Monday, November 18, 2013

Anxiety & Anonymity

My inspiration this week (and yes, this season, since I have neglected Nuances since February) comes from one of my favorite places: Bookends from the The New York Times. The article is "How Do We Judge Books Written Under Pseudonyms?" By Francine Prose and Daniel Mendelsohn. November 12, 2013. I would recommend giving the article a quick glance before attempting to understand my mad ramblings and ruminations. Because, well...I ramble and ruminate. 

Click Below! I'll take you to the article too!

My two favorite insights from this:

"Pseudonyms are especially attractive to fiction writers, whose work (inventing people and seeing the world through their eyes) requires an impersonation, of sorts. Writing under a pen name is like doing an impersonation of someone doing an impersonation...A friend who did something like this says he needed his alter ego, not to conceal his real name but to 'be' that fictitious person, who wrote a scene in which a father cannibalizes a family pet." ~Mendelsohn

"The critical urge to see family resemblances in an author’s work arises from a psychological insight: The creative mind is, like all minds, coherent, even if its coherences aren’t apparent. Like a psychotherapist, the critic looks for patterns, themes and repetitions not only within a work but across an artist’s career in order to uncover the hidden unities." ~ Prose

It's very true: analysis can become stale and lazy when a reader has already put significant effort into understanding an author's workask them to read another piece, and 7 out of 10 times, they will find similar "conclusions" about the author's intent or influences. You cannot unlearn something that you have learned through self-tutelage. Well, not without a lot of rewiring and maybe some amnesia!

If you look to Harold Bloom's "Anxiety of Influence"he asserts [my modest set of conclusions after that self-taught principle I just described]  that every generation is at creative war with itself.   We attempt to outdo the literary achievements of our ancestors, living in the constant fear that we will not surpass the innovation of the "greats" who wrote before us. And so one of two things will happen: a writer will try a technique and approach that deviates as far as possible from his or hero, OR a writer will first try to master and then elevate the very techniques of his or hero hero. It occurs to me now, that the argument Bloom made supported the notion that a constant comparison between the new and the old ends stifles new and innovative approaches to written expression. Anxiety for achievement distracts from the work at hand. That somehow we fixate on the past to try and inspire the new, which would hinder growth. I think looking to the past CAN hinder new achievements and voices, but it can also inform the historical canon, and push writers to invest in technique, and leave the changing world to continue to inspire new plot lines, dramatic and tragic twists and character flaws, and all those other little goodies (aka the story itself)!

So, the idea of an author using a nom de plume to escape (I infer) the anxiety of HIS or HER name being judged repeatedly in the literary canon, as he or she makes these adventures into technique, tale and talent, makes sense to me! To generate a fake identity so that he can write from a perspective not entirely his own, and thus be free to craft crazy, horrible plot lines that he (or she) would never otherwise attemptin deference to the past generation's written achievements and homage to "good taste"certainly speaks to the writer's love of  the craft. The nom de plume is a loophole; it provides the writer freedom to step beyond the constraints of literary study, the tastes and trends of the day, and even the expectation that he may have had for his illustrious career. In anonymity or alternative identities, we are free to write about "what we know" through a lens and with a style unique to a time, place, and perspective. It stands alone ready for analysis and comment but ripped away from an author's preceding body of works. It's a relationship between a reader and a writer that stands outside of preconceived expectations.

It's rather tantalizing when you think of it that way, no? 

~Written, shockingly enough, by a devoted follower of New Historicism (oops!)

Thursday, February 28, 2013


The most important lesson a couple will learn in 2013:

Romance can exist between ordinary people who live ordinary lives. 

Kind of a great quote, isn't it? Simple and beautiful. Reminds us all that grand gestures aren't the only things that make up a love storythe little ones are just as significant. I don't even remember on which program I heard it, just that it prompted me to leap from the couch in search of a pen, and then scribble fiendishly on a used Post-It Note. You know, much like any other day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Worldy Wanderings

I do not travel for the cities, or the sights, or the food; I travel because I know that a friend is waiting somewhere on the other side of the world, and I must make my way to meet them.

2012 held many travels for me: I started the New Year in Houston, on a multi-person pilgrimage to visit my college roommate, and ended the year in New York City, reconnecting with two ladies who  shared a magical half year with me in Paris many, many years ago. The extreme differences between the locations, the experience, and most importantly, the people, cannot be overstated.

Over the years, I have been blessed to cast a "wide net". I have been given opportunities to see new places and try new things. My memories have become a kaleidoscope. Colorful, rich, ever moving.   Several of my friends claim to recall a particular chapter in their life through music they loved, others through a favorite t-shirt they wore. One guy even told me that he thinks of his past in terms of which watch he was wearing (the rubber, water proof, colorful rock climbers' favorite, no less). The watches defined his sport obsession of the moment.

When I think of a year in my past, I inevitably characterize it in one of two ways:
  1. Where was I working?, or
  2. Who was I visiting?
This probably says a great deal about my personality, and I won't pretend to know what exactly that might be. Worst possible interpretation: workaholic with an occasional Skymiles problem. 

