Tuesday, September 30, 2008

 

Haunting House


No one has ever loved me more than my father or his mother--my grandmother. There are people in my life who might love me as much, but certainly not more.

My grandmother--and her house--were magical. She and I were kindred spirits: writers, imaginary gypsies, travelers. When she called me on the phone, she would say, "Hello Rat," and I would say, "Hello Mole," and she would laugh and tell me that she knew of very few people with whom she could have such a relationship. On my last visit to see her I was just starting to become a decent reader, having finally made it into Bronte territory. I was aware that this might be my last visit to her home filled with objects from around the world. Widowed at a young age, she nevertheless decided to see everything that her husband had promised her they would. Postcards arrived from Malta, from London, from Asia. She was always planning her next trip. The older I get, the more I feel her DNA running in me. "I won't be around to see you publish," she said to me, not long before she died, "but I already know you will."

The house, as I have said, was unusually beautiful. The hallway had a large copper chandelier from Morocco, a cherry wood screen from China, a Turkish rug. A boy once came and rang the doorbell declaring, "I come to see the things from far away." I was probably twelve and enchanted and wanted to let him into our world.

"If he comes back with his mother, then maybe," my grandmother replied coolly. I was confused. She was never cool with me.

I wonder, now, what it must have been like to be her, widowed in her 60s, and unexpectedly brittle with grief, only to find an unexpected soul mate of sorts in her grandchild. You can never count on finding special friends among children if you are an adult, and yet it happens; I realize now that we were very special friends.

She let me dangle bedsheets through the laundry chute--I pretended these were ghosts--while I played "sinister" music on a portable keyboard in an effort to keep potential buyers from taking her home; I hoped they would fear it was haunted. She let me reenact Pilgrim's Progress (I had no idea what it was, just that Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth liked to play it a lot), starting from the basement and ending up in her attic. The house had a secret room and many closets I was convinced could transport me to another world. She let me pull out her rhinestone hat pins and try to arrange them on my head. She laughed when I played her Christmas music collection in the middle of July, or when I practiced walking down her glossy wood staircase in a bathrobe, pretending I was an English princess. She liked to tell me whom she had met on each of her trips and how she'd managed to bring home a rug in her suitcase. She collected art and people and stories and never thought I was too young to appreciate them.

After she died, I dreamt about her and her house in earnest. There were papers hidden in her office and I had to rescue them. There were important letters she had left me; I had to find these. Sometimes she was still alive in the house and wondering what I was doing there. It got to the point that I was convinced my father had forgotten something important inside the house when he finally moved his mother to a rest home. "Everything important," he reassured me, "has been removed."

Over time, the dreams have taken on a definite narrative arc. The house--and its surroundings--become more and more decayed. My grandmother is never there any more. When I arrive, I ask my guide--because there always is one--"Is the house still here?" "Yes," they always say, "but we don't know for how much longer." I'm always relieved but sad--amazed that I can trespass in nostalgia just one more time.



Recently, the house has started to fade even more. Last night I had to climb underground to reach it. The heating had been off and certain rooms hadn't been used in years. There was mold and I woke up incredibly sad by my trip to the underworld.



In reality, the house is up for sale. The yard, once immaculate, is filled with weeds. The interior, judging from these real estate photos, is still fairly well kept; there are the stairs, the fireplace and the buffet. It is almost her house. I have a terrible longing to reclaim it and to restore it. The lure of the past is painful. One day, I fear, I'll visit her house in my dreams and will be told that it has simply vanished.

 

Smart Asian Boys and Smart Boys with Accents

Obviously, I'm partial to the type. I particularly like the first speaker and the Asian guy who starts talking around 23 (who it turns out is an economist at MIT). He makes the point that the mess we are in has a relationship to the dot com era. I also like his point that we, as Americans, have assumed that we have been insulated "against risk."



A few invoke the financial disasters of Japan in the 90s. Krugman says: "Financial crises always end with a big government bailout."

 

On Banks and Bailouts

One of the benefits of being a continuously broke writer is that I can watch banks collapsing around me without feeling the impact too much--at least not yet. Unlike others in New York City, I don't have a massive portfolio to mourn, and I'm pretty good at doing my own cooking and enjoying small ethnic eateries and not lamenting my inability to eat at Raoul's every week. It also, unfortunately, means that I don't necessarily understand what is going on around me as I feel I should.

