Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cafe Society of One, or Draft Avoidance

I have, for this afternoon, been given the respite of the cafe without either deadline or meeting. There is sadness around me, as if the idea of literature is weeping within me. A woman at a table to my left is having to find a new home for a pair of cats, which will be separated. She is repairing the effects of the conversation.

The radio has slipped to the wacka-blast skitter that tells me a 70's tv drama is about to crash into my table. A studly cop, a mysterious host, and a superhero slink into my imagination. Somehow, the Spanish spoken at the table diagonal to the left fits this mood.

Against the emptiness, the tilting table with my decorative beverage and clear plastic pen scrapes the tiles of a future that brakes and stops at a present that passes it, until table, pen, and page are part of the past--spacetime dips further backward and I'm leaning against the pressure of a single direction.

Perhaps this episode suffers from the heavy insomnia tossed over my shoulders. Cold tea pools beneath a restless breath and my veins twitch on the beat of this music. Without the old metaphors, what would I have left?

At the information desk, a woman asks for something with the triangular face of an alien, narrow eyes seamed into her cheeks. The instant I wonder how you would read the proper distance on her countenance, how blank netlog conversations are the preparation for words alone marking meaning, I have abandoned the draft beneath me. It becomes a napkin upon which I'll catch the overflow of the afternoon.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

One Hundred, Because That is the Word that Comes To Mind

I sit and watch the tables fill and think of the minutes and the keystrokes and the beats per minute and the small ink letters that keep spilling from the pen.

A dirge slow marches from the back corner of the coffee shop, thumping past the empty seats. No one slouches in the door or whispers in the corner. Bees lurking in the lines hum the closer I come to the marred pages. I tumble backwards through the pages until I impact the story which I've not thought of since this began.

Reading an article and comments on the web, I feel an unsteadiness, the words blown hot and sharp over the Styrofoam blocks to which we cling, the draggled birds floating on the dirty river at Babylon's gates. We argue over the trash, the last use of the emptiness, already unpacked of ideas.

I've seem them in the lots, the grackles and the crows. Screams and bright eyes, bitterness that shrinks my mouth to a beak and shrills my speech. Picking over the empty Sunday afternoon, the only camaraderie in the baristas in their quiet show behind the low bar.

Blue vortexes of touch-speech dissolve conversations beyond the bar skirt, a diffuse silent chatter. The machines hiss, plates click, and mean and women toss their jargon and civility to each other, a salve of speech in the miasma of an afternoon so numb that only Dali could have painted it. Silhouettes order coffee.

Sharp thorns on the words tangle my attention and I sink into the overgrown, chasing the shadows that sound like music running fleet between the weeds.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

There's a Female POV in this Soup!!

Recently, my spouse and I were running errands and knocking around plots. Our tastes are only similar in that we can both find stuff to read under the same broad label in the bookstore; however, we're both familiar with the tropes and commonalities of that section.

As I was describing a short story to him, he began to frown. By the end of the summary I was worried--his expression had closed in a frown, locking out the majority of the explanation. When I asked where the plot had gotten of track, I received a tense shrug. I just don't like stuff like that, your protagonists are talking about shopping and there's a mall and it's just women's stuff.

I will admit to a sudden desire to slap him. Women's stuff? Which he doesn't have to read because, you know, he's not a woman? Because a different perspective would, I don't know, break his brain? As I seethed--silently--beside him, I tried to find the outlines of his assumptions under the arguments. I believe that it's a case of assuming neutrality to a male POV and making the female POV of necessity only relevant to women, although I can't quite credit this. I could have cast the plot entirely with male protagonists in a quasi-medieval setting and it would have seemed like a standard be-careful-in-your-dealings-with-fair-folk plot...not a particularly gender-specific theme.

On the other hand, his opinion is valid. If he doesn't think he would relate to the plot as described, I should give him the benefit of the doubt. I don't care much for the armageddon-type plots he favors, either...although I don't see it as a gender issue (ew, boy stories...) so much as a plot preference. If he'd couched it in those terms, which I had been expecting, it wouldn't have been a big deal. It's the dissmissal itself that was irritating. Did the plot even register?

