Sketches

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I like to write.

But then of course, all the Real Writers say writing is as breathing and if Real Writers are ever Not Writing, then they are dead. It’s just not possible to live without writing if you are a Real Writer. Or you die.

So I’ve never thought seriously about trying to write. A couple creative writing courses and submissions to school contests, a few spurts of attempted novel-writing, and nearly a lot of how-to-write books that I’d read for fun rather than actually using them to “help me write”. Or whatever it is I was supposed to do. But yes, most of my creative writing happened in school.

It’s the reading, you see. I read too much to create my own worlds. Or at least that’s the only theory I have. Because I have lots of ideas that never become stories. Lots of stories that never quite make it onto paper. My dolls acted out roles in whatever story I was telling, and my mind couldn’t let go of the characters in the books I loved. (Hence, why I was relieved when I found fan fiction as a teenager. Before that, I just thought I was crazy—at least if I am, I’m hardly alone.)

But I’ve never thought much of my own writing, and one of the earliest creative writing assignments I remember—third grade—I was scolded because, before I’d even started, my title resembled that of a real book. Yes, whoever told me so, I’d read it. This story was going to be different, I just liked the idea of the attic. Lots of stories, especially children’s stories, are attic-centered. Because attics are awesome. However much I attempted to explain (not really getting further than ‘but’ and teary), I had to change the title and the concept. Timid and obedient, I wrote something that I don’t really recall and never really liked.

Up until I started this post, I hadn’t thought about that in ages.

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That incident isn’t why I don’t write. All my anxiety about my art or my writing does not stem from that incident. But I can’t believe it didn’t contribute. Still, my main problem is my distractedness. Which is to say, obsessing over several series, tv and book, and still reading some ten different books in ten different subjects at any one time does not exactly lend ones mental state to creation of any kind, especially writing.

I just get more done than I think I do. Just in little pieces, ideas, like this:

Geraldine opened her phone. At her age, she was probably the only person in the entire world who didn’t actually want a phone. Essentially the only time she used it was when someone called her or she needed to find something out. She hated to be out of the loop. On anything. Her parents used to say she had big ears because she always heard whatever they were talking about, especially when she wasn’t supposed to; now she knew better than to come into contact with former lovers without your spouse’s permission. Then again, her father had never been the smartest person she’d ever met.

It was her father calling of all people. Unusual too, because it wasn’t Tuesday or six o’clock. Not to mention, her mother was the primary initiator of most calls from home.

“Hi dad”

“Hey baby girl. Your mother just got out of surgery and she’s asking for you—”

“Wait—momma had surgery! For what? Never mind, I’ll call back…just give her the phone.” Geraldine juggled her purse to the arm holding the Ross bag so she could more securely hold the phone to her ear without dropping anything.

Her mother’s voice wearied but apparently alert. “Thank you, I didn’t want to worry you girls but I wanted to remind you about Carla’s hair appointment.” Geraldine sighed. Not as lucid as she’d thought. Carla was her spoiled rotten niece, and she and her brother were rarely in contact.

What does it mean?!

I don’t remember where this came from. Not the least little bit. When I first found it on my USB drive, I wasn’t even sure it was mine. And yeah. Between this and the other I have no memory of, I’m starting to wonder if I just stole them:

His nose twitched, twitched once more as he reached his prize. He stopped, hesitated, sniffed. Then, ears came up and he jerked. The sound. Different. Seconds passed, nothing happened. His attention returned to his prize. But then! Wet. Like rain but without clouds. He ran. What insanity was this! Hyper-alert senses told him it was wrong. Now the ground was wet but the sky-water was gone, still he kept alert. The odd sound hadn’t stopped. His tail twitched back and forth in agitation. Otherwise, he didn’t move. Then. It was back! The wet! He ran again and it followed. For now he was free and he shook himself, but he heard it coming again. He reached the tree, just outside its reach. Just in case, he climbed. Tiny claws clutched the bark and he ran, bounded up the tree, hung upside down on the branch for a moment, and then heard the drops falling underneath him. It wasn’t rain. He climbed higher and relaxed. At least it could not catch him here.

