Thursday, May 28, 2015

Odd Trapezoid

Today, the online arm of The Normal School is running a flash fiction piece of mine, "MicroDry." Hooray! I wrote this piece as an exercise for my workshop class last semester, and then I tinkered with it until it was send-out-able, and then The Normal School said "Yeah, we like that," and now I'm directing you to it here.

Warning! It uses dialect. I love writing in dialect, but this acceptance is nearly the first positive reaction I've gotten for it from anyone, so if you (along with many others) hate dialect, don't click. The original exercise derived from a series of photographs, but it mutated a bit. I meant to experiment with tone; I think/hope that "MicroDry" can read as comedy or as existentially troubling, depending on your general worldview and specific mood.

I was not thinking of George Saunders, who writes about the blackest existential trouble with a tone as light and frothy as a mousse made by Jane Austen. No, not that. I think I was partially thinking of those utter weirdos who ruined Lawrence of Arabia for us by laughing at every line in the film. Asking myself, and the reader: what's the result when you inelegantly slap one mood on top of a completely different mood? Mostly, though, I was thinking of these two particular characters, and the odd trapezoid of space and time where they meet for 1,500 words. A trapezoid I found neither funny nor tragic but something else.

If you came here from there, thank you for paying me that compliment. You've come just at the wrong time, because this is my last blog post for a while, I think. (The previous post was about that.) But there's plenty here to read, and I'd like to invite you to subscribe to my blog via email, which, if you're reading this in a web browser, you can do by entering your email address in the box in the frame to the right that is labeled "Follow by Email". That way, when I do post again, you'll know - you won't have to keep checking. You can also "join" the site by clicking on the eponymous button, although I really wish Blogger would use a different word than "join", because you're not joining it in any typical sense of that word, you're just adding it to the list of blogs you follow through your Google account. This joining business is helpful to me, because I can see how many people are interested in reading my blog. I don't know how to find out how many people follow it via email.

Anyway. I hope you enjoy/ed "MicroDry" and I hope to see you again sooner or later.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Let's Call It a Vacation for Now

In two weeks, a flash fiction piece of mine is slated to be published. If it goes forward as planned (you never know), on that day I'll post a meditation on what I wrote. In the meantime, and potentially for a while after that post, there will be nothing. 

I don't want to get personal - that is not the point of this space - but this blog is one of a handful of things that aren't working for me right now. Things that are subtracting instead of adding. 

I hope to be back later in the year with enthusiastic and worthwhile things to say about writing. I read this a few days ago and it gave me comfort, but not enough to find something to write about here. 

Don't worry! This post looks naked and scary, and I don't mean it to be that way. I'm having trouble, but it's not dire, nor is it interesting, nor is it new. I don't want to bore you or myself. 

So...smell you later. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How to Write Soporific Prose

Just incidentally one day during our To the Lighthouse unit, the professor mentioned that Virginia Woolf's second novel, Night and Day, was aawwwful, a thudding interminable Victorian thing. It's not that I didn't believe her when she said this (I gather that she's something of a Woolfian, so she'd know), but I wondered if "aawwwful" was a relative term when it came to Woolf and/or if the book's Victorian attributes made it much more awful to someone who prefers Modernism. I was dancing through Middlemarch at the time, so I thought Night and Day would make an interesting middle ground between Eliot and what I was reading for class.

Turns out she was right. Night and Day is awful. Aawwwful. It's one of the dullest, most joyless books I've ever read. But man, is it ever an interesting awful. I'm learning so much from reading it.

The scenes are very bad, with all the rhythm of an oompah band at its first rehearsal. The narrated paragraphs are better, but largely descriptive - a lot of telling, much of which never pays off. We are deep inside the characters' heads, reading every last thought and emotional reaction to each gesture of every little finger, but the characters themselves are still remarkably inconsistent and difficult to grasp. Through all of this, I can feel the author trying and trying and trying to get something on the page that matters to her. In a chapter I just finished, I could feel her fever at the theoretical high emotional point of the scene, but I felt no fever in myself. The scene was an endless, stilted conversation between two characters in whom I have amazingly little investment after 300 pages, and I had no idea why it was such a big deal that they were talking to each other about who was in love with whom. Between the lines, it felt as though she was trying to write the scene when Darcy first proposes to Elizabeth. It fell flatter than a cheap stage set.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928).
Apropos of nothing in this post, here's five minutes of stunts from The Great Stone Face.