At the end of the day I decided to ignore it (relatively speaking), to assume that it has more to do with his tendency to class reading as pure enjoyment along with TV and video games. We'll still knock around plots. I'm just going to knock them a little harder next time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Stuck, stuck, stuck, stuck, stuck

I finished E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime over the weekend. It was a great read, albeit one that embedded a few splinters to the conscience as one read it. Hopefully the library has a few of his other novels so that I can see what he makes of other topics.

I've begun The Age of Innocence; however, I am doubting that I will finish it before the books are due back at the library. The mannered pace is something that requires more patience than I'm likely to bring to it, unfortunately. Would propriety throttle my interest delicately, should the time limit not run out or would sympathy and then, perhaps, empathy twine through the reading? Why don't I empathize with these kind of characters? What makes Jane Austen and the Brontes as opaque to me as tinted glass?

There is a reading list growing in my head based on this reading, one that includes Babbitt and a few other books that I managed to avoid in high school and college. In a way, these are fortunate ommissions in that these can be discovered now, when time and experience have perhaps made their stories more understandable and less dead letters suitable for dissection into plot and theme and essay.

As might have been detected from the title and the reading list, I am still mired in POV issues. There is a growing need to focus on the world-building, to attach the created world to this with thin fibers that may detach easily in the telling yet draw one back toward the end so that we are left by the side of the same road that we stood on in the beginning. IMHO, this that started as a simple justification for a short story that was roundly dismissed as being only worthwhile if it could be perfected has become one of those things that has grown to swallow worlds in its expansion and yet is, as any draft, an evanescent, vanishing project just as likely to pop into nothing as to coalesce into a book. There is no perfection that I can bring to it, only a simple management of air to keep it aloft.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pass Me a Weider's

I am stuck at the point where the pixels meet the LCD. The past few days have been a struggle with point of view while trying not to funnel the frustration of difficult drafts into pointless arguments about stereotyping, censorship, or Chick Lit. These are related issues--classification for control and protection and depending on a similarity of POV--but they aren't germane to the tangle of the drafts before me.

Instead, I find myself thinking of the Garrett novels by Glen Cook. Garrett is the voice in my head when I think about successful first person narration. He's the archetypal met-in-a-bar-and-told-this-unbelievable-but-true-anecdote and that is what I consider the epitome of this kind of narration. First person, to me, is about beguiling strangers, or telling truths just a nanosecond before the opportunity is gone forever, or explaining yourself when caught in a moment of reflection or imminent arrest. It's about having a story that has to be shared right then in it's entirety and that couldn't be told by anyone else but the person telling it.

At this moment, I don't have one of those characters or those voices yapping away at me, wondering when I'm going to stop fooling around on this blog and start listening to the story again.

Then I begin to worry that if I don't hear the characters that clearly, it won't matter which POV I choose because I won't be able to tell the story adequately. In real life, I'm not a catch-your-elbow-in-a-bar-and-chat kind of person. As a writer, I'd rather open a door and let you wonder around at a remove from the characters so that you have a chance to be in the world for a little while and not just in the story. I don't attach a value to one method over the other (or to POV itself); however, I do realize that part of the art is working with the vernacular and habits of the time. Yep, the pretension meter just jumped into the red. Sorry. Guess it's time for that Weider's and then some real work, right?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Library Day

The smell almost drove me away before I had finished. Sweet glue, dust, and use thickened the air that was barely thinned by a air conditioner hidden in some other corner; the scent was stronger than air anyway, and thrust the years back in a copse of shadowed wings that kept me balanced in crouch over my toes beside the lower shelves. Someone was leading the toddlers in a simple song in one of the back rooms but the entire library listened.

