Posts tagged ‘vision’

February 26, 2012

Waiting for Godot, but Not Barney Rosset

From Notebook, a magazine of film culture, is an obituary for Barney Rosset, ground-breaking leader in American publishing. He fed us Beckett, Henry Miller, William Burroughs, and I Am Curious (Yellow) when we were hungry for it.

Rosset’s publishing house, Grove Press, was a tiny company operating out of the ground floor of Rosset’s brownstone when it published an obscure play called Waiting for Godot in 1954. By the time Beckett had won the Nobel Prize in 1969, Grove had become a force that challenged and changed literature and American culture in deep and lasting ways. [Thanks to Richard Nash from Twitter.]

The article is here: Barney Rosset

Advertisements
February 15, 2012

Notes on Being an Artist

How My Writing Frees Itself

A talented young writer recently asked me for some support and I dashed off a letter to her and I tried to explain, just how I, myself, managed to keep working day after day, and year after year. That inspired me to come up with a list of ways I support myself. This is my list:

• The more I become myself as an artist, the less I ask other people how or what I should write.
• What other people think about my writing is not important.
• What I think about my own writing, is not that important.
• Each day I sit down and tell my mind to shut up. I sit quietly for twenty minutes and then write what my inner self guides me to. It asks me to consider very difficult things in my own life, my thinking, and in my memories. That’s as it’s supposed to be.
• I hope my writing is a sharing from my most honest self. If I don’t have that in me, I’ll never share much value as an artist.
• I don’t think being an artist is easy: that I’ve had a difficult life so far, is to my advantage. It’s made me quite human, and that’s all there is to write about anyway.
• An artist’s sensitivity is all he or she is. In one sense a true artist is the bravest kind of person. No one wanted to hear Jesus say “love your enemy,” that was too brave. No one wanted to hear Buddha say: “Give up all your money, the only value is spiritual.” Neither one published anything, but we have to read their words all the time because they got the voice right. It’s an inside job, I’m afraid.
• I look in the mirror and I can tell myself one great fact: “I did not give up on myself—I love that about me.”
• I don’t listen to anyone who tells me what I should do with my art. I don’t even listen to myself, because many of those voices I hear in my head are only echoes of negativity that have been doing their push-ups for many years.
• Be unique, be yourself, be weird, be fabulous. I don’t have to try to do that, I just let myself go.

January 22, 2012

Writing Novels Is Simple, If You Like Simple Novels


A new writer recently protested while writing his first novel that he frequently felt disgusted and incompetent. He felt that perhaps he should give up—that he didn’t feel “normal” enough to be a novelist. My response was this:

Who told you writing novels was easy? Writing is like life, but more intense—like a life that if all you do is ride a ferris wheel crossed with a roller coaster that breaks down a lot and the only mechanic you know can only be accessed by psychic smoke signals and the only ink available consists of your own blood mixed with stomach bile and the sweat off your back.

It is like that, but it’s also harder than that for a true artist who writes. Also, it’s more fun than real life sometimes because you get to make it all up from your own imagination, although if you don’t have one of those, give up right away. It’s all those hard, sad times that make the good ones so great. Also, it makes for a unique book, and that’s the main point. If it feels like nothing else you’ve ever felt or read, pat yourself on the back—you have arrived. Enjoy the ride.

January 15, 2012

The Work of Writing and Friends

The Work of Writing and Friends

WORK IS MEMORY: I was reminded by a writer friend of mine today about the struggle to work at writing when it is going poorly or not at all. It is an easy reminder for me because mine has not been going well recently. You can tell by my increased attention to my website here. I was also reminded by an opinion piece in The Times. Susan Cain writes: “One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone—and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.” What did help me today was offering my time to help her by remembering my own experience earlier in my own career.

WORK IS PRACTICE: The best thing you can do is show up for it every day, because like any art, much of it takes place between sessions at the page and much of it takes place in the subconscious. I just wrote a paragraph about my main character in my Cuban novel where he imagines that his skin has turned dark overnight. It’s actually the first night he spends together with Tesora, and the vision signifies to him how shallow his prejudice against Africans had been: his mind is blown and his skin is now brown.

WORK IS CRITICISM: Yes, it’s hard to take criticism, but writing is a form of conversation, so feedback is important. Someone once said that whenever someone tells you a piece of your writing doesn’t work, the critic is probably right—at the same time that person, when they tell you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong. You must stick to that inner self who knows the truth, whatever that is. Take time to sit quietly every day to listen to your inner voice (don’t worry if it sounds exactly like silence). No one can read the vision behind the piece you write.

WORK IS LISTENING: And to show up every day, is also to be a part of that audience yourself. You change and your point of view changes a bit every day, so you can be a better critic for yourself. One of my critics, a young Japanese woman, who writes urban fantasy, is someone I picked who would be far from my own point of view, certainly. She expects a whole different thing from writing—more present-tense action. Me, I think action is best emphasized by pauses, like music uses it to produce rhythm and cadence. I still enjoy reading books who were born in the 1800s. Plus, I have a propensity to enjoy and accomplish a certain lyricism. I enjoy reading it, and I enjoy creating it, too. So way to hang in there, writers: who told you writing was easy?  It’s simple enough; you just stare at the page until blood forms on your forehead: no problem.

