Vhat zee patient ees tryink to say ees. . .

October 18, 2009

An informal (meh, make it formal, go ahead) poll of people who know me well would tell you that one of my greatest faults is that I am, by default and until last extremity, a chicken.


(Ahem. Sorry, I’ll try to keep that under control.)

When presented with an Opportunity For Feats Of Derring-Do (bad and good luck tales, oo-ooh–er, sorry, again. . .) I will wriggle and distract and delay and, in short, hide until that hornswoggling monster has passed on to greater imaginations and more reckless souls than mine.

It’s true. Want to see a display of verbal chicanery that would strike double-talking fear into the to the double-hearts of your double double chex chex? Try to engage me in a conversation that I don’t want to have, *particularly* if I think I won’t be able to handle it well. Multi-syllabic punditry will fly fast and furious, as clichés so long forgotten they’re practically new again are urged forward in a defensive line of dazzling asides and pithy strikes of inane metaphorical absurdities.

Do you remember the story of Proteus from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology? (I assume that Bullfinch told it also, but to be honest I never read Bullfinch. I’d already nestled happily in to Edith’s wry evaluations of Ovid and his ilk, and had trouble taking anyone named after an overimportant sparrow seriously. So Hamilton it was, and Hamilton it has remained, and I am, regrettably, the worse as a scholar for it.)

I will confess that I don’t remember which hero Proteus had to face (presumably that was covered more extensively in the Bullfinch), but I felt a curious kinship with the mercurial sea god who would deliver an answer only after an exhausting series of desperate mutations were rendered futile.

This wouldn’t be much more than an exasperating quirk, or an opportunity for moral growth, or cause for muttering and threats from friends… except that my brain will do it to itself when under duress.

I’ve almost made up my mind to participate in NaNoWriMo. Fifty thousand words is an astronomical figure for me. I am, however, a huge fan of high goals, and am a sucker that will be snookered into a dare every time. Beyond that, I believe that I can, with commitment, render a respectable thirty, since I won’t be agonizing over the cadence of every line (a psychological cop out, yes, but it’s a wonderful trick for a perfectionist–never finish the work, and never fall short of the dreaded perfection). If my “perfect” goal is word count rather than shining literary gem, I believe I can generate that level of output.

We will say right here, right now, before God, the internet, the writers I respect, and the forbearing friends who have read thus far, that participating in this event would be a Fear That I Am Facing.

Pause to pass around cupcakes. Cupcakes with gooey icing, and extra sprinkles–the little multi-colored-ball-kind(nonpareil, maybe?), not the long-ones-that-look-like-bacteria-under-a-microscope-kind. We don’t use partially hydrogenated paramecium on Ali Courage Cupcakes. Not on THIS blog, we don’t.

So, if I do NaNo, I need to have a story. And I have one–something that’s been bubbling in my brain for a while, something that is outside the genres I’ve traditionally worked in, something that Anne of Green Gables would have been proud of me for attempting–i.e., it’s a story about a character that I can relate with well, because she’s very close to me, and I would be Writing What I Know.

Pause again to pin a Big Blue Ribbon on me, because I’ve done What Every Writer Should Do. And also to give all of you napkins. Sorry, forgot about those in the heat of my anti-amoebic rhetoric.

One of the reasons I haven’t built the story out earlier is because there’s a very integral element of the character’s journey that I’m not certain I *can* write. It’s something that hasn’t been resolved in my own life, and while I have faith in my ability to extrapolate psychology, part of me feels like too much of the story hinges on this plot point to write out of my depth. I haven’t quite made a decision yet, but it’s something that I’ve had percolating in the dusty, drafty corners of my mental writer’s garret all weekend.

And then. . .

Today I watched a couple of movies–both old favorites, both with themes that have always been tremendously important areas to me, and I was reminded of a story that has been with me for a long time. A very long time, as it first came when I was still young enough to be reading only YA literature (and friends, I starting bringing the big ‘ole thick books into the mix back in third grade), and hit me with enough force that I cried myself to sleep a couple of nights from the strength of pathos involved.

I knew at the time that there was a “children’s” novel in it (I didn’t know YA *existed* as a classification), and made a few attempts to put it down on paper. . . but the characters were older than me, and they were talking about things that I didn’t understand (and yes, the parallels to my statements in the paragraph above have JUST been noticed). I’m older now, and see some of the shadings that I couldn’t grasp before, and, as one of the main characters pointed out, it’s *her* turn, *she’s* been waiting longer. (She has. That poor girl had a series of particularly unfair events in her story; beyond that, it’s the last of my early stories that I never developed.)

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which of the stories I write; they’re both sound and would make excellent candidates for next month, and that’s not really what this entry is about.

My question is: am I turning chicken, and hiding from the JBD story because I’m afraid of it? Is that why my mind is furiously demanding that I attend to the Well story–that that’s a childhood remnant, safe and unthreatening and (most of all) not as relevant to emotionally tender areas that I’m working on in Real Life?

Is it a tactical move to a position of strength commensurate with my technical abilities and emotional experience, or an attempt to take refuge in a retread of an already-closed catharsis?


Guys, if you’ve read this far, thank you. . . but I suspect I’m about to veer off from the already wandering point of this post, so I’ll excuse you from your overly-indulgent-and-quite-completed reading duties. You’re welcome to stick around, of course, but I can’t guarantee it will be interesting; I’m going to muck around in my protean psychology and see if I can get some answers. 🙂

Was the Well catharsis for me?