There are worse things.

I firmly believe that sometimes you are pulled--by a spontaneous desire, or fateful coercion--to certain places, and all to experience one particular event. If my normally controlled, planning-oriented self had waited the responsible 6 months before running across the pond for school, I would never have met or bonded with two incredible women. One from Florida, the other from the bustling mayhem of New York City.

Similarly, if professional dissatisfaction hadn't set in during 2010, I might never have spent months living in the tundra of Minnesota, half-hiding in the guest bedroom of one of my best friend's home. Without that experience, our friendship would have never reached the sort of complex state that allows us to communicate in simple texts, over the divide of continents, time zones, and life experiences.

I travel to build bridges--not to places, but to people. To encourage the sort of friendships that will likely define my life; to meet the friends whose influence will change the way I participate in the world around me. And when I return home, I create a new bridge for them to travel across. Together, the planes, the trains, the automobiles take us further into ourselves, rather than farther away from our roots.

 So, why do you do the things you do?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Animals In Their Natural Habitat

A brief glimpse at an emerging species of Appalachia: Mulier Venatio (woman hunting).

These creatures can be found in the wild, frequently in the vicinity of vanity mirrors, and specialize in the hunting of well-muscled men.

Preferred diet:
red wine, berries, and sunshine

Nocturnal activities: 
Well, none of our biologists have managed to return from the field to tell the tale! 

 Photographic Documentation :
Vos mos rideo risi risum per 
(You will laugh excessively...or so the Author believes...
both literally and that this is the proper Latin)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Writers are Masochists, Or Things I Learned from a Movie

There is a sentiment among writers—and no, I do not believe myself a member of that erudite or eloquent clan—that to write a “true” story requires a level of sacrifice and pain.

There is also the belief that work is never truly finished. Well, combine those two, and I would say Writers are about the most masochistic set of individuals on the planet. 

No thank you. I will take “blogger” any day. Too heavy already? Check out my story about Bowling Squirrels!

I have just finished watching a rather unique film. And, as typically happens when I combine lofty dramas with a Cabernet, I get a little contemplative. Ok, pretentious. Ok, maybe pedantic. Oh do leave off!

“At some point you have to choose between real life and fiction. The two are very close, but they never actually touch.” 

Basic Plot: Film, The Words

Dennis Quaid plays a writer who is debuting his newest work, and is being quite coquettishly pursued by a Young Girl, who shares aspirations of being a writer. Through a rather twisted and confusing chronology, Quaid’s character reveals to her the central characters of his novel. Among the cast of characters are:  a struggling writer, played by Bradley Cooper; the writer’s supportive wife, Zoe Zaldana; and a rather gruff and cryptic Old Man, played by the gruff and cryptic Jeremy Irons. Over the course of the film, you then enter into a play-within-a-play-within-a-play storyline; Cooper’s character discovers a briefcase containing an old manuscript, which he eventually steals, that just happens to be a semi-autobiographical fiction written about AND by the Old Man. Still with me? I know, a play-within-a-play-within-a-play.  Only even more confusing since the deepest level of the “fiction” happens to be based on the “real life” events of the secondary fiction level (re: the Old Man). [Insert apology for my unfortunate love of dissecting film through the lens of literary criticism.]

In the film, the story within a story mechanism, presents a writer whose attempts to educate a young and idealistic girl is more than complicated: it jumps abruptly between concepts of male desire, loving and longing, the artist’s insecurity, and even the worthiness of societal approbation. Each scene could be a vignette—staccato rhythms and disjointed transitions do very little to connect Quaid to his manifested younger self in Cooper, or to the source of his anxiety and creative self-doubt, represented by the Old Man (Irons).

Quaid’s character represents a writer who is questioning his own success in life, and is wondering if all that has been thrown at him—objects of lust (the Young Girl), social approbation (the book signing), or his right to a writer’s voyeurism (the Obscenely Large Glass Loftspace)—is truly the result of his own talent, or the arbitrary series of occurrences in an ambitious man’s life? Or worse, he wonders if he is only an mediocre writer, imitating a greater man’s effort. 

What separates the great from the never discovered? Whoever wrote this screenplay had Harold Bloom’s “Anxiety of Influence” in mind. In that essay, Bloom discusses the paradigm of the current generation: an ambitious young man, in whatever age he lives, will always feel the pressure to live up the legends, or “fathers”, that came before him. The greatest fear of that young man is not necessarily that he may never be discovered and his talent recognized, but that his contributions are merely versions, subpar attempts, of the efforts of his “fathers”.  So, Quaid essentially writes about his own artistic insecurities when he saddles the handsome Cooper with thievery and the contempt of Old Man Irons. My view deviates from here quite a bit—if the young man is meant to be anxious of his own influences, for both their merits and their sins, he is then going to constantly live in fear of the so-called pioneers who inspired him. Take that a step further and you end up with a young man at war with the very sources of his inspiration. 

Some might argue that this is the heart of how art makes progress, and how fields continue to grow. I will not venture there. I cannot claim to have thought very much on the subject. But I will run with this War-With-The-Muse idea!