I do know enough to know that Japan experienced a banking collapse a decade ago, which prompts my 20-something Japanese friends to recall the "bubble" and how it dashed their dreams of partaking in massive Japanese wealth. So I wonder; is there something to learn from Japan's own bank woes and its bailout?

One article I've read seems to think so. Examining the Swedish banking collapse and the Japanese banking collapse, the author draws the following conclusions.

RESOLUTION: The Japanese government recouped a sizable amount of its bailout funds by reselling collateral, most often land, and other assets. The abysmal times in Japan during the 1990s are now known as the "lost decade." Even though the economy is better now, the Japan's stock market still hasn't returned to its peak before the bubble burst. And Japan still has about $9 billion worth of property held as collateral that needs to be sold.

LESSON FOR U.S.: Japan waited too long before resorting to a bailout using taxpayers' money to write off the mountain of bad loans on banks' balance sheets, experts say.


The Swedish government, claims the article, intervened quickly and as a result, the banking system recovered more quickly.

Regardless, I'm assuming (ahem, Mr. Pink, ahem) that we will begin to see a number of Japan-related articles in which the dangers of too much debt are examined and rexamined. Are any lessons applicable? Will anyone be smart enough to heed the lessons? I'm hoping the varied and intelligent readers of Japundit will weigh in with opinions.

On the bright side, massive economic downturns often go hand in hand with great creative output, so I'm hoping that artists will at least be inspired by this mess!

Monday, September 29, 2008

 

American Manga

047008025601l.jpg

An imprint of DC comics intended to function as an American alternative to manga, has folded shop. On the surface, Minx seemed like a good idea; why not translate the manga medium for a more American audience, using cultural references that don't necessarily leave parents scratching their heads? Japundits could have told publishers years ago that manga has a growing audience. To hear one of editor Shirley Bond tell it:

“I started to wonder what was going to happen in a few years when those readers would want something new,” she said at the MINX launch in February, 2007. “So I pitched this line as an alternative to manga, but also as an alternative to traditional fiction, because I thought that it was really about time that teenage readers had their own imprint and that they could experience a brand new visual reading experience."


But it didn't work.

One British reporter wonders why and has this to say:

just as British kids of my generation grew up watching so much Saved By the Bell and Sweet Valley High that we talk about "jocks" and "proms" even though these barely exist within our direct experience, tomorrow's Americans will be looking around for the otaku and bishonen that are supposed to populate every school. It's nice to see cultural colonialism happening in reverse, and of course teenagers love to plunge into an esoteric world that makes no sense to their parents, but at the same time it does seem a bit ridiculous that an American 16-year-old can't pick up a comic that more closely reflects her own life.


True that. When I watch American "high school" movies with my British born husband, he delights in identifying the cliques while I squirm, remembering yet again that I was a geek. (He doesn't believe me).

At Japundit, we've observed for a while that popular culture isn't necessarily flowing in the one, hegemonic direction that apologists always fear. But it does occur to me that part of the appeal of manga may be its very "foreign-ness" and its imaginative use of setting and character and design, and the narrative risks that writers in Japan take naturally. For audiences around the globe, this kind of story-telling is thrilling. Do

I'm curious to hear from the experts--this means you--on what it is about Japanese manga that is so compulsive for you and if you think its success could ever be duplicated in the west.

(To shortly be posted at Japundit.)

 

Stranger Truth



Watch these two ladies side by side. Personally, I find it humbling to see how Tina Fey's "funny" impression is actually a re-delivered version of much of what Palin actually said.

I've often found Katie Couric to be rather dour, but it pleases me to no end that it took a woman to reveal that not all that much was going on inside Palin's beehive. The charming, nervous, flirty tics didn't work on Couric. Gradually, I expect all will be clear to others as well.

Friday, September 26, 2008

 

An Unfortunate Itching


I have poison oak on my ass.

Let me just say very quickly that it isn't any place truly alarming; I will not have problems eating and digesting Thai food, for instance. But it is very uncomfortable. How did this happen?

