Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Writing the Unthinkable

So, I'm pretty excited. I've had a fairly productive few weeks. First, this phenomenal piece of art arrived in the mail:

You should buy this book and make Lynda Barry rich

If you can't tell from the photo, it's "Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor" by Lynda Barry, which is, to explain it over-simply, the notes from her decade long-workshop for non-writers, called "Writing the Unthinkable."

Not only is it visually stimulating, but I'm hoping it to be a mental/artistic wake up call too. Lynda Barry's work is always thoughtful/thought provoking (despite, or perhaps because it's couched in the form of "cartoon"), and I love the way it feels so much like a brain dump. Like if you took a cross section of her brain, it would look like this--words and drawings and ephemera right up to the very edges. I love the collages, I love that her work always feels as if she is truly trying to get "at" something. Which is all writing is really. Trying to get at what cannot be gotten at. A feeling, an idea, an abstraction. And I relate to the need/desire to work across multiple media -- the written word, images etc, the layers of meaning each kind of inclusion brings.

I'm so excited to dig into this thing I can't even tell you. I was flipping through it and right on the inside cover is this: What Everyone came to a realization that their certainty was what was wrong."  And this other gem, a few pages later:

I was trying to understand how images travel between people, how they move through time, and if there was a way to use writing and picture making to figure out more about how images work."

I would really love to have her as an instructor. I know I'm getting ahead of myself, but I feel like she's the kind of person who would be able to help me translate all the 'stuff' that's in my head on to the page. I don't think/organize my thoughts in a traditional way, I don't access the info that's rattling around in my head the way most people do. Or maybe, more accurately, I don't think traditional teaching methods were the best-matched method for me. Oh, I did fine in school and I am not saying that I was inhibited in any significant way, but I think that very creative part of my brain just never really found its path. Grad school was helpful. I had great instructors and a community of writers who helped me figure out how to access that part. But Barry is an unconventional instructor and I have a feeling that's exactly what I need. So I'm hopeful I will get something meaningful out of it.

This coincides very nicely with my sudden (and I do mean sudden--inexplicably so) interest in re-examining the novel I've been working on. My last iteration of it was some time ago. I'd started re-vamping it--another draft that was 180 degrees different from the one before. And I got some mileage out of that, but I feel like the first real draft--the draft that I worked on the longest, might just be worth revisiting. I'm excited about it, too. I'm looking forward to digging into it as well. And I'm hoping that I'm in the middle of a very lucky coincidence-- purchasing a book of instruction written by a very non-linear thinker and a desire to start again on a very non-linear work.

I'm excited. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

It takes a village

Last night I spent a delightful few hours catching up with a friend I don't see nearly enough. We met through mutual grad school friends (though we never attended any classes together). While I've been slaving away at short stories, he's been making documentaries and short films (the former premiered at the Maryland Film Festival a year or two ago. Not too shabby).

We had a far-ranging conversation--music (bad puns using Smiths and Replacements lyrics) childhood memories (a larger-than-life Maynard Ferguson album cover, hi fi's in the living room) to familial relationships (we're Catholic, we don't talk about our feelings), to writers, classic movies, Chanel commercials from the '80s (did you know Ridley Scott made those?) you get the picture.
This album cover haunted my childhood. Thanks, Dad.

But we mostly talked about art and trying to make it. It was a great, invigorating conversation--the kind I feel a bit starved for, especially since finishing up grad school nearly 6 years ago.  It's something I've been looking for/trying to re-create ever since.

It's strange--I've always preferred solitude. Maybe that's why I was drawn to writing. It's such a solitary endeavor. And doesn't happen in a vacuum, does it? We're always influenced by what's happening around us. I am, at least. And I think when I feel like there's not a whole lot going on externally, internally, everything's kind of blah, too. But it's not easy to balance out the need for solitude and the need for group activity. I am definitely introverted -- I need down time to recharge. Even when I'm having a good time with people I care about, at a certain point, I'm done. I'm overloaded. But oddly enough, being in the right kind of atmosphere (i.e. a long, meandering conversation over strong drinks) can recharge me as well.

I at least recognize this weird little high wire act and try to balance out the going-home-after-work-and-just-hanging-with-the-dog with some social activities (even if they don't revolve around artistic conversations). But it's not easy. I joined a literary journal as an editor about a year or so ago. And if I'm honest, I'll say it was because I wanted to stay tethered to a community I felt myself increasingly further away from. I'll go one further and say that I was also kind of hoping to find some kind of inspiration reading tons of other short stories. The good news is that the group of readers the editor has assembled are some of the most talented and thoughtful people I've met in a long time.  The bad news is (well, not *bad*, but...) that I'm just not as inspired as I thought I'd be.

Maybe that's an unfair statement. Maybe this whole post is unfair.  Does it sound like I'm putting the onus for my inspiration on others? I don't mean for it to sound that way. But there *is* something to be said for the community. The interaction and the free exchange of ideas.

The editor of the journal recognizes this--she tries to gather us all together a few times a year. Not just to go over the journal housekeeping stuff, but just to spend time with one another. It's good and I like it. I find spending an evening listening to smart people talk about art is probably one of my favorite things to do.

But I also like to go home, then, and be alone with my thoughts (and my dog, of course).

Why do I expect an alien to burst out of this nice lady's stomach?