There is a line in the movie in which the Old Man claims, “I loved words more than I loved the woman who inspired me to write them. [That is] my tragedy.” Discarding the gender issue, and even the gargantuan character that is played by the silent character “Writing”, this sentiment builds from Bloom’s premise: we may overlook, underappreciate, or even over-appreciate the necessary influences that shape our own self-worth. In order to be happy, in order to create without fear or doubt, one must accept that choices are but choices, and inspiration is simply an advantage to the act of creation. They are springboards for action certainly, but it is the man, and not the “influences” that redirects a life, a story, a resolution. 

At the end, Quaid has a moment where he tells the Young Girl that the novel concludes with “no morals, no consequences”, just an understanding that life can go on as usual, despite the horrible and tragic choices we make. The Young Girl seems extremely put off by this, and in a rather obvious moment, Quaid counters with the aforementioned “choose between real life and fiction.” The screenwriters may have tried to tackle about four different literary/social constructs, but this one is nailed (unfortunately, when most audiences are probably too confused by the timeline to catch it): in real life, the “story” does go on, and in so many cases our villains and our heroes are no different from one another. They exist at a level beneath the epic reach of fiction—because it is only in fiction that we demand to actually learn from the human experience. Real life? Oh gracious, how often do we dance with glee when our mistakes go unpunished? My point exactly!

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, will conclude me harassing your eyes on screen. 

Cheers! Now, go read a book or clean the dishes or something. ::wink and a smile::

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Proof that the Author is indeed alive.

I owe more visits to my online oasis that I can count. It has been a rough few weeks--but let's not go into that.

I would rather--in an obvious attempt to avoid actually writing a real post--share a few sources of inspiration that others have pointed me to. Enjoy! (Credit to the sources I stole them from...I put in know, so no one will sue me this year.)

The type of invention only pseudo writer would love. 

Bookshelves to transform your life: 18 Insanely Cool Bookshelves

Croquet at St. John's College in Annapolis. Courtesy to Photojournal.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Middle Aged Love is Just More Interesting

Or at least it is in the movies.


Before someone goes all "well, all love stories are better in the movies! The producers are pandering to our lovesick hearts! yada yada yada", let me qualify my assertion.

In the traditional 20-something romantic comedy, the grab is the classic star crossed lovers scenario, and just like a Greek chorus, we are sitting in the audience fully aware that the only way life will improve for our characters is if they finally hook up. So, queue the music, bring down the lights, maybe add a horse chase or some great self-deprecating speech, and our characters finally realize they can make it together! Curtain up. Story over.

I should be clear: I do embrace the estrogen in my system, and I do identify with that occasional "yay! they can stop dating the wrong people and live happily together" attitude. At the end of the day, I am a romantic. I want to see the lovers end up together, or a resolution achieved, or--as in 500 Days of Summer--the broken hearted finally heal. Are these films realistic? Probably never. But they fulfill a need to see a happy ending for people in that same stage of life as we are in.

But the middle aged love story is just so much more layered; characters are richer, lives more interesting, the dynamics of desire so much more obvious. In a way, the stakes are higher for the main characters in a middle aged-love story--after all, this is likely the second chance at life and love. And yet, because of that very truth, the games are strangely absent (or at least way less complicated). In that cinematic middle aged love affair, the characters aren't delusional enough to believe that every new man or woman is the ONE. The hunting mentality just isn't there.  We get to watch people spar and love in spades. With intelligent dialogue. All that breeds authenticity. YES.

I could die very happy knowing that I had produced a screenplay like Something's Gotta Give. Will I ever? Very doubtful. But why do I feel that way? The character's love affair is damn funny. This is a story for romantics who appreciate things that are well-written, and have a splash of the ludicrous.  Both characters are stubborn, the actors themselves quite iconic, and the story feels authentic. And, armed with rapier wit, they develop a humorous, slightly combative, and complete honest affection for one another. The causal approach of their romance allows for a bit of frivolity, but the intricacies of their individual lives gloss the whole affair in the unforgettable. Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton strike gold. Comedic and romantic gold.

Another sterling example is It's Complicated, with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin.
Let's look at what makes this love triangle very memorable:

  1. Every character is grown up, and successful; I don't envy Meryl's shoes, I envy her kitchen. Her choices are a successful businessman or genius architect. Hmm.
  2. I never see her drunkenly sleeping with some cute guy she met over spring break, but I do see her getting her party on with STEVE MARTIN. You know, the guy from The Jerk? A step up? I think so.
  3. Situational comedy is the bread-and-butter of a film about blended families and multi-lovers. I mean, I buy the idea that hiding your knickers from your grown up kids shoulders more urgency then hiding them from your 20-something chick roommate.
So the moral of this whole post is really a bit vague. But I think I want to be Meryl Streep but date a guy with Jack Nicholson's humor?Yeah, I may have to get back to you on that one. Just put them in your Netflix queue.

Oh, and I should note: I quite like dating without the "benefits" of age, and am in no hurry to advance the timeline. ;)