Monday, December 28, 2009

Musings on Mediums (not to mention Smalls and Larges)

Betcha couldn't get enough of that stale blog I've been feeding you for the past couple of weeks, huh? Sorry. Holidays and all, you know? And nothing much has been happening, either. So it didn't seem worthwhile to fire up the blog just to sit starting at a blank post screen.

To catch you up - I did a couple of end-of-semester readings that went pretty well. Missed one of them due to having no voice, and was still hoarse for the other two, but, all in all, they went well. I always love reading my work.

And then the semester ended, and I let myself take it easy. Got ready for my younger son's birthday party (overnight gaming party at our house - big hit, plus we excavated the downstairs so it's a usable part of the house again), did the Chanukah thing (dog loved it - this is her holiday - by the second night, she had the pattern of candles and then presents down and was heading up the stairs to choose her present as soon as I started putting candles in the menorah), and then laid low for a bit. My grades came in and I'm finishing up my course work with a 4.0, which, to put it mildly, thrills me to no end.

I haven't written a lot over the past couple of weeks - I did a bit of noodling, but nothing substantial. I had a section that wasn't working right, so I just let it sit. Read Wolf Hall, the Booker Prize winner by Hilary Mantel, along with a couple of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics (calling them comics is like saying Leonardo Di Vinci drew pictures, they're definitely graphic novels). The novel germinated. Finally figured out what I'm going to do with it yesterday, which is good because I will be doing a week-long writing retreat starting on the 4th, and I'd hate to be spending all of it thinking about what to do next.

I broke out the paints today so I could work on our New Year's cards, something I haven't done since my residency ended. What I like about painting is that I get to see the result of what I've done almost instantaneously. I can see the whole piece, see what my changes have done to it, make corrections, and gauge their effectiveness immediately.

It's very different when I'm writing. Like the past couple of weeks while I sat here knowing something wasn't working and trying to figure out what I needed to do - because I couldn't see exactly what wasn't working. It's not like looking at a painting and seeing the shape of an object isn't right or the proportions aren't working or the color of blue in the shadows is at odds with the rest of the painting's palette. This is more of gut feeling that it isn't working or falling short of what I want the scene to do. And knowing how to fix it is much different than looking at an object and what's on the canvas and seeing that the handle isn't round enough. I know. Painting also involves gut reactions to what's in front of the artist - knowing where to put the extra line that's so subtle only the artist knows what's been added, but everyone who looks at it says, "ah, yes." Every art form has its intuitive process. I'm not claiming a special level of artist's hell for writers. We all go through it.

But...when you are dealing with an object you can not absorb in one moment, you're dealing with a slightly different animal. The novel is difficult precisely for this reason - I think it's more akin to making a full length movie, with its multiple moving parts that must be kept in mind and under control and contained within consumable parameters, than any other art form. Even a full length play can be assessed in one sitting. There are very few people who can read an entire novel in a few hours and absorb it in the degree of detail necessary to remember everything. And when something isn't working, it's difficult to diagnose for precisely this reason - you can't keep everything in your head for the length of time it takes to read through it. For example, Wolf Hall, which is 530 pages long, took me over a week to read it. Imagine being the writer who has to remember that on the tenth page of the novel there's an image that you want to come back to in 400 pages, and then you get to the 400th page and think, hm, there's something missing here, what was it? Oh, it was the image of the dying dog. That's right. You don't have a blank spot on a canvas to remind you that you wanted to put something in just that place.'s nice to have another medium to work in, sometimes, to exercise different creative muscles and remember that, even though I can't see all of my novel at one time, at least I do not have to risk destroying my work every time I pick up a brush. I have multiple copies of my novel, copies of scenes that have been deleted in both data and hard copy forms. If I delete something, I can always retrieve it. Unlike the painter who, while trying to correct the shape of that handle, discovers that it looked better the first way and can't, no matter how many attempts are made, get back to it.

Incidentally, the photo accompanying this post is from the spring of 1986 when I was in London. I loved this guy, I even bought his pamphlet after I took the picture and had it for a long time (it's one of those objects that appears and disappears at intervals. I haven't seen it for many years now, but I'm sure I will find it eventually). The "Less Lust" man would appear all over London. It gave me a great deal of pleasure, when I read Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, to discover that Neil had seen him, too, and recorded him in text.

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