Saturday, January 31, 2015

Yikes, nothing since October???

I've been ruminating a bit about some feedback from a WFoD reviewer. I do that a lot, ruminate over the feedback - it's great knowing someone actually read my stuff, and even better that they had something to say about it (nevermind that some of them write as well, and expect me to read & respond to their stuff, so it's a little logrolling I guess).

So anyway the feedback of note mentioned that Arthur Mackay (it's pronounced "mackEYE" BTW - the narrator/protagonist of "Bogue and Handelman") was reminiscent of Charlie Samuels (not my link, don't know where it came from) of Betty in the Library (aka Betty Gets the Vapors). Well, certainly. And in some respects that's not the least bit surprising, since they both share a few characteristics with their creator. They're both bookish, a bit past middle age, somewhat solitary (here I plead not 100% coincidence since I'm not solitary, though I am pretty asocial). The question that piqued my rumination though was "why do people - Betty and Emory Bogue - seek these people in particular out for help?"

Well I'll eschew the obvious answer (because otherwise this would be a different story about someone else). But I'm really having trouble not simply answering "why not?"

In both cases the person seeking help is even MORE reclusive and solitary and unconnected (and unworldly) than the prot/narr. In both cases the prot/narr is someone connected to the outer world to a greater extent than the persons seeking their help/guidance. Charlie Samuels is a writer of some sort - he mentions an article for some periodical, and a "story" for another. Arthur Mackay is a "professorish" sort - so bookish, but participating in the world. They know stuff, they know what's going on, they know - it's logical for Bogue and Betty to conclude - something about the way the world works. And most importantly, they're THERE - they're present and relatively familiar to the distressed ones. In short, they're older and (ostensibly) wiser.

So in fact I really don't think it's all that unreasonable that Bogue and Betty would seek out Samuels and Mackay when their worlds go weird. Who else?

Also, to some extent they (Charlie and Arthur) are a combination of the unwilling quester and the "wizard" of Campbell's Hero Quest rubric. I like to turn it slightly on its head in that unlike the epic and Romantic traditions, the protagonist isn't a hotshot warrior or prince but more of an ordinary schlumpf cast into the adventure by fate or destiny or a case of Hitchcockian mistaken identity.

But the REAL driver for this blurt is a little deeper than that. Underlying the queries about "why would these people seek help from those people?" is an implied comment that "it isn't rational" for them to do so, or it's not "reasonable" or "realistic."

I'll certainly plead guilty to the "realistic" comment; maybe not so much on the "rational" and "reasonable" but in fact that's really beside the point. Which is that these are not "real" people. they don't live in the "real" world, i.e. the one I live in. They're fictional inhabitants of a place that LOOKS like, and sounds like and smells like, and feels like the world I live in, but it isn't the same world at all. I live in a world of fact; they live in a world unconstrained by fact. I flatter myself that they live in a world that's parallel to that of Jeeves and Wooster, as well as Philip Marlowe and Sherlock Holmes and maybe Alice and Mike Hammer and Conradin and Nayland Smith and even Charlie Chan. Spend a little time with these people and you either lose the requirement that people act rationally, in "logical" way, or you end up not enjoying their adventures very much.

It's a fantasy world. Unlike the worlds of JRRT and the hosts of his heirs, it looks a lot more like ours than Middle Earth and all those places that line the shelves of B&N. But it's NOT ours. People are placed in unexpected circumstances, and do unexpected things, and incredible things happen. It's the incredible things that make the story a story and cause the entertainment (one hopes).

There never really was a London exactly like that inhabited by Holmes, nor by Jeeves & Wooster. It's a stage set; it contains stock backgrounds (people as well as real estate) against which "hilarity" or "dark doings" can ensue. There never was a valet like Jeeves, really, though there may well have been any number of upper-class twits like Bertie Wooster and his clubmates at the Drones.

Now it's true that I agree that the characters - once established - need to be consistent to themselves (keeping in mind that people aren't necessarily consistent) and to the rules by which they're created and which govern their worlds. But when I hear the comment that "he wouldn't DO that!" I have to respond "but he DID!" As long as an action isn't completely out of well-established character "wouldn't do that" isn't really a valid comment. True it wouldn't do to have Barkis parade down Market Street in drag, but that also might be as much a function of "1948" as it is of Barkis.

We surprise people all the time with our choices and behaviors (at least I have), both positively and negatively. People ("real" and fictional) are capable of breaking out of other peoples' expectations.

Furthermore (which might undermine the above, I dunno) it's the unworldly character of the events that make for entertainment. If we want to watch upper-middle-class suburban folks behaving as upper-middle-class suburban folks behaved in the 70s we only need to read Updike or Roth or Ford. (I hope Yates is over the line, but my son disagrees). Or Dubus (either one). I think I'm after something else though - closer to Wodehouse in content & sentiment, though with a helping of Hammett and Serling stylistically.

