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.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Moving Is an Art

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident

the art of losing's not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

Moving is an art, and I am not very good at it. This wonderful poem captures the feelings of the leavings. In a mobile world, two people--one of whom is me--left New England ten years ago. We were quite happy where we were, but as husband Bill says, "We go where the work is." That meant Georgia for five years. Then that meant Arkansas for five years. The 'art of losing isn't hard to master.' Except on the days when it felt impossible. Tennessee Williams' narrator, Tom, said in The Glass Menagerie, that their father worked for the phone company and fell in love with long distance. Some people enjoy fresh starts. Me? Not so much.

Now it's time to move back. We are building a house. We will wind up with friends and family and know where everything is. Hot dog rolls will open at the top. The ocean will be a mere three hours away. More importantly, the poem's last paragraph disaster of loss does not apply here. I can accept the fluster and the floundering and the fickle unpredictables because we are returning home. Together.