Was this an assignment or something? (Title: The Squirrel) Also, regarding the first, I wish I remembered the story behind it, because it sounds fascinating. It’s like the dreams I used to have—I’d be reading, and always wake up right before the climax (come to think of it, I still get those dreams). Of course, I never remember the dream well enough to just write the story myself.

So am I a writer? Probably not. But I do hope I’ll keep it up.

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I’ve Been Feeling Protective of Tourists Lately

Several weeks ago I picked up The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt (who also wrote Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil—and he has awesome titles). I read the prologue and first chapter pretty quickly, and then came back today to read the second, which is all of fourteen pages long.

And then I had to stop and respond.

Indeed, I held the pages open, grabbed my sketchbook, and wrote four pages all at once—it’s a smallish sketchbook. But up till now it was a sketchbook and not another of my random doodles book. Oh wells, it was available it happens. At least I didn’t try to write it on a series of old receipts (although wouldn’t that make an interesting art piece? hmmm).

And then I tried to read pulp fiction after that to actually read something without having to start another blog, and promptly wrote three-and-a-half pages on Star Trek: Killing Time in less than fifty pages. Yeah. I’ve got to stop doing that. Spies, though, by Michael Frayn, seems to be going well. The main character is already super engaging and there’s a mysterious bush that wouldn’t be mysterious if I looked it up but I don’t want to do that because this is definitely a book I could get lost in and I’m looking forward to it but I had to write this post first.

The City of Falling Angels is about Venice. As I am only 45 or so pages in, I’m not entirely sure of the premise although it appears to be primarily about the native Venetians and how they feel about living in such a city, framed by La Fenice (meaning the phoenix) and how it burned in 1996 (hence the picture).

Berendt’s style is very lyrical. The destruction of the Fenice and the reactions of the people watching nearly brought me to tears—especially the glassblower who couldn’t stop creating.

When I tried reading today, I got caught on the description of Venice as a city in the modern era. Now, I don’t actually know really anything about Venice other than its sinking, which is of course shameful. But from the description, so far I don’t have the most favorable impression from a cultural standpoint (don’t worry, most of the review isn’t actually bashing Venice, or the author for that matter).

Berendt calls Venice “dying” but if its centuries of poverty have left it so much like the paintings of the eighteenth century—no “modern intursions”—then I could only call it a dead city.

Much as I lament the loss of old buildings—my first thought when I learned of the controversy of the ‘mosque’ near ground zero was ‘must you take down a 100-year-old building to do so?’—I have to concede that that isn’t the way the world works. Things change. For one thing there are a lot more people (duh). As pretty much everything used to be, they don’t work in the modern world. Which like it or not, we live in. And modern architecture is hardly all bad. Much is boring (and some is bad) but unlike earlier time, they aren’t designed to last forever. Common architecture is not how we make our mark. and anyway, most common dwellings and other structures from the olden golden days were quite gleefully torn down for the next generational architectural statement.

And does no one realize what it takes to make such lovely cities? Berendt mentions Venice’s eight of power when it was a conqueror and an empire. Only in the case of art does this get described as a good thing. Artists definitely live in a happy world where they don’t have to consider things like that. Only in this situation is this description a positive. Try saying the same about the Imperialist United States or British colonialism . To get a pretty city generally requires human suffering.

So Berendt’s blank admiration for Venice for its oldness and prettiness just slightly got on my nerves. Which is totally hypocritical of me, I admit, as I love most old cities for that very reason and why I want to live in one (I never would survive).

As I said, the first chapter of this book made me want to cry. It hurts to hear about the diamonds of history being so easily destroyed—and before I would ever get the chance to see it! Something so beautiful in which went so much work and love, something visited by so many people, and it burns to the ground and everyone loses. I’m not very good at dealing with this stuff, I take it far too personally. I read about libraries burning in Russia and cried for them too. (What book was that?)