It's not that large of a library, yet it makes me feel small and awkward, as if I was much younger and not yet capable of dealing with all the choice and randomness. Except for some of the more familiar books, it feels more like it belongs in the tourist haven of Old Town Spring (remember books? remember libraries?) and there is a charmless practicality that draws one in and reinvests reading with purpose. Some of my earliest memories are of a library with a concrete floor, a fountain in the front, and grey steel shelves with same smell. The sidewalk in front of that dead storefront is unremarkable, but the shelves and the pale wood and the crinkle of books--the smell of them and feel of them--in this place carries me swiftly into elementary school, the Lake Jackson Public Library, and the Houston Public Library off Westheimer near the apartments where we used to live.

But the choice is small and I'm pressed to find something that I want to read. None of the books on my Amazon list are here, although there is a good gardening and cooking section to which I will be returning.

I'm not interested in ranting about what a library is or isn't, what it could be and what it's not--these topics are all tied into the idea that civic space and civic life are attenuating to the extent that people work longer hours, anesthetize themselves with entertainment, and then find politics (the engine of civic infrastructure) just another smorgasbord of opinion, entertainment, and team-building. Rant-y enough? Perhaps the idea that catches me is that the section in which I find myself looking is suffering the same shrinkage as it is in bookstores and I wonder if in perusing it I, like Alice, will shrink down to navigate its wonders.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Impossible Immortality or Why I Hate Spiderman

I have not always hated Spiderman. There were the ('70s? '80s?) live-action show and the cartoon (with Iceman & Firestar) that I enjoyed--I liked the idea of superheroism as a combination of job and collegial experience--something like being a fireman and living where you worked. Spiderman's sarcastic but effective code was fun to watch and I absorbed backstory, etc. exclusively through tv. Some years later, I married an ardent Spiderman fan. Not dress-like-Spiderman ardent, more like read-every-comic-book-see-every-movie ardent. Someone to whom Spiderman the character remained a potent emotional touchstone. Despite the movies' dreariness my spouse enjoyed them. Fair enough. He read the comics and watched the movies and was happy.

Then the story in the comics changed and I had to listen to fits of anger at the writers and at the editorial idiocies that took a storyline my spouse had enjoyed and basically said "whoops, didn't mean to do that, here's the new story." He's mad enough to give up something that he's enjoyed for a very long time and, bizarrely, I'm angry on his behalf. This is one of those continuity breaks that sheared him from the experience and, as such, puts him in the position of waste-binning one of the few pleasures he's held to since childhood. The problem is that there is a impossibile immortality that trails serialized character--the need to continue is fastened on to the need to change.

There is no immortality of experience for Spiderman that will continue to track the way a novel or epic or other similar narrative might. He isn't going to get old, he isn't going to have a final victory or defeat. He's just going to keep changing and leaving his former fans behind just as they leave him behind, in the detritus of an imaginary life while other kids pick up sheets and action figures and video games and move into the ruts of the story for a while. He could be cancelled in mid-arc. He could be rewritten in a thousand ways. I hate that this break chips away at other sadnesses in my husband's life and while I look forward to no more sarcastic, dreary, dull movies or convoluted discussions about storylines I fear that this may also make my husband feel just as abandoned on the dustbin as I've been feeling after losing my job. It's a crappy thing to do to a fan.

I hate Spiderman.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Somewhere to Go

From a sales table at a B&N on one or the other end of Houston I had found a copy of The Best American Essays 2009. Essays are something that I try to be wary of, like park trails with which I'm unfamiliar or neighborhoods that I've never before visited. Although trod or read by others, the possibility of danger (especially that of sudden shock to the view or the self-conception) turns me to safer paths.

As it turns out, the danger in this collection was that it would light the restlessness that I usually tamp down. We 'don't travel because of the dogs'--it's been a good excuse for the entirety of a marriage that covers the fact that we're not that flexible and our patience for each other's company is mediated by the minor absences of home, such as reading or watching tv.

