Wednesday, November 23, 2011

*A door creaks open*

Everyone has a world inside their head. Probably more than one. There are ways of getting from one world to another, but some of them are limited. You can take something from the physical world, for example, and use it to furnish the world in your head. The doors into your mind from the physical world are your senses... sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell.

You can even transport items or people from the world in your mind into someone else', whether through spoken word, fiction, sign language, poetry, television, etc. There are many doors between minds.

When you read a book, a door is opened wide between your mind and the author's. These doors are outside of time. You can have a direct connection to the mind of someone long dead.

The only door that either does not exist or simply can never be opened in this life is the door leading from your mind into the world. Once you have created something in the world in your mind, it is trapped. It can never enter the physical world. It can never make its own decisions. You have created a prisoner.

The only freedom available to your creations is access to the doors between minds. If you die without opening the doors, your creations will die with you. So don't be afraid to open the doors. Write books or songs or poetry or television, tell people your thoughts, and doors will be opened that may last forever.

As you have read this blog post, a door was opened between my mind and yours. This door transcends the bounds of time. I am writing these very words at 4:45 on Wednesday the 23rd. You are reading them at some point in the future. That is the power of language.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Great Book List--book reviews

This summer I posted a page called The Great Book List, which is a list of all the books I would like to have read by next year. Since then, I have read three of those books: Macbeth, The Great Gatsby, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.


Macbeth is dark. It is full of murder and horribly unhappy people. It is a Shakespearian tragedy that doesn't give you any characters to like and wish to have a happy ending. However, this darkness is part of what makes it a brilliant play. Unlike most stories, this play is about the villain. Macbeth, along with his wife, is a man who allows bitterness and greed and a lust for power to not only control him, but become him. He falls into temptation, and at first what he is doing horrifies him, but soon he accepts it and eventually it defines him. This is a powerful story. When something becomes part of your life, it becomes a piece of your definition of "normal." In this story, a pattern of destruction and death becomes Macbeth's "normal," and he reaps the consequences of that.

Macbeth may be dark, but it is beautifully written. Here are Macbeth's conclusions near the end of the novel, when the things he has done finally turn against him. 
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
 I don't believe this view of life, but I believe that Macbeth believes it, and that makes it important. Shakespeare gives us a door into this character's head and shows us exactly what it feels like to be completely lost.

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby sort of danced by me in a whirlwind of color and noise, like one of Gatsby's parties. There is something important going on beneath the surface, but I forget to find it because I am distracted by the shiny things.

This book has been called a "love letter to the 1920s," but I think the author has already seen through the artifices of Gatsby's hopelessly nostalgic attitude and is trying to lead the reader to the same conclusion. Gatsby is trying to reinvent himself, to write a new past for himself in the present. He is so focused on becoming Gatsby and getting Daisy back, that he doesn't see what is going on beneath the surface. He doesn't see that he doesn't love Daisy, he loves the idea of Daisy with all her sparkle and a voice that "sounds like money."

The last sentence in the novel reflects this attitude of relentless nostalgia: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

While somewhat difficult to understand due to the phonetic dialect, the original unabridged version of this book is worth reading. After a chapter or two, you will get used to the writing style, and the story benefits from being written this way.

There is a lot that happens in this book that I don't fully understand yet, because I went through it so fast. What I do want to talk about is the ending. I had heard that Mark Twain got sick of writing this book and rushed the ending, and this may or may not be true. What the ending does do is make me hate Tom Sawyer. I am not sure what Twain intended by the way he wrote these last chapters, but it left me with an extreme dislike of Tom Sawyer, and a nagging shame for Huckleberry Finn for following him. I cannot decide if their pranks in the last chapter were supposed to seem funny, cruel, or both. I can't find anything funny about the pranks of two boys causing needless suffering for another person, and I think perhaps that was Twain's underhanded jab at other children's literature of the time.

What do you think about the last chapters of Huckleberry Finn?

Any thoughts on the other books I reviewed?


Monday, November 7, 2011

50 people, 500 words

One day in creative writing class, one of my class mates raised her hand and asked, "How many characters should you have in one piece? Are there any rules about that?"