Well, see, I have a thing about outhouses. I don't like them. Despite the advances we have made with those blue chemicals that remove the smells from most porto-potties, I'm really sensitive to odors and I just can't stand being cooped up in an unstable rectangular container which always seems to me on the brink of toppling over. My macabre imagination also always remembers the story about the little girl trapped in the bottom of one of these toilets--you know, the one where they had to rescue her and it turned out she had been placed there intentionally--and I am afraid to look down, even though, let's face it, who wants to look inside a portable toilet bowl! I imagine what else might be beneath me as I am going to the bathroom and that potential horror, coupled with the reality of being perched on top of a structure that any evil-doer (read: high school bully) might decide to knock over gives me the heebies.

I will always prefer a nice tree or bush. There is no bad smell. Like a wild animal, I can see if a predator is on the horizon.

I thought I was being pretty careful when I selected my tree earlier this week while out for a walk in Point Lobos, but apparently I was not careful enough. In the beginning, I could manage the rash myself, but it has spread to a seemingly invisible part of my netherparts and I have had to ask my husband for help to afix one of the 4 (four!!!) gauze bandages necessary to capture all the oozing. Is that love or what?



This is by no means the very worst case of poison oak I have ever endured. Interestingly, my very worst experience was about 10 years ago when I was home alone and pondering a move to New York. I'd gone through some rather difficult experiences and, well, I hugged and kissed my cat one day and woke up the next morning barely able to see out of one eye. I looked, quite frankly, like the elephant man.

I managed to drive myself to an emergency clinic, peering out of the window with my one good eye. They promptly stuck me in the butt with a cortisone shot, and so began three weeks of hell when I suffered withdrawal as I slowly weaned myself off that powerful but necessary drug. The cat was banished to the kitchen while I sat in agony in front of the television. Eventually I let him sit in my lap because I realized he did not understand what had happened. My face deflated. Then it peeled. Ever the annoying optimist, I told myself that I was undergoing a "metamorphosis" and that life would be better once I was reborn.



Was it? Did the poison oak on my face harbinger a brand new me? I guess so, though I'd like to think I would have adjusted to New York without that painful experience (the drugs were necessary but just awful).

This time I'm trying to lay off the meds and rely on cortisone cream and my nice bandages. I have no idea when I'll manage to get any exercise in--ballet class is off limits as even I can't stomach explaining to people why I am in a diaper. At least it isn't hot. And I'm going to once again--ever the annoying optimist--hope for some kind of rebirth.

I just hope I don't stick to the bedsheets.

 

Music Returns

I've had a lot of difficulty listening to music since my father passed away. I've mentioned before that many of my favorite people tend to be musicians--as are both my parents. Listening to something that makes me feel so emotional has been very difficult to the point that I've mostly eschewed it altogether, or stuck to the occasional non-challenging pop tune.

But the weekend of my father's memorial coincided with the Monterey Jazz Festival, which we were fortunate enough to attend (thank you, friends).



I was excited to hear the Brian Blade Fellowship. I had a choice of listening to Clint Eastwood interviewing Jamie Cullum, or listening to Brian's band and, well, there was just no contest (though we did hear Jamie sing later and enjoyed it enormously--but that's singing and not an interview).

Apparently there wasn't much of a choice for John Patitucci either because we caught him standing on the side of the stage, completely immersed in the groove (he's in the blue jacket).



There were many other musical moments in that weekend, and I have other photos, most of which I am too shy to post. But I will say this; I suddenly can't stop listening to music. Of the two states, I think I prefer this one.

 

It Tolls for Thee



Early morning flights out of New York are difficult, but the benefit is that I arrive in California with plenty of time to embrace a whole new day. I loved seeing the way this bank of fog nestled up against the land. From the plane, I could see how it was rolling and churning on the very edge--fog is dynamic. Fortunately, the sun goddess was kind, as she was during my wedding, and rolled back the fog so we had a week of intense sunshine.



I baked 4 pies--4 being the number for completion and all. Two were lemon meringue, and two were ollalieberry. A friend asked if the lemon meringue pies contained a secret--a rather insightful question, I thought--and I confirmed that they did. Of course, it was nothing harmful, so no worries.



