Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thinking About Writing: The Warning Label

A writer friend of mine was in a philosophical mood a few weeks ago. One of the short stories she was working on insisted on cutting her too close to the bone. She found herself upset by what she was working on, and wanted to change details. She wanted to create a happier ending.

Now, this ending she was thinking of might not have been a better ending for the story, but it would have been much happier for her to write about.

She asked me four questions, and they are questions that all writers might ask themselves at one time or another, whether they are poets, or writing a column, or covering a horrible story.

Q: Ever hide behind a character?

Don't we all? Whether we are writers or not, aren’t we different people a lot of the time, depending on our mood, setting, the other characters around us? It’s at least one reason why Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage.” We are the players, the watchers, the writers, the cheerleaders, the audience, the buffers, and the creators. Those are a lot of characters to go out in the world on any given day.

Q: Should we really bare our souls?

Rarely. I'm thinking that in this culture of the moment, there's entirely too much of that going on. Too many people walking, wounded, wearing pain as a badge and telling their stories, unfiltered, to anyone who will listen. Including audiences on television.

Q: Is it dangerous, in some cases?

Yes, I think so. It's dangerous in lots of ways. We have our defenses for very good reasons. Who would pay to watch a guitarist who bled every damned concert because s/he couldn't form the calluses needed to play the music long and hard. (OK. Some people would go see The Bleeding Guitarist...but you wouldn't want to BE him. Playing nightly: The Martyr String Quartet, Stigmata as guest soloist)

Q. Why do we write?

What takes experience past venting, dumping, and dissipating? That's the part that interests me. The exploration of ourselves and others in characters, the worlds we live in, the schemes and plans that we can try, the revelation when we are surprised by what comes out on the page, that's the exciting part. Even if it's not clarified at the end. Maybe a glint of illumination amid the murk? Maybe that's enough.


bevjackson said...

If I took this at face value, I'd have to slit my wrists now and bleed all over your blog.

bevjackson said...

In a more useful vein...(ahem)...
Joan Aleshire's essay "Staying News"
A Defense of the Lyric

Shakespeare in the sonnets, Keats and Yeats speak from self's particular viewpoint, but for these poets, it's not only life's experience that interests, but how what has been thought and felt--*the burden seeking release*--can be made into the experience of a poem. The act of making the poem as a piece of work outside the self draws the poet's attention away from the self and into the work, which makes its own demands. True concentration on craft is an act of forgetting the self.

(and further...)
The argument of the poem--and Yeats believed that a poem is always a quarrel with oneself--is against the part of the self that *does* blame, that is heartbroken and enraged.

(and she quotes Marina Tsvetayeva)
"There is no approach to art; it is a seizing." In no art form is this seizing more apparent than in the lyric poem, which gives the shock of hearing a human voice speaking intimately, from the heart.

(my point being that there is a current "trend" to think that anything intimate is "confessional"
(the new BAD) and there *is* a difference!)

Beverly said...

Every single thing in your references make perfect sense to me. I want Anne Sexton's poems and all that pain, because she was a good writer.

I don't want 'look at what I've been thru, I can't write 2 well but it's all the turth.'