WORK IS COLLABORATING: Writing with a partner right there at your side can be helpful too. For a whole year, once a week, I trekked down to the Reading Room of the Boston Public Library and met a friend and we both wrote for a few hours and then had tea to congratulate each other. It was a wonderful way to learn how to show up for the work. Writing regularly helps you to feel good about yourself, even when that time is not a big number. Other things always get in the way: keep writing and feel good about that. I wrote much of one novel commuting on a bus, surrounded by black high school kids yelling and blasting music. At first I thought it would be impossible to write like that, but then it just became part of my routine like the Boston Public Library. Years later it gave me the idea for my last novel with the plot involving a Scottish boy marooned in an all-African Cuban town. Did you ever hear the phrase, “acceptance is the answer to all my problems”? That also applies to writing as well.

December 6, 2011

Re-Writing My Blues

Maybe Hemingway re-wrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms seventeen or thirty-seven times, I don’t know, but I know the torment when a piece of writing is not right. I’m sure he felt mighty good about having almost finished a novel he knew would be widely read, but also that he would feel mighty bad to think he had written an ending to it that was less than his best. At this point I know that my second novel, Blues Pizza, is not my best (indeed, it is my worst). So I feel compelled to fix it. I’m not sure I can and, as a matter of fact, I can’t seem to fix the first two paragraphs of to fit my best standard. If I can’t fix the first two chapters, the whole novel will be forever laid to rest. R.I.T. (Rest In Turmoil). But for now, I’m taking another chance at giving the novel another chance. I’ve cut 12,000 words and made plans to re-arrange all the rest, but first I’m going to re-imagine and re-write those first two chapters if it kills me (or rather, if it kills the novel). I think I’ve re-written the first two paragraphs about thirty-seven times. That’s not quite enough, but it may be close.

There’s a certain satisfaction in playing a blues song well. To crawl into the back-story of the lyrics, to feel the passion there, and then to translate that into notes that fit feels good. It may also hurt, but it’s a good hurt when the played blues liberates the source of my real blues. It’s worth working for, I’d say. Onward.

November 15, 2011

“Laura Bridgman” Was Helen Keller before Helen Keller

For three minutes of a haunting and brilliant writing listen to Kimberly Elkins’ “Laura Bridgman” on The Drum, an audio literary magazine.

Her flash fiction “Laura Bridgman, the First Famous Blind Deaf-Mute, Aged 59, Upon Meeting Helen Keller, Aged 8” was recorded at The Drum’s Open Mic session at the 2011 Boston Book Festival and appears in the November 2011 issue of The Drum.

Kimberly Elkins’ “Laura Bridgman” offers a fascinating fictionalized account of an actual historical moment. It’s from her newly completed first draft of the novel (Yay, Kim!). As Laura meets the young girl (Keller) who is being groomed to take her place as a celebrity, Bridgman muses on the vagaries of fame and reputation. Elkins’ piece raises interesting questions about the rivalry among the senses (or their loss), and the strange power that can be wielded by disability.

This piece from her novel may either be part of a preface to the novel, part of the last page, or a bit of both. In any case it’s one look at the most significant point of the plot of this historical novel.

Kimberly Elkins’ fiction and nonfiction have been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Best New American Voices, The Iowa Review,The Village Voice, Glamour, and Prevention, among others. She was a finalist for the 2004 National Magazine Award and has received fellowships from the Edward Albee and William Randolph Hearst foundations, the SLS fellowship in Nonfiction to St. Petersburg, Russia, the St. Botolph Emerging Artist Award, and a joint research fellowship from the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, and the Massachusetts Historical Society for research on her novel. Residencies include the Millay Colony and Blue Mountain Center, and she was also the 2009 Kerouac Writer in Residence. Kimberly has taught at Florida State University and Boston University, and is currently a Visiting Lecturer and Advisor for the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at the University of Hong Kong.

October 27, 2011

I Know, a song by Sara Tavares

If I fly, I do not know where
If I walk, not knowing who I am
if I speak, and the voice sounds with the morning
I know . . .
If I drink this light that goes out on me at night,
And if one day I say I no longer want to be here,
Only God knows what he saw,
Only God knows what will be,
There is no other who knows everything that happens to me.
If sorrow is deeper than the pain
If this is no longer the flavor
And to think that all this already I thought
I know . . .
If I drink this light that goes out on me at night,
And if one day I say I no longer want to be here,
the uncertainty of knowing what to do, what to want,
Even without ever thinking that one day you’ll think
There is no other who knows everything that happens to me.

[link to song is here: I Know, a song by Sara Tavares]

October 6, 2011

Tomas Transtromer, Poet, wins the Nobel Prize

Tomas Tranströmer, a Swedish poet, won the Nobel Prize for literature today. Here’s a bit of one poem below and six others here. Enjoy.

Allegro

After a black day, I play Haydn,
and feel a little warmth in my hands.
The keys are ready. Kind hammers fall.
The sound is spirited, green, and full of silence.
The sound says that freedom exists
and someone pays no tax to Caesar.

October 5, 2011

Requiem for Steve Jobs

R.I.P. Steve Jobs. All of my novels have been typed on Macintosh computers. I’ve been using them since the first Mac 128 came out. The following excerpt is from a speech given by Steve Jobs in 2005. It says a lot about creativity.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life,” Jobs said. “Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

October 1, 2011

How do you mix comedy with tragedy?

How to create dark humor:
The main character in my novel has wartime trauma and is attempting a voyage in a rubber raft. He was once a bomber pilot, so he has a certain quality of leadership skills he can use on himself. On the other hand he is trying to escape from the evil in his own mind and cannot conceive of how to do that. Perhaps this gives me the opportunity to create some wild flights of imagination to play out in his mind. They contain scenes of an idyllic childhood juxtaposed with scenes from the darker scenes he remembers from literature. He is obviously attempting to avoid his own memories, but I would like to know if these flights need to be funny out loud, or does being merely ironic work for him?

%d bloggers like this: