally making his move. He pulled the heavy rock from the bag, smashed the picture window in the living room to bits, then crawled inside, snagging his jeans on the ragged glass. The pearl necklace, Mrs. Burrows most prized relic from a long-dead grandmother, was on top of the cherry chest. The culprit snatched it up and ran down the hall and out the back door. He was apprehended a block away by police. A concerned neighbor who heard the glass break dialed 911 and reported the incident just in time.
Now that, folks, is news the way we want to read it! We no longer want reporters who reports the facts. Rather, we want writers who make the facts interesting by way of story techniques. This requires the skill of watching, the ability to see the most minute of details, and then the further ability to transfer what was seen by the writers eyes and imprinted in his brain to the reader.
A Writer learns as a child does – by mimicry. A tone or dialect is heard, sounded out, memorized, and then recreated. The details of a scene – the type and location of a tattoo, the style of clothes someone wears, a particular twitch or movement – are noticed, memorized, recreated. The nuances of everyday life, people, and culture are captured and frozen on the page for others to share.
Isn’t it amazing how our eyes watching become the seeing eyes of another?
Isn’t it wonderful that we are able to capture the world inside and outside of ourselves through words. Then, share that with other people regardless of time and place. How very beautiful is the eternal.
Happy Writing, Happy Living… Marissa