Old Moon

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Art, Mankind, & Nature

Here comes another storm--slower than the original prediction. The iris are full out and gorgeous, most of the dogwood at peak, and I can't help wondering if they will all be ruined before dinner time. Rain is falling, flood watches being broadcast, and my dog is already feeling considerable consternation.

As seasons go, 2010-2011 has had more than its share of extremes. It's such a temptation for human beings to read significance into natural departures from the norm (which is determined by human calculations) that it makes you wonder how we got so self-important. I remember a lady we knew many years ago in Connecticut who declared that the (then beginning) disease threatening white ash trees was evidence of the onset of biblical warnings of the last days. The fact that her sense of doom occurred nearly fifty years ago doesn't change the alarms still going off as a result of so many catastrophes we've seen since then.

For anyone interested in what might be called "serious" writing, there seems to be so much gloom and doom in the human condition (wonderful locution that covers so much territory), it's often near impossible to tell a story or produce a poem that doesn't mirror awful or cruel or depressing aspects of mankind's existence. Reams have been written about the duty of artists. All the arguments don't agree.

Maybe each artist must allow self-interest to determine how much reality and how much fantasy, how much factual and how much hopeful, how much concrete and how much spiritual belong in his or her work. We are not all equally gifted any more than we are equally equipped to control what flows from that hidden source from which artists produce whatever they can. Maybe the best we can do is keep the faith in what we've been given with which to work.

I just hope we can find a way to tap into "inspiration" or catch the muses of comedy (Thalia) and her happier sisters for more of the poems we write and the music we compose and the pictures we paint. Surely an artist needs occasionally to do a bit of uplifting.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Writing About Writing

Over a number of (20+) years I've read a good deal about writing. Some has been the standard, virtually required stuff, some has been inspired and useful for prying open the clamshell of a traditional mind, and some shakes a would-be writer up like a pebble in a tin can. I'm reasonably sure that what goes in that last category is different for every writer.

  My most recent read that fits that description is (as is common with me these days) not a new one. Of course that doesn't matter. Madeleine L'Engle's Circle of Quiet is the example.

Carolyn See in her book about the literary life suggests that all writers need to be ready to send "sweet notes" to authors whose work they admire. She's not joking about that. I sent her one, and she answered it! Well, I'm about to send a note (not sure how sweet it will be) of unbridled enthusiasm to Madeleine L'Engle.

Probably this series of journal entries requires a female reader, but I'm not sure about that because I know so few male writers. If it doesn't speak to any writer of fiction, I'd be astonished, though. It's unassuming, available in paperback, and reads as if the author were having a conversation with her reader. Self-effacing, humorous, poignant, and above all, wise, her views on writing are a must read for those who want to write anything serious--maybe even for those who want to live a serious life.
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Get Up and Go...?

The older I get, and to to quote Wallace Stegner, "...and I get pretty old...," the more I find myself giving in to lethargy, or inertia, or whatever it is that prevents people from doing immediately whatever it is they should. Everything from the laundry to balancing the checkbook to transplanting the overcrowded perennials, all the way to sitting down to write the promised review or react to the nagging mosquito hum of a nascent poem--everything falls into this sticky trap. I don't get distracted. No excuse there. I simply don't want to do it, and so for a time, I don't. There's a tiny voice at the back of my head saying I've earned laziness at my age, or that the world won't come to an end if I procrastinate, and other equally solipsistic bait.

The irony is that I have this sense of time racing away, as the astrophysicists tell us it does, at an ever more rapid speed. What I don't get is why that knowledge alone can't blast me off my rooted spot.  This is being posted here in the vague hope that someone (over the age of 45) will have a suggestion to boot us slugs into motion--metaphorically, of course!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Who Will Be Your Critic?

As you metaphorically sweat out your verbal creations, do you ever wonder, not just who might read them, but who might critique them? Assuming, of course, that you don't already have a group to support and chastise and encourage you. The first words written on the board in my 9th Grade English class by its truly talented and unique teacher were: All criticism should be in plus values.

As I do my best to be fair to the authors of books I review or to authors on Fanstory, or the occasional offering of a fellow aspirant, I recall that admonition. Over many years it has proved to be a real byword for my own teaching and current reviewing. I wish the notion could extend to the kind of thoughtless arguments that seem to dominate political discourse to the point where there's a real question about whether our elected officials are over the age of majority.

And as I work through the final stages of preparing my next book, I harbor the hope it may find some readers capable of that viewpoint.