The day of the memorial itself was very busy, and I figured I wouldn't get to eat any of the special sushi we ordered, so my mother and I made sure to have a special lunch just for ourselves the day before. I like the way that the egg bears the name of the restaurant: Akaoni, which means "red devil." The chef confided to me that he thought it would be fun to name his restaurant after the thing that Americans were most likely to fear. Personally, I think it would have been more offensive to name his restaurant "white devil," but who am I to argue with someone else's idea of subversion?



About 50 to 60 people attended the ceremony, which we held at our home. My father intentionally created our house to be something of a sacred space, and I couldn't imagine celebrating his life anywhere else. I had once intended my own wedding to be at the house, but the idea of over 100 people flushing the toilet was just too much.

You can see how the backyard is set up as a theater of sorts. My mother, husband, friend Marc and I stood at the bottom while guests filled out the patio and the steps. It worked out well though, as I said, the sun came out and things got pretty hot.



Another shot of the set up.



My mother is a pro. She welcomed everyone and explained why we were at the house, and not a church or similar place of worship. I had intended to read a poem, but became to emotional to speak in front of everyone. I am not a pro.

My husband read the lyrics to "More I Cannot Wish You" from the musical "Guys and Dolls." My father often said that he felt that one song summed up his feelings for me. Toward the end of his life, he confided that he no longer worried about me because I had what he most wished for me.

My friend Marc, brilliant scientist, thinker and man of religion, lead our ceremony. I was blessed to run into him again this year. We were very good childhood friends and he spoke of the "disease" of creativity in our home that always infected the children who came over to play.



In the middle of the ceremony, everyone lined up and lit a stick of incense and placed it in a bowl by the family altar. Some of the more enthusiastic guests got into line a few times and gave more than one stick of incense. Of course, I encourage this kind of precociousness in anyone.



Once our guests placed their incense in the bowl, they were asked to hit a gong. The effect was mesmerizing--so much incense, such a strong scent, so many sounds.



By the end of the ceremony, the room was filled with smoke.

It is perhaps something of a cliche to say that I have learned a great deal from the events of the summer, but it is also true. I struggle on this blog to determine how much to reveal and how much to keep private. To even blog about something so personal is not at all what I'd intended when I started all these entries, and I'm not sure I'll maintain this level of disclosure. But it felt inauthentic to carry on with trite stories about Asia or pithy observations on publishing when something so grave was going on in my own life.


 

Sowing and Spraying



The last time I saw my grandmother alive, we were in her home in Nebraska. I'd applied for an American Express Card in college because I would receive a free round trip ticket to anywhere in the US; I went to see her. It took me 7 different airplines to finally arrive in Kimball, but I didn't care because I wanted to spend time with my grandmother, and I'm glad I did.

I was just turning into an adult reader with mature tastes (not that kind of adult, mind you). Even today, when I read a particularly good book, I wish she were alive so I could talk to her about it. I actually have very few people I am able to talk to about books. But I digress.

I'd finished Wuthering Heights and she and I spent a good deal of time talking about that book and the Brontes. I asked her if the prairie was something like the moor, and she said that it was. She must have been about 85, but we got into her car and drove through the prairie, marveling at its unique beauty.

Later, when she was essentially dying in a rest home, she told my father that she feared she would never see the prairie again, and she was right.

There are those who can't appreciate the beauty of the plains, and I am sorry for them. The day I drove from Denver to Nebraska, the wildflowers were in full bloom and a sea of yellow, purple and white accompanied us all the way across the state line.



Few things capture my imagination or my heart like the promise of an open road.



There are skies as beautiful as those of the plains--but I don't believe there are skies that are more beautiful or majestic.



Our friend Damon, who helps us farm, uses this sprayer, which I thought looked oddly delicate for its size. The spraying wings unfold, rather like an insect.




When Damon takes the sprayer home, he must load it onto this enormous truck. The incongruity of a commute requiring a truck of this size and the SUV enthusiasm which infected our country in the last decade is amusing. Personally I think people ought to drive what they need, but then I don't really see the romance in a car as a thing.



Damon's truck and the big sky.



I find the round faces of the sunflowers and the way they struggle to look up at the sky almost eerie--as if these plants are almost sentient.



I enjoyed the company of new friends on my trip to Nebraska. Here are some of my new young friends, two of whom took me to school to introduce to their classmates. I am going to send them some photos from California to share with their friends.

 

Hue Test

Please give it a try.

