Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Unacceptable

A long, complex dream in which I am part of a new minority that must leave Canada before a deadline.

I work in the vast lobby of a hotel, and every day, people I know disappear. Others perform symbolic protests that look like team sports training exercises, before they, too, disappear.

Acceptable Canadians are not allowed to speak with me, except to give orders. To my grief, I see former girlfriends in the lobby who will not acknowledge my presence.

As the people around me vanish, my sadness overwhelms me, and every day, I tear out clumps of hair from my scalp, clumps of beard from my face. This goes on throughout the dream: every transition takes place to the sound of tearing, to pain, to a glimpse of hair clutched in my left hand.

-- Wednesday, October 1, 2014.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Only Tools We Have

After I had read a story by Alice Munro that did so many things well, I sat for a long time and wondered why the story had not worked for me. Then I recalled these words from Joanna Russ:

Only the preservative of style can make things not only enter people's heads and hearts, but stay there.

[Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 1979.]

Whether I like this or not, I have to agree. Words are the only tools we have to bring our stories to life, and how we the use the words, how we choose them for accuracy, order them for clarity, and place them for impact, is not icing on the cake; it is the cake.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Friend Behind Phenomena

A haunting comment on gods and spiritual beliefs and metaphysical ideas:

We are gregarious animals; our ancestors have been such for countless ages. We cannot help looking out on the world as gregarious animals do; we see it in terms of humanity and of fellowship. Students of animals under domestication have shown us how the habits of a gregarious creature, taken away from his kind, are shaped in a thousand details by reference to the lost pack which is no longer there -- the pack which a dog tries to smell his way back to all the time he is out walking, the pack he calls to for help when danger threatens. It is a strange and touching thing, this eternal hunger of the gregarious animal for the herd of friends who are not there. And it may be, it may very possibly be, that, in the matter of this Friend behind phenomena, our own yearning and our own almost ineradicable instinctive conviction, since they are certainly not founded on either reason or observation, are in origin the groping of a lonely-souled gregarious animal to find its herd or its herd-leader in the great spaces between the stars.

-- Gilbert Murray, The Stoic Philosophy. George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1915.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Absence of Dead Baggage

Over the past two years, I have always gone back to the short stories of William Sansom because of his approach to character.

Often, he has no interest in the typical details of a character's exterior life, and any mention is either passed over quickly or ignored. Job? Social background? Type of clothing? Brand of shoes? Favourite this or that or whatever? He has no compelling interest in these things, and so the dead baggage that weighs down too many stories is usually absent from his work.

Instead, he puts the characters into awkward or alien or harmful situations, and looks at their efforts to conceptualize these events, to define for themselves how they think and feel about their sudden crises.

This might seem abstract in theory, but in execution, Sansom gives his characters an almost paranoid awareness of their physical surroundings, and he describes their conceptualizations in terms that are equally physical. The result is like a prose poem of sweat and cold fire and gooseflesh. It goes right to the heart of who these people are and of how they respond to the wind and the rain and the grit of a terrible place.

The result, for me, is fascinating and refreshingly clean. It would hardly work in a novel, but in a short story, it opens ominous doors.

For years, now, I have tried to write in my own way, on my own terms. Discovering Sansom, and watching him achieve his own peculiar goals, has made me want to continue on my own particular paths.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

And That's the Way it Is

FIRST DRAFT FRENZY:

Something happened.

"Oh, no!" said someone.

Disaster.

"I can't --"

"Yes, you can."

"No!"

Development.

"Wait!"

"Never."

More development.

"No!"

Only by the light of winter stars can the dreaming mind accept mortality.

And then --

"Try!"

"I'm trying!"

"Try harder!"

A fallen leaf sails away on a film of petroleum colours.

Reversal.

Opaque epiphany.

"No!"

Climax.

Coda.

"Nothing, all around us! Nothing!"

The End.

OHHHHHHH... THAT FELT GOOD.

I CAN EXPAND IT LATER.