And my teacher replied, "There aren't any rules--you can have as many characters as you want. Just be careful that the audience can keep track of them. Too many characters can become boring--for instance, you probably wouldn't want to squeeze 50 characters into... 500 words."

He was using hyperbole when he said this, because no writer was going to try to fit 50 different people into only 500 words.

I, however, chose to ignore the hyperbole.

I took his statement as a personal challenge to my skills.

So,without further ado, here are 500 words about 50 people in a restaurant eating Saturday brunch.

The gentleman in an outdated suit rants politics at the girl who smiles, all except her eyes. The biker scowls at the girl as he leaves. He ran away from home and drunken wife.
The mother of five is reading Stephen King. Her oldest boy plots to startle her. Her five year old refuses to speak to the brunette cheerleader with a blinding smile.
A librarian who secretly loves parkour enters primly next to a skater-boy who claims he never reads.
His sisters trail behind; twins, hand in hand. One hates being a twin but will never tell. The other silently guesses this.
The crazy cat lady, all alone, doesn’t actually own cats. The freshman, one table over, knows this but taunts her anyway.
His friend, the sophomore, is cruel because his mother is drunk because her husband ran away.
The jock hides behind teasing and wishes she knew, but the blonde isn’t flirting, she’s being polite.
Two scrabble-players deliberate in icy silence.
A tomboy scorns the blonde for flirting and scorns herself for not knowing how. Her boyfriend is thinking but doesn’t say how glad he is to have her.
The cat lady’s grandson comes to her defense. She didn’t want him to.
Pink hair covers one book-lover’s eyes. She wants to talk to the mother of five but doesn’t.
A skinny girl meets her sister. She is self-conscious. Her sister is chubby and okay with it and happy. Their brother enters, covered in tattoos. The librarian leaves before he can recognize her.
A schoolmate sees the twins, but can’t tell them apart so doesn’t acknowledge them. His father reads the paper. His mother sits sighing, vying for attention.
A group of friends laugh from the corner. A boy who likes his sister’s best friend is trying too hard. The sister and the other boy share a glance. Everyone knows but the one who should.
The overworked waiter is about their age. They ignore him. His coworker sees and decides to misplace their food. She smiles at him but he is tired.
The manager tries to calm the political man as he raves.
The cat lady’s boyfriend comes to get her in a jeep. Pink hair brushes past him. No one sees her leave.
One of the scrabble players is cheating.
A person at a middle table scribbles notes on a napkin. A bearded man nearby wonders what but never asks. His mom finally shows up, half an hour late on his birthday. She forgot. He worries.
The hostess’ smile is empty. She wonders how long she can hide her pregnancy. The busboy with a crush sees her fear. He spills on an elderly woman no one noticed until now.
Three cooks are shouting over misplaced food.
A toddler presses his face against the glass partition. The twelve year old on the other side who always wanted a brother does the same and gets yelled at by his flustered single father.  His soul mate walks in. He doesn’t notice.

I didn't intend for this to be so depressing when I took the challenge, but it occurred to me that people tend to focus on themselves and ignore the people around them. There are people you encounter every day who have things going on in their lives right now--good things or bad things, and you never stop to think about what those things are or the little ways you can help them.

When I was in Florida, (I went to Florida to stay with my Aunt for two weeks and did all kinds of Flordian things by myself and forgot to tell you people anything about it. Oops.) I went to an Ihop by myself to get lunch and met a waitress who told me she had stopped at the dollar store the night before and someone had mugged her in the parking lot and stolen her purse. She was really freaked out about this and unsure of what she was going to do about her credit cards and everything, but she also told me that her daughter had shown up unexpectedly for a visit that morning. She hadn't seen her in months because they lived in separate states and couldn't afford to travel much. She was so upset by one event and so thrilled by the other, that she couldn't help but share them with me, a perfect stranger, and my life was made more rich by finding out about her life. I saw through someone else's eyes for a moment. I felt the excitement and joy with her of a perfectly timed visit from someone she loves, right when life seemed like it was out to get her.

There is a point to this. We need to be aware of the people around us, even the ones with whom we feel we have nothing in common. They have hopes and loves and hates and horrors going on in their lives as you do in yours. Life is about finding the connections.


Thursday, November 3, 2011


Basically, that is how my novel is coming along.