I got impatient, hit the "score" button and did fairly well with a "12." I'm tempted to try again, this time waiting until I'm sure I'm done. Perhaps some of you aesthetes/artists out there will score a "0." I'm thinking specifically of a painter living in Dundee . . .

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

 

A Puzzle

Carl Jung once said:

"Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other."

 

The Manuscript Is In


I turned in my manuscript early this morning.

I really only realized what this means for me after an evening run by the water here in California. It means that I have to shut off the part of my brain that has been spending time with my characters and their world for the past six weeks--it also means my mind is free to really begin to wander around in the new world of my new novel.

I've let go of projects before, but never quite one of this scale.

Like so many things, I think the reality has not completely sunk in.

Monday, September 15, 2008

 

Magical Thinking

In her memoir, A Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion wrote that she spent much of the first year after her husband died secretly expecting him to come back. Thus she could not get rid of his shoes; he would need them when he returned. This moment sticks with me because I too am rather plagued by magical thinking. In some ways, it's a habit I'm not eager to give up.

Just today, I thought to myself, I wonder what my father thinks about Lehman's collapse? I forgot to tell him I heard over the weekend that this would happen and that Wachovia is next.

And then I remembered that he is dead and I can't tell him. And then I thought to myself that he hasn't been dead for too long, so perhaps there still was time to fit the information in before he was dead. Yes. That is actually something that I thought. Not quite so slowly--all this happened in a split second--but still my mind couldn't help but work this way.

When we negotiated down his hospital bill--the amount we had to pay to keep him "alive" just so I could say goodbye--I wanted to tell him. I wanted to say, "You would be so proud! We got the bill down!" And then I remembered that the only reason there had been a bill in the first place was because . . . he was gone.

I have regularly recurring dreams in which he shows up to tell me that it is all a mistake, and that he is not dead. I wake up in tears. My mother says I have to tell him that he is no longer alive. One of these days, I imagine that I will succeed and then the dreams will stop.

But then, he'll really be gone. (Ahem, you say, he really is.)

See what I mean?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

 

A David Foster Wallace Quote

When asked if novelists should keep up with politics, David Foster Wallace had this (I've abbreviated it) to say:

There’s no more complex, messy, community-wide argument (or “dialogue”); political discourse is now a formulaic matter of preaching to one’s own choir and demonizing the opposition. Everything’s relentlessly black-and-whitened. Since the truth is way, way more gray and complicated than any one ideology can capture, the whole thing seems to me not just stupid but stupefying. Watching O’Reilly v. Franken is watching bloodsport. How can any of this possibly help me, the average citizen, deliberate about whom to choose to decide my country’s macroeconomic policy, or how even to conceive for myself what that policy’s outlines should be, or how to minimize the chances of North Korea nuking the DMZ and pulling us into a ghastly foreign war, or how to balance domestic security concerns with civil liberties? Questions like these are all massively complicated, and much of the complication is not sexy, and well over 90 percent of political commentary now simply abets the uncomplicatedly sexy delusion that one side is Right and Just and the other Wrong and Dangerous. Which is of course a pleasant delusion, in a way—as is the belief that every last person you’re in conflict with is an asshole—but it’s childish, and totally unconducive to hard thought, give and take, compromise, or the ability of grown-ups to function as any kind of community.

My own belief, perhaps starry-eyed, is that since fictionists or literary-type writers are supposed to have some special interest in empathy, in trying to imagine what it’s like to be the other guy, they might have some useful part to play in a political conversation that’s having the problems ours is.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

 

Sowing



Seeding is well underway here at the farm. On the recommendation of one of our farmers, I decided it might be a good idea to come take a look.

I learned that we--the landowners--are called "landlords," which makes sense when you think about it. We own land, but don't do the physical labor ourselves. This seems to increasingly be the case in western Nebraska, where land is expensive and farming not incredibly lucrative. To break into farming at the entry point would be difficult. To run a farm is also expensive. At the same time, the population of these prairie towns grows smaller and smaller, which means that it is an ever tinier pool of people who actually does the labor.

At the same time, we expect our food to be plentiful and cheap in the US.

And we wonder why it is that we in this country can't always understand one another . . .

Here is Damon's tractor (the front part) and drill (the back part). I rather think it looks like a peacock with the tail all fanned out in the back.