For years I missed traveling with a ferocity that expressed itself in withdrawal. Then I grew accustomed to a circumspect prospect. Then I lost my job, the second car died, and the prospect withered to the precincts of the house. Frustration flared, but it died just as quickly with a sarcastic Haven't we been through this before?

So the book of essays, slim and yellow, turned out to be like a single tile in the puzzle of the way through Oz. I find myself thinking that I could be in New York City in a few days and spend just a few hours walking in brick and mortar canyons. Perhaps I could point the car toward Florida and an ocean that's not the color of mud. Each essay, each little slice of somewhere else, is like a tasting menu of the ideas that grow in other places, a non-locavore feast of language soaked in the specificity of a single vineyard, a call to find somewhere to go and something new to think.

To which the response will be, ever and always, that the restraints of thought are not territorial but psychological.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Just One More Page

Last night I fell into The Changeling Sea and didn't return until the last word, the last slow smile. I'm always looking for great fantasy that turns on the sea and this short book by Patricia McKillip worked a wonder in between the covers. One of the emotions that I appreciate from fantasy is that coming to the end of a book can seem like you're coming to the end of a vacation--you've been through new and emotional experiences and you're coming home to the familiar with the taste of the foreign still salted over your lips. In these austere times, a few hours of vacation in the dead of the night is greatly appreciated.

The book did remind me, however, that I'm moving away from the current fantasy stories and relying more and more upon discovering those that have come and gone without benefit of a tonal 'new urbanization.'

I did find another McKillip book that I'm looking forward to--her The Riddle-Master of Hed is now in the stack beside the bed, as is David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus. I'm hoping to read this second book while I'm finishing Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros. Lost in between several planets and time periods, I hope to arrive home some time after the cool weather has settled in to stay and the pumpkins are decorating the vines.

Which reminds me--vines need to have something upon which to grow and I need to find my vine supports. Just as soon as I finish this chapter.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Loose the Hounds!

Varda and Merlin are chewing each other into sopping pieces of fluff in their mutual joy at having the run of the house again. At some point, I'm going to have to put Varda's food back were she can get it, since I think her anxiety diet is over. I could get back to work, too, save for the overwhelming perspectives poured over me while I read Alone With All That Could Happen. My brain is resisting absorbing the ideas; it is thick as a heavy dough and just as set in place, steamed to the plate upon which it's been slapped.

One dog slips behind me and pants for a few minutes, letting the tile bleed away her heat and I tilt my head back into the wrist rest wedged against the back of the chair. It pounds with the overcast day, the thrum of the fan, and the gasp of the dog. Absence mops up a stray motion. The dog slips away and finds her packmate already reestablishing trails and perches.

My in-law's dog is middle-aged but already slow and quiet, like Wynn and Baron where just a little more than a year and a half ago. Varda and Merlin are argumentative and quick to fasten onto ledges and corners, quick to ravel stray blankets and slick areas in the carpet, quick to snap and shout. I'm falling back into the slow ruts of an older dog, ignoring the tussle of the two behind me. They've been up all weekend, blind to the waves of in-laws and siblings who have slept on the couch and talked at the tv.

We've--the three of us--slept on the floor longer than we planned while intentions built like Hermine's waters in the ditches beside the roadways. Sleep, like heat, drains and pulls them away from us and we come to rest back at normal, back at the pile of couch and page and dog, away from the pens and keyboards and restless motion of work.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Still Working on the Key to Great Literature

It's a been a rainy weekend (near miss by a defunct but still wet tropical storm) and that means plenty of time to sit around and read Alone With All That Could Happen and continue my quest for improving the unwieldy and ridiculous stack of plot from my last NaNo outing. AWATCH is a beautiful and clear exposition of what forms good writing. This is no breathless guide to marching up a bestseller list; instead, one finds friendly essays on topics such as point of view that flense the technical bulk away from a precise guide to how each topic builds meaning and layer into a work.

