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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Adventures in Writing

So I have been writing more lately. Oh no, not these cumbersome sort of notes, where one has to appear narcissistic to indulge one’s deep-felt need to communicate –to speak, and above all else –that divine function –to create.

But I’ve been delving into sentences where they run the greater chance of only being seen by my own eyes. Alone paragraphs that are definitely born in solitude, could sadly span its life in solitude, and quite possibly, die in solitude. It’s a horrible thought for the types of people who feel that they must deliver something to other people. But my skin’s become tougher over the years. I find the falling of a quiet night inviting. My nature seems to thrive in the mysterious silence of the night, even as much as the maddening buzz and hum of this globe which I seem to wander through.

Lately, I have been to a writer’s group. Nothing particularly fancy. About the only thing that St. Clair County in Alabama has to offer. But I saw it as an opportunity nevertheless for some form of coaching, which I believe I may need. You see, I’m a little weak on full guidance on just how to write. In the scholastic world, up and down the country, schools teach you one thing…how to sound like the student before you. Whereas the serious advocate of any art is after how to sound like himself. This is one of the great ironies in learning to write.

As for this writer’s group in Alabama...you’d be surprised at such places in the South. For once the football ruckus ceases to cheer or pout, and in between the larger than life fishes caught and deer snagged, there out of the grappling kudzu emerges semi-cultured types who’d be willing to arm wrestle William Faulkner, or out spit Flannery O’Conner in a watermelon spitting contest, all in order to win that Pulitzer Prize…but only if it requires them to focus on such huge themes of our Southland….strange accents, religion or fundamentalism, poverty, and dare I forget racism.
These constant themes strung along in dusty realism that drags one through the flat cottonfields as you read it. So this is what I find in my writers’ group. Three old women constructing their own Gone with the Winds. Actually nothing that good or epic even. Just struggling memoirs that would make you wish that Gen. Sherman would come down again and blaze another path with fire but this time using some of their pages as kindling.


But in all honesty, one of the ladies, the leader, of the group is noteworthy. Her advise is very legitimate and everything she says I hold onto, but sometimes I feel like her scope is a bit narrow. As though she looks through only Magnolia tinged lens. But her skills as a methodical critic are very good. Better than I could ever be.

Another of the ladies is not Southern, not even American. She’s German. Her accent is exceedingly strong. Everytime she speaks, I always imagine that she is talking about some gingerbread house in a secluded Bavarian forest. But unfortunately, I found her not so fanciful as that. I really thought that the German would exude some rich, brilliant traces of Goethe. But, I forgot, no Germans think like Goethe anymore. There’s not a romanticist left in the country. They’ve all morphed into Kafka, with more of a penchant for precision than an insect would have. So this old German frau was fervently into a sort of reductionist science. Wanting to only read or write what could actually take place. Ask a German to accept suspension of disbelief and they scoff. But one thing she said, I think truly shows keen observation on the southern literary scene and that was her visit to a large mansion in Georgia where she presented one of her self-published novels. It was a work set in Southeast Asia, and the Georgian couple were appalled and really thought that she was going to focus the setting on them, that is the South, about the southern gentility, about the willows that hung over the path to their mansion, and all the “Yes, sirs” and “No, ma’ams” that you could fit in between two covers. It’s as though they thought the only novel to be written was southern. The German joked about this and the egocentric behavior of this belle and beaux. But I find the thing indicative of the beliefs of the majority of a lot of authors and readers. That is read and write only what you know. I can’t fathom that. If one must be confined in one’s physical location, why confine one’s imagination to the same location? Why not imagine and discover a bit more? But no, the chief goal of most southern authors is to write that “Puh-fect Suuth-uhn Nov-uhl”.

And there’s only two ways to go about this southern novel, and believe it or not, its not whether its black or white, it’s either rich or poor. It’s southern aristocracy sipping sweet tea under a verandah on a sweltering day in July, or it’s a hard-luck family sweating in the pea patch on the same sweltering day in July. But either way you go, I feel its all worn out. Yes, those mockingbirds never truly die but keep warbling and mimicking on; they’re impossible to kill.

So I was the only person in this group below the age of 60 and the only male. I brought with me this short story that I had just finished called, “Maguerite of the Skies” A fantastical piece that deals with the exaggeration or overabundance of themes, rather than the rustic narrative of life as it is. It is about this stewardess who was the very emblem of beauty, but only when she was in the air. When the plane and crew landed she became ordinary. Perhaps, I wanted to say something about the nature of beauty, the nature of inspiration, and possibly the nature of ideals as a whole. But I must have failed in my execution because nobody at this literary tea party could understand why I would write a clearly humorous, quirky piece about such unbelievable events. It lacked realism the German said. Well, of course it did. If I wanted to bog myself down in matter-of-factness then what’s the point of writing fiction. I might as well write grocery lists.

It’s not as though I’m against realism, I mean, Russian realism is some of the greatest stuff out there. Here you have the author, say for instance, Dosteovsky taking the reader through depressing scenes of misery and poverty. The dragging kind of misery, that makes all life seem a burden. And he does it wonderfully well. Maybe that’s his genius alone. Which many try to copy but few can actually do.

Or maybe it’s just the fact that I don’t like reading about things that seem so commonplace. I mean “Old Yeller”, “The Yearling” and “Where the Red Fern Grows” all bored me as a kid. I could just go over to my mother’s hometown and get the same dialogue and stories. It seemed so ordinary. I wanted to escape –to go to a place that I’d never been before. Give me a story about King Arthur or Robin Hood. About Odysseus or D’Artagnan. Just not another blasted tale about a southern poor boy with his pet.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Greg Newton said...

Maguerite of the Skies sounds intriguing.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Brian Harrison said...

Greg, I can let you read it if you like. I still have to retype the final revision but that should be done by this weekend, maybe by tonight. Someone wanted me to post it on facebook. But I haven't decided if I want to do that yet.

2:23 PM  

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