In the early 1600s when Samuel de Champlain was bunking around the fire with people who lived on the shores of an enormous and beautiful lake, Champlain remarked in his journal how surprised he was that these strangers discussed their dreams every morning as if their dreams were as real as the waking world. I’ve been thinking about Champlain’s observance and how easily we can narrow our vision, completely discounting or ignoring pieces of our past and present.
A blog reader who sometimes mails me terrific books sent me Jane Alison’s Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative. As I’m finishing up a draft of my novel, the book has made me look harder at the novel’s structure. As a writer, I can’t help but look at my own tangled story — and those around me — and the way plot lines and patterns, how chance and opportunity, blend and shape our lives.
For Ray Carver fans (and who isn’t a fan, really? if not, you might want to be!), there’s a terrific essay on one of my favorite stories, “Where I’m Calling From.”
So often fictions that experiment formally do so at the expense of feeling. They toy on surfaces or are purely cerebral affairs, don’t explore human complexities. But the mostly unconventional narratives I’ve been discussing have dealt powerfully with core human matters.
I often read other blogs filled with all kinds of interesting things and wonder. Where on the planet are you writing? So often, I begin a post with “The weather turns foul or cheers up, the leaves unfurl or fall off and die….” Weather is ever-present around here. And yes, we’re still swimming, but the days are already dimming.
I found this lovely page from a children’s storybook along a path. The local children’s librarian put these on posts on a short path from the library to the lake. On my way into work this morning, I stopped at the lake and opened my lap. I worked intently for an hour, just me and three loons, and some woman who appeared with her two golden retrievers. The water lay flat and smooth, about as perfect as anything gets in this world.
Recently, I read over a few of Shirley Jackson’s terrific essays about writing. She writes, “The essence of the story is motion.” So, too, I wish we better understood this about life. That endless monologue running through my head… well, the walk through the woods is the essence of me.
After Obama as a senator had been on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, host Peter Sagal mentioned they had to scrap the charisma off the floor. Last night, my local bookstore, The Galaxy Bookshop, asked Howard Frank Mosher’s brother Terry to read from Mosher’s posthumous collection of stories, and I’m sure the booksellers had to sweep what might be described as just plain Niceness off the floor. What a lovely family. What weeping. What laughter. What a life, Mr. Mosher.
Terry Mosher spoke about a Robert Frost poem their father read to the boys when they young, and mentioned how deeply and tenaciously those lines rooted in his brother’s fiction. He quoted, “The trial by market everything must come to,” and noted that all through Mosher’s writing runs rural people fighting against measuring land in monetary terms, the worth of life in dollars and cents, which sums up one of the deepest conundrums in current Vermont — or stretch that way, way beyond my Green Mountain State borders, far into the terrain of human nature.
Like many people I know, I cut my early reading teeth on Little House on the Prairie, and reading the new fictionalized version of Ma (er… Caroline) brings back the days when reading a chapter in a real, fat book was a very big deal.
The book is an interesting take beyond the troupes linked with each character – blue calico and blonde hair with Mary, a red dress and brown braids with Laura, Ma and the china shepherdess, Pa with the gun, baby Carrie and her beads, even loyal Jack warning his growl – into the grownup terrain of a woman in labor.
At the end, I remembered Jacqueline Woodson saying that she insists her writing students know all stories have a specific place and a time. Not long after the Osage left their land, here’s sometimes naughty, sometimes sweet little Laura taking one last final look at the cabin her father built in a sea of virgin grass, as their wagon rolled away.
The wagon lurched as Charles jumped down, then shuddered with the loosening of the rope at the back so that Laura and Mary could peep out through the wagon cover. For a long moment it was still. The Caroline heard Charles’s footsteps, receding instead of approaching. She did not trust herself to look forward again if she looked back, but she turned. Laura and Mary crowded the small keyhole Charles had made in the canvas. Past their heads, a narrow swath of the cabin was visible.
– Caroline, Little House, Revisited, by Sarah Miller
One cool thing about being a writer is the liberty to do ‘research’ in the face of teenager sensibility. Honestly, though, curiosity often leads us into fun – or at least the unusual. In the middle of Maine, the kids and I walked along a highway, wondering who lives here, and why, then the 12-year-old discovered a squishy patch of asphalt which took our footprints for moments before they disappeared. In a field behind a parking lot, toadflax bloomed at one edge.
Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.