Tuesday, October 28, 2014

William, William!

Apparently, certain people are more natural mimics than others. These folks adopt others' accents, often unconsciously, if they hang around them enough. I've never been much of a mimic; I can't even pretend to be Australian without sounding like a Hanna-Barbera villain. I created a Cockney accent for Nancy in an elementary school production of Oliver! that, most unfortunately, no responsible adult could talk me out of. (If anyone still has VHS tapes - Taylor Elementary, Norfolk, Virginia, early 1990s - please burn them.)

The book for my Faulkner/Morrison class this week is Absalom, Absalom!, which boasts the longest sentence in the English language (1,288 words), according to Guinness. I'm saying this with my forehead to the ground: it is a hard book. I believe that the not insignificant trouble I'm having with it is just desserts for the passionate post I wrote defending long sentences, but I also believe that Absalom is why my writing exercise this week included a sentence that was a hundred and eighty-seven words long. Previously for this class I wrote a sentence that was even longer (209 words), but for that one I just kept piling conjunctions behind commas. I only used one semicolon. The one I wrote on Sunday uses all kinds of punctuation to patch itself together, just as Faulkner does in Absalom.

This is the earlier one:
He’d tried skating on a downhill section of hardpack, but his board had hit a rock and he’d fallen badly and broken his right ankle and couldn’t walk, so he tried to wad himself up onto the board and roll along like a legless man but he’d slipped on a hill leading into one of the abandoned building sites that surrounded their warehouse like enormous moons around a small, sheltered planet, and he’d tumbled ass over teakettle down and into a terrible pit dug for a long-forgotten foundation with a rocky bottom full of small dead creatures who got in and couldn’t get out; a half-rotted dog was in there and Ray’s hand sank into its putrid chest first thing when he tried to stand and he shrieked and dropped down again and he lay there half the night, his ankle full of ground glass, sweating and shivering in a thin TAPOUT t-shirt, shouting himself hoarse when he saw headlights, and they got him to the hospital and gave him blankets and sips of water and x-rays and codeine, and his dad didn’t come to pick him up at all, in fact hung up on Sergeant Kleinman when she called to say how his son had passed the night. 
Not that Faulknerian, just has a sort of rising pitch. The 187-word one I wrote for this week's exercise is much more of a bob-and-weave, swoop-and-double-back piece of work. I don't feel good about making it public, but here's a shorter long sentence from the same piece (74 words):
Only that one remains in my memory, but when they chanted it – the two women interviewed for the podcast who sat and touched each other’s hands in rhythm to see what they remembered two decades at least after the last time they were bored somewhere and had to do something with each other aside from folding paper into shapes to flick and mold and fit inside itself – my palms itched on the steering wheel.
See how much less organized the second sentence is? How clauses hang on each other like plastic monkeys from a barrel, prepositional mixed with conjunctive, rather than chains of tidier clauses holding hands obediently? That disorganization is my brain trying to sort out and incorporate Absalom. It is a hard book, but I'm still mimicking it, even though I'm not trying to and don't want to. I want to write my own work, not Faulkner's, but a pale attempt at his syntax is still what's coming out of my fingers at the moment because it's what's on my mind.

Can you blame me? Rowr.

No, I'm kidding, he's a dead alcoholic with dubious taste in socks. 

This isn't the first time this has happened, but it's the weakest I've ever been at keeping other voices from bleeding into my writing. I suspect that part of the reason for this lack of integrity is how emotionally challenging the reading for this semester has been. I don't feel like I'm close to a breakdown or anything, but the diet of Faulkner, Morrison, and the short stories we've been reading in my workshop class has made a tumult of my insides. Most recently, "Diary of an Interesting Year" was assigned, and I couldn't bring myself to read it twice, as I have all the other stories this semester. It was unrelentingly bleak with a charming British wit painted on top.  I stared at the blinking cursor for minutes on end when it came time to write a reading response to it.

So that's why I did some work on the secret project this week instead of the wikibook. The secret project is more instinctual, and a bit Gothic, and while I still don't want to mimic Faulkner to write, I thought his influence might help instead of hurting. It went fairly well. I didn't finish what I'd hoped to finish, but I inched along. I tried hard to keep the sentences short, or shorter anyway, so it felt a lot more inchy than usual.

I'll let you know if Absalom, for all its difficulty, turns out to be Great. Or if any of that Greatness rubs off on me. (Prognosis: doubtful.)

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