I take notes and try to block out the sound of the tv and the tidal pull of the kitchen--having guests seems to draw every dish and measuring glass out of the cabinets every other day or so. For a little while, I remember that writing has always been in opposition to the expectations that lace themselves around me. Even though many of them have fallen loose lately, it doesn't take much to tighten them back up.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Something to Fall Over Me

The in-laws are down this weekend and that's a good thing. It means that I can cook for more than two people and actually spend time with a human being during dinner (instead of the TV) AND while washing up. It also means going out to those places that we'd ordinarily talk about but not get around to (oddly enough, this includes the liquor store for holiday supplies)--places that include the local used bookstore. Which we're supposed to be avoiding because of the precarious nature of the stacks of books already tottering around the house.

After Blue Lab I was in the mood for some outrageously bad fantasy. Something that I could yell out while reading. I guess it's the equivalent to wanting to watch MST3K. Something so bad that it comes out the other side and becomes some kind of altiverse classic. I went so far as to make a list of the books published by the same publishing house, titles which include Chauvinisto and The Esper Transfer.

I didn't find any of those but I did come away with a few books that might be good reading. We'll see over the next few days. Meanwhile, I'm working my way through a stack of how-to-write books that I found while straightening up the front room prior to decorating for Halloween. Instead of working on the novel, my brain is trying to absorb the key to all literature. This is a quest, people, and I will forge that key!

Bwa ha ha ha! Paths will become a real novel! It will not grow dust bunny ears and lurk in a cabinet. The plot will not be so ridiculous that only whales could swallow it!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Internet is Kong for People

Merlin and Varda are bored. Lately, it's been either too hot or too wet for us to spend much time outside and the plethora of mushrooms makes a circuit of the yard a yelling, running irritation for all of us. The answer for them is a plastic toy roughly in the shape of a snowman with a hole in which treats can be stuffed. Sometimes the treat is accessible with effort, sometimes it becomes permanently wedged in the toy, causing much barking over who gets to carry it around and shake it at me in hopes of getting other, more accessible, treats added to the center compartment.

Usually these toys are sold under the name Kong. I'm coming to feel that the internet is fulfilling the same function for me--I sit here and poke around, hoping to come across something interesting or useful or entertaining. Too often, I'll keep poking, even if treats aren't forthcoming. It wouldn't be a bad thing, except that I'm not 'bored' in the sense of having nothing to do. I'm 'bored' in the sense of 'overwhelmed by all the stuff I should be doing such that the brain goes "gaacck" and refuses to function.' Stressed to boredom. Which is perfect for distractions, because you are motivated to displace your attention rather than just at a natural lull in your activities (suitable for a nap or a walk or a game of Don't Eat the Mushrooms).

Reading requires attention, the feeling of deadlines slipping by vitiates attention through banking a certain amount of distress at the thought of deadlines, and voila, one spends two hours clicking through all the links occasioned by one phone call from one's mother. Still stressed but thoroughly distracted, one is full of the random 'treats' of random info.

This post is a salt-free snack.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

And the Summer Rolls On

Finished Marjorie Hart's Summer at Tiffany this afternoon. I spent a considerable amount of time while reading the book wishing that my grandmother had been more forthcoming when we were younger before realizing that I was probably not a patient listener at that time. Sometimes, you just don't know when you should be paying attention. After having read Mrs. Hart's memoir, I find my interest in the Roaring '20's sparked and I'm looking for a good book on that decade and perhaps another one on the history of Tiffany--her enthusiasm poured through the text like sunshine.

I still have a stack of books that I'd hoped to finish this summer and I should turn away from any additional reviews, etc. that might add to the list. Right now, Kraken is on my nightstand, as is The Worm Ouroubourous and I'm trying to ignore my desire to pick up Franzen's Freedom. Right now, reading is slipping between me and writing. I think my brain is rebelling against months of sitting at home hoping the 'jobless recovery' will eventually transmute into 'various employment opportunities.'

Meanwhile, I'm going to dive back into Kraken and hope that it's just the chill needed to counter this last month or so of summer heat.