… about John Irving. Among other things, his characters make him so interesting. Note the ether-addicted abortionist below. So in Last Night in Twisted River he introduces a woman vital to the plot and an eventual love interest for the main protagonist, How many times has this happened in literature and movies? Picture the ones you remember. For the most part they are almost cliches. The beautiful woman in the cocktail lounge. The surprise meeting in a phsyical situation. Most of it is almost standard. So how does John Irving do it. She is a muscular, big woman, even a former wrestler (a common theme) who parachutes nude into an artists’ party and lands in a pig sty. Among the first words the guy hears from her are something like “I’m covered in pig shit. I will kill those guys.” Nothing common or stereotyped there. Hmm now maybe I am giving writing lessons -- but, honest, only to myself.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Of course, you cannot “used to be a writer.” You might not always be physically writing things down but you continually look at the world as an observer, searching for that moment of insight when everything suddenly clears and you actually see what you have been looking at and at that moment truly find something to write about.
And what brought that on? I had just finished the newest novel by one of my absolutely favorite authors. A new book by John Irving, I have told people, is an event in my life. In Last Night in Twisted River he went a direction I don’t recall him going before. He started giving writing lessons. Norman Mailer could not write a book without putting a writing lesson in there somewhere. I learned how to handle adjectives from Mailer. And now Irving is doing it, too. Taking John Irving’s lesson. well, need to explain that first I guess: What he did was refute another great writer’s writing lesson. He accused Ernest Hemingway of originating the ubiquitous advice for people to “write what you know.” Irving said that’s baloney and so limiting in subject matter. As I thought about it, of course he is right, although somehow tarnishing Hemingway seemed almost blasphemous. You can always “know” new things. I actually had thought of that before. It all harked back to something else about John Irving. I saw him interviewed on television one time and the host asked him where he found his stories. He said he liked to find someone outrageous. someone who perhaps had performed a heinous act and then give that person humanity. His example was Cider House Rules. What he said was if you saw a headline in the New York Post on the doctor’s obituary it would have read something like “Ether addicted abortionist dies of overdose.”
Could that person ever be a sympathetic character. Irving made him one, doing “the lord’s work and the devil’s work.”
So the thought process goes on. John Irving and I are the same age. He is who I envisioned myself being at this age. Only I fell a little short. Not even sure I gave it a good try. Vonnegut (whom Iriving met at the Iowa writer sessions): “So it goes.” All of it comes to the point where maybe I didn’t get to the level I dreamed of, but though little comes out on a screen these days, I am not done yet. That moment of clarity is still out there somewhere, the problem is I never really went looking for it, rather took the lazy way and waited for it to come to me. But, “ether addicted abortionists” do not necessarily walk the trails I know. So, of course you cannot used to be a writer. You most likely always have been, and for sure always will be. Might as well say you used to be a breather. You may not think about it much, but you are still doing it.
And, thanks, Tom
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
“Are you the writer?”
Standing up on his snowmachine with the engine running and his back to the trail, he had been staring at an evenly cut stump where someone had taken one of his trees for firewood. The sound of his own machine masked the whine of the second one until it was almost past him. A man, a woman and a child on a big machine, towing a sled full of the things people hauled along that trail. The woman waved and then the man stopped the machine, a universal sign they were going to have to talk. Reluctantly he shut his own down, fervently hoping it would start again, given its infuriating habit of not starting when the air was warm and it had idled a while before he hit the red button.
“I used to be.” He answered starting to smile then curling his lip over his upper teeth as he recalled leaving his false tooth, a flapper the dentist called it, up in the cabin. Instead of a smile with a gap in it, the action degenerated into a churlish sneer, though he really had no idea how it looked.
Used to be? “When did I get to used to be a writer,” he thought.
“We heard someone out here was a writer and I thought maybe that was you,” she said.
“I guess probably that’s me.” He reached to shake the man’s hand, a tight-lipped smile twisting his face.
Amenities made and the subject of the writer who used to be passed, they moved on down the trail and he drove up the hill to his own place vowing from now on to put that tooth in when he left home no matter how alone he figured he was in the woods.
Later a crescent of a waxing moon, its convex curve toward the bottom, hung for a while low in a northwest sky so clear the rest of the moon showed as dim silver light filling in the missing portions of the orb started by the crescent.
Where was that kind of clarity when he tried to dredge it out of his mind, the clarity missing so much from his recent thoughts. The moon remained almost in place longer than it should have, defying its orbit and his intellect, mocking him with its Cheshire grin.
(Of the pictures: 70 degrees and snow: does it get any better than this?)
(Of the title: Thanks to Mick and Keith... still relevant after all these years)
Friday, March 12, 2010
So, big Bush trip coming up and today was the day to get everything ready. I am pretty sure we have been over how Alaskans are always getting ready for something or other. In this case it amounted to digging out the snowmachine trailer, one snowmachine, greasing the trailer wheel bearings, starting both machines to make sure they run and geting them up on the trailer and all ready to take off Monday for a week. I hadn't been over to that side of the house in a while and as I was shoveling off the trailer I noticed some larger tracks among those left by birds and squirrels. They looked fairly new so I followed them a ways. Funny thing. By the time I got to the end of the east side of the house and looked up, this moose was lying down about 20 feet farther on. I didn't bother it and two hours later it was still there. I actually took this picture from inside the house. You can tell it didn't know I was there, notice the ears are aimed forward, not turned back like they would be if it had heard something. All pretty and white out here now with a good dump of new snow. I actually had to blow dry the driveway two days in the row and take the Jeep to work Monday and Tuesday. Monday I never would have made it home in the Insight. The last two miles to the house hadn't been plowed and that car is so low to the ground it would have hung up. But, March is the best month in Alaska, long days, cold at night to keep the snow, but warm in the days and for some reason, usually sunny. The absolute best time to go to the East Pole. I know I have been remiss. Maybe I will come back from the Pole with a bunch of new photos.
Some interesting quotations
You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper. -- Jackie Faber, "The Wake of the Lorelei Lee"
If an insurance company won't pay for damages caused by an "act of God," shouldn't it then have to prove the existence of God? -- I said that
Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else. -- Gloria Steinem
Exceed your bandwidth-- sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center
One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done. -- Patricia Monaghan
Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world. -- Brett Arends
It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way. -- Andrew Jackson
3:30 is too late or too early to do anything -- Rene Descartes
Everything is okay when it's 50-below as long as everything is okay. -~ Hudson Stuck
You can have your own opinion but you can't have your own science. -- commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming
He looks at three failed marriages as a good start -- TV police drama
Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem. -- a handmade bumper sticker
"You're either into the wall or into the show" -- Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500
Makeup is not for the faint of heart -- the makeup guerrilla
"I'm going to relax in a very adult manner." --Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti
"Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet." -- a roundtable participant on Fox of all places
As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to the think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her. -- me again
Hunting is a "critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison." -- a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting
Each day do something that won't compute -- anon
It's not about how many times you get knocked down; it's about how many times you get up -- Tim Tebow
I can't believe I still have to protest this shit -- sign carried by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration
Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing -- Meg Chittenden
Life should be a little nuts or else it's just a bunch of Thursdays strung together -- Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in "Rumor has it"
You're just a wanker whipping up fear -- Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer
Being president doesn't change who you are; it reveals who you are -- Michelle Obama
Best headlines ever
GOP congressman opposes gun control because gay marriage leads to bestiality
Owner of killer bear chokes to death on sex toy
Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high
Give me all your money or my penguin will explode
How zombie worms have sex in whale bones
Crocodile steals zoo worker's lawn mower
Woman shot by oven while trying to cook waffles