Still Berendt gets on my nerves the next chapter  and it has to do with how closely he identifies with the Venetians. What was so lyrical in the first chapter is now rubbing me the wrong way. Because the first few pages of the second chapter is all about how evil the tourists are, and such a pain. (Okay, you’re still not a native, no matter how much you empathize.) And in many ways they are invaders, but as I said before, Berendt has already described Venice as a dead city. People are still living there, but only because the tourists like to visit. I’d hate to think of what would happen to all those beautiful old buildings if they weren’t there to be looked at. And what other industry is there? So far, I’ve read about the art, but art isn’t self-sustainable.

And if there weren’t tourists, it would still be a museum, just not one hat people visited. And once the scholars had their share it would be left to rot—excepting the straggling archeologist and student historian who needs a thesis.

Can I say, here, that I can’t stand people like Berendt describes and transcribes Ludovico De Luigi? As described he’s just obsessed with getting attention. Berendt calls him an artist—but without having seen his art, all I can imagine is one of those post-modernists who confuse concept and flash with art (I don’t think I’m using ‘post-modernist’ correctly, but anything after that art period I don’t know). He (the theoretical artist I’ve switched to rather than the real person) likes to make a lot of noise, and get attention, but his art is nothing that will stand the test of time once people get over the surprise.

*end rant* (of an entirely different subject)

This is by the real Ludovico De Luigi, and is actually pretty cool. If his exploits are true as told by Berendt, though, I still wouldn't want to meet him in person.

Not that I disagree that Venice’s citizens would be an interesting subject. I look forward to learning more about how people deal with living in a dead city—or does their conviction of its ‘aliveness’ convince me? I just wish Berendt had a better understanding of tourists because his whining about them is just a little irritating. (Honestly, it’s rather subtle, and only a few comments over the entire chapter, I’ve just been thinking about it lately.) Why has being a tourist always been such a bad thing?

It seems to be a popular exercise for the intellectual, as far as I can tell, to be intellectual and look down on the plebeians. Which is rather odd because not everyone can be an intellectual and we shouldn’t want them to be—because frankly I would consider myself an intellectual (although I make no claims as to my relative intelligence) but intellectuals on their own aren’t all that useful in regards to practical applications, i.e. getting food to put on the table. Yes, I will make that argument.

Mind you, I’m not referring to stupid obnoxious people (that is, when talking about tourists, not intellectuals) here—because they do exist (and aren’t necessarily American) and they behave exactly the same there as the do at home, I theorize. They aren’t any more loved there either, so give the people who behave at home and abroad a break, eh? (<- where did that come from?) When you have to put up with those people and then find yourself treated like one? Well, I guess that’s what they call a vicious circle. Resentful people don’t make nice visitors and not nice visitors make resentful locals.

That’s my pithy comment for the day.

The New Moon with the Old

Dodie Smith can now be officially counted among my favorite authors. And she’s right up there, too.

Individual books are much easier to like, and much harder to rank. Series stories really only count as one book, when I think of them…as it’s rare to like just one book in a series, and if I lose enthusiasm for a once-favorite book in a series, I give up on the rest. But no matter how many books or series an author has—especially one with a really engaging character—I often don’t like the rest. So I am rather more picky in who I choose as a favorite author.

I Capture the Castle was the first book I read by Dodie Smith, and apparently, her first novel. During a free reading time in my middle school literature class I was caught without a book. And even though Mrs. R frowned on that sort of thing, I was such a generally voracious reader (in fact, I believe my dilemma stemmed from my finishing a book too early), she lent me one of her own. It was the re-release of I Capture the Castle published in 1998, the one with the blurb right on the front by J.K. Rowling herself. It’s actually a lovely, simple, old-fashioned cover, which entirely suits the book itself.

As soon as I started Cassandra’s journal, I loved it. I read that book straight through for the next few days—sneaking it open under my desk, only looking up when it seemed whichever teacher I had might be inclined to go wandering the aisles in search of such malfeasance. And then finished it in only a couple days, which was not a genius move, because at that point I had to give it back and stare at it on Mrs. R’s shelf for the rest of the year.