I don’t think so. That story was the second of a trio that appeared in a burst of creativity; the first and third had structural and thematic similarities to each other, strong echoes to my earliest baby stories, and main characters that featured dualities and foils that were very much a manifestation of my own competing desires–i.e., the good person versus the competent person, loyalty versus duty, the heroic versus the mundane. In short, they looked pretty much like every story I’ve ever written as a type of wish fulfillment.

The second one never quite fit that mold, and I’ve often wondered if I moved on to the third one because it scared me a little. As a child, I “found” stories fairly often–I think the grown-ups in my world were a bit concerned that I was schizophrenic when I discussed the characters and what happened to them as friends who had given me their histories over an imaginary tea-time chat. I never sat down and plotted–. . . and then I want this to happen, and I want them to go there, and then that will happen. . .–I just knew the main character and what *had* happened to them. Later there came a period, when I was too old to “believe in” what I was saying, but too young to understand some of the idiosyncracies of the creative brain, that *I* worried that I was, well, whatever the seven-year-old’s vocabulary word for schizophrenic is–discovering that this sort of thing is common for writers was an amazing relief for me.

But this story–*the* story–she popped into my brain one night, angry and abandoned–she’s a ghost, you see–and there was such a rush of imagery and emotion that came along with her. I could see the inn, I could see the well, I could see the battered old typewriter that one of the guests was carrying in with him, and I knew that the man with the typewriter would be connected to someone that could help her. I could also feel her loneliness, and how cold she was, and (this I will say I would have preferred *not* to have had in my brain) the emotional toll from her years of abandonment. I knew her story had a happy ending, in a way–someone was going to come that would help her–but I remember the way my brain balked at the fact that she was dead. . . “how can it be happy,” I argued, if in the end she will still be dead, and she and this friend will lose each other?. . .

(J, if you’ve read this far, you will understand why there were parts of “9” that I found unforgivable.)

The story disturbed me in a lot of ways. I generally found stories set in Antebellum South or ancient periods, or else full fantasy, but she was from the Gilded Age, and her friend came from later–I couldn’t tell then (and haven’t checked now) if it was Thirties, Forties, or Fifties; just that the technology made it somewhat more modern.

I generally found a “nice” character first–someone non-threatening, generally non-powerful, an influencer rather than an actor in their world. A sidekick, someone who was pleased to share their story with me.  Rosamond bristled with antagonism from the beginning, was a bully, and seemed to want to talk to me as little as I wanted to talk to her. I never could understand her friend, the one who ended up helping her–how they became friends, what possible ground they could share as a foundation for that relationship. Because of that, I couldn’t build out who her friend was–the character remained a shadowy, faceless blur; a place-holder who did critical things anonymously, even as I began to understand the greater arc of the narrative itself.

Finally, I was generally influenced by something else I’d seen or read. Not plagiarism–I’d heard about plagiarism early on and thought it was a horrible, horrible crime–it combined lying and stealing, and I’ve always had a sensitive conscience–more like, I would experience a movie, and some emotion or another would stick with me afterward, and later a character would shyly appear around the edges of my mind, and whisper, “I know how that feels–for me, it happened like this. . .” I still write with a heavy degree of empathy. I usually have a song or sequence of songs that strike a particular chord (pun fully intended, because the songs rarely have anything in common with the story at hand), and I will play them almost constantly while I’m writing.

Curiously, I can trace the links to this story, but they don’t help anything really make sense.

There was a book I loved called The Root Cellar. It was set in Canada, and a modern girl moves into an old farmhouse. Sometimes when she goes down into the root cellar, she comes up into a different time–Civil War time. Eventually, she and the children she meets in that time have to go on an adventure to America to find a brother (he’d joined the Union Army, and had been hurt). One of the characters–I think it was the time traveller, but it may have been the sister–was named Rose, and in my mental image of the house’s garden there was a trellis with ivy growing over it. There are two links here–first, the ghost in my story is named Rosamond, or Rosemary, or Rosemarie, or something like that; it was never entirely clear to me. Second, the inn in my story has a garden with a rose trellis in it–not the same one, not laid out in the same manner, nor even the same plant growing on it, but trellises (trelli?) are not common images for me, and I bothered to remember that link all this time. QED, Jeung and Freud would infer it’s somehow significant.

But a link off of a trellis and a name? Furthermore, “Rose” is a family name for me. . . common sense says there has to be something else. I went through a ghost story phase later, but in each instance I remember thinking, “this reminds me of That Story,” a quick shiver, and I’d stick that unpleasant story and that unpleasant character back into the nooks and crannies of my mental morgue.

(HA! Take THAT, you bratty character! All those years of being difficult have led to a labored pun about newspaper archives and a dig on your current state of mortality. . . OOH! See that? DIG? Get it? SO THERE! Er. . . I expect the Family Guy writers to be calling soon.)

I feel like I’m going to leave this post open-ended. Still not sure if my mind blitzed itself with the Well story because I’m scared of chick lit and the JBD, or if it’s a logical and plausible alternative (I *have* been thinking, very frequently, lately, that there’s no shame in writing feel-good family fare that will resonate with children forever). . . I may never decide.

Good night, ya’ll. . . and if you read this far. . . wow. Get help! 😛



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