The book feels like a sort of expungement. As if all the worst habits of a writer are being wrung out in print before she gets on with the business of writing well. Every paragraph is bogged down with prose that takes the longest possible route to get anywhere, and describes everything in exhaustive and unnecessary detail. Abstractions abound. We hop heads constantly, but to little benefit, which makes the book seem amateurish.
There was a brotherly kindness in his voice which seemed to her magnanimous, when she reflected that she had cut short his explanations and shown little interest in his change of plan. She gave him her reasons for thinking that she might profit by such a journey, omitting the one reason which had set all the rest in motion. He listened attentively, and made no attempt to dissuade her. In truth, he found himself curiously eager to make certain of her good sense, and accepted each fresh proof of it with satisfaction, as though it helped him to make up his mind about something. She forgot the pain he had caused her, and in place of it she became conscious of a steady tide of well-being which harmonized very aptly with the tramp of their feet upon the dry road and the support of his arm. The comfort was the more glowing in that it seemed to be the reward of her determination to behave to him simply and without attempting to be other than she was.
Are you asleep yet? Page after page of this! Every little emotional dip and soar of young love, recorded at enormous length, and then contradicted by the next minuscule emotional change, and then around again...oh my God, seriously, it's aawwwful.

Friday, May 1, 2015

That Comfort in the Kitchen

Last Saturday I was in my kitchen, preparing lunch: beet wraps from this cookbook. (A version of the recipe using European measurement standards may be found here; translating it should not be difficult for American cooks and is worthwhile, if you don't want to buy the book. Which is a good and useful book, if, oh, just a little pretentious. Now, back to our story.) I've made the recipe a number of times before. It is not a small amount of trouble, because it has so many elements that must each be prepared individually - cook the quinoa, toast the walnuts, zest the orange, blitz the beets with the goat cheese (measuring all the while), grate the apple, slice the avocado. The resulting flavor combination is so unique, though, that I enjoy making it when I can manage to get all the ingredients together.

The prior week, I'd made a strange chilled borscht from this book, and I bought and boiled too many beets for the recipe. So I had some leftover cooked beets. I also had a whole package of unused herbed goat cheese from yet another recipe; I'd bought the right amount of bell peppers to roast, but twice as much goat cheese as I needed. This is how my kitchen often operates: I get the amounts wrong when I'm shopping, or I find when I'm on the point of making the dish that I should halve the recipe or we'll be eating weird borscht for weeks. This M.O. means that the following week I need to search my cookbooks or the internet for recipes that will use up last week's excesses. Never a dull evening.

I cannot read the caption on this and I badly want to

So I had leftover beets and leftover goat cheese, but they were in different proportions than the recipe called for. I also had herbed goat cheese instead of plain. Also also, I didn't have any walnuts, nor any raisins, so I was using pecans and just going without raisins. My common practice for cooking quinoa is to use half vegetable broth (or chicken broth, whatever's on hand) and half water to cook it in, because it makes the quinoa more flavorful. When the recommended cooking time is over, I turn off the heat, drape a doubled dishtowel over the pot, and put a lid on top. I let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes or until I need to serve. This is a trick I learned from a rice pilaf recipe years ago, and it keeps the quinoa from being either soggy or undercooked. The beet wrap recipe calls for cooking the quinoa in plain water with no after-steaming.

I was considering all these changes with amusement as I was grating the apple (half an apple, I've found, is plenty), and a lightbulb went on over my head so brightly that Matt noticed, from the living room, where he was occupied with something else. I stood perfectly still and let the light penetrate every brain cell it could, and then I noticed Matt noticing me.

"You okay, there?" he said.

"Yeah," I said. "I just figured something out."

"I can see that," he said.