The people do what they do "for your consideration."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A couple of things pertinent to the "writing group" experience.

Why do people, when they're reading for response, indicate words they didn't know? Either with a circle or a question mark, or a "huh?" penciled in the margin. If they think the word is used inappropriately that's one thing, and I would expect them to comment, but the comment - it seems to me - should include some notion of what they think the "correct" (or at least "more commonly expected" usage should be). But usually it's pretty clear they're saying "hey, I don't know this word." Perhaps it's just a quirk of mine, but when a writer introduces me to a new word, my response is usually "Thanks! great new word for me!" or so. I'm eternally grateful to S.J. Perelman and P.G. Wodehouse for enriching my vocabulary immeasurably. I can't go three pages in either of them without learning nifty new stuff.

And why do people correct dialog (except the spelling of words clearly not intended to be rendered phonetically, or placement of punctuation & quotes, etc.)? Or comment that this or that phrase "wasn't necessary" or "he just said 'indeed' two sentences ago..." - well yeah, he did, because that's the way he talks. It's a little like reading "He was wearing a brown fedora" and writing in the margin "I don't care for that shade of brown."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It is the 13th of August. For as long as I've been posting anywhere, "journal" or "discussion board" or "blog"

dating all the way back to the Compuserve days, on the 13th of August I report that "On this date in 1969, Class 70-01 of USAF Officer's Training School at the Medina Annex of the Lackland Military Training Center in San Antonio Texas, pinned on its gold bars and became Second Lieutenants (2LTs) in the USAF."

And we really did throw our hats in the air, and we really did all manage to find them, and then we got salutes from enlisted men for the first time (and we did tip the first enlisted person to salute us $1.00, as is - or was - customary). My first salute came from TSG Jack Adams, who had been one of my TIs in Basic Training. He had a bunch of former Airmen Basics in that class, and we were proud to get the first salute from him in particular - in fact we sort of lined up in front of him. He was one of those movie-type TIs with the smokey bear hat and razor-edge creases in his suntans, and a stogie, nearly always cocked at an angle such that the end of it almost made a right angle with the severely tilted-down brim of his campaign hat. He was all tough talk and yelling and so on, but a sweetheart underneath and did a good job getting such a bunch of weenies as us through Basic and into uniform with a minimum of pain & agony. I have a scan of a photo of him saluting me, somewhere. After Basic, OTS was not such a big deal; when you've been screamed at by professionals, upperclassmen aren't even in the ballpark. OTS also had the benefit of our own club, where we could actually drink beer (alcohol is prohibited to enlisted trainees). It was in the OTS club that a couple hundred of us stood around on 20 July, 1969, and watched Apollo 11's triumph.

A little less than four-and-a-half years later (December 13, 1973) I was a civilian again, never having been shot at. Imagine that.

Friday, June 20, 2014

I've had the DVD from Netflix for a month or more, but I finally watched "Inside Llewyn Davis"

I think I put it off because I've read mixed responses to it from a variety of sources, and I'm a fan of the Coen Brothers' work - at its best there is no better filmmaking. But I also find their work uneven and unreliable. I think this is largely because they're willing to give lots of different ideas an outing and don't feel the need to produce a steady stream of nothing but blockbusters. Hence the population of films like "Fargo" and "No Country for Old Men" and "Miller's Crossing" (than which there just ain't any better movies, nowhere no-time) are peppered with "almost but not quite as great" titles like "The Big Lebowski" and "The Man Who Wasn't There" and "Barton Fink" and "A Serious Man" (all of which I like a lot but which aren't in the "Whoa-what-a-great-movie" exhaled over the closing credits category as are the first batch.) And then there's "Raising Arizona" and "The Hudsucker Proxy" (maybe a couple of others as well) which I just plain don't get. (I haven't seen the entire oeuvre, holding out on "True Grit" and a couple others for some reason).

So I was hesitant about "Llewyn" - also because of the subject matter. As a dyed-in-the-wool folkie, survivor of The Great Folk Scare as Dave van Ronk is credited with styling it,  and a huge fan of Christopher Guest's "A Mighty Wind" I couldn't figure what the CoBros might make of the period and the personalities (and the music) that wouldn't be either parody or hagiography.

Well it's neither. And the Great Folk Scare is pretty much wallpaper - there are allusions to the major personalities (a few of them anyway - Dylan, Paxton, Jim & Jean (I think the only ones actually portrayed & named) and Peter, Paul & Mary (though the allusion is to them as a project that Grossman is putting together).