Another view.



We practice no-till farming on our land, which basically means that we do not plow the earth before planting seed. In fact, we avoid ploughing all together. As a result, we have to plant with a drill to get through the layer of stubble and dead weeds which congregate on the surface. There are better and better drills and equipment available to farmers to accomodate this kind of practice, though the drills featured here are not the most aggressive.

The peacock tail has either 74 or 75 (sue me; I didn't count) of these drills, which dig up the dirt. Behind each drill is the slot out of which wheat and fertilizer are ejected from an air pump. It's impressive and looks something like a cylon crossed with, well, a drill.





Actually, I think that looking at farm machinery would be a science fiction fan's fantasy. No, really. Hear me out. The equipment is enormous and unlike what most city-dwellers are accustomed to seeing day to day. It takes skill to know how to operate and repair one of these things.



The technology is also changing. I had a fascinating conversation with Damon (in the very first photo) about corn seeders, which now are now so GPS capable, that the drills will turn on and off if the tractor is driving over land which has already been sown. Not only that, but the tractor will trace the contour of a field on its own. Wheat drills can do this to some extent, but the corn machinery is more sophisticated. All this, of course, does help save on wasted seed so places are not planted twice.



There are only so many things we can control with farming; the miracle of plant life still occurs underground and is up to factors like the weather.

We visited a piece of land which was planted over a week ago. The wheat was sprouting, but there were a few places where nothing had come up.

Under these circumstances, it is difficult to resist the temptation to dig to see if all is going according to plan.





In this case, the wheat was sprouting, but the seed had just been planted so deep, it hadn't caught up with the others seedings. See how the sprout, which was uncovered, is a yellowish color? It hadn't yet seen the sun and so photosynthesis hadn't occurred.



Antelope had been through our field, so I took a photo of their tracks and some sprouts. They don't each enough of the shoots to destroy the crop, but they do tear up the land.



It's kind of hard not to be fascinated by their tracks.



What did we do before cell phones?

While visiting our farmers at their house, a call came in that the tractor would need its seed wheat replenished. So, off to the tractor we went to deliver seed wheat. And so the work went on, as efficiently as all this enormous equipment (and its operators) can make it.


Friday, September 05, 2008

 

Friendship

For those who haven't seen this yet:


Thursday, September 04, 2008

 

Shallow Post of the Day

I have just blasted through 100 pages of edits and am eating a brownie and feeling like I want to write about something, um, less serious than the wonders of the imagination. I am going to write about shoes.

I'd like to say here that my incredibly smart and cerebral girlfriends--you know who you are--have turned into shoe-Maenads these past few weeks because fall is approaching and even the most sensible of us feel the lure of New Clothes. So, we have resorted to sending each other links and mourning what we will never own but covet desperately . . .

In my case, I have a major, major fashion/girl crush on Chie Mihara, who was born in Brazil to Japanese parents, studied fashion in New York, actually bothered to learn about orthopedics so her designs wouldn't kill a girl's feet and then launched her collection in Spain in 2001. She describes herself as "naive, romantic and vintage." Well, yes. And I would describe myself that way too (although this very well known writer once told me I was edgy--and not in a nice way--so maybe I have to say that I am a naive-edgy-romantic-vintage person. Whatever). See? Chie Mihara understands me.

Let me interrupt myself here and say that painless shoes are important to me because I married someone who has the habit of adding 5 miles to any of our outings, and no, that does not include a cab ride. We are Walkers. This means that I have to Gordon-proof all my shoes. No painful stilleto, or what my friend Debbie would call "champagne and taxi" shoes for me.



It is not easy to get Chie Mihara shoes. For starters, they are expensive--as they should be, since they are handcrafted and carefully designed and made with nice materials and all that. But they don't come cheap. They are also not exactly readily available. I have been pining for the Iliana shoe, for example, but can't find it anywhere except on Mihara's site and there it is already sold out! A shoe marked as new is sold out! That Chie, she's like the iPhone, all cool designed and hard to get.



Ack! She's so cute and witty and colorful! And she's not following any trends. She's just making shoes that are artful and expressive and durable!