For loving it so much, I forgot it rather quickly. Or at least simply stopped thinking about it. Until I was in community college and hanging out at the local Barnes & Noble, and there it was helpfully displayed on a “featured” table. Same edition, same cover. I immediately bought it, and read it again. I loved the story just as much. And the oddest part of I Capture the Castle is that I never remember exactly what it’s about. Or rather, I remember it’s Cassandra’s story, and they live in a ruined castle, but never the specifics, so I can fall in love with it over and over again every time I open the book. I never thought to look up the author, though. I mean, it’s old right? What else could she have written?

Apparently The Hundred and One Dalmatians.

(not that one)

But that comes later, because I didn’t look it up until after I found The New Moon with the Old right next to I Capture the Castle while shifting books volunteering at the library. Intrigued, despite a boring library re-binding cover in green, with no hint of what it was actually about, I picked it up.

After looking it up, mostly to make sure the author really was the same—because Dodie Smith is such a common name—I actually found a few reviews, which for some reason surprised me. What surprised me more was the tone of those reviews (though admittedly I didn’t search very deeply): that the book was slow, that it was the conventional governess comes to town and children go adventuring story.

I think they missed the point.

The New Moon with the Old does begin with a secretary (named Jane, even) hired by a charming, handsome widower, Rupert Carrington, in the city, who is sent to work and live at his country home with the servants and the precocious, attractive children. But the ‘children’ are all, at least in age, adults, or mostly so. Of the two family servants, yes, one actually is named Cook, but they are both kind, function rather as nannies within the household—they like, even approve of, Jane.

Jane herself is in her “very late” thirties, and has been a secretary for years, fifteen in fact. Not the usual innocent creature of the gothic romance. She’s sturdy and practical, and frankly rather prudish. There’s the traditional long, winding drive up to the house. And then the father returns: by sneaking in the back gate, and confessing to Jane that he is in fact wanted by the police and is about to flee the country. He’s delightfully matter-of-fact about the whole thing. Jane is more than eager to believe him, and immediately offers to look after the family while he is gone—after having been there all of a week.

See, she just really loves the atmosphere of the house. Or the atmosphere and especially the house?

Try and imagine it has a dome on top for veracity.

The devotedness is a hallmark of the gothic tradition, but Smith so emphasizes that Jane has only known the family a week, doesn’t have any particular affection for the older two ‘children,’ and harbors such deep love for her employer, that I can only read this as a gentle sort of parody. Because despite her affection for Mr. Carrington, she never actually acts or responds to him as a lover would—or anyone with genuine attraction, really.

As for the children who are actually mostly adults, well, I guess you could say they do have various adventures of their own. But it’s not really about that. It’s about adults who have been so sheltered from the world for their entire lives, with little to no consideration of who they really are, that they still are mentally children. They’ve never grown up.

Even throughout the prologue, Jane comments on the Carrington family’s lack of familial love. When Rupert commits his crime, he never bothered to have any backup for his family. The children hear about his dilemma—and their own—and are hardly concerned for their father’s danger, and at most find it exciting. There is no mourning or bewailing this new world; they immediately start wondering how they can make enough money to survive, and know perfectly well that they have no real world or marketable skills. That they have, in fact, been infantalized.

Working backwards from the youngest to the oldest (because I’m pretty sure that’s how the book does it)  because that’s where I felt the novel really got the most interesting:

The youngest girl, nicknamed Merry, can act much more mature than she is–actually is and actress, and noted by her father as the child with the truest talent–but learns that her ability to be perceived as an adult does not make her one.

Then Drew, the younger son, the wanna-be author who can’t stop researching to actually write–finally reaches out to the real world, though he considers it research at first–and finds a little reality behind the fiction.

The second oldest, Clare, “wants to live in a book” and decides to make it happen–sort of.

And the oldest, Richard–the new ‘man’ of the family immediately takes up the mantle as expected of him–and realizes that perhaps it wasn’t what the family actually needed, or what he wanted. His growth wasn’t in following the sensible option, but in realizing that in taking it, he is avoiding the responsibility for his own life and calling. I think I can say he was my favorite.

If you can find it, you  might want to read it. Especially if you are willing to read it generously, and are familiar with the classics. Good luck!