The protagonist is not a nice man, and he's only moderately talented. There's plenty or reason to agree with "Jean" (and his sister) that he is, in fact, an asshole. There's nothing in the film, neither in his actions nor his words, that kindles the slightest bit of sympathy for him, except that he is pretty good to the cat. Two cats, actually. But he's an insufferable shit to just about all the people he comes in contact with. It's a rare experience for me to reach for the "Stop" button any number of times after the first hour and not actually hit "Stop" but give in to the "Wait, let's see, something might develop here after all" - I forbore because it was The Brothers working, and they've pulled things out before.

But they didn't. "Inside Llewyn Davis" is a well-made film; the music could be more; most of the performances are sturdy, the script is certainly well-crafted. I didn't like the movie, mostly because the protagonist is, after all, a narcissistic asshole.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

According to The Writer's Almanac today, Gloria Steinem said

"Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else."

How interesting; for me, the struggle is to overcome the feeling that I should always be doing something else than writing. Time writing feels like time stolen from "better things to do" and yet it's the only endeavor in which I don't feel that I'm poaching on someone else's territory.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dream journal 3/24/14

The space between getting up to let the dogs out, sometime between 2:30 and 3:30 AM, and hitting the final snooze, usually around 5 or 5:15, has become filled with very odd dream snippets. I suppose dreams tend to be odd by their very nature, but I’ve begun to be more and more aware of the dreams as they’re happening, and remembering more than usual afterward. So this morning there were dreamlets in which I was driving the old highlander and the brakes failed and I rear-ended what looked like a pickup truck full of Okies and their worldly possessions piled high on it; I may have pranged some kid’s bike. In another I was without my wallet for some reason, then found it on the grass. 

My favorite from this morning (I do remember thinking (in the dream) “I must remember this one, it’s good!”) 

So I was (in the dreamlet) standing talking to Neil deGrasse Tyson, and though I don’t remember specifically I’ve no doubt I was fascinated and thrilled because I admire the guy enormously. He was wearing a cape or academic robe of some sort, very dashing. Some nut job came up to us (apparently either a creationist or a Plutonian) and brandished a long knife (or a short sword, coulda been either, the dream wasn’t terribly clear on that point). Tyson whipped off his cape (or robe) and without missing a beat, in matador fashion whirled it around the attacker, enveloping him totally, rendering his blade useless. Then he (Tyson) looked at me and I looked at him and we laughed, and laughed and laughed, and I said “and you didn’t even need a veronica!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Well I really didn't intend this to become a "Hey look who just died" blog, but

Pete Seeger followed in rapid succession by Shirley Temple and Sid Caesar shouldn't go by unnoticed, I guess. The word "iconic" is grossly overused, mostly by people who don't really know what it means, so I won't use it. These three folks really are "classics" in their fields - in the sense of defining a class, of things or people or works of art. Feel-good 30s musicals, the Great Folk Scare of the 40s through the 60s, and early TV comedy, all summed up in three names, and all gone within a few weeks of each other. So maybe we can say the cultural 20th century is finally over?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wasn't that a time? Pete Seeger's gone, The Great Folk Scare must surely be over.

Whatever one thought of his politics (or his music) it's undeniable that Pete Seeger summed up a great deal about a generation of us, and in a way was the conduit for us of the best from an earlier generation, and inspired us with it. I can't help thinking we're all very much better off for his influence, however it exerted itself on us - musically, politically, spiritually. His intrepid wife & partner Toshi died a few months ago - I suppose some will be gratified that "now they can be together" and maybe that's true, but at least it's a sure bet that Pete won't have to endure any more of this life without her.

So long, Pete, it's been good to know ya. (And yes, that'll show up all over the place I'm sure)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

In (yet another) creative lull - not sure what to call it/them

Not "blocked" really since that implies - to me at least - sitting down to write and being unable to. In other words making the effort to make the effort but generating no product. My "stuck" seems to take the form of not sitting down to try - not as a conscious decision, not as a result of circumstance, simply as a result of me. I did well for a couple of years, produced a lot of text (for me) much of it fodder for later rewrite/revise sessions when I progress that far. So I'm happy with progress, but stuck again, though with a different attitude since now I'm pretty sure I can actually produce more than wee snippets grasped from thin air and leading nowhere. in particular. Need a renewal of the discipline, need to stop the internal grumbling about not being able to devote full time to it, as planned all these years.

Odd little sequences of dreamlets in the segments between eruptions of the snooze alarm; none recordable, but they're really odd. How can I know that without knowing what they were?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Well yesterday was George's 102nd birthday, so I guess it's safe to say

he'd have died quite some time ago even if he hadn't died in '68. And I myself have, as of today, realized that I'm almost old enough to be inappropriate with impunity.