Fashionistas went nuts this spring and summer over the shoe above: the Bangkok heel, which, for those who don't know, is in a "Gladiator style." Yeah, well I'm late to the game but I went nuts over this shoe too. Look at it.



Look how it flatters this (much skinnier girl's) feet. Amazing. You could wear this with tights well into the fall and it would still be sexy.

Sadly, the Bankok heel is available just about nowhere right now unless you are a size 11 which I am not . . . except for Ebay. God Bless Ebay. Yes. There I found the Bangkok heels for sale--not for $400--and they fit! And they just arrived! And this means that I am wandering around the apartment, taking a break after 7 hours straight of editing, wearing my incredibly sexy shoes. The rest of me is not deserving of such shoe perfection; I am a disheveled mess and am turning to a brownie to fortify me for the next 7 hours. But, oh! I own the Bangkok heels! I look so much cooler than I really am.

Please, Chie Mihara, tell me how to get my sad little feet in a pair of Iliana shoes!

Updated: Ugh. That brownie was a mistake. Chocolate and excitement are, well, a little too much for me.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

 

Imagination

I've been thinking a lot lately about the power of the imagination and how critical it is to the creative process. It might seem silly to write something like this; imagination is obviously the genesis of many an idea. Cynics will also say that every person in New York city has 50 pages of a novel tucked away in a drawer, but that a lack of skill/discipline/stamina eventually thwarts these would be writers. Everyone thinks they have imagination. And there's a certain amount of truth to that. Writing is difficult and does take a nose-to-the-grindstone dedication.

But over and over again, I'm reminded of how powerful and important imagination is to every step of the creative process. All the skill and control in the world will fall flat if you can't imagine a world in detail. If you fail to imagine, then you will fail to communicate. The imagination, in other words, isn't just a tool to use to start a project; very often, it will be what saves your work.

I'm in the final edits of my novel right now, and without jinxing myself, I feel very positive about the work I'm doing. I've never been the kind of person to have difficulty relinquishing a project; when it is done, I am happy to let it go. I don't have much interest in revisiting it, but I also don't torture myself with what might have been. (I leave that to other areas of my life).

At the risk of sounding too abstract, I read over a key chapter a couple of weeks ago, and was appalled by how flat it "felt." I often think that the difference between music and writing is very fine; good writing and good storytelling ought to have an effect that is similar to music, which is to say, it should, simply, have an effect on the reader. It shouldn't just tickle the intellect. There's plenty of writing I like that is cerebral in nature, but I feel that fiction as an art form should do more than make you think; it should make you feel. Hence the music analogy.

It's difficult when editing to deal with an abstraction along the lines of: "I don't like how this makes me feel." Even harder is articulating why something "feels" wrong and how to fix it to make it "feel" better. And for me, that's where imagination comes into play.

When a scene, a character, or a plot point fail, I can't always fix it by using some technical solution. It isn't always a matter of editing prose, or turning summary to scene, or changing an unoriginal metaphor. Sometimes the solution requires using the imagination to really rewrite what is on the page. To do that successfully, I at least have to really immerse myself in the world and think seriously about my characters and their feelings and what they might do. In other words, I have to revisit what I've created, and use my imagination to "see" everything better.

When my husband--who is my most important reader--used to read these "failed sections," he would often say to me, "It's about plot." (He still calls me sweetie, even when he is stern like this). And I would retort, "No, it's not. It's about character." Because it is. If you can't imagine and feel for your people, then you don't know what they will do and you can't see the world they live in. It's only when you truly imagine your characters that the magic happens--new plot points and details and themes open up. Then the writing is easy.

It's an abstract thing I'm trying to convey, but I think that's because for me at least, it all happens in this strange and unconscious way. Esoteric things are always difficult to write about. But once I know that the world and its characters have been completely imagined, then the rational side of my brain can kick in and do all sorts of interior decorating: kicking out unnecessary sentences, tidying up paragraphs, searching for more original language.

The funny thing--for me at least, and I say this as someone who does not have an MFA--is that I never see this kind of thing in craft books. There are some wonderful books on writing that I like and which have given me insight into the craft element of writing. But I've never actually seen or read feedback from a so-called expert which said: Go back and reimagine what is on the page. But this time, do it more deeply.

I just wish that in understanding all this, the process would go faster. But